"It's just nuts to be separated by one second over the 5 km around this place." It is hard to argue with Eugene Laverty's assessment of just how close the times are after free practice for MotoGP. Laverty is either really close to Marc Márquez, or a long way behind Marc Márquez, depending on how you measure it. The Irishman had a solid day of practice to come up just over a second shy of Márquez' best time on Friday evening. His problem is that as impressive as his time was, there are eighteen riders ahead of him.
It is, quite frankly, ridiculously close. "I don't know when was the last time you saw down to 21st was inside 1.3 seconds," Jack Miller said in awe. "It's almost like we're in Moto3 again." The closeness of the field was a frustration for everyone on the grid. Miller, Scott Redding, Nicky Hayden, even Valentino Rossi cannot believe how tough the field is. "This practice is unbelievable, because there are ten bikes in three tenths!"
That does not make it any easier to pick a winner, however. Marc Márquez is the least troubled of the riders on the grid, fast both in race trim and on a single lap. The Repsol Honda man spent the day working on his race pace, dropping his lap time to around 1'55.3. He could not make the same step for his single lap pace, but as Márquez has topped every session so far, that should not be too much of a concern. It is too early to be handing him the pole, however: with Aleix Espargaro managing fourth on the soft tire, Andrea Iannone getting to within two tenths of Márquez while still running the medium tire, and Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa showing some real pace on a single lap, the front row is not a given. Márquez fears the Ducatis and Pedrosa most, but warned also against writing off the Yamahas. "In one lap, they can be there," he said.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the second day of practice at Qatar:
Sam Lowes has topped the third session of free practice for the Moto2 class, after a scintillating battle for supremacy with Johann Zarco. Lowes and Zarco kept pushing each other to the limits, swapping the lead all the way down to the wire. It was Lowes who ended up on top, the Speed Up rider finishing just ahead of the Ajo Racing man at the end of the session.
Tito Rabat took 3rd behind Lowes and Zarco, the reigning world champion becoming the third rider to break the two minute barrier. The gap was large, however: Rabat is three tenths slower than Zarco, and nearly half a second slower than Lowes. He is still a third of a second quicker than the man in 4th, however, Sandro Cortese ending the day three quarters of a second behind Lowes, and a couple of tenths ahead of Axel Pons.
Alex Marquez had a much better session in FP3, the reigning Moto3 champion starting to find his feet in Moto2. At one point, the Spaniard was up to 8th, before slipping down the field to 11th. Former teammate Alex Rins finished ahead of him once again, ending the session in 9th, after missing much of the first part of FP3 with clutch problems, an issue he shared with his HP Pons teammate Luis Salom.
2015 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Racing For Real, And The Strange Consequences Of Sponsorship Falling Through
When the flag drops, the speculation stops. Though usually, a rather more forthright word is used instead of speculation. After the long winter of testing, of trying to assess who was trying what on which lap to try to compare lap times, MotoGP is underway for real. Everyone on track is looking for race pace, and a fast lap to ensure they get into Q2. It is a whole lot easier to comprehend, and infinitely more thrilling.
Conditions had not looked promising ahead of practice. Strong winds blew down the front straight in the late afternoon, raising fears that they would coat the circuit in dust and sand. Then shortly before the action was due to kick off, a few drops of rain started falling, threatening to at least delay proceedings should it continue. But the wind dropped and the rain stopped, and the 2015 MotoGP season got underway as planned.
Fears about the track were unfounded, lap times quickly heading towards something resembling race pace. Danny Kent's fastest lap in Moto3 was seven tenths off the lap record in the first session of the day, and when Moto2 hit the track, Sam Lowes set about destroying the existing pole record, becoming the first ever Moto2 rider to break the two minute barrier at the circuit. In MotoGP, Marc Márquez was lapping a few tenths off lap record pace, a record still held by Casey Stoner from 2008.
Press releases from the teams after the first day of practice at Qatar:
Sam Lowes continues to reign supreme in the Moto2 class at Qatar, leading the second session of free practice almost from the start and never being challenged. The Speed Up rider could not quite get under the two minute mark in FP2, but he was once again under Tito Rabat's pole record from last year.
Reigning champion Rabat ended the day second, a third of a second behind Lowes, and ahead of Johann Zarco this time. Axel Pons set the 4th fastest time, another third of a second behind Zarco, and over a second behind the pace of Lowes. Pons heads up a large group of close riders, with Taka Nakagami, Tom Luthi, Sandro Cortese and Xavier Simeon separated by tenth of a second, and Alex Rins another two tenths behind in 9th. Rins was once again impressive, faster than both his teammate Luis Salom, and the reigning Moto3 champion and former teammate Alex Marquez. Marquez ended down in 18th.
Sam Lowes has smashed the existing Moto2 pole record in Qatar, becoming the first man to lap the Losail circuit in under two minutes on a Moto2 bike. Lowes ended the session six tenths of a second ahead of Johann Zarco, while reigning Moto2 champion Tito Rabat took 3rd.
Lowes and Zarco dominated the first session of practice for Moto2, sharing the lead for most of FP1 with exactly the same time. With five minutes to go, Zarco finally took a lead, only to see Lowes smash his time on his very last lap. Rabat was a comfortable 3rd, but could not match the pace of the two leaders.
Tom Luthi finished FP1 in 4th, the Swiss rider nearly 1.6 seconds behind the time set by Lowes, and nearly a second behind Zarco. Times were much closer behind Luthi: Jonas Folger was a tenths slower in 5th, while Sandro Cortese, Franco Morbidelli, Ant West, Alex Rins and Julian Simon were separated by just a quarter of a second. Rins' 9th time marked the best of rookie performances in the Moto2 class, while reigning Moto3 champ Alex Marquez struggled with mechanical issues, only managing the 18th best time.
Press releases from the series organizers and from some of the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's season opener at Qatar:
Poor weather continued at Jerez on the final day of testing for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, with high winds and rain lashing the circuit. The weather limited action on the track, many teams preferring to sit out the day rather than risk injury or severe material damage with less than a week to go to the start of the 2015 season.
A couple of heavy crashes by riders who did choose to ride rather proved their point. Tito Rabat crashed heavily, destroying his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2 machine and leaving his mechanics with a lot of work to do to get the bike ready to ship to Qatar. But Rabat was lucky, he walked away with just bumps and bruises from the crash. Ana Carrasco was less lucky in Moto3, the RBA Racing Team rider falling and breaking her collarbone. Carrasco may still be fit in time for Qatar, as she will not need surgery on the collarbone, but it is far from ideal preparation.
The poor weather saw Marcel Schrotter end the day as fastest Moto2 rider, lapping nearly a second quicker than Julian Simon on the QMMF Speed up, and Mika Kallio on the Italtrans Kalex. In the Moto3 class, Jakub Kornfeil ended the day with the fastest time, the SIC KTM rider ending ahead of Spanish rookie Jorge Martin on the Aspar Mahindra, and Niccolo Antonelli on the Ongetta Honda.
The weather has not been kind to the Moto2 and Moto3 classes at their last preseason test of 2015. Intermittent rain, some of it very heavy, has severely limited action on the first two days of the test. Even when there have been dry spells, the track has only been completely dry for relatively short periods of time. Miss those dry windows of opportunity, and you miss out on dry practice.
Speed Up rider Sam Lowes has had the best of conditions, the track drying out towards the end of the first Moto2 session on Wednesday morning, though Lowes is still a couple of seconds off lap record pace. Jonas Folger set the 2nd fastest time, but was over a second slower, edging Tom Luthi into 3rd.
In the Moto3 class, it was Jorge Navarro who made best use of the dry line which the second session started with on Wednesday, ending nearly three quarters of a second faster than Danny Kent, who was in turn over a tenth faster than Navarro's teammate Fabio Quartararo. Jorge Martin was the first non-Honda in 4th on the Mahindra, while Isaac Viñales put the Husqvarna (a rebadged KTM) into 6th, behind Enea Bastianini.
Dunlop issued the following press release, previewing the final test of the 2015 preseason for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes:
Dunlop’s Moto2 Countdown to 2015 – 4-3-2-1………
With just one test remaining before the 2015 Moto2 and Moto3 seasons get underway, Dunlop riders are getting close to ready for more FIM Moto World Championship wheel to wheel track action. The latest tests for both Moto2 and Moto3 show that times could well be slashed compared to 2014.
Riders have had the chance to give the 2015 tyre specifications a thorough workout. February saw Moto2 and Moto3 testing at Valencia and Jerez with the fastest times breaking all four circuit lap records. The closest times were for Moto3 in Valencia where the top 14 riders, over the three days, were separated by less than one second. The top performers on both tracks were Moto3’s Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco in Moto2.
It has been a relatively quiet week in the world of motorcycle racing, with much of the focus on preparations for 2015 rather than actual on-track action. The past week has seen riders spending more time on stage than on track, as many teams have presented their 2015 racing programs. This is but the calm before the storm, however: from Saturday, there is another bumper period of world championship action, with MotoGP testing at Qatar from 14th-16th March, Moto2 hitting Jerez from 17th-19th, followed by the second round of World Superbikes at the Chang circuit in Thailand from 20th-22nd.
There have been some bikes from other series circulating in the past week, however. The British BSB series has been testing in Spain, the MXGP championship has raced in Thailand, two weeks ahead of the World Superbike series' first visit to the country, and in the US, Florida is gearing up for the Daytona 200.
A piece of history?
That race will be a rather peculiar affair. When Daytona Motorsports Group lost the contract to run the AMA road racing series, tough negotations began with MotoAmerica, the new sanctioning body for AMA. The DMG overestimated their bargaining position, and MotoAmerica were happy to pass up on the Daytona 200. Once a historic event with a big name line up, the race has slipped gradually into international obscurity and domestic impopularity.
The Forward racing team launched their 2015 MotoGP and Moto3 campaigns on Monday, and issued the following press release after the occasion:
Athinà Eyewear with Forward Racing in MotoGP and Moto2
The Gattopardo café hosted yesterday night in Milan the presentation of Athinà Forward Racing Team that will compete in the MotoGP and Moto2 World Championships this year.
Athinà Eyewear, a young Swiss startup owned by AF Invest Group will participate in MotoGP alongside Forward Racing with ambitious goals: winning the title in the MotoGP Open category in and fight with the top team in Moto2.
Stefan Bradl, former Moto2 world champion, and rookie Loris Baz will be riding the title-winning Yamaha Open bike. Simone Corsi, returning after last season injury, will be pairing-up in Moto2 with the young rider Lorenzo Baldassarri from VR46 Academy.
One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Circuit of Wales is exactly where the funding for the project is due to come from. The ambitious project to build a circuit in the Blaenau Gwent region of South Wales will need some £325 million to complete it entirely, with around £200 million to come from private investors, the rest to come from public funds. Though the Circuit of Wales has had plenty of headlines, there has been little word of any private investors putting any actual money into the project.