2013 Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Pedrosa's Scorcher, Lorenzo's Engine Travails, And Vinales' Penalty Points
Cal Crutchlow called it right on Friday. "We know the Hondas take a little bit longer to set up, but when they come out Saturday morning, they normally take a second off." It was more like half a second on Saturday morning, but by the afternoon, Dani Pedrosa took nearly 1.6 seconds off his best time on Friday, smashing the pole record which had stood since 2008. That was a lap set on the supersoft qualifying tires still used at the time, which had Nicky Hayden happily reminiscing about the fun to be had on the sticky one-lap rubber.
It was an extraordinary lap by Pedrosa, though the Honda man himself was not overly impressed. When asked if it was his best lap ever, Pedrosa acknowledged that it was good, perhaps one of his best, but still not as good as his lap at Valencia at the end of last year.
Pedrosa's blistering record lap was not the only excitement during qualifying, which turned into an intriguing session. It started off with Jorge Lorenzo taking off out of the pits in his customary fashion, only to cruise back in again after his first full lap. The clutch on his Yamaha M1 had destroyed itself, and so he had to leap back on to his second bike and try to set a time on that. That machine never felt the same as his number one bike, and so Lorenzo didn't quite have the confidence to push as hard as he hoped to. That left him third on the grid, but at least still on the front row.
It has been a while since Valentino Rossi's name has topped the timesheets in MotoGP: once during the test at Jerez back in March, before that at a wet Silverstone almost exactly a year ago. Since that time, he's been close on occasion, but never fastest. Until today.
The Italian set out on a hot final run to set the best time of the day, and take over the top spot from his Yamaha Factory Racing teammate Jorge Lorenzo, to the delight of the assembled crowd, so many of whom wear his colors. (On a side note, I often wonder what colors will adorn the racetracks of the world once Rossi retires. Right now, you do not need a GPS to guide you to the circuit, you just follow the sea of yellow to the gates.)
Rossi was delighted, but he was also relieved, having confirmed to himself that he can still be at the front. "Today I am very happy about the result," Rossi told the press, saying that to be at the front was a great feeling. But Rossi was also realistic: it is only Friday, he pointed out to the media, and he had been fast on Friday at previous races.
This is going to be a big weekend in MotoGP, perhaps one of the most significant in a long while. The outcome of Sunday's race is unlikely to be earth-shattering - the chance of the top three being entirely Spanish, and composed of two Repsol Hondas and a Factory Yamaha is pretty large - and the championship will look much the same on Sunday night as it does now. Yet this weekend will be key.
Much of the interest - and intrigue - revolves around the test on Monday. The most visible piece of the MotoGP puzzle will be in the Suzuki garage, where their brand new MotoGP machine is due to make its first real public debut. The bike has had a number of private tests, some more secretive than others, the latest being last week at Motegi with Randy de Puniet. The times that were leaked from that test were respectable, though with only test riders for competition, it is hard to put them into context.
At Barcelona, a public test, with official timing, and up against the full MotoGP field, there will be nowhere to hide. Will the Suzuki be able to match the times of the Hondas and Yamahas? Unlikely, the bike is still at an early stage of development. But it should be faster than the CRT machines, and close to the Ducati satellite bikes. De Puniet's first target will be himself, and the time he sets during practice and the race on the Aprilia CRT he rides for Aspar.
Even more intriguing at the test is what Yamaha will be bringing. Rumors abound that the seamless transmission which the factory is working on is due to be tested soon, with many believing it could get its first official run out in the hands of the factory riders at Barcelona on Monday. Raising further suspicions that something major is afoot in the Yamaha camp is the fact that they also have a test scheduled for Aragon later in the week. If the gearbox is not quite ready to be raced, then Yamaha could wait to try it at Aragon; if it is ready, trying it at two different circuits would be a good way of giving it a thorough workout. The difference between a seamless and a conventional gearbox is audible, so we should know soon enough.
Dorna took Suzuki's departure from MotoGP at the end of the 2011 season badly. After bending over backwards to accommodate the Japanese factory during their final few years in the class - giving Suzuki an exemption from the (now defunct) Rookie Rule, allowing the factory a larger engine allocation, and finally accepting the reduction from a two-rider effort to just a single entry, that of Alvaro Bautista - Suzuki finally pulled out of the series altogether, though they promised to return at a later date. Coming on top of Kawasaki's withdrawal ahead of the 2009 season, Suzuki were the second Japanese factory to depart the class after a string of broken promises.
So unsurprisingly, when Suzuki opened talks about a return to MotoGP, Dorna was hesitant. Their entry was to be subject to a number of restrictions; Suzuki would be made to pay penance for their initial abandoning of the series. Initially Suzuki were told that they would only be allowed to enter through an existing team, rather than creating their own infrastructure. The idea behind this was that none of the teams who had remained in the series should lose out just because Suzuki wanted to return. When it became clear that the teams which were candidates to aid Suzuki were not really up to supporting a full factory effort, that idea was quietly dropped.
2013 Mugello Moto2 And Moto3 Round Up: Redding Stokes Up A War of Words, And Why KTM Is Killing It In Moto3
In many ways, the Moto2 race at Mugello resembled the MotoGP race. One rider seized the initiative, sized up the competition, and when he saw that they were no match for him, pressed home his advantage. While Scott Redding's victory at Mugello was not quite as dominant as Jorge Lorenzo's in MotoGP - after watching it again at leisure, it is clear just how totally Lorenzo controlled every aspect of that race, from his tough pass on Dani Pedrosa in the first corner to the devastating pace increase he forced when he sensed the Repsol Honda man weaken - it is still one of the most commanding Moto2 wins for some time.
Redding did not quite lead from the start, but he disposed of Takaaki Nakagami without too much difficulty. He then pulled a gap, with only Nico Terol and Johann Zarco able to follow his pace. Terol passed Redding just before the halfway mark, exploiting the slipstream provided by the oversized Englishman, but that was all Terol could do. Redding was puzzled when Terol failed to pull a gap after passing. "I couldn't understand how he caught me, because when he passed me, I was expecting to be fighting to hold on to him, but I was really comfortable behind," Redding said afterwards. He got past four laps later, and turned up the pressure, and while Terol and Zarco could hang on along the front straight, once Redding broke the slipstream he was gone. It was the first back-to-back victory by a British rider in 42 years.
2013 Mugello MotoGP Round Up, Part 1: Lorenzo's Persistence, Cruchlow's Fierceness, And Honda's Hidden Weakness.
Qualifying doesn't tell you the whole story. Which is a good thing, as otherwise they could just hand out the trophies after qualifying and be done with it. A lot of things change in the 24 hours between qualifying and the race - weather, temperature, set up - but most of all, qualifying is just a couple of laps, while the race means spending a long time on the track.
Mugello turned out to be a perfect example. Dani Pedrosa had been getting faster every session, especially as the temperatures rose and the grip of the track improved. The Repsol Honda man blasted to pole, just pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the end of qualifying and setting a new lap record in the process. With race day looking warmer, and the track cleaning up every session, Pedrosa looked the hot favorite to dominate at the Italian track.
It turned out Pedrosa had been bluffing. He and his team had worked out early on that the new tires Bridgestone had brought did not quite work for them. "We have a modified shoulder on the rear, so at this track with this tire, we couldn't really get the grip. You are a long time on the edge on this track, so I couldn't really open well, and get drive out of corners," Pedrosa told the press conference after finishing second to Jorge Lorenzo.
It looks like we may have a race on Sunday at Mugello. In fact, it looks like we might have two races, looking at the times set in MotoGP and Moto2. The last two races of the day at Mugello promise to have battles for the lead and for the podium, and could well provide some top flight entertainment.
There won't be much of a race in Moto3, however. Mugello's artisans are probably already engraving Maverick Vinales' name into the winner's trophy to save some time, such is the advantage of the young Spaniard. Vinales is basically four tenths a lap faster than anyone else in Moto3, with nobody capable of matching his pace. Even Jonas Folger's pole position was Vinales' by proxy, the German acknowledging in the qualifying press conference that he wasn't able to make that lap time alone and that he had a tow from Vinales to thank for it. The battle in Moto3 will be for the remaining podium places, and it would take a brave man to lay money against Alex Rins and Luis Salom making it an all Spanish podium.
Such a podium is unlikely to be repeated in Moto2. Scott Redding is increasing his vice-like grip on the Moto2 class, thanks in small part to the inconsistency of his rivals, but in much, much larger part to the confidence he has been showing all season. Redding is acting like champion, and by acting like a champion, beating a path to his first title, and a thoroughly deserved one, though the road is still very, very long.
2013 Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: Examining Marquez' Crash, And Yamaha's Fears Of Honda Improvement
There are a lot of things that make Mugello special. Its location, in the heart of Tuscany, a sumptuously beautiful part of the world; its layout, fast, flowing, winding naturally up and round the valley it is set in. The wide open nature of the track, all third and fourth gear combinations which require the perfect combination of intelligence, talent and sheer courage that make it close to the perfect test of skill. It is fast, it is flowing, and it is undulating.
Even the front straight isn't really a straight, but a rolling sinew of asphalt that winds down to the first corner. You come down out of the last turn, hammer on the gas, shifting up to sixth as you go, and ride up the rise towards the crest. Drift right then left through the slight kink in the straight which becomes something resembling a 330 km/h chicane, then just as your front wheel floats free over the crest, you need to get it back down again and get on the brakes for the first corner, the 90 km/h San Donato. The straight and the braking area are immensely difficult to get right, and a simple error can leave you hurtling into the gravel. Or, in the case of Marc Marquez, drifting towards a wall.
Each rider has their own technique, but subtlety is the key to getting it right. Jorge Lorenzo told the press that he does not really brake over the crest nor use rear brake to keep the front down, but instead rolls off the throttle a fraction. This puts the front tire back in contact with the tarmac, and allows him to brake at full force for San Donato. Dani Pedrosa's technique is slightly different, but achieves the same result. "You never really hit the brake at once," he said, "you squeeze and put the pressure a little after."
Mugello is a spectacular setting. Even when it absolutely pours down, so badly that a river starts running through the Mugello paddock, the setting remains spectacular. It makes navigating the paddock without a life vest fairly treacherous, but at least the view is stunning. The rain looks set to stay for the duration, though the forecast appears to be improving day by day, but the riders need not fear a lack of wet track time.
As always, the riders waxed eloquent on the circuit, almost universal in their praise. Most entertaining simile of the day was from Bradley Smith, who compared Mugello to a motocross track: all undulating surfaces, blind crests and banked corners. He is right, of course, but it is not the first comparison that springs to mind when describing a track as physically large and magnificent as Mugello.
Former Moto2 rival Marc Marquez was the lone dissenting voice in the litany of praise heaped upon the iconic Italian circuit. Did he enjoy the circuit? "If you have a good set up, you enjoy it a lot," Marquez told the media. "But when you are struggling a lot, it is so difficult." The problem is that there are so many changes of direction, and so many fast, flowing corners that lead into one another, that if you have a problem in one corner, then you probably have the same problem in most of the corners around the track. "It's difficult, and you have to stay so concentrated," Marquez added, then joked that of course, if he won here, it would naturally be one of his favorite tracks.
2013 Mugello MotoGP Preview: Of Yamaha's Travails, Rossi's Hopes, Ducati's Dreams And Honda's Domination
Mugello is arguably MotoGP's crowning glory. The location is stunning, in the verdant hills of Tuscany, a few miles north of Florence, one of the most beautiful ancient cities in the world. The track itself is gorgeous, and beautifully laid out, rolling round the valley in which the circuit is set. It is one of the few tracks left at which a MotoGP bike can fully stretch its legs, even a 260+ horsepower fire-breathing 1000cc Honda RC213V. At the end of the front straight, as riders drift right then left for the slight kink of the pit lane exit just before the track drops off for the spectacular first corner at San Donato, the bikes approach the magical barrier of 350 km/h. An obstacle that has not yet been cleared, but one which must surely fall in the near future. A lap of the circuit passes in under 1'48, an average of 175 km/h, or nearly 110 mph. It is verily a temple of speed.
It may seem odd, then, that the fastest bike does not necessarily win at the circuit. Of the past ten editions of the race, seven have been won by Yamahas, a bike which has never been the fastest in a straight line. While speed is not the secret to the circuit, a glance at the list of winners over the years reveals exactly what is: Valentino Rossi has won seven times at the circuit in the premier class (as well as twice more in the support classes), Mick Doohan won here six times, Jorge Lorenzo won twice, and the list of one-time winners includes Dani Pedrosa, Kevin Schwantz, Loris Capirossi and Casey Stoner. To win at Mugello is simple: it is merely a matter of being one of the very best riders in the world.