For the past four years, my coverage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has followed something of a ritual. The riders would ride the track. The riders would talk to the media about how awful the track was, the bumps, the different types of asphalt, the drainage covers, the joints between the tarmac, the corners which were too tight. I would write about what the riders had said in my nightly round ups. And I would receive an email complaining about what I'd written from IMS' otherwise excellent media office.
There are few motorsports venues more iconic than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of the places I've visited, only Monza comes close: you can feel the ghosts of all the men and women who have raced there. With its massive grandstands and historic racing museum, the vast facility is breathtaking. It is a magic place.
Sadly, the magic is all around the 4 kilometer rectangular oval on which the Indy 500 is held, and not so much around the road course used by MotoGP. The rather tight, artificial infield road circuit feels very much like an afterthought, something retrofitted to allow a greater range of activities at the facility. If the oval layout is spectacular, the road course is positively pedestrian.
To the credit of the Speedway, they have done an awful lot to try to improve the track. Last year, there were at least four different types of asphalt around the circuit, and the infield section was considered too tight for overtaking maneuvers. In an effort to solve both those problems at a stroke, turns 3 and 4, turn 7 and turns 15 and 16 have all been modified. The changes are aimed at opening the corners up a little, making them a little faster and more flowing. The change at turns 3 and 4 should make for more natural corners, and a better transition back onto the outside oval. Turn 7 has been altered to open it up, making a more natural chicane rather than the right-angle corner it was before. Turns 15 and 16 are now a little more flowing, and again have been modified to provide a more natural transition onto the oval. At the same time, the infield has been completely resurfaced, so that it now has just one type of asphalt.
With the announcement that Cal Crutchlow is to move to the LCR Honda team for 2015, making space for Andrea Iannone to move up to the Factory Ducati team, the beginnings of a MotoGP grid are starting to emerge for 2015. Both Repsol Honda seats are confirmed, as are both Factory Ducati riders and Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha, with Jorge Lorenzo expected to announce a deal with Yamaha very soon. In the satellite teams, only Pol Espargaro is confirmed at Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, as is Crutchlow at CWM-LCR Honda.
Today, we continue our look at how the MotoGP riders stack up so far. Yesterday, we reviewed the top eight in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. Today, we pick up where we left off, reviewing the bottom half of the championship standings. We start with Stefan Bradl, and work our way down to Mike Di Meglio, yet to score a point in the series.
With MotoGP on its summer break, and the riders combining a bit of relaxation with a lot of training, there is time to review the first half of the season. Who has performed above expectations, and who has fallen short? Here's a rundown of how we rate the MotoGP riders over the first half of the season. Today, the top eight riders in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. The remainder, from Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio, will appear on Friday.
The Danish physicist and father of quantum physics Niels Bohr is reputed to have said "Prediction is hard, especially about the future." Just a few days after our comprehensive silly season update was posted, at the World Ducati Weekend event, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow all confirmed they would be staying at Ducati for next season, throwing our predictions into disarray.
This year's silly season – the endless speculation about who will end up riding where next year – has not so far lived up to the expectations from the start of the year. With all four factory Honda and Yamaha riders out of contract at the end of 2014, real fireworks were expected in the battle to secure signatures. That bidding war never unfolded, and with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa back with Repsol Honda, Valentino Rossi already signed up to Movistar Yamaha, and Jorge Lorenzo looks likely to finalize his deal – a two-year contract with some kind of option to depart after a year – before the season resumes again in Indianapolis.
But silly season has been far from a disappointment. Over the past couple of weeks, the jostling for the remaining seats in MotoGP has really taken off, with the promise of wholesale changes taking place up and down the grid. With the exception of Pol Espargaro, who is expected to remain at Tech 3 for the second year of his two-year contract with Yamaha, just about every other seat on the grid could see a new occupant. The arrival of Suzuki and, it now appears, Aprilia offers four new factory seats to vie for, opening up new opportunities for the current crop of riders. The upgrading of Honda's RCV1000R makes the production Honda a more attractive proposition. And there looks set to be an influx of young talent into the class. The 2015 MotoGP grid could look very different, once you look past the top four.
While the factory line ups at Honda and Yamaha will be unchanged for next year, the factory Ducati team is likely to sport two new faces for 2015. Although Cal Crutchlow has a year to go on his contract with the Italian factory, neither party is particularly happy with the arrangement. Crutchlow has never really got over the shock of just how poorly the Ducati turns compared to the Yamaha he left behind, and has found it hard to keep his criticism to himself. Ducati, in turn, are not enamored of Crutchlow's forthright manner of speaking, nor of his criticism of the bike. Crutchlow's results have also been a disappointment to Ducati, although the Italian factory must bear some of the blame, given the many mechanical and electronics issue the bike has suffered. Ducati point to the performance of both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, though conceding that the two Italians have already had a year on the bike. For anyone who rode the Desmosedici GP13, the GP14 is a huge improvement. For anyone who rode a 2013 Yamaha M1, it is a complete disaster.
The former England soccer player Gary Lineker once described the sport as follows: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." It feels somehow fitting to paraphrase that quote on the day that the Germans play in the World Cup final. Motorcycle racing is a simple sport, where 23 people ride a MotoGP bike as fast as they can, and Marc Marquez always wins.
After he missed out on pole at Barcelona, and then again at Assen, people were starting to wonder if cracks were starting to appear in Marc Marquez's hegemony in MotoGP. His performance in qualifying may have faltered, but his reign remained intact when it counted, winning the first eight races in a row.
There are those who say that Marc Marquez is due a big crash soon. He is always riding so close to the edge of traction that at some point, he will go over the limit and suffer the consequences, they reason. They will therefore not have been surprised to learn that Marquez had a huge highside on Friday morning. What will surprise them is the cause of the crash.