Previews from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's Australian GP at Phillip Island:
Phillip Island, like Mugello, is one of the tracks which any motorcycle racer worth their salt puts at the very top of their list of favorite tracks. And rightly so: swooping over gently undulating ground sitting atop cliffs overlooking a bay on the Bass Strait, it is perhaps the greatest of the natural race tracks. It has everything a race track should have: a collection of fast, sweeping corners which richly reward bravery; a couple of hard braking corners fast and slow at which to overtake; a superb and treacherous combination of turns in Lukey Heights and MG at which to make a last ditch passing attempt, and a long enough run to the finish line to make drafting a possibility. Add in arguably the most breathtaking setting on the calendar, and you have just about everything.
Of course, the glory of Phillip Island also has its downsides. The flowing nature of the track and limited number of turns means that the bikes spend a lot of time on the left-hand side of the tire, often at very high speed. With very high loads on the left-hand side, and very low loads on the right, both producing and managing tires is difficult. Add in the fact that in October, the start of the Australian spring, it can be still be very chilly indeed, especially with the strong winds blowing off the Bass Strait, with next to nothing between them and the Antarctic, and it is a potential recipe for disaster. Tires cool quickly, and each right hander has to be approached with respect. Get it wrong, and your race is over very quickly.
Tires have always been an issue at Phillip Island, providing just the sort of challenge which tire manufacturers relish. That they are not always up to the challenge was demonstrated in 2013, when Bridgestone drastically underestimated the effect of the newly resurfaced circuit. Massive problems with overheating forced Race Direction to shorten the race and introduce compulsory pit stops, a workaround which produced a fascinating race, with the added spice of a disqualification, Marc Márquez being black-flagged for not making his pit stop in time.
With the title chase so incredibly tight, it is inevitable that every MotoGP race from now until Valencia will result in journalists and writers – and I include myself in that group – spend most of their time writing about the clash between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The outcome of that confrontation matters, as it will decide the 2015 MotoGP championship.
This is tough on the rest of the MotoGP field and the riders in other classes. They, too, are riding their hearts out, aiming for – and in Moto2 and Moto3 attaining – glory, yet they are ignored as the rest of the world gazes in wonder at a few names at the front of MotoGP. They do not deserve such treatment, but life in general, and motorcycle racing in particular are neither fair nor just.
There were plenty of tales to tell at Motegi, however. The biggest, perhaps, is the tale of tires. To some extent, this has already been covered in part 1 of the round up, as tire wear ended up determining the outcome of the race. Jorge Lorenzo pushed early, then went backwards in the second half of the race. Valentino Rossi tried to follow Lorenzo at the start, realized that was not possible and so paced himself, and found himself catching and then passing Lorenzo in the latter stages of the race. And Dani Pedrosa felt uncomfortable in the first part of the race, as he figured out what the rear tire needed, then gradually upped his pace – or more accurately, maintained his pace – from about lap 8, and started reeling in the riders ahead as their pace began to flag. Whether accidental or deliberate, Pedrosa's strategy ended up winning the race.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Motegi:
2015 Motegi Saturday Round Up: The Key To Rossi's Qualifying, The Perils Of Data Sharing, And Fast Fenati, Finally
Has Valentino Rossi finally mastered qualifying? The Italian has struggled since the format changed, from the extended hour of qualifying which started out as free practice and ended up as an all-out time attack, to the frenetic fifteen-minute dash for pole. His biggest problem, he always explained, was getting up to speed from the start: leaving pit lane and going flat out from the very first meters. He had spent a lifetime slowly sidling up to a blistering lap, rather than getting the hammer down as soon as the lights changed. The switch from an analog to a binary format had been hard to swallow. Millions of older fans sympathized, as they faced the same struggle in their own lives.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, has thrived in the new format, having learned the skill while doing battle with Casey Stoner. The Australian's greatest legacy was his ability to go as fast as possible the moment he left the pit lane. I was once told by Cristian Gabarrini, Stoner's crew chief, that when they looked at his sector times, they would see that he had set his fastest sector times on his out lap. To beat Stoner, Lorenzo had to learn to emulate him. That ability has benefited him twofold: firstly, in the new qualifying format, he can put the hammer down right out of pit lane, without any mental preparation for speed. Secondly, Lorenzo has been able to convert those pole positions into a lot of wins by being able to blast off the line and into the lead before the first corner, then open a gap which his pursuers can never bridge.
That blistering speed has given Lorenzo an added advantage in qualifying. By having the pace to push from the start, he cuts vital seconds from the out lap. Those seconds add up, and can under some circumstances mean the difference between managing to get in for two stops, and being forced to make do with a single stop. There are upsides and downsides to both approaches: more stops means you need more tires, both front and rear, to be able to extract the maximum lap time. You have no time to make set up adjustments, and you are usually forced into swapping bikes as well, something riders often do not like as the two bikes can feel slightly different.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Motegi:
Despite strict instructions being issued to the Moto3 riders after Aragon, warning them of severe sanctions should they be found waiting on the racing line, the problem reared its ugly head again in qualifying at Motegi. As a result, Race Direction felt compelled to act, imposing severe penalties on four riders in Moto3. Four riders were penalized for going slowly, officially for riding slower than 110% of their fastest times through three sectors on one lap.
Race Direction's punishments were particularly painful this weekend. Two of the men on the front row, Miguel Oliveira in 2nd and Jorge Navarro who qualified 3rd, received penalties which moved them back three places on the grid, taking from the first to the second row. Jakub Kornfeil was also punished for the same offence, dropping from 8th to 11th, while Alexis Masbou was bumped from 19th to 22nd on the grid.
The penalties for Oliveira and Navarro have had a big impact on the starting order. With both men bumped off the front row, Niccolo Antonelli and Enea Bastianini move up onto the front row, Antonelli in 2nd, Bastianini in 3rd. Danny Kent also benefits, but only moves from 6th to 4th, not gaining an extra starting row in the process.
The revised Moto3 grid is shown below. This supersedes the order the riders finished in qualifying.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class:
Niccolo Antonelli continued to dominate free practice at Motegi circuit Saturday with the top time of the weekend so far. Antonelli's 1’56.572 put him more than three-tenths ahead of Brad Binder, who earned the second-fastest time. Miguel Oliveira took third, two-hundredths back.
Jorge Navarro set the fourth fastest time, just in front of Romano Fenati (5th). Championship leader Danny Kent improved from earlier practices to finish sixth, just barely in front teammate Hiroki Ono (7th).
Isaac Viñales (8th), Zulfahmi Khairuddin (9th) and Efren Vazquez (10th) completed the top ten.
Press releases from the teams after the first day of practice at Motegi:
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.