Saturday Summary at Misano: The Prospect of a Furious Fight, Mind Games That Weren’t, & Three-Stop Strategies
Remember Brno? A scintillating qualifying left Jorge Lorenzo on pole, with Marc Márquez beside him and Valentino Rossi filling out the front row. Race pace for the three was very similar, and the fans were left with the mouthwatering prospect of a thrilling race on Sunday. They were disappointed.
Jorge Lorenzo surged to the lead off the line, shook off Marc Márquez, disappeared into the distance, and won comfortably. The battle royal promised by free practice never materialized, and we were all left with a hollow feeling of disappointment, no matter how brilliant Lorenzo’s victory was.
Hence my reluctance to play up the prospect of a good race at Misano. The ingredients are the same. The same three riders on the front row, in the same order.
It’s another home round for The Doctor, so that of course means another special helmet design. For this year’s San Marino GP, Valentino Rossi’s AGV Pista helmet plays to the theme of the coastal race track, with an underwater theme.
Very obviously, Rossi is pictured as a yellow fish that is being chased by a shark (we’ll let you decipher the symbolism there). The words “Via Via Via!” in Italian are on either side of the helmet, translating to “Get Away Get Away Get Away!” in English.
Not one to leave his pets out of the design, on the back of the helmet are Valentino’s dogs Cecilia and Cesare, as well as his cat Rossano, who are sporting some snorkels for their underwater excursion.
The trouble with raised expectations is that they are so often trumped by reality. After all the hype about Misano’s new surface, there was much puzzlement among the MotoGP riders, and among the teams.
Danny Kent’s reaction after Moto3 practice was typical. “Having heard so many people say that it’s two seconds a lap quicker than last year… I’d love to know where I can find two seconds!” So much had been expected that it could only ever end in disappointment.
That’s not to say the surface was poor. Praise for the new track was universal, and the times were definitely quick. In Moto3, Danny Kent beat the race lap record.
In Moto2, Tito Rabat was over a tenth quicker than the existing pole record. And Jorge Lorenzo managed the same feat in MotoGP, breaking the existing pole record by a few hundredths.
To do so on a Friday, when the track is still relatively dusty, and fairly green (new and not yet worn in), means the track really is a lot quicker, and times will probably drop quickly on Saturday, once the riders start to turn up the wick.
The FIM today released a provisional calendar for MotoGP in 2016, featuring much that was expected and a few surprises. The calendar will once again have 18 races, with Indianapolis dropped and Austria taking its place.
The biggest change in the calendar is the moving of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which vacates its late August slot for the middle of July. That move, and the scheduling of Austria and Brno back to back, will not be popular with the circuits.
The British MotoGP round comes just three weeks after the F1 race at Silverstone, due to be held at the end of June. Silverstone will fear that having the two biggest events of the year in the space of a month will mean that they cannibalize attendance, with spectators choosing to attend either F1 or MotoGP.
When there were two months between the two races, the chances of fans attending both were greater.
There was a sense of eager anticipation at Misano on Thursday. For the past five years, the riders have complained more and more of the poor surface, of bumps, of a lack of grip, and of asphalt polished as smooth as pebbles on a beach.
The new surface is a vast improvement, incredibly grippy, most of the bumps ironed out and fresh dark asphalt ready to welcome sticky rubber. Racing at Misano will be a much more rewarding experience than it has been in the past.
Just how much better is the new surface? Aleix Espargaro said that the Suzukis had lapped a second under the lap record, while Marc Márquez had been untouchable, lapping “nearly three seconds under the record.”
That seemed almost improbably fast, and a quick survey among the rest of the paddock suggested Márquez’s time was not quite that quick, but at 1’31.9 impressive nonetheless.
The key to success in motorcycle racing is in finding advantage wherever you can, and exploiting it to the fullest. If you are stronger in acceleration than your rivals, then you make sure you get out of the corner first and leave them for dead down the straight.
If you are stronger in braking, then you wait, not just until you see God, as the old racing adage has it, but until you have seen every deity imagined by humanity since the dawn of time before slamming on the anchors.
If you can turn tighter, you grab the inside line and push the other guy wide. You take what is on the table, and seize it with both hands.
So what about when you are racing in front of your home crowd? Do the cheers of your home fans push you to even greater heights? Does being willed on by tens of thousands of adoring fans spur you into taking more risks, trying harder, riding faster?
Going on the number of times that an Italian has won at Mugello or Misano, or a Spaniard at Jerez, Barcelona or Valencia, that is a tempting conclusion to draw.
Until you look at the other races on the calendar, and see that Spaniards and Italians have won in Australia, Japan, Britain, Holland. And that Spaniards have won in Italy, and Italians in Spain.