If you thought that Barcelona could be a track to throw up a few surprises, the first day of practice proved you right. Not in Moto2, of course: Tito Rabat’s dominance was crushing, making Marc Marquez’s earlier reign of terror look like a close fought battle.
In Moto3, Finnish youngster Niklas Ajo topped the timesheets, putting the Husqvarna name at the forefront. That was unexpected, though given the fact that the nominally Swedish Husqvarna is nothing more than a rebadged KTM straight from the factory in Mattighofen, Austria, it should be less of a surprise.
The biggest surprises were perhaps in MotoGP. That Aleix Espargaro would be quickest in the morning is to be expected, especially as he put on the super soft tire available to the Open bikes to set his time. But for Bradley Smith to go fastest in the afternoon was a major change of fortunes, and just reward for the effort Smith and his crew have been putting in over the past few weeks.
His fast time was set with a fresh soft tire, but given that this compound – Bridgestone’s medium tire, the hard being the other option available to the Factory Option teams – has real potential to be the race tire, it is not quite as simple as Smith having pushed in qualifying trim.
Smith’s time, and the way he set it, was emblematic of the conditions at the track. It was warm in the morning, but in the afternoon, track temperatures rose to their highest of the year, reaching 55° C / 131° F. It made the track treacherous to ride, front and rear wheels sliding out everywhere.
The circuit was already in far from ideal state, with riders complaining about the bumps left by Formula 1, and the surface showing more signs of wear. Throw in extreme temperatures, and there is very little grip at all. All of the riders complained of the drop in tire performance after two to three laps.
It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said.
“It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.” The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. “We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.”
Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, “struggling” means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong.
Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything.
A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two “horns” of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight.
Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.
With his wrist continuing to give him trouble, Nicky Hayden ultimately had to miss the Italian GP at Mugello, much to the dismay of MotoGP fans around the world. Never fear though, after a successful surgery in Italy, Hayden hopes to return to action this weekend, as his hand is feeling greatly improved after the operation.
Hayden is cautious to call this race weekend a comeback though, and the Kentucky Kid might still sit out the Catalan GP if it appears the sessions will further aggravate his still healing wrist. Still, the news of Hayden getting back on the bike so quickly after an operation shows the determination of the American rider. We hope to see him on the starting line come Sunday.
Jorge Lorenzo has topped the timesheets at the end of the Barcelona MotoGP test, but the talking point of the test was Suzuki. On its first public run out, Randy de Puniet clocked a time of 1’42.676, just over three quarters of a second off the time set by Lorenzo, an impressive debut.
Nicky Hayden set the second fastest time, close behind Lorenzo and ahead of Stefan Bradl. Both Hayden and Dovizioso ran back-to-back tests with the existing Ducati GP13 and the lab bike, but neither man was convinced that the lab bike was a step forward.
Just hours before the development team’s public debut on the track (private debuts here & here), Suzuki has announced that it will return to the MotoGP Championship in 2015, not 2014. That gives the Japanese factory 21 months to develop its inline-four GP bike with test rider Randy de Puniet, and Davide Brivio at the helm as test team manager.
While the Suzuki has not given a reason behind its prolonged return, the fact that the team would have to foot the bill for its Bridgestone tires, as well as its travel/shipping costs, certainly didn’t help justify an early re-entry for Dorna’s prodigal factory, especially if the bike fails to impress on its first direct comparison to the machines of Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati.
Said to still be carrying a grudge for Suzuki (and Kawasaki’s) broken promises, and departure from the series, Dorna’s Carmelo Ezpeleta has given Suzuki no favors in its return to Grand Prix racing. Dorna originally wanted Suzuki to re-enter the series through an existing team, rumored to be Team Aspar, but ultimately had to scrap that plan as no current MotoGP team was willing to take on the onerous task of managing the factory-backed squad.
Still, Suzuki’s return will mean another two bikes on the MotoGP grid, and Suzuki itself will manage and run the MotoGP team. What the will do to the 2013 silly season remains to be seen, but we can’t wait to see some more photos of the still unnamed Suzuki GP bike on the track. A press release from Suzuki Racing is after the jump.
Jorge Lorenzo ran a perfect race at Barcelona. Well, not quite perfect — he told veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes that he made just a single mistake. “Luckily nobody saw it, and you cannot see it on the data,” Lorenzo said.
After a difficult qualifying session, Lorenzo put the hammer down from the start, attacking Dani Pedrosa aggressively into Turn 1 once again, just like in Mugello, and then pushing hard all race long, despite a front tire that kept threatening to let go.
So how did he do it? How did he pull off a win when most people were convinced that Pedrosa had the win in the bag? Two factors: his own mental strength, and a radical and inspired set up change during warm-up, in preparation for a hot race with no grip.
Wilco Zeelenberg, Lorenzo’s team manager, explained to me exactly what they had done. “We created a lot less pressure on the front of the bike,” the Dutchman explained. “That’s not what you would normally do, but because you know you won’t be able to do 1:42’s all race, you know you don’t need the best set up.”