The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather, and crashes. The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim. Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
The rain had disappeared by the time MotoGP qualifying rolled around, conditions good enough for Marc Marquez to get close to Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013. That Marquez should take pole is hardly a surprise – that's nine out of eleven this year – but the way he controlled not just pole position, but the whole front row of the grid. Marquez jumped straight to pole on his first run out of the pits, but as he started his second run, he picked up a passenger. Andrea Iannone latched onto the tail of Marquez, and as Marquez flashed across the line to improve his time, Iannone used his tow to leapfrog ahead of his time, taking provisional pole from the Repsol Honda man. His soft tire spent, Iannone couldn't follow Marquez on his second run, the world champion going on to reclaim pole and demote Iannone to second. Further down the grid, Andrea Dovizioso followed Valentino Rossi around the circuit to improve his own time, moving up to second and demoting Iannone another spot.
2014 Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Big Improvement, Elbow Down In The Wet, And The Factory Bosses Speak
The first day of practice at Brno turned out to be a day of two halves. The morning was glorious, sunny and relatively warm. Clouds began gathering shortly after lunch, and the first spots of rain started to fall just as FP2 for the Moto3 class came to a close. The rain grew steadily heavier for the first half of the MotoGP afternoon practice session, easing up and stopping with some ten minutes to go. By the time the Moto2 bikes took to the track, the circuit was already drying, though it only really dried out completely towards the end of Moto2.
The two halves of MotoGP practice showed the same picture, however. Marc Marquez is fast in the wet and fast in the dry, and clearly looking comfortable on the Repsol Honda. Teammate Dani Pedrosa is also quick in both conditions, though a little closer to Marquez on a wet track than on a dry track. In the dry, Jorge Lorenzo is very close to Marc Marquez, but in the wet, both he and Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi are a second off the pace of the Repsols.
Speed in the morning had given Lorenzo confidence he could be competitive with Marquez, and his pace in the wet was not a worry, he said. Everyone had started slowly in the wet, and Lorenzo was no exception. For Rossi, the second they are giving away to the Hondas in the wet is an issue, but losing track time to the rain was more of a problem. Rossi had been fifth in the dry, just a quarter of a second off Marquez, and after FP1, he and his crew had some ideas to improve turn in and enter the corner faster, right where he is losing out to the others. The rain meant he did not have a chance to test it, and with the chance of rain on Saturday, Rossi was concerned he would not be able to try it out before the race.
Leon Camier turned a lot of heads at Indianapolis in his first ride on the Drive M7 Aspar Honda production racer. The Englishman was drafted in to replace Nicky Hayden while he recovers from surgery, but despite it being the first time he rode a MotoGP bike, the Bridgestone tires, carbon brakes, and the Indianapolis circuit, Camier was very quickly up to speed with the other Open class Hondas.
Having a fast rider come in to MotoGP from World Superbikes allows a number of comparisons to be made. Among the most interesting is the difference in technology and tires. At Brno, Camier explained the difference in feel and cornering between the World Superbike Pirellis and the MotoGP Bridgestones. The front tire, especially, is a completely different kettle of fish, requiring a different style, and therefore different set up.
"The main [differene] for me is the tires and the brakes," Camier told us, "the tires being the biggest one. It's just that you have so much more front grip and with angle that you can brake and turn in with the brake on. [The front tire] is adjusting itself to be able to do that."
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez' record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before. At some point, the chips will fall someone else's way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. "A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed," Marquez' Repsol Honda teammate said. "So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed." Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. "You can't plan things against Marc," Pedrosa said, "he is smart, he can adapt each time."
Riders and managers will be very busy this weekend at Brno, as negotiations continue for the open slots left on the 2015 MotoGP grid. The deals that saw Stefan Bradl leave LCR Honda for Forward Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow depart Ducati and head for LCR Honda have kicked negotiations for the remaining seats into overdrive. Forward Yamaha still has one seat open, with Aleix Espargaro set to join Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, a deal due to be announced in September. There are two Open class Hondas available, at Gresini and Aspar, with Scott Redding moving up to take the factory RC213V, and Hiroshi Aoyama set to lose his seat. Pramac Ducati has one seat available, now that Andrea Iannone has moved up to take Crutchlow's place in the factory Ducati team. And Aprilia will have two seats to fill when they reenter the class in 2015.
Marc Marquez winning ten races in a row is starting to cause a problem for us here at MotoMatters.com. You see, we have a strict no-spoilers policy on the front page, meaning that we do our very best to write headlines for race and practice results which do not reveal the the winner. That can sometimes result in rather convoluted headlines, trying to convey the sense of the race without giving away who won it.
This is where Marquez is causing us headaches. After winning his tenth race in a row, and all of the races this season, we are starting to wonder whether announcing a Marquez win is actually a spoiler any more. The deeper Marquez gets into record territory – and he is in very deep indeed, matching Giacomo Agostini for winning the first ten races of the season, and Mick Doohan for winning ten in a row, and Doohan, Valentino Rossi, Agostini and Casey Stoner for winning ten or more in one season – the harder it gets to write headlines. It is hard to sum up the story of a race, when the story is all about Marquez and the record books.
So how did Marc Marquez make it ten in a row? It certainly didn't look as easy as some of the other races he has won this year. A poor start left him behind Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso, and battling with Jorge Lorenzo. With track temperatures warmer than they had been all weekend, Marquez found the feeling with the front end not as good as during practice. After a couple of scares, he decided to take his time in the early laps, and follow Rossi around. On lap 11, an unmissable opportunity presented itself. Rossi led into the first corner, with Lorenzo diving up the inside of Marquez to take second. Marquez decided to strike back, and seeing Rossi run just a fraction wide on the entry to Turn 2, stuffed his bike up the inside of the Italian. The gap Rossi had left was big enough for Lorenzo as well, who then tried to hold the inside through Turn 3. That left him on the outside of Marquez for the left hander at Turn 4, and Marquez was gone.
2014 Indianapolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fast Brits On Proddy Hondas, An Early Title For Marquez, And An Epic Moto3 Race
Is Indianapolis really a Honda circuit? With four Yamahas on the two front rows of the grid, you would have to say it wasn't any longer. There is a Honda on pole, but as that's Marc Marquez, that doesn't really count: alongside his perfect nine wins from nine races, he now also has eight poles from ten qualifying sessions. Any discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different manufacturers at a circuit really needs to disregard Marquez at the moment. In 2014, the Spaniard is just too much of an outlier, as his ability to put a couple of tenths or more on the opposition at will demonstrates.
Behind Marquez, the grid looks a lot more interesting. Behind Marquez is exactly how Andrea Dovizioso bagged another front row start, the Italian grabbing a tow off the Repsol Honda rider to set the second fastest time. The tow had allowed Dovizioso to follow Marquez' "crazy lines" as the Ducati rider put it, and the extra boost of the new engine Dovizioso has at his disposal may have contributed. The engine comes with a new fairing with revised cooling, suggesting the changes are more to do with making the engine more reliable at the top end, allowing it to be revved higher for longer. Given the Desmosedici's propensity for going up in a puff of smoke – Dovizioso has already lost three of his twelve engines this year, Andrea Iannone has got through four – reduced friction and reduced temperature would be a boon.
Jorge Lorenzo is the last man on the front row of the grid, but he was not disappointed with that. It was important for the Spaniard to build his confidence at Indy, and qualifying definitely helped. Lorenzo remarked that he was closer to Marquez than at the previous race, and that's not just true of qualifying. Lorenzo's race pace is strong too, though still a way off that of Marquez. In FP4, Marquez was running mid 1'32s consistently, while Lorenzo was hitting low 1'33s.
2014 Indianapolis MotoGP Friday Round Up: An Improved Track, The State Of American Racing, And Yet More Silly Season Shenanigans
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.
It's hard to blame Indy's media office for such a reaction. They are the best media office of all the circuits on the calendar, by a country mile, better organized and providing useful and timely information on everything happening on the track. It is part of their duty to handle criticism of the circuit, especially that coming from a bunch of Europeans only using half the real Speedway track, and requiring corners. They were only doing their job.
They will have a much easier job this weekend. Rider reaction to the changes made at Indy has been overwhelmingly positive, with barely a whisper of criticism of the track. The single surface on the infield is a vast improvement, the changes to the track layout make it much more suitable for motorcycle racing, and most of the bumps have been removed. The circuit is "more like a normal track," as Marc Marquez put it. Pol Espargaro concurred. Indy is "more of a motorbike track" the Tech 3 man said.
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.
With those names in place, we can start to draw up a list of who will be where, and who could be where for 2015. We have broken that list into three separate tables, based on the certainty of their deals: riders with confirmed contracts; riders and teams with deals that are expected to be confirmed very soon; and deals which are likely to happen, but are still not certain. The confirmed deals speak for themselves, those riders will definitely be on those bikes in 2015 (or longer - the contract date is in the last column of the table). The interest is in the expected and possible tables, where things are still far from certain.