Motorcycle racing is the cruelest form of addiction. What racers need to feed their habit is to win, but winning is hard, one of the hardest things of all. To do so, you have to go beyond yourself, push beyond your limits, exceed what you thought was possible.
That creates a paradox: if you want to win a championship, sometimes you have to accept you can’t win a race. Too much of that servility, though, and ambition will chafe at the bit. The temptation to have a go is hard to resist, with the risk of ending in gravelly ignominy.
That has been the fate of Marc Márquez so far this season. Wins have been few this season, just three in thirteen races. Even podiums have eluded him, Márquez ending off the box in three of the last four races. There is only so much a young man bursting with ambition can take.
That ambition looks set to burst forth at Aragon. If Misano was a track which Marc Márquez had marked down as a place he could risk losing a lot of points, he had comforted himself with the thought that Aragon followed.
Aragon is a Honda track, a Márquez track even. It is a track where he has won. But also a track where he has crashed trying to win.
Could there be a ninth winner in nine MotoGP races? On Thursday, the massed ranks of MotoGP riders had elected Andrea Dovizioso for the role.
“I’m happy they said my name,” Dovizioso told us journalists on Friday, “but they have put a lot of pressure on me. Because I have to win this race, and today wasn’t the best day for me to try to think about winning…”
The Ducati rider had struggled with a lack of grip on the track, adding to the fact that this is not a great track for Dovizioso.
“This track doesn’t have the best characteristic for my style,” he said. Dovizioso’s strength lies in hard braking and quick turning, and there is not enough of that to suit the Italian. Add low grip to that, and he faces an uphill struggle.
Dovizioso also faces Aragon with a new teammate. Andrea Iannone has once again been forced to withdraw, the T3 vertebra he injured at Misano causing him too much pain to continue. He could manage three or four laps, before needing to return to the pits and get some rest.
With 22 laps coming up on Sunday, Iannone quickly understood that would be too much. Michele Pirro was already on standby, and once FP1 made it clear that Iannone would not be able to ride, Ducati’s test rider was put on the bike.
The guys start their talk about Dani Pedrosa, who is the eighth MotoGP race-winner in eight straight races – a healthy statistic for the 2016 MotoGP Championship.
Of course, one can’t talk about Misano without also talking about Valentino Rossi, and there is plenty to talk about, with The Doctor coming to a head with his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, both on and off the track.
Before turning to the Moto2 and Moto3 paddocks for an update, the guys also discuss the progress of the MotoGP Championship race, with Marc Marquez looking more and more likely to be this year’s winner as each race passes by, for a variety of reason. We think you’ll find the show very interesting.
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There are few more intimidating atmospheres in motorcycle racing than the MotoGP race at Misano. Unless, of course, you are from what the regional government refer to as Motor Valley, the area which stretches from the Adriatic coast and the up the Po Valley towards Milan.
The fans are fiery, passionate, and vocal. If you are not a local, to come here and race is to enter the lion’s den.
The irony is that since 2010, Spaniards have won every MotoGP race held in Italy, with the exception of the 2014 race at Misano, which was won by Valentino Rossi. The enemy has come into the heart of Italy, and left victorious. It is a grave wound to Italian pride.
For the second time this year, it looked for a long time that Valentino Rossi would heal that wound. At Mugello, it was Yamaha who broke the hearts of Italian fans, after turning up the revs on the Yamaha M1 just a little too far, and causing the engine to detonate, leaving Rossi dejected at the side of the track.
At Misano, Rossi took the lead with a firm pass, exploiting a minor mistake by Lorenzo and diving through the barn-door sized opening Lorenzo had left on the inside of Turn 14. There would be fall out from that pass, but not until the press conference.
It is hard to overstate just how important pole position is at Misano. It is a tight and tortuous track, with few opportunities to pass. Small differences in practice and qualifying become magnified during the race: the holeshot is worth its weight in gold here.
Get a gap, and you can be gone. The smallest winning margin at Misano was 1.578 seconds, which was the deficit of Jorge Lorenzo to Valentino Rossi in 2014. A second of that was lost on the final straight, however, as the Italian celebrated a significant victory with a monster wheelie.
It doesn’t mean that races can’t be exciting. The 2014 race saw an epic battle between Rossi and Marc Márquez, which lasted half the race until the Spaniard asked too much of his front tire and crashed out.
Races can be hard-fought, but eventually, one rider will wear the rest down and open an unbridgeable gap. That is easier when the rider starts in front.
The first corner is another reason that pole matters at Misano. The hard right then left combination is notorious for pile ups, and the further back you are, the more likely you are to get caught up in the melee.
A front row start is your best hope of making it through unmolested, though a second row start will do at a pinch. Any further back and unless you can secrete a small bottle of nitrous somewhere on the bike in search of a rocket-assisted start, carnage awaits.
Every day that sees MotoGP motorcycles circulating in earnest is an interesting day, but some are more interesting than others. Friday at Misano was one of those days which last, throwing up surprises and shattering preconceptions.
We found out that we need to throw overboard a lot of the things we thought about the current state of the MotoGP championship.
First, to the things that were not a surprise. That Yamahas should top both sessions of free practice, and establish themselves as favorites for the race was entirely to be expected.
That Valentino Rossi should impress is no surprise either: Misano is his home race, and a win here is his best chance of getting back into the championship. Jorge Lorenzo finding his feet again, and laying down a withering pace raised one or two eyebrows among those who had written him off.
But the real shocker was Pol Espargaro topping the second session of free practice, and ending the day faster.
Has Yamaha smuggled a few go-faster bits into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha garage? The answer to that question is quite simply no. Espargaro’s pace has a very simple explanation: the Spaniard has been strong throughout this season, the switch to the Michelins playing to his strengths.
“This is a track where I am fast,” Espargaro told us. “If we add here the new tires which are really grippy on the rear and quite good performance on the front, I feel like I can ride in my style, aggressive and opening the throttle really early with full lean angle. I feel really comfortable riding the bike.”
Plus, of course, the small matter of time gained by using another fast rider as a target. “For sure, I was behind Márquez, and it helped me two tenths more or less.” Taking away two tenths of a second would put him third rather than first, but as he was second fastest in the morning, Espargaro’s time in FP2 was no fluke.
From Silverstone to Misano: it is hard to think of a starker contrast in circuits. Silverstone sits atop a windswept hilltop in the center of England, surrounded by verdant valleys and ancient villages. Misano nestles just above the vast string of late 20th Century hotel blocks, which form Italy’s Adriatic Riviera.
Silverstone is often wet, and usually cold, no matter what time of year we go there. Misano swelters in the heat of a late Italian summer.
The tracks are very different too. Silverstone is a vast, sweeping expanse of fast and challenging tarmac. Misano is a tightly compressed complex of loops demanding more of fuel management, than of the rider.
Silverstone has old, worn, slippery tarmac with huge bumps rippled in by F1 and other car racing. Up until 2015, Misano was much the same. But it was resurfaced last year, and has fresh, dark, smooth asphalt that has a lot more grip than the old surface.
So the MotoGP riders face a very different kettle of fish a week after Silverstone. The layout of the track is likely to have the biggest impact.
Where Silverstone is full of fast third and fourth gear corners which riders enter carrying a lot of speed, most of the turns at Misano are all first and second gear. Drive and traction are the watchwords, though there are three or four corners where braking is at a premium as well.