Motorcycle racing is a continual war of innovation. It is a war fought out on many different battlegrounds at many different times, but at its heart, it is about finding new ways, better ways of doing things. Engineers, teams, and riders are always looking for some small advantage, turning what they do upside down in the hope of finding something to exploit.
Usually, when motorcycle racing fans talk about innovation, they have a vision of hard metal in their minds, of parts belonging on a motorcycle. They will point to aluminium twin spar frames, to upside down forks, to seamless gearboxes.
Some may allude to slightly less tangible improvements: Honda’s Torductor, a sensor used to measure the forces going through the engine sprocket directly; perhaps Yamaha’s electronics package, which combines 3D models of the racetrack with predictive models of tire wear and fuel load to provide adaptive vehicle dynamics strategies.
The human element is important too. New training methods come and go, along with new diets and new nutritional supplements. Riders suddenly start getting off the bike and jumping into ice baths to aid recovery.
Then, a year later, the ice baths are gone. If the championship leader spends a lot of time on a trials bike, everyone down to the rider bringing up the rear in Moto3 has to spend his time jumping rocks on a Beta or a GasGas. Should a new champion focus on racing dirt track, every rider and his mother-in-law has a dirt oval built in their back yard.
At Jerez, qualifying in both MotoGP and Moto3 showcased organizational innovation, the ability to see opportunities offered in a qualifying format, and to exploit them to your own advantage. In both cases those seizing their chances were richly rewarded, with Marc Marquez and Jack Miller securing pole comfortably in MotoGP and Moto3, their respective classes.
With everyone slowly recovering from the shock of the announcement that Bridgestone is pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2015 season, it is easy to forget that we are here for a motorcycle race.
The roar of Grand Prix machinery hurtling around the beautiful Circuito de Jerez on a glorious Andalusian morning soon dispelled thoughts of 2016, and concentrated minds on what is to come on Sunday.
The heat of the afternoon, though, made thinking tough, and riding even tougher. Track temperatures rose to over 50°, robbing the circuit of even more grip, and making it greasier than ever.
Rider consensus was that the track was in pretty good shape, but when it’s this hot, the already low-grip surface of Jerez becomes very difficult to ride. That meant that the number of riders who managed to improve their times in FP2 in all three classes were limited.
According to Italian Sky TV, the Jerez round of MotoGP could be the very last race for Colin Edwards, as the Texas Tornado could relinquish his place in MotoGP directly after the Spanish race, to make way for another rider.
NGM Forward team boss Giovanni Cuzari told Italian Sky TV that there would be a meeting on Monday with Edwards to discuss his future with the team. Forward’s sponsors are reportedly not happy with having Aleix Espargaro circulating at the front, while Edwards has been unable to match the pace of his teammate.
Edwards has been unhappy with the Yamaha chassis from the very beginning, and had hoped to receive a chassis from FTR, which Forward had originally intended to race for 2014.
However, Forward has allegedly not paid FTR for the chassis, and the British chassis builder has refused to supply the frames, which are rumored to be now sitting idly in the company’s headquarters in Buckingham.
If Edwards was to step down, then the most likely candidate to replace him is Danilo Petrucci. The young Italian could be moved out of the IODA Racing team to ride the Forward Yamaha.
That would make room for Leon Camier, who originally signed with IODA to contest the 2014 season aboard the ART machine, but that deal fell through when IODA lost sponsorship, and could not afford to run two riders. Moving Petrucci to Forward and slotting Camier into IODA would resolve that situation.
Simone Corsi has also been linked to the ride, as the Forward Moto2 rider is set to test the bike during the MotoGP test on Monday. That, however, is to evaluate a move to MotoGP in 2015, rather than to move him up immediately.
To check the veracity of the Italian TV reports though, we went to Giovanni Cuzari himself, to ask him what he had actually said. Cuzari claimed that Italian TV misinterpreted his words, and Edwards would be free to ride for the rest of his contract.
When asked what he had told Italian television, Cuzari said “I tell them that the next race, starting on Monday, I would like to speak to my rider Colin Edwards, who has a deal with me to the end of the season, and I will 100% respect my deal. But, if he’s uncomfortable to stay like this, he’s able to do what he wants, nothing else.”
The Marc VDS Racing team is considering moving up to MotoGP for the 2015 season. Team manager Michael Bartholémy has started the process which could lead to a MotoGP entry for next season.
A switch to MotoGP is far from being a foregone conclusion, Bartholémy was keen to emphasize. “This is the first step in a long, political process,” he said. The first stage would consist of talks with Marc van der Straten, the Belgian brewing magnate who owns the eponymous team, here at Jerez, then again two weeks later at Le Mans.
There’s a race on Sunday, but all the talk is of 2016. Why the seemingly absurd preoccupation with a date that is so ridiculously distant in the future? Because from 2016, MotoGP will have a new tire supplier, after Bridgestone announced they will be pulling out of MotoGP at the end of 2015. Why does this matter?
Because tires are the single most important component of a motorcycle, and determine the performance of a machine to a massive extent. No matter how much power your engine produces, if you can’t get it to the ground, it becomes irrelevant. No matter how powerful your brakes, if the front tire collapses when you squeeze the front lever, you won’t be doing much slowing down.
Even if you can brake and accelerate as much as you like, if the bike wanders around like drunken poodle on a skateboard when you tip it into the corner, your laptimes won’t be up to much.
It is hard to overstate just exactly how important tires are to motorcycle performance. Why is Aleix Espargaro so consistently fast during qualifying, on a bike that is two years old and with an engine under strict control by Yamaha? Because the Open class entries have a softer rear tire available, and that tire itself is worth half a second or more.
Bridgestone have announced that they will not continue as MotoGP tire supplier after the 2015 season. The Japanese tire maker will continue for the remainder of this season and throughout 2015 before pulling out of MotoGP.
The move had been expected. Spanish magazine Motociclismo reported two weeks ago that Bridgestone was on the brink of withdrawing, which we covered at the time.
There had been growing dissatisfaction between the two parties over the past couple of years, with Bridgestone not feeling they were getting the exposure they needed for the 20 million euros they spend on the series, while Dorna felt that the tires were not contributing to the spectacle of racing, and were built so conservatively in terms of tire durability that they were occasionally unsafe.
At Austin, the first murmurings of the growing rift became audible. Paddock rumor held that Bridgestone, whose contract was due to expire at the end of 2014, had agreed a single year’s extension to the end of 2015 to allow other tire suppliers time to develop their tires for MotoGP.
With new technical regulations due to take effect from 2016 – all teams will use the spec ECU hardware and software from that point on – starting a new contract period from 2016 makes sense.
Who will take over as single tire supplier is as yet unknown, but that it will be a single supplier is certain. IRTA, representing the teams, is a big supporter of the single tire supplier, because of the cost savings for the private teams.