If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo’s braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up.
Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line.
On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
There was the small matter of the remaining 27 laps, of course, but Lorenzo controlled the race imperiously. Every time one of the Repsol Hondas chasing him got a little closer, Lorenzo responded, upping his pace to match either Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez, depending on who was leading the chase.
The gap climbed to three seconds, dropped to two seconds, climbed again to four before Lorenzo crossed the line nearly three and a half seconds ahead of Marquez. It had been a typically Lorenzian performance, ruling the race with an iron fist, crushing the opposition before it even had a chance to consider trying to put up a fight.
Of course, this was the first race Yamaha had used its seamless gearbox, so could Lorenzo’s revival be attributed in any way to the new transmission? “This was a seamless victory,” Wilco Zeelenberg, Lorenzo’s team manager joked, before adding that he didn’t think it had played that much of a role. “He won the last race at Silverstone without the seamless,” Zeelenberg pointed out.
“I think he would have made the gap also without the seamless, but at the end of the race, it was also clear that he could do still 34 low, and even with a bit more tire wear at the end maybe Marc and Dani could have caught him if they were pushing. But I don’t know, I can’t answer.”
In short, the seamless gearbox may have helped Lorenzo maintain his advantage at the end, but that wasn’t why Lorenzo won the race. “We were lucky to have full grip straight away, while the rest struggled with that, so I think that was the key to break the first three four five laps and make a gap.”
The other factor that helped Lorenzo win were the mistakes made by Marc Marquez as he chased. Marquez got a mediocre start, and then struggled through the first few laps with a full fuel tank. As he started planning his attack on Dani Pedrosa, who had got a start almost as good as Jorge Lorenzo’s from the second row, Marquez ran wide and allowed Valentino Rossi through.
He was soon back in front of the Italian, and ready for another attack on Pedrosa. He got past his Repsol teammate, but Pedrosa still had plenty of fight left in him, making Marquez’s life difficult for the following five laps. Those who have accused Pedrosa of not being willing to take risks and put up a fight were shown the errors of their ways, Pedrosa’s passes on Marquez as hard and clean as any Marquez put on him.
In the end, though, Pedrosa could hang on no longer. A lack of edge grip had troubled the Spaniard all weekend, and it left him powerless to resist in the fast corners. After a mistake he lost touch with Marquez, and was left to ride his own race. With Bridgestone bringing a new tire for the riders to test on Monday, aimed at improving exactly this area, perhaps Pedrosa can get back in the fight. “If we can improve edge grip, maybe we can win races again,” Pedrosa had said after the race.
Marquez was unapologetic about the mistakes he had made after the race, pointing out that this was his first season in MotoGP – something which is easy to forget, as he breaks record after record, extending his record string of rookie podiums to twelve at Misano – and that making mistakes is what rookies do. That is how they learn, and given the rate at which Marquez is progressing, it must strike fear into the hearts of the opposition.
Valentino Rossi rode home to a lonely fourth, for the fourth race in a row. Looking, if not quite dejected, then certainly disappointed, Rossi explained once again that he is still struggling with the same problem, being able to brake the way he wants to and then get the bike turned. Braking stability is probably the Yamaha’s biggest weakness at the moment, but Lorenzo’s style disguises it best, braking early and smoothly, then releasing the brake early to carry as much corner speed as possible.
But the fact that Lorenzo is complaining of the same issue as Rossi, who likes to brake late, deep, and then pivot the bike on the front wheel, shows that it is Yamaha’s highest priority right now. Rossi had hoped for a podium at his home race, and had been pleased he had matched the pace of the top three throughout the weekend, and was disappointed not to get on the box in the race. “Starting on the front row we expected a podium,” he said. But the podium had not come.
Behind Rossi, Stefan Bradl was happy to take fifth from Cal Crutchlow, after stalking him all race long. Both men had known almost from the start of the race that the outcome was inevitable, Crutchlow telling reporters that he knew the Honda is better in braking, and that Bradl would get past at some point. Bradl, in turn, knew that he could pass Crutchlow, but also knew he could not go any faster once he did.
Instead of trying to push and using up his front tire, Bradl elected instead to play it safe, striking on the last lap to take fifth spot. Crutchlow, in turn, was not too unhappy at having finished sixth, after a run of difficult weekends. In response to queries whether he had officially got his mojo back, Crutchlow was cagey.
Misano was one of his best races in terms of racecraft, the Tech 3 man admitted, as he hadn’t made a single mistake all race. He had lapped consistently faster in the race than he had during practice, and was happy he had been able to maintain that rhythm comfortably. It may be the first steps on his road to recovery.
Lorenzo’s win at Misano may not have broken open the championship once again, but it does make a rookie title for Marquez look a bit less inevitable. Lorenzo had achieved the objective he had set for himself, taking points back from Marquez to keep reducing the gap. The objective of the team was now simple, team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said. “We have to wait and see if we can extend the fight to prevent him from being champion before Valencia. Then in Valencia, anything can happen.”
Pol Espargaro’s race in Moto2 demonstrated exactly that. After giving away points to Scott Redding at Silverstone and losing some of the momentum he had gained at Mugello, the Spaniard struck back to great effect at Misano. While Takaaki Nakagami got away at the start early, and looked well on his way to his first ever Moto2 race win – that will surely come very soon now – Espargaro bided his time, held on to his rhythm, then pushed at the end to catch and then pass the Japanese rider.
He went on to take a convincing win, while Redding struggled with the group behind the top three, crossing the line in sixth. With the win, Espargaro cut Redding’s advantage back from 38 points to 23. ‘In Silverstone I thought the title was impossible,’ Espargaro said. ‘Now, with five points every race I can be champion.’
The most poignant moment of the weekend came at the end of the Moto2 race. While the Misano circuit is surrounded with tributes to Marco Simoncelli, the local boy who died in Sepang and is beloved and honored by fans around the world, Nakagami stopped his bike close to the spot where Shoya Tomizawa was killed in 2010, and picked up a tribute flag.
Clearly in tears, he rode around honoring the memory of his fallen compatriot, overcome by emotion, and passing on that emotion to all he watched. ‘Shoya helped me,’ Nakagami said of the race afterwards, expressing his feeling that Tomizawa had been with him as he raced. There had been small scale celebrations of Tomizawa’s life at the circuit, with the Technomag team, who Tomizawa was riding for at the time of his death, having a remembrance wall inside their hospitality.
Tomizawa was a charming, talented, lovable young man, and the first ever winner of a Moto2 race. Nakagami’s tribute was a touching tribute to the cheery Japanese youngster who lost his life. It was a nice and timely reminder that all those who die while racing live on in the hearts and memories of the fans who watched them, and who they gave such pleasure to.
Misano is a wonderful location, near the beach, below the fairy tale republic of San Marino, at the heart of Italian motorcycle racing. But it is also a place tinged with tragedy, the track where Shoya Tomizawa died, where Wayne Rainey’s career was ended when his spine was damaged, and named after Marco Simoncelli, a young man who died on foreign soil.
It is a reminder of both the glory and the tragedy which motorcycle racing is capable of producing.
Photo: Yamaha Racing
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.