The Massive Silly Season Update: Redding vs Kent At Pramac, Honda's Musical Chairs, Moto2 And Much More
Brno was a busy time for teams, managers and riders. Apart from dealing with jet lag and the sweltering heat, silly season kicked off in force at the Czech round of MotoGP. The summer break and the chaos which ensued from the situation around the Forward Racing team put everything on hold over the summer, with tentative talks starting at Indianapolis. Those talks, and events outside the paddock, helped clarify the situation, and at Brno talks began in earnest. The empty spaces on the MotoGP grid are starting to be filled.
The weekend kicked off with the fairly sensational news that Danny Kent was talking to Pramac Ducati about a ride in MotoGP, going straight from Moto3 and skipping Moto2. The deal on the table would be a three-year deal with support from the factory, racing a GP15 alongside Danilo Petrucci. It was an offer Kent was giving very serious consideration, and expected to think about in the run up to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Given that Octo is the title sponsor of the Silverstone round, and also the sponsor of the Pramac Ducati team, announcing a British rider at the British GP would be a sponsor's dream.
Signing Kent has not come out of the blue. The Moto3 championship leader has made it clear he will not be back in Moto3 next year, whatever happens. Kent has options in Moto2, most notably with his current Kiefer team, who run on the Leopard Racing banner. Kiefer are set to move up to Moto2 in 2016, and are keen to retain the services of Kent. But Kent sees 2016 would be an ideal moment to make the jump to MotoGP, given the technical changes which are coming next season. Michelin tires, as the biggest change, will mean a much more level playing field, as everyone in MotoGP, veteran and rookie, will have to work to figure out how to get the most out of them. The more rear-biased style, using the extra grip of the rear to carry more corner speed, may also help a rookie coming up from Moto3. Ducati certainly think the switch might work, Davide Tardozzi telling me at Brno "this is not something we thought up last night, we have been thinking about this for a while."
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after yesterday's races at Brno:
2015 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Foiled Expectations, A Sea Change In The Championship, And The Distractions Of Contracts
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?
The clues that he would not be able to were there for all to see in the long run data from free practice on Saturday. But the insurmountable obstacle to any hopes of a thrilling race was the man on pole. Jorge Lorenzo had laid down such a withering pace in qualifying to take pole that he looked pretty much untouchable. He destroyed Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013 by over half a second, becoming the first motorcycle racer to lap the Brno circuit in under 1'55. His race pace was the strongest of the trio, but the gap looked manageable.
The future of the MotoGP round at Brno has finally been secured. The regional authorities have stepped in to secure funding for the Czech Grand Prix for the next five years, starting from 2016. A deal has been struck with the Czech Ministry of Education and Sports, the City of Brno, and the Moravian regional government to ensure that the Czech round stays for the foreseeable future.
The round had been in doubt for some time, as haggling over finances between the circuit, the city council and the regional government saw the sanctioning fee go partially unpaid for the past several years. The rights to the round have now been placed with a new and separate organization, run by the various regional and national governments involved, who will organize the round at the Brno circuit. With the financing in place, the race will continue for at least the next five years, and probably beyond.
The entertainment value in MotoGP waxes and wanes through the years. One year, the races are all serial snoozers, each race settling into a procession a lap or two after the start. The next, everything is turned on its head, every race a tense battle to the line for a close finish. We are lucky indeed that this year falls very much into the latter category. There have been some classic races already, and tomorrow's race looks like being an absolute corker. The two title favorites and the most highly-tipped outsider are on the front row of the grid, two fast Ducatis and the best satellite rider at the moment are behind them on the second row, and one of the most exciting young talents in MotoGP will start from seventh, and is clearly competitive. Battle tomorrow is not just for victory, but for the momentum in the championship. And if the racing needed spicing up any more than it has been already, it might just rain.
The big surprise on the front row is Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been mediocre at best during qualifying, ending up all too often on the third row of the grid, and having to pull off miracles to fight his way to the front. It was clear that something was afoot this morning, when Rossi posted an exceptional time in FP3 to take him into second spot, and very safely into Q2. Clearly, he and his team had been working on something to find some speed on a single fast lap, in a bid to boost his qualifying position. It made qualifying an even more intriguing spectacle than usual, with the question at hand not just who would grab pole, but whether Rossi would be able to raise his game and put himself in a position to be competitive from the very first laps.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
Jonas Folger topped the final session of free practice for the Moto2 class at Brno, flying to the top of the timesheets at the end of the session, and deposing Tito Rabat. Rabat had led right from the start, laying down a blistering pace as he prepared for the race, but the Marc VDS rider could not match Folger's fast flying lap. Alex Rins took 3rd, the HP Pons rider once again impressive after victory at Indianpolis, keeping Rabat in sight throughout the session. Franco Morbidelli grabbed 4th spot, just edging ahead of Rins' teammate Luis Salom. Championship leader Johann Zarco ended the session in 8th.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after practice on Friday at Brno:
Tito Rabat topped the timesheet Friday at the Brno circuit with a 2’02.714 in the second free practice. The current world champion had been mired in second until eight minutes to go in the session when he began increasing his pace.
Thomas Luthi, who had led much of the session and was the first rider to dip into the 2'02s, ended just nine-hundredths behind the leader with Simone Corsi setting the third-quickest time. Championship leader Johann Zarco did manage to dip into the 2'02s with a fourth-place showing, closely followed by Thomas Luthi.
Overall, the top 10 riders are separated by less than a second at Czech Republic track where air tempertures have climbed to 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) and track temperatures have eclipsed 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Johann Zarco has taken control of the Moto2 class from the very start of practice. The championship leader took over the top of the timesheets early on in the session, and did not relinquish them. Jonas Folger ended the session in 2nd, but was over a third of a second behind Zarco, and only three thousandths of a second ahead of Simone Corsi in 3rd. Tito Rabat took 4th, a tenth behind Corsi, with Tom Luthi and Sam Lowes hot on Rabat's tail.