So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather – except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came – means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up.
With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here.
He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez’s speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1’34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.
Three races into the 2013 MotoGP season, and the Yamaha Factory Racing team have been forced to tear up the script they had written for themselves after pre-season testing. Their original goals were for Jorge Lorenzo to win as often as possible in the early part of the season, building a lead at the tracks at which Yamaha is supposed to be strong, then defend that lead in the second half of the year. Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, was to finish adapting to the Yamaha once again, and get on the podium ahead of the Hondas as much as possible, to help build out Lorenzo’s lead in the championship.
The plan worked perfectly at Qatar. Lorenzo was untouchable in the race, and won easily. Rossi showed he still had it by getting on the podium and taking second, while the first Honda was Marc Marquez in third. This worked out even better than expected, as although Marquez is clearly an exceptional talent, the real title threat, Yamaha believed, would come from Dani Pedrosa.
Ben Spies’ long road to recovery from the shoulder injury he suffered at Motegi last year has gotten a little longer. Today, Ducati boss Bernhard Gobmeier told reporters at the Jerez post-race MotoGP test that Spies had been advised to skip the Le Mans round of MotoGP in France, and only return two weeks later at Mugello.
Spies is still recuperating from shooting pains in his chest caused by overcompensating at COTA in Austin, when he raced there two weeks’ ago. The Texan received medical advice that he should miss one more race before attempting a return.
Ducati test rider Michele Pirro will ride the Ignite Pramac Ducati as a replacement for Spies. As a replacement rider, Pirro will have to use the bike fielded by Pramac, rather than the laboratory machine he raced as a wildcard in Jerez. The official press release from the Ignite Pramac team is after the jump
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.
After years of being competitors, the FIM and TTXGP have finally come together to form a new cohesive series, and now they are finally ready to debut the name of their new lovechild, the eRoadRacing World Cup.
Premiering with six racing events, three in Europe, and three in the United States, the 2013 eRoadRacing provisional racing calendar primarily piggybacks off the FIM’s other Championship events, with the Indianapolis GP being the highlight addition to the schedule.
With American teams racing at two MotoGP Championship races (the other being Laguna Seca), and the Europeans racing in front of two World Endurance Championship crowds (Oschersleben & Le Mans), the exposure factor should be conducive to sponsors as well as teams for the 2013 season.
Additionally, the eRoadRacing calendar leaves a big enough hole open in its schedule for teams that want to race at the TT Zero event at the Isle of Man TT. Now isn’t that sporting? A still unset World Final is expected to be held in Asia, at the conclusion of the American and Europeans series. The provisional calendars for both series are after the jump.
With Cameron Donald and Honda TT Legends parting ways two weeks ago, and Michael Dunlop testing with the outfit’s World Endurance Championship squad in Albacete, Spain last week, the logical conclusion of those two events has occurred, with Dunlop singing on to ride with Honda TT Legend’s in the team’s two 24-hour races (the Bol d’Or 24 & the Le Mans 24-hour), riding alongside John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, and Simon Andrews.
Racing as well for the Honda TT Legends team in its road racing events at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200, Dunlop will also act as the reserve rider the HRC-backed squad at the Suzuka 8-hour race. For the young Irishman, it will be a bit of change from road circuits to proper race tracks, but the added exposure of another international series should certainly be a boon to his already promising racing career (Dunlop has three TT race wins under his belt already).
Our riding brethren across the pond have all the luck, as we learn of another cool motorcycle production that will be hitting the British airwaves: TT Legends. An eight-part documentary series that will cover the Honda TT Legends team throughout the 2012 season, TT Legends looks like a cracking good watch, if the trailer (after the jump) is any indication.
Following John McGuinness, Cameron Donald, and Simon Andrews behind the scenes at six events, we get a unique perspective at some of the World Endurance Championship’s best venues like the Bol d’Or, Suzuka 8-Hour, and Le Mans, as well at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200. In addition to the racing footage, TT Legends also shows the stories off the track, as the riders prepare themselves physically, and mentally for the racing season.
With the 30-minute premiere showing on ITV4 at 8.30pm on Monday, February 4th, there is no word if the documentary will find its way into North America, though we imagine the internet might help in that regard. Check out the trailer after the jump.
All last season, and for the first three races of 2012, when I’ve walked past the Ducati garage and looked in at Rossi’s side, watching for an interesting moment to photograph, I’ve seen pretty much the same thing: Immensely talented people looking immensely frustrated. I stand there for a moment and think, I’ve already taken this photo, many times. When are things going to change in there?
Things changed this weekend at Le Mans. But after three races in a row, I’d elected to be home for some family events instead of away at the French GP. From the perspective of getting different images of the Ducati box, this was bad timing. But in other ways, and not just family-related, it was good timing indeed, because I watched the race with friends at the San Francisco Dainese Store, which was, as one might expect, full of Rossi fans. And being there was a bit like going back in time.
Funny how things turn out. On a weekend that looked like being overshadowed by one subject – Casey Stoner’s shock retirement announcement and its repercussions – along came the rain and provided spectacle to cheer the hearts of racing fans of every persuasion. Rain offers new opportunities, and such opportunities light a fire in the breasts of racers being kept from running at the front under ordinary circumstances. At the same time, should that fire burn too fiercely, those same racers can fall prey to their own overreaching ambition, and fall within sight of glory.
Sunday at Le Mans saw plentiful examples of both. In three outstanding, if rain-sodden races, the fine balance between head and heart that racing requires was demonstrated several times over. Riders took the chances on offer: those who wanted it too much suffered the consequences and crashed out ignominiously; those who did not want it enough floundered around miserably at the rear; those that got it just right were richly rewarded.