There appears to be a new rule of thumb for gauging the weather: If there’s a motorcycle race on, then chances are it will be raining, at least for some of the time. After a weekend of climate-curtailed practice 7 days ago at Jerez, the weather looks like being a major factor at Estoril as well. Though no rain fell during any of the nine sessions of practice – two Moto3, two Moto2, two MotoGP and three Red Bull Rookies – took place, the rain was still very much a factor. The day started with a wet Moto3 session, the track taking a long time to dry out after the overnight rain that lashed the circuit. The track started to dry during MotoGP FP1, and by the second half of that session, it was dry enough for everyone to run slicks, albeit the softer compound that Bridgestone has brought.
By Moto2 FP1, the track was nominally dry, but problems with the damp remained. Parts of the track have been resurfaced, in particular, Turn 6 and Turn 13, and though the new surface is pretty good in general, the problem is that the new asphalt is still dark, and it is impossible to see where the damp patches are. At Turn 13, the sweeping Parabolica that leads back onto the front straight, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that water appears to be seeping up through the ground, which is still saturated after weeks of heavy rain.
As a result, though the afternoon sessions all looked to be perfectly dry, in fact there was still a lot of water in the final corner. Worse still, the water was invisible to the naked eye – or at least the naked eye travelling at upwards of 100 mph aboard a racing motorcycle. Consequently, everyone was taking it easy through that final corner, and losing out massively in terms of lap times. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha estimated that most riders were losing about 1.5 seconds in that part of the track, not just in terms of corner speed, but also due to losing the drive on to the front straight.
Top speeds for the 1000cc MotoGP class are only a couple of km/h faster than in 2011, when the bikes were still 800cc, and had 30-40 hp less. At a track with a reasonably fast final corner followed by a kilometer-long straight, the 1000′s should be slaughtering the top speeds set by the 800s. The MotoGP bikes are four tenths down in the third sector, and nearly half a second slower in the final sector, including the final turn and run on to the front straight. All that means that lap times are seriously down on where they were last year, in all classes.
For most of the groups inside the MotoGP paddock, this final visit to Estoril for the Portuguese Grand Prix is tinged with sadness. Everyone loves this place, except for arguably the most important group of individuals present: the riders. The track is too tight for a MotoGP bike, especially the tight uphill chicane that follows a couple of corners after the back straight, and the many surfaces of Estoril make it very difficult to cope with. But for anyone who doesn’t actually have to ride the track, Estoril is wonderful. Teams and journalists either stay in the beautiful seaside resort of Cascais, or else in the magical town of Sintra, up the mountain overlooking the Portuguese circuit. As far as ambiance is concerned, the Portuguese round of MotoGP is very hard to beat.
Unfortunately for the Estoril circuit and the many fans it has in the paddock, this is the last time we will be coming here for the foreseeable future. The state of the Portuguese economy, combined with the fact that this is one of the least attended races of the season means that it is just not viable for the time being, especially not as the circuit really needs resurfacing. In a last-ditch effort to attract as many people as possible to the Grand Prix, the circuit organizers have slashed prices by quite an astonishing level. The cheapest ticket for the weekend? 2 euros. The most expensive? 20 euros for a three-day pass and the best seating. There are several circuits where you could spend ten times that much on a ticket. A bit of judicious googling for hotels and flights and you could come to the Portuguese GP for just the cost of entry for another European round.
Casey Stoner has moved to quash rumors of his retirement which appeared in the Spanish press after Jerez. He would continue competing in MotoGP for as long as he still enjoyed the racing, and right now, he was still having fun, he said after the pre-event press conference for the Estoril MotoGP round. When he stopped having fun, he would retire, but that moment had not yet been reached, he said.
The rumors of his retirement which had emerged had irritated the reigning World Champion, and he had a few sharp comments for the media who made them. Asked by one journalist what he meant when he said he intended to continue racing for a few more years, Stoner retorted “I was basically saying, don’t listen to what you read in the press. Don’t read what you produce.”
After much speculation that MotoGP would forego stopping in Portugal this year, the premier motorcycle racing series will keep five stops on the Iberian peninsula on its 2012 MotoGP Championship calendar after all. With the Portuguese GP struggling to make ends meet, it was thought that Estoril would be dropped for 2012, as it seemed increasingly clear that the local government was not going to step in and help subsidize the cost of hosting MotoGP in Portugal. Coming to some sort of accord with Dorna & the FIM, MotoGP has confirmed that Estoril will remain on the schedule for this year, though its future is certainly still tenuous.
The Portuguese GP proved to be a thinking man’s race, but the pre-race press conference showed that some riders can switch their brains off from time to time. With Marco Simoncelli making strong impressions during the Free Practice sessions at Estoril, and Jorge Lorenzo on sitting on the pole, tempers flew a bit as the Spaniard and Italian minced words over riding styles and reputations.
Starting with a prompt as to whether Simoncelli had read some disparaging remarks made by Jorge Lorenzo in the media, the two riders had a heated exchange about past incidents of questionable riding conduct, while a bemused Pedrosa had to remain seated next to them during the handbag tussle. From there, the following transcript ensued. Read it after the jump.
MotoGP riders were blessed with dry weather conditions today at the Portuguese GP, as the rain decided to wait a bit longer in making its appearance at Estoril. Accordingly, today’s MotoGP race provided dry, but still tough, conditions as more than one rider had to contend with the cooler temperatures affecting their Bridgestone tires. With MotoGP racing being absent for four weeks because of the postponement of the Japanese GP, the eyes of the paddock were trained on several riders who took the downtime to recuperate and have operations for nagging injuries.
Perhaps the most prominent of this group was Dani Pedrosa, who had a plate removed that was pinching a nerve cluster removed from his shoulder. Similarly, Cal Crutchlow had a his arm operated on for issues with arm pump, while Randy de Puniet had a screw removed from his leg from a injury he suffered at Sachsenring last season. Of course the return of Álvaro Bautista to MotoGP racing was big news, as the Rizla Suzuki rider had missed the first two races of the season to a broken femur, and made his astonishing recovery in just 42 days’ time.
At Estoril, pre-race action heated up on the track with impressive lap times from Marco Simoncelli, who has shown a noticeable improvement on his pace from last season. Off the track, the spotlight also followed Simoncelli, as he and Jorge Lorenzo exchanged some less than friendly words about each other during the pre-race press conference. This latest spat comes on the heels of the one between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, the pair having gotten entangled during a crash at the Spanish GP.
With tempers still simmering off the track, it was cooler heads that prevailed at Estoril this weekend, as patience proved to be the better virtue for a number of riders at the Portuguese GP. Read all about it after the jump.
Jorge Lorenzo was the top dog today in Estoril, Portugal, as the Spaniard claimed the pole position for the start of tomorrow’s Portuguese GP. The top qualifying result is the fourth in a row for Lorenzo at Estoril, which according to Monopoly Rules means the Spanish GP rider can now build a hotel at the Iberian track.
Lorenzo’s result is undoubtedly impressive, but Italian Marco Simoncelli might be stealing some of the World Champion’s spotlight, as the sophomore MotoGP rider has ridden an impressive week thus far, and will start from the second grid spot on Sunday afternoon after being just a tenth of a second slower than Lorenzo.
Despite the pace of Simoncelli’s factory Honda, surprisingly the Repsol Honda crew was farther down the grid, with Pedrosa and Stoner taking third and fourth place spots respectively, while Andrea Dovizioso will start sixth, behind Ben Spies. The factory Yamaha Texan struggled earlier in the week, but was able to find a setting he liked on the mostly dry track, and qualify seven tenths of his teammate’s pace.
For the Ducati squad, Estoril has proven to be quagmire, as Ducati Corse has been unable to find a setup that gives Rossi and Hayden the feeling they need on the track. Despite their strong showing in the rain at Jerez, Ducati is hoping for a dry race tomorrow as they try and improve the Ducati Desmosedici GP11. Rossi will start 9th, while American Nicky Hayden wills start from the 13th position (behind both Hector Barbera and Karel Abraham). Check after the jump for the full qualifying results.
In the press release announcing Álvaro Bautista’s intent to race in the Portuguese GP, the heading describes the Spaniard as having “true grit” during today’s Free Practice sessions at Estoril. Now normally with MotoGP press releases, these headings are a bit of hyperbole, but considering just over a month ago Bautista’s femur, the largest bone in the human body, was in two pieces, we’re inclined to agree that the Spanish rider has shown remarkable determination in getting back onto the saddle of the Suzuki GSV-R.
Initial estimates pegged Bautista’s return to be at Le Mans for the French GP, but hard work at his physical therapy sessions, and an obscene amount of time in a hyperbaric chamber have accelerated Bautista’s healing process. With today’s work in the Rizla Suzuki garage showing that he has the ability to ride on his leg just a mere 42 days after he broke it, the young GP rider has earned a lot of street cred in the MotoGP paddock.
Good news for Álvaro Bautista fans today, as the Spanish rider has been medically cleared to participate in the upcoming Portuguese GP by MotoGP’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarmento. After giving Bautista a thorough examination, Dr. Sarmento deemed that the Spaniard was fit enough to ride a motorcycle, which will occur during tomorrow’s first Free Practice.
Rizla Suzuki and Bautista will asses his riding fitness from there, and decide whether the Álvaro will compete in the Portuguese GP, or if Suzuki test rider Nobuatsu Aoki will take over the reigns for the race weekend. If he races on Sunday, Bautista will have made his recovery from a broken left femur in a remarkable 42 days.