“I don’t really want to look at the timesheet,” Cal Crutchlow said at the end of the first day of practice at Mugello, “because Lorenzo’s run was an absolute joke.” Crutchlow is well-known for his colorful language – in every sense of that phrase – and his words are easy to misinterpret. But a glance at the consistency of Lorenzo’s times soon makes you understand exactly what Crutchlow meant. On the hard rear tire, Lorenzo was running mid to low 1’48s, with many laps within a few hundredths of each other. On the evidence of Friday alone, Lorenzo is not just going to win this race, he is going to embarrass the entire field.
The times were close after the first day of practice, closer than they have been for a very long time. Just 0.471 seconds separates the top 11 MotoGP prototypes (Karel Abraham is barely fit enough to ride, after breaking fingers in his left hand, and is way off the pace), with Ben Spies leading Cal Crutchlow by just 0.006, just a tenth separating Nicky Hayden in 3rd from Dani Pedrosa in 6th, and less than a tenth between Andrea Dovizioso in 7th and Stefan Bradl in 11th. It has all the makings of a great race, right?
Not according to Cal Crutchlow. “Lorenzo will run away with it,” the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man opined. Everyone except for Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had set their fastest time on the soft tire, Crutchlow explained. Lorenzo’s best time, a 1’35.057, was set in the middle of a run with a used hard tire, his race rhythm in the 1’35.0 while everyone else was running 1’35.3. Lorenzo was looking very smooth on the bike, team manager Wilco Zeelenberg saying he was pretty pleased with the bike and the way the first day had gone.
“It was an up-and-down day,” Ben Spies said after practice on Friday, and truly, he spoke for a large part of the paddock. It started with the weather: the overnight rain continued for the better part of the morning, leaving the track soaking during FP1. The sun came out at lunchtime, quickly drying out the track, helped by the strong winds buffeting the circuit. The dry track helped, the wind certainly didn’t. “That’s what happens when you build a circuit on an airfield,” Cal Crutchlow commented curtly, after complaining about being blown around by the gusting wind in the afternoon.
There were plenty of big names to watch out for at Jerez, but the real star of the show was the weather. She turned out to be such a prima donna that she almost completely halted on-track action for the first session of MotoGP, though not so much through her ferocity as by her fickleness. A rain shower at the end of the previous Moto3 made the track just greasy enough for it to be no use for slick tires, and nowhere near wet enough to get any useful information from wets, and so the vast majority of the MotoGP grid spent all of FP1 suited up but twiddling their thumbs.
After the euphoria of the first day at Qatar, it was back to work on Friday, with riders, teams and even journalists turning their focus back to the task at hand. While most of the attention was focused on MotoGP, the premier class seeing fascinating stories start to develop in the two sessions of free practice the class had in the irregular and rather confusing schedule which the night race at Qatar forces on the paddock, a pattern is also starting to emerge in both Moto2 and Moto3.
Free Practice 2 for the Qatar GP has just finished at the Losail International Circuit, and the speed gap between the prototypes and the CRTs is abundantly clear. One of the faster tracks on the MotoGP calendar, everyone in the paddock knew going into the Qatar GP that the power advantage held by the Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha prototypes would be apparent down Losail’s .664 mile front straightaway. But now after getting to see how the two bike classifications stack up on the same course and on the same day, the results from FP1 & FP2 show a 13.6 mph gap between the tops CRTs to the top prototype GP bikes.
Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies is having a tough time in Japan so far, as the American has been battling food poisoning before his departure from the United States. Almost not allowed on the plane to Japan, Spies’ food poisoning made riding in Free Practice 1 difficult, and caused the former-WSBK Champion to call it quits for the day, mid-session into FP2. Working with the staff at Clinica Mobile to overcome his sickness and to replenish his strength, Spies is hopeful to be ready in time for Sunday’s race, though with his energy tapped and the Yamaha YZR-M1 struggling at Motegi, the American will have his work cut out for him. Spies finished Friday’s combined Free Practices 12th on the time sheet.