The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather and crashes.
The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim.
Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
There are few motorsports venues more iconic than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of the places I’ve visited, only Monza comes close: you can feel the ghosts of all the men and women who have raced there. With its massive grandstands and historic racing museum, the vast facility is breathtaking. It is a magic place.
Sadly, the magic is all around the four-kilometer rectangular oval on which the Indy 500 is held, and not so much around the road course used by MotoGP. The rather tight, artificial infield road circuit feels very much like an afterthought, something retrofitted to allow a greater range of activities at the facility. If the oval layout is spectacular, the road course is positively pedestrian.
To the credit of the Speedway, they have done an awful lot to try to improve the track. Last year, there were at least four different types of asphalt around the circuit, and the infield section was considered too tight for overtaking maneuvers. In an effort to solve both those problems at a stroke, Turns 3 and 4, Turn 7 and Turns 15 and 16 have all been modified.
The changes are aimed at opening the corners up a little, making them a little faster and more flowing. The change at Turns 3 and 4 should make for more natural corners, and a better transition back onto the outside oval.
Turn 7 has been altered to open it up, making a more natural chicane rather than the right-angle corner it was before. Turns 15 and 16 are now a little more flowing, and again have been modified to provide a more natural transition onto the oval. At the same time, the infield has been completely resurfaced, so that it now has just one type of asphalt.
What difference will the new track layout make? Wilco Zeelenberg estimated the track as being five or six seconds faster than the old layout. Having a single type of asphalt in the infield should also cut down on the number of crashes round the circuit. More importantly, the changes to these corners should make the track more interesting to ride, and more entertaining to watch. Will the changes make passing easier? It’s hard to say. We’ll find out on Sunday.
With MotoGP on its summer break, and the riders combining a bit of relaxation with a lot of training, there is time to review the first half of the season. Who has performed above expectations, and who has fallen short?
Here’s a rundown of how we rate the MotoGP riders over the first half of the season. Today, the top eight riders in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. The remainder, from Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio, will appear in another post.
After all the speculation of massive changes in Ducati’s MotoGP team, all is to remain the same. During the World Ducati Week event held for fans of the Italian marque at Misano, both Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow announced that they would be remaining with Ducati for 2015.
The news means Crutchlow chose not to exercise his option to leave, and Dovizioso was persuaded to sign-on for two more years. In addition, it means that Ducati has exercised its option to extend the contract with Andrea Iannone, with Iannone to be given factory support.
The decisions by all three riders are a both a show of confidence in the ability of Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna to build a more competitive MotoGP machine, as well as a lack of alternatives elsewhere.
The only other factory rides available are the two seats at Suzuki, but given the slow pace of the bike during testing and the amount of development work needed, that was a bigger risk than staying at Ducati.
The former England soccer player Gary Lineker once described the sport as follows: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” It feels somehow fitting to paraphrase that quote on the day that the Germans play in the World Cup final.
Motorcycle racing is a simple sport, where 23 people ride a MotoGP bike as fast as they can, and Marc Marquez always wins.
He found yet another way to win at the Sachsenring. A heavy rain shower between the Moto2 race and the sighting lap for MotoGP left the grid in disarray, with about three quarters of the field heading in to swap from their wet to their dry bikes at the end of the warm up lap.
That left fourteen riders to start from pit lane, five abreast, after jostling for position. At that point, the race should have been red flagged – more on that later – but instead, they all got out of pit lane safely. Just.
Marquez showed himself to be a master of improvisation, pitting quickly, swapping bikes and elbowing his way to the front of the pits. He took advantage of the chaos, exited pit lane first, and led the charge towards the shellshocked remainder of the pack who had started from the grid proper.
He was 8.5 seconds behind the leader Stefan Bradl by the end of the first sector, a deficit which he had cut to 7.7 seconds by the end of the first lap. Before the sixth lap was completed, he had caught and passed the LCR Honda man, going on to win his ninth straight MotoGP race with relative ease.
With the win at Assen, Marc Marquez brought his tally for the season up to eight, and a clean sweep of the races so far. After the race, many fans remarked on Marquez’s remarkable pit swap strategy, jumping straight from one bike to the other without touching the ground, rather than hopping off one and onto the second bike, as the other riders on the grid do.
Did Marquez get any benefit from it? The best way to answer that is to measure it, and fortunately, the MotoGP.com website offers us two ways to do that. The results section of the website holds a PDF with an analysis of every lap done by each rider, broken down into sector times.
By taking the times posted by each rider for the last sector of the lap on which they entered the pits, and the first sector of the lap on which they exited the pits, we get a clear idea of how much time riders lost in swapping bikes.
In addition, the video of the race on the MotoGP.com website (MotoGP.com subscription required) shows on-screen the times riders actually spent in the pits, from crossing the pit lane entrance line to the pit lane exit line. Using these two numbers, we can get a fair idea of who comes out best after making their pit stops.
One circuit, three races, all of them utterly different in nature. The wide, flowing layout with a long straight, fast corners, and multiple combinations of turns present very different challenges to Grand Prix racing’s three different classes.
For Moto3, escape is impossible, the race coming down to tactics and the ability to pick the right slipstream. In Moto2, it is possible to get away, but it’s equally possible to chase an escaped rider down.
And in MotoGP, the fast flicks make it possible to both defend attacks and launch your own counter-attacks. Mugello is a wonderful circuit, and it served up a spectacular portion of racing on Sunday.