If you thought that Barcelona could be a track to throw up a few surprises, the first day of practice proved you right. Not in Moto2, of course: Tito Rabat’s dominance was crushing, making Marc Marquez’s earlier reign of terror look like a close fought battle.
In Moto3, Finnish youngster Niklas Ajo topped the timesheets, putting the Husqvarna name at the forefront. That was unexpected, though given the fact that the nominally Swedish Husqvarna is nothing more than a rebadged KTM straight from the factory in Mattighofen, Austria, it should be less of a surprise.
The biggest surprises were perhaps in MotoGP. That Aleix Espargaro would be quickest in the morning is to be expected, especially as he put on the super soft tire available to the Open bikes to set his time. But for Bradley Smith to go fastest in the afternoon was a major change of fortunes, and just reward for the effort Smith and his crew have been putting in over the past few weeks.
His fast time was set with a fresh soft tire, but given that this compound – Bridgestone’s medium tire, the hard being the other option available to the Factory Option teams – has real potential to be the race tire, it is not quite as simple as Smith having pushed in qualifying trim.
Smith’s time, and the way he set it, was emblematic of the conditions at the track. It was warm in the morning, but in the afternoon, track temperatures rose to their highest of the year, reaching 55° C / 131° F. It made the track treacherous to ride, front and rear wheels sliding out everywhere.
The circuit was already in far from ideal state, with riders complaining about the bumps left by Formula 1, and the surface showing more signs of wear. Throw in extreme temperatures, and there is very little grip at all. All of the riders complained of the drop in tire performance after two to three laps.
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.
With his wrist continuing to give him trouble, Nicky Hayden ultimately had to miss the Italian GP at Mugello, much to the dismay of MotoGP fans around the world. Never fear though, after a successful surgery in Italy, Hayden hopes to return to action this weekend, as his hand is feeling greatly improved after the operation.
Hayden is cautious to call this race weekend a comeback though, and the Kentucky Kid might still sit out the Catalan GP if it appears the sessions will further aggravate his still healing wrist. Still, the news of Hayden getting back on the bike so quickly after an operation shows the determination of the American rider. We hope to see him on the starting line come Sunday.
Having only had three days at home in the four weeks between Qatar and Austin meant it was nice to get back and recharge the batteries prior to going to Jerez.
The bags were soon packed, and I was ready and looking forward to Jerez, but the fickle Manx weather had other ideas. When I arrived at the airport in the Isle of Man it was a beautiful sunny day: an hour and half later and a thick blanket of fog had settled over the airport.
The plane due to fly me to London was unable to land and my flight was cancelled, meaning I was not able to make my connecting flight to Malaga. I got straight on the phone to EasyJet who kindly changed all my flights and a few more hasty calls to sorted the car hire a hotel at Gatwick for the night.
My rescheduled flight off the Island was not looking good either but the fog magically lifted at the perfect moment and I finally made it away at 6 o’clock in the evening.
My original plan was to spend an evening in Malaga, giving me Wednesday to drive to Jerez, find my digs and stock the fridge with supplies for the weekend.
This all went out the window, thanks to the Manx weather and I ended up arriving at Malaga at 10pm which meant that that my first foray onto the Spanish roads was in the pitch black!
Around two and a half hours later I managed to find my apartment in what appeared to be a field in the middle of nowhere, but in the sunlight the following day it proved to be quite close to a little town.
Beautiful, blistering sunshine welcomed me to Jerez on Thursday morning and I made my way to the track to pick up my credentials.
The second of Bultaco’s two prototype electric machines, the Bultaco Rapitan Sport picks up where the more mundane, and we use that word relatively, Bultaco Rapitan leaves off. Essentially the same machine at its core, the Rapitan Sport features a more street-tracker aesthetic to mask its electric underpinnings.
This means the same 53hp and 92 lbs•ft of torque powertrain from the Rapitan is featured, which Bultaco developed in-house. It also means that the Rapitan Sport has the same “dual-link” Hossack front-suspension system, belt drive, and 125 mile / 68 mile (city/highway) claimed riding range.
Looking like a very polished design, we like what we see here with the Bultaco Rapitan Sport prototype. We’re not sure how many riders in motorcycling’s conservative ranks will go for its unique pieces of technology and bright yellow street tracker vibe, but we’re a little crazy here at Asphlat & Rubber, and the Rapitan Sport happens to be our particular flavor of two-wheeled insanity.
Like the Rapitan, the Raptian Sport is due out later this year — fingers crossed. No word on price or availability, though we suspect a European debut before any units make it to North America.
As promised, here is the first glimpse of Bultaco’s revival as an electric motorcycle company, and the Spanish brand calls it the Bultaco Rapitan. Really a spin-out project by LGN TECH Design S.L., the new Bultaco is the work product of José Germán Pérez, Raúl Pérez, Juan Manuel Vinós, Gerald Pöllmann, and Jorge Bonilla.
Underneath the Rapitan’s edgy exterior (note the Hossack front-end) resides an electrical powertrain system that the Bultaco gents say they developed themselves. Good for 53hp and 92 lbs•ft of torque, the Bultaco Rapitan isn’t going to blow away the competition with power, but should make for a decent and unique riding experience.
The Spanish firm isn’t saying how much battery is on-board, but claims 125 miles of city riding, and 68 miles of highway riding at 75 mph — which we would guessimate at 10+ kWh, but we all know how accurate these range claims are, right?
Tipping the scales at 416 lbs (189kg), the Bultaco Rapitan isn’t the lightest street-naked on the market, but it certainly isn’t the heaviest either. With 92 lbs•ft of torque, we suspect this should make for a peppy ride, and if the avant garde styling is to your liking (it suits our tastes just fine), then we hope the final production model won’t stray too far.
The first MotoGP test of the season at Jerez is a tough one for the factories, coming as it does after three flyaway races on three continents, followed by a one-week hop back to Europe. Teams and engineers are all a little bedazzled and befuddled from all the travel, and have not had time to analyze fully all the data from the first four races of the season.
It is too early in the season to be drawing firm conclusions, and crew chiefs and engineers have not yet fully exhausted all of their setup ideas for fully exploiting the potential of the package they started the season with.
As a result, they do not have a vast supply of new parts waiting to be tested. The bikes that rolled out of pitlane on Monday were pretty much identical to the bikes raced on Sunday. The only real differences were either hard or impossible to see. Suspension components, rising rate linkages, and brake calipers were about as exotic as it got.
The one area where slightly bigger changes were being applied was in electronics strategies, with Yamaha and Honda working on engine braking, and Honda trying out a new launch control strategy. That new launch control system did not meet with the approval of Marc Marquez, however, and so will probably not be seen again.
Most of the teams spent their day revisiting things they had tried briefly during practice, but not really had time to evaluate properly. That paid dividends for Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Monster Tech 3′s Pol Espargaro, both of whom tried out the softer of the two tire options available.
Marc Marquez was the fastest man at the Jerez post-race test, setting a quick lap early in the day which would not be beaten. The Repsol Honda man had a big gap to Jorge Lorenzo for most of the day, but the Movistar Yamaha rider closed the gap to just over a quarter of a second by the end of the day.
Valentino Rossi ended the day in 3rd, after a late lap put him ahead of Dani Pedrosa, who, like Marquez, stopped testing earlier in the afternoon.
Alvaro Bautista was the fastest of the satellite Hondas, leading Stefan Bradl by a fraction, the LCR Honda man being the last rider within a second of Marquez. Pol Espargaro was quickest of the Tech 3 riders, while brother Aleix was sandwiched between Pol and Bradley Smith.