There appears to be a new rule of thumb for gauging the weather: If there’s a motorcycle race on, then chances are it will be raining, at least for some of the time. After a weekend of climate-curtailed practice 7 days ago at Jerez, the weather looks like being a major factor at Estoril as well. Though no rain fell during any of the nine sessions of practice – two Moto3, two Moto2, two MotoGP and three Red Bull Rookies – took place, the rain was still very much a factor. The day started with a wet Moto3 session, the track taking a long time to dry out after the overnight rain that lashed the circuit. The track started to dry during MotoGP FP1, and by the second half of that session, it was dry enough for everyone to run slicks, albeit the softer compound that Bridgestone has brought.
By Moto2 FP1, the track was nominally dry, but problems with the damp remained. Parts of the track have been resurfaced, in particular, Turn 6 and Turn 13, and though the new surface is pretty good in general, the problem is that the new asphalt is still dark, and it is impossible to see where the damp patches are. At Turn 13, the sweeping Parabolica that leads back onto the front straight, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that water appears to be seeping up through the ground, which is still saturated after weeks of heavy rain.
As a result, though the afternoon sessions all looked to be perfectly dry, in fact there was still a lot of water in the final corner. Worse still, the water was invisible to the naked eye – or at least the naked eye travelling at upwards of 100 mph aboard a racing motorcycle. Consequently, everyone was taking it easy through that final corner, and losing out massively in terms of lap times. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha estimated that most riders were losing about 1.5 seconds in that part of the track, not just in terms of corner speed, but also due to losing the drive on to the front straight.
Top speeds for the 1000cc MotoGP class are only a couple of km/h faster than in 2011, when the bikes were still 800cc, and had 30-40 hp less. At a track with a reasonably fast final corner followed by a kilometer-long straight, the 1000′s should be slaughtering the top speeds set by the 800s. The MotoGP bikes are four tenths down in the third sector, and nearly half a second slower in the final sector, including the final turn and run on to the front straight. All that means that lap times are seriously down on where they were last year, in all classes.
For most of the groups inside the MotoGP paddock, this final visit to Estoril for the Portuguese Grand Prix is tinged with sadness. Everyone loves this place, except for arguably the most important group of individuals present: the riders. The track is too tight for a MotoGP bike, especially the tight uphill chicane that follows a couple of corners after the back straight, and the many surfaces of Estoril make it very difficult to cope with. But for anyone who doesn’t actually have to ride the track, Estoril is wonderful. Teams and journalists either stay in the beautiful seaside resort of Cascais, or else in the magical town of Sintra, up the mountain overlooking the Portuguese circuit. As far as ambiance is concerned, the Portuguese round of MotoGP is very hard to beat.
Unfortunately for the Estoril circuit and the many fans it has in the paddock, this is the last time we will be coming here for the foreseeable future. The state of the Portuguese economy, combined with the fact that this is one of the least attended races of the season means that it is just not viable for the time being, especially not as the circuit really needs resurfacing. In a last-ditch effort to attract as many people as possible to the Grand Prix, the circuit organizers have slashed prices by quite an astonishing level. The cheapest ticket for the weekend? 2 euros. The most expensive? 20 euros for a three-day pass and the best seating. There are several circuits where you could spend ten times that much on a ticket. A bit of judicious googling for hotels and flights and you could come to the Portuguese GP for just the cost of entry for another European round.
Casey Stoner has moved to quash rumors of his retirement which appeared in the Spanish press after Jerez. He would continue competing in MotoGP for as long as he still enjoyed the racing, and right now, he was still having fun, he said after the pre-event press conference for the Estoril MotoGP round. When he stopped having fun, he would retire, but that moment had not yet been reached, he said.
The rumors of his retirement which had emerged had irritated the reigning World Champion, and he had a few sharp comments for the media who made them. Asked by one journalist what he meant when he said he intended to continue racing for a few more years, Stoner retorted “I was basically saying, don’t listen to what you read in the press. Don’t read what you produce.”
Jerez is to remain on the MotoGP calendar for at least one more year. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced the extension during the official presentation in Madrid of this year’s Spanish GP at the iconic Jerez circuit, stating that Jerez will stay on the calendar for 2013. He also confirmed that from next year, there will be just 3 races on the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with Jerez and Aragon certain to stay, while Barcelona and Valencia could alternate, as is currently being proposed for Formula 1. Meanwhile, the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril appears destined to disappear from the calendar.
Rumors surrounding the fate of the Jerez Grand Prix had been circulating for a while, with the circuit still in financial problems over non-payment of debts to the consortium that carried out remodelling work at the circuit back in 2001. It was widely expected that Jerez would be dropped from the calendar, but sources close to the circuit owners were confident of being able to continue. Though the official confirmation is only for 2013, the chances of the race remaining at the track for the next five years look very good.
After much speculation that MotoGP would forego stopping in Portugal this year, the premier motorcycle racing series will keep five stops on the Iberian peninsula on its 2012 MotoGP Championship calendar after all. With the Portuguese GP struggling to make ends meet, it was thought that Estoril would be dropped for 2012, as it seemed increasingly clear that the local government was not going to step in and help subsidize the cost of hosting MotoGP in Portugal. Coming to some sort of accord with Dorna & the FIM, MotoGP has confirmed that Estoril will remain on the schedule for this year, though its future is certainly still tenuous.
Finally finalized, the 2012 MotoGP calendar hasn’t exactly seen a huge revision from last season’s schedule, though it does put to rest some outstanding issues. Previously only listing Germany as a stop for MotoGP action, the Sachsenring’s name has been inserted as the venue to host the German GP, subject to the circuit coming to terms with Dorna of course.
Also still subject to contract, Estoril has yet to come to a full agreement with the MotoGP rights holder. Other changes include the confirmation of the Spanish GP at Jerez, and that the season-opener at Qatar will come a week earlier than last season. For 2013, MotoGP’s calendar will include a stop in Argentina, as well as an additional round in the United States.
Testing concluded today in Estoril, with MotoGP teams getting another day to sort out their 2011 race motorcycles on the Portuguese track. The day was perhaps most anxiously awaited by the Ducati Corse squad, who brought out new chassis parts to address the issues with the Ducati Desmosedici GP11. Feedback from both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi was positive about the changes, and the Ducati Corse team seems to be heading down the right course of softening up the GP11.
“It was a positive test because the new updates were immediately better. The bike was more sensitive to changes made to the front, which makes it easier to work on a setup that works better for me,” said an upbeat Valentino Rossi. “I realized that as soon as I got on the bike and then, over the course of the following hours, we constantly progressed. We also had an engine with a slightly smoother power delivery that I liked a lot.”
“We’ll start using it when the rotation plan allows it. I liked the tyres that Bridgestone had us try, they seemed very good. Of course the other riders also made great progress, and the less positive about today is the gap to the front on my best lap. Anyway, everything that the Ducati technicians brought worked, and that means that we’re on the right path. We have to continue working, but today’s test gives us confidence.”
The Portuguese GP proved to be a thinking man’s race, but the pre-race press conference showed that some riders can switch their brains off from time to time. With Marco Simoncelli making strong impressions during the Free Practice sessions at Estoril, and Jorge Lorenzo on sitting on the pole, tempers flew a bit as the Spaniard and Italian minced words over riding styles and reputations.
Starting with a prompt as to whether Simoncelli had read some disparaging remarks made by Jorge Lorenzo in the media, the two riders had a heated exchange about past incidents of questionable riding conduct, while a bemused Pedrosa had to remain seated next to them during the handbag tussle. From there, the following transcript ensued. Read it after the jump.
MotoGP riders were blessed with dry weather conditions today at the Portuguese GP, as the rain decided to wait a bit longer in making its appearance at Estoril. Accordingly, today’s MotoGP race provided dry, but still tough, conditions as more than one rider had to contend with the cooler temperatures affecting their Bridgestone tires. With MotoGP racing being absent for four weeks because of the postponement of the Japanese GP, the eyes of the paddock were trained on several riders who took the downtime to recuperate and have operations for nagging injuries.
Perhaps the most prominent of this group was Dani Pedrosa, who had a plate removed that was pinching a nerve cluster removed from his shoulder. Similarly, Cal Crutchlow had a his arm operated on for issues with arm pump, while Randy de Puniet had a screw removed from his leg from a injury he suffered at Sachsenring last season. Of course the return of Álvaro Bautista to MotoGP racing was big news, as the Rizla Suzuki rider had missed the first two races of the season to a broken femur, and made his astonishing recovery in just 42 days’ time.
At Estoril, pre-race action heated up on the track with impressive lap times from Marco Simoncelli, who has shown a noticeable improvement on his pace from last season. Off the track, the spotlight also followed Simoncelli, as he and Jorge Lorenzo exchanged some less than friendly words about each other during the pre-race press conference. This latest spat comes on the heels of the one between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, the pair having gotten entangled during a crash at the Spanish GP.
With tempers still simmering off the track, it was cooler heads that prevailed at Estoril this weekend, as patience proved to be the better virtue for a number of riders at the Portuguese GP. Read all about it after the jump.