It was a wasted day at the Sachsenring. The day started cold but with a dry track, then, ten minutes into MotoGP FP1, a fine mist of rain started to fall, making already tricky conditions positively terrifying.
A few journalists walked through the Sachsenring paddock up towards the end of pit lane, where the fences give you great views of Turn 1 and Turn 11.
Just as we arrived, Scott Redding’s battered Pramac Ducati returned to the paddock in the back of a recovery trailer. When we turned around to watch the bikes coming through Turn 11 again, Jorge Lorenzo slid through the gravel towards us, his foot caught up in his bike for a while.
While we were watching Lorenzo hit the gravel, we heard another bike scrape across asphalt and into the gravel. It was Stefan Bradl’s Aprilia, the German having lost the front at Turn 11, just as Lorenzo had.
The rain continued, never really heavy enough to soak the track properly, only lifting towards the end. A few riders went out on wet tires to check their repaired bikes, coming straight back in again.
The morning session was lost to the weather conditions. The afternoon session was a little better – at least it was dry – but the track temperatures meant that the tires never really got to the operating range they were designed for.
There are good times to talk to MotoGP riders and there are bad times. Among the bad times are when sessions of other classes are on, or when other major sporting events intervene. Valentino Rossi’s press debrief on Saturday afternoon is one example.
When it clashes with the start of the Red Bull Rookies Cup race, Rossi can be distracted as he watches the opening laps on TV screens in the Yamaha hospitality.
Though Rossi is the consummate professional, always giving relevant answers to the questions we put to him, sometimes we have to wait, as fourteen Red Bull Rookies all try to fit into a corner where only three will go.
On Thursday, the press debriefs of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders were up against the last twenty minutes of the Tour de France stage, which finished near the top of the Mont Ventoux (not actually at the summit: strong winds meant the finish was moved 6km from the top).
Cycling is something which MotoGP riders tend to become passionate about, as they do it so much to maintain fitness. And the finish to this particular stage became so intense that both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro remained glued to the screen, as did most of the journos who had come to talk to them, including myself.
We talked a lot with the Tech 3 boys, but none of it was about MotoGP.
Well, not quite none. As I prepared to rush from Tech 3’s hospitality through the tunnel under the track to a press conference I was already late for, I quickly asked about the asymmetric front tires Michelin have brought to the Sachsenring.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” was Bradley Smith’s answer, followed by a comment that he was more happy that the French tire manufacturer has brought the extra soft front rain tire, as the soft had still proved too hard at Assen.
Comments Off on Preview of the Dutch TT: Weird Weather, Tricky Tires, and Saving Italian Racing
So how does the first Dutch TT at Assen to be run following the normal Friday-to-Sunday schedule feel for the riders? It feels normal, is the consensus.
“I don’t think it makes a difference regarding the feeling,” Dani Pedrosa explained on Thursday. “Because when we were here on Wednesday, it felt like a Thursday, because the procedure is the same.”
The only downside about the switch from Saturday to Sunday? “The only good thing before was that when you finish the race, you still have the Sunday off! So when you return home, you had a good time with family on Sunday,” said Pedrosa. “I’m going to miss my Sunday roast!” added Bradley Smith.
Perhaps a more complex and sensitive loss was the fact that the Assen round of MotoGP now clashes directly with the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Bradley Smith bemoaned the fact that he would not be able to attend the festivities on Sunday, nor the traditional dinner on Saturday night.
The damage this clash does could be small but significant in the long run. Though motorcycles are given a lot of attention at Goodwood, it is primarily an event focused on four wheels.
Having top MotoGP riders attend the event was good exposure for motorcycle racing, and MotoGP in particular. With Assen likely to clash frequently with Goodwood, the number of riders at the event is certain to diminish.
Comments Off on Monday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: New Tires, New Chassis, Some Equivocation
On the day after the Barcelona MotoGP race, the entire grid bar the Aspar Ducatis were back at the track for a full day of testing. Conditions were ideal; so ideal that they perhaps a little confusing.
Though it was hot and dry, the fact that only MotoGP bikes are circulating and laying down Michelin rubber meant the track felt different to race day, when the MotoGP bikes have to follow Moto2, and cope with the Dunlop rubber the fat rear tires smear on the track.
The grip was also helped by the fact that Michelin had three new rear tires to test. They were three slightly different versions of construction of the current rear tire, using one of the compounds available for the race weekend.
The tires were well-received, everyone praising the added traction the tire offered. The only criticism offered was that they had a very short life, dropping off after two or three laps.
Michelin were pleased with the results of testing. The main aim of the new tires had been to proved extra traction, and that is what they had delivered. Michelin chief Nicolas Goubert was very satisfied.
“All three tires were better than the reference tires, so we just have to choose which one to make.” The tires were very much test items, used to gather data, and were to be taken away and examined back at the factory.
There, a decision would be taken on when and where the tires will be used. “Technically it’s possible to produce them for the next races, but we will analyze whether they are needed for the tracks we will be going to before the summer.”
On Friday, a young man died in a freak crash at the Circuit de Catalunya, and we mourned him. On Saturday, we went through the motions, picking up the rhythm of a normal race weekend, but in a state of mild shock.
On Sunday morning, we remembered Luis Salom, the whole paddock and a circuit full of fans standing in silence, united both in the memory of a bright young talent who take took from us, and in the knowledge that it can happen again.
On Sunday afternoon, we raced, and reminded ourselves of why young men and women risk their lives with the frankly rather futile objective of demonstrating that they can ride in circles on a motorbike faster than anyone else.
“It was difficult to not cry when we were in the minute of silence,” Maverick Viñales reflected on Sunday afternoon. “It was a really difficult race, but I think the best way to remember Luis is racing, and trying to make the best result. I know he will be always with us.”
Marc Márquez felt much the same. “In the end also this Sunday, I liked it was again the atmosphere of the family, the MotoGP family. Because when we were there together on the grid, when we were racing, everybody was racing for Luis. Everybody dedicated the race to Luis.” And what races to dedicate to Luis Salom.
The Moto3 race saw a tense battle go down to the line, and a thrilling finale and a win that had been a long time coming. The Moto2 race became a brawl between two of Salom’s recent rivals, with a masterful display to take victory. And MotoGP produced one of the fiercest duels we have seen in a while, a popular victory, and a shake up in the championship.
Comments Off on MotoGP Silly Season Update: Filling the Leftover Factory Seats & Satellite Speculation
In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP’s Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year.
Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away.
Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.
So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha.
Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would “definitely continue with this bike.” He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a “perfect” contract.
Suzuki, KTM, and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes’ seat at Aprilia was settled already two years ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018.
Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.
After the drama and speculation at Le Mans, it will be Maverick Viñales who will join Valentino Rossi in the Movistar Yamaha team in 2017.
The reports pegging Dani Pedrosa for the seat alongside Rossi turn out to have been wrong, despite coming from highly credible sources.
On Friday, Spanish magazine website Solomoto reported that Viñales flew to Milan to sign the contract at Yamaha Motor Racing headquarters in Gerno di Lesmo, a stone’s throw from the Monza circuit.
Solomoto’s report was followed by a deluge of other Spanish news sites reporting the same facts, though citing different sources. This makes it more likely that the news really is true this time, and that Viñales has indeed signed with Yamaha (after the time of this writing, this deal has since been confirmed to Asphalt & Rubber -JB).
The deal will see Viñales sign for two years alongside Rossi, with the announcement to be made on Thursday at Mugello.
MotoGP is in Le Mans, France this weekend and if you watch the TV feed long enough, you will invariably see a candid moment where a rider is in the pit box, trying to explain a technical item with his team. In these moments it goes, almost without saying, that he will be doing most of the explaining with his hands.
There is something about the dynamic movements of a motorcycle at speed that defies mere words – gestures and sounds seem to be an integral process of getting one’s point across in a clear manner. It’s two-wheeled pantomime.
The folks at Alpinestars have picked up on this, and made a quick video with its sponsored riders in the MotoGP race class. What’s interesting to see is how many of the gestures at the same for explaining the same act. Call it Universal Rider Sign Language, perhaps?
One statistic captured the state of play in Argentina after the first day of practice. Of the eighty-three (83!) Grand Prix riders who took to the track on Friday, just a single rider failed to improve their time from FP1 to FP2.
That rider was Tatsuki Suzuki, and the reason he did not manage to improve his time was because he crashed early in the session, leaving himself too little time to go faster.
Why is this remarkable? Normally, there would be somewhere between four and eight riders who do not manage to improve their time between sessions on Friday.
At Mugello in 2015, for example, there were six in MotoGP, five in Moto2, and eleven in Moto3, a grand total of twenty-two, and broadly representative of a normal race weekend. The fact that almost everyone managed to go faster illustrated the problem with the track perfectly.
The problem? The track is filthy, to put it simply. As a result of a lack of use, the dust and dirt which settles on any uncovered surface just settles into the asphalt, and is never swept from the track.
With no bikes or cars circulating regularly, the track remains green, its virgin surface unsullied by the dark rubber of motorized monsters. No vehicles on track means no grip.