Has Valentino Rossi finally mastered qualifying? The Italian has struggled since the format changed, from the extended hour of qualifying which started out as free practice and ended up as an all-out time attack, to the frenetic fifteen-minute dash for pole.
His biggest problem, he always explained, was getting up to speed from the start: leaving pit lane and going flat out from the very first meters. He had spent a lifetime slowly sidling up to a blistering lap, rather than getting the hammer down as soon as the lights changed.
The switch from an analog to a binary format had been hard to swallow. Millions of older fans sympathized, as they faced the same struggle in their own lives.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, has thrived in the new format, having learned the skill while doing battle with Casey Stoner. The Australian’s greatest legacy was his ability to go as fast as possible the moment he left the pit lane.
I was once told by Cristian Gabarrini, Stoner’s crew chief, that when they looked at his sector times, they would see that he had set his fastest sector times on his out lap. To beat Stoner, Lorenzo had to learn to emulate him.
Alex De Angelis has suffered serious injuries as a result of a very heavy fall during the FP4 session of practice for the MotoGP class, losing control of his bike on the exit of Turn 9 and ending up against the crash barrier on the opposite side of the track before turn 10.
The crash caused Race Direction to red flag the session, while De Angelis received treatment on track. Fortunately, De Angelis was soon reported as being conscious and able to move his limbs.
The man from San Marino was taken first to the medical center, then airlifted to the nearby Dokkyo Hospital in Mibu. After examination, De Angelis was found to have fractured several vertebrae, with initial reports stating five vertebrae, and later reports bringing the total to seven vertebrae, including three where the vertebra body was fractured, the round part of the bone which encases the spinal cord.
It’s only Friday, but already, one championship has been decided. Tito Rabat’s mission to outscore Johann Zarco was tough enough before he crashed at Almeria and broke his wrist, but trying to handle the immense braking stresses of the Japanese circuit with a freshly plated radius proved too much to ask.
Rabat’s attempt was brave, but ultimately doomed to failure. After riding in FP1, Rabat realized that it wasn’t so much the pain, but rather a lack of strength in the arm needed to control the bike safely. Forced to withdraw, Rabat’s title defense came to an end, and Johann Zarco became the 2015 Moto2 World Champion.
It was a rather bewildered Zarco who faced the press later on Friday. His mind was still focused on Sunday’s race, rather than on becoming champion. He could barely comprehend that he had already won the title.
Mentally, he had prepared to celebrate on Sunday, after the race, so the title had come unexpectedly early. It did not put him off his stride, however. Zarco was twelve thousandths slower than Tom Luthi in FP1, and nineteen thousandths faster than Alex Rins in FP2. He remains the man to beat in Moto2, exactly as he has been all year.
Motegi was the stage for a parade of the walking wounded on Thursday. The first question to half of the riders in the press conference was, “How’s the injury?”
The answers mattered quite a lot, given that Jorge Lorenzo is engaged in a battle to the wire with Valentino Rossi for the 2015 MotoGP crown, Marc Márquez has proved to be capable of being the joker in the podium pack, and Andrea Iannone is the dark horse always looking to disrupt proceedings at the front.
If any of those three are severely hampered by their injuries, it could have a major impact on the outcome of the championship.
There is, of course, one minor problem with asking riders how their injuries are, and how much trouble they are causing: you never know just how close to the truth the answer they gave you actually is.
This is not necessarily because they are trying to deceive you, but as Valentino Rossi himself pointed out, often, a rider does not know just how much trouble an injury will cause until they actually get on a bike and ride. “For me, I think it’s impossible to know,” he replied, when asked if he thought Lorenzo might be hampered by his injury at Motegi.
And so the most crucial part of the season begins. Although you could justifiably make the argument that every race is equally important, the three flyaways to the Pacific Rim often punch well above their weight in terms of determining the outcome of the championships.
If riders haven’t all but wrapped up the title before heading East for the triple header at Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang, then events can throw a real spanner in the works of a title fight.
These are three grueling weeks of racing under any circumstances; throw in the pressure of a championship battle and mistakes are easily made.
The first challenge the riders face is the sheer amount of travel it takes to get from one race to the next. First, they must spend at least 18 hours on planes and at airports traveling from Europe to Tokyo.
They face a further two-hour drive to get to Motegi, and unless they are well-paid enough to be staying at the circuit hotel, will have a 50-minute commute into the circuit every day ahead of the race.
On Sunday night or Monday morning, they return to Tokyo for another 10-hour flight (or longer, if they can’t fly direct) to Melbourne, and a drive down to Phillip Island. A week later, another flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, this time an 8-hour flight.
After the Sepang round, they finally get to head home, another 17+ hour return flight back to Europe, and a week to rest up ahead of the final round of the season at Valencia. They travel from a wet and humid Motegi, to the chill of Phillip Island’s early spring, to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang.
Unfortunately the boys from the Paddock Pass Podcast won’t be at the Japanese GP in Motegi, so this race weekend we’re bringing you something a little different in Episode 8.
David and Neil preview the next round at Motegi, and dive deep into the silly season happenings in the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 classes. Let us know if you like these “filler” episodes, and we’ll produce some more between the remaining rounds.
Be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Cheers!
Jorge Lorenzo has sprained his left shoulder in a training accident. The four-time world champion was training on a minibike with some other riders, when he fell heavily on his left shoulder.
The pain was severe enough for him to travel to a medical center in Barcelona, where he was diagnosed with grade 1 sprain of his left shoulder.
Lorenzo is already underway to Japan, and intends to race at Motegi, the first of three back-to-back flyaway races. How much the injury will hamper him remains to be seen, but given the mild nature of the injury, it should not trouble him too much.
We couldn’t make this story up if we tried, but Yamaha Motor Corporation is using the internet meme “LOLcats” to promote its product launches at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show, complete with a kitten-written speech and internet-generated cat-meme photos.
Apparently this all started because in Japan, cats say “nya” instead of “meow” – this of course lead to the name “NYA-maha”…a ham-fisted bit of word play that should have never evolved beyond witty water cooler banter, or the best scene from stoner-favorite Supertroopers.
We seriously don’t know who pitched this idea, or how they fit their giant cojones in that conference room, but they must have been the voodoo master of marketing pitches, because here we are. You win Yamaha. You’ve robbed us of our innocence, but you win.
You cannot un-see this dedicated website, which has a prominent link on Yamaha’s global website. You also can’t un-read this “President’s Address”, or un-see the “product descriptions” for the Tokyo Motor Show, shown after the jump.
It’s all like looking at a solar eclipse of catnip, while getting Rickrolled by a giant multi-national motorcycle corporation that also happens to sell pianos.