Joan Mir

Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Winning Tactics, Overheating Front Tires, What Yamaha and Ducati Want, And The Impossibility Of A KTM Aluminum Chassis

There are lots of ways to win a motorcycle race, but most racers are only capable of applying one. Some riders can only win they can break away at the front, and have a clear track to ride clean, fast lines. Other riders can't maintain a pace on their own, so have to sit behind a fast rival and wait until the end of the race to pounce. Some need to sit in a group and exploit the dynamics of that group to create the right moment to strike.

Great riders can adapt to any type of race. If they need to break away, they break away. If they need to sit with another rider and wait, they wait. If they need a group to drag them along, they sit in front of a group and slow the whole thing up to control the race and wait to pounce.

The truly great riders can manage all of this, and understand what is needed in any particular situation. They don't just adapt to a type of race, they create the race they need in order to win. It can render them nigh on invincible, as they control the race. They write the rules, and force everyone else to play along with them. Then they rewrite them again, and leave their rivals on the back foot.

Finding a way to win

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Le Mans Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Strategy, Luck, Gambling, And Lorenzo And Zarco Finding Speed

Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day. Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.

The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session. The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.

The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them. The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.

Poker face

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Two Fast Ms, Saves Which Mask A Weakness, And Going Faster Thanks To Ergonomics

The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted. Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.

But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third. We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez' trick, instead ending up in the gravel. We learned that Alex Rins still can't put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.

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Suzuki's Davide Brivio On Jerez Testing, Improving Qualifying, And Alex Rins As A Title Contender

It has been a good season so far for Suzuki, the Suzuki Ecstar team, and especially Alex Rins. The Suzuki rider won the race in Austin, finished a comfortable second at Jerez, and has not finished outside the top five all season. Rins sits in second place in the championship, a single point behind leader Marc Márquez.

The Suzuki GSX-RR is a much-improved bike over the winter. After the massive steps made in the second half of the 2018 season, a series of refinements during testing have turned the bike into a bona fide championship contender, and a machine to be feared by its rivals. At Jerez, where Andrea Dovizioso got a close up look at the bike of Rins, the factory Ducati rider was full of praise for the Suzuki.

"I think the Suzuki is better than all the bikes in turning," Dovizioso said. "Rins, when he overtook me, his speed in the middle of the corner was amazing. It’s impossible for me to understand but maybe in the hard braking they are not so strong. It didn’t look like it, but maybe they have some limits. When a big talent rides the bike it’s always difficult to see a bad point of the bike. But for sure in the middle of the corner they are so fast."

Testing spoilers

At the Monday test in Jerez, Suzuki brought a few more updates to test, most notably a new swing arm and their own version of the swing arm spoiler. The swing arm was rated a success, but the spoiler did not fare so well. Alex Rins ran into the gravel with the spoiler and damaged it beyond repair.

After the test, we spoke to Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio about the test, about the competitiveness of the GSX-RR, and about Alex Rins and his chances of winning the 2019 title. "At the end of the day, it's always useful to do this test, especially after four races, because you can start to guess at the problems you are having and the area where you can improve," Brivio said.

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Austin MotoGP Race Round Up: Making History, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of The US GP

There are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Marc Márquez winning any MotoGP race organized in the United States of America. That has been true since the Spaniard moved up to MotoGP, and for both years he spent in Moto2 as well. There is something about America which makes Márquez nigh on invincible. Is it the anticlockwise tracks? Is it the low grip and tricky surfaces found at the circuits? Or is high fructose corn syrup Márquez' equivalent of Popeye's spinach?

MotoGP went to Austin hoping this might be the year when things changed. With good reason: the racing in the series has been getting closer and closer almost on a race-by-race basis. Valentino Rossi finished just 0.6 seconds behind race winner Andrea Dovizioso at Qatar, but he crossed the line in fifth place. In Argentina, the seven riders fighting for second place were separated by 3 seconds on the penultimate lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP19 is faster and better than ever, the Yamaha M1 has made a huge step forward since 2018, and the Suzuki has consistently been in the hunt for podiums since the middle of last year.

That is all very well and good, but the margin of Marc Márquez' victory in Termas de Rio Hondo suggested that ending Márquez' reign in the US would require something extraordinary to happen. The Repsol Honda rider had a 12 second lead going into the last lap in Argentina. The Honda RC213V had the highest top speed in both Qatar and Argentina, the bike having both more horsepower and better acceleration. Then, during qualifying, Márquez took pole – his seventh in a row at the Circuit of the Americas – with an advantage of more than a quarter of a second over Valentino Rossi. Normal service had been resumed.

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