Is Sepang a Honda track or a Yamaha track? On the evidence of the first day of practice, you would have to say it is definitely a Honda track. Or more specifically, a factory Honda track, according to Valentino Rossi. The Italian veteran told reporters that the factory Hondas seemed to have something extra at Sepang, even compared to the satellite RC213V bikes.
Having lighter riders meant they did better on the long straights, consumed less fuel and could therefore use more power, Rossi said, but there was more to it than that.
They were also better on corner entry, especially in the tight corners, where HRC appears to have found something extra. The only place the Yamahas had any kind of advantage was in the longer faster corners, Rossi said. Through turns five and six, Rossi could catch Dani Pedrosa. Once they left that section, Pedrosa was gone.
If the bike is good, then Dani Pedrosa is outstanding. His lap in the afternoon was exceptional, the 2’00.554 just a couple of tenths slower than Jorge Lorenzo’s pole lap record from last year. Nobody else could get anywhere near him. His only rival was teammate Marc Marquez, forced to give half a second away to Pedrosa.
Just a few hours before the bikes hit the track, all the talk should be about the prospects for the riders in the coming weekend. At Sepang, though, it was all different.
Nobody was talking about who might end where, whether the Sepang is a Honda or a Yamaha track, whether Ducati will benefit from Sepang’s long straights or suffer around the fast corners, about whether Scott Redding or Pol Espargaro will have the upper hand in Moto2. It was not the prospect of on-track action, but off-track drama which captured the attention.
Marc Marquez has been handed a penalty point for his role in the incident with Dani Pedrosa at Aragon. On Lap 6 of the Aragon race, Marquez braked a little too late for Turn 12, found himself running into the back of his teammate Dani Pedrosa, the picked the bike up to run it wide.
In doing so, he just touched the back of Pedrosa’s bike, severing the rear wheel speed sensor, and sending the Honda’s traction control system into full power mode, which caused Pedrosa to be thrown from the bike when he opened the throttle.
Despite initially dimissing the crash as a normal racing incident, Race Direction had held the incident under investigation after the Aragon race, while they waited for further technical data from Honda on the crash. That data was delivered to them at Sepang, and after examining it, Race Direction found both Marc Marquez and HRC culpable for the crash.
Marquez was found culpable for riding in an irresponsible manner (violating section 1.21.2 of the Disciplinary code, the catch-all for dangerous riding), and HRC was found culpable for endangering their riders by using a vulnerable design for a vital part of a system that is important to the safety and performance of the motorcycle.
The Aragon round of MotoGP left an awful lot to talk about in all three classes: Alex Rins’ masterful victory in Moto3, forcing Maverick Viñales into an error; Nico Terol’s emotional win in Moto2, dominating all weekend after illness; Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro’s epic battle for the Moto2 championship, which Espargaro came out on top of, though only just.
Jorge Lorenzo’s astonishing speed at what should have been a Honda track; Marc Marquez’s astounding victory, moving him closer to the 2013 MotoGP title in his rookie year; Valentino Rossi’s wily race, holding off first Stefan Bradl and then Alvaro Bautista to get on the podium; and much, much more. But I won’t be talking about any of that tonight.
I won’t be talking about it, because what started out as a minor mistake turned into a massive incident, with a spectacular crash as a result, leading to an ongoing investigation by race direction and a lot of talk about dangerous riding. Do the facts justify the debate? In my opinion, no, but the issue needs addressing, and so address it we will.
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again.
Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader – “I won’t start thinking about the title until Valencia” – are brought into keen focus.
Marc Marquez has made a name for himself this season, not only by being a prodigy on two wheels, but also for being the light-hearted breath of fresh air that the MotoGP Championship needed so dearly.
Marquez himself is perhaps a stark contrast to his employer, the Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), which is known for being a bit more uptight and mechanical with its persona.
After watching the video after the jump, we think we can safely say that Nakamoto-san and his crew have redefined HRC…and they might just be having the most fun in the MotoGP paddock in the process.
One question has been raised ahead of nearly every race this season: Is this a Honda track, or is this a Yamaha track? Winners have been predicted based on the perceived characteristics of each circuit. Fast and flowing? Yamaha track. Stop and go? Honda track.
The track record – if you’ll excuse the pun – of such predictions has been little better than flipping a coin, however. Brno was supposed to favor Yamaha, yet Marc Marquez won on a Honda. Misano was clearly a Honda track, yet Jorge Lorenzo dominated on the Yamaha M1. More than Honda vs. Yamaha, the 2013 MotoGP season has been a tale of rider vs. rider, of Jorge Lorenzo vs. Marc Marquez vs. Dani Pedrosa.
So when the paddock rolls up at Aragon, track analysis says this is a Honda track, something underlined by the fact that the last two editions were won by Hondas. With Marc Marquez growing increasingly confident and Dani Pedrosa looking for a return to the winning ways he showed last year, it seems foolish to bet against a Honda rider standing on the top step on Sunday. Yet there are reasons to suspect Pedrosa and Marquez will not have it all their own way this weekend.