For the past four years, my coverage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has followed something of a ritual. The riders would ride the track. The riders would talk to the media about how awful the track was, the bumps, the different types of asphalt, the drainage covers, the joints between the tarmac, the corners which were too tight.
I would write about what the riders had said in my nightly round-ups. And I would receive an email complaining about what I’d written from IMS’ otherwise excellent media office.
It’s hard to blame Indy’s media office for such a reaction. They are the best media office of all the circuits on the calendar, by a country mile, better organized and providing useful and timely information on everything happening on the track.
It is part of their duty to handle criticism of the circuit, especially that coming from a bunch of Europeans only using half the real Speedway track, and requiring corners. They were only doing their job.
They will have a much easier job this weekend. Rider reaction to the changes made at Indy has been overwhelmingly positive, with barely a whisper of criticism of the track. The single surface on the infield is a vast improvement, the changes to the track layout make it much more suitable for motorcycle racing, and most of the bumps have been removed.
The circuit is “more like a normal track,” as Marc Marquez put it. Pol Espargaro concurred. Indy is “more of a motorbike track” the Tech 3 man said.
There are those who say that Marc Marquez is due for a big crash soon. He is always riding so close to the edge of traction that at some point, he will go over the limit and suffer the consequences, they reason. They will therefore not have been surprised to learn that Marquez had a huge highside on Friday morning.
What will surprise them is the cause of the crash. It was not due to pushing his Honda RC213V beyond the limits of adhesion, he explained to the media afterwards, but was caused by a minor slip of his foot. His toe touched the gear lever, clicking the bike into 3rd, and that caused the rear tire to grip momentarily and flick him off.
The crash happened at Turn 2. “You turn with the gas in second gear,” Marquez said. “I didn’t know at the time, but I was touching a little bit the gear lever.” In the last part of the corner, he accidentally engaged third, and as he kept the throttle in the same position, the bike highsided.
Marquez was thrown upside down, and landed on his neck. He was lucky to walk away, but walk away he did. He returned to the garages and was straight back on the bike again, posting the sixth fastest time, six tenths off the pace of Aleix Espargaro, and a third of a second behind Jorge Lorenzo.
By the afternoon, Marquez was back at full speed, and second quickest behind Aleix Espargaro once again. He still had some stiffness in his neck, he said, but it was not really hindering him.
“The neck feels a bit locked in some corners, but it is not a problem,” he said. Intensive physiotherapy kept his neck warm, and prevented it from seizing up and becoming painful. That only happened after the session was over, and his neck started to cool down.
There was some question of why Marquez was allowed to continue straight away. After what was obviously a very serious crash, Marquez was not subjected to a physical examination to check for signs of a concussion. This is a recurring problem in MotoGP, with pressure on riders to get back on the bike as soon as possible.
Only in very severe and obvious cases does the circuit doctor intervene, and so far this has not caused any problems. How long it will continue without a rider hurting themselves by going back out too soon remains to be seen. There may be a role here for more forceful action by the Medical Director and circuit doctor.
At long last, we were down on the bottom section of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race course. Each group that runs the bottom uses it as their qualifying run — fastest time to the flag at Glen Cove is on pole.
The bottom section is distinctly different from the two above it. It is the only section completely in the tree line, so you get some interesting light coming through the pine trees.
I find the bottom to be particularly difficult as a photographer. It offers fewer options and vantage points than the sections above, but it has the advantage of not being so high of altitude, so working and walking there is slightly easier.
At the end of our morning, Lambert Fabrice was on pole on the #38 bike, which isn’t at all surprising considering he has been swinging off his machine like a mountain goat version of Marc Marquez.
Saturday is a well deserved day off for everyone. After four straight mornings of alarm clocks sounding off at 2:20 am, we all need a little rest. Nothing happens on the mountain as far as official race practice goes, but almost everyone will probably do one more sighting run with the public traffic.
They won’t see or run the mountain until Sunday, and when they do, it will be one run — fastest to the top is king of the mountain. It’s a long day. Hopefully free of red flags and clear weather….sadly, I almost guarantee we won’t be free of either.
Success in motorcycle racing is a fickle beast. Getting everything just right to get the best out the bike and rider is a difficult undertaking, with a thousand factors standing ready to throw a spanner in the works.
The bike has to have the right balance of stability in braking, nimbleness in corner entry, and strength in acceleration. The rider has to be in peak physical condition, mentally on top of his game, and ready to seize any opportunity which presents itself.
When track conditions are ideal, the rider has to be able to find the limit of adhesion. When track conditions or the weather are not playing ball, the rider has to guess the right time to attack, and the right time to hold off. They have to judge how the conditions are changing, and when they are ripe to be exploited. Get it right, and you dominate. Get it wrong, and you are lost in the pack.
You also have to be lucky, or know how to make your own luck. The qualifying session for the MotoGP class at Assen showed just how big a role luck can play, the weather playing a massive role in proceedings. The weather changes fast at Assen. In a country as flat as the Netherlands, the wind blows cloud and rain in quickly, and carries it away just as fast.
Bright sunshine can change to heavy clouds in a few minutes, with rain following on behind. Which is just what happened on Friday afternoon. Sunshine made way for gray skies, the air pregnant with moisture. It spotted with rain in the morning, briefly during FP4, but only really struck during Q2.
It threw the plans and running order of MotoGP into disarray, with smart and lucky riders winning out, the ill-starred ending up well down the grid.
Back to the summit of Pikes Peak we go. After a warm-up round on Tuesday morning on Pike’s Peak’s highest elevations, we returned for one final high altitude practice on Thursday morning. With breezy and crisp conditions and ambient temperatures cold enough to freeze water, the riders made their way through the winding, high speed, and very bumpy alpine section.
I, however, have never been the biggest fan of the top 3rd of the mountain. It’s more like shooting on the moon. There is lots to do, but you had better bring your “A” game and a ton of energy to hike yourself around in the low-oxygen environment. It’s grueling.
I was much more conformable at altitude today than I was on Tuesday though….but it doesn’t make it any easier. Despite that, at the end of the session I had come to really enjoy the summit section. I shot in places I had never been before, and enjoyed watching the riders really start to push themselves and the bikes to the limit.
Tomorrow, we go qualifying at the bottom! Day off on Saturday, and Sunday is race day!