2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on set up. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up. The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get set up right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.
That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row. At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn't won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory. They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way.
And then there's Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place. The rear tire Michelin have brought uses the more pliable carcass which was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo's strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Valencia:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Valencia:
The sun was out and Lorenzo was out on a mission to get his name back on top. Once that challenge was done with, the Spanish rider went on to set a string of low 1:31s, all while Marc Marquez was catching up lap after lap. The world champion eventually sneaked ahead by a mere half a tenth but then found the gravel trap with three minutes to go, demonstrating his karate kick on the innocent tyre wall around turn six.
While both rivals proved to have good pace, Maverick Viñales kept close as well, about a tenth behind Lorenzo and showing good prospects for Sunday’s race. Fourth was Andrea Iannone, although the leading Ducati was three tenths down on the top trio, Valentino Rossi close behind his countryman.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Valencia:
After Franco Morbidelli stole his thunder in FP2, Tom Luthi wasted no time in showing his speed on Saturday morning, heading straight to the top of the timesheets and leading the Italian by over six tenths of a second for most of the session. More so, that early time was one tenth of a second faster than Tito Rabat’s pole position time from 2015.
Morbidelli shaved a few tenths off to get as close as two tenths of a second, but the biggest surprise of the session was Danny Kent, the British rider getting as high as third in the final minutes of the session. That pushed world champion Johann Zarco down to fourth position, half a second off Luthi.
In the sunny but chilly Saturday morning session, riders took their time getting close to their FP1 times, Marc Marquez the only one to narrowly beat it in the early part of the session. Andrea Dovizioso and both the Suzukis led the Yamaha duo before everybody put on their qualifying shoes.
Cal Crutchlow was the first to challenge the timesheets, the LCR rider getting himself back into a top ten position before the mad dash started. Although the strategy did not pay off in the end, the British rider getting pushed back once again in the final moments of the session.
The day started in less than ideal conditions for the Moto3 class, but Andrea Locatelli put in a late charge to grab the lead, only a tenth off the best time from Friday. With almost thirty riders within a second of the Italian, the hierarchy was a bit of a lottery in the late dash to the flag.
FP1 leader Juanfran Guevara followed in second, almost two tenths off, with a big improver in third, Aron Canet putting his Honda in a prime position. World champion Brad Binder found his way to the top of the timesheets in no time but was eventually bumped down to fourth position.
The media is a fickle beast. Normally, journalists and TV only have eyes for the top half of the timesheets. Or more realistically, the top half of the top half of the timesheets. As Valentino Rossi once joked one weekend during his time at Ducati, when only four or five journalists turned up to speak to him, rather than the thirty or forty he used to see at Yamaha, "So this is what it's like to finish seventh."
If media interest beyond tenth place is sparse, it is absolutely nonexistent for last place. Normally, the rider who finishes last has no visits from journalists, nor will anyone come to speak to their crew chief. But Friday at Valencia was anything but normal.
A brand new manufacturer joining the grid is anything but normal, however. And even when the rider on the new bike finishes last, the media crowd waiting outside the garage is seriously impressive. The back of the KTM garage was thronged with journalists, first to speak to Mika Kallio about his day on the RC16, and then to grill Kallio's crew chief Paul Trevathan about the bike, and the problems they encountered.
Another session, another good start from Franco Morbidelli, the Italian beating Tom Luthi’s FP1 time by a mere tenth of a second. With an initial gap of over three tenths of a second, the Estrella Galicia rider was unperturbed at the top, Takaaki Nakagami getting as close as a tenth of a second to put his name next on the timing screens. The Japanese rider had a lot of track time to recover after the rodeo adventures from the morning session but did so successfully, going straight up to second and keeping his position for much of the session.
Johann Zarco has also staged a bit of a comeback for the afternoon session, the recently crowned champion cutting his deficit to the leader to three tenths of a second to finish third. Half a tenth down on the world champion was Julian Simon, perhaps a sign of the unusual configuration of the rest of the top ten.
The shark was unleashed as soon as the light turned green, Jorge Lorenzo shaving tenth after tenth off his own leading time from the very start. The still Yamaha rider put the new style medium front tyre on for his second run, gaining three tenths on his closest challenger, the reigning world champion, while also dropping his teammate by over half a second.
Marquez wouldn’t accept this minor defeat easily, becoming the first rider to get into the 1:30s in the final ten minutes of the session. A fast last run from Lorenzo helped him join the club and regain the privileged position at the top of the timing screens from Marquez
After the massive crashes suffered in the morning session, both Enea Bastianini and Jorge Navarro were out to make amends and they were off to a good start, the Italian leading the Spaniard at the top of the timesheets after the initial run.
They were not there to stay as the RBA duo replicated their FP1 result, Juanfran Guevara getting close to the best time of last year’s FP2 session. The time was eventually beaten in the last minute rush by Joan Mir, the young Spaniard putting in yet another impressive audition for the role of Rookie of the Year.