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.
In case you missed our exhaustive coverage of the Grand Prix of the Americas, those fools at Dorna gave me pit lane access this MotoGP season. So while the whole paddock waits for the Spaniards to come to their senses, I don’t plan on wasting the opportunity to share with our readers our extreme access to motorcycling’s premier racing class. Accordingly, here comes another installment into our ever-continuing “Up-Close” series, featuring the very finest Iwata has to offer: the Yamaha YZR-M1.
Over the past few seasons, Yamaha has managed the power-deficit created by the Honda and Ducati machines by having ballerina like handling. Truly at home only when the machine was tipped-over to the extreme, the edge-grip and handling of the Yamaha YZR-M1 has been its counterpoint in the ongoing MotoGP-design argument.
A true GP bike, in the sense that it requires a riding style that has been cultivated from years of 125cc & 250cc two-stroke racing, the flowing lines of the M1 on the race track have been a stark contrast to the harsh point-and-shoot styles seen more so on the Ducati Desmosedici, but also more recently on the Honda RC213V as well.
However now with HRC having developed a seamless gearbox for the RCV, the battle of Honda’s motor vs. Yamaha’s chassis has changed. Where Yamaha riders used to beg the Japanese factory for more horsepower (they still do, by the way), they know find themselves asking for parts to combat the Honda’s ability to get on the power while still at extreme angles — an attribute once reserved only for the Tuning Fork brand.
Thirty 2000px-wide photos are waiting for you after the jump.
Marc Marquez stole several things this past weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Freddie Spencer lost two records (youngest rider to set pole and youngest rider to win a premie-class GP race), and Cal Crutchlow lost a great deal of attention he deserved for a fantastic performance, in some ways his best since coming to MotoGP.
So many members of the media were focussed on Marquez’s record setting that few of us gave due attention to how remarkable a job Crutchlow was doing on his first visit to this new facility. Marquez, Pedrosa, and Lorenzo were fastest in qualifying, helped by the experience at COTA that was gained during the pre-season test in March – also along for that test were Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl.
But, Crutchlow did not make that trip, and thus put in his first laps at Circuit of the Americas on Friday. Those first laps were after a garage fire had dealt Tech 3 the wild cards of drenched equipment that, though thoroughly dried by the hard-working crew, remained of questionable reliability given the soaking they had received Wednesday night.
While Marquez rightly had the majority of our attention, consider the performance of a satellite rider on his first weekend at a new track.
Another day, another record. Marc Marquez now takes the place of Freddie Spencer as both the youngest rider ever to take a premier class pole, and the youngest rider ever to win a premier class Grand Prix.
If you had any doubt that Marquez is something special, then the inaugural round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas should have removed it.
Marquez is on the path which all great riders take, scoring a podium in his first race, pole and a win in his second. This is what preternaturally talented riders do: learn fast, race fast, and win soon.
One record down, one to go. By qualifying on pole in just his second MotoGP race, at the age of 20 years and 61 days, Marc Marquez becomes the youngest premier-class pole-sitter in history, deposing the legendary Freddie Spencer of the crown he has held for 31 years.
On Sunday, Marc Marquez will go after the next target: the record as the youngest winner of a premier class Grand Prix, also held by Spencer. If he fails to win on Sunday – a very distinct possibility – he still has until Indianapolis to take Spencer’s record, making it very far from safe.
Marquez’s pole was the crowning glory of an utterly impressive weekend so far. The Repsol Honda youngster has dominated most of practice, leading his teammate by a quarter of a second or more in every session but one. He was immediately fast, but his race rhythm is just as impressive.
In FP3, as grip on the track improved, Marquez cranked out 2’04s and 2’05s like they were going out of style. He was consistent, too. Not quite Jorge Lorenzo consistent, but he was running a pace that would have let him build up a lead, with only Dani Pedrosa able to stay close.
Marquez continues on the meteoric path blazed by the fastest riders in the world who went before. Casey Stoner always said about that truly exceptional riders are up to speed almost immediately, and this is exactly what Marquez has done. On the podium in his first race, on pole for his second, and a strong favorite for the win, this is the mark of a true “Alien”, to use a much-denigrated, but still useful phrase. His first MotoGP victory can’t be far away.