Episode 168 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics, as the pair discusses the French GP at Le Mans.
The guys kickoff the show with a discussion of how the weather affected the race, and especially how it turned tire choice into a gamble, but one that produced a popular winner.
Of course, there has to be a conversation about Danilo Petrucci’s victory, along with Alex Marquez getting on the podium.
“It was a very tricky day in Le Mans, like always,” was the verdict of Fabio Quartararo on Friday evening, after a wet morning session and afternoon practice on a track which was rapidly drying, but never quite dry.”
“He spoke for just about everyone, the track proving especially treacherous in the afternoon, ending FP2 almost completely dry with a few damp patches, enough to catch a few riders out, including Aprilia’s Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, KTM rookie Brad Binder, and the LCR Honda of Takaaki Nakagami.
Most were just harmless falls, the front washing out on a damp patch, but Bradley Smith found himself propelled into the air when the traction control on his Aprilia RS-GP couldn’t react quickly enough to the rear spinning up when he hit a damp patch on track.
And so we enter the final stretch of the 2020 MotoGP season – and the fact that six Yamaha engineers are stuck in Andorra due to one of them contracting Covid-19 is a reminder that the end of the 2020 season might come sooner than expected.
MotoGP heads to Le Mans, for the French Grand Prix, not in May, when the series usually heads there. That means cooler temperatures, not just in terms of air temperatures, but in solar intensity as well.
Le Mans in early October gets four hours less sunshine than in mid May, and with the sun much lower in the sky, it doesn’t heat the asphalt as much even when it is hidden by curtains of cloud, or drenched in rain.
But Le Mans has some saving graces. Firstly, the weather in October is pretty much as you might expect, something which proved problematic in Barcelona, where temperatures were about 10°C colder than expected.
One unnamed Yamaha engineer has tested positive for Covid-19 in the period between Barcelona and Le Mans, and as a result of MotoGP’s bubble structure, the group of six engineers, including M1 project leader Takahiro Sumi, have been quarantined in Andorra and are to miss the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first forced Dorna to start moving races, they postponed them to later in the year. First Thailand, then Austin, and finally Argentina were moved to new slots in October and November.
But, when it became clear that Jerez and Le Mans could not take place on their planned dates, those races were postponed indefinitely, with no new date given for when they might be held. Now, the first signs of races being canceled are appearing.
The COVID-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc on the 2020 MotoGP calendar. Today, Dorna announced that the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, due to be held on 15th-17th May, has been postponed until further notice.
As happened with Jerez, no new date for Le Mans has been announced. MotoGP, like all other international sports, faces a huge problem in putting together a calendar, in the face of uncertainty over how long restrictions on travel and events will continue.
The key to success in MotoGP is adapting to the tools you have been given. That means understanding what the bike will and won’t do, and how to get the most out of it.
It means understanding how to make a tire last, where to use the available grip, and how to save wear as much as possible. It means knowing what your crew chief needs to know to give you the bike you need. And it means understanding where a track will give you an advantage, and where to minimize your losses.
The 2019 MotoGP field is an object lesson in just how difficult this can be. Johann Zarco went from chasing podiums on the Tech3 Yamaha to competing for points on the factory Red Bull KTM.
Jorge Lorenzo went from being a red hot favorite on the Yamaha to struggling on the Ducati to winning on the Ducati to struggling on the Repsol Honda.
Their prospects of success on these bikes are down to their approach. Lorenzo learned on the Ducati that he had to change his riding style, and if he did, Ducati could tweak the bike to bring it closer to something he could use, and eventually a bike he was capable of winning on.
He is now going through that process again on the Honda. Zarco has tried and failed to get his head around the fact that the KTM will not ever be a Yamaha, and he cannot try to ride it like one. He persists in trying to be smooth, while Pol Espargaro wrestles the RC16 ever further forward.
Episode 103 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison and David Emmett on the microphones, as we discuss the happenings at the French GP at Le Mans.
As usual, the guys cover the on track action at the race, as well as the goings on behind the scenes in the paddock.
The main topic of the show is Marc Marquez, who rode a master class race in France, and showed a truly unstoppable form throughout the race weekend.
Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day.
Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.
The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session.
The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.
The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them.
The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.
The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted.
Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.
But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third.
We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez’ trick, instead ending up in the gravel.
We learned that Alex Rins still can’t put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.
First, race pace. For once, the top of the combined Friday practice timesheet is representative of likely pace in the race. Both Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez are capable of lapping in the low 1’32s, on old tires and without too much effort.
That Márquez is quick should not come as a surprise, the Repsol Honda rider is fast, and has been at most tracks this year. But Viñales believes that Yamaha have made a minor breakthrough, and he is capable of being fast at many tracks.
Le Mans is very much a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of a weekend. The city of Le Mans is utterly charming and sedate, its historical center full of buildings reaching back to the 12th Century.
The Le Mans circuit (the shorter Bugatti Circuit used by MotoGP and motorcycle racing events, that is) is a run down affair beside an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.
In the evenings, the central square in Le Mans has peaceful and civilized air, where people gather to eat and drink. A few miles further south, inside the circuit and at the campsites which surround it, mayhem is unleashed, a bawdy, rowdy riot of drink, fire, and noise.
The atmosphere during the day is the opposite, almost, a friendly, lively, and especially passionate crowd roam the wooded areas around the track, enjoying some of the richest entertainment you will find at a race track anywhere around the world.
In the evenings? Well, best leave the track before the sun goes down. Though the entertainment goes on all night – a ploy forced on the organizers to keep the bike fans out of the town in the evening – the atmosphere turns from joyful to wild and chaotic. At night, things can get a little unruly.