Saturday Summary at Mugello: Signs of Marquez’s Weakness, The Importance of Equipment, & The Rocketship Ducati
Knowing that not everyone is in a position to watch qualifying and races when they are live, we try to operate a no-spoilers policy for at least a few hours after the event.
For us, this means no results in headlines, nor on the Twitter feed. But, as the mighty motorcycle racing Twitter personality SofaRacer put it today, “I know you don’t like to Tweet spoilers David. But ‘Márquez on pole’ and ‘Márquez wins’ technically, erm, aren’t.”
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Marc Marquez took his sixth pole of the season, and his seventh pole in a row on Sunday. Marquez remains invincible, even at what he regards as his worst track of the year.
His advantage is rather modest, though. With just 0.180 seconds over the man in second place – the surprising Andrea Iannone – it is Marquez’s smallest advantage of the season, if we discount Qatar, where he was basically riding with a broken leg.
You get the sense that Marquez is holding something back, almost being cautious, after being bitten several times by the track last year, including a massive crash in free practice and then sliding out of the race.
It makes him almost vulnerable for the first time. His race pace is still fast, but he has others – Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, even the Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso – all on roughly the same pace.
The weather didn’t really play ball at Mugello on Friday. The forecast rain held off until the last five minutes of Moto3 FP2, before sprinkling just enough water on the track to make conditions too wet for slicks, too dry for wet tires. That left the entire MotoGP field sitting in their garages waiting for the rain to either get heavier and wet the track completely, or else stop, and allow it to dry up.
Dani Pedrosa explained that though the track was dry in most places, San Donato, the first corner at the end of the high speed straight, was still wet. Bridgestone slicks need to be pushed hard to get them up to temperature, and if you can’t push in Turn 1, then they don’t. That leaves you with cold tires, which will come back and bite you further round the track.
One of the items on the list of requirements Dorna sent to Michelin was the need for an intermediate tire. Would anyone have gone out if they had had intermediates? Pedrosa believed they would have. “With intermediates you can go out. I’m not sure whether you get anything out of it, but for sure you don’t have 24 bikes in the box.”
You don’t learn much in terms of set up when you go out on intermediates, but more people might venture out. One team manager I spoke to was less convinced. “We have five engines and a limited number of tires. We can’t afford to lose an engine in a crash. Why take a risk, when it’s better to save miles on the engine?”
The wasted afternoon session left Marc Marquez – who else? – on the top of the timesheets. It had not looked that way for much of the session. Valentino Rossi had led the way from early on, Marquez only taking over in the front towards the end. For Marquez, this was a conscious strategy.
Now, Valentino Rossi knows how Max Biaggi felt. “I did one mistake in 27 laps,” Rossi told the press conference after the MotoGP race at Le Mans. “But in the crucial moment of the race.” Rossi braked a little bit too deep into Turn 9, ran wide, and Marquez was through. The mistake was because Rossi knew Marquez was coming, and had to try to push to keep ahead.
“I try to push, to do 1’34.0, but I knew I was at the limit.” Rossi knew that if he did not keep pushing to the full, Marquez would be upon him and past him in no time. It was perhaps that effort that caused Rossi to make the mistake that let Marquez by.
It was indeed a strange role reversal for Rossi. Ten years ago, it was Rossi himself who was hunter, stalking riders like Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, following them and simply waiting for a mistake. Now, the hunter had become prey, faltering when Marquez bore down upon him. At last, he got to ride a mile in Biaggi’s boots.
Yet all credit is due to the veteran Italian. He is currently the only rider in the world capable of putting up any kind of resistance to the unstoppable force that is Marc Marquez. Both Rossi and Marquez were surprised and disappointed at Rossi’s mistake, both relishing the chance to go toe to toe with one another.
“I don’t know if I can beat him,” Rossi said, “But I would like to fight. I think it would be fun.” Marquez concurred, telling the press conference he had expected to have “a nice battle” with Rossi as he came up behind him, but when he saw Rossi make the mistake, he did not hesitate.
Who can stop Marc Marquez? By the look of the FP2 timesheet, maybe Andrea Iannone can. The Pramac Ducati rider ended Friday just 0.007 behind Marquez, the closest anyone has been to him on a Friday since Qatar.
Looks are, of course, deceptive, and if you dig a little deeper you see that Iannone’s fastest lap, though impressive, was made using a tow from Dani Pedrosa, just as the Repsol Honda rider was setting his fastest lap of the session. Iannone also benefited from using the extra soft rear tire which Ducati is allowed to use, making it that little bit easier to post a quick lap.
Iannone should not be written off too quickly, however. Pedrosa slowed up to let Iannone past immediately after the pair had set their quick laps, and on the next clear lap, Iannone got into the 1’33s again, posting a time equal to Pedrosa’s best lap, but this time, all on his own.
Whether he can convert that to consistent pace in the race remains to be seen. The Italian appears to be circulating around the 1’34.3 mark. Fast, but not fast enough to match what Marquez appears to be capable of.
For real race pace, you have to look a little further down the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo appears to have refound his mojo, and is starting to grind out the laps. The Movistar Yamaha rider put in 16 full laps during FP2, 5 of which were 1’34.1s, plus a single lap of 1’34.054. This is the Lorenzo of old, working on consistent pace and slowly ratcheting up the pace.
Lorenzo’s pace is still no match for Marquez – the Repsol Honda man seems capable of banging in 1’33.8s at will – but it is clearly the best of the rest. It has taken four races for the real Jorge Lorenzo to make an appearance, but at least he is finally here.
There is always something very special about Jerez. There are few circuits on earth where fans gather to worship at the altar of motorcycle racing with the same deafening intensity and passion as at the Circuito de Jerez in southern Spain.
Fans of motorcycle racing are a passionate bunch wherever you are in the world, but the fans in Jerez add a spice and temperament which lifts the atmosphere to a higher plane.
Despite Andalusia’s continuing and severe economic recession, crowd numbers for the event were up again from last year, from over 111,000 to 117,001 paying customers on Sunday. Motorcycle racing lives on in Spanish hearts, no matter the state of their wallets.
Motorcycle racing is a continual war of innovation. It is a war fought out on many different battlegrounds at many different times, but at its heart, it is about finding new ways, better ways of doing things. Engineers, teams, and riders are always looking for some small advantage, turning what they do upside down in the hope of finding something to exploit.
Usually, when motorcycle racing fans talk about innovation, they have a vision of hard metal in their minds, of parts belonging on a motorcycle. They will point to aluminium twin spar frames, to upside down forks, to seamless gearboxes.
Some may allude to slightly less tangible improvements: Honda’s Torductor, a sensor used to measure the forces going through the engine sprocket directly; perhaps Yamaha’s electronics package, which combines 3D models of the racetrack with predictive models of tire wear and fuel load to provide adaptive vehicle dynamics strategies.
The human element is important too. New training methods come and go, along with new diets and new nutritional supplements. Riders suddenly start getting off the bike and jumping into ice baths to aid recovery.
Then, a year later, the ice baths are gone. If the championship leader spends a lot of time on a trials bike, everyone down to the rider bringing up the rear in Moto3 has to spend his time jumping rocks on a Beta or a GasGas. Should a new champion focus on racing dirt track, every rider and his mother-in-law has a dirt oval built in their back yard.
At Jerez, qualifying in both MotoGP and Moto3 showcased organizational innovation, the ability to see opportunities offered in a qualifying format, and to exploit them to your own advantage. In both cases those seizing their chances were richly rewarded, with Marc Marquez and Jack Miller securing pole comfortably in MotoGP and Moto3, their respective classes.
With everyone slowly recovering from the shock of the announcement that Bridgestone is pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2015 season, it is easy to forget that we are here for a motorcycle race.
The roar of Grand Prix machinery hurtling around the beautiful Circuito de Jerez on a glorious Andalusian morning soon dispelled thoughts of 2016, and concentrated minds on what is to come on Sunday.
The heat of the afternoon, though, made thinking tough, and riding even tougher. Track temperatures rose to over 50°, robbing the circuit of even more grip, and making it greasier than ever.
Rider consensus was that the track was in pretty good shape, but when it’s this hot, the already low-grip surface of Jerez becomes very difficult to ride. That meant that the number of riders who managed to improve their times in FP2 in all three classes were limited.
Maybe one of the most lurid motorcycles ever to grace the pages of Asphalt & Rubber, the Vyrus 986 M2 Moto2 race bike is just as much art as it is engineering innovation. A hub-center steering front-end, self-supporting carbon fiber body pieces, and a bevy of GP-level electronics adorn this futuristic looking motorcycle from Italy.
The goal from Vyrus was to have a Moto2-class legal racing machine that was ready for competition, though we doubt many owners see it that way. What few bikes that actually leave their owner’s garage, we imagine only a handful will see any track time, but that’s sometimes just the way it goes.
Originally priced at €55,000 for the race bike (a pretty cheap price for a Moto2 machine), a street version was supposed to debut at €25,000, while a Vyrus 986 M2 kit was to be made available at €16,900 (one must supply their own Honda CB600RR motor to use the kit option).
After currency exchange rates, the Vyrus 986 M2 kit sounded like a fairly affordable and hands-on way to own such a unique machine. Well, now that Vyrus is actually able to make good on its do-it-yourself option, things have changed a little…by say €10,000 or so.