It was a hectic trip across the Atlantic for many in the MotoGP paddock. The air at Brno was thick with tales of airport-based woe, of overbooked flights, bad weather delays, missed transfers and lost luggage. Despite the supposed privilege of platinum frequent flyer status – one of the side benefits of working for a MotoGP team is you rack up a lot of air miles – the staff of one MotoGP were stuck in one airport for over 24 hours, thrown out of the airport lounge and unable to leave. Chicago O'Hare was temporarily transformed into the motorcycle racing equivalent of purgatory: large numbers of riders, mechanics and other staff kicking their heels with nothing to do. That is especially tough on riders: most of them suffer from some form of hyperactivity or another. Few can sit still, and most are very outdoor types. L'enfer, c'est les aéroports, if you will forgive me paraphrasing Sartre.
But there was an overwhelming sense of contentment at being in Brno. The track is much loved, even among those who do not go particularly well here. It is wide, fast, and flowing, and allows the riders to play with the lines. Dani Pedrosa, who has won here twice in MotoGP, explained why he liked the track. "It's wide, and the corners are with a nice shape, so you can be precise," Pedrosa told us. "It's a track that demands that you are precise, and I like this. Also, you can try many things, one centimeter more out, one centimeter more in, later, deeper, or earlier. This gives you a gain to be able to adjust your riding lap by lap, and some tracks are just one line and one pace and you cannot change. Here you can play a little bit more and that's positive. I like it."
Aleix Espargaro agreed with that assessment, and had added reasons to like Brno. After a disaster at Indianapolis, which he put down to a defective rear tire, he was desperate to get back on the bike again, and put Indy behind him. "It was a **** weekend in Indianapolis, the worst weekend in MotoGP I can remember," he said. With no slow corners, Brno should play to the strengths of the Suzuki. "I think our bike suits really good this type of corner, really long corners. Our bike is stable, is turning a lot. So I think this will help us. But also, this is a fast track, a lot of straights, the last run before the straight uphill is really heavy, so we will suffer there. But better to think that our bike will suit a lot this corners really well." Both Espargaro and teammate Maverick Viñales were wary of the drag up Horsepower Hill, but they preferred to focus on the strengths of the bike rather than its weakness. "We have a nice chassis to handle the power," Viñales affirmed.
The Suzukis were also happy with the tire allocation at Brno. Like Jorge Lorenzo, the Suzuki riders are dependent carrying corner speed, and getting on the gas early. They therefore benefit when Bridgestone brings the tires with the special treatment on the edge to give a little bit more feel when the bike is laid on its ear. "We open the throttle really clean, because we have less power, so we need to open a little bit earlier than everybody," Aleix Espargaro explained. "So we have a lot more grip with those tires. This weekend, we will have exactly the same compound soft and hard from Barcelona tires, we were really competitive with both tires, and I'm aiming to have the same feeling."
Jorge Lorenzo won the race at Barcelona on those tires, and he too is happy. Not just because of the tires, but because this track suits his style so well. The results of the past two years were indicative of more to come, he told the press conference. In 2013, he finished a close third despite still not being 100% fit after breaking his collarbone twice in succession, once at Assen and two weeks later at the Sachsenring. In 2014, he was just getting back into his stride after a difficult start to the season, and had a very strong finish to the race. This year, the Yamaha is stronger from the first laps, making Lorenzo confident of being competitive here.
Confidence is what Marc Márquez was building on as well. Coming to Brno off back-to-back wins at the Sachsenring and Indianapolis, Márquez said he felt more motivated than ever. Was he concerned about the layout of the track being tough for the Honda? The track at Assen had the same flowing layout, and he came very close to winning there, he said.
Do they take risks for the win or play it safe and ride for points? For Marc Márquez the choice was simple. He was already effectively out of the championship, he told the press conference, and so the only thing that counted was winning. If that put him back into contention in the championship, all the better, but he was not worrying about it. For Jorge Lorenzo, trailing Rossi, winning was the best way of getting points back. There are more points between first and second than there are between second and third, after all. Rossi was perhaps the most cautious of the trio. Winning was vital, but not making a mistake and crashing was even more crucial.
Thursday is often a day for addressing more general topics rather than just the minutiae of what happened on the track on the preceding day. It is an opportunity to ask the riders about matters which are not of direct concern to a particular session, but rather about things which can affect a season, or a career, or more.
So it was that I finally got round to asking Valentino Rossi in the press conference why he spent so much time lapping at Misano on a Yamaha R1. Check his Instagram feed and almost every week there is a picture of him riding at the track, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night. His practice sessions there have spawned all sorts of rumors, including that he was preparing the bike for its return to World Superbikes, with the VR46 team taking over the running of the factory Yamaha WSBK team. The news that it will be Crescent running the factory Yamaha team put that rumor to rest, but why was he spending so much time lapping Misano on an R1?
"We train a lot with the bike, it's more for physical training," Rossi explained. "Instead of going with motocross or dirt track, we go there. With Misano, we have this deal for the young guys of the [VR46] Academy. I go with the R1, it's a fantastic bike, but sincerely, it's a very different from the M1, also the lines, the braking, so it's not comparable. But for me, for physical, especially for very hot conditions, I think is good. Is a good training."
One of the other topics which has come up recently, and was on display in the slow motion footage at Indianapolis, was the question of braking technique. The MotoGP.com cameras caught various riders braking with one, two, or three fingers, even the whole hand. There are those who believe that braking with more fingers reduces the risk of arm pump, as the stress is spread across the hand. As Dani Pedrosa has come back from radical surgery to treat arm pump, I asked him about braking technique. His answer, as so often, was illuminating. He brakes with two fingers, then when he rode a 125cc bike he used only one.
Had he tried braking with three or four fingers, to relieve the stress? "Yes, I did try to brake with four fingers," Pedrosa said. "For me the usual thing was one or two fingers. I still use mainly two fingers, and some corners one. But when I tried three or four, it's so complicated, because you release your hand from the grip, only your thumb is there holding. The riders who have been doing it all their lives, for them it is easy. But for me to change from this grip to no grip is quite difficult. For example, Marc was the opposite. He was all the time four fingers, and now he is one. But it's a bit better with more. With one finger, you have less power. "
A very small group of English-speaking journalists also went to speak to Danny Kent, a man who has been in the news recently for a number of reasons. There was his disastrous pit stop at Indianapolis, which cost him a lot of time in the pits, and lost him 10 points in the championship, though his lead is still extremely comfortable. Kent told us the problem had been with the team, who had simply taken too long to change wheels, and who had apologized to him after the race. They had spoken about how to ensure that didn't happen again, and what they could do to ensure that it didn't happen again.
Kent's crew chief Peter Bom explained that it was just one of those things that happened so rarely that it had been overlooked in their preparation. They were too slow to change the wheels, because it was not an event they had thought about much. The pit stop had served as a wake up call, and provoked a thorough review of every possible eventuality. The team had sat down afterwards and discussed all the situations they may have missed. They had drawn up a plan to incorporate some of these possible eventualities into their practice schedule. That means that tire changes will be practice during the FP sessions as if it was happening in a race. But other strange occurrences would also be rehearsed: what happens if a brake pad drops out, or a bolt snaps, or any one of the one-in-a-thousand occurrences which can throw a team off kilter. The Leopard Racing team are already perhaps the best prepared in Moto3, and they are about to get better.
One of the most impressive things about Kent has been his attitude in 2015, and his response to the disaster at Indy had been exemplary of his maturity. When Kent returned to the pits after the race, Bom was fully expecting an entirely justifiable outburst from the rider. But what happened when Kent took off his helmet was that he turned to his crew chief and said, "Next time, we have to do that better."
That maturity has characterized his whole approach to Moto3. Every session, Kent focuses on his own plan, his own pace, his own objectives, without worrying about what other riders are doing. If riders get a tow off him, he doesn't waste time gesticulating, or slow down to force them past, he gets on with the job in hand. That is giving him an advantage come race day, one that he is exploiting every race. "I like to spend time in practice and qualifying working on my own so that I know the limit of each corner and can work through setting fast times," Kent told us. "I don't really worry if people tow me in qualifying because I know that they can't do those times consistently. I was the same last year and I'd come into the pits and I'd come in after a good qualifying thinking that I hadn't learned anything from the lap because I was following someone. Now I'm doing ten or twelve laps having learned so much about the track and I know going to the grid how I need to ride. That's why I haven't made many mistakes this year."
Having a thorough understand of the track gave him the confidence to try to break the other riders, both on the track and mentally. Lapping on his own and working on his pace around the circuit means he is quite simply faster than the rest of the field. That speed translates into a mental advantage as well, putting his rivals onto the back foot from the start. "It's important to have that advantage in qualifying because it means that riders are going into the race knowing that I'm half a second quicker and it's already messed with their mind. It's good for my mind too because I know that I have that time and Sachsenring was a good example of that because I could find that 0.1 here or 0.3s seconds there and it all adds up. Once you open a half second gap or a second gap they start to fight with each other and that helps me open the gap. Once I'm in front I can calm things down and work at my pace." After the disaster at Indianapolis, Kent could have come to Brno as a bag of anxieties, a nervous wreck wanting to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Speaking to him at Brno he was as calm and composed as he has been all year. He reminds of speaking to Carlos Checa at Assen the year he became World Superbike champion. Danny Kent has the bearing of a champion already, despite the fact there are still eight races to go.
That maturity is what has seen him inundated with offers from teams up and down the paddock. He has several offers to go to Moto2 on good machinery, including a chance to move up with his existing team. At Brno, he also admitted he had an offer on the table for MotoGP, though he declined to say with which team. A process of elimination suggests that it is probably with Pramac Ducati, but Kent refused to either confirm or deny this.
Would a jump to MotoGP be a mistake? Jack Miller, who made the switch from Moto3 to MotoGP this year, has not provided a persuasive argument one way or another. Miller has been fastest Open class Honda at some races, and sunk without a trace at others. But Kent pointed to the positives of a switch for 2016. "with Michelin coming back next year, I think that next year is the best year that a Moto3 rider could think of making the jump," Kent said. "For next year it's all new tyres, the electronics should bring the satellite bikes closer to the factory bikes. Hopefully next year with the changes it gives the satellite teams a chance to compete. I think that next year will be a good opportunity to move up if you're offered it."
Would it be better to go through Moto2, as Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales and Alex Márquez have? Kent has already spent a year in Moto2, albeit an abortive one aboard the Tech 3 Moto2 machine. That was a pretty awful year, but Kent has matured an awful lot since last year. Under the tutelage of and together with Peter Bom, they have come up with a strategy to dominate Moto3, and used it to devastating effect. Kent understands that he has to make the difference himself, rather than expecting it to come from his machine. Sure, the Honda is a fantastic bike, but when you look at where the other Hondas are, including his teammates, they are not capable of doing what he can. Enea Bastianini is his main rival for the championship, and he too is on a Honda. But behind Bastianini come the KTMs of Romano Fenati and Miguel Oliveira.
If any rider can make the jump from Moto3 to MotoGP, it is surely Danny Kent. Kent said he was close to a decision, and given the fact that the next race is Silverstone, his home Grand Prix, that would be the race to make an announcement. I would say that we wait with bated breath, but you get the strong sense that decisions have already been made.
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