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May 2014

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Knowing that not everyone is in a position to watch qualifying and races when they are live, we try to operate a no-spoilers policy for at least a few hours after the event.

For us, this means no results in headlines, nor on the Twitter feed. But, as the mighty motorcycle racing Twitter personality SofaRacer put it today, “I know you don’t like to Tweet spoilers David. But ‘Márquez on pole’ and ‘Márquez wins’ technically, erm, aren’t.”

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Marc Marquez took his sixth pole of the season, and his seventh pole in a row on Sunday. Marquez remains invincible, even at what he regards as his worst track of the year.

His advantage is rather modest, though. With just 0.180 seconds over the man in second place – the surprising Andrea Iannone – it is Marquez’s smallest advantage of the season, if we discount Qatar, where he was basically riding with a broken leg.

You get the sense that Marquez is holding something back, almost being cautious, after being bitten several times by the track last year, including a massive crash in free practice and then sliding out of the race.

It makes him almost vulnerable for the first time. His race pace is still fast, but he has others – Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, even the Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso – all on roughly the same pace.

For the first real racing at the 2014 Isle of Man TT, I had to choose Creg-ny-Baa. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition for me now, as I’ve shot the Superbike TT race from there a few times now. As an added bonus, there aren’t any midges, which is a relief after Barregarrow’s flying bug population feasted on me last night!

One of the most recognisable and iconic sections of the course, the Creg (as it is usually mentioned) signals what is essentially the end of the descent from the top of the blindingly-quick mountain section.

It is fairly similar to a short circuit corner, which I usually try to avoid taking photos of at the TT, as corners like this, and those at the Gooseneck and Signpost, just don’t convey how spectacular the TT is to watch.

Despite my usual reasoning, the Creg has a few unique features, which include the backdrop of the Creg-ny-Baa pub when you’re on the inside of the corner, and Kate’s Cottage when shooting from the front of the pub.

Another great feature there are the rows of fans lining the grass at the side of the road who will wave, applaud, and cheer the riders as they pass, especially on the final lap when the leading rider has essentially wrapped-up victory.

It’s the Italian Grand Prix this weekend, and that means another special AGV helmet from Valentino Rossi. A wonderful tradition from the nine-time World Champion, Rossi’s helmets can however at times be enigmatic, especially to non-Italians. Thankfully, the folks at AGV have helped us understand Aldo Drudi’s latest work, which we assume will popularly be called the “Di Vale Helmet” hence forth. We decode the receipe, with photos, after the jump. As if the noodles weren’t enough of a dead giveaway, Rossi’s Mugello helmet for 2014 is a spoof on an Italian pasta brand, which is similar in name to the “Di Vale” brand shown on the GP star’s lid.

If you are not following the 2014 Isle of Man TT, you are missing out on some great racing already, and we’re only once race into the TT fortnight. Getting down to business with the big bikes, the Dainese Superbike TT has set the standard quite high, with some proper-good road racing happening on the Isle. We won’t spoil the results from the race, but we will say that the 132 mph barrier was broken during the Superbike TT. Bruce Anstey, the 44-year-old Kiwi, put down a “mega” 132.298 mph lap, while on his Honda/Valvoline Racing by Padgetts Motocycle Honda CBR1000RR SP. It all came together for Anstey towards the end of the Superbike TT, with the New Zealander putting down the record lap during the final lap of the race.

The late evening practice sessions have finally given way to the mid-day races at the Isle of Man, and that means that the 2014 Isle of Man TT has started in earnest. As always, the Dainese Superbike TT was the opening event, which is just the perfect way to start the TT…with the big toys on the Mountain Course, right?

This year’s event brings all sorts of questions. Will Michael Dunlop continue the domination he began back in 2013? Or will John McGuinness reclaim his crown, and make further progress into besting Joey Dunlop’s outright TT race win record? How about fan favorite Guy Martin, and his hunt for his first Isle of Man TT race win? Thankfully, some of those answers can begin to come forthwith.

Bad news for American MotoGP fans, as Nicky Hayden has withdrawn from the Italian GP at Mugello due to wrist pain. Hayden was a question mark after Friday’s sessions, and sure enough just before this morning’s FP3 session, The Kentucky Kid opted to sit out this round, and is due to have surgery on his wrist this coming Tuesday, in Italy.

Hayden has been nursing a wrist injury for sometime now, with the cause of his swelling and pain being unknown. The American will undergo exploratory surgery by hand specialist Riccardo Luchetti, who will hopefully be able to identify the cause of Hayden’s ails, while also cleaning up any affected areas.

For this evening’s session, I decided to shoot from a place on the course I’ve seen pictures from numerous times before, and always had an itch to shoot there myself one day.

Following the famous Cronk-y-Voddy straight, Barregarrow (pronounced “Beh-garrow” by the locals) is an infamous dip where machinery is pushed to the limit. Accelerating from the top of the section, down a hill most people wouldn’t want to cycle up, the bikes hit a small rise that momentarily jumps them and the rider into the air.

Par for the course on the Mountain circuit, until the bike lands and its suspension is fully compressed as the riders hit the bottom of the hill, which is also a fairly severe dip in the tarmac, which can be felt at anything above 30 mph.

This ensures plenty of scraped belly pans, spectacular images, and sometimes a few sparks, but never the dropping of revs, as the riders hit their apex and continue on their way to Kirk Michael village. All the obvious challenges of shooting a spot like this are present – the immense speeds and the fading light as the sessions progress.

The sidecar session especially, was fairly tricky due to the lowering evening sun. But, tonight had a more evil enemy than the technical aspects of using a camera, as I was eaten alive by the bloody midges, which have left me with blotchy red bites all over my arms and legs.

The weather didn’t really play ball at Mugello on Friday. The forecast rain held off until the last five minutes of Moto3 FP2, before sprinkling just enough water on the track to make conditions too wet for slicks, too dry for wet tires. That left the entire MotoGP field sitting in their garages waiting for the rain to either get heavier and wet the track completely, or else stop, and allow it to dry up.

Dani Pedrosa explained that though the track was dry in most places, San Donato, the first corner at the end of the high speed straight, was still wet. Bridgestone slicks need to be pushed hard to get them up to temperature, and if you can’t push in Turn 1, then they don’t. That leaves you with cold tires, which will come back and bite you further round the track.

One of the items on the list of requirements Dorna sent to Michelin was the need for an intermediate tire. Would anyone have gone out if they had had intermediates? Pedrosa believed they would have. “With intermediates you can go out. I’m not sure whether you get anything out of it, but for sure you don’t have 24 bikes in the box.”

You don’t learn much in terms of set up when you go out on intermediates, but more people might venture out. One team manager I spoke to was less convinced. “We have five engines and a limited number of tires. We can’t afford to lose an engine in a crash. Why take a risk, when it’s better to save miles on the engine?”

The wasted afternoon session left Marc Marquez – who else? – on the top of the timesheets. It had not looked that way for much of the session. Valentino Rossi had led the way from early on, Marquez only taking over in the front towards the end. For Marquez, this was a conscious strategy.