If you wanted a demonstration of just why the weather at Sepang can play such a decisive factor, you need look no further than MotoGP FP2. Fifteen minutes before the MotoGP bikes were set to take to the track, the Moto3 machines were finishing their second free practice session in sunshine and sweltering heat.
But a couple of minutes before MotoGP FP2 was meant to start, the heavens opened, producing a deluge that had first-time visitors to Malaysia hunting around for gopher wood with which to build a boat.
The downpour covered the track in several centimeters of standing water, making it impossible to ride. The session was delayed for twenty five minutes, starting after the rain had nearly eased up completely. Once the session got underway, the weather cleared up completely, the last ten minutes taking place in glorious sunshine once again.
The changes in the weather had a dramatic effect on the state of the track. It went from being fully wet, with water everywhere, to having just a thin layer of rainwater on it at the halfway mark, to being dry at most of the corners around the track once the session ended. Full wets were essential at the start of the session, but forty five minutes later, slicks were starting to become a viable option.
Phillip Island is a very special race track. That has an upside – it rewards courage and talent, and has provided some spectacular racing – but it is also special in the more pejoratively euphemistic sense of the word. It challenges not just the riders, but motorcycle designers and racing teams as well.
Above all, it challenges tire manufacturers: with wildly varying temperatures, strong winds blowing in cool and damp air off the ocean, an abrasive surface, high-speed corners, more left handers than right handers, and the most of the lefts faster than the rights. It can rain, be bitterly cold, be bathed in glorious sunshine, or in sweltering heat. Try building a tire to cope with all that.
After last year’s fiasco, both Dunlop and Bridgestone tried to do just that. They came to the track in March to test tires and gather data to build tires for this weekend. The only minor problem is that the test came at the end of Australia’s long summer, and temperatures were much more congenial than now, as the country emerges from its Antipodean winter.
The tire selections brought by Dunlop and Bridgestone are much better than last year, but they are not quite perfect. At any other track, that wouldn’t be a problem. At Phillip Island, even being not quite perfect can land you in trouble.
Will Motegi turn into another Marc Marquez show? Not on the evidence of the first day of practice. Marquez made the highlight reel alright, but for all the wrong reasons. A crash in the first session of free practice shook his confidence a little, and convinced him to take a more cautious approach during the afternoon.
The crash was typical of Motegi. A headshake coming out of Turn 4 put the front brake disks into a wobble, banging the pads back into the calipers. With the 340mm disks being compulsory at Motegi, there was enough mass there to push the pads and pistons a long way back into the calipers indeed.
Marquez arrived at Turn 5 to find he had no front brake, and started pumping his front brake lever frantically. By the time the front brake started to bite, it was too late to do much good. With the wall approaching fast, Marquez decided to abandon ship, jumping off the bike in the gravel trap.
Arriving at a corner at 260 km/h to find he had no brakes had been “a bit frightening,” Marquez said. In the afternoon, he had left himself a little bit more margin for error, but that meant he had not matched the pace of the fast guys: Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, the surprising Stefan Bradl, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi.
For anyone on a budget, Misano is one of the cheaper MotoGP rounds to attend. Ticket prices aside, the area has a large amount of tourist accommodations, and the race takes place right at the tail end of the tourist season, when hotel prices are starting to drop.
Buses run to and from the circuit from Riccione, making transport to and the track affordable. Misano is a great circuit to go to if you are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
Misano may be a cheap weekend for fans, but it certainly wasn’t cheap for the teams in all three classes in MotoGP. The rain-drenched conditions on Friday saw riders crashing left, right, and center, in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. They racked up a grand total of 62 crashes in all three classes, in just a single day.
Given that crash damage on Grand Prix machinery tends to start at a minimum of around a thousand euros, going up arithmetically with the severity of the crash and the class the bike is racing in, a conservative estimate of the grand total for repairs on the first day of practice would be enough to pay for a ride in Moto3. Or possibly even on a MotoGP Open class bike.
The cause of those 62 crashes? The water certainly didn’t help. Rain fell through the night and all day, leaving the track soaked and standing water on some part of the track. But it wasn’t just the water, the surface of the track itself was very poor, and rubber left on the track made braking on the racing line a treacherous affair, riders in all three classes going down as the front locked up.
The fact that Bridgestone had started the MotoGP riders off on the harder of the two wet tire options didn’t help either. It was an understandable choice: in previous years, when riders have used the softer wet tire, they have ended up being destroyed at Misano.
Silverstone, like so many British racetracks, is built on the site of a former World War II airfield. Though that fact may appear to be largely irrelevant, the location makes a massive difference to conditions at the circuit.
To allow the lumbering RAF bombers to take off on their nightly runs to Germany, the airfield was set up on the flat top of a hill. The combination of altitude and ubiquitous wind gave the bombers as much help as possible at take off.
Though the bombers are gone, the wind remains, and it played havoc with all three Grand Prix classes on Friday. The blustery wind blew the bantamweight Moto3 bikes all over the track. It hammered the heavier Moto2 bikes from all sides.
And it robbed the precious warmth from the MotoGP bikes’ Bridgestone tires, draining heat and reducing the grip. The mixture of strong winds, major cloud cover and low temperatures made it difficult for everyone during free practice.