Dani Pedrosa

2017 Valencia Friday MotoGP Round Up: Ducati vs Honda, And Zarco vs The World

A lot has to happen if Andrea Dovizioso wants to win the 2017 MotoGP championship at Valencia. What he doesn't want to happen is for Marc Márquez to run away with the race. And so far on Friday, that's exactly what looks like happening. On the face of it, fifth in both FP1 and FP2 is not promising. But look at race pace, and it is clear that Márquez is in devastating form.

In FP1, Márquez used a single medium rear tire, and posted 11 laps of 1'31. No one else managed more than 3 laps at that pace. In FP2, he again used just a single tire, putting 20 laps on a soft rear tire. He set his fastest lap – good enough for fifth in the session – on his final lap, with a tire that has two-thirds race distance on it. While everyone else was throwing extra tires in to secure passage straight to Q2, Márquez was not concerned.

His pace left him feeling positive. "Of course this gives me good confidence," Márquez said. "But what is better is that we started the weekend in a good way. In FP1 I felt good with the bike. We are on Friday so we need to keep working and keep the same mentality and concentration."

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2017 Valencia MotoGP Preview: One Last Chance

For the fourth time in twelve years, Valencia will play host to a MotoGP title showdown. On Sunday, Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez will slug it out for who gets to call themselves the 2017 MotoGP champion. If you want a detailed breakdown of who has to finish where to wrap up the championship, you can read our separate story here. But it boils down to two simple premises: If Andrea Dovizioso doesn't win the race, the title belongs to Márquez, but Márquez can put it out of reach of Dovizioso by finishing eleventh or better.

If you are staging a championship showdown, the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, near Valencia, is a fine venue to choose. Set in a natural bowl, the circuit owners have managed to snake 4km of asphalt into a confined space. The upside to that is that spectators can see just about every part of the track from whichever stand they sit in. The furthest point of the track is at most a kilometer away, no matter where you sit.

Cramming so much track into such a tight space has obvious consequences. There are a lot of tight corners in Valencia: of the fourteen turns the circuit has, three are first gear corners, six more are second gear corners, while half of them are tighter than 90°. The compact space into which the track is crammed, combined with the long front straight create a lot of complications for tire manufacturers.

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer's Rider Insights On Sepang, Rider Mental Attitude, And Championships

MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. Every week after each MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.

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2017 Sepang Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Titles On The Line, The Crash That Wasn't, And Revenge?

Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes. If Dovizioso doesn't win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he's third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn't finish, of course...

Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening. On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.

The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win. "I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite," was Jorge Lorenzo's assessment. "It's very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium," Valentino Rossi concurred, "because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory."

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2017 Sepang Friday MotoGP Round Up: A Phony War In Mixed Conditions

If there is one thing clear from Friday at Sepang, it is that neither Andrea Dovizioso nor Marc Márquez believe the 2017 championship is done. The two men left in the title fight came out punching, chasing fast times just that little bit harder than the rest. Dovizioso topped both morning and afternoon sessions, blatant about his intentions to make a final bid for the championship. Márquez was a little slower in the mixed-but-drying conditions of FP1, but only half a second behind Dovizioso in a wet FP2. Márquez will give as hard as he gets.

The headline times are deceptive, though, as were the conditions. The morning session started with a track that would not dry fast enough – a persistent problem since the track was resurfaced, and an issue with drainage in certain sections of the track – and riders choosing to sit out the first third or so of FP1. Even once the riders took to the track in earnest, times were variable. It was only towards the end where track was dry enough to start to post quick times.

In the dry, Márquez focused on pace, putting in a single long run, while Andrea Dovizioso got on with setup work, ending FP1 at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. "I’m really happy about the lap time I did this morning," Dovizioso said. "It was quite fast but the conditions were strange. There was not a lot of rubber on the ground so it wasn’t normal. Anyway, this was the condition for the other riders. We did a good lap time. I was first."

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2017 Sepang MotoGP Preview: In The Championship Pressure Cooker

So just like 2015, the MotoGP paddock packed up after a breathtaking race in Phillip Island and headed to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang. And once again, two riders fly to Malaysia with a clean shot at the title. Fortunately, though, this time there was no one to drip poison into the ears of the protagonists and sour the atmosphere at the penultimate race of the season. We can look back at an astounding race and savor it, without it leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.

The lack of added stress is welcome. The Sepang round of MotoGP is the toughest of the season, for a lot of reasons. "I think this race is the most demanding of all the season because it is very hot," Valentino Rossi told the press conference. It is not uncommon for riders to come close to passing out at the end of a 45 minute race in sweltering temperatures and steam room humidity levels. Conditions are oppressive.

Making things worse is the fact that Sepang is the last of the three Pacific flyaway races. Sepang is the third weekend in a row where riders have faced a 9-hour flight, followed by promotional activities in the MotoGP manufacturers' most important markets, followed by a full race weekend. They have gone from a chilly and soaking Japan to a chilly and mixed Phillip Island to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia, jumping in and out of air-conditioned vehicles, hotels, and aircraft to face the elements on a racing motorcycle. Coughs, cold sweats, and hot fevers are the order of the day.

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2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Qualifying Round Up: One Hand On The Trophy?

If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence. You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you're going to make it through, because if you don't, you'll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.

Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you. Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.

When you're in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium. But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.

That, in a nutshell, was the tale of qualifying. Marc Márquez is so confident at Phillip Island that he was able to punch in lap after lap during FP4, then toy with his rivals to take pole by a third of a second. Andrea Dovizioso was shaken by a crash in FP4, and that hit his confidence, and left him lapping slower in qualifying than he had in FP2 on Friday. With Márquez on pole and Dovizioso in eleventh, Phillip Island may have helped steal the championship away from the Italian.

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