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.
Marc Marquez entered MotoGP surrounded by hype and with high expectations. After a wet test at Valencia, where he showed he was fast, but not quite how fast, the Spaniard went to Sepang, where he posted very good times in a private test. At the full Sepang MotoGP tests, Marquez was genuinely impressive, never finishing outside the Top 4.
At Austin, Marquez stunned observers. The young Spaniard, still only a rookie in the MotoGP class, with only a few days on a MotoGP bike under his belt, dominated at the Austin test, topping the timesheets on all three days of the private test. It was not as if he didn’t have any competition at the circuit: both the factory Yamaha and Honda teams were at the Austin test, and Marquez beat Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to set the fastest time.
So it was something of a surprise when Marquez failed to duplicate his impressive pace in Malaysia and Texas when MotoGP rolled up at Jerez for the final test of the season.
Though Marquez was 3rd fastest in the wet, once conditions improved – though they were never perfect – the Repsol Honda rookie got left behind a little, finishing the second day in 7th spot, nearly 1.2 seconds behind fastest man Valentino Rossi, and 5th spot on day three, 0.6 behind Cal Crutchlow.
Marquez left the three day test as 6th overall, six tenths behind the fastest man of the test Cal Crutchlow, and over a tenth behind Stefan Bradl, his main rival during the 2011 Moto2 season.
So what happened? Where did Marc Marquez’ speed suddenly disappear to? When asked by reporters on Sunday, the Spaniard had a few explanations. “Today was difficult,” Marquez acknowledged, “but I think it’s normal. It was the first time in dry conditions on this track.”
Three days of testing at Jerez is over, and the real star of the show is obvious for all to see: The Weather. Of the 18 hours of track time that the MotoGP riders had at their disposal, only about 4 were in consistent conditions, and that was in the pouring rain on Saturday.
An afternoon of dry track time – well, dryish, with groundwater seeping through the track from the hills at Jerez, which have been lashed by unusually heavy rain all winter long – on Sunday and a bright start to Monday morning left the riders hopeful, but it was not to be.
It took 15 minutes for the first rain to arrive. The track opened at 10am. At 10:15am, the rain started to fall, leaving most of the teams twiddling their thumbs in the garages and hoping for some dry track time.
Valentino Rossi being fastest in a dry MotoGP session brought joy to the hearts of his millions of fans, but also relief to the writers of motorcycle racing headlines. For the past two years, with the exception of a damp and freezing session at Silverstone, the media – especially in Italy – have spent many hours puzzling over how to shoehorn Rossi’s name into a news item without it appearing overly clumsy. With little success: “Pedrosa grabs pole, Rossi to start from ninth” sounds, well, as awkward as it does dispiriting.
On Sunday, there was no need for tricky sentence construction. Valentino Rossi grabbed the headlines the way he would want to, on merit. Under a warm sun, and a dry track – well, relatively, but more of that later – Rossi just flat out beat his teammate, and the factory Hondas, and all the other 24 MotoGP machines that took to the track for the second day of the test at Jerez.
Beating his teammate, even if it was by just fifteen thousandths of a second, was crucial. That hadn’t happened in any of the previous tests, and the gap between himself and Jorge Lorenzo stayed pretty constant: at least three tenths of a second.