Danny Kent has continued his domination of the Moto3 class, ending the first session of free practice over seven tenths fastest than the rest of the field, led by Romano Fenati. Fenati was also considerably quicker, half a second quicker than the man in 3rd, Niccolo Antonelli. Times were very slow, some 3.5 seconds slower than the lap record, as heavy overnight rain had left the track damp in places, and very slow to dry in the cool mornings.
The Le Mans round of MotoGP is a truly schizophrenic event. The track sits just south of the charming old city of Le Mans, a combination of medieval center and 19th Century industrial outskirts. The surrounding area is lush, rolling hills, woods alternating with open green fields. It is very much a provincial idyll. Until you reach the Le Mans circuit, and its campsites, where visions of Dante unfold before your eyes, and disinterested guards look on as large drunken hordes set about recreating some of the more gruesome scenes from Lord of the Flies.
Some people love it, others hate it. Veteran journalist Dennis Noyes always says it reminds of going to Hockenheim in the 1990s, when the police would not enter the woods at the heart of the track until the Monday after the race. Then they would go in "to pull the bodies out," as he so colorfully put it. Outside the track, the atmosphere is one of quiet provincial charm. Inside, all is wild, free, and out of control. It is an event that should be experienced at least once, though to be honest, once was enough for me.
Even the circuit is schizophrenic. The facility has two layouts. The glorious, high-speed intimidation of the Circuit de la Sarthe hosts the pinnacle of four-wheeled racing, the 24 Heures du Mans car race, on a track full of long, fast straights and sweeping corners. But MotoGP uses the Bugatti Circuit, the shorter, closed circuit, which is all hairpins and tight esses, with just the glorious Dunlop Curve left as a reminder of the larger, faster circuit.
Yet despite its shortcomings, the Bugatti Circuit has plenty to enjoy. The hard braking, then long drop off of Turn 4, La Chappelle, a treacherous turn indeed. The sweep of Musee and Garage Vert, ideal places for overtaking. The series of tricky esses in the second half of the track: the Chemin aux Boeufs, Garage Bleu, and then the double right of Raccordement, again, ideal spots for attacking an opponent, with the risk they will come back at you in either the second half of the corner, or at the next pair coming up. At most tracks, there are only a couple of places you can overtake. At Le Mans, there are only a couple of corners where you can't.
Press releases from the teams and Dunlop ahead of this weekend's French Grand Prix at Le Mans:
Dani Pedrosa is to return to racing at the Le Mans round of MotoGP. His return brings to an end an extended absence following surgery to cure a persistent arm pump problem. Pedrosa missed three rounds in total, skipping Austin and Argentina, then making a last-minute decision to withdraw from the Jerez round.
That decision was regarded with some suspicion. Jerez is a track where Pedrosa has performed very strongly in the past, and missing a home GP is a major wrench of any MotoGP rider. However, after testing his forearm by riding a supermoto bike, Pedrosa was concerned that his arms were not recovering as hoped. Now, with two weeks more rest, Pedrosa believes his arms will be strong enough to withstand the stresses of racing a MotoGP bike.
The MotoGP grid is looking in surprisingly good health in 2015. The series has come a long way in the five years since 2010, when there were just 17 full-time entries on the grid, and Suzuki was teetering on the brink of withdrawal. Dorna's CRT gambit has paid off: the much-maligned production-based bikes may not have been competitive, but they did spur the manufacturers into action to actually supply more competitive machinery to the private teams. The CRT bikes became Open class bikes, and Dorna's pet project of standardized electronics has been adopted into the MotoGP rules. From 2016, there will be one class again (well, sort of, the concessions – engine development, unlimited testing, more engines – for factories without regular podiums are to remain in place), with everyone on the same electronics, the same fuel allowance, and the same tires.
A bigger change is coming for 2017. From the outside, the 2017 grid will be indistinguishable from the one in 2016, but the changes behind the scenes will significant, and be a step towards securing the long-term future of the series. The position of the private teams is to change from 2017, ensuring financial security, a fixed price for competitive machinery, and securing their slots on the grid.
The change encompasses a number of key elements, all of which revolve around the independent teams. The first, and most important, is that the grid size will be fixed at 24 riders, each of whom will receive financial support from Dorna. Those grid slots will be awarded to the existing teams – the IODA team, as a one-rider outfit, are likely to be the squad which loses out – and they are guaranteed to keep those places. No new teams will be admitted to the MotoGP class, unless one of the existing teams pulls out. If a new factory wants to enter MotoGP, they will have to do so through an existing team, as Aprilia did in 2015, rather than through their own structure, as Suzuki did. KTM, who are expected to enter in 2017, and are considering entering as a factory, according to a story on Speedweek, will have to partner with an existing squad. Speedweek mentions the Aspar team; given the financial struggles of the Valencia-based team, that would make a lot of sense, for both parties.
Press releases from some of the Moto3 teams involved in the post-race test at Jerez:
One of the greatest privileges of my job is to stand at trackside and watch the riders up close. It is the ideal antidote to the malaise which can affect journalists like me who tend to spend too much time indoors, in the press room, in the back of garages, and in team trucks and hospitality units, endlessly talking to people in pursuit of information. Walking out to Nieto, Peluqui and Crivillé, turns 9, 10 and 11 at Jerez, savoring the passion of the fans cheering as their favorite riders pass by, observing each rider closely as they pass, trying to see if I can see anything, learn anything, understand anything about the way the best motorcycle racers in the world handle their machines.
There is plenty to see, if you take the trouble to look. This morning, during warm up, I watched the riders brake and pitch their machines into turn 9, give a touch of gas to turn 10, before getting hard on the gas out of turn 10 and onto the fast right handers of 11 and 12. In the transition from the left of turn 8 to the right of turn 9, you see the fast riders move slowly across the bike, while the slow riders move fast. You see them run on rails through turns 9 and 10, before forcing the bike up onto the fatter part of the tire while still hanging off the side out of 10 and heading off to 11. You see the extreme body position on the bike, almost at the limit of physics. It is hard to see how a rider can hang off the bike further, outside hands barely touching the handlebars, outside feet almost off the footpegs. Photos and video barely start to do the riders justice. To experience it you need to see it from the track, and from the stands and hillsides that surround it.
Of all the riders to watch around Jerez, none is as spectacular as Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo is spectacular not for his exaggerated mobility, but rather for the lack of it. He slides around the Yamaha M1 like a python, oozing from side to side, his motion almost invisible to the naked eye. One moment he is hanging off the left side of the bike, then next he is over on the right, and you find yourself with no clear memory of seeing him go from one side to the other. He appears almost motionless, while the bike underneath him chases round the track at immense speed. He looks like a special effects montage, Lorenzo having been filmed in slow motion, sitting atop a motorcycle being shown at double speed. It is a truly glorious spectacle.
Qualifying confirmed what we had already seen on Friday: the old Jorge Lorenzo is back. The Movistar Yamaha rider was fastest in FP1 and FP2 yesterday. He was fastest in FP3 in the cool of Saturday morning, and he was quick in the heat of FP4. He wasn't fastest in the one session of truly free practice for the MotoGP class – Andrea Iannone put in a quick lap on the Ducati, proving once again that the GP15 is an outstanding motorcycle – but he posted five laps faster than Iannone's second-quickest lap. Then, during qualifying, he set a pace which no one could follow. Using a three-stop strategy, copied shamelessly from Marc Márquez last, Lorenzo posted a 1'38.2 on his second rear tire, then became the first man to lap the Jerez circuit in less than 1'38, stopping the clock at 1'37.910.
That is a mind-bendingly fast lap. Especially given the conditions. Set in the middle of the afternoon, in the blistering heat: air temperatures of over 30°, and track temps of nearly 50°. Set on a track which is notoriously greasy when it's hot, offering the worst grip of the year, especially now that Misano has been resurfaced. Set on asphalt that was laid eleven years ago, and has been used very intensively ever since. If there was ever a time and a place to break the pole record at Jerez, Saturday afternoon was not it. Nobody told Jorge Lorenzo, though.
Lorenzo is not just fast over a single lap, but has consistently run a faster race pace than anyone else has looked capable of managing. He is looking very much like the Lorenzo of old: fast, smooth, utterly consistent, unstoppable. If he gets a good start, it is hard to see who could stay with him for 27 laps. He told the press conference he will be trying to escape on the first lap. It looks like that will be the last the rest of the field see of him.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
Danny Kent put in a fast lap at the end of the final session of free practice for the Moto3 class at Jerez, exploiting perfect conditions to extract maximum speed. Kent displaced the brilliant young rookie Fabio Quartararo from the top spot, who had in turn knocked his Estrella Galicia teammate Jorge Navarro from the top of the timesheets. Navarro found himself being bumped down to 4th, after an impressive display by Jorge Martin on the Mahindra.
Press releases after the first day of practice at Jerez: