After two days out on track, the excitement of the Stoner retirement is starting to die down, and people are starting to concentrate on the racing again, rather than the politics and everything else surrounding Stoner's announcement. Qualifying helps focus minds, of course, because something serious is at stake again, a spot on the grid.
And focus was exactly what was needed, in all three classes. After three dry - if rather cold - sessions of free practice for Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, the rain started to fall around lunchtime, letting up towards the end of Moto3 qualifying, before sprinkling on and off for MotoGP and Moto2 (though it returned once again with a vengeance once qualifying was over).
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Le Mans:
Results and summary of qualifying for Sunday's Moto2 qualifying practice at Le Mans:
Pol Espargaro has taken top spot in the final session of free practice for the Moto2 machines. The HP Pons rider held off a challenge by Marc VDS Racing's Scott Redding to hold on to 1st place, leaving Redding in 2nd, ahead of Claudio Corti. Marc Marquez ended the session in 4th, two tenths ahead of Thomas Luthi, who was the last rider to end within a second of Espargaro. Nico Terol had his first decent practice result of the season, ending up with the 6th fastest time.
Retirement obviously hasn't slowed Casey Stoner. After announcing last night that he would be retiring from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 season (and no, that does not mean he will be going to World Superbikes instead), the Australian climbed aboard his Repsol Honda RC213V, banged out the fastest time, a second quicker than anyone else at the time, on just his 3rd lap out of the pits, and went on to top the timesheets in both FP1 and FP2. He had felt a little strange when he rode out of the garage in the morning, he told reporters, realizing that this was the last time he would ever ride these tracks, but thanks to the miracle of compartmentalization - a mental trick that all top sportspeople can perform, tucking away anything not related to the task at hand into a corner of their minds, and focusing their full attention on performing to the peak of their ability - he got on with the business of going very, very fast indeed.
Both factory Hondas are fast. Stoner and teammate Dani Pedrosa took a one-two in both sessions of practice, but Stoner is still a step above the rest, getting close to the lap record Pedrosa set during last year's race, despite the track being cooler than in 2011. Stoner spent his time trying to generate some chatter - more difficult in cooler temperatures and on the Le Mans circuit's less grippy asphalt - to at least try to gather some data after the Estoril test was rained off, but both he and Pedrosa clearly have a race set up, should the rain hold off on Sunday.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at Le Mans:
Thomas Luthi put in a fast lap at the end of the first session of practice to top the Moto2 timesheets on Friday morning. The Interwetten Paddock rider nipped ahead Marc Marquez in the final minutes of FP1 to set the fastest time. Simone Corsi finished the practice in 2nd, after occupying top spot for a portion of the session and swapping places with Marc Marquez, who ended in 3rd. The two Marc VDS Racing men took 4th and 5th, Scott Redding just a fraction faster than his teammate Mika Kallio.
Below are the press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams, as well as official tire supplier Dunlop, ahead of this weekend's Le Mans round of MotoGP:
As it should be, what was probably the last Portuguese Grand Prix for the foreseeable future left no one indifferent. Torrential storms became almost a tradition at Estoril, so nobody expected this edition to be any different after seeing clouds quickly come and go over the track from Thursday to Sunday. It would hardly have been a surprise to feel the rain start to fall at any given moment of the weekend, but thankfully, it held off.
Media attention was focused since early Thursday on rumours of Casey Stoner’s retirement published by Spanish magazine Solo Moto a few days earlier, but that turned out to be much ado about nothing, even more so after Stoner’s magnificent victory on Sunday against Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
But leaving aside MotoGP, with its high tech prototype bikes, and riders so close to perfection that it is almost impossible to overtake, the Moto2 and Moto3 classes gave the real action at Estoril with two thrilling races decided in the last few corners.
Waiting for Le Mans
Round four at the hard braking –or heart breaking - track of Le Mans for the French Grand Prix this weekend will see a new chapter added to the 2012 volume of the toughest Moto2 fights, featuring Marc Marquez, Thomas Luthi, Pol Espargaró and Andrea Iannone, the fastest men right now in Moto2.
Cheating in motorsports is as old as the sport itself. Whenever powered vehicles gather together to race each other, then someone, somewhere, will try to gain an advantage, either within the rules or, if that is not successful, outside of the rules. In all classes, and at all times, teams, engineers and riders have all tried to cheat in one way or another. Even the imposition of a spec engine in the Moto2 class hasn't prevented teams trying to cheat, and the paddock is awash with rumors regarding which teams are cheating and which teams are not.
The finger of blame is inevitably pointed at the most successful riders, and in recent months, it has been pointed mainly at Catalunya CX rider Marc Marquez. Marquez has a number of strikes against him, making him a popular target for rumors of cheating; firstly, Marquez is Spanish, and as Moto2 is a Spanish-run series, the non-Spanish teams are all fervently convinced that Spanish teams are not monitored as closely as they are. Secondly, Marquez has the backing of Repsol, one of the more powerful sponsors in the paddock, exerting influence not just over Marquez' Monlau Competicion team, but also over the much more important factory Repsol Honda team; the power of Repsol, the gossips suggest, exerts undue influence on the policing process. Thirdly, and most obviously, Marquez is fast, almost suspiciously so. The Spaniard's bike is always one of the fastest through the speed traps, and accelerates hardest off the corners. His team put it down to hard work at finding exactly the right set up for Marquez to excel. One of the lighter Moto2 riders on a well-prepared bike, ridden by a fast and talented rider? That, Marquez' supporters argue, is reason enough for him to be fastest.
To find out more about the situation, and what Dorna and the scrutineers are doing to address these concerns, I spoke to Race Director - and formerly Technical Director - Mike Webb at Estoril. I passed on the concerns that others had expressed to me about cheating in Moto2, and he explained to me exactly what Dorna are doing to monitor the bikes and ensure that cheating is kept to an absolute minimum, and that if it is happening, it does not pay. Here is what Webb had to say:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 team after Sunday's race at Estoril:
Results and summary of the Moto2 race at Estoril: