Jorge Lorenzo

2018 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: Crashes Shape The Championship, Yamaha's Woes, Ducati's Decision, And Moto3 Madness

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking. In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways. In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa's brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden's championship challenge was over. Valentino Rossi's heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time. Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia. The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship. And Sunday's drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn't finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

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2018 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Old Hards Vs. New Softs, Avoiding Electronics, And Dovi's New Deal

Andrea Dovizioso's manager arrived in Le Mans on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, the Italian had a new two-year contract with Ducati, provisional pole after FP2, and a new lap record. Not a bad start to the weekend, and a harbinger of good things to come, you might think. This is after all not particularly a Ducati track, yet here he was, on top of the timesheets.

Perhaps having his future settled helped, but Dovizioso has been an expert at excluding distractions from his race weekends. The simple fact is that the Ducati man was quick at Jerez, and is quick here, because he is in good form, and the bike is working really well. Dovizioso heads into qualifying feeling confident.

But there is a fly in the ointment, and it is Márquez-shaped, as always. Dovizioso had been pretty quick throughout the first part of FP2, just a couple of tenths behind the leader Márquez. Then in his final run, he fitted a new soft rear slick, dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. It was an impressive showing of blistering speed.

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2018 Le Mans Thursday Round Up: Honda's Advantage, Yamaha's New Engine, And 20+ Races In 2019

For the past decade or so, Le Mans has been a Yamaha track, with Yamaha riders taking seven wins in the last ten races. The answer to whether that situation can continue or is simple: it depends. Maybe a Yamaha can win at Le Mans on Sunday. Or maybe another bike will take victory here instead.

That answer is generic almost to the point of meaninglessness, but beneath it lies a kernel of truth. The first four races in MotoGP have taught us a few lessons which point to who and what could do the winning on Sunday. The more precise answer? If a Yamaha is going to win, it is more likely to be be the Tech3 bike of Johann Zarco, rather than the factory Movistar machines of Valentino Rossi or Maverick Viñales. If a Yamaha doesn't win, then the Ducatis are in with a much better chance than you might expect, with Andrea Dovizioso and, who knows?, maybe even Jorge Lorenzo in with a shout.

But the lesson of the first four races of 2018 is that the most likely outcome on Sunday is that a Honda will win, and probably a Honda in the hands of Marc Márquez. That is clearly what most of the riders felt on Sunday. The one recurring theme that came back from riders on every competing manufacturer was that they were both impressed and feared how much the Honda has improved since last year.

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer On That Incident At Jerez

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

In his latest video blog, Freddie Spencer takes a look back at the eventful Jerez round of MotoGP, and examines its repercussions on the championship. He starts off with a look back at his own first experiences of what is a fiery and passionate event, and his own first visit to the Jerez circuit. He then takes a quick digression to discuss the benefits and risks of rider training, with a view to Remy Gardner's injury picked up in an MX crash.

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Monday Test Round Up: Big Things Coming, But Not Here, Yet

Once upon a time, a post-race test would see almost a full complement of riders taking part. But in the past couple of years that has changed, as spec software has meant fewer things to do. The spec software, the engine freeze, the aerodynamics freeze: there is less to test, and so more factories are opting out of the one-day post-race tests. So it was at Jerez on Monday that the factory Ducati riders, the Ecstar Suzuki team, and the Gresini Aprilia squad all decided to skip the test at Jerez in favor of some private testing at Mugello later in the week. Behind closed doors, they can work a little more freely, away from the prying eyes of the press, and especially of a contingent of photographers.

There are other reasons to be wary of a post-race test. The track is in as good a condition as it is going to get on the Monday after a race. It has been swept clean by a weekend of racing, and the last class to smear its rubber all over the track is MotoGP. So the bikes are treated to a clean, well rubbered in circuit, allowing lap times to drop. The average improvement between the race and the test was nearly 1.3 seconds a lap. About half the 16 permanent riders who took to the track on Monday improved their times from qualifying. It is fair to say that Monday tests can be deceptive.

Nothing gained

That was certainly Maverick Viñales' view of the test. "Well, Monday is always positive but we have to be positive on Sunday," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "We didn’t solve nothing." The Spaniard ended the test as fourth fastest, behind Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow, and Dani Pedrosa, but he put it down to the conditions. "In the morning it was really different – much more grip, and much easier. Easier to do 1'38 lows. During the weekend it was impossible to do that."

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Crashes, Blame, And Championships

Racing produces drama. When you put 24 riders on an equal number of 270hp MotoGP machines, you can never be certain of the outcome. The tired and obvious story lines you had written in your head before the race have a tendency to go up in smoke once the flag drops. Racing produces a new reality, often surprising, rarely predictable.

But that doesn't stop us from drawing up a picture after practice of how the race is going to play out. At a tight track like Jerez, passing is difficult, and so the rider who can get the holeshot can try to open a gap and run away at the front. After qualifying, it was clear that the three factory-backed Hondas were strongest, the Repsols of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, together with the LCR Honda of Cal Crutchlow were all a cut above the rest. It would be an all-RC213V podium, with the other manufacturers left to fight over the scraps. The Ducatis would do battle with the Suzukis, and the Yamahas would find some pace at last, and get in among it at the front.

It didn't pan out that way, of course. Yes, a Honda dominated proceedings. Yes, a couple of Ducatis battled with a couple of Suzukis at different points during the race. And yes, the Yamahas found some pace, with Wilco Zeelenberg telling me shortly before the race that during warm up on Sunday morning they had found a little bit of the grip they had been missing. But the race resolutely failed to stick to the script we all had in our heads before the start.

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Question Of Strategy

"To get one tenth here is so difficult," Cal Crutchlow said after qualifying at Jerez. The timesheets bore witness in black and white to the wisdom of the LCR Honda rider's words. In FP3, there was less than four tenths between fourth place and thirteenth place. In FP4, there was less than half a second between second and ninth places. And in Q2, just 0.117 seconds separates second place from seventh place. The field is tight because the track is tight. And twisty.

Whether that makes for a close and exciting race is yet to be seen, however. There hasn't really been a close race for victory since 2010, when Jorge Lorenzo was so elated after beating Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi in a tight battle that he jumped into the artificial pond used to store water for firefighting, and nearly drowned when his leathers became waterlogged. Times are often very tight at Jerez, but if you lose a tenth to the rider in front of you, it becomes almost impossible to get it back.

So qualifying well is crucial. And qualifying well is a question of strategy. Choosing the right time to go out, choosing the right front tire to manage the stresses of a qualifying lap, choosing the right number of stops, getting a perfect lap in when the tire is at its best, all of this has to come together just right if you are to have any hope of a front row start.

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: New Tires Make Times Look Closer Than They Are

On paper, things are close at Jerez. At the end of the first day, the top eight riders are all within half a second of each other. The first fourteen are within a second. You would normally see the kind of tightly bunched times on a Moto2 result sheet, not MotoGP, as former Moto3 and Moto2 crew chief, and now Eurosport commentator Peter Bom put it. It has all the makings of a very tight race.

Or it does if you judge it only by the headline times. Dig a little deeper and a different picture appears. Scrap the riders who put in a new soft tire and chased a fast lap, and focus only on race pace on used tires, and it Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez looks like being fought out between The Hondas Repsol and LCR, Ecstar Suzuki rider Andrea Iannone, and just maybe, Johann Zarco on the Monster Tech3 Yamaha. Sure, a bunch of people did some 1'38s and low 1'39s, but Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Cal Crutchlow were banging out that kind of pace consistently, on tires which have more than half race distance on them.

Is it going to be a Honda whitewash? "It is still too early to say," Cal Crutchlow told reporters, trying to dampen expectations after finishing the day as fastest. "A lot of the other bikes take one day and overnight they are there. If they are sliding a lot then they try to fix it for day two. If we’re sliding then that's our natural bike and we don't make the same improvement overnight. I don't think we’ll suddenly have another second but other people might find another half a second."

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Preview Press Releases

Press release previews from the MotoGP teams and Michelin:


MotoGP arrives at Jerez de la Frontera for the Spanish GP, the first European round of the 2018 season

Following on from the first three overseas rounds of the season, the Ducati Team has now arrived in Spain, where the fourth round of the MotoGP World Championship will be held on Sunday at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Andalusia.

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