2013 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Championship Turnarounds, Honda's Moto3 Gambit, And The 2014 Calendar
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.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Motorland Aragon:
So what happened to the lap times? When MotoGP tested here at Aragon back in June, Jorge Lorenzo was nearly one and a half seconds faster than his time on the first day of practice. Marc Marquez was half a second slower than his time in testing, despite being the fastest man after FP1 and FP2, Valentino Rossi was a second slower, and Dani Pedrosa was just a couple of tenths slower than his test time, set here three months ago.
The answer is simple: no grip. Grip is missing both front and rear, as temperatures have soared unusually at the Spanish circuit. The track is also dirtier: a car event held before the test had laid rubber down and swept the track clean, but that was not the case ahead of this weekend. The lack of grip has meant everyone has struggled to match the lap times from earlier in the year.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Motorland Aragon:
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's round at the Motorland Aragon circuit:
As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs.
Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting. It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series.
In turn, the Aspar and NGM Forward teams had become the hot ticket, because of the packages they had to offer, and how competitive they are expected to be. Forward will be running Yamaha's leased engine package, consisting of an engine, frame and swingarm from the 2013 Yamaha M1 for 2014, with the rest of the bike to be built by FTR. The British engineering firm will then build an entire chassis package for 2015, though the chassis could be entered earlier if it is finished. The package will run the spec Dorna software instead of Yamaha's custom electronics, and this is likely to be the limiting factor on performance.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after Monday's post-race test at Misano:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the the San Marino Grand Prix at Misano:
If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo's braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up. Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line. On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
There was the small matter of the remaining 27 laps, of course, but Lorenzo controlled the race imperiously. Every time one of the Repsol Hondas chasing him got a little closer, Lorenzo responded, upping his pace to match either Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez, depending on who was leading the chase. The gap climbed to three seconds, dropped to two seconds, climbed again to four before Lorenzo crossed the line nearly three and a half seconds ahead of Marquez. It had been a typically Lorenzian performance, ruling the race with an iron fist, crushing the opposition before it even had a chance to consider trying to put up a fight.
Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner's 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second. The lap was stunning - another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP - and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
Not just during qualifying. There has only been one session of practice in which Marc Marquez was not fastest at Misano, and that was Q1, a session he did not participate in. Marquez has now scored six poles in his first year, joining Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as the only riders to have started from pole so many times in a season. He is, in case you haven't noticed, downright impressive.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after qualifying at Misano:
2013 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Seamless, Ducati's New Exhaust, And Race Direction's View Of Rivas And Marquez
So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears. Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition. The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn't even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Misano:
2013 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, Marquez' Misdemeanors And The Veto That Wasn't
Will they or won't they? "They", of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time. That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications - including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro.com - predicted that Yamaha's seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.
They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. 'It will be here for the weekend,' he said, going on to clarify: 'tomorrow.' Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.
It was not by any means a magic bullet, Rossi was at pains to stress, but it would make it easier to ride over the full length of a race. There is no real gain in terms of lap time, but with reduced tire wear and reduced strain on the rider, it did add up to gains in total race time. 'It was a nice feeling not to feel this dropping of power for a few milliseconds,' Lorenzo explained. 'You don't feel it on the seamless - it is like a scooter, an automatic bike.' The biggest gain was in shifting up through the gearbox with the bike banked over, Lorenzo said. With the conventional gearbox, the bike would move, but with the seamless, 'the bike doesn’t move and you save more the tires and are in more in control of the bike.'