If you thought that Barcelona could be a track to throw up a few surprises, the first day of practice proved you right. Not in Moto2, of course: Tito Rabat’s dominance was crushing, making Marc Marquez’s earlier reign of terror look like a close fought battle.
In Moto3, Finnish youngster Niklas Ajo topped the timesheets, putting the Husqvarna name at the forefront. That was unexpected, though given the fact that the nominally Swedish Husqvarna is nothing more than a rebadged KTM straight from the factory in Mattighofen, Austria, it should be less of a surprise.
The biggest surprises were perhaps in MotoGP. That Aleix Espargaro would be quickest in the morning is to be expected, especially as he put on the super soft tire available to the Open bikes to set his time. But for Bradley Smith to go fastest in the afternoon was a major change of fortunes, and just reward for the effort Smith and his crew have been putting in over the past few weeks.
His fast time was set with a fresh soft tire, but given that this compound – Bridgestone’s medium tire, the hard being the other option available to the Factory Option teams – has real potential to be the race tire, it is not quite as simple as Smith having pushed in qualifying trim.
Smith’s time, and the way he set it, was emblematic of the conditions at the track. It was warm in the morning, but in the afternoon, track temperatures rose to their highest of the year, reaching 55° C / 131° F. It made the track treacherous to ride, front and rear wheels sliding out everywhere.
The circuit was already in far from ideal state, with riders complaining about the bumps left by Formula 1, and the surface showing more signs of wear. Throw in extreme temperatures, and there is very little grip at all. All of the riders complained of the drop in tire performance after two to three laps.
It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said.
“It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.” The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. “We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.”
Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, “struggling” means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong.
Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything.
A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two “horns” of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight.
Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.
When the calendar for the 2014 MotoGP season was announced one race immediately jumped out, Mugello.
This would probably not be for the reason that everyone would assume, after all Mugello is one of the most popular races on the calendar. It stood out as it was bang in the middle of the Isle of Man TT races.
While I really enjoy photographing MotoGP, my passion is, and always will be, the Isle of Man TT. In fact had it been any race other than Mugello, I may have decided to stay at home. But it wasn’t, so the decision was made, after all, how could I shoot a MotoGP season and not go to Mugello?
It is a common complaint among MotoGP riders after the race on Sunday afternoon: the track never has the grip which the riders found on previous days during practice and qualifying.
The riders are quick to point the finger of blame at Moto2. The spectacle of 33 Moto2 machines sliding around on fat tires lays down a layer of rubber which adversely affects grip during the MotoGP race.
Andrea Dovizioso was the latest rider to add to a growing litany of complaints. After finishing sixth at Mugello, the Ducati rider told the media that the rubber laid down by Moto2 made it hard to obtain the same level of grip as they found during practice.
“Everybody complains about that,” Dovizioso said, “the rubber from Moto2 makes the grip less.” Because free practice and qualifying for Moto2 always takes place after MotoGP, but the Moto2 race happens before the premier class, it meant that track conditions were different.
At the Barcelona round of MotoGP – or to give it its full title, the ‘Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya’ – title sponsors Monster Energy are to unveil a new flavor of their product, called ‘The Doctor’, marketed around Valentino Rossi. This is not a particularly unusual event at a MotoGP weekend. Almost every race there is a presentation for one product or another, linking in with a team, or a race, or a factory.
If anything, the presentation of the Monster Energy drink is even more typical than most, featuring motorcycle racing’s marketing dynamite Valentino Rossi promoting an energy drink, the financial backbone of the sport. It is also a sign of the deep trouble in which motorcycle racing finds itself. Energy drinks are slowly taking over the role that tobacco once played, funding teams, riders, and races, and acting as the foundation on which much of the sport is built.
Red Bull funds three MotoGP rounds, a Moto3 team and backs a handful of riders in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Monster Energy sponsors two MotoGP rounds, is the title sponsor of the Tech 3 MotoGP squad, a major backer of the factory Yamaha squad, and has a squadron of other riders which it supports in both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks.
Then there’s the armada of other brands: Gresini’s Go & Fun (a peculiar name if ever there was one), Drive M7 backing Aspar, Rockstar backing Spanish riders, Relentless, Burn, and far too many more to mention.
Why is the massive interest in backing motorcycle racing a bad thing? Because energy drinks, like the tobacco sponsors they replace, are facing a relentless onslaught to reduce the sale and marketing of the products. A long-standing ban of the sale of Red Bull – though strangely, only Red Bull – was struck down in France in 2008.
Asphalt & Rubber wants to give a special shoutout to our boy BT, who is adding another candle to the cake today. BT is probably A&R‘s biggest fan, at least that’s what he told me emphatically in Austin, Texas last year — after he ambushed me coming out of the men’s bathroom in the media center.
What was an entirely awkward experience, was quickly made 50-shades of awesome by how enthusiastic BT was for our humble motorcycle blog. Firing away questions he had about recent stories, quoting back lines that we had written, and just generally being passionate about motorcycling, BT had an almost stalker appreciation for our musings.
In other words, he is pretty much the guy a motorcycle blogger wants to meet outside a men’s bathroom…that may have come out wrong.
An incredibly hilarious and passionate man, you can find BT performing in Indianapolis, or wherever funny jokes are told, not to mention at just about any motorcycle race that’s willing to sell him a ticket.
It’s fans like the one-and-only BT (accept no substitute) that make all the hard work here worthwhile — along with all our over diehard readers, I might add. Keep on laughing brother, but let me wash my hands first next time. Happy Birthday!
Nicky Hayden has had surgery on his right wrist to attempt to cure the continuing problems the American has had. On Tuesday morning, Dr. Riccardo Luchetti performed arthroscopic surgery to remove floating material and clean up various arthritic build up, which had occurred after previous injuries.
Hayden also had anti-inflammatory drugs injected directly into the joint, in an attempt to reduce the swelling that was present. The American is hoping to return to action at Barcelona, in just under two weeks’ time.
The 2015 MotoGP grid is shaping up to look even stronger than this season. There are increasing signs that the weaker teams on the grid are set to disappear, with the strongest teams in Moto2 moving up to take their place. In addition, there is a chance that some of the stronger existing MotoGP teams could expand their participation as well.
It is an open secret that the Marc VDS Racing team is weighing up a switch to MotoGP. Team boss Michael Bartholemy has had initial talks with the team owner Marc van der Straten about adding a MotoGP entry to their line up, but they are still a long way from making a decision.
Bartholemy told us that a decision on their participation would come at Assen at the earliest, but admitted that it was still a very serious option.