Friday Summary at Phillip Island: Lorenzo’s Determination, The Luck of the Hondas, & Tire Trouble on a New Surface

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If anyone was in doubt that Jorge Lorenzo was a man on a mission at Phillip Island, his first few laps of the newly resurfaced circuit should have served to remove any doubt. Lorenzo bolted out of pit lane as soon as the lights turned green, and was soon setting a scorching pace.

By the time he had finished his first run of laps, he had already broken the existing race lap record, and had got into the 1’29s. He finished the morning creeping up on the 1’28s, before going on to start lapping in the 1’28s and dominate the afternoon session as well.

Lorenzo came to Australia to win, let there be no doubt about that. He knows it is his only chance, and even then, he knows that even that will not be enough, and he will need help from Marc Marquez. “The objective is to win the race, and if I win, that will delay Marc’s chance to take the title, but it will depend on his result,” Lorenzo told the Spanish media.

Lorenzo pointed to Marc Marquez’s crash in the afternoon practice as his only real hope of recovering a lot of points. “I don’t wish any harm to any rider, but some bad luck would be good,” Lorenzo reflected. “We could still think about the championship. But if he finishes on the podium, it will be very complicated. Anyway, we are a long way behind in the championship, and Marc can afford to make this kind of mistake.”

Marquez was sanguine about the crash, coming away totally unharmed in what was a very odd looking crash. “It was my fault,” Marquez admitted. He had opened the throttle a fraction too much, leaning over a fraction more than on previous laps, and had been flipped off the bike, luckily not thrown very high, so landing unhurt.

He had been surprised by how aggressively the Honda had responded at that point. It had been a valuable lesson, however: “now I know I can’t accelerate any harder in that corner,” he joked.

The only harm Marquez suffered was to his lap times. The championship leader was forced to use his second bike, which used a totally different geometry than the bike he crashed. That set up did not work, and having lost time and a bike from the crash, the team had no time to make any changes.

Though Marquez finished only 6th in FP2, his pace in the morning showed him to be the only rider capable of living with the scorching pace being laid down by Jorge Lorenzo.

Marc Marquez’s crash was entirely his own mistake, but his luck – reminiscent of Valentino Rossi’s throughout the best part of his career – saved him from his error once again. Lukey Heights is a fast place to crash, but the way the tire slid and then bit and the lean angle Marquez was carrying meant he walked away from it unhurt.

On the other side of the Repsol Honda garage, Dani Pedrosa’s luck was much worse, as usual. After the freak accident at Aragon, where Marc Marquez managed to sever the rear wheel speed sensor on Pedrosa’s machine (that sensor now sports a beautiful little carbon fiber protector), at Phillip Island, it was the turn of human error inside his team to halt the Spaniard.

Toward the end of the session, Pedrosa pulled off track, looking down at the side of his bike. No obvious problem could be seen, until the repeats showed a long bolt sticking out of the side of Pedrosa’s bike as he rounded Turn 2, dragging all the way through the corner.

It turned out to be the rear engine mounting bolt, which had come loose and slid through the frame. A mechanic had failed to lock the bolt in place properly, and it had worked its way loose.

That is the kind of error which HRC does not take kindly to, and one member of Pedrosa’s crew – which is one of the best in the business – will at the very least have a black mark against his name, and will have a tough time come contract renewal time.

The last time one of Pedrosa’s mechanics made a mistake was at Motegi in 2010, when the throttle of the Spaniard’s RC212V stuck open and caused him to break a collarbone.

That incident saw a mechanic sent home and paid off to keep his silence. This incident is not as severe as that, but in a sport where even the smallest error can mean major disaster – and even serious injury or death – forgetfulness or incompetence on the part of the mechanics is treated with the utmost seriousness.

It is a matter of trust: riders have to be able to go out on the track without worrying whether the front forks will collapse through the yokes, or the chain will jump the sprockets, or the gearbox seize up. Unlike some of the satellite and private teams, where mechanics work for very little pay, the factory team pays well, and expects to have the best. This kind of error is not well received.

The speed of the circuit was the talking point of the day, as well as being the cause of a major problem. The resurfacing was met with unanimous approval, Bradley Smith even going so far as to suggest that all circuits should use the same method when it was time to resurface them. The new surface was worth a second a lap at least, reckoned Valentino Rossi.

The circuit had called upon Casey Stoner as one source of advice, and most of the bumps had been removed. One hollow remains, at Turn 6, but the rest was all gone. The grip was only a little better, but 95% of the bumps were gone, Jorge Lorenzo said.

How much faster was the circuit? Alvaro Bautista hit 343 km/h down the front straight, helped along by a stiff breeze. But that was possible because the final corner had been smoothed out, allowing for a much faster exit onto Gardner Straight.

The improved surface is causing a major headache for the tire companies in both MotoGP and Moto2. Dunlop had the toughest time at Phillip Island, a host of punctures in the morning prompting the Moto2 tire supplier to swap out the new Moto2 tire for an older version which they had present at the track.

More punctures followed in the afternoon, prompting some teams to call for a return to the new tires, but the serious chunking which some of the new tires had shown in the morning means Dunlop is wary of doing so.

In MotoGP, Bridgestone suffered less serious problems, but still serious enough to affect the tire choice. A couple of Yamaha riders ended up with blistering on the softer of the two rear tires, causing Bridgestone sufficient concern that they decided to remove the soft tire as a race option.

All MotoGP riders will now be forced to race the hard option, though they may continue to use the soft option in practice.

This could well prove to be a massive problem for the Yamahas especially. Though all of the MotoGP riders prefer the softer of the two options, only the Hondas can make the hard rear work properly, and even then, only very occasionally.

The hard slides too much and is hard to get up to temperature, though it is massively improved on previous years. The way the Honda works, sliding the rear to provide drive, allows the hard rear to still get grip. The Yamaha’s high corner speed style requires more grip to get drive, and that is only possible with the softer of the two tires.

Bridgestone’s decision appears to be unnecessarily cautious: even with blisters on his rear tire, Valentino Rossi was still lapping fast. With only the hard tire to race, the Yamahas can be sure of finishing, but are likely to finish down the field.

With the softer option at their disposal, they are in with a chance of racing at the front, and bumping the Hondas down the grid a little. And that could help Jorge Lorenzo’s defense an awful lot.

Photos: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

David Emmett

One of MotoGP's most respected journalists, David Emmett is the proprietor of the esteemed MotoMatters. We are very grateful to republish David's work here on A&R...though dread the day we ever again get in a car with him.