The Moto2 and 125cc riders got a break on Saturday, the weather gods deciding to, if not exactly smile, then at least hold off on the punishment for the second day of the IRTA test at Jerez. The paddock awoke to clear skies, but the cool temperatures and strong wind was hardly conducive to posting fast times, the track still damp and treacherous in patches until well into the afternoon.
The state of the track was illustrated best by the times posted by the 125cc riders. Nico Terol on the startlingly lime green Bankia Aspar continues to dominate the 125 class, though his times are still 1.5 seconds off lap record pace. The opposition is starting to close in, however. Racing Team Germany's Sandro Cortese got within a tenth of a second of last year's runner up, and even led during part of the session, something which has not happened very often so far during pre-season testing. Meanwhile, Maverick Vinales - probably one of the best names for a motorcycle racer for a long time - once again put in an impressive day's testing, keeping hot on the heels of Terol and raising hopes among the Spanish media. The only concern about the Spanish and European 125 champion is how he will fare once the paddock leaves Spain and heads abroad. He has a lot of learning to do.
The same is true for the returnees, though both Hector Faubel and Sergio Gadea picked it up a gear on Saturday, Faubel posting the 7th fastest time, while Gadea ended the day in 12th. The two hoary veterans - both only just inside the maximum age limit for the 125cc class - improved significantly on their position from yesterday, but are both still a way off the times of the front runners.
Meanwhile, the Red Bull Rookies is also proving to be a fertile ground for young riders, with recent graduates such as Johan Zarco, Jonas Folger, Danny Kent and Taylor Mackenzie all posting top 15 times, Zarco and Folger closing in on the top 5, though the two riders have been in the 125s proper for a couple of years now. Taylor Mackenzie is picking up the nickname "Chips" in some quarters, as son of the former 500cc Honda rider Niall Mackenzie, whose nickname back in the 80s and 90s was "Spud". (For non-British English speakers: Spud is slang for potato, and chips, well, they're French fries rather than potato chips, but the joke still stands).
Where times for the 125cc class were a long way off record pace, the Moto2 riders were well under last year's record pace, and closing in on the time set by the 250s, the class they replaced. Ioda Racing's Simone Corsi set the fastest time of the day, getting close to the 1'43 barrier and just pipping Stefan Bradl in the final hour of testing, reserved solely for Moto2. The two riders took a comfortable lead over the rest of the field, Bradl over six tenths faster than 3rd fastest man Thomas Luthi, who was in turn a quarter of a second quicker than Yuki Takahashi.
Some semblance of parity also returned to the machinery, with five different chassis brands in the top 6, from Corsi on the FTR, via Bradl on the Kalex, Luthi on the Suter, Takahashi on the Moriwaki to Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 machine. With most of the teams now proudly displaying their racing liveries, gone are the days of plain black or white fiberglass, giving a different aspect to the Moto2 machines. With some color now on the bike, the FTR's circular airbox intake now seems less huge, and more in keeping with the rest of the bike. More about the design of that intake in the next couple of days, but the short version is that the intake sits right on the bubble of high pressure caused by the bike's fairing, and provides a constant increase in airbox pressure, even at high revs. That the teams like, though their ingrained conservatism still prevents them from accepting FTR's stemless steering head design.
The new paint jobs also show up other design tweaks. The Suter has a boxier air intake as well, while the Kalex' nose has become beakier still, projecting a little further forward than it did before. The bike that is least changed is seemingly the Moriwaki, the Gresini machines looking identical to the bikes campaigned in 2010. As that was the bike that Toni Elias took the championship with, few changes would appear to be needed.
Speaking of chassis, Ant West struck a blow for the Martin Wimmer-designed steel tube MZ chassis, the Australian beating his teammate Max Neukirchner, riding a 2010 version of the FTR chassis. The difference, though, was minimal, less than a tenth of a second, so the arguments over which chassis to use will continue to rage.
There were surprisingly few crashers despite the conditions, perhaps the most high profile - and most comprehensive - was Marc Marquez. Marquez was not at fault, though: the young Spaniard had his front brake clipped by Kenan Sofuoglu, wiping Marquez out and completely writing off the Spaniard's Suter in the process. Marquez was unhurt in the incident, though he lost the rest of the day's testing while his team rebuilt his bike. The incident has not endeared Sofuoglu to the rest of the Moto2 paddock: the Turk came to the paddock with a reputation for abrasive riding, and this latest crash has made him no friends. Sofuoglu is used to this from his years in World Supersport, however, and his two WSS titles suggests he is oblivious to such concerns.
Sofuoglu posted a rather disappointing 19th fastest time, behind an equally disappointing Andrea Iannone. Iannone had been deeply impressive in 2010, and much was expected of him now that he has his wish of a one-rider team for 2011. The intensity in that garage is high, but perhaps a little too tense for the team's own good. Like the Grand Old Duke of York's men, when they are up, they are up, and when they are down, they are down. A little equanimity could go a long way for Iannone and his Speed Master squad, but it is a commodity in short supply just now.
The tests conclude tomorrow, wrapping up before the season kicks off at Qatar. The weather should hold, giving another full day of testing. If only the temperatures would pick up, it would be nigh on perfect.