Franco Morbidelli

Le Mans Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Strategy, Luck, Gambling, And Lorenzo And Zarco Finding Speed

Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day. Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.

The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session. The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.

The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them. The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.

Poker face

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Two Fast Ms, Saves Which Mask A Weakness, And Going Faster Thanks To Ergonomics

The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted. Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.

But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third. We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez' trick, instead ending up in the gravel. We learned that Alex Rins still can't put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.

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Jerez MotoGP Race Round Up: A Winning Package, A Mechanical Failure, And A Surgical Suzuki

Motorcycle racing fans have heroes. They worship the riders like demi-gods, beings capable of superhuman feats of speed and agility. And watching riders at the top of their game – Marc Márquez skating the edge of disaster, Alex Rins sweeping through corners, Andrea Dovizioso braking not when he sees god, but after he has been invited home to meet god's mother, Valentino Rossi disposing of rivals like they are standing still – it is easy to understand why they are deified like that. They truly are exceptional, awe-inspiring, breathtaking to watch.

This idolization of riders makes it easy to forget that there is more to MotoGP than just a superhero on two wheels. If a rider is to destroy his rivals, he needs a weapon, and that weapon needs to honed to a fine point before being wielded with the kind of malice racing requires. Bikes need engineers to design them, mechanics to prepare them, crew chiefs and data engineers to make them fit the riders' needs.

Riders, too, need preparation. They don't just wake up one day, leap on a bike and go racing. They must train, and diet, and stretch, and get themselves ready. They must listen and learn from engineers, coaches, team managers. They need support when they are down, encouragement when they are up, guidance when they are out of control. They need to be honed and fettled as much as the motorcycles they race.

E pluribus unum

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Jerez MotoGP Subscriber Notes: On Quartararo, Dealing With Adversity, Young Pretenders, And A Tight Championship

What is a new surface worth? The short – and wrong – answer is just under a second a lap, for Jerez at least. The long answer is that there have been too many changes in the series to give a definitive answer. Comparisons between 2018 and 2019 are complicated, as much more than just the surface has changed.

But the track is undoubtedly much quicker, and the surface is much better. The MotoGP race was 31 seconds faster than in 2018, Marc Márquez taking seven tenths of a second off the race lap record. But the Moto3 race was only (well, "only") 9 seconds faster than last year. The Moto2 race was cut to just 15 laps, making comparison impossible, but the race lap record in the intermediate class was 0.9 seconds faster than the previous record.

So how much of that improvement is the track? Moto3 is arguably the wrong class to judge the track by: what makes the class so enjoyable is the fact that nine or ten riders spend almost the entire race engaged in fierce combat at the front, so nobody is riding an ideal line. Moto2 has different engines, different electronics, and Dunlop brought a different profile tire with a larger contact patch to Jerez, all three of those factors adding a significant element to the much faster pace of the race.

Tight and fast

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Record Breakers, A Close Field, And Tires That Will Go the Distance

We came to Jerez expecting records. A new surface with most of the bumps removed meant the bikes were always going to be quicker around the track. A weekend of stable weather conditions promised ideal conditions for realizing unbelievably quick laps around the track. And a field which is closer than ever ramps up the pressure on the riders to extract the absolute maximum from their bikes. In FP3, for example, there were 16 riders within a second, and the gap between Andrea Dovizioso in fourth and Pol Espargaro in thirteenth was precisely two tenths of a second.

So records were always on the cards, but we were not to know just how many records would be obliterated at Jerez. Thanks to the Triumph Moto2 engines, and a new profile Dunlop tire with a larger contact patch, the Moto2 pole record was smashed by eight tenths of a second. And in fact, Jorge Navarro's Moto2 pole time would have put him second on the grid for the 2004 MotoGP race, between Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha M1, and Sete Gibernau on Honda's fearsome RC211V, a fire-breathing 990cc V5.

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Austin MotoGP Race Round Up: Making History, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of The US GP

There are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Marc Márquez winning any MotoGP race organized in the United States of America. That has been true since the Spaniard moved up to MotoGP, and for both years he spent in Moto2 as well. There is something about America which makes Márquez nigh on invincible. Is it the anticlockwise tracks? Is it the low grip and tricky surfaces found at the circuits? Or is high fructose corn syrup Márquez' equivalent of Popeye's spinach?

MotoGP went to Austin hoping this might be the year when things changed. With good reason: the racing in the series has been getting closer and closer almost on a race-by-race basis. Valentino Rossi finished just 0.6 seconds behind race winner Andrea Dovizioso at Qatar, but he crossed the line in fifth place. In Argentina, the seven riders fighting for second place were separated by 3 seconds on the penultimate lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP19 is faster and better than ever, the Yamaha M1 has made a huge step forward since 2018, and the Suzuki has consistently been in the hunt for podiums since the middle of last year.

That is all very well and good, but the margin of Marc Márquez' victory in Termas de Rio Hondo suggested that ending Márquez' reign in the US would require something extraordinary to happen. The Repsol Honda rider had a 12 second lead going into the last lap in Argentina. The Honda RC213V had the highest top speed in both Qatar and Argentina, the bike having both more horsepower and better acceleration. Then, during qualifying, Márquez took pole – his seventh in a row at the Circuit of the Americas – with an advantage of more than a quarter of a second over Valentino Rossi. Normal service had been resumed.

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2019 Austin MotoGP Fast Notes: Jump Starts, Winning Ways, A Tight Championship, And Outstanding Team Managers

Jump starts

Have Race Direction suddenly decided to have a crackdown on jump starts? After a long period without a single jump start, we suddenly have three in two races. Look at the video, and it's clear the reason Race Direction issued two more penalties for jump starts is because two riders moved on the grid in Austin. A random statistical distribution tends to be lumpy, not smooth, and so random events look like they are clustered together. And at the point of the race where the riders are most intensely focused, occasionally mistakes will occur. Sometimes even simultaneously.

The two culprits in Austin were Joan Mir and Maverick Viñales. Mir's infraction was the smallest, barely moving and then almost coming to a stop. He was quietly seething after the race, angry at a penalty he felt he didn't deserve, and at the disproportionate nature of the penalty for the tiniest infraction in which he didn't gain an advantage, like Cal Crutchlow in Argentina. "It ruined my race," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said. "All the weekend for this. It ruined my whole weekend. When I see my lap times every lap and the pace that I had, it makes me even more angry because sincerely we had today a great pace to fight for the podium or top five, sure."

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