We are in the toughest stretch of the punishing 2020 MotoGP schedule, ahead of the second race of the first of three triple headers – 9 races in 11 weeks, in three sets of three. It is a brutal start to this stretch, with last Sunday's race followed by a test on Tuesday, then practice starting again on Friday. Over the course of 10 days, the MotoGP riders will have been riding for 7 of them.
What will the second race at Misano look like, after the MotoGP riders have already have 4 days of riding at the track? "For sure everything will be very close after a Grand Prix, race, then a test, then another race," Alex Rins predicted. "Everything will be so close, so we need to be at 100%, we need to give our 100% to be at the front, to be concentrated, and giving our best."
Why will everything be closer? Because the second race at the same circuit gives everyone a chance to try to correct the mistakes they made at the first. Take Jack Miller. On Sunday, he was persuaded to race with the medium front instead of following his gut instinct, which told him to go with the hard front. It is a decision he will revisit come Sunday, and something he worked on at the test.
"It reflected the way we approached the test, trying to understand the choice of tire," the Pramac Ducati rider said on Thursday. "I’ll take responsibility for M front. That was me. I never had problem with life of it all weekend. The left hand side on test after 20 laps you could feel it. This was because of not doing the correct work during the weekend, not doing enough laps on the tires. Maybe focusing more on qualifying than set up for the race. It’ll reflect on our decisions this weekend."
In terms of tire choice, that meant starting from scratch. "That’s the way I’ve been approaching these back to back races," Miller explained. "You try some of the same settings but in terms of the tire you’re going to use… The tire, a lot depends on temp, grip etc. we can’t rule out any of the tires. we’ll just try to make the correct decision come Sunday. "
For Andrea Dovizioso, the test on Tuesday helped him make a big step forward ahead of this weekend's race. "I’m really happy about Tuesday’s test," he told the press conference. "We had two targets and we achieved those two targets. I’m really happy about that, my speed was really good. A lot of riders did a really good pace. In the way I rode it was much better, we understood which corners I wasn’t good enough and I was able to be better, more relaxed. We changed the setup to allow me to help me in a better way and we tried something on the bike, a new piece, and it was a bit better. Overall the feeling is better than Sunday for sure, but there are a lot of really fast riders, especially after Misano 1 – we will see."
Title toss up
So if everyone is closer, what will that mean for an already tight title fight? "The championship is crazy. A lot of up and down for everybody, which is why we are very close," Dovizioso said. "I’m happy to be in this position at this moment of the championship, but for sure we have to make a step to be able to fight."
Above all, the championship was unpredictable, Fabio Quartararo said. "It's so difficult to say who will finish first, who will finish second," he told the media. "We've had five different winners in six races. So now I don’t expect nothing. Maybe we will have a win from Tito Rabat, I don’t know. This championship is totally up and down."
That meant that the battle for the 2020 MotoGP crown will be exciting until the end, Jack Miller believed. "This championship fight is going down to the wire," he said. "We all knew that as soon as Marc got injured. Everyone has stepped up their game but then we saw lots of mistakes. The biggest thing now is going to be minimize mistakes and collect as many points as possible. But we can’t be too conservative. We’ve got to fight for the podium and victory when possible."
It was hard to point to a favorite for the title, Miller said, as the grid looks very evenly balanced. "KTM is looking great. Yamaha apart from Austria too. Suzuki and Ducati looking good," the Pramac Ducati rider told us. "Apart from Pecco, the rest of us are struggling here a bit. Pecco has a round riding style and is able to make the bike work here. We’ve been studying his data. It’s a hard one for us. But we’re coming to tracks in the not-so-distant future which our bike really gets along with. Aragon, Le Mans, Barcelona, Valencia and then Portimao at the end. We’ll see what we can do."
Best bike on the grid?
Fabio Quartararo was most concerned about the Suzuki, he told the media. The bikes had been competitive at some very different types of circuit. "Yes I'm worried!" he said. "Because they are fast in the straight. They are fast in acceleration. To overtake people they are so fast, easy. So yes I'm worried because both riders are really fast, Mir is in full confidence, so it's not easy for us because we are struggling in this area and I think right now, overall, the bike is the perfect bike. So yes the overall of the chassis, engine, power I think is really great. Handling. So yes, how much I don't know, but I'm a little bit worried about this bike."
Joan Mir was rather skeptical of Quartararo's opinion of the Suzuki GSX-RR, a bike he hasn't ridden, and sprinkled his replies to Quartararo's comments with a generous helping of sarcasm."I didn't know that Fabio tried my bike!" the Suzuki Ecstar rider joked. "Probably yesterday or this morning he tried my bike and I didn't realize? It's really nice to hear that someone knows my bike better than me!"
It was a universal truth that motorcycle racers believed that the bikes your rivals were on were better than yours, Mir explained. "What can I say?! Of course the bike of the other people is better than the one you are using." But the results so far suggested the Yamaha M1 wasn't such a terrible bike either. "At the moment, the one that is getting the pole positions is him. And the winner of the last race was a Yamaha. So I don't know if I have to answer."
Bike and riders
That didn't mean that the Suzuki GSX-RR wasn't a competitive motorcycle. He put himself firmly in the title fight, Mir said. "For sure I feel ready," he said. "For sure we have a great package. Now I feel good with the bike. I think we are at a good level. I'm ready to fight with these guys for sure."
Alex Rins agreed that the Suzuki was in pretty good shape at this point in the season, but there was still room for improvement. "For sure our bike is quite complete," Rins told us. "It's still missing things, like all the bikes. For sure we need to keep improving the bike, like for example to be faster in one lap, to be faster on the straight. I'm feeling quite good with my bike. For sure when I am following some Ducati riders, or other bikes, I can see something about those bikes, but I'm happy with my bike."
The Suzuki GSX-RR was a good bike, Jack Miller believed, but the riders shouldn't be underestimated either."To call it the perfect bike, it’s always easy to say that about another bike," he said. "Maybe were saying that about the Yamaha at Jerez and not any more. I can’t sit here and say, if I had that bike… Everybody in the title chase, putting a label on a bike isn’t the way to go about it. Every rider is in this title chase. Rins crashed in Jerez 1, injured shoulder. He rode Jerez 2 then started getting on form in Austria but then crashed out trying to pass me and Dovi. I think Mir’s been the only consistent rider, which is strange because he’s in second year. He’s been outperforming his teammate and looks the most solid asset Suzuki has at this time."
Fixing the M1
Miller's point about the Yamaha was well taken. At Jerez, Yamahas took the top two spots in the first race, and a clean sweep of the podium in the second race. And if Franco Morbidelli's engine hadn't shut itself down, perhaps a Yamaha lock out of the top four. Morbidelli's engine proved to be a harbinger of problems to come, after both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi had suffered similar issues the weekend before.
The problem was eventually diagnosed as being related to the valves, an issue which was in part due to the exceptionally high temperatures at Jerez. But the issue continued to dog Yamaha, with Yamahas having a very mixed outing at Brno, and a dismal pair of races at the Red Bull Ring.
Yamaha had brought a range of parts to address these problems to the Misano test, which the riders were enthusiastic about. The most obvious was the long megaphone exhaust, designed to reduce the pressure around the exhaust valves, boost acceleration, and allow the M1 to produce more power. The reception of the parts was so positive that they will be tried again this weekend at the second race at Misano.
"We did a really good test. My best of the year so far," Maverick Viñales said. "We tried the exhaust and different suspension setup, the carbon swing arm. For sure I will use some of those parts this weekend: the carbon and the exhaust. It will be a good experience to use and take good information for Yamaha. Then we tried to put more grip on the bike, but that’s not easy when the grip is perfect! During the test we knew that every lap we did was better, better and better and in the afternoon was amazing. If we did a real time attack then I think we could have done a low 31, which is a lap record and is amazing."
No points for testing
But being fastest at the test did not count for very much, as Viñales knows all too well. "Our mission is to win races, not be first at a test or in the qualifying. We need to understand why we lost that kind of grip. We need to understand how to make it work with Dunlop rubber on the track. When we set up the bike for one thing and then after Moto2 when you don’t have grip it is different then it’s difficult. We need to understand and adjust to the best. And that’s it. For me the conclusion of the weekend was that everything was good until we go after Moto2. Yamaha needs to understand, react to that and provide for us the best bike they can provide."
Valentino Rossi, too, will be trying the new parts, but he would start the weekend on a bike pretty much identical to the one he parked in the garage last Sunday night. Unsurprisingly: Rossi was (almost) fast enough for the podium last weekend, and establishing a baseline with a known quantity is important to be able to gauge the performance of the new exhaust and swingarm. "Tomorrow I will start with the bike very similar to last weekend, but it's also in my plan to use these parts," he said. "We have a different swingarm, and the exhaust pipe. For sure if I use the pipe you will see it, because it's very big! But also for us, it's in the program to try it during the weekend."
One thing which Rossi has been using for a while is Yamaha's shapeshifter device, their ride height lowering device, as debuted by Ducati last year. Asked about it in the press conference, Rossi admitted they have been trying it during race weekends. "Yes, we have the start device that pulls down the rear of the bike, and we tried to use it during some acceleration, also during the lap to improve the acceleration, and there's less wheelie." The device took some getting used to, however. "The feeling is not so bad in some places, but it's difficult. It's not easy, it's not easy to manage, because it's one more thing to do. At the beginning, it's a bit strange, you need some kilometers and some experience, but it can be a good idea for the future."
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