Dovizioso Makes Good in FP2
In the middle of a heat wave, the first day of MotoGP practice for the Czech Republic Grand Prix started out unexpectedly wet, the sweeping Brno track only fully drying in the afternoon, midway through MotoGP’s FP2.
Although slick tires had been possible from the start, this lead to rapidly improving times in the later stages, with Andrea Dovizioso’s (above) Ducati emerging massively on top by almost half a second.
“The time sheets are not the reality,” the double 2017 race winner said, “because many riders did not use soft tires. But I am happy in the afternoon that we can confirm our speed on this track, and I was happy in the morning also, to have the chance to test soft and hard rain tires.”
Dovi was as yet unsure whether he would use Ducati’s new ducted fairing essayed by teammate Lorenzo, having not even tested it yet.
Next up was Jonas Folger, the Monster Yamaha rider’s confidence at a favorite track boosted by his second in the last round in Germany.
He had only narrowly gone faster than Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati).
Second Monster Yamaha rider Johann Zarco was fourth, from erstwhile leader Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati) and Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding.
Dani Pedrosa in seventh was the top Honda, with factory Repsol Honda teammate Marc Marquez 10th. Good enough, if it is wet tomorrow morning, for each to go straight into Qualifying 2. As importantly, they had been at the sharp end in the wet, Marquez a close second to Zarco, and Pedrosa fourth behind Lorenzo.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was eighth in the dry; Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) ninth.
Both factory Yamahas were out of the top 10, with Vinales 11th and Rossi 14th, and worried that tomorrow morning might be damp again.
Each now had a pair of identical Mk2 2017 chassis, which was important, said Rossi. “At the last two races we had one new and one old, but now we can work more accurately with two the same.”
Moto2: Pasini pulls clear
Moto2 FP2 at the close of the afternoon was fully dry, with Mugello winner Mattia Pasini (above) putting his Italtrans Kalex better than two tenths clear of compatriot Francesco Bagnaia, top class rookie, on the SKY VR46 Kalex.
Xavi Vierge (Tech3) was third, then Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) and Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Suter), before the next Kalex, ridden by runaway title leader Franco Morbidelli. The EG-VDS rider crashed late in the session but was unhurt.
Moto3: One wild, wildcard
Moto3 saw the usual stars humiliated by a wild card, with German Tim Georgi (above, Freudenberg KTM) fastest in the morning rain, and heading the afternoon session as well, in spite of slipping off, until the closing minutes.
Then the usual suspects took over, points leader and multi-race winner Joan Mir (Leopard Honda) fully four tenths clear of two more Hondas, with Aron Canet second, then Adam Norrodin.
Mugello winner Andrea Migno (KTM) was fourth, and Mahindra rookie Manuel Pagliani fifth, ahead of Goergi, who had not improved on his morning time.
Friday News Wrap up
Vale Angel Nieto
A sombre overlay shrouded the first day of the Czech Republic GP, with news coming the evening before of the death of racing legend Angel Nieto.
Thirteen times World Champion in the smaller classes (superstitious, he preferred to call it “12 plus one”), Nieto was second only to Agostini in the number of titles; and third in the world with 90 race wins (Ago has 122, Rossi 115).
Nieto won six 50cc championships and seven in 125s; on five different makes: Bultaco, Derbi, Garelli, Kreidler and Minarelli. He named Barry Sheene as his most respected rival, although the British rider rapidly moved up to the 500cc class, leaving the tiddlers behind. Nieto retired in 1986, aged 39.
By then, he had been the pioneer of a surge of Spanish interest in motorcycle racing, which continues to this day.
Nieto remained a major paddock figure, formerly as a team manager, more recently as a TV commentator, and throughout as a friend, mentor, advisor and inspiration to several generations of Spanish riders.
Now aged 70, Nieto was injured when his quad bike was hit by a tourist’s car on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza on July 26. He suffered head injuries and was put into an induced coma. Doctors had an encouraging prognosis and started to bring him out of the coma, but on August 3 his condition suddenly deteriorated, and he died later that afternoon.
Tributes to Nieto came from far and wide, including at a restrained but quietly emotional press announcement by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta (above), who spoke of Nieto as not only a great champion but also an unforgettable personality, and a close friend.
Marquez said: “He was one of the first legends, and he came to me at the beginning. We spent a lot of time in his motorhome, watching football.” (Supporting rival teams.)
Rossi also had memories of him and his physical fitness and “power” as he approached his seventies. “Last week his mother turned 100. I remember maybe five years ago we went out in Ibiza. After all night, at about 5:00 am, I wanted to go to bed – but Angel said ‘No, no; there is another club we need to visit’.”
Ducati’s New Dress
Ducati has taken the plunge half a season after its rivals, homologating a new “no-wings” ducted fairing that Jorge Lorenzo (above) hopes will improve the front-end feeling in the same way as last year’s wings.
The bodywork, the most overt example of any this year, was kept behind screens until late in the afternoon FP2 session, and so far has been used (and thus homologated) by Lorenzo, with fellow Desmosedici GP17 riders Dovizioso and Petrucci still on the old version.
There is no subtlety, although this is marginally less extreme than the so-called “hammerhead” that was tested but not homologated earlier this year.
Again, there are large boxes either side of the nose, with a slit down the side as well as at the exit. The previous version, larger and with closed sides, was deemed to offer minimal benefit at the cost of too much drag, and was ditched.
According to Lorenzo, the second attempt is better.
“We tested it in the break and I like the feeling,” said Lorenzo, confirming that he was seeking to improved “front contact. It feels different, and I like it a lot,” he said. “So hopefully it will improve our position.”
It had that effect in the dry afternoon session, cutting eight tenths of a second off his previous lap time. However, others were also speeding up and in the end he still lay 15th overall, 1.3 seconds behind the leader—his wingless teammate Dovizioso.
The time improvement was, said Lorenzo, as much a function of the drying track; but the potential, in just five laps, was “very positive”.
“Tomorrow we need to make more kilometers and to work on settings,” Lorenzo said. “We need more rear grip with the wings.” It was difficult to replicate real wings, “but it is closer. I feel the effect is 80 percent positive, and 20 percent negative.” Direction changes had not been much affected, he said.
Dovizioso has yet to test the new fairing, and was reserving judgement. “We need to analyze the data, and perhaps we will use it tomorrow, or at the next race.”
Rivals exercised their ducted bodywork all weekend, with both Yamahas using the sandwich-side ducted fairing, as well as Suzuki and Aprilia.
At Honda, both riders also used their ducted bodywork, very seldom seen this year.
HRC have homologated different versions for each rider.
Marquez uses full side-vent add-ons, but Pedrosa a smaller version.
Jorge and the Red Beast
Lorenzo (above) was starting the second half of his first year with Ducati with his perspective changed from the beginning of the year.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect these [bad] results—but it has been going better.
“I expect further adjustments. In the last races, we have been getting better, but the steps are small.
“After the first half we are more far from the front than I expected, but not so far it is impossible. We have one third place, have almost been on pole and have led some laps. We are not as far away as it looks.”
Erratic performance by Michelin tires has spiced up the results sheets with unpredictability, but left riders inconvenienced and worse, halfway through the French company’s second return season.
The hardest hit might be the factory Yamaha riders, with tires that enable victory at some races but at lower-grip tracks make it a big struggle to get into the top 10.
But the effect filters throughout and has been costly especially for KTM, without a stable tire platform on which to base development of their new bike.
According to rider Bradley Smith: “It has made our life really difficult. We can have massive problems with our bike at some tracks, but also from the tires. Some weekends we learn nothing in terms of development. We have to get through the weekend.”
Another to feel the problems is Cal Crutchlow, with an important test and development role with Honda. “I’m not best pleased,” he said.
“At some races, some riders get good tires and some get bad tires.
“The Michelins are not as consistent as what we had before [the previous control Bridgestones]. The allocation is difficult too. What works for most of us often doesn’t work for a few of us.”
Taxed with a similar question, whether unpredictable tires were a block to development, at the annual group manufacturers’ technical press conference, representatives of all declined to take the bait to criticize Michelin.
Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna even turned the question around. “The tires are the most important things on the motorcycle. In Ducati, we have learned a lot in the past two years about tire wear, and how to work on set-up to improve conditions. So, I am happy with what we have learned.
“Everyone complains about the tires,” he continued; “But sometimes the lack of grip is not from tires but the tracks. We need to work on track surfaces also.”
The Saga of Sam
Is Sam Lowes (above) safe in the Aprilia team? Before the summer break rumors were rife that the ex-Moto2 star would be dropped after his first year—fueled by interviews given by team chief Romano Albesiano suggesting he was seeking a replacement.
The rider responded in the run-up to Brno with confidence, pointing out his two-year contract with the Italian manufacturer.
Now Albesiano has added fuel to the smoking fire. Asked directly whether Lowes’s position with the team was stable, he replied: “We are in a stabilization phase. It is difficult for a rookie in MotoGP, but this year some rookies have shown very good performance. We are hoping that in these two races Sam can show how he has been able to improve.”
To Wing, or Not
Wings were banned this year for two reasons—safety, and cost. In the interest of the latter, a design freeze allows just one update during the season. The manufacturers were asked if the ban had actually saved money, or simply added to costly time spent in the wind tunnel and the CAD computers. Replies were mixed.
Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna remains a fan of winglets and a vocal opponent of the ban, insisting again that “without winglets the bikes are less safe”. He added: “The first fairing was more expensive, but for the second the cost is more or less the same as before.”
Aprilia’s Romano Albesiano explained further. “Last year you could just put on a couple of winglets and go. Now it is more complex: you need to figure out how to get downforce: so, the technical cost is higher. But the limited number of fairings can save something.”
Here Comes Finland
The confirmation of the Finnish GP at the as-yet unbuilt Kymiring (above) for five years from 2019 defers the race for one year, but with Thailand expected to join the calendar as soon as next year, threatens an expansion of the calendar from 18 to 20 races.
There are similarities with the abortive and now defunct Circuit of Wales, where Dorna signed a contract with an unbuilt circuit. But work has started at the Kymiring, although expectations it might be ready next year have been put on hold.
There is little doubt that all current races will remain on the calendar, although it was originally said that four races in Spain (Jerez, Catalunya, Aragon and Valencia) were there as padding, and might give way in the future.
Marquez repeated his comments from earlier in the year. “I think 20 races is the limit. Already 18 is quite a lot. Then we need to manage testing more: F1 has more races and less testing.”
F1 however could test on simulators, an option not available to motorcycles. Rossi continued the theme. “We are following a little F1. I prefer races to testing, so we can manage it. The important thing is to go to tracks of a high standard.”
Crutchlow had a view of his own. “For me, 18 is enough. But if it was 22, I’d have to do 22. I can’t miss four races.
“I think the riders need to get together. They have to put our salaries up. We already spend a lot of time away from home.”
Nakamoto Is Back
Former HRC executive chief and leader of the Repsol-backed factory Honda team Shuhei Nakamoto (above, with Marc Marquez) has joined Dorna, after reaching official Japanese retirement age at the end of last season.
The outwardly jovial Nakamoto will act as a special advisor, particularly alongside Alberto Puig in the Talent Promotion department. This initiative is behind the current Asia, British and European Talent Cups. Nakamoto will also be supporting and liaising with Asian riders.
Nakamoto’s long career with Honda began I the chassis design department, encompassed a frustrating spell heading an abortive F1 team before returning to two wheels in MotoGP in 2009. The team won four rider and five manufacturer titles during his incumbency.
Welcome Joe Roberts
A new American has joined the GP circus, after a dearth of US riders since the departure of Nicky Hayden. He is Joe Roberts (above, no relation to Kenny), a Californian, who has moved from the AGR Spanish CEV championship team straight into the same squad’s Moto2 team in place of the departed Yonny Hernandez.
The Columbian had been struggling to replicate his earlier Moto2 form after five years in MotoGP, and was dismissed after a first half of his return season in the middle class after scoring points just three times, with a best of ninth in Spain.
Roberts (20) started strongly, placed 14th in the wet at a track familiar from Red Bull rookie days; but was 32nd in the dry afternoon.