There were many things we expected to see on Sunday at Brno. Rain was one of them. Order restored in Moto3 was another. But most of all, we expected to see a scintillating MotoGP race going down to the wire. We saw none of those things, yet the Czech Grand Prix turned out to be one of the most intriguing races of the season. The momentum shifted in Moto3 and MotoGP, and swung even further in Moto2. And apart from a few drops shortly after Moto3 finished, the rain stayed away all day.
Free practice had promised a thrilling MotoGP race, with little to choose between the pace of the top three riders in the championship. Expectations were both raised and dispelled after qualifying, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi locking out the front row. Lorenzo on pole was no surprise, nor really was Márquez on the front row. Rossi, though, was an eye opener, and on paper, a mouth-watering prospect. Qualifying has been Rossi's weakness since the system switched to the new qualifying format of two separate Q sessions. Starting from the front row means he doesn't have to fight his way through to the front before he can attack. The last time Rossi had been on the front row was at Assen, and there, he had gone on to win an epic battle with Marc Márquez. Could he pull it off again?
It was a hectic trip across the Atlantic for many in the MotoGP paddock. The air at Brno was thick with tales of airport-based woe, of overbooked flights, bad weather delays, missed transfers and lost luggage. Despite the supposed privilege of platinum frequent flyer status – one of the side benefits of working for a MotoGP team is you rack up a lot of air miles – the staff of one MotoGP were stuck in one airport for over 24 hours, thrown out of the airport lounge and unable to leave. Chicago O'Hare was temporarily transformed into the motorcycle racing equivalent of purgatory: large numbers of riders, mechanics and other staff kicking their heels with nothing to do. That is especially tough on riders: most of them suffer from some form of hyperactivity or another. Few can sit still, and most are very outdoor types. L'enfer, c'est les aéroports, if you will forgive me paraphrasing Sartre.
From one endangered race to another. The MotoGP paddock leaves Indianapolis, possibly for the last time, and heads to Brno, a race which has been on the endangered list for the past ten years. Not all of the paddock got out on time: overbooked flights and thunderstorms caused massive delays, and left riders, teams and media stuck hanging around in airports for many hours. Hardly the ideal way to adapt to a shift of time zones by six hours, but they have little choice. There will more than a few bewildered faces in the paddock at Brno, trying to figure out where they are and what day it is.
A quick glance around should be enough to remind them. Brno is a glorious circuit, set atop a hill in the middle of a forest. To reach the track, you drive up the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads that once formed the basis of the old street circuit. The closed circuit which replaced those roads still retains most of that character: fast, flowing, rolling up hill and down dale through the trees. Where the track really differs from the public roads is in how wide it is.
This is part two of our Indy round up, covering the excellent Moto2 race, and the intriguing Moto3 race. If you want to read about MotoGP, see part one.
The Moto2 race turned out to be a barnstormer, a welcome return for the class. Once, Moto2 was the best race of the weekend, but in the past couple of years, it has become processional, and turned into dead air between the visceral thrills of Moto3 and the tripwire tension of MotoGP. At Indy, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Franco Morbidelli, Dominique Aegerter and Tito Rabat battled all race long for supremacy. They were joined at the start of the race by a brace of Malaysians, Hafizh Syahrin running at the front while Azlan Shah fought a close battle behind. Sam Lowes held on in the first half of the race, but as he started to catch the leaders in the last few laps, he ended up crashing out.
In the end, it was Alex Rins who took victory, just rewards for the man who had been the best of the field all weekend. It was Rins' first victory in Moto2, and confirmation of his status as an exceptional young talent. MotoGP factories are showing a lot of interest in Rins, but having learned his lesson with Maverick Viñales, who left after just one year, Sito Pons has Rins tied down to a two-year deal. Will Rins be a comparable talent to Viñales? Many believe he will.
After practice on Friday, it looked like the MotoGP race at Indianapolis was going to a knock-down, drag-out battle between Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo, both men very evenly matched. A day later, and it looks like the battle could be much bigger than that, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi on the same pace, and maybe even Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and if things go right for him, Aleix Espargaro involved in the fight. Unfortunately for the fans, the battle will be for second, as one man has moved the game on. Marc Márquez' reign in the USA is looking increasingly secure.
The Repsol Honda rider upped his game on Saturday, topping both free practice sessions comfortably, his pace in FP4 particularly fearsome. He finished FP4 over six tenths ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, setting his fast lap on old tires, in full race trim, on the second lap of a long run. His pace was solid, all mid to high 1'32s, where Lorenzo was cranking out low 1'33s. He then followed it up in qualifying with a display of supremacy which belied the ease with which he took pole. After going out and setting the pole lap on his first flying lap, he returned to the garage where he sat calmly for five minutes, unperturbed by the happenings on the track. He returned for another try, even though it was not needed, and set another lap faster than any other rider would manage.
Nine races down, nine to go. The Sachsenring marks the mid-point of the season, and in all three Grand Prix classes the outlines of the championship are becoming clear. In Moto2 and Moto3, there is one rider who can dominate, winning often, taking a hefty points haul when he can't, and having luck work in their favor and against their opponents. In MotoGP, the title looks to be settled between the Movistar Yamaha teammates, with the Repsol Hondas playing a decisive role.
The three races in Germany all played out following the broader patterns of their respective championships. In the Moto3 race, Danny Kent steamrollered his way to victory, his teammate Efren Vazquez helping him to extend his lead in the championship to 66 points by taking second ahead of Enea Bastianini. In Moto2, Johann Zarco narrowly missed out on victory, the win going to Xavier Simeon. The Belgian plays no role in the championship, while Zarco's nearest rival Tito Rabat was taken out by Franco Morbidelli in the final corner. Rabat's crash means Zarco now leads Moto2 by 65 points. Both Kent and Zarco can start to pencil their names in for the respective championships, their leads starting to edge towards the unassailable.
Is the run of Yamaha domination about to come to an end? After winning seven out of eight races, the Yamaha YZR-M1 certainly looks like the best bike on the grid, so on paper, it should continue to crush the opposition beneath its wheels at the Sachsenring. After all, the strength of the Yamaha is its ability to carry corner speed and get drive out of corners, and the Sachsenring has barely a straight line in its 3.7 kilometers. Yet after two days of practice, it has been the Hondas which have ruled the roost in Germany. The bike which is supposed to have problems looks untouchable, with Marc Márquez looking untouchable, Dani Pedrosa the best of the rest, and both Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow showing real promise.
Why is the Honda so fast at the Sachsenring? Two reasons. Firstly, the circuit only has a couple of the types of corners where the Honda has struggled. It is only in Turn 8 and Turn 12 where the riders are braking almost straight up and down, the rear stepping out and becoming difficult to control. "Where we have a problem here is only two corners," Marc Márquez said at the press conference. "The rest is just with the gas, and there we don't have the problem." Those other corners are where the Hondas are making up the time. And they are making up the time because the track lacks grip.