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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.
The weather put the cat among the pigeons at Brno on Friday. Hot weather, track temperatures of over 50°C and a bumpy track pushed the riders and their tires to the limit, and the afternoon session of MotoGP turned into a proper crashfest. Valentino Rossi was the first to go down, followed a second later by Dani Pedrosa, but what caused those two to crash had nothing to do with the weather conditions. A leaking fork seal dribbled oil onto Dani Pedrosa's brakes, causing a mist of oily smoke to trail behind Pedrosa, onto the rear wheel of his Honda RC213V and the front wheel of Valentino Rossi's Yamaha M1. Rossi lost the front and crashed at Turn 13, Pedrosa was highsided off his bike at Turn 14. Rossi walked away unhurt, Pedrosa slammed his left foot into the ground, aggravating an old injury suffered in Australia in 2003.
Rossi was perplexed rather than anything else. "I feel some smoke from the bike of Dani already from the corner before. But I think it was just a feeling, because usually, don't happen," Rossi said. It could not have been a lot of oil, he added, as it was only him who crashed because of the incident, apart from Pedrosa himself. Fortunately he was not injured, Rossi said, though it had created a problem for the Italian. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong moment," Rossi said. "The important thing is no problem for me, but we lose the possibility to try the number 1 bike. So from that moment we have to try the other bike that was on another setting. But anyway is important to understand the way to follow." Rossi's pace on his second bike was good, but he believed the set up they had wanted to try on the bike he crashed on would have been even better.
It was a hectic trip across the Atlantic for many in the MotoGP paddock. The air at Brno was thick with tales of airport-based woe, of overbooked flights, bad weather delays, missed transfers and lost luggage. Despite the supposed privilege of platinum frequent flyer status – one of the side benefits of working for a MotoGP team is you rack up a lot of air miles – the staff of one MotoGP were stuck in one airport for over 24 hours, thrown out of the airport lounge and unable to leave. Chicago O'Hare was temporarily transformed into the motorcycle racing equivalent of purgatory: large numbers of riders, mechanics and other staff kicking their heels with nothing to do. That is especially tough on riders: most of them suffer from some form of hyperactivity or another. Few can sit still, and most are very outdoor types. L'enfer, c'est les aéroports, if you will forgive me paraphrasing Sartre.
But there was an overwhelming sense of contentment at being in Brno. The track is much loved, even among those who do not go particularly well here. It is wide, fast, and flowing, and allows the riders to play with the lines. Dani Pedrosa, who has won here twice in MotoGP, explained why he liked the track. "It's wide, and the corners are with a nice shape, so you can be precise," Pedrosa told us. "It's a track that demands that you are precise, and I like this. Also, you can try many things, one centimeter more out, one centimeter more in, later, deeper, or earlier. This gives you a gain to be able to adjust your riding lap by lap, and some tracks are just one line and one pace and you cannot change. Here you can play a little bit more and that's positive. I like it."
From one endangered race to another. The MotoGP paddock leaves Indianapolis, possibly for the last time, and heads to Brno, a race which has been on the endangered list for the past ten years. Not all of the paddock got out on time: overbooked flights and thunderstorms caused massive delays, and left riders, teams and media stuck hanging around in airports for many hours. Hardly the ideal way to adapt to a shift of time zones by six hours, but they have little choice. There will more than a few bewildered faces in the paddock at Brno, trying to figure out where they are and what day it is.
A quick glance around should be enough to remind them. Brno is a glorious circuit, set atop a hill in the middle of a forest. To reach the track, you drive up the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads that once formed the basis of the old street circuit. The closed circuit which replaced those roads still retains most of that character: fast, flowing, rolling up hill and down dale through the trees. Where the track really differs from the public roads is in how wide it is.
The space that creates is seized upon eagerly by the riders, using it to take a number of lines through each of its corners, giving plenty of opportunities for passing. The fact that the corners are all combinations helps: riders flick right-left, left-right, right-left again and again. Make a pass into one corner, and your rival has a chance to strike back immediately at the next. It is a track which is made for great racing, and great motorcycle racing at that. Riders, fans and media alike all hope fervently that the financial and political problems which have dogged the Czech Grand Prix can be resolved, and we can keep this spectacular circuit.
This is part two of our Indy round up, covering the excellent Moto2 race, and the intriguing Moto3 race. If you want to read about MotoGP, see part one.
The Moto2 race turned out to be a barnstormer, a welcome return for the class. Once, Moto2 was the best race of the weekend, but in the past couple of years, it has become processional, and turned into dead air between the visceral thrills of Moto3 and the tripwire tension of MotoGP. At Indy, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Franco Morbidelli, Dominique Aegerter and Tito Rabat battled all race long for supremacy. They were joined at the start of the race by a brace of Malaysians, Hafizh Syahrin running at the front while Azlan Shah fought a close battle behind. Sam Lowes held on in the first half of the race, but as he started to catch the leaders in the last few laps, he ended up crashing out.
In the end, it was Alex Rins who took victory, just rewards for the man who had been the best of the field all weekend. It was Rins' first victory in Moto2, and confirmation of his status as an exceptional young talent. MotoGP factories are showing a lot of interest in Rins, but having learned his lesson with Maverick Viñales, who left after just one year, Sito Pons has Rins tied down to a two-year deal. Will Rins be a comparable talent to Viñales? Many believe he will.
Rins wasn't the only young rider to make an impression. After crashing out trying to get on the podium at the Sachsenring, Franco Morbidelli finally succeeded at Indianapolis. The 21-year-old Italian made the transition from Superstock successfully, and is part of a growing revival of Italian motorcycle racing. He will hope that his first podium marks the step to being a permanent fixture at the front.
2015 Indianapolis Race Round Up, Part 1: Marquez Vs Lorenzo, Rossi Vs Pedrosa, And Why Ducati Is Going Backwards
Whether this is the last time MotoGP visits Indianapolis or not – the lack of an announcement on Sunday night suggests that this was the last time – the 2015 edition will certainly go down in history as memorable. Race day saw the biggest crowd since 2009 head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though in a facility this vast, anything less than a quarter of a million fans is going to look empty, and all 67,000 were treated to some genuine racing spectacle. An upside down Moto3 race, where those bold enough to gamble on slicks were duly rewarded; an old-fashioned Moto2 dogfight, where a group of evenly matched riders brawled from start to finish; and a pair of exceptionally tense duels in MotoGP, with championship positions raising the stakes even further.
The race of the day? Hard to say. All three had their own appeal. Rain and a drying track made Moto3 a weird contest, with massive gaps between the leaders, and yet still strangely exciting, because of the potential effects on the championship. Moto2 harked back to the halcyon days of Márquez, Iannone, and Espargaro, and reminded us of why we used to love the class. And MotoGP was more about tension than straight up excitement, brains kept busy calculating the ramifications for the championship as the front four swapped positions.
2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marquez' Return, Lorenzo's Standstill, Rossi's Qualifying, And Moto3 Money Troubles
After practice on Friday, it looked like the MotoGP race at Indianapolis was going to a knock-down, drag-out battle between Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo, both men very evenly matched. A day later, and it looks like the battle could be much bigger than that, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi on the same pace, and maybe even Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and if things go right for him, Aleix Espargaro involved in the fight. Unfortunately for the fans, the battle will be for second, as one man has moved the game on. Marc Márquez' reign in the USA is looking increasingly secure.
The Repsol Honda rider upped his game on Saturday, topping both free practice sessions comfortably, his pace in FP4 particularly fearsome. He finished FP4 over six tenths ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, setting his fast lap on old tires, in full race trim, on the second lap of a long run. His pace was solid, all mid to high 1'32s, where Lorenzo was cranking out low 1'33s. He then followed it up in qualifying with a display of supremacy which belied the ease with which he took pole. After going out and setting the pole lap on his first flying lap, he returned to the garage where he sat calmly for five minutes, unperturbed by the happenings on the track. He returned for another try, even though it was not needed, and set another lap faster than any other rider would manage.
In the press conference, Márquez explained that he was once again comfortable on the bike, and that his team had found another step forward. The language he used to describe his situation was both modest and inaccurate. "Yesterday, I saw that Jorge was really strong," he said, "but today we got closer and we had a similar pace." In truth, Márquez and Lorenzo had similar pace on Friday. On Saturday, Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest.
2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Friday Notes - Marquez vs Lorenzo, The Mystery Of Tires, And Weird Silly Season Rumors
Every race track has something special, but each is special in a different way. There are the tracks which are notable for the speed, such as Mugello, Termas de Rio Hondo, or Phillip Island. There are tracks which have a spectacular setting, such as Phillip Island, Mugello, or Aragon. There are tracks which are notable for their layout, either fast and flowing like Assen or Brno, or tight and treacherous such as the Sachsenring. And then there are tracks which are so unlike anywhere else that motorcycle racing goes to that they have a character all of their own. Like Indianapolis.
What makes Indy such a unique challenge? "The special thing about this track is that during the weekend, the grip is improving a lot, so this is one point you must understand during the weekend how the grip improves," Marc Márquez said. Understanding this, that the track you roll out onto on Friday morning bears no relation to the track you will be racing on come Sunday, presents a very specific challenge. It rewards riders and teams who understand how a track matures and changes, can anticipate what is coming without getting ahead of themselves and paying the price for overestimating the available grip. A number of riders did that on Friday morning, especially in Moto3. Getting it wrong in the afternoon was worse, as Pol Espargaro demonstrated by opening the gas just a little more than the tire could cope with, and finding himself being spat off his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha and onto the hard, unforgiving tarmac. The fault was all his, Espargaro said.
Before the track was resurfaced, he would have had something else to blame, but the changes mean that the tarmac is much more predictable, with a single type of asphalt all around the infield. "Consistent" was the word used over and over again by rider after rider when asked to describe grip levels. They meant around the track, rather than all day, however. Because the road course at IMS sees so little use, it is dusty and green when MotoGP rolls into town, needing sweeping and some rubber laid down on it. That takes the best part of the first day, with the added complication of drastically rising temperatures from morning to afternoon.
The first part of MotoGP's truncated silly season has fallen into place. As expected, Yamaha today announced that they have extended their deal with Pol Espargaro for another year. Espargaro will race a factory-backed Yamaha M1 with the Monster Tech 3 M1 season in 2016.
The news had been widely trailed, and is a sensible choice for the Spaniard. Though Espargaro is rumored to be taking a significant pay cut for next season, signing a one-year deal puts him in step with the factory riders, whose contracts are all up for renewal at the end of 2016. It means that he will be in a position to take advantage of any openings which arise in a factory squad.
The next move expected is for Bradley Smith to renew with Tech 3. Smith has his contract directly with the team, rather than with Yamaha like Pol Espargaro, and has been stuck in talks with the team for some time now. Current paddock opinion expects a deal to be announced soon, either this weekend or perhaps at Brno.
2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Thursday Notes: Improved Hondas, Favored Yamahas, And The Silly Season That Wasn't
The summer break ended fittingly, in a downpour. Rain engulfed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the riders gathered for the start of the second half of the season, but it failed to dampen their spirits. Most of them were raring to go, having had three weekends away from racing. The only exceptions were the men who raced the Suzuka 8 Hour race, Pol Espargaro telling reporters he was 'a little tired' after missing out on some much needed downtime. As for the rest? "Looking forward to getting back to riding," was how Cal Crutchlow summed up the general feeling in the paddock. Fortunately for all concerned, Thursday's rain is likely to be the last for a few days. The MotoGP weekend should take place under clear skies and with good weather.
Perhaps most eager of all was Marc Márquez. He would have been happy to have skipped the summer break altogether, it coming just as he and his team had made a big step forward with the Honda RC213V. After struggling, then crashing out two races in a row, Márquez finished second at Assen, then dominated at the Sachsenring, and felt he was finding his feet. The most important thing, he told the press conference, was that he was enjoying riding the bike again, something which he hadn't done for a long while. "I didn't have this from Valencia and Sepang in the preseason," Márquez said.
The reigning world champion is currently undefeated in the USA on a MotoGP bike. Since his debut, he has won three times at Austin and twice at Indianapolis. Why does he do so well here? "They are left hand tracks, which helps me, because I train a lot on dirt track." Márquez spends a lot of his time racing on dirt ovals at his home near Cervera, and at some of the other dirt tracks which are sprouting like mushrooms across northern Spain. He expressed his fondness for the layout of Indianapolis too, calling it 'different', and rather unique among racetracks. It lost some of that uniqueness when it was changed last year, Márquez preferring the old layout. Perhaps his view is colored by the fact that the change made the track a little more flowing, making it better for the Yamahas.