Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class at Aragon:
It started off as a great morning for the Estrella Galicia garage, with both their riders leading early on, one of them sticking around the top of the timesheets at the end as well. This time around it was Alex Marquez out to give the home audience something to cheer about, the Spaniard leading by over two tenths as his teammate Franco Morbidelli slipped down to sixth, four tenths off.
After an underwhelming Friday by his own standards, Johann Zarco found his feet mid-FP3 to lead the session for a considerable amount of time before being pushed back by Marquez. Sam Lowes started the morning with a long race simulation putting full race distance into the tyres before going for a quali run that bumped him into third position.
The order in the cloudy afternoon session for the intermediate class was decided in the final minutes of FP2, Takaaki Nakagami finding his way back to the top after an average start to the session, the Japanese rider leading the timesheets by less than a tenth of a second from FP1 leader Sam Lowes.
Thomas Luthi also kept within a tenth, the Swiss rider finishing third, Lorenzo Baldassarri picking up the pace after an anonymous FP1, the Italian finding almost a second between the practice sessions.
What looked to be a chance for Johann Zarco to leave a mark on his title rival’s homeland, turned into a laptime war between Sam Lowes and Jonas Folger, the two exchanging the lead countless times in the final half of the session. The Brit came out on top, narrowly leading by five hundredths of a second.
Takaaki Nakagami tried to challenge the duo and got as close as nine thousandths of a second but had to settle for third. After leading the session briefly, fourth-placed Simone Corsi was the only rider to get within half a second of the leader, Sandro Cortese in fifth over six tenths down.
There is a current fashion in moviemaking, of taking proven formulas from the past, giving them a light makeover and then relaunching them, then trying to spice them up by referring to them as a "reboot" or "reloaded". Dorna executives must have been to see Ghostbusters, Mad Max, and many more, as the 2017 MotoGP calendar is best described as 2016 Reloaded.
The 2017 MotoGP calendar is almost identical to the 2016 calendar, with a couple of minor tweaks. Those tweaks are a clear improvement on 2016: there are fewer large gaps, and there are fewer back-to-back races. There have been some changes to help with logistics, and some to help with race organizations.
The music has stopped for the MotoGP riders, with all of them now having taken their seats for next year. That does not mean that contract season is over, however. We are in the middle of another migration, this time of crew chiefs and mechanics.
It all started with Jorge Lorenzo. The Movistar Yamaha rider's move to Ducati for next season left him needing a crew chief. Once his current crew chief Ramon Forcada made the decision to stay with Yamaha, and work with Maverick Viñales, who takes Lorenzo's place, that precipitated a search for someone to work with the Spaniard at Ducati.
It was a search which took some time, but which saw Cristian Gabarrini tempted back to Ducati. The quiet, reflective Italian had been set somewhat adrift after the retirement of Casey Stoner, with whom Gabarrini won MotoGP titles at Ducati and Honda. First, he acted as engineering advisor to Marc Márquez and his crew chief Santi Hernandez, but Márquez made it clear he wanted only to work with Hernandez. Then he was put in charge of Honda's Open Class project, and managing the bikes.
At the end of the 2018 Grand Prix season, the engine contract for the Moto2 class comes up for renewal. The existing Honda CBR600RR engine is in line to be replaced as the spec Moto2 engine, as Honda is set to stop selling the bike in Europe, and has no plans for a successor.
What does the future of the Moto2 class look like? With the end of the current contract two years away, Dorna has started the process of defining what is to replace the current Honda engine. The first order of business was to explore every possible option, and evaluate the positives and negatives. Nothing was out of bounds: options evaluated included continuing with Honda, opening up the engine supply to competing manufacturers, having a bespoke engine built, and even a return to two-stroke engines.
KTM is to enter the Moto2 class. The Ajo team is to expand its current Moto2 operation to two riders, with Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira taking the place of the departing Johann Zarco. The team is also to switch from Kalex to KTM, as part of KTM's project to provide a career path for young riders from the FIM CEV Moto3 championship through all three Grand Prix classes to MotoGP.
There are few more intimidating atmospheres in motorcycle racing than the MotoGP race at Misano. Unless, of course, you are from what the regional government refer to as Motor Valley, the area which stretches from the Adriatic coast and the up the Po valley towards Milan. The fans are fiery, passionate, and vocal. If you are not a local, to come here and race is to enter the lion's den.
The irony is that since 2010, Spaniards have won every MotoGP race held in Italy, with the exception of the 2014 race at Misano, which was won by Valentino Rossi. The enemy has come into the heart of Italy, and left victorious. It is a grave wound to Italian pride.
For the second time this year, it looked for a long time that Valentino Rossi would heal that wound. At Mugello, it was Yamaha who broke the hearts of Italian fans, after turning up the revs on the Yamaha M1 just a little too far, and causing the engine to detonate, leaving Rossi dejected at the side of the track. At Misano, Rossi took the lead with a firm pass, exploiting a minor mistake by Lorenzo and diving through the barn-door sized opening Lorenzo had left on the inside of Turn 14. There would be fall out from that pass, but not until the press conference.