Loris Baz has finally found his place in MotoGP. After being signed and then disposed of by the Aspar team, the Forward Racing team finally announced that they have signed the 21-year-old Frenchman for the 2015 season.
Baz will line up alongside Stefan Bradl on board the Open class Forward Yamaha. The Forward Yamaha will be close to a 2014 spec satellite Yamaha M1, but using the Open software.
Colin Edwards will contest only three more MotoGP rounds in the 2014 season. The Texan is to race at Indianapolis, Silverstone and Valencia, before hanging up his helmet. From Brno, Alex De Angelis will take Edwards’ place, and Edwards will race as a third rider for the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team in the UK and at the last race of the year.
Edwards’ final year in MotoGP has not gone according to plan. The Texas Tornado had hoped that the arrival of the Yamaha Open class bike at Forward, to replace the Kawasaki-powered CRT machine would spark a revival in his fortunes.
When Edwards finally got to ride the Open class Yamaha, however, he found to his dismay that he could not get on with the Yamaha chassis, and was unable to get the bike to turn. He had pinned his hopes on the arrival of a chassis from FTR, but financial problems for the British chassis manufacturer meant he was left to struggle with the Yamaha frame until Mugello.
When a new chassis did arrive, fresh from the drawing board of now ex-FTR designer Mark Taylor, it did not see Edwards drastically improve his pace.
As had been widely anticipated, Stefan Bradl has signed with the NGM Forward Racing team for the 2015 season. The German had been forced to look for a ride after losing his support from HRC, Honda providing a major part of the backing for Bradl at the LCR Honda team.
Although LCR were keen to retain the German, without financial support from HRC, that would have been a costly business. With HRC backing Cal Crutchlow, Bradl was left to look elsewhere.
This year’s silly season may have been a bit disappointing, at least when you consider that many of the top riders had contracts up for renewal this year.
Instead, we saw Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Dani Pedrosa all stay-put with their current manufacturers, and likely we will add Jorge Lorenzo to that list during the Indianapolis GP, as the Spaniard is said to be close to a one-year contract with Yamaha Racing.
One of the bigger question marks though has been Cal Crutchlow, as the Briton has made no secret about his displeasure with the Desmosedici GP14. Finding the paddock gossip about the Ducati to be true, Crutchlow currently faces a steep learning curve to bring his performance on the GP14 in-line with Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, both of whom already have a season on the Desmosedici under their belts.
With an option to leave Ducati Corse midway through his two-year contract, rumors about Crutchlow’s departure have been escalating, despite Ducati’s announcement at World Ducati Week 2014 that Crutchlow would remain with the team. Now, the Italian press tipping him to leave for a seat at LCR Honda.
There are those who say that Marc Marquez is due for a big crash soon. He is always riding so close to the edge of traction that at some point, he will go over the limit and suffer the consequences, they reason. They will therefore not have been surprised to learn that Marquez had a huge highside on Friday morning.
What will surprise them is the cause of the crash. It was not due to pushing his Honda RC213V beyond the limits of adhesion, he explained to the media afterwards, but was caused by a minor slip of his foot. His toe touched the gear lever, clicking the bike into 3rd, and that caused the rear tire to grip momentarily and flick him off.
The crash happened at Turn 2. “You turn with the gas in second gear,” Marquez said. “I didn’t know at the time, but I was touching a little bit the gear lever.” In the last part of the corner, he accidentally engaged third, and as he kept the throttle in the same position, the bike highsided.
Marquez was thrown upside down, and landed on his neck. He was lucky to walk away, but walk away he did. He returned to the garages and was straight back on the bike again, posting the sixth fastest time, six tenths off the pace of Aleix Espargaro, and a third of a second behind Jorge Lorenzo.
By the afternoon, Marquez was back at full speed, and second quickest behind Aleix Espargaro once again. He still had some stiffness in his neck, he said, but it was not really hindering him.
“The neck feels a bit locked in some corners, but it is not a problem,” he said. Intensive physiotherapy kept his neck warm, and prevented it from seizing up and becoming painful. That only happened after the session was over, and his neck started to cool down.
There was some question of why Marquez was allowed to continue straight away. After what was obviously a very serious crash, Marquez was not subjected to a physical examination to check for signs of a concussion. This is a recurring problem in MotoGP, with pressure on riders to get back on the bike as soon as possible.
Only in very severe and obvious cases does the circuit doctor intervene, and so far this has not caused any problems. How long it will continue without a rider hurting themselves by going back out too soon remains to be seen. There may be a role here for more forceful action by the Medical Director and circuit doctor.
A failed experiment, it may have been, but one good thing to come from the Claiming Rule Team (CRT) regulations in MotoGP was the ability for private teams to own the GP machines they were racing, rather than be victim to the lease programs imposed by the factories.
As a result, from time-to-time we get to see these truly special motorbikes come on the market, and today is one such occasion. Listed for sale on eBay is the Forward Racing’s Kawasaki-FTR race bike that was campaigned by Colin Edwards during the 2013 MotoGP season.
For those who don’t know, the Kawasaki-FTR MotoGP bike uses an engine from a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, which has been built out by France’s venerable Akira tuning house, as well as a custom chassis that has been built by the UK’s FTR-Moto.
With a dry weight of 157 kg (346 lbs), and a peak horsepower figure of 245+ horsepower at the crank, this might be the ultimate Kawasaki on the market.
Colin Edwards is to finally get the new chassis he has been waiting for. NGM Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari told MotoGP.com that the team will have a new frame at Mugello, along with a new front fairing. A new seat unit and subframe would also be available. The new parts will only make their appearance on race day, Cuzari said.
More parts would appear after Barcelona, Cuzari said, which would bring their bike to approximately 75% of the machine planned for next year, which will be a complete rolling chassis with Yamaha engines. The parts would initially only be given to Colin Edwards, who has struggled to get to grips with the Yamaha chassis.
He has been unable to get the bike to turn, leaving him well off the pace of teammate Aleix Espargaro. Espargaro has been very happy with the chassis supplied by Yamaha, when supply problems left Forward with a frame. In 2015, Yamaha have committed to only supplying engines, with chassis no longer being available.
Who can stop Marc Marquez? By the look of the FP2 timesheet, maybe Andrea Iannone can. The Pramac Ducati rider ended Friday just 0.007 behind Marquez, the closest anyone has been to him on a Friday since Qatar.
Looks are, of course, deceptive, and if you dig a little deeper you see that Iannone’s fastest lap, though impressive, was made using a tow from Dani Pedrosa, just as the Repsol Honda rider was setting his fastest lap of the session. Iannone also benefited from using the extra soft rear tire which Ducati is allowed to use, making it that little bit easier to post a quick lap.
Iannone should not be written off too quickly, however. Pedrosa slowed up to let Iannone past immediately after the pair had set their quick laps, and on the next clear lap, Iannone got into the 1’33s again, posting a time equal to Pedrosa’s best lap, but this time, all on his own.
Whether he can convert that to consistent pace in the race remains to be seen. The Italian appears to be circulating around the 1’34.3 mark. Fast, but not fast enough to match what Marquez appears to be capable of.
For real race pace, you have to look a little further down the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo appears to have refound his mojo, and is starting to grind out the laps. The Movistar Yamaha rider put in 16 full laps during FP2, 5 of which were 1’34.1s, plus a single lap of 1’34.054. This is the Lorenzo of old, working on consistent pace and slowly ratcheting up the pace.
Lorenzo’s pace is still no match for Marquez – the Repsol Honda man seems capable of banging in 1’33.8s at will – but it is clearly the best of the rest. It has taken four races for the real Jorge Lorenzo to make an appearance, but at least he is finally here.
According to Italian Sky TV, the Jerez round of MotoGP could be the very last race for Colin Edwards, as the Texas Tornado could relinquish his place in MotoGP directly after the Spanish race, to make way for another rider.
NGM Forward team boss Giovanni Cuzari told Italian Sky TV that there would be a meeting on Monday with Edwards to discuss his future with the team. Forward’s sponsors are reportedly not happy with having Aleix Espargaro circulating at the front, while Edwards has been unable to match the pace of his teammate.
Edwards has been unhappy with the Yamaha chassis from the very beginning, and had hoped to receive a chassis from FTR, which Forward had originally intended to race for 2014.
However, Forward has allegedly not paid FTR for the chassis, and the British chassis builder has refused to supply the frames, which are rumored to be now sitting idly in the company’s headquarters in Buckingham.
If Edwards was to step down, then the most likely candidate to replace him is Danilo Petrucci. The young Italian could be moved out of the IODA Racing team to ride the Forward Yamaha.
That would make room for Leon Camier, who originally signed with IODA to contest the 2014 season aboard the ART machine, but that deal fell through when IODA lost sponsorship, and could not afford to run two riders. Moving Petrucci to Forward and slotting Camier into IODA would resolve that situation.
Simone Corsi has also been linked to the ride, as the Forward Moto2 rider is set to test the bike during the MotoGP test on Monday. That, however, is to evaluate a move to MotoGP in 2015, rather than to move him up immediately.
To check the veracity of the Italian TV reports though, we went to Giovanni Cuzari himself, to ask him what he had actually said. Cuzari claimed that Italian TV misinterpreted his words, and Edwards would be free to ride for the rest of his contract.
When asked what he had told Italian television, Cuzari said “I tell them that the next race, starting on Monday, I would like to speak to my rider Colin Edwards, who has a deal with me to the end of the season, and I will 100% respect my deal. But, if he’s uncomfortable to stay like this, he’s able to do what he wants, nothing else.”
Those who fear a Marquez whitewash at the Circuit of the Americas could draw some comfort from the raw numbers on the timesheets as Saturday progressed.
Marquez’s gap from Friday was cut dramatically, first to under a second in FP3, then to a third of a second in FP4, before being slashed to less than three tenths in qualifying. Is the end of Marquez’s dominance at Austin in sight?
But raw numbers are deceptive. Sure, the gap in single lap times is small, but there is still no one who can get close to the reigning world champion. Marquez’s four flying laps were faster than the best laps by any other rider on the grid.
Second place man Dani Pedrosa’s fastest lap was still slower than Marquez’s slowest. In FP4, Marquez punched out four laps in the 2’03s, while the best anyone else could do is lap in the 2’04s.
During the morning FP3 session, Marquez racked up five 2’03s, while only Pedrosa could manage two 2’03s, Stefan Bradl, Andrea Dovizioso and Bradley Smith managing only a single solitary lap under 2’04.
Where the others took eight or nine tenths off their best time during qualifying, Marquez only improved on his previous best by a quarter of a second.
“It looks like Marc always rides at qualifying pace,” Jorge Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg quipped. Given the string of 2’03s Marquez hammered out on hard tires in race trim during FP4, that bodes ill for the rest of the riders.
A measure of just how confident and comfortable Marquez is at Austin – a local journalist finally got the Spaniard to admit that the circuit favors the Honda, a small triumph in itself – came during FP4, and then again during qualifying.
In Q2, Marquez lost the front in the tight left-hander, saved it, nearly lost it again, then got on the gas again as if nothing had happened. In FP4, while testing a change to the weight distribution, Marquez found himself running straight on at the end of the back straight three laps in a row.
On one lap, the rear came up as he hit one of the few bumps on the circuit, and instead of struggling to regain control, Marquez tried to control it and carry it on as far as possible. He grinned as he recounted the experience to the press conference. This young man is in his element, which bodes ill for the competition.
Announcing his decision during the pre-event press conference for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Colin Edwards told the assembled press that 2014 would be the Texan’s last season racing a motorcycle.
Citing a lack of improvement on his performance in pre-season testing and at the Qatar GP, Edwards decision perhaps answers the lingering question in the paddock of when the American rider would hang-up his spurs after an illustrious career in AMA, WSBK and MotoGP.