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2015 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Notes: Bumps & Wind, Marquez' Changed Style, And Rossi's Recurring Issue
Silverstone was Silverstone on Friday. It pulled its many underhand tricks out of its sleeve, and threw everything it had at the riders, with the exception of rain. Cool in the morning, warm and sunny in the afternoon, with occasional cloud cover to drop the track temperature. High winds, gusting in a few corners where it was trying to lift the bikes and throw them off line. And bumps galore, short ones, long ones, moved around the circuit since the last time the MotoGP riders were here, forcing them to recalibrate their memories, and pick new lines through the corners they thought they knew.
The ever eloquent Bradley Smith explained: "I’m not too worried about bumps coming from my motocross background it is not something I worry about, it might be something some of the other guys are more scared about, but it doesn’t really effect me. It does seem to be quite bad going into the first corner Copse it is quite bad still and there is a nasty one into Stowe at the end of Hanger Straight. Still the braking point at Vale chicane is still like rollers into there. And for Abbey that one is really, really bad there is one in the middle of the corner which always makes the front tuck."
2015 Silverstone MotoGP Preview: The Ryanair Round, Silverstone's Peculiar Challenges, And The Silly Season Latest
The Irish budget airline Ryanair gained something of a reputation for being, shall we say, creative with the names of the airports it flies to. Fancy a trip to Sweden? They will fly you to Stockholm Skavsta, a mere 100 km from the city of Stockholm. The same trick is played out time and time again: Paris Beauvais? Beauvais is a charming French city, and well worth a visit, but it is very long way from the French capital. Munich West (Memmingen)? 112 km west of the Bavarian capital.
So perhaps we should call this British GP the Ryanair MotoGP round. Officially, it is being run by the Circuit of Wales, located in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. Yet the race is to be run around the Silverstone circuit, nearly 200 km further East. Close, it is not. How did it end up at Silverstone? Thereby hangs a long and convoluted tail.
The Circuit of Wales won the contract to organize the British round of MotoGP back in 2014, after outbidding Silverstone, who had been pushing to have the sanctioning fee for MotoGP reduced, as crowds at the circuit were not living up to expectations. Awarding the contract to the Circuit of Wales was a gamble by Dorna. The track existed only as a CAD file on a designer's computer, and the Head of the Valleys Development Company, the company behind the circuit, did not even have permission to actually build on the land they planned to put the circuit on.
Yesterday, it was Bradley Smith, today it is Cal Crutchlow. On Wednesday, the LCR Honda team announced that Cal Crutchlow will be riding with the team for two more seasons. The deal will see Crutchlow staying with LCR for 2016, giving him an option to stay on for 2017 as well.
Crutchlow's deal has been a long time coming. Talks were started as early as Barcelona, with Crutchlow looking for a two-year extension with LCR. Honda were keen to keep Crutchlow within the ranks, as the Englishman has been able to provide valuable feedback to HRC for the RC213V. With Honda having taken a wrong path for this season, having an extra rider to provide development input has been important. Crutchlow's results have been solid this year, including a podium at Argentina, though he has also found himself in the gravel a number of times.
There had been a brief flirtation with Pramac Ducati, Crutchlow entering talks with the satellite Ducati team about racing for the Italian factory once again. This, however, appears to have been more of a bargaining chip to use with Honda, rather than a serious attempt to return to the fold at Bologna.
Bradley Smith has signed on for another season with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team. The British rider has extended his contract, and will continue to ride for the team in 2016.
The announcement and its timing had been widely expected, coming as it does just days before the start of the British round of MotoGP at Silverstone. Smith had made it clear since before the summer break that he wanted to stay with Tech 3, but the contract took longer to put together than hoped. Smith spoke of his frustration about the situation at Indianapolis, though by Brno, some progress appeared to have been made. The deal was finalized shortly after the Czech round of MotoGP, just in time to be announced at his home race.
The stumbling block to a new contract was ensuring that Smith received equal treatment with Tech 3 teammate Pol Espargaro for 2016. This had been a thorn in Smith's side throughout the season, as upgrades such as a new chassis arrived on Espargaro's side of the garage, but were not available for Smith. As the Englishman has lead his teammate in the championship throughout the 2015 season, Smith felt that he too deserved better treatment from Yamaha. Talks with the factory at Indianapolis helped clear the air, opening the way for a deal to be signed.
Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi head into Silverstone tied on points, with Lorenzo only leading because he has more wins to his name this season than his teammate. With the race that close, who does the season favor? Who will emerge victorious at the end? It is far too early to make any firm predictions, but perhaps we can guess from looking at last year.
There are seven races left in 2015, and the seven left this season are the exact same races in the exact same order as the last seven of 2014. That parallel invites comparisons, and the drawing of conclusions, though such conclusions are tenuous at best. However, there are tracks which favor Rossi, and tracks which favor Lorenzo, and their performance there may yet be indicative of the final outcome.
First, the numbers. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo currently have 211 points after the first 11 races. With seven races left, there are a grand total of 175 points still up for grabs. Though neither rider is likely to run the board – they are too evenly matched for that – a look back at their performances last year can be instructive.
In the last seven races of 2014, Rossi won two, at Misano and Phillip Island, and Lorenzo won two, at Aragon and Motegi. Lorenzo took three second places, while Rossi ended in second just twice. Rossi ended in third two times, Lorenzo just a single time, and both riders scored a blank due to poor weather. Rossi crashed at Aragon on a damp track, while Lorenzo retired after a tire change at Valencia in half-wet, half-dry conditions.
With the news that the Brno round of MotoGP has been handed to a consortium consisting of local and regional governments, and that they are working to secure the long-term future of Brno, a major piece of the puzzle surrounding MotoGP's schedule for 2016 slotted into place. Brno, along with Indianapolis, had been the two biggest question marks still hanging over the calendar.
Most of the schedule fell into place once Formula One announced its calendar several weeks ago. The combination of an unusually late start (F1 kicks off in Melbourne on 4th April, two weeks later than last year) and an expansion of the schedule to 21 races has left few gaps for MotoGP to fit into. The upside to F1's late start is that MotoGP can get a head start on its four-wheeled counterpart, and kick the season off before F1 begins.
Preseason testing is slightly altered for 2016. Instead of two tests at Sepang, the MotoGP teams will head from Sepang to Phillip Island, and then on to Qatar, for a final test before the start of the season. Testing starts on the first three days of February, spending the 1st to the 3rd at Sepang, for the first start of the year. From there, the circus moves to Australia, for a three-day test at Phillip Island from 17th to the 19th February, before heading back across the equator to Qatar. MotoGP will test at the Losail circuit on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of March.
Michelin Speaks: Piero Taramasso On 2016 Tire Allocations, Front Tires, Intermediates, And Performance
The change of official tire suppliers for MotoGP, with Bridgestone departing and Michelin arriving, is arguably the most significant change to the class since the series went to a single tire in 2009. Changing tire manufacturers has a massive impact on everything, from bike design to rider preference, and Michelin face a huge challenge to get everything ready in time. Bridgestone helped by staying on for an extra year to allow Michelin to properly prepare, and the tires which the French manufacturer have been developing are looking very promising.
Their preparations have not been helped by conditions. Test days have been hit by rain, with testing severely hampered. This was also the case at Brno, when the majority of the MotoGP field was due to get their first outing on the Michelins since Sepang, though the factory riders had a chance to test after Mugello. The rain did give a group of journalists a chance to grill Piero Taramasso, Michelin's manager of two wheel motorsports activities.
Had the weather affected their plans for the test at Brno, we asked? "The plan was to test in dry condition so it looks like it will be not the case," Taramasso replied. "We brought some new solutions for the front. For example we had the same profile with two different casings and three different compounds. For rear tires same profile, two different casings, and two different compounds. So this was the plan."
The Massive Silly Season Update: Redding vs Kent At Pramac, Honda's Musical Chairs, Moto2 And Much More
Brno was a busy time for teams, managers and riders. Apart from dealing with jet lag and the sweltering heat, silly season kicked off in force at the Czech round of MotoGP. The summer break and the chaos which ensued from the situation around the Forward Racing team put everything on hold over the summer, with tentative talks starting at Indianapolis. Those talks, and events outside the paddock, helped clarify the situation, and at Brno talks began in earnest. The empty spaces on the MotoGP grid are starting to be filled.
The weekend kicked off with the fairly sensational news that Danny Kent was talking to Pramac Ducati about a ride in MotoGP, going straight from Moto3 and skipping Moto2. The deal on the table would be a three-year deal with support from the factory, racing a GP15 alongside Danilo Petrucci. It was an offer Kent was giving very serious consideration, and expected to think about in the run up to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Given that Octo is the title sponsor of the Silverstone round, and also the sponsor of the Pramac Ducati team, announcing a British rider at the British GP would be a sponsor's dream.
Signing Kent has not come out of the blue. The Moto3 championship leader has made it clear he will not be back in Moto3 next year, whatever happens. Kent has options in Moto2, most notably with his current Kiefer team, who run on the Leopard Racing banner. Kiefer are set to move up to Moto2 in 2016, and are keen to retain the services of Kent. But Kent sees 2016 would be an ideal moment to make the jump to MotoGP, given the technical changes which are coming next season. Michelin tires, as the biggest change, will mean a much more level playing field, as everyone in MotoGP, veteran and rookie, will have to work to figure out how to get the most out of them. The more rear-biased style, using the extra grip of the rear to carry more corner speed, may also help a rookie coming up from Moto3. Ducati certainly think the switch might work, Davide Tardozzi telling me at Brno "this is not something we thought up last night, we have been thinking about this for a while."
The post-race Michelin tests have been something of a frustration for journalists following MotoGP. With riders barred from speaking publicly about the tires, and no official timing for the tests, it has been hard to make sense of the events. Today's Brno test was even more frustrating. Rain all day, alternating between heavy downpours and a very light drizzle meant that the track was more or less wet all day. The riders stayed in their garages and race trucks, for the most part, with a handful of riders putting in a handful of laps.
Though the test was mostly a washout for Michelin, the French tire manufacturer did get some useful data from the test. Riders went out on three types of tire: slicks, wets, and intermediates, in varying conditions. The return of the intermediates is an interesting step, a tire which uses the hard rain compound with a minimal tread compound. MotoMatters.com ace shooter Scott Jones snapped photos of both the intermediate and wet rears for comparison, and posted them on Twitter:
The Michelin MotoGP rear intermediate, warmed up in by Petrucci. pic.twitter.com/GfRG6KYnri— Photo.GP (@PhotoGP) August 17, 2015
2015 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Foiled Expectations, A Sea Change In The Championship, And The Distractions Of Contracts
There were many things we expected to see on Sunday at Brno. Rain was one of them. Order restored in Moto3 was another. But most of all, we expected to see a scintillating MotoGP race going down to the wire. We saw none of those things, yet the Czech Grand Prix turned out to be one of the most intriguing races of the season. The momentum shifted in Moto3 and MotoGP, and swung even further in Moto2. And apart from a few drops shortly after Moto3 finished, the rain stayed away all day.
Free practice had promised a thrilling MotoGP race, with little to choose between the pace of the top three riders in the championship. Expectations were both raised and dispelled after qualifying, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi locking out the front row. Lorenzo on pole was no surprise, nor really was Márquez on the front row. Rossi, though, was an eye opener, and on paper, a mouth-watering prospect. Qualifying has been Rossi's weakness since the system switched to the new qualifying format of two separate Q sessions. Starting from the front row means he doesn't have to fight his way through to the front before he can attack. The last time Rossi had been on the front row was at Assen, and there, he had gone on to win an epic battle with Marc Márquez. Could he pull it off again?
The clues that he would not be able to were there for all to see in the long run data from free practice on Saturday. But the insurmountable obstacle to any hopes of a thrilling race was the man on pole. Jorge Lorenzo had laid down such a withering pace in qualifying to take pole that he looked pretty much untouchable. He destroyed Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013 by over half a second, becoming the first motorcycle racer to lap the Brno circuit in under 1'55. His race pace was the strongest of the trio, but the gap looked manageable.
The future of the MotoGP round at Brno has finally been secured. The regional authorities have stepped in to secure funding for the Czech Grand Prix for the next five years, starting from 2016. A deal has been struck with the Czech Ministry of Education and Sports, the City of Brno, and the Moravian regional government to ensure that the Czech round stays for the foreseeable future.
The round had been in doubt for some time, as haggling over finances between the circuit, the city council and the regional government saw the sanctioning fee go partially unpaid for the past several years. The rights to the round have now been placed with a new and separate organization, run by the various regional and national governments involved, who will organize the round at the Brno circuit. With the financing in place, the race will continue for at least the next five years, and probably beyond.
The entertainment value in MotoGP waxes and wanes through the years. One year, the races are all serial snoozers, each race settling into a procession a lap or two after the start. The next, everything is turned on its head, every race a tense battle to the line for a close finish. We are lucky indeed that this year falls very much into the latter category. There have been some classic races already, and tomorrow's race looks like being an absolute corker. The two title favorites and the most highly-tipped outsider are on the front row of the grid, two fast Ducatis and the best satellite rider at the moment are behind them on the second row, and one of the most exciting young talents in MotoGP will start from seventh, and is clearly competitive. Battle tomorrow is not just for victory, but for the momentum in the championship. And if the racing needed spicing up any more than it has been already, it might just rain.
The big surprise on the front row is Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been mediocre at best during qualifying, ending up all too often on the third row of the grid, and having to pull off miracles to fight his way to the front. It was clear that something was afoot this morning, when Rossi posted an exceptional time in FP3 to take him into second spot, and very safely into Q2. Clearly, he and his team had been working on something to find some speed on a single fast lap, in a bid to boost his qualifying position. It made qualifying an even more intriguing spectacle than usual, with the question at hand not just who would grab pole, but whether Rossi would be able to raise his game and put himself in a position to be competitive from the very first laps.