It’s been a long summer break. Three consecutive weekends without racing – four, for the returning Moto2 and Moto3 classes – means that the MotoGP riders return well-rested and raring to get back on to a bike again.
Some, of course, have already spent some time on a bike over the summer, with both Yamaha and Ducati testing (more of which later), but for the most part, they have had an all too brief vacation cut short by a return to training. Training never stops for a motorcycle racer.
The location they make their return is a spectacular one. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the true home of American motor sports. It is a vast arena, a sprawling complex set inside a two-and-a-half mile oval (though it is more of a rectangle with rounded corners than an oval), housing an eighteen hole golf course, a magnificent museum, and acres and acres of space to roam around in.
It can seat up to 400,000, which it regularly does for the Indy 500. It oozes history; like Monza, everywhere you go, the ghosts of racing legends are at your side. In the shadows, you can hear them whisper.
The problem of having MotoGP at the heart of American racing is that to most Americans, motorsport involves four-wheeled vehicles. Americans love motorcycles, but the motorcycles they love are mostly American.
The real American motorcycle racing fans can be found on Saturday night a few miles away, at the Indiana State Fairground, where American motorcycles turn laps on an oval made of dirt. Those American motorcycle racing fans – hard working men and women come to watch the most blue collar of sports – are joined there by a large part of the MotoGP paddock, entranced by this most quintessential piece of Americana. The Indy Mile is just one of the things that make this weekend so very special.
Sadly, the road course inside IMS’s spectacular facility is not one of them. Originally designed to be run in the opposite direction for Formula One, the track which MotoGP uses is tight, with most of the corners closing up instead of opening out, as they were intended to be run the other way. The asphalt – though resurfaced – is a bit of a patchwork, with four different types of tarmac as the track runs onto and then off the oval, and through the center of the massive facility.
Last year, there were a lot of complaints that the new tarmac had no rubber on it, which led to a large number of serious crashes. The worst of those hit Casey Stoner, who effectively ended his season and his title defense there when he broke the bones in his foot and ankle. This year, the track should be a little better, now that it has had cars lay down a little rubber on the surface, but it remains a finicky and difficult track to ride.
You have to wonder if the memory of last year’s crashes will linger with the two men tipped to win the title this season. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa return to action at Indianapolis still not fully recovered from their broken collarbones, and at the start of a triple header of three races on three consecutive weekends.
With MotoGP’s summer break officially underway (and just days away from now concluding), Asphalt & Rubber sat down with Randy Mamola at the finish of the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, to get the Grand Prix legend’s perspective on how the 2013 MotoGP Championship was shaping up so far in his eyes.
Obviously, the man of the hour at the time of our discussion was Marc Marquez, who had just recreated one the most talked about passes in motorcycle racing history, and had won at one of the most enigmatic tracks on the GP calendar…after having never been to Laguna Seca before, naturally.
Sharing his insights on Marquez and the talent that the Repsol Honda rider exudes, Mamola gave us his unique perspective on the leaders for this year’s MotoGP title, amongst other issues in the paddock. Read the Q&A from our dialogue after the jump.
This morning, Asphalt & Rubber and other members of the English-speaking press were treated to a teleconference with Marc Marquez, which was hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Currently leading the MotoGP Championship by 16 points, Marquez down-played his chances for carrying that lead to the end of the season, with the same boyish enthusiasm that he has shown throughout the season.
Talking about his success at The Brickyard in the Moto2 class, Marquez could be a dark horse for the upcoming Indianapolis GP, which has been dominated by the Repsol Honda machines the past three years; and if there is one thing that is certain about the young Spaniard, you can’t count him out on race day.
With IMS providing us with a transcript of the teleconference, you can read Marquez’s response to a wide range of subjects, all after the jump.
Don’t call it a comeback, because even though the US motorcycle industry beat the Motorcycle Industry Council’s projections last year, sales so far for 2013 are looking less than stellar in the first-half of the year.
Down 5.2% from January to June, motorcycle sales were hit mostly by abysmal losses in the scooter segment (23.3%), and helped along by modest losses in the on-road segment (5.3%). Adding more to the misery, dual-sports suffered a 3.4% drop in the first half of the year, though surprisingly off-road bikes showed a gain, increasing 5.4% over Q1 & Q2.
The Honda RC213V and its predecessors have always been formidable machines in MotoGP, but for 2013 HRC has truly managed to make a peerless motorcycles for its four riders: Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Alvaro Bautista.
In the past, the Honda was all about its motor and its ability to rocket out of the corners, whereas the Yamaha YZR-M1 was more about its chassis and the ability to have supreme edge-grip through the turns.
This dichotmy created two bikes that required two very different riding styles to be fully utilized; and also it meant sometimes the Honda was the weapon of choice, and sometimes the Yamaha was the better tool for the job — depending on the track, of course.
But all that changed this past season and a half. Finding a solution to the RC213V’s chatter problem (a problem that was courtesy of the raised minimum weight requirement for 2012), in the latter part of last season, HRC watch Dani Pedrosa storm after Jorge Lorenzo in the Championship points.
Helping the Repsol Honda rider was of course HRC’s seamless shifting gearbox, which at some tracks on the calendar is good for a tenth or two per lap, but what really spurred on Pedrosa was engineers at Honda overcoming the one weakness in the RC213V’s design.
No longer was the race between a bike with power and the other with handling — now the Honda had both; and better yet, Yamaha had no reply for this development.
While Yamaha Racing is still hoping to debut its own seamless gearbox during the 2013 season, it will likely do little to change the course of events in the Championship standings. The 2013 Honda RC213V is a matchless machine right now, and it is the hands of two very formidable riders.
Don’t count Jorge Lorenzo and his Yamaha YZR-M1 out of course, but the reigning World Champion has more than hisfill when it comes to fending off the two Repsol Honda riders.
Making it a point to capture this fine machine in detail at the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca, I dodged bikes in the very busy MotoGP pit lane to bring you a bevy of high-resolution photos of the 2013 Honda RC213V MotoGP race bike, which are waiting for you after the jump (be sure to check-out my similar photo sets of the Ducati Desmosedici GP13 and Yamaha YZR-M1 from Austin, TX as well).
This weekend at MotoGP’s Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, I stopped by the Motus ten to give Lee Conn and Brian Case some grief, and to see how the production-ready Motus MST was looking. The bikes looked similar to their prototype form from two year’s ago, with obviously more fit-and-finish in the overall design. One of the big changes I noticed though was that Motus has dropped the industry standard analog tach and LCD speedo for an all-glass cockpit design.
It may be, in the colorful phrase of Jeremy Burgess, a “shitty little race track,” but somehow Laguna Seca always manages to produce moments of magic. This year was no different, with Stefan Bradl finally getting his first podium, Marc Marquez breaking record after record, and Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa coming back, after they both had damaged their collarbones at the Sachsenring.
As memorable as those performances were, they will all be overshadowed by one moment. Marc Marquez passed Valentino Rossi in the Corkscrew on lap 4, running through the dirt in scenes reminiscent of Rossi’s iconic pass on Casey Stoner back in 2008.
The incident fired the imagination of MotoGP fans for so very many different reasons: the reminder of Rossi’s pass on Stoner; the even deeper line which Marquez took through the gravel in 2013; the thrill of a rider running through that corner and still managing to return and maintain his position.
Naturally, it was the talk of the press conference. When asked about the pass, Rossi turned his attention to HRC team principal (and Marc Marquez’ team boss) Livio Suppo. Suppo was Casey Stoner’s team boss back in 2008, and had complained bitterly of Rossi’s pass at the Corkscrew.
“You and Stoner break my balls for two or three years about that overtake, because I cut the curb. So what do you say about that? Have to be disqualified eh?” Rossi asked to much laughter. Not to be outdone, Suppo replied in kind: “Thanks for the question, and thanks to Marc, because after a few years, we pay you back!”
Just like Valentino Rossi’s move on Casey Stoner in 2008, we will be talking about Marc Marquez getting past Rossi through the dirt of the Laguna Seca Corkscrew for some time to come.
With some retrospect, Marquez’s move on Rossi might be the defining moment for where the young Spaniard replaced the veteran Italian as MotoGP’s darling, but until that passing of the torch has been solidified with more duration, we will refer to the pass as just one of racing’s most epic moments in recent memory.