Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner’s 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second.
The lap was stunning – another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP – and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears.
Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition.
The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn’t even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
Over 75,000 paying customers came to watch the races at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, and each and every one of them got their money’s worth. Three classes, three winners, battles to the very end, and serious consequences for all three championships, with two thirds of the races done.
The day got off to a great start for the home crowd with a calculated and determined performance from Scott Redding to win the Moto2 race. Redding had come to Silverstone with two goals: to win the race, and to further demoralize his main rival for the title Pol Espargaro. He succeeded totally in both objectives, much to the relief of the British fans.
When Redding turned up at his home track with a special patriotic livery, the Union Jack splashed all over the fairing of his bike, fans feared the worst. Bad memories of previous years when British riders had sported patriotic color schemes were imprinted fresh on their minds, and they feared that Redding had jinxed himself.
Redding disagreed, and demonstrated his point by running in the top 3 in every session but one. He made sure that he always finished ahead of Espargaro, and once he qualified on the front row, posting a stunningly consistent string of fast laps in the process, he had the job half-done.
Why do we keep watching motorcycle racing? Because sometimes magic happens. Today was one of those days. Two riders took their sport to the known limits in qualifying at Silverstone on Saturday, and then pushed at the edges to see what was beyond.
What happened then took the breath of the crowd away, and left the press room sitting in stunned silence. And shutting the media up takes some doing.
Veteran broadcaster Dennis Noyes described the atmosphere in Parc Ferme after qualifying like being in a church. There was an air of awed reverence, quietness almost, as the teams of all three riders on the front row showed their respect for what they had just seen happen.
Jorge Lorenzo had put on a display of as near perfect riding as it is humanly possible to achieve, destroying the lap record in the process. And then Marc Marquez had gone faster still, with almost effortless ease.
As Lorenzo stopped in Parc Ferme after qualifying, he gave a little shake of his head. He knew what he had just done – afterwards, he would say the lap was one of the best of his career, and that there was really only one sector where he could have found more time – and it had not been enough. It doesn’t really matter what Lorenzo tries, matching Marc Marquez seems to be impossible.
Friday Summary at Silverstone: Hayden Issues a Retraction, Some Intimidation, & Pedrosa Cheers the Media
The media duties are one of the more difficult parts of a MotoGP rider’s job. Every day they spend at a racetrack, they have to spend 10 to 15 minutes answering a barrage of questions from the assembled press.
The questions range from stating the obvious, to inane ramblings, to blatant provocation chasing a printable quote, and even, on the odd very rare occasion, to sensible questions provoking subtle and thoughtful answers. In terms of time, the scope of the questions can range from what happened five minutes ago to events of five or ten years ago.
So it is hardly surprising that from time to time, the facts of relatively ancient history get confused. Such was the case at Silverstone, when on Thursday, Nicky Hayden said he would have liked to test the carbon fiber frame he tried at Jerez back in late 2011. On Friday, Hayden made a retraction, or a clarification, or call it what you will.
He explained that what he had actually tested was the aluminium monocoque frame which was the intermediate chassis between the old carbon fiber frame and the aluminium perimeter beam chassis of which the current bike is an iteration.
He had not, he said, called for a return to the carbon fiber frame, he had merely stated he would have liked to give that aluminium frameless front chassis one more try, but he was thwarted when he broke his hand in a first-corner crash with Alvaro Bautista at Valencia, and was forced to miss the test.
It is understandable that Hayden was a little confused over what he had been testing. He had been thrown a question asking about developments he had liked in the period he had been with Ducati, and had quickly run back through his memories to see what had stuck out.
The test at Jerez in 2011 had been one such moment, but as he had had three different bikes to test on that day, it was easy to confuse which chassis he had been riding at a particular moment.
MotoGP bikes have a tendency to make a race track feel very, very small. Where Jerez on a road bike can feel spacious and unhurried, ride it on a MotoGP bike and it’s like everything happens at warp speed. No sooner have you finished changing up a couple of gears than it’s time to get back hard on the brakes and start tipping the bike into the next corner. But then, 260 horsepower, 160 kg and carbon brakes will do that to a track.
Silverstone is different. The fast, flowing circuit around the former World War II airbase – one of the unintended legacies of that vast and bloody war was to leave a string of deserted military installations which were perfect for racing, and which formed the basis for the British domination of motor sport for three decades after the war – is so wide on a road bike it feels like a motorway. Doing a track day there, it feels like you have time to sit up and have a look around between corners.
That scale of circuit really does justice to a MotoGP machine. The breathtaking acceleration and speeds of a MotoGP bike bring the corners close enough to feel natural, while having enough space to feel like the bike can be really opened up. It is not quite the death-defying speeds of Phillip Island or Mugello, but Silverstone at least gives you a chance to put some wear on the cogs of fifth and sixth gear.
It is not just the speed that makes it popular among the riders. Though almost completely flat, Silverstone is notoriously difficult to master because of the number of blind corners. Being situated on top of a flat, windy plain means there are no trees, no hills, no buildings, no visual references to use when turning into some of the corners.
The complex of turns through Maggots and Becketts is almost entirely blind, and the consequences of getting it wrong mildly disastrous. As at Assen – a track just as flat, and just as fast – the lack of elevation proves to be just as challenging for a rider as massive drops or steep climbs.
While the speed and intrigue of the Silverstone circuit makes for a great experience as a rider, it is less rewarding for spectators. The sheer spacious scale of the place leaves spectators with a lot of walking to do to get from place to place.
Its flatness makes viewing difficult; lacking the earth banks of Assen or the natural hillsides of Mugello, spectators are left with windswept grandstands, with a limited view of the circuit. It is a bitter irony that Silverstone should offer such a diametrically opposed MotoGP experience to riders and fans. If the fans could get a taste of the track the riders see, their passion for the place might be greater.
At least the British fans will have something to cheer for on Sunday. The days of British domination – once far, far greater than the Spanish supremacy of the present day – may be long gone, consigned to history once Barry Sheene hung up his helmet, but MotoGP finds itself in the midst of a UK resurgence.
One race down, two more to go in the first of MotoGP’s two triple-headers in 2013, and this is the most brutal transition. After a draining race in the humidity of the Midwest, the teams and riders pack up, head east and face a wall of jet lag before getting ready to race at Brno, one of the most physically demanding circuits on the calendar.
After that, they get to pack up again and head back west, just a short hop this time to the UK, its one-hour time difference from Brno small enough not to cause jet lag, but just enough to throw your body clock just out of kilter.
Whether Brno will produce the same flashes of excitement, which Indianapolis did, remains to be seen. At Indy, the riders encountered what they described as the best surface they’d ever seen at the track – relative, of course, to previous visits – and that helped in some small way to spice the racing up a little.