There’s something about America. Especially if you’re name is Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda Rookie led both sessions on the opening day of the Indianapolis Grand Prix (the last one? Too early to say) going quickest both in the tricky morning, when there was very little grip, and in the afternoon, once the bikes had laid down some rubber. Marquez has won both US rounds so far, dominating at Austin and winning comfortably at Laguna Seca, and he has picked up at Indy where he left off before the summer break.
Unsurprisingly, the parallels with Kenny Roberts are starting to be made, the only other rider to become world champion as a rookie. Those parallels are unfair yet perfectly valid: both men exceeded expectations and raised the bar, shaking up the established order with a radical new riding style. Yet Roberts and Marquez also came from totally different backgrounds: Kenny Roberts had grown up racing dirt track, switched to road racing and then came to Europe to win his the championship at the first attempt, on tracks he had never seen before.
It’s been a long summer break. Three consecutive weekends without racing – four, for the returning Moto2 and Moto3 classes – means that the MotoGP riders return well-rested and raring to get back on to a bike again.
Some, of course, have already spent some time on a bike over the summer, with both Yamaha and Ducati testing (more of which later), but for the most part, they have had an all too brief vacation cut short by a return to training. Training never stops for a motorcycle racer.
The location they make their return is a spectacular one. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the true home of American motor sports. It is a vast arena, a sprawling complex set inside a two-and-a-half mile oval (though it is more of a rectangle with rounded corners than an oval), housing an eighteen hole golf course, a magnificent museum, and acres and acres of space to roam around in.
It can seat up to 400,000, which it regularly does for the Indy 500. It oozes history; like Monza, everywhere you go, the ghosts of racing legends are at your side. In the shadows, you can hear them whisper.
The problem of having MotoGP at the heart of American racing is that to most Americans, motorsport involves four-wheeled vehicles. Americans love motorcycles, but the motorcycles they love are mostly American.
The real American motorcycle racing fans can be found on Saturday night a few miles away, at the Indiana State Fairground, where American motorcycles turn laps on an oval made of dirt. Those American motorcycle racing fans – hard working men and women come to watch the most blue collar of sports – are joined there by a large part of the MotoGP paddock, entranced by this most quintessential piece of Americana. The Indy Mile is just one of the things that make this weekend so very special.
Sadly, the road course inside IMS’s spectacular facility is not one of them. Originally designed to be run in the opposite direction for Formula One, the track which MotoGP uses is tight, with most of the corners closing up instead of opening out, as they were intended to be run the other way. The asphalt – though resurfaced – is a bit of a patchwork, with four different types of tarmac as the track runs onto and then off the oval, and through the center of the massive facility.
Last year, there were a lot of complaints that the new tarmac had no rubber on it, which led to a large number of serious crashes. The worst of those hit Casey Stoner, who effectively ended his season and his title defense there when he broke the bones in his foot and ankle. This year, the track should be a little better, now that it has had cars lay down a little rubber on the surface, but it remains a finicky and difficult track to ride.
You have to wonder if the memory of last year’s crashes will linger with the two men tipped to win the title this season. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa return to action at Indianapolis still not fully recovered from their broken collarbones, and at the start of a triple header of three races on three consecutive weekends.
With MotoGP’s summer break officially underway (and just days away from now concluding), Asphalt & Rubber sat down with Randy Mamola at the finish of the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, to get the Grand Prix legend’s perspective on how the 2013 MotoGP Championship was shaping up so far in his eyes.
Obviously, the man of the hour at the time of our discussion was Marc Marquez, who had just recreated one the most talked about passes in motorcycle racing history, and had won at one of the most enigmatic tracks on the GP calendar…after having never been to Laguna Seca before, naturally.
Sharing his insights on Marquez and the talent that the Repsol Honda rider exudes, Mamola gave us his unique perspective on the leaders for this year’s MotoGP title, amongst other issues in the paddock. Read the Q&A from our dialogue after the jump.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders.
In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out.
The Honda RC213V and its predecessors have always been formidable machines in MotoGP, but for 2013 HRC has truly managed to make a peerless motorcycles for its four riders: Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Alvaro Bautista.
In the past, the Honda was all about its motor and its ability to rocket out of the corners, whereas the Yamaha YZR-M1 was more about its chassis and the ability to have supreme edge-grip through the turns.
This dichotmy created two bikes that required two very different riding styles to be fully utilized; and also it meant sometimes the Honda was the weapon of choice, and sometimes the Yamaha was the better tool for the job — depending on the track, of course.
But all that changed this past season and a half. Finding a solution to the RC213V’s chatter problem (a problem that was courtesy of the raised minimum weight requirement for 2012), in the latter part of last season, HRC watch Dani Pedrosa storm after Jorge Lorenzo in the Championship points.
Helping the Repsol Honda rider was of course HRC’s seamless shifting gearbox, which at some tracks on the calendar is good for a tenth or two per lap, but what really spurred on Pedrosa was engineers at Honda overcoming the one weakness in the RC213V’s design.
No longer was the race between a bike with power and the other with handling — now the Honda had both; and better yet, Yamaha had no reply for this development.
While Yamaha Racing is still hoping to debut its own seamless gearbox during the 2013 season, it will likely do little to change the course of events in the Championship standings. The 2013 Honda RC213V is a matchless machine right now, and it is the hands of two very formidable riders.
Don’t count Jorge Lorenzo and his Yamaha YZR-M1 out of course, but the reigning World Champion has more than hisfill when it comes to fending off the two Repsol Honda riders.
Making it a point to capture this fine machine in detail at the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca, I dodged bikes in the very busy MotoGP pit lane to bring you a bevy of high-resolution photos of the 2013 Honda RC213V MotoGP race bike, which are waiting for you after the jump (be sure to check-out my similar photo sets of the Ducati Desmosedici GP13 and Yamaha YZR-M1 from Austin, TX as well).
It may be, in the colorful phrase of Jeremy Burgess, a “shitty little race track,” but somehow Laguna Seca always manages to produce moments of magic. This year was no different, with Stefan Bradl finally getting his first podium, Marc Marquez breaking record after record, and Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa coming back, after they both had damaged their collarbones at the Sachsenring.
As memorable as those performances were, they will all be overshadowed by one moment. Marc Marquez passed Valentino Rossi in the Corkscrew on lap 4, running through the dirt in scenes reminiscent of Rossi’s iconic pass on Casey Stoner back in 2008.
The incident fired the imagination of MotoGP fans for so very many different reasons: the reminder of Rossi’s pass on Stoner; the even deeper line which Marquez took through the gravel in 2013; the thrill of a rider running through that corner and still managing to return and maintain his position.
Naturally, it was the talk of the press conference. When asked about the pass, Rossi turned his attention to HRC team principal (and Marc Marquez’ team boss) Livio Suppo. Suppo was Casey Stoner’s team boss back in 2008, and had complained bitterly of Rossi’s pass at the Corkscrew.
“You and Stoner break my balls for two or three years about that overtake, because I cut the curb. So what do you say about that? Have to be disqualified eh?” Rossi asked to much laughter. Not to be outdone, Suppo replied in kind: “Thanks for the question, and thanks to Marc, because after a few years, we pay you back!”
Two weeks after Lorenzo had risked, perhaps not ‘everything’ but certainly ‘a lot,’ to limit his injury’s effect on the championship standings (he finished 5th, one place behind a struggling Dani Pedrosa), the topic came up in Thursday’s Press Conference at the German GP. Cal Crutchlow remarked that Lorenzo’s decision at Assen had raised the bar for all riders facing the question: Should I race with this injury?
Ironically, or perhaps not, Crutchlow himself had raised this bar at Silverstone last season when he slipped past the medical exam process to turn in his own amazing ride through the pack with a broken ankle. He pointed out that now more riders would be using Lorenzo’s Assen ride as a precedent: if he was allowed to ride at Assen, why can’t I?
Lorenzo didn’t like the sound of that, saying other riders should not use him as an example and instead listen to their own bodies to determine if they should sit out or compete while injured.
All weekend I heard different responses to the situation, from respect for athletes who push through pain, to scorn for the willingness to put others at risk by competing at well below 100% fitness.
One paddock insider expressed the opinion that riding a MotoGP bike is difficult enough at full fitness–any physical or mental weakness is a liability that increases the risk of crashing, and thus increases the chances of a crash involving other riders.
Two days, two big highsides, and two championship contenders down and out. Friday and Saturday at the Sachsenring saw both Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa have massive crashes, and forced to withdraw from the race in Germany.
Jorge Lorenzo bent the titanium plate holding together the collarbone which he broke at Assen, while Dani Pedrosa suffered an imcomplete fracture of his collarbone, and had problems with blood pressure and dizziness.
Though both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were ruled out of the Sachsenring race, there was much speculation about whether either of the two would be racing at Laguna Seca next weekend.
The Sachsenring is a key point on the MotoGP calendar. For the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, it is the last race before the summer break, while the MotoGP men have one more race, at Laguna Seca, before heading off for an all too brief summer hiatus.
A good result in Moto2 and Moto3 is crucial, as it determines the momentum you carry into the summer: you either spend the next five weeks brooding over what could have been, or on a high and wishing the next race was the next weekend. Momentum is not quite such an issue for the MotoGP riders, but a bad result puts them on the back foot ahead of Laguna Seca, and their own summer break.
As it is often also contract time, especially in MotoGP, the pressure is on to perform and secure a seat for next season. Good results and championship points are vital, as this race can help determine the course of the remainder of the season.
The significance of the Sachsenring was visible in all three races on Sunday, for wildly different reasons and with wildly differing outcomes. In Moto3, the top 3 riders merely underlined once again that they are a cut above the rest – or at least the rest of those who are also riding a KTM.
In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gained important momentum in his title challenge, but failed to drive home his advantage, swinging the balance of power slowly back his way, but not as fast or as powerfully as he had hoped, while Scott Redding struggled badly, salvaging points only thanks to Espargaro’s finish.
As for MotoGP, the absence of the two championship leaders has blown the title race wide open again, allowing Marc Marquez to take the lead, and both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi got closer to being back in contention again.