Friday Summary at Le Mans: Of Four Fast Men, Improved Ducatis, Redding’s Reign, and a Quota on Spaniards

05/17/2013 @ 4:43 pm, by David Emmett24 COMMENTS

Friday Summary at Le Mans: Of Four Fast Men, Improved Ducatis, Reddings Reign, and a Quota on Spaniards valentino rossi yamaha racing le mans wheelie 635x423

So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather – except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came – means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up.

With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.

A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here.

He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.

More important than Marquez’s speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1’34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.

Though Valentino Rossi had the same number of laps in the 1’34s as Marquez, and was on a similar pace, the Italian was still delighted to have finished ahead of his teammate for the first time in a race weekend.

Labeling it as “psychologically important” to be ahead of Lorenzo – “he is on the same bike as me,” Rossi explained to the Italian press – he said they had finally solved some of the issues he had been having with braking.

Rossi would not reveal exactly what they had changed, only that it had something to do with the geometry of the bike to alter the weight distribution. The bike had got better and better, and he had set his fastest time in the final run of the session.

Does this mean that the Doctor is back? It’s a little too early to be jumping to conclusions, but it is clearly important to be right in the mix with the front four, rather than lagging a few tenths behind as he has done more or less all year.

Finding a solution for the area he had been suffering most is even more crucial. Yet the question is, can he match the race pace of Pedrosa and Lorenzo once the race starts? Lorenzo ended the day behind Rossi, but the gap – 0.028 seconds – is negligible, and Lorenzo’s pace is already strong, let alone that of Pedrosa.

And of course there is Marquez. The speed at which he is learning is just breathtaking. He arrives at a new track with a deficit, having no clear idea of how he will need to change his style to adapt to the new track. At Le Mans, it basically took him forty-five minutes, and he was up there and on the pace.

This was the area which had concerned him most, and where he had struggled in the pre-season, coming to the Jerez test in March with little data and struggling. He has since learned to transfer the lessons learned at other tracks and apply them to new tracks, a very special skill indeed. With Marquez learning this quickly, he is looking more and more like a genuine title contender every time he hits the track.

What is clear after day one is that there is little to separate the front four, and that Rossi looks capable of qualifying in a decent position, at least. Those two ingredients should provide the necessary spice to make for an intriguing race at Le Mans come Sunday, especially if the weather stays dry. That, though, cannot be relied upon: the weather forecast seems to change every hour or so, with the amount, timing and frequency of rain predicted changing each time.

Behind the front four, there is also plenty of interest. Stefan Bradl is finally back on the pace, having found a better solution for braking and improving his corner entry, two areas where he suffered particularly at Jerez. The LCR Honda man also tried a different electronics set up which modified the power delivery, making it more aggressive, a setting used by the factory riders.

That helped, but was now a little too aggressive, and needed to be softened. Still, being fifth, a tenth behind Lorenzo and a quarter of a second off the pace of Pedrosa is much closer to where he had expected to be at the start of the season.

Cal Crutchlow, on the other hand, is much less happy. Though he is still sixth, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man is nearly half a second slower than Pedrosa, and two tenths slower than Bradl, a position he is not used to being in in 2013.

His problem was all in braking, he said, his brakes overheating despite the cool temperatures at the circuit. Added to that, the Englishman also has some kind of a head cold, having woken up with breathing problems and blocked up passages. The first priority is to fix the brakes, the second to fix himself, he said.

And then there are the Ducatis. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are closer to the front than they have been all year, the Ducati suffering less at the Le Mans circuit than elsewhere. Dovizioso was pleasantly surprised, most of all at the consistency of his pace. His fastest lap had come at the end of a long run of eleven laps, five of which had been 1’34s.

He likes the track – “So everything comes easier,” he quipped – but the layout really helps. The Ducati’s problem is turning the bike, and the longer and faster the corners, the worse the problem is.

At Le Mans, it’s mostly short, tight corners, where you can stand the bike on its nose, get it turned at low speed, then fire it out of the corner again. That works for the Ducati, and it works especially well for Dovizioso.

If the race in MotoGP is looking tight – as it is in Moto3, with little to choose between the usual suspects of Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales, Luis Salom and Jonas Folger – Moto2 almost looks over before it has even begun. Scott Redding turned up to France on a mission, and has so far fulfilled all his objectives.

The Marc VDS Racing man topped both sessions of practice, and was particularly impressive in FP2. He lead by three quarters of a second for most of the session, with Tom Luthi and Julian Simon only closing in towards the end. Where Redding was cranking out 1’38s at will, only Simon managed more than one lap at that pace. With tire wear looking less of a factor at Le Mans, so far, Redding looks like seizing back the lead in the Moto2 championship.

His transformation is down to his state of mind, he told MotoGP.com, and this is something which has been apparent to anyone who speaks to Redding all year. The impudent teenager has gone, replaced by a young man, driven, and focused on his goals.

He knows there is pressure on him to succeed, but he is thriving on that pressure, not buckling under it. We will have to see how he deals with a real setback – a crash, a mechanical DNF, there is always something which will go wrong at some point in the season – but so far, Redding has looked the most title-worthy of the Moto2 riders.

And it would be good for MotoGP to have a race winner who isn’t Spanish. So far, all nine races – three each in the three Grand Prix classes – have been won by Spaniards, and there are fast and talented Spanish riders in every class. This is a cause for concern to Dorna, who need a broad range of nationalities to be able to sell TV rights around the globe.

In an interview to be broadcast on Italian radio, Ezpeleta has raised the idea of imposing a quota, restricting the number of riders from each country in the premier class. He is also rumored to be putting pressure on Yamaha not to sign Pol Espargaro, to prevent the threat of the factory Honda and Yamaha seats being taken by four Spaniards once Valentino Rossi retires.

Whether a quota will work is open to question, but this is a question which will resolve itself in the not too distant future. Though there are still a host of fast young Spaniards coming up through the junior classes – Moto3 being a prime example, with Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales and Luis Salom showing every intention of monopolizing the title chase – there are also other nationalities on their way up.

The Italians are finally taking the job of bringing young riders through an academy system more seriously; the Dutch federation is concentrating a lot of effort into bringing on competitive young riders, which is paying off with promising youngsters like Bryan Schouten, due to wildcard at Assen, and the Belgian Livio Loi, who did much of his racing in Holland; and the Red Bull Rookies continues to throw up a mix of nationalities, with the Czech Karel Hanika the current red-hot property.

We are going to hear a lot of the Spanish national anthem over the next three or four years. But by the time a quota system is in place, the problem may already be solved…

Photo: Yamaha Racing

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. TexusTim says:

    you know in my mind as I see spainish riders winning all the time it doesnt affect me the way it does for some, it makes me say “what can we do in America to rise to the challenge here and develope motorcycle roadracing in youth programs” not “how do we stop the spainairds” of course there ahead but do we take roadracing serious enough in the U.S. to deserve all the revese discrimination help ? cuz if they get a quota handed to them but no one fills the void just what was acopmlished ?

  2. JoeD says:

    The American scene is crapola. The national interest is anything HD and “Hey Ya’ll Watch This” dirt stunts. Colin, Nicky and Ben are all we have or will have untill Neanderthal Programming goes extinct. Fat chance, that.

  3. Faust says:

    Yeah, AMA is just not the sort of gateway to international competition it once was. When i watch American racing, the only guy I could see actually making it on the world stage is Cameron Beaubier. If you haven’t seen him race, you should he’s pretty amazing. I don’t see how a quota could work with all the great Spanish talent in moto3. Those guys gotta go somewhere

  4. L2C says:

    “In an interview to be broadcast on Italian radio, Ezpeleta has raised the idea of imposing a quota, restricting the number of riders from each country in the premier class. He is also rumored to be putting pressure on Yamaha not to sign Pol Espargaro, to prevent the threat of the factory Honda and Yamaha seats being taken by four Spaniards once Valentino Rossi retires.”

    To me, this sounds like Dorna is tossing around the idea of some sort of affirmative action that’s based on nationality. I hope people don’t get all aggro on me for pointing it out, but there you go, from Ezpeleta himself.

    He’s just trying to do the right thing, right? But positive discrimination is a bad thing, right? Because discrimination is discrimination, right?

    Complicated.

  5. Looter says:

    I dunno about this quota gimmick. Its not Spain’s fault that the country puts great emphasis on motorcycling culture. I prefer to beat them at their own game without any handicapping. The factories couldn’t care less about nationality these days. They want to win and if the best available riders are highly groomed spainards, italians, brits or freakin dwarves…they are gonna put a dwarf like Pedrosa in that seat! Lol

    Yeah it takes money to go racing and it often ends in sponsors handpicking riders from a chosen demographic. So why can’t more companies emulate what Repsol do in terms of racing sponsorship? I wonder how many people were whinging when the U.S. was killing it in 500cc moto gp in the 80’s? We just have to keep getting more corporate exposure for the kids coming up in dirt tracks/road racing. Keep grooming talent until they over-saturate moto gp, moto 2, moto 3 until the circle of whinging completes its revolution.

  6. Faust says:

    I just wonder what all this quota stuff means for the guys trying to get into GP now. I actually feel a bit bad for Pol. He can’t stay in Moto2 forever, and there’s guys like Rins and Vinales who are looking ready for rides in Moto2. If they institute some sort of quota, where do those guys go? Does someone sign Redding simply because he’s not Spanish? I can’t see this working out well.

    Oh, and nice try L2C, but I’m not having that discussion with you again. Move along.

  7. L2C says:

    @ Faust

    Nice try? Right.

    Now who’s hijacking the thread with egocentric ramblings?

    There it is in black and white – from Carmelo Ezpeleta. Oh, but it’s my fault for noticing and saying anything about it. Right.

  8. Faust says:

    L2C really? You are going to do this again? On another thread? Please just stop it. It’s completely ridiculous. Can we talk about motorcycles and racing? Don’t force Jensen to lock another thread, like you did yesterday. Take it somewhere else.

  9. L2C says:

    @ Faust

    Man, are you just sitting around waiting for me or something? I didn’t address you AT ALL in my initial post. I addressed a topic of the article. That’s what I did. Everybody else, so far, did the same except you. You just couldn’t resist saying something to me. You could have done that.

    Get this: This is not about you. It’s not even about me. Why don’t you get this? You could have just stayed on topic like everybody else, and all would have been fine. But, no, you just had to go and attack me AGAIN. And you have just done it AGAIN. You have done this countless times at this point.

    I am not interested in you. So, please – stop.

  10. Faust says:

    Nope, not doing it.

  11. Halfie30 says:

    Well, AMA retired Neil Hodgson. It also had Chaz Davies come through before hitting the WSBK stage he is now on… In the last 15 years the AMA has promoted some flops to the world stage. Think Bostrom (love watching him ride though), Maladin, and so forth. Josh Herrin was supposed to be the “next fast kid”… Blake Young? We just are not fast enough…

  12. JoeD says:

    It’s the passion for a race that makes the winner. Being the greatest is secondary, IMO. The triophy is nice but when is the next race?

  13. SquidleyMcSquidson says:

    Well, I think some of the issues with AMA might be a lack of manufacturer involvement after DMG took over. Yeah, Chaz was in the series… On an RSVR Aprilia which has since disappeared from competition. Even in SBK, manufacturer involvement has been on the decline, especially by the traditional AMA powerhouses of Suzuki and Yamaha (although Graves has done a great job). The only racing that has been fun to watch in AMA for the past few years has been Daytona Sportbike.

  14. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    No eyes on Scott Redding? I’m liking his future…

    Anyway, here’s to rain storms tomorrow. I want Dovi and Nicky on the podium.

  15. Alex MacPherson says:

    The only way Marquez is going to lose tomorrow is if it rains… and he bins it from pushing to hard.
    I think Dovi could be a podium contender.

  16. DareN says:

    Faust,
    Just let go – you are wasting your time…

    Back to topic – I hate all the Spaniards being on the top, but they are the best, so hats off to them until other countries develop riders to challenge them. I know it will not happen at AMA, which are the shadow of former itself. Just 10 years ago I was as interested to going to Road America as watching Moto GP. We have had Mladin, DuHamel, Gobert brothers, Bostroms, Haydens, Kocinski, young Roberts, Spies and many more. Without manufacturers money and factory teams it will never happen.

    If it rains tomorrow – Lorenzo and Rossi, Marquez – we have not seen him in the rain in the top class.

  17. Faust says:

    @DareN

    Yeah, you’re right, will do.

    My concern about trying to create some sort of quota would be that I cannot see how it could be done fairly. Can you imagine a scenario where Marquez was not signed this year due to his nationality? His involvement in the series has given GP a much needed shot in the arm. I would be interested to see what happens if it turns out to be a wet race. I’m also really excited to see what Dovi could do with a front row start. Can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

  18. TheSwede says:

    Being American, I root extra hard for Spies/Hayden/Edwards.. but more than that I root for good racing. It’s a bummer that they aren’t near the front, but more than anything I want to see close, physical racing, and if it’s Spaniards that are doing that then so be it.

    The answer to why Spanish riders are dominating is very complex, with huge variables, and is something you have to look at on a global scale. For example, you cant talk about the downturn of AMA without talking about the US economy. (Not that I care to debate fixing the US economy, i’m just showing how things to not exist in a vacuum)

    A rider quota is a very specific solution to a very broad issue.

  19. Damo says:

    @TheSwede

    “A rider quota is a very specific solution to a very broad issue.”

    I agree completely. Plus regardless of the quota, MotoGP is going to be dominated by a certain three Spaniards for the foreseeable future.

    Damn, I wish some international race teams would notice Cameron Beaubier. The kid has the potential.

  20. jet says:

    Man i don’t know about you all but i rather watch moto 2 races cause this motogp crap ,,,well put it this way i’m watching Nascar instead,just sucks,theres nothing there,imo….We need Casey back so we can have something to watch and bitch about,its called fun !

  21. DareN says:

    No quotas, no political correctness – only the best on the grid, if it is 20 Spaniards – so be it!

  22. proudAmerican says:

    @Looter

    Don’t forget that American tobacco companies used to be huge sponsors in motorcycle sports–until they were told they were no longer welcome.

    And we’re all too familiar with AMA telling the motorcycle manufacturers that they weren’t necessary to the success of the series. Yep, good move there AMA–how’d that work out for ya?

  23. WetMan says:

    It is obvious that currently 3 of the best MotoGP riders are Spanish and as such it is right that they have access to the best bikes. But that is not the major reason why they rid these bikes. That has to do with the sponsors. Spanish sponsors want Spanish riders. Market based affirmative action. And that is the case in all motorized sports. What annoys the hell out of other Europeans is that these Spanish sponsors use other peoples money (other EU citizens) to favorize their countrymen. Not just in MotoGP but in all the lower classes as well. So naturally they come up with the talent. If you are German (or French , Polish, Austrian…) you have to be exceptional to even get a chance and then you still only get access to mediocre bike.

  24. SquidleyMcSquidson says:

    @Wetman

    What Spanish sponsors? I could understand if it was just the repsol team, but Yamaha has Lorenzo and is talking about Pol Espargro now. Iveco, monster energy and eneos are not Spanish, they are Italian, American and Japanese. If the repsol team wants Spanish riders because they are a Spanish company, that’s cool but I think the other guys are getting signed because the teams and sponsors want to win above all else.