Rain yesterday afternoon put some surprising names outside the top ten, and Superpole one was interrupted with a red flag four and a half minutes in, restricting the restart to just over ten minutes in which too many riders fought for too few places.
Eighteen laps of Motorland Aragon with a temperature of 14ºC, Markus Reiterberger would have to start the race from the back of the grid, having a technical problem in pit lane before the start.
In Superpole one, eleven riders competed on regular race tyres for two spots in the second session. The weather was a little colder due to the early start. Stefan Bradl and Nicky Hayden were the two favourites, qualifying yesterday in eleventh and twelfth places.
After an early red flag, Davide Pizzoli crashing before anyone recorded a complete lap, the fifteen minute untimed session resumed. Lucas Mahias came out on top, challenged by PJ Jacobsen and Kyle Smith for the top spot. Sheridan Morais ended the session second quickest, ahead of PJ Jacobsen and Jules Cluzel. Kenan Sofuoglu was eighth quickest.
After losing almost an entire session yesterday, Chaz Davies still managed to put his Ducati Panigale at the top of the untimed session ahead of Superpole, taking over from Jonathan Rea twenty minutes into the twenty-five minute session. Marco Melandri and Tom Sykes rounded out the top four while Alex Lowes and Leon Camier failed to record a lap, both crashing out at turn two in separate incidents.
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. While the Losail International Circuit is indeed due to be resurfaced after thirteen years of use, as yet, no contract to do so has been agreed. No plans exist to fit underfloor heating, as far as I know, and given the astronomical cost involved, it seems very unlikely to happen. Normal service has now been resumed...
The Losail International Circuit is to be resurfaced, with the aim of moving the opening race back to February. The question of resurfacing came to a head after last week's season opener MotoGP round at Qatar, when light rain caused the start of the MotoGP race to be delayed, raising concern among the riders over the evening dew, which starts to form on the track surface at around 10pm. There were serious concerns that the track would become too treacherous to race on, if the race were to be delayed for too much longer.
The surface and condition of the Losail circuit was a talking point all weekend. The asphalt itself is nearly fourteen years old, as the track has not been resurfaced since it was first built. Because the MotoGP race runs at night, the evening dew makes the track slippery, but the dew patches are impossible to see. And the fact that the race runs at night means that the event is in peril if it rains.
Press releases from the organizers and teams after the first day of practice at Motorland Aragon:
MotorLand Aragon Day One
Rea ends FP2 as Friday’s fastest
World Champion leads FP2 and FP1, ahead of Melandri and Sykes at MotorLand Aragon
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) put in a 1’50.062 lap late in FP2 at MotorLand Aragon on Friday afternoon to complete the day as the quickest man on track, with Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) also in the top three on the timesheet.
With riders unable to improve on the times set in the dry this morning, PJ Jacobsen heads into Superpole Two the fastest. Only thirteen riders ventured out on to the wet track, all recording times well outside the slowest time set this morning, apart from Roberto Rolfo who didn't record a lap in the first session.
Three quarters of the way through the session, it started to rain lightly and the pace dropped accordingly, with some riders, Jonathan Rea included, deciding to pit in and call it a day. With a few minutes left, Rea decided to head back out anyway, and recorded a 1'50.062, knocking the Ducatis of Marco Melandri and Chaz Davies down a spot. Tom Sykes was also pushed back a spot by his teammate, but all four riders improved on their mornings' times.
Alex Rins has suffered a setback which could see him not participate in the second race of the season in Argentina. The factory Suzuki rider crashed while riding his Suzuki motocross bike, and suffered a partial fracture his talus, the bone which sits at the top of the ankle and transfers the weight between leg bones and the foot.
In a session where eleven different riders took their turn at the top of the timing sheet, PJ Jacobsen came out on top with a 1'54.751 on his MV Agusta, over a second and a half off the outright lap record set by Jules Cluzel in 2015 but almost half a second quicker than anyone else today. Kyle Smith and Hikari Okubu on Hondas were second and third quickest ahead of Sheridan Morais on a Yamaha and Christian Gamarino on another Honda.
Jonathan Rea was first out on track and set a laptime that only he could beat, setting the fastest lap five times throughout the session, with only Alex Lowes able to keep close. Rea also set the fastest speed, 313Km/h down the straight on the Kawasaki, equalled only by Eugene Laverty's Aprilia.
Chaz Davies suffered a mechanical problem five minutes into the session and he only registered one timed lap, over three seconds off the session's final pace. Xavi Fores was the fastest Ducati, over three tenths quicker than seventh-fastest Marco Melandri.
It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. (I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict.)
This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world. From India, through Southeast Asia, motorcycle racing in general and MotoGP in particular has a huge following. But the only country in the region which has a race is Malaysia, hosting its Grand Prix at Sepang.
So expanding the calendar to include Thailand is a welcome addition for fans in the region. If the financial and logistical problems with organizing a race in Indonesia ever get sorted, then there might even be a third race in the region, at the Palembang circuit in South Sumatra. Given the massive interest in MotoGP from that country, it is a racing certainty that any race there will be a complete sell out.
The MotoGP penalty point system is no more. The system, introduced for the 2013 season, whereby Race Direction could punish rider infringements with penalty points, which would accumulate throughout the year and could result in a race ban, has been scrapped at the latest meeting of the Grand Prix Commission.
The penalty points system had been introduced in response (at least in part) to a number of incidents involving Marc Marquez through the 2012 season. There were complaints from the fans, but also from teams and other riders, that Race Direction was not being even-handed in applying existing penalties to riders. It was sometimes hard for Race Direction to explain why one rider had been given a particular punishment, but another rider who had done something apparently similar had not.
MotoGP is back at last, and the season opener gave us all such a lot to talk about. Neil Morrison and David Emmett have a lot to cover in the latest episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast.
First, there was the rain, and the folly of organizing a night race in the desert during the "rainy season", however loosely that term may apply to Qatar. Then there was a spectacular and thrilling MotoGP race, with Johann Zarco leading early, Maverick Viñales winning on his first time out on the Yamaha, a podium that even Valentino Rossi didn't expect.