2015 Motegi Friday Round Up: The Key To Zarco's Title, Lorenzo's Strong Shoulder, And The Threat From The Ducatis
It's only Friday, but already, one championship has been decided. Tito Rabat's mission to outscore Johann Zarco was tough enough before he crashed at Almeria and broke his wrist, but trying to handle the immense braking stresses of the Japanese circuit with a freshly plated radius proved too much to ask. Rabat's attempt was brave, but ultimately doomed to failure. After riding in FP1, Rabat realized that it wasn't so much the pain, but rather a lack of strength in the arm needed to control the bike safely. Forced to withdraw, Rabat's title defense came to an end, and Johann Zarco became the 2015 Moto2 World Champion.
It was a rather bewildered Zarco who faced the press later on Friday. His mind was still focused on Sunday's race, rather than on becoming champion. He could barely comprehend that he had already won the title. Mentally, he had prepared to celebrate on Sunday, after the race, so the title had come unexpectedly early. It did not put him off his stride, however. Zarco was twelve thousandths slower than Tom Luthi in FP1, and nineteen thousandths faster than Alex Rins in FP2. He remains the man to beat in Moto2, exactly as he has been all year.
Zarco is a truly deserving champion. He has dominated the Moto2 class all year, despite getting off to a rocky start – and almost disastrously smashing into the pit wall along Qatar's front straight, as he tried to fix a gear lever which had worked loose. He took over the lead in the championship in Argentina, taking the first of six wins so far this year, and held on to it through sheer consistency. Since the second race of the year at Austin, Zarco has been off the podium only once, struggling to sixth at Aragon, the first signs he was starting to feel the pressure as he had his first theoretical chance to lift the Moto2 crown.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Motegi:
Motegi was the stage for a parade of the walking wounded on Thursday. The first question to half of the riders in the press conference was, "How's the injury?" The answers mattered quite a lot, given that Jorge Lorenzo is engaged in a battle to the wire with Valentino Rossi for the 2015 MotoGP crown, Marc Márquez has proved to be capable of being the joker in the podium pack, and Andrea Iannone is the dark horse always looking to disrupt proceedings at the front. If any of those three are severely hampered by their injuries, it could have a major impact on the outcome of the championship.
There is, of course, one minor problem with asking riders how their injuries are, and how much trouble they are causing: you never know just how close to the truth the answer they gave you actually is. This is not necessarily because they are trying to deceive you, but as Valentino Rossi himself pointed out, often, a rider does not know just how much trouble an injury will cause until they actually get on a bike and ride. "For me, I think it's impossible to know," he replied, when asked if he thought Lorenzo might be hampered by his injury at Motegi. "But also because I think Jorge don't know. He has to wait to see the feeling when he rides the bike tomorrow morning, because the shoulder is always difficult. It can be a big pain, but it depends in normal life for for riding a motorcycle. Sometimes you have pain when you make some easy things, but you go on the motorcycle and you have less problems." He also pointed out that Lorenzo has had much worse, having raced at Assen in 2013 just a day after having his broken collarbone plated.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi:
So at last it's official. "This will be my last year in MotoGP. I will be moving to World Superbikes next year with Honda and the Ten Kate team," Nicky Hayden told the press conference at Motegi. The move had been long expected, as Hayden's options of a competitive ride had petered out. "These last two years haven't been so good, I haven't been able to get the results on an Open Honda to really keep a high level bike in MotoGP," he acknowledged.
That had prompted his decision to finally move to World Superbikes. "I've always thought World Superbikes might be something I'd like to try, I've always liked the racing there," Hayden said. "The opportunity just felt like it would be a good fit. Obviously I'm getting a bit older, but I still enjoy the sport and the game, and thought it would be a fresh challenge and a new opportunity, to go there and try to have a bit more fun. Of course I'll miss MotoGP. I had a great opportunity here. Was part of some great teams and worked with some great people. But nothing lasts forever, and that's life. Have to keep moving. Go to Superbike with Honda and hopefully have some fun."
Honda issued the following press release on Nicky Hayden joining Michael van der Mark at Ten Kate Honda in World Superbikes next season. More on this story soon:
Honda announces 2016 World Superbike riders
Honda has today confirmed the team that will spearhead its campaign in the 2016 World Superbike championship on the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP. Current rider Michael van der Mark will be joined in the team by former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden.
Hayden has been riding in MotoGP since 2003 when he joined the Repsol Honda team and the 34-year-old American has since gone on to start more than 200 Grands Prix, scoring 28 podiums and taking three wins. He won the MotoGP title with Honda in 2006.
His strong flat-track racing pedigree, which began at the age of three, eventually led him into road-racing and the young Hayden turned professional on his 16th birthday, halfway through the 1997 season. He won the AMA Supersport series with Honda two years later before turning to AMA Superbike in 2000. He became the youngest ever AMA Superbike champion, taking Honda’s VTR1000SP (RC51) to victory in 2002 at the age of 21.
And so the most crucial part of the season begins. Although you could justifiably make the argument that every race is equally important, the three flyaways to the Pacific rim often punch well above their weight in terms of determining the outcome of the championships. If riders haven't all but wrapped up the title before heading East for the triple header at Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang, then events can throw a real spanner in the works of a title fight. These are three grueling weeks of racing under any circumstances; throw in the pressure of a championship battle and mistakes are easily made.
The first challenge the riders face is the sheer amount of travel it takes to get from one race to the next. First, they must spend at least 18 hours on planes and at airports traveling from Europe to Tokyo. They face a further two hour drive to get to Motegi, and unless they are well-paid enough to be staying at the circuit hotel, will have a 50-minute commute into the circuit every day ahead of the race. On Sunday night or Monday morning, they return to Tokyo for another 10-hour flight (or longer, if they can't fly direct) to Melbourne, and a drive down to Phillip Island. A week later, another flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, this time an 8-hour flight. After the Sepang round, they finally get to head home, another 17+ hour return flight back to Europe, and a week to rest up ahead of the final round of the season at Valencia. They travel from a wet and humid Motegi, to the chill of Phillip Island's early spring, to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang.
Motorcycle racers are hyperactive at the best of times, so getting them to sit still for the best part of a day is not easy. The Japanese manufacturers – a group including Bridgestone, also based in Japan – want to take full advantage of the presence of their top riders in Asia, and so they get taken on whirlwind tours of factories, headquarters, and as a bonus, a trip to key markets such as Indonesia or Thailand. For riders such as Cal Crutchlow and Nicky Hayden, used to spending upwards of 3 hours on a bicycle every day, their training routine is destroyed. Those who prefer training on a motorcycle, such as Valentino Rossi or Marc Márquez, do not fare any better. They might get some time in a gym, but suffering massive jet lag, in a confusing environment where they can understand very little of the language, and surrounded by strange food, it is much more difficult to maintain focus. In a sport where attention to detail has become ever more important, the smallest mistake can be ruinous. It is no wonder that titles can go astray overseas.
Press releases from the series organizers and teams after Sunday's World Superbike round at Magny-Cours:
Press releases from the organizers and teams after qualifying at Magny-Cours:
Press releases after the first day of practice at Magny-Cours:
The first piece of the Marc VDS / Estrella Galicia puzzle has officially been put in place. Today, the team announced that Tito Rabat will be moving up to race for the team in MotoGP for 2016. Rabat will take the place of the departing Scott Redding, riding a factory-backed Honda RC213V. Rabat got his first spin out on the bike on Monday after Aragon, ostensibly as a reward for winning a title, but the suspicion was always that the team had done this to allow Rabat to get at least a feel for the bike ahead of next year.
That this was the only announcement from the team is something of a surprise. The original plan, MotoMatters.com understands, was to announce the entire line up all in one go. This was intended to make life easier for the team and its many sponsors, allowing them to coordinate their announcements. However, when asked about progress on this, team sources made it clear that the intention was still there, but that getting all of the deals done, contracts signed and sponsors ready was a little like herding cats.
More news is likely to emerge from the Marc VDS team in the next week or so, including announcements of Jack Miller to race alongside Rabat, on similar material, the arrival of Franco Morbidelli in Moto2, and Enea Bastianini partnering Jorge Navarro in Moto3.
Below is the press release from Marc VDS on Rabat's deal:
Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.
Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon. The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening. Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.
The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams which have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight. To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics. That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. "This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox," Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. "You can't get the best out of it without one."
Marc Marquez has broken his left hand for the second time this season. While out training on a mountain bike, the reigning MotoGP champion fell, and fractured the fifth metacarpal of his left hand. He underwent surgery on Wednesday morning at the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona to fix the bone. Dr Mir inserted a titanium plate to stabilize the bone.
Marquez will start physical rehabilitation immediately, and intends to fly to Japan and contest the three flyaway rounds of MotoGP, at Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang.
This is the second time he has injured his left hand this year. Before the Jerez race, Marquez crashed while riding dirt track, and fractured a phalange bone in his left pinky finger. This injury is to the same finger structure, the fifth metacarpal being the bone in the hand which the pinky finger is connected to.
Below is the press release from HRC on Marquez' injury:
Marc Marquez undergoes successful operation on left hand fracture after mountain bike crash
While the world of motorcycle racing is still buzzing with the outcome of the MotoGP race at Aragon, it is easy to overlook a couple of exciting and important races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In both cases, the championship leaders came to Aragon with the chance to put one hand on the title, and in both cases, they leave Europe empty handed, having failed to capitalize on the opportunities which presented themselves. The races also provided a couple of extremely deserving winners capping great battles in both classes.
The Moto3 race turned out to be the thriller everyone expected. A modest (by Moto3 standards) group made the break, Miguel Oliveira taking the initiative and the lead. He was joined naturally enough by the two rivals for the title, Enea Bastianini trying to push forward as much as possible, Danny Kent keeping a wary eye on Bastianini. Brad Binder tagged along at the back, while a strong start from Romano Fenati took him from his usual poor qualifying position to the fight at the front. Efren Vazquez was in the fray, as were Niccolo Antonelli and Jorge Navarro, both looking very strong. Jorge Martin impressed in the group, putting the Mahindra right in among the leaders.
The day after an intense race at the Motorland Aragon circuit, MotoGP held its first full Michelin tire test since Sepang this year. The track was open to any teams wishing to give the Michelin tires a spin, or work on the setting of their bikes. Fourteen riders elected to make use of the opportunity, including both Repsol Honda riders, the Tech 3 Yamaha duo, both LCR Honda riders and the Aprilia men, along with Scott Redding, Aleix Espargaro, Danilo Petrucci and Valentino Rossi.
Michelin had brought three rear tires and four front tires to Aragon, keen to get some data from the circuit, as they have not had much testing at the track, and very little in the dry. That they needed the data became clear in the morning, as cold temperatures caught a number of riders out, including Bradley Smith, with several crashes happening. Those problems disappeared in the afternoon when the temperatures rose.