Niccolo Antonelli ended FP2 in the same the way he ended FP1: By setting the fastest Moto3 time of the day at the Motegi circuit in Japan. The rider’s 1’57.500 put him one-tenth of a second clear of second place in the final Friday practice.
Miguel Oliveira – winner at the prior round in Aragon -- earned the number two time. Enea Bastianini ended his session in third another two-tenths back. In the first practice, Bastianini crashed at Turn 9. He is second in the championship behind Danny Kent who finished the day in 13th.
Niccolo Antonelli started off his weekend in Japan with a bang by setting the fastest time in FP1 Friday at the Motegi circuit. Antonelli’s 1’57.500 put him one-tenth of a second clear of Miguel Oliviera who claimed second-fastest at the Twin Ring. Brad Binder seized the third-fastest time another half a second back from the leader.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's race at Motegi:
And so the most crucial part of the season begins. Although you could justifiably make the argument that every race is equally important, the three flyaways to the Pacific rim often punch well above their weight in terms of determining the outcome of the championships. If riders haven't all but wrapped up the title before heading East for the triple header at Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang, then events can throw a real spanner in the works of a title fight. These are three grueling weeks of racing under any circumstances; throw in the pressure of a championship battle and mistakes are easily made.
The first challenge the riders face is the sheer amount of travel it takes to get from one race to the next. First, they must spend at least 18 hours on planes and at airports traveling from Europe to Tokyo. They face a further two hour drive to get to Motegi, and unless they are well-paid enough to be staying at the circuit hotel, will have a 50-minute commute into the circuit every day ahead of the race. On Sunday night or Monday morning, they return to Tokyo for another 10-hour flight (or longer, if they can't fly direct) to Melbourne, and a drive down to Phillip Island. A week later, another flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, this time an 8-hour flight. After the Sepang round, they finally get to head home, another 17+ hour return flight back to Europe, and a week to rest up ahead of the final round of the season at Valencia. They travel from a wet and humid Motegi, to the chill of Phillip Island's early spring, to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang.
Motorcycle racers are hyperactive at the best of times, so getting them to sit still for the best part of a day is not easy. The Japanese manufacturers – a group including Bridgestone, also based in Japan – want to take full advantage of the presence of their top riders in Asia, and so they get taken on whirlwind tours of factories, headquarters, and as a bonus, a trip to key markets such as Indonesia or Thailand. For riders such as Cal Crutchlow and Nicky Hayden, used to spending upwards of 3 hours on a bicycle every day, their training routine is destroyed. Those who prefer training on a motorcycle, such as Valentino Rossi or Marc Márquez, do not fare any better. They might get some time in a gym, but suffering massive jet lag, in a confusing environment where they can understand very little of the language, and surrounded by strange food, it is much more difficult to maintain focus. In a sport where attention to detail has become ever more important, the smallest mistake can be ruinous. It is no wonder that titles can go astray overseas.
Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.
Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon. The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening. Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.
The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams which have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight. To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics. That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. "This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox," Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. "You can't get the best out of it without one."
While the world of motorcycle racing is still buzzing with the outcome of the MotoGP race at Aragon, it is easy to overlook a couple of exciting and important races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In both cases, the championship leaders came to Aragon with the chance to put one hand on the title, and in both cases, they leave Europe empty handed, having failed to capitalize on the opportunities which presented themselves. The races also provided a couple of extremely deserving winners capping great battles in both classes.
The Moto3 race turned out to be the thriller everyone expected. A modest (by Moto3 standards) group made the break, Miguel Oliveira taking the initiative and the lead. He was joined naturally enough by the two rivals for the title, Enea Bastianini trying to push forward as much as possible, Danny Kent keeping a wary eye on Bastianini. Brad Binder tagged along at the back, while a strong start from Romano Fenati took him from his usual poor qualifying position to the fight at the front. Efren Vazquez was in the fray, as were Niccolo Antonelli and Jorge Navarro, both looking very strong. Jorge Martin impressed in the group, putting the Mahindra right in among the leaders.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Aragon:
Any track with a long straight and a sweeping corner to the line is going to make for close Moto3 racing.
The last two races have followed a familiar pattern. On Friday and Saturday, Jorge Lorenzo has laid down a scorching pace, which his rivals – and more importantly, his teammate and rival for the 2015 MotoGP title, Valentino Rossi – have been unable to follow. Lorenzo's name was penciled onto the winner's trophy, and his grip on the MotoGP class looked secure.
Then on Sunday, everything changed. The weather gods intervened, rain lashed down at Silverstone, then started and stopped at Misano, throwing the race into disarray. Both times, Valentino Rossi handled the conditions better than Lorenzo, gaining big points in both races. At Silverstone, Rossi won comfortably, while Jorge Lorenzo struggled home in fourth. At Misano, Rossi rode a tactically poor race, but still managed to come home in fifth. Lorenzo got caught out by the pace of Scott Redding, failing to understand that the Marc VDS rider had already been out for several laps and had his tires up to temperature and his brain up to speed. The Movistar Yamaha rider tried to stay with Redding, and paid the price when he turned left after a long series of rights, crashing out and scoring zero points.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
This weekend sees a spate of rider announcements in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, and the news that Fabio Quartararo has signed for the Leopard Racing team for 2016 is one of the most important. The announcement had been widely expected, after the first news that Quartararo had decided to leave the Estrella Galicia Marc VDS team emerged at Indianapolis. Quartararo had expressed a desire to work with Christian Lundberg again, the engineer he worked with in the CEV championship.
Quartararo will line up alongside Joan Mir, who moves up from the CEV for 2016, with a third rider also expected to be announced soon. That, according to GPOne.com, will be Andrea Locatelli, though that is yet to be confirmed. Leopard Racing will also be moving up to Moto2, with an announcement expected this weekend of who will join Miguel Oliveira as their second rider. It seems almost certain that Danny Kent will remain with the squad which has seen him lead the championship, though Kent has remained firmly silent on the matter.
The press release appears below:
LEOPARD RACING SIGNS FABIO QUARTARARO FOR THEIR 2016 MOTO3 CAMPAIGN
Leopard Racing is proud to announce a two-year contract with rising-star Fabio Quartararo to ride the team’s Moto3 machine in 2016.
Moto3 FP3 started in gentlemanly fashion, but by the halfway mark riders were already looking around for a tow as the long back straight without a tow will cost you at least three tenths of a second.
Efren Vazquez leads the Saturday morning session of free practice for the Moto3 rider at Aragon. The Leopard Racing rider put in a late charge to depose Niccolo Antonelli from the top spot, pulling out an advantage of over a quarter of a second over the Italian. Miguel Oliveira ended the session in 3rd, just behind Antonelli, while championship leader Danny Kent took 4th spot, apparently having found a solution for the lack of front-end feel he was complaining about on Friday. Brad Binder grabbed 5th, two tenths slower than Kent, and another two tenths faster than Roman Fenati. Enea Bastianini, winner last time out at Misano and on a charge to close the gap to Kent, ended the session in 7th, but suffered a technical problem that left him sidelined at the end of FP3.