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David Emmett

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Marc Marquez entered MotoGP surrounded by hype and with high expectations. After a wet test at Valencia, where he showed he was fast, but not quite how fast, the Spaniard went to Sepang, where he posted very good times in a private test. At the full Sepang MotoGP tests, Marquez was genuinely impressive, never finishing outside the Top 4.

At Austin, Marquez stunned observers. The young Spaniard, still only a rookie in the MotoGP class, with only a few days on a MotoGP bike under his belt, dominated at the Austin test, topping the timesheets on all three days of the private test. It was not as if he didn’t have any competition at the circuit: both the factory Yamaha and Honda teams were at the Austin test, and Marquez beat Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to set the fastest time.

So it was something of a surprise when Marquez failed to duplicate his impressive pace in Malaysia and Texas when MotoGP rolled up at Jerez for the final test of the season.

Though Marquez was 3rd fastest in the wet, once conditions improved – though they were never perfect – the Repsol Honda rookie got left behind a little, finishing the second day in 7th spot, nearly 1.2 seconds behind fastest man Valentino Rossi, and 5th spot on day three, 0.6 behind Cal Crutchlow.

Marquez left the three day test as 6th overall, six tenths behind the fastest man of the test Cal Crutchlow, and over a tenth behind Stefan Bradl, his main rival during the 2011 Moto2 season.

So what happened? Where did Marc Marquez’ speed suddenly disappear to? When asked by reporters on Sunday, the Spaniard had a few explanations. “Today was difficult,” Marquez acknowledged, “but I think it’s normal. It was the first time in dry conditions on this track.”

Three days of testing at Jerez is over, and the real star of the show is obvious for all to see: The Weather. Of the 18 hours of track time that the MotoGP riders had at their disposal, only about 4 were in consistent conditions, and that was in the pouring rain on Saturday.

An afternoon of dry track time – well, dryish, with groundwater seeping through the track from the hills at Jerez, which have been lashed by unusually heavy rain all winter long – on Sunday and a bright start to Monday morning left the riders hopeful, but it was not to be.

It took 15 minutes for the first rain to arrive. The track opened at 10am. At 10:15am, the rain started to fall, leaving most of the teams twiddling their thumbs in the garages and hoping for some dry track time.

Valentino Rossi being fastest in a dry MotoGP session brought joy to the hearts of his millions of fans, but also relief to the writers of motorcycle racing headlines. For the past two years, with the exception of a damp and freezing session at Silverstone, the media – especially in Italy – have spent many hours puzzling over how to shoehorn Rossi’s name into a news item without it appearing overly clumsy. With little success: “Pedrosa grabs pole, Rossi to start from ninth” sounds, well, as awkward as it does dispiriting.

On Sunday, there was no need for tricky sentence construction. Valentino Rossi grabbed the headlines the way he would want to, on merit. Under a warm sun, and a dry track – well, relatively, but more of that later – Rossi just flat out beat his teammate, and the factory Hondas, and all the other 24 MotoGP machines that took to the track for the second day of the test at Jerez.

Beating his teammate, even if it was by just fifteen thousandths of a second, was crucial. That hadn’t happened in any of the previous tests, and the gap between himself and Jorge Lorenzo stayed pretty constant: at least three tenths of a second.

It rained today in Jerez. Boy did it rain. The heavens were open for much of the day, with the intensity of the rain varying between a light drizzle and an absolute deluge, sending people scurrying for cover when the skies darkened too much.

A few brave souls ventured out to put in laps, but they did not last very long in the conditions. Until around 3pm, that is, when the rain let up, at least for an hour or so, and everyone took to the track. For two hours, testing was at full tilt, before the rain returned to chase most of the MotoGP men back into the pits.

Though having that much rain is hardly what the riders ordered, it still has its advantages. “It’s good to be able to test on a fully wet track,” Wilco Zeelenberg said after testing. “Normally, it’s that half-wet, half-dry stuff, which is hopeless.” Real work could be done on a wet set up, and lessons learned for 2013.

At the presentation of Yamaha’s 2013 MotoGP campaign, where the bike which Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will ride in the coming season was unveiled, it was clear that there was one thing missing from the bike: this season, as for the last two years, Yamaha’s MotoGP team will not have a title sponsor, but will campaign in corporate colors once again.

Though the news hardly came as a surprise – the colors being used throughout the winter testing period suggested that Yamaha would be racing without a title sponsor – we were interested to find out whether the current situation is sustainable.

To that end, we cornered Yamaha Racing’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis, and put a few questions to him. Firstly, we asked, could Yamaha’s MotoGP team manage without a title sponsor, or was the expanded support from non-title sponsors sufficient? The answer to those questions was “yes and yes” Jarvis quipped.

Electronics are to take a further step in the world of motorcycle racing this season. In addition to being abundant throughout engine and chassis, Moto2 and Moto3 official tire supplier Dunlop is to introduce them into the tires. In an official press release issued today, Dunlop announced that they will be using RFID chips in the spec-tires used in Moto2 and Moto3, to keep precise track of the tires used in both classes.

For the moment, the technology will be used solely to track tire usage in Moto2 and Moto3. Tiny RFID chips will be built into the official Dunlop tires during the manufacturing process, each programmed with a unique identifying code.

Sensors in pit lane (shown in the photo here on the Dunlop website) will monitor when each tire leaves pit lane, and when they return. Using the database which maps which tires have been allocated to which riders, Dunlop can keep precise track of which tires have been used when, and for how long.

In three weeks’ time, the 2013 season gets underway for all three Grand Prix classes, and motorcycle racing’s winter will finally be over. Before that, there is a week of testing at Jerez, where first the Moto2 and Moto3 classes get their final run out on the track from Monday through Thursday, before MotoGP takes to the track on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Testing at Jerez may be affordable for GP’s junior classes, but it does not come without risk. Moto2 and Moto3 tested at both Valencia and Jerez in February, and while conditions were sunny and dry, if a little cool at Valencia, the test at Jerez was very mixed indeed, with rain disrupting two of the three days of testing. This test looks just as likely to be disrupted by rain: while good weather is forecast for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Tuesday looks like being a total washout.

That will leave the riders with two full days of dry testing – for some arcane reason, IRTA has decided to spread the three days of Moto2 and Moto3 testing over four days, with the test starting on Monday afternoon, and concluding on Thursday lunchtime.

There is surely method to this madness, but unfortunately, IRTA does not have a press office, and so nobody to explain it. In the absence of an IRTA – the International Roadracing Teams Association, the official body representing the teams – press officer, the media are left to scratch their heads, speculate, and all too often, concoct explanations for themselves.

So the three days of testing at Austin are over, and what did we learn? That Marc Marquez is something special? We knew that, though we didn’t perhaps realize just how special. That Yamaha really needs to find more acceleration? This, too, was known, but becoming clearer every time the M1 goes up against the Honda RC213V on track. That Valentino Rossi’s return does not equate to an automatic 8th MotoGP title? We suspected as much.

The first thing that became obvious is that the Austin circuit itself is pretty decent. Valentino Rossi described it as “a typical Tilke track, with corners that remind you of Shanghai and Turkey.” Unsurprising, given that Herman Tilke, who also designed Shanghai, Istanbul, and many other race tracks around the world, was responsible for designing the track.

The input from Kevin Schwantz was helpful, though, making the track more like Istanbul than Shanghai. The circuit has a couple of highly technical sections, where you go in blind and need to have memorized which way the track goes. It is wide, giving opportunities for overtaking and braking, and has a couple of the fast, fast sweepers which motorcycle racers love.

It also has a couple of tight corners, leaving the bike in a low gear with a lot of acceleration to do. This, it became apparent, favors the Hondas, the RC213V strongest off the bottom, and capable of pulling a gap. Acceleration issues will be a problem for Yamaha this year, unless Masahiko Nakajima and his fellow engineers can find some extra grunt out of the corners.

The situation was similar in 2012, but Yamaha was helped by the problems the Hondas had with chatter. So far, the Repsol Honda men have remained silent on the issue, meaning the worst of it is over. Yamaha have their work cut out, and Jorge Lorenzo’s second title defense could be a little too reminiscent of his previous one in 2011.

When the news that Dorna would be taking over World Superbikes broke, there was a wave of outrage among fans, expressing the fear that the Spanish company would set about destroying the series they had grown to love.

So far, Dorna has been careful not to get involved in debates about the technical regulations which seem to be so close to fans’ hearts, its only criteria so far appearing to be a demand that bikes should cost 250,000 euros for an entire season.

Yet it has already make one move which has a serious negative impact on the series: it is clamping down on video footage from inside the paddock.

There was some consternation – and there is still some confusion – about the situation at the first round of WSBK at Phillip Island at the end of February. Where previously, teams and journalists had been free to shoot various videos inside the paddock, there were mixed signals coming from Dorna management, with some people told there was an outright and immediate ban, with threats of serious consequences should it be ignored, while others were saying that they had heard nothing on the subject.

That Dorna is determined to reduce the amount of free material on YouTube became immediately clear after the race weekend was over: in previous years, brief, two-minute race summaries would appear on the official World Superbike Youtube channel after every weekend. After the first race of 2013, only the post-race interviews were posted on the site. It is a long-standing Dorna policy to try to strictly control what ends up on YouTube and what doesn’t. It is its most serious mistake, and one which could end up badly damaging the sport unless it is changed very soon.

Despite losing his Moto2 ride after the withdrawal of a major sponsor from the ESGP team, Gino Rea is to contest selected Moto2 rounds in 2013. The young Englishman has received the go-ahead from Dorna and IRTA to enter as a wildcard at as many races as he can raise funds for in the 2013 season.

With material support from FTR, Rea will be testing and racing the 2013 version of the FTR Moto2 chassis. The team, run by Gino Rea and his father David, currently intend to race at 11 rounds of the Moto2 championship – basically, all of the European rounds. The exact number of races they will appear at will depend on the amount of money they can raise.

That is the big question for Rea. The young Londoner still needs to raise some £20,000 to contest each round. Rea has received strong support from his fan base, raising money from individual donations through the Gino Rea Club website. That effort continues, while Rea is also searching for more traditional sponsors. After the jump is a press release issued by Gino Rea, complete with contact details for potential sponsors.

It would appear fears that the World Superbike round at Silverstone is to be dropped are misplaced, as paddock rumors that Silverstone was back on the calendar emerged last night, with confirmation coming from Silverstone today, from the circuit’s Facebook page.

Accordingly, the race at Silverstone will take place on August 4th, and will see World Superbike, World Supersport, and the Superstock 1000 and 600 classes compete.