The 2014 Moto3 rider line up (still provisional)
It's been a busy time for motorcycle racing in the south of Spain. With the winter test ban about to commence, and now in force for both MotoGP and World Superbikes, the teams are heading south to get some development work done while they still can. For the World Superbike and MotoGP Open class teams, their destination is Jerez, while Moto2 and Moto3 are at Almeria, in Spain's southeastern corner.
At Jerez, Suzuki has just wrapped up a test, and Yakhnich Motorsport are taking the MV Agusta F4RR out for its first spin. The Jerez test was Eugene Laverty's first opportunity to ride the GSX-R1000, after the Irishman had signed for the Crescent Suzuki team, who have swapped title sponsors from Fixi to Voltcom. The move is a step down from the full factory Aprilia team for Laverty, but it is a long-term investment for the Irishman. Speaking to German language website Speedweek.com, Laverty explained that he believed that it was easier to move development on a project forward with a smaller group of people than inside a large organization.
Sunday at Sepang provided a fascinating mix for motorcycle racing fans. A blistering Moto3 race, an impressive, if shortened, Moto2 race, and some breathtaking action in MotoGP. History was made several times over, and best of all, the races took place in front of a sellout crowd. Over 80,000 fans packed the stands in Malaysia, proof, if any were needed, of the slow, eastward drift of motorcycle racing's center of gravity.
In the MotoGP race, Dani Pedrosa did what he had set out to do two weeks earlier at Aragon, before he was so rudely ejected from his bike. Pedrosa had a look of grim determination on his face from the moment he rolled up at Sepang, and it barely left him all weekend. He had come to do a job, the pain in his hips merely spurring him on to get what he had been robbed of by an overeager teammate and an exposed sensor. He ruled proceedings in free practice, got caught out by conditions in qualifying, but leapt off the line at the start, as he has all year, and slotted in behind Jorge Lorenzo. After four laps, he worked his way past a valiantly defending Lorenzo, put the hammer down and went on to win.
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again. Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader - 'I won't start thinking about the title until Valencia - are brought into keen focus.
In Moto3, the lead Luis Salom had built up after the summer break has slowly been dissipating, as Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have clawed points back from the Spanish veteran. On Saturday, Alex Rins took yet another pole - his sixth of the season - crushing the opposition and putting seven tenths of a second into Viñales, the man in second. Luis Salom struggled, ending the session in 8th, over a second slower than Viñales, and 1.7 seconds off the time of Rins. He must attempt to defend his championship lead from the third row of the grid, and with Rins, Viñales and Alex Marquez ahead of him, he will have his work cut out.
There must be something in the Moravian water. Three races at Brno on Sunday, and all three genuine barnburners. What's more, the podiums had a good mixture of experience, age, and nationality. 'Only' five of the nine were Spanish, while in Moto2, there wasn't a single Spaniard on the podium. And at the end, the championships in all three classes got a little more interesting.
Race of the day? Impossible to say, but the 2013 Czech Grand Prix will surely be remembered for the MotoGP race. After a tense race with a blistering finish last year, the 2013 race was even better. A brilliant start by Jorge Lorenzo - perhaps the best of his career - saw him catapult into the lead at the start. He pushed to break the following group, consisting of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow.
Crutchlow soon dropped off the back of the Repsol Hondas, got caught up in a battle with Alvaro Bautista, then crashed out when he upped the pace to attempt to catch Marquez and Pedrosa once again. A red helmet appeared on the timing screens behind Crutchlow's name in one sector of the track, and then it flashed 'Crash #35, rider OK'. 'I lost the front but I was pushing. I've got nothing to lose and I needed to catch the guys as the front and I just pushed a little bit too much,' Crutchlow said. After a superb pole on Saturday, his race was one to forget.
What an intriguing weekend the 83rd running of the Dutch TT at Assen has turned out to be. (Well, I say weekend, it's still Friday, but in any racing paddock, the weekend starts once bikes roll out for the first practice, and ends when the final press conference of the day is completed.) The story lines are plentiful, made possible by mixed conditions, low grip and a barrel load of ambition.
First, there's the MotoGP polesitter. Cal Crutchlow took his first ever pole in the class on Friday, with a perfectly-timed lap to blast ahead of Marc Marquez and earn himself a Tissot watch. He left it to the very last lap, but cut it very fine indeed. He crossed the finish line with just 3 seconds left on the session clock, giving him a final attempt at pole. He had worked out he would make it across the line for one last shot by looking at the sector times displayed on the digital dashboard, but when he exited the GT chicane and saw the starter already out with the checkered flag, he had gotten a little nervous.