Here’s all the MotoGP happenings from Friday at the Aragon GP in Spain.
A number of the MotoGP teams have had a busy test at the Aragon circuit over the past two days. This is the test that played a role in not being able to move the Silverstone race to the Monday, a public holiday in the UK, as the trucks needed to travel the 2000km from Towcester to Alcañiz and set up ready for testing.
On Wednesday, Suzuki, Yamaha, and KTM were the factories taking to the track, with the Pramac Ducati squad also present. Thursday saw Yamaha and Pramac depart to make way for the factory Ducati squad. The teams were met with much better weather than at Silverstone, allowing two full days of testing, with the track improving as it got cleaned up with bikes circulating.
We knew it was going to rain at some point on Friday, the only question was when. Well, not quite the only question.
The other question was, if it did rain, would the MotoGP riders go out and ride in the rain? Or would they deem the Red Bull Ring to be too dangerous to ride in the wet, and sit out practice, as they had threatened when rain had caused Moto2 riders to fall like skittles last year?
It started to rain in the early afternoon, right at the end of Moto3 FP2.
Thankfully, not heavily enough to claim too many casualties, though Nicolo Bulega did suffer a massive highside after the checkered flag had fallen, his bike flying through the air and clouting Nakarin Atiratphuvapat around the head, the Thai rider trying to fend off the airborne KTM with one hand, while trying not to fall off with the other.
From that moment on, the rain started to pelt down. A rivulet started running across pit lane exit, and standing water formed on the steep downhill sections of Turns 1 through 4.
It rained so heavily that MotoGP FP2 was delayed for 20 minutes or so, as the safety car circulated testing conditions. But the session was eventually given the green light, and riders were free to enter the track. Would anyone attempt it?
Alex Rins was the first to test the waters, venturing out and then heading straight back in. Johann Zarco was the next, the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider the first to put in consistent laps, though conditions were not really up to it.
“When I start, even if we have mapping for the rain, there is too much power and I was fifth gear and spinning in fifth gear all the time,” Zarco said. “Also I have to have half-throttle to go and to make the straight.”
It is hot at Brno. It was hot at Assen, it was hot at the Sachsenring, and it is positively scorching at Brno. Air temperatures are at a relatively bearable 34°C, but the asphalt tentatively broke the 50°C during FP2.
That is officially what is known colloquially as a scorcher, testing riders, teams, and above all, tires on the first day of practice at Brno. Where last year, the riders concentrated on the soft and the medium Michelins, on Friday, the MotoGP riders spent their time assessing the medium and the hard.
The downside of forcing Michelin to choose tires for the entire season back in February is that sometimes, their crystal ball fails them, and the weather deviates wildly from what might reasonably be expected. The heatwave which has Europe in a vice-like grip is just such a case.
There are upsides to the heat, though they are perhaps unexpected. There were just four fallers at Brno on Friday across all three classes, less than half the number from last year, a third of the number in 2016, and a massive five and a half times fewer than the 22 crashers in 2015. It’s hot and dry, so the tires will definitely grip.
12 Ducati racers. 12 Ducati Panigale V4 S superbikes. 12 race liveries to drool over. If you are not on the Adriatic Coast of Italy right now, you are missing out on one of the motorcycle industry’s best events…even if you don’t ride a Ducati motorcycle. This is because World Ducati Week 2018 is about to kickoff in Misano this weekend, and while the festival has plenty to keep you entertained, one of the highlights to the three-day event will certainly be the Race of Champions. Slotted to race will be a dozen names that should be familiar to motorcycle racing fans: Troy Bayliss, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Michele Pirro, Chaz Davies (who will miss the race because of a broken collarbone), Marco Melandri, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Xavi Fores, Michael Rinaldi, Tito Rabat, and Karel Abraham.
It is a truism in MotoGP that though they hand out the trophies on Sunday, the race is often won on Friday and Saturday. Practice is when riders and teams can find the setup tweaks they need to go faster, evaluate tire choices, and plan a strategy.
Which tires offer the most potential? Which area of the track can we gain most while sacrificing the least in other points? Is there more to be gained by pushing hard early and trying to manage, or by being patient in the first half of the race, hoping to have an advantage in the second half?
The wide range of tires offered by Michelin make practice even more important. Michelin’s remit from Dorna is to produce three front tires and three rear tires that can all be used during the race.
That requires a certain amount of compromise: labeling tires soft, medium, and hard does not mean that Michelin make three tires with an equal step in between the three different tires. It is more like an indicator of how well the French tire make expects each tire to cope with the heat and stress of a race, and the trade off in terms of grip.
So a soft and a medium tire may use the same rubber on one side of the tire, or on opposite sides of the tire. Or they may use the same compounds with a stiffer carcass, to reduce flex and therefore the amount of heat being generated.
Understanding how all these factors work together, and what that will mean for the race, is what the teams spend their time doing in practice. The team and rider that does this best on Friday and Saturday gets to spend Sunday evening celebrating their victory during the race. If all goes to plan, of course.
Betting on Marc Márquez to take pole and win the race at the Sachsenring looks like the safest bet imaginable. From 2010 until 2017, Marc Márquez has started the race on pole and gone on to take victory in all three of the Grand Prix classes he has raced in. Márquez is truly the King of the Sachsenring.
Friday seemed to merely underline the Repsol Honda rider’s dominance at the Sachsenring. Though he didn’t top the timesheets in either FP1 or FP2, that was only because he hadn’t bothered putting in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick time.
Take a look at underlying race rhythm, and Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
That pace continued into Saturday morning. Once again, Márquez was not the fastest – he finished sixth in FP3 – but in terms of pace, he had half a step on everyone else. But it was only that: half a step. Others were starting to catch the Spaniard. Could he really be in trouble for the race?
Márquez looked even weaker in FP4. Sure, he had a bunch of mid-1’21s, but he had lost a couple of tenths to the sharp end of the field, perhaps discouraged by the small crash he had in the first corner, when he failed to save the front from going.
He ended the session in tenth. A worrying development, given there is no incentive for riders to stick in a soft tire for FP4, as it does not have an effect on whether a rider progresses straight to Q2 or not.
Another Friday, another save that would have seen any other rider rolling through the gravel. And at Assen, with its collection of terrifyingly fast corners, rolling through the gravel often ends up rolling into the back of an ambulance, and X-rays, cat scans, and metal plates holding your bones together.
But Friday wouldn’t be Friday without Marc Márquez folding the front completely, jabbing his elbow into the tarmac, and hanging on long enough for the front to catch again and stay upright, or what passes for upright if your name is Marc Márquez.
This time it happened at the Ruskenhoek, the very fast left hander after the Veenslang back straight, where the bikes flick right, then long left, and then right again for the short run towards Stekkenwal.
Márquez was traveling at something approaching 200km/h when the front went, but he caught it, stayed on board, and ended up running just off track and clipping the gravel. “I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t want to have a ‘safe’ crash in fourth gear at a very high-speed corner,” Márquez explained.
Holding your line is difficult because of the track changes direction at very high speed, so being precise is of the utmost importance, Márquez said.
“Here at Assen, the speed is so high and to take the correct lines is difficult but we were already in FP2, but in the first run it is always difficult to understand the lines and to be precise. A small mistake is a big mistake here: you cannot adjust with the brakes or the gas and you need to keep the speed during all the lap.”
Another weekend, another racetrack, but exactly the same story. We all gathered once again to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say about his future, and once again, Pedrosa had nothing to say.
“I know there are a lot of people waiting and wanting to know some information, but unfortunately not yet,” Pedrosa told the pre-event press conference.
“I can’t give any different news from what I already in Barcelona. I expect to, but still things are going slow, so we don’t know at this moment exactly. Sooner or later I will have something to say!”
Once bitten, twice shy, the media were a little more prepared this Thursday. Dorna had put Dani Pedrosa into the press conference, a little safer situation than the masses crowded into the HRC hospitality at Barcelona.
We were acting on a little more information as well: journalists have been talking to a range of sources since Barcelona, and so there is a much better sense of where we stand on the Petronas-Yamaha story, as I explained on Tuesday.
There was some hope Pedrosa might announce something, but a realistic expectation he would not. So the disappointment when the Repsol Honda rider told there was still no news on his future was much more limited at Assen than it had been at Montmeló.
Where do we stand? Sepang International Circuit boss Razlan Razali is at Assen this weekend, but unavailable for reporters, as he is in wall-to-wall meetings finalizing various details.
That suggests that the deal is basically done, and he is now going through the laborious business of tying up loose ends. There is a lot of work to be done to get a MotoGP team off the ground from scratch.
The team will consist of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli, though Pedrosa has still not put pen to paper on a deal. In theory, Pedrosa could still choose to retire, but he is not talking like a man on the verge of hanging up his helmet.
Pedrosa still has the fire, the only question is sorting out how much he is willing to settle for at the Petronas Yamaha team. The bike will be a full factory Yamaha, possibly an update or two behind the Movistar Yamaha team, but still highly competitive.
The Monday test at Barcelona felt like a proper test. Normally, such tests descend into a simple shoot out in the last fifteen minutes, frail egos demanding to finish fastest, especially when only pride is at stake.
But perhaps the Barcelona race had taken a little too much out of the protagonists, or the hot and humid conditions were simply not conducive to spend even more energy risking everything for pointless pride, or perhaps the riders realize that the season is now so tightly packed with no summer break that they cannot risk injury when it doesn’t count. Whatever the reason, at the test, people concentrated on testing.
Not that the riders or teams were particularly forthcoming about what exactly they were testing. Some were more open than others: Suzuki said they were testing a new swingarm, and engine update, and retesting the new chassis they have been using since Mugello.
Danilo Petrucci tested a new exhaust, a new gearbox, and a new swingarm, which he promptly broke by taking it for a tumble through the gravel.