Saturday at Jerez was a crash fest, in just about every class. Why? The heat – well, perhaps heat is an exaggeration, but certainly the weather was better than anyone expected a few weeks ago. Once the heat hits the Andalusian track, the grip drops off a cliff, and the riders are left struggling to cope. In Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, a lot of riders hit the deck on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Rins was one of the first to fall, crashing out during qualifying for the Moto3 class. It did not slow him down though, with the Spaniard grabbing pole for the second race in succession.
MotoGP was much worse: during the final session of free practice, Cal Crutchlow threw his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha away at the start of the back straight. Later in that session, Crutchlow watched from behind as Marc Marquez fought a losing battle with gravity at the other end of the straight, the front folding and the rear whipping round on him despite valiant efforts to save it.
“I was willing him to save it,” Crutchlow joked afterwards, “but in the end gravity won.”
Ask Jorge Lorenzo if there is one thing which the Yamaha needs to allow him to compete with the Hondas, and he will tell you it is a seamless gearbox. The system used by HRC on the Honda RC213V allows the riders to shift gear while the bike is still leaned over, without upsetting the machine. It is an important factor in the Honda’s better drive out of corners, as Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Alvaro Bautista can shift gear earlier and make optimum use of the rev range to accelerate harder.
That Yamaha is working on a seamless gearbox is no secret, with Yamaha’s test riders currently racking up the kilometers around tracks in Japan, testing the reliability of the maintenance-intensive system to the limit before using it in a race. Recently, however, Spanish magazine SoloMoto published an article suggesting that Yamaha has already been using its new seamless gearbox since the beginning of the season.
In evidence, the magazine pointed to an apparent difference in fuel consumption between the factory Yamahas and the satellite bike of Cal Crutchlow. While both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi made mistakes at Qatar, only Rossi was able to recover, and then battle with Marc Marquez for the podium. The theory put forward by SoloMoto was that the smoother transition between gears gave both better drive and lower fuel consumption, as the ignition is cut for a much shorter period, wasting less of the limited gasoline the MotoGP bikes are allowed.
My own enquiries to check whether Yamaha was using a seamless gearbox or not always received the same answer: no, Yamaha is not using the seamless gearbox. The reason given was simple: with Jorge Lorenzo defending his title and Valentino Rossi in the race for the championship, they simply cannot afford to have a single DNF down to a mechanical failure of the new-fangled seamless gearbox. The risks involved were just too great, especially when taking the reduction in engine allowance into account, with just five engines allowed all season, down from six in 2012.
To test this denial, I went out to the side of the track on Friday morning at Jerez to record the bikes as they went by. I sat at the exit of Turn 10, Peluqui, and recorded the bikes as they accelerated towards Turn 11. It is a spot where they change gear once, before braking briefly for Turn 11 and then powering on to Turn 12 and the final short straight and hairpin.
For the past couple of years, it has seemed as if there is some kind of unwritten law which states that any MotoGP weekend must be accompanied by rain. The weekends without the threat of rain or some other form of ill weather have been few and far between, so it is both a relief and a joy to come to Jerez, and have the prospect of a full weekend of stable and dry weather.
That’s not to say that no rain has fallen: this morning, as we walked to the car, we felt three or four large drops, but that was all. From the forecast, this looks like the entire quota of rain for the weekend, and the paddock is duly grateful for small mercies.
A consistently dry track still posed problems for the riders, however. The last time MotoGP was here, back in March, conditions were far from ideal. It rained, every day, with plenty of sunshine in between, leaving the track treacherous and difficult, with low grip levels and a patchy surface.
Though the teams collected plenty of data at that test, very little of it is usable this weekend, with much higher temperatures and better grip. Until the afternoon, that is, when the warmer temperatures meant that grip levels started to drop again, a perennial problem at Jerez. The bumps, too, are an issue, with many riders running wide after hitting them as they braked for the hairpins at the circuit.
The MotoGP paddock is assembled in all its splendor at Jerez, and it is positively bulging at the seams. Shiny new hospitality units (very shiny, in the case of the Go&Fun Gresini unit) now pack the paddock, the existing units larger and new units added, causing the paddock to loosen its belt and expand into the adjacent car park, sequestering part of the area previously reserved for team and media cars. Under a bright blue Andalusian sky, it really is looking at its most appealing.
The expanded paddock makes you understand why IRTA decided to ban Moto2 and Moto3 riders from having their motorhomes in the paddock, all of them now expelled. The riders themselves are less impressed. “It was nice to have somewhere you could zone out during the day, and relax,” Scott Redding said of the change. Sitting in the hospitality and watching the world go by was very pleasant, but still left him on his guard, he explained. Private quiet time was gone.
And it also removes part of the socialization process which young riders used to undergo, with the Moto2 and Moto3 men wandering around the paddock chatting to team members and other riders, everyone getting to know each other, and catching up on the latest news and gossip.
It was part of what made the paddock feel like a village; a small Italian village, high in the mountains, with an inexplicably male-dominated population.
The Moto2 and Moto3 riders added much to the fun of the place, spending most of their evenings challenging each other to wheelie competitions on mountain bikes and scooters. The paddock loses much with the change, feeling more like a workplace than a community.
Despite the loss of teenage hooligans trying to outdo each other at various two (and one) wheeled contests, there is a real buzz in the paddock. The race is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in a very long time, possibly one of the best races of the season. The reason is simple: this is a track which, though it favors the Yamaha, the Honda can compete as well.
If you didn’t watch Thursday’s pre-event press conference for MotoGP at Jerez, it is worth a viewing right to the end (assuming you have a MotoGP.com account). Building off the news about the NBA’s Jason Collins coming out as gay in a self-written feature in Sport Illustrated, my good colleague David Emmett had the courage to inquire about the culture and acceptance of the MotoGP paddock for homosexual riders.
I will let David write in his own words the mood and response to the evening’s press conference, as well as address the comments, criticisms, and opinions put forth later on Twitter by members of the paddock, when learning about the event. For the sake of accuracy though, after the jump is a full transcript of David’s question, as put to riders Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Stefan Bradl, and Scott Redding, as well as those riders’ responses to David’s inquiry.
So we’re back in Europe. Despite the eerie beauty of the night race at Qatar, despite the magnificent splendor of the Circuit of the America’s facilities, Jerez still feels like the first proper race of the MotoGP season. The paddock is set up in its full regalia, and all of the hospitality trucks are present.
The fans will be out in full force – or at least much fuller force than in the previous two races, despite the entirely respectable attendance figures at Austin – and everyone knows the score: where the track entrance is, where the truck park is, where the media center is, what the schedule is. Things have now returned to normal, and we are about to embark on the meat and potatoes section of the Championship.
And here we highlight precisely where the weakness of MotoGP lies: Jerez feels like home, and everyone in the paddock immediately feels much more comfortable here than at the previous two races. It is symptomatic of the Eurocentric (and Iberocentric) nature of MotoGP and world championship racing in general that the paddock is so very far inside its comfort zone here. If MotoGP is to expand to the world, this is one thing which urgently needs addressing.
With the news that Ben Spies will skip the upcoming race in Jerez, and instead nurse his injured shoulder, Ducati has unsurprisingly tapped its GP test-rider Michele Pirro to help replace the American for the Spanish GP.
Taking one of his three planned wild card rides this year, Pirro will not only help maintin the ranks in the Ducati squads, but will also campaign the Ducati Desmosedici GP13 development bike during the race weekend for Ducati Corse.
Ben Spies will not take part in the Spanish MotoGP round at Jerez, scheduled to take place on May 5th. The Texan has been advised to withdraw to undergo further physical rehabilitation after suffering severe muscle pain in his back and chest at Austin.
The problems are a result of the extended recovery period from the surgery he had on the shoulder he injured at Sepang in October last year. Injuries to shoulder ligaments are notorious for taking a long time to heal, and for patients to recover their full strength, and it is this which has been dogging the Texan.
With his right shoulder still very weak, Spies has been forced to try to compensate using his back and chest, and this is placing too much strain on his muscles while riding. The Ignite Pramac rider will have further rehab to deal with the strained muscles, and get him ready to return at the Le Mans round in just over three weeks’ time. After the jump is the press release from the Ignite Pramac team on Spies’ condition.