The first day of practice at the Circuit of The Americas was summed up with eloquent brevity by the headline of the press release issued by the RW Racing GP Moto3 team of Jasper Iwema and Jakub Kornfeil: “No grip in Texas.” Despite the awesome facility, a fascinating and difficult track, and clear blue Texan skies, the times set by all three Grand Prix classes in Austin were a very long way off what had been expected, as the riders struggled to find any grip anywhere.
Why was the grip so low? The heavy rains from the previous day didn’t help, washing any rubber that was on the track away. Not that there was much, on a track that has seen very little bike use in its short existence so far.
Then there was the cool temperatures, with thermostats showing just 13°C/55°F in the morning, and a strong wind blowing away any heat the sun managed to get into the tarmac. “Like riding on ice,” was the common consensus in the morning, with times some five and a half seconds off that set by Marc Marquez at the previous test back in mid March, at which conditions were far from ideal.
Three free practice sessions in the morning, a little less wind and a full day of sun worked wonders in the afternoon, with all three classes taking big chunks of time off their lap times from the morning. By the time the day had ended, all three classes were some three seconds or more faster than they started off. Tomorrow, most riders said, should be even better now there’s more rubber on the track. Warmer temperatures should help too, as will the wind dropping off.
“I thought Laguna Seca was a tough track to learn, and then I came here.” Bradley Smith’s verdict on the Circuit of the Americas at Austin, Texas, after six laps on the scooter around the track.
Smith’s words sum up the general feeling about the newest addition to the MotoGP calendar, mind-boggling sequence of decreasing and increasing radius turns, with blind entrances, complex combinations and a few hard-braking hairpins with tough entrance points.
Even the long back straight undulates, the huge, slightly bowed, 1200 meter length of tarmac rising and falling, leaving you wondering where you are along it.
The setting is beautiful, in the rolling low hills to the east of Austin, just beyond the airport, and the facilities are quite simply overwhelming: modern, well-equipped, brightly lit, attractively designed. Indeed, both the factory and Tech 3 Yamaha teams are delighted with the facility: after a battery fire at 1am, it was only the circuit’s outstanding sprinkler system and alert response by the fire service which prevented the fire spreading out of control, destroying maybe eight or twelve MotoGP machines, and causing upwards of $50 million of damage.
Asphalt & Rubber is coming to you from the Grand Prix of the Americas this week, and things are already off to an interesting start. With a fire breaking out in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage during the night, the gear for the satellite Yamaha squad was flooded by the Circuit of the America’s fire suppression system, which also affected the garages for Yamaha Racing, LCR Honda, and Cardion AB.
Yamaha Racing Boss Lin Jarvis explained that while the small fire was quickly put out by COTA’s sprinklers, the team lost one of two servers and several computers to the blaze before it was extinguished. It is not anticipated that the fire will have any affect on Sunday’s race, though it could pose a problem for the teams, since they have a quick turnaround for the Jerez round.
Currently, the cause of the fire is presumed to be the lithium battery to Monster Yamaha Tech 3′s electric starter for the GP motorcycles, making this incident another eyebrow raising episode in the handling of high-tech battery packs, which have different tolerances and operating procedures than conventional battery pack types.
While certainly a setback to the start of the race weekend, the teams involved dodged a serious bullet by having the fire occur while MotoGP is at COTA, since the Texan track has a sophisticated fire prevention system in place.
The second half of the 2012 MotoGP season generated a tale of sound and fury: Casey Stoner’s retirement, Valentino Rossi’s pending return to Yamaha, Dani Pedrosa’s late season charge to threaten for the premier-class title, and the coming of Marc Marquez to Repsol Honda, all seemed to add up to a 2013 that would make for one of the most interesting MotoGP seasons of the modern era.
But as the storm raged around him, Jorge Lorenzo got quietly down the the business of being a fast, and perhaps more importantly, consistent, points claiming machine, that fended off a revitalized Pedrosa and claimed the 2012 crown.
“This is the reality,” factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo.
While Dovizioso’s qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.
The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry, and to a lesser extent chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body.
For the amount of media that LCR Honda generates, you would think that Lucio Cecchinello’s small satellite Honda MotoGP team is much larger than it is in actuality.
This is because Cecchinello and his crew take a different tack from the rest of the MotoGP paddock when it comes to marketing strategies — the most notable of which is the team’s revolving door livery, which lines up specific brands for races in specific markets.
A team of passionate enthusiasts, LCR Honda also has a knack for producing engaging media pieces, which can be as lurid as the Playboy sponsorship debut of LCR Honda in 2009 (NSFW), or as simple as the video shown after the jump.
For all the superlatives about MotoGP being the “premier class” of motorcycle racing, it is rare that the artwork that is performed on the track is of the same caliber as to what the teams show in their communications. This however is not the case with LCR Honda.
Graduating from the Moto2 Championship, which does not come across the pond for the US GP at Laguna Seca, Andrea Iannone is one of a few riders in MotoGP this year that have never seen the Corkscrew and the Californian circuit’s other ten turns.
Not wanting to be at a disadvantage come race day, the Ducati rider will take a page out of Stefan Bradl’s playbook, and participate in a track day at Mazda Raceway this week, ahead of the Americas GP in Austin, Texas.
Much has been made in the days since the thrilling MotoGP season opener at Qatar of the charge of Valentino Rossi through the field and the pace he ran to catch the group behind Dani Pedrosa.
Speculation has been rife that had Rossi got a better start – and more importantly, got a much better qualifying position – he could have matched the pace of Lorenzo, and taken the fight to him. But just how realistic is the idea that Rossi could have run with Lorenzo at Qatar, and that Rossi could have matched the pace of his teammate? Reality, or just wishful thinking?