Success in motorcycle racing is a fickle beast. Getting everything just right to get the best out the bike and rider is a difficult undertaking, with a thousand factors standing ready to throw a spanner in the works.
The bike has to have the right balance of stability in braking, nimbleness in corner entry, and strength in acceleration. The rider has to be in peak physical condition, mentally on top of his game, and ready to seize any opportunity which presents itself.
When track conditions are ideal, the rider has to be able to find the limit of adhesion. When track conditions or the weather are not playing ball, the rider has to guess the right time to attack, and the right time to hold off. They have to judge how the conditions are changing, and when they are ripe to be exploited. Get it right, and you dominate. Get it wrong, and you are lost in the pack.
You also have to be lucky, or know how to make your own luck. The qualifying session for the MotoGP class at Assen showed just how big a role luck can play, the weather playing a massive role in proceedings. The weather changes fast at Assen. In a country as flat as the Netherlands, the wind blows cloud and rain in quickly, and carries it away just as fast.
Bright sunshine can change to heavy clouds in a few minutes, with rain following on behind. Which is just what happened on Friday afternoon. Sunshine made way for gray skies, the air pregnant with moisture. It spotted with rain in the morning, briefly during FP4, but only really struck during Q2.
It threw the plans and running order of MotoGP into disarray, with smart and lucky riders winning out, the ill-starred ending up well down the grid.
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.
UPDATE: After an incident on the course during the Superstock TT race, the remaining Tuesday’s sessions have been cancelled.
With rain on the course, Race 1 of the Supersport TT barely got off and finished its four-lap program, so needless to say that things didn’t bode well for the planned Superstock TT, in the eyes of Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson.
As such, the Superstock TT has been pushed into Tuesday’s schedule, making a change of plans for the day’s events. The revised Tuesday agenda is after the jump. As always, things are subject to change, so be sure to keep an ear to Twitter and Manx Radio TT.
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.
More rain has gotten in the way of the Isle of Man TT’s practice sessions, as Wednesday evening’s events came to a halt after only one lap around the Mountain Course. With rain hitting a few spots of the course, and an incident at the top of Barregarrow, Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson had no choice to but to call the night’s events to an end as the rain increased.
The incident at Barregarrow involved newcomer Laurent Hoffmann, who was airlifted to Nobles Hospital, and is reported to have leg injuries as a result of the crash. By the time that crash had been cleared, Mother Nature turned up the waterworks, and that was the end of things.
It’s not a good start to festivities over at the Isle of Man, as the 2014 Isle of Man TT has seen its first day of practice washed out by the rain. Saturday’s opening day was called by Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson, as rain hit the small nation island in the evening.
As such, Saturday’s schedule will be added to Monday’s, with the newcomers speed-controlled untimed laps for solo riders starting at 18:15, with the sidecar newcomers starting their first lap at 18:30. The sessions originally slated for Monday (Superbike, Superstock, and Supersport) will get underway at 18:45, as was originally planned.
Do remember when you were kid how pretty much any sport (yes, even baseball) was infinitely better in the mud and the rain? Shirts soaked, pants soiled, grass and mud stains everywhere…and maybe even a bruise or two to match, there is something about slipping and sliding in the rain that amplifies the fun you have.
Well, today I think we found the
adult motorcycle version of this theory: a bunch of friends, a bunch of bikes, and a bunch of mess. If some good wholesome hooning in the muck doesn’t remind you that motorcycles are supposed to be fun, well..I feel sorry for you. A quick thank you to the folks at 4H10 for reminding us of that.
Wednesday at Assen is always a rather odd day. At most rounds, Wednesday is a travel day, and the paddock regulars spend the day in airports, planes, and hired cars. But because the race at Assen is on Saturday, the events that normally take place on Thursday such as the pre-event press conference, happen a day earlier.
That leaves everyone with the racing equivalent of jet lag, their bodies and minds 24 hours behind events. Mentally, we are all prepared for a day of torpor and inaction. What we are greeted with is a day of rushing around to talk to riders, team managers, and anyone else foolish enough to cross our paths. Mind battles physical reality, and both come out losers.
Even focusing on the upcoming race is hard. Rolling into the circuit under bright skies and cheery temperatures – not warm, but not freezing either – feels slightly surreal after having studied the weather forecasts for the coming days.
While race day is likely to be dry, Thursday and Friday look like being full wet days. What that means is that practice may not be much of a guide to what actually happens on race day, rendering practice and qualifying relatively meaningless.