Yamaha continues to hand out rewards for its recent win at the Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race, having just granted Alex Lowes a ride on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP bike this past weekend at the British GP, and this coming weekend at the San Marino GP.
Yamaha’s next recipient will be its test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, who will get the honor of racing as a wild card in front of his home crowd at the Japanese GP in Motegi, Japan.
Nakasuga-san is no stranger to the MotoGP paddock, and this year’s race in Japan will be the fifth time that Nakasuga has raced in the Japanese GP.
It is but a short trip up the road from Spielberg to Brno, but it is a journey between two very different worlds.
From the hyper-modern facility at the Red Bull Ring, to the frayed-around-the-edges buildings of Brno. From a track which has been missing from the calendar for the best part of twenty years to a circuit which has seen racing almost since its inception, where teams often come to test.
From a track with a paucity of corners, all hard braking and acceleration, to one which flows from corner to corner, where bikes mostly exit in third gear when getting on the gas.
The starkest difference between the Red Bull Ring and Brno is the layout. Both tracks snake up and down hillsides, but where Austria is a track stuck up against a mountain, Brno is a winding road which threads its way through hills and vales.
Where Spielberg is basically seven corners, three of which are almost hairpins, all fourteen of Brno’s corners are long and flowing.
Ironically, Brno’s flowing layout makes it somewhat more simple to set up a bike for it. All of the corners are similar, with no camber and needing the same approach.
“The set up is more important than at other tracks because all the corners are similar,” Danilo Petrucci explained to us on Thursday. “You have to be good on braking and especially the feeling of the front. Because for more than 50% of the track you are on the edge of the tire.”
It’s the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C.
“The temperature this morning was pretty extreme,” Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. “Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions.”
Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa’s crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet.
The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa’s Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.
The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn’t a gravel trap at the edge of the track. “I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast,” Pedrosa said.
“From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn’t decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed.”
There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.
There has been a reversal of fortunes in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage.
Last year, it was Bradley Smith who was the clear top satellite rider, putting in strong and above all, sensible and consistent performances week in, week out, while Pol Espargaro tried hard to get the Yamaha M1 to do things it didn’t want to do, and either crashed or finished well down the order.
This year, it is Espargaro who has the consistency, while Smith is trying (and failing) to get the Michelins to do what he wants them to do.
Yet another impostor. Valentino Rossi is arguably the most complete racer on the MotoGP grid, and probably the most complete racer of all time. His experience is unrivaled, as is his ability to adapt to circumstances.
Yet he has thrown away one win and the chance of a very strong result through something resembling youthful impatience. The most experienced rider on the grid has made life impossible for himself as a result of two rookie mistakes.
That is a real shame. For Rossi, like Lorenzo, arrived at the start of this year in better shape than ever during his career. His training is more intense and more focused, his demeanor more single-minded.
He has separated from his long-time girlfriend, and hired a rider coach in Luca Cadalora. Quite literally, Valentino Rossi has done everything possible to try to win the 2016 MotoGP title.