It looks like we may have a race on Sunday at Mugello. In fact, it looks like we might have two races, looking at the times set in MotoGP and Moto2. The last two races of the day at Mugello promise to have battles for the lead and for the podium, and could well provide some top flight entertainment.
There won’t be much of a race in Moto3, however. Mugello’s artisans are probably already engraving Maverick Vinales’s name into the winner’s trophy to save some time, such is the advantage of the young Spaniard. Vinales is basically four tenths a lap faster than anyone else in Moto3, with nobody capable of matching his pace.
Saturday at Jerez was a crash fest, in just about every class. Why? The heat – well, perhaps heat is an exaggeration, but certainly the weather was better than anyone expected a few weeks ago. Once the heat hits the Andalusian track, the grip drops off a cliff, and the riders are left struggling to cope. In Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, a lot of riders hit the deck on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Rins was one of the first to fall, crashing out during qualifying for the Moto3 class. It did not slow him down though, with the Spaniard grabbing pole for the second race in succession.
MotoGP was much worse: during the final session of free practice, Cal Crutchlow threw his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha away at the start of the back straight. Later in that session, Crutchlow watched from behind as Marc Marquez fought a losing battle with gravity at the other end of the straight, the front folding and the rear whipping round on him despite valiant efforts to save it.
“I was willing him to save it,” Crutchlow joked afterwards, “but in the end gravity won.”
One record down, one to go. By qualifying on pole in just his second MotoGP race, at the age of 20 years and 61 days, Marc Marquez becomes the youngest premier-class pole-sitter in history, deposing the legendary Freddie Spencer of the crown he has held for 31 years.
On Sunday, Marc Marquez will go after the next target: the record as the youngest winner of a premier class Grand Prix, also held by Spencer. If he fails to win on Sunday – a very distinct possibility – he still has until Indianapolis to take Spencer’s record, making it very far from safe.
Marquez’s pole was the crowning glory of an utterly impressive weekend so far. The Repsol Honda youngster has dominated most of practice, leading his teammate by a quarter of a second or more in every session but one. He was immediately fast, but his race rhythm is just as impressive.
In FP3, as grip on the track improved, Marquez cranked out 2’04s and 2’05s like they were going out of style. He was consistent, too. Not quite Jorge Lorenzo consistent, but he was running a pace that would have let him build up a lead, with only Dani Pedrosa able to stay close.
Marquez continues on the meteoric path blazed by the fastest riders in the world who went before. Casey Stoner always said about that truly exceptional riders are up to speed almost immediately, and this is exactly what Marquez has done. On the podium in his first race, on pole for his second, and a strong favorite for the win, this is the mark of a true “Alien”, to use a much-denigrated, but still useful phrase. His first MotoGP victory can’t be far away.
If you have aspirations of winning the championship, the first qualifying session of the year is your first chance to stake your claim. Qualifying is the moment you state your intentions, show everyone what you have, and what they are up against.
The rest of the year, pole position is nice, but the most important thing is to be on the front row, and get a good start. But at the first qualifying session of the year for the first race of the year, you need to send your opponents a message: This is what you are up against. This is what you face if you wish to beat me.
Champions know this. At Qatar, the champions made their presence felt, and announced their intent to the world. In MotoGP, the defending champion – and the man who starts the year as favorite – set a pace that none could follow, robbing upstart Cal Crutchlow of what would have been his first pole.
In Moto2, Pol Espargaro made a mistake, crashed, and corrected his error as soon as his bike was rebuilt, pushing hard to take pole in the dying seconds of the session. And In Moto3, Luis Salom took his first ever Grand Prix pole by putting it on the line when it mattered, seeing off all-comers in the final moments, while Maverick Viñales gritted his teeth to ride through the pain and grab 2nd on the grid.
It rained today in Jerez. Boy did it rain. The heavens were open for much of the day, with the intensity of the rain varying between a light drizzle and an absolute deluge, sending people scurrying for cover when the skies darkened too much.
A few brave souls ventured out to put in laps, but they did not last very long in the conditions. Until around 3pm, that is, when the rain let up, at least for an hour or so, and everyone took to the track. For two hours, testing was at full tilt, before the rain returned to chase most of the MotoGP men back into the pits.
Though having that much rain is hardly what the riders ordered, it still has its advantages. “It’s good to be able to test on a fully wet track,” Wilco Zeelenberg said after testing. “Normally, it’s that half-wet, half-dry stuff, which is hopeless.” Real work could be done on a wet set up, and lessons learned for 2013.
The last of the 990cc pole records finally went at Valencia, along with the last record held by Valentino Rossi at any of the tracks currently on the calendar. Dani Pedrosa’s astonishing last lap was inch perfect, and put him 0.158 seconds faster than Rossi’s time, set in 2006 at the infamous season finale in which Rossi got a dismal start, then fell off trying to catch Nicky Hayden, handing the American the world championship in the process.
Pedrosa’s lap really was something special, though the Spaniard was not as impressed as the onlookers. He had had a few good laps in his career, he told the press conference, and this was definitely one of them. Pedrosa has looked ominous all weekend – actually, since Indianapolis – and if it were going to stay dry, then you would be hard put to think of anyone who could beat the Repsol Honda man.
Jorge Lorenzo is keen to try, and is fast all the way round the circuit to the final sector, but is losing a couple of tenths just in the acceleration out of the final corner and towards the line. The Hondas dominate there, good round the long left before the final corner – both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were hanging the rear out all round that turn, showing a hint of the old tire-smokin’ 990 days – but absolute missiles on acceleration.
That has been Lorenzo’s complaint all year, not sufficient acceleration and not the wheelie control which the Hondas appear to have. If Lorenzo arrives at the final corner with a Honda behind him, he will fear for his position.
Two championships could be settled at Phillip Island on Sunday. Marc Marquez looks certain to wrap up the 2012 Moto2 title in Australia, as the Catalunya Caixa rider needs just 2 points to put the title out of reach of Pol Espargaro. Marquez’ chances of wrapping up the Moto2 title with a win look slim, though. Pol Espargaro has been in a class of his own at Phillip Island, his love for the circuit showing through in the way he has been riding.
The only man to get near to Espargaro all weekend has been Scott Redding, as Phillip Island is one place where Redding’s size is less of a handicap. With few places where hard acceleration from low speed is required, Redding can rely on his natural speed to get around the track. Despite still being the youngest rider ever to win a Grand Prix – a title he is likely to hold in perpetuity, since the minimum age went up to 16 – Redding is still winless in Moto2. If he can follow the pace of Espargaro, Phillip Island could well provide him with a real shot at his first win.
The MotoGP title may not be settled in Australia, though. Jorge Lorenzo leads Dani Pedrosa by 23 points, and just needs to finish ahead of the Honda man to wrap up the championship at Phillip Island. The odds of that happening looked much better on Saturday, Lorenzo taking 2nd spot in both the morning’s free practice and qualifying in the afternoon, finishing ahead of Pedrosa in both sessions.
But Lorenzo may yet have to leave the box of championship t-shirts in the flight cases, as a closer look at the race pace between Lorenzo and Pedrosa gives the advantage to the Honda man. Lorenzo is lapping consistently in the high 1’30s and low 1’31s, but Pedrosa has been reeling off strings of high 1’30s in race trim.