Qatar MotoGP Results 2019
Well, we told you it was going to be close. But nobody could have predicted just how close. Records for closeness were smashed at Qatar, with the closest ever top 15, one of the closest podiums, and a thrilling victory by 0.023 of a second.
It went to Andrea Dovizioso, in a repeat of last year, holding off a terrier-like Marc Marquez in yet another battling last lap. As last year, they changed places five times on the final tour. As last year, Dovi had it under control, using a better last-corner exit and the power of his Mission Winnow Ducati to hold off the Repsol Honda’s final charge by the narrowest of margins.
Less than three tenths behind, a heroic Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) finally got ahead of frequent race leader Alex Rins on the clearly fully competitive 2019 Ecstar Suzuki.
This was the climax to a race where the combination of tyre-saving tactics and the equalising regulations made the premier class into an extraordinary spectacle, with bikes of close to 300 horsepower packed even closer than an already spectacular Moto3 race. At half distance of the 22-lap, 118.36km race, the top nine riders were still within less than 1.7 seconds (count them!), the sound was awe-inspiring, and positions were constantly changing all the way down the field.
Dovizioso’s control was unshakeable, even though his tactics were decided by circumstances. “It was a strange race. I didn’t really have that strategy, but I was managing my rear tyre.” This meant that Rins was frequently ahead. “His corner speed was amazing.” But apart from that, he hadn’t seen anybody else all race, “and I couldn’t analyse my points.”
On the penultimate lap, he ran a little wide to let Marquez through. Then “I saw he was struggling with the rear. He never give up, but I was able to answer, because I put him really on the limit.”
For the first time all weekend, Dovizioso used Ducati’s aero-wing under the front of the swing-arm. Questioned about aerodynamics after the race, as well as use of the much-discussed hole-shot system, he followed company policy, saying as little as possible.
But all major rival teams except Yamaha protested the use of the under swing-arm device; at the time of writing, no decision had been forthcoming. In a bout of extra bitchiness Alex Rins also protested that Crutchlow had passed him under a yellow flag – disallowed because the slipstream meant that Crutchlow couldn’t help doing it.
Marquez, who responded to the complaints by saying “I do my best on the track, and today one rider was faster than me,” remained jubilant. “It was the same like last year. It was so difficult to keep the line, but I tried to the end. I am very happy with 20 points, at a circuit where we struggle. This weekend I struggled a lot with the front. I used the medium [against his usual preferred hard], and I couldn’t push in the brakings.”
And while Rins and the Suzuki squad could be proud of their evening’s work and close fourth place, it was Crutchlow who got the hero’s welcome, after fighting back to fitness following his severe right leg injuries at last year’s Australian GP.
“I have to say thanks to a lot of people,” he said, naming surgeons, physiotherapists and his LCR team. “I pushed as hard as I could,, and I had problems with the rear tyre at the end.” It had been one of the best races in his career.
Heroism went down the field – singling out Valentino Rossi for special praise. The Monster Yamaha rider had struggled in qualifying, starting from 14th on the grid. He was soon picking his way forward, and at the back of the nine-strong group at half distance. But the 40-year-old’s never-say-die tactics were in overdrive. On lap 16 he got by his team-mate Maverick Vinales, who had qualified on pole but was losing places steadily, then closed on the front gang. His last victim, with three laps to go, was Danilo Petrucci’s factory Ducati, and he was almost two seconds ahead of him at the finish, and sniffing at Rins’s back wheel.
Fears of cold conditions and a slippery track at the start time of 8pm, an hour later than last year, came to naught, with Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith the only rider to crash.
Dovizioso led away from Miller and Marquez, with Crutchlow and the rest in hot pursuit. By lap two Joan Mir (Ecstar Suzuki) was up to fourth ahead of the fading Vinales, and the rookie got ahead of Crutchlow until lap nine. It was only in the later stages that he lost touch with the leaders.
Rins led over the line for the first time on lap eight, and for the next two laps; then it was Dovizioso again until the penultimate lap, when Marquez was in front over the line, just once.
The pack stayed close until well after half distance. By the end, Vinales recovered somewhat at the end to get ahead of impressive rookie Mir, who was fading by the end. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) was back in front of Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) at the end. Morbidelli was fading fast by now, and on the last lap lost tenth place to Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia.
Another three seconds away, Pol Espargaro’s lone Red Bull KTM was a couple of seconds clear of a big pack. This was led at the end by Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda), who suffered a dire first race on the factory bike. Still injured, he had fallen twice on Saturday, started from 15th, and bided his time to get back ahead of Andrea Iannone (Aprilia), Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM) and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha).
Quartararo had stalled on the grid and had to start from pit lane. He set fastest lap of the race as he caught up, but just missed out on the points.
Jack Miller had an even stranger race. Qualified fourth, he got a blazing start and was second behind Dovizioso on the first lap. On the second, however, he suddenly sat up and slowed, reached behind him, removed the seat pad, and threw it away, luckily without hitting any following riders.
It had come loose through the fast right-handers. He dropped to 11th, and moved back into the top ten soon afterwards. But his seating position and weight distribution was wrong, and as a result he chewed up his front tyre and had to retire.
Andrea Iannone crashed on the slowdown lap, after claiming two points in is Aprilia debut.
VisitQatar GRAND PRIX
MotoGP Race Classification 2019
Doha, Sunday, March 10, 2019
Hopes that the new Triumph power would t revitalise Moto2 came true in spades at Qatar. With the win decided by 0.26 of a second and third by the even smaller margin of 0.002 of a second, it was all the better because of the way the top challenger for the win came through from 12th on the first lap.
That was returned veteran Thomas Luthi, at 32 the oldest rider in the class; and he failed to displace long-time-leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP40 Kalex) by the narrowest of margins, after hunting him down and getting ahead briefly on the last lap.
Luthi, the first rider to return from MotoGP and achieve such success, had got through what turned into an equally fierce scrap for the last podium position.
His Exactweld team-mate Marcel Schrotter, who had started from a first pole, had finally lost the place to the transformed son-of-a-champion Remy Gardner (ONEXOX Kalex) on the final lap. But on the run to the line he got back ahead of the Australian by inches.
Fourth was Gardner’s career-best finish, but he was spitting mad. “I was down on speed. I was in front of him when we came onto the straight.”
Less than two tenths behind, second Flexbox-Pons rider Augusto Fernandez came through by half distance for a challenging fifth, getting past Alex Marquez (EG-VDS Kalex) to do so.
Marquez would lose another place to Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Kalex), the Briton gaining speed at the end for sixth, with Marquez less than two seconds behind.
Baldassarri had gained the lead on the second lap, and by lap 12 had managed to get almost a second clear. But at this stage Luthi had come through, and his arrival forced the pace of the pursuit. He was ahead of Gardner on lap 14, the Australian resisting strongly, and narrowly avoiding falling.
Luthi’s next target was his team-mate, and he was ahead of him cleanly on lap 17, the gap already down to 0.8 of a second.
There followed an inspiring pursuit over the last three laps. By the time they started the last one, he was right on the Italian’s tail. He did get ahead briefly, only for Baldassari to regain the lead on the cut-back … and he narrowly held off in the final sprint to the line.
“I really enjoyed that race, and it’s the best come-back I could have thought of,” said the former 125 champion; while an elated Baldassarri was almost beyond words after the level of effort. “Thanks to my team, and to the bike. It was fantastic,” he said.
Behind the top seven, Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Kalex) had been losing speed throughout; while class rookie Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Kalex) made a brilliant debut in ninth, his final victim being front-row starter Xavi Vierge (EG-VDS Kalex). Vierge had led the first lap, but started losing ground almost immediately, with grip problems.
It was an all-Kalex top ten, with the next-best another class rookie, with Fabio Di Giannantonio finally come out on top in a late dice with Red Bull KTM’s Brad Binder. The South African thought the Austrian bike’s problems were track-specific. “We were fastest at Jerez tests, so I think it is just here,” he said.
A couple of seconds adrift, Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Kalex) held off Jesko Raffin’s NTS; while rookie Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM) narrowly saved the last point from a closing Bo Bendsneyder (NTS).
American Racing’s Joe Roberts (KTM) was 22nd.
Iker Lecuona, Niccolo Bulega and Jorge Navarro crashed out on the first corner, followed soon afterwards by rookie Marco Bezzecchi. Nagashima and two more rookies, Chantra and Dixon, also crashed.
VisitQatar GRAND PRIX
Moto2 Race Classification 2019
Doha, Sunday, March 10, 2019
Kaito Toba became the first Japanese rider to win in Moto3 – and the first in any class since the late Shoyu Tomizawa in 2010 – in a typically nail-biting Moto3 race that brought the sun down at Qatar.
The 17-year-old Honda Team Asia rider, in his second season, prevailed over a grisly gang, ultra-close for the full distance. Starting from his first front row, he changed places twice on the final lap with second-placed Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Honda), who had led more times over the line than anybody else. The gap, as Toba came past again over the line, was just 0.053 of a second.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said the teenager, who had finished the first lap ninth, but led for the first time on the sixth and seventh laps.
Pole starter Aron Canet (Sterilgarda KTM) was just a tenth behind; with the top 11 riders crossing the line within one second.
Positions had swapped throughout, of course; but the big loser was returned racing bad boy Romano Fenati (Snipers Honda). He’d started badly from the fourth row, set a new record on the second lap, and before half distance had joined the front runners, leading for the first time on lap nine.
The veteran, back from Moto2 after being sacked in disgrace (and vowing to retire) after a brake-grabbing incident at Misano, was using trade-mark wide sweeping lines to fox his younger rivals; but was unable to break away.
Then he mistook a “track limits” warning on his dashboard for an actual penalty rather than a caution, and became the first rider to take a “long lap” penalty. It cost him less than two seconds, but dropped him to an eventual ninth place.
Second Leopard Honda rider Marcos Ramirez made a strong late bid, finishing a close fourth, just over three tenths adrift, but inches ahead of SKY VR46 KTM rookie Celestino Vietti.
Early front runner Albert Arenas (Sarna KTM) narrowly beat his team-mate Raul Fernandez to sixth; inches ahead of erstwhile leader Nico Antonelli (SIC58 Honda) and the luckless Fenati. Jakub Kornfeil (Redox KTM) completed the top ten.
Yurchenko, Masia, Booth-Amos and Sasaki crashed together on the first lap; and later Binder fell alone while Suzuki and Masaki tangled together. Second SKY VR46 rider Foggia also crashed out
The championship positions, obviously, are in race finishing order, with 18 rounds remaining.
VisitQatar GRAND PRIX
Moto3 Race Classification 2019
Doha, Sunday, March 10, 2019
The spectre of cold and damp at Turn Two claimed a number of victims in MotoGP afternoon practice and evening qualifying … but Maverick Vinales was not one of them. Instead – underlining his speed in testing – the Monster Yamaha rider went fastest from the start, and then ran faster still, to take his second pole position in successive races.
While other big stars foundered, including his team-mate Valentino Rossi, Vinales consolidated his growing confidence, saying afterwards: “I think the way I am riding is the best Maverick of the last two seasons.”
The team had worked on race pace, but “I felt pretty good on one lap. We need to improve. The last corner we are really slow and the others are fast down the straight. But I think we can do pretty good.”
His time of 1m 53.546s was less than two tenths down on Marquez’s new record set last night in better conditions, and a similar time ahead of second-fastest Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati).
“I am really happy,” last year’s winner said. “We came here with not so good feelings after the test, but we improved step by step, practice by practice, small things, but we stayed came … and in FP4 the lap time came.”
At the last, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) slotted into third, just one thousandth slower. He had fallen twice during the day, and was critical of the dangerous conditions that caused a number of tumbles on the track’s tricky left-hand corners early on the lap.
“Today’s condiions were not so good: really cold and really windy. This is why we pushed to an earlier race start. Now we saw many crashes. If tomorrow’s conditions are like today, we need to survive.”
Q1 was at 8pm, and Q2 at 8:25, and when conditions are cold the track becomes very treacherous. The race is scheduled for 8pm, and riders wanted it put forward to 7pm, as last year.
Marquez narrowly tipped Jack Miller off the front row; simultaneously the Pramac Ducati rider became one of several Turn Two victims – the first left after a run of right-handers. Others to fall there in the evening or at the next left, Turn Six, included Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM), Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Ducati), and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda), his second tumble of the day.
Lorenzo in the process lost his chance of breaking out of Q1, as he was consigned to third in the session behind LCR Honda riders Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami.
Rookie Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) continued to amaze, placing fourth in Q2 to sit in the middle of the second row, with Crutchlow alongside. Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati) heads row three from second Petronas rider Franco Morbidelli and Nakagami. Behind them, Rins heads rookie Ecstar Suzuki team-mate and Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro on row four.
Lorenzo lost more places at the end of Q1, with Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati) up to an overall 13th, to head row five from late-comer Valentino Rossi (Monster Yamaha) and Lorenzo.
Then came Red Bull KTM pair Pol Espargaro and rookie Miguel Oliveira 16th and 17th.
After 157 races, Marcel Schrotter claimed his first pole position and the first in the new Triumph Moto2 era, almost 1.5-tenths clear of a batch of ultra-close times, the top 15 all within the same second.
The session was almost a Kalex whitewash, with the German chassis taking nine of the top ten slots – the only exception being Brad Binder’s Red Bull KTM in eighth.
Schrotter (Dynavolt Kalex) will be joined on the front row by Xavi Vierge (EG-VDS Kalex) and Pons HP40 rider Lorenzo Baldassarri.
Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Kalex) came through from Q1 and considered himself lucky to be leading row two on an earlier time in the session, after crashing on his second run.
Remy Gardner continued his strong run, placed seventh on his ONEXOX SAG bike; with Sam Lowes (Gresini Kalex) surviving a dramatic lap on an increasingly slippery cold and windy track to place sixth.
Former title runner up Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Kalex), back from a fruitless MotoGP year and a heavy crash yesterday, heads row three from Binder and Alex Marquez (EG-VDS Kalex), with Augusto Fernandez (HP40 Kalex) completing the top ten.
Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM) crashed early in the session but stayed 11th, best of the crop of fast rookies, with Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Kalex) 13th, Niccolo Bulega (SKY VR46 Kalex) 15th, but Fabio Di Giannantonio (+Ego Speed Up) missing out on a chance in Q2, after his fourth-fastest time in Q1 was disallowed for exceeding track limits.
Aron Canet, newly switched from Honda to Sterilgarda KTM, claimed the first pole of 2019, and the first under the new MotoGP-style Q1/Q2 qualifying for the smallest class.
The Spaniard was narrowly threatened at the end of an exciting 15-minuite Q2 by former race winner Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Honda), whose late bid fell short by two-tenths; with another first-timer, Kaito Toba (Team Asia Honda) alongside.
Returned Honda rider John McPhee (through from Q1) and – at the last gasp – Nico Antonelli (SIC58 Honda) headed row two from Albert Arenas (Sarna KTM); with Tony Arbolino heading the third from rookie Celestino Vietti (SKY KTM). Antonelli only had one flying lap, after a crash early in the session.
The big loser was early session leader Romano Fenati (Snipers Honda). He left his second run too late on the long lap, and didn’t make it over the line in time to improve, ending up 11th-fastest. Star rookie Can Oncu was last in Q2, putting him 18th, 1.7 seconds adrift.
Timing Controversy Continues
Controversy over the timing of Sunday’s race – potentially right at the dangerous dew point at around 8pm – rumbled on as conditions worsened and there were a number of crashes, starting in the cooler and windy afternoon, increasing during the two MotoGP qualifying sessions, which started precisely at the 8pm race time.
By then, the track was treacherously cold, having already become slippery by the end of Moto2 qualifying just after 7pm, followed by MotoGP’s FP4.
Marquez, Lorenzo and Rins had already fallen in the earlier afternoon FP3, the latter two on left-hand corners on the predominately right-hand track.
In FP4 four crashes were on left-handers … Rins and Marquez again, plus Johann Zarco and Aprilia tester Bradley Smith.
In Q1, Lorenzo and Zarco fell again, also Tito Rabat; in Q2 it was Jack Miller’s turn, again all on left-handers.
Lorenzo was clearly incensed at the failure to reschedule the race … he had been asking for it since tests two weeks ago, but the other riders hadn’t backed him up in time for any changes to be made.
Marquez said: “If conditions are the same as today, tomorrow will be just survival.”
Cal Crutchlow was more expansive. “It was probably better racing at 9pm (as previously) than at eight. You can’t really understand the conditions; they change lap by lap.”
But there was no room for concerted rider action. “I think we’ve put our point of view quite strongly, but if we said we weren’t going to ride there would always be two or three people who would race, and they’d be on the podium.
“We’ll all be pushing in the race … and the lap times will be the same. Today’s lap times were only a little slower than yesterday, and conditions were a lot worse. Anyway, the slower you go, the worse it is.”
More on Ducati’s Starting Device
There was more news on Ducati’s much-discussed hole shot device, after the Italian team chiefs complained to Dorna about the positioning of the on-bike camera that on Friday clearly showed Dovizioso turning the control on the top triple-clamp before performing a test start.
Today, the camera was aimed higher, showing only the inside of the screen and the rider’s head.
But Dorna’s real response was to wait trackside at the designated test-start site, then focus again on Dovizioso as he repeated the procedure.
They didn’t spot him twiddling the control this time, but they did reveal how the bike was held in a squatting position, with the rear suspension held compressed.
The advantage is that in saving any torque lost or time wasted (no matter how small) in compressing the suspension on take-off.
This explains at least a part of the system – also holding the rear low and stable until hitting the brakes for the first corner releases it: a transition that Jack Miller revealed is something you have to get used to.
Miller also revealed, in an interview with Dorna, that he had been using the system since the Japanese GP last year; although Dovizioso apparently had not used it until this race.
It is still not clear whether the system acts on the front suspension. Earlier track systems developed by Showa, like systems used in Motocross, held the front forks compressed to lower the overall CoG, but this doesn’t appear to be the case here.
Miller also tested the curious aero add-ons that Petrucci has been running; Dovi has yet to do so, “because we haven’t had time,” he said.
Marquez Responds to Criticism
Ducati were in a querulous mood, and reportedly complained to Race Direction after Marquez’s front-row qualifying lap – which knocked Jack Miller off the front row – had been achieved by him following Danilo Petrucci.
Directly afterwards, he had passed the Italian rider, and then slowed.
Marquez laughed it off. “Welcome to factory team racing,” he said, adding: “I have been followed by many riders in my career.”
Responding to further questions, he admitted that this was not his usual strategy, but he had been happy to follow the Italian. He could probably have achieved a front-row lap time alone, “but with more risk.”
Up and Down Weekend So Far for Rossi
Valentino Rossi’s up-and-down start to the season, his first as a 40-year-old, went well only in yesterday’s FP1, when he was fastest.
In FP2 he was struggling with a front tyre that wore too fast; and he had the same problem today, failing to make it out of Q1.
Feeling the pressure, he has already played his aero-body joker card even before the first race.
Fairings had to be homologated before practice at Qatar, but every rider is allowed one update during the season. While team-mate Vinales chose the latest version with two stepped wing-loops, Rossi (and the satellite-team riders) stuck with a version of the single loop as used last year.
But on the second day of practice, Rossi was exercising the twin-loop version. Now he will be able to choose between the two versions for the rest of the season, but with no further changes.
The twin-loop gives more downforce than the earlier version, although at the expense of outright speed.
And for the rider? Hardly any difference, he said.
Street Circuit in Indonesia?
A special press conference confirmed the details announced mid-February of the planned “street circuit” for a MotoGP return to Indonesia in 2021.
There were no new details compared with the details reported then, but confidence and optimism from representatives of the Indonesian tourist authority and the consultancy involved in the massive project.
Plans for a massive resort at Mandalika, on the island of Lombok, include a 4.32-km, 19-corner racing circuit on roads that at other times will be used by the general public.
Mrk1 Consulting MD Mark Hughes confirmed that the circuit will conform to FIM safety standards, with grandstand seating for 50,000.
Tourist board official Ricky Baheramsjah explained that massive investment (previously reported to be more than US$10-billion) would create an integrated tourist destination, with MotoGP the premier event for the race-track.
Dorna CEO said that for some years they had been thinking about reviving the Indonesian GP in what is a major motorcycling market and fan base, “but until now there has been no chance. Now, if everything goes well, we will race there in 2021. It will be something very particular and very special.”
According to the February statement, both MotoGP and World Superbikes will race at the proposed circuit in 2021.
Lombok is still recovering after an earthquake in March last year, killing more than 560 and causing widespread damage in the north of the island.
The track is a significant part of a US$10-billion contract with French company Vinci Construction, which extends also to hotels and other resort and residential facilities, with a 15-year programme of works.
With the Finnish GP also due to join the calendar by then, this would push the total number of races beyond the proposed maximum of 20 per annum. One of the existing races would have to be dropped, with one of the four Spanish rounds (Jerez, Barcelona, Aragon and Valencia) most likely to pay the price … although the British GP at Silverstone is already in jeopardy, if promised resurfacing is not satisfactorily completed.
Cynics will recall that the last time Dorna signed a contract to race at an as-yet unbuilt circuit – the British GP at the proposed circuit of Wales – the project foundered before any construction had begun, forcing a return to Silverstone.
Viegas Claims FIM Still with Active Role in MotoGP
The newly elected FIM president Jorge Viegas made a public-minded start to his reign, hosting “the first-ever FIM press conference in seven decades of grand prix racing” at Qatar. to remind racing press of the historic sanctioning body’s still active role in MotoGP.
“Some people think that we do not exist [in this paddock], that Dorna make all the decisions, that we are just a travel agency for old people. But all decisions are taken together.” The FIM was in cooperation with Dorna, teams’ association IRTA and all the other stake-holders.
Viegas explained that his aim was to “highlight the role of the FIM to the outside world”, and to show how its function is fundamental to the safe and fair running of the championship.
He presented a galaxy of senior FIM officials, will roles ranging from track and medical safety to drafting, editing and applying regulations, and also acting as stewards in judgement of offences.
He planned to make similar presentations in other disciplines sanctioned by the FIM, he said, ranging from ice-racing to road rallies, trials and motocross to speedway and beyond.
Improvement for Gardner
Remy Gardner’s Moto2 fortunes have been transformed – by a switch to a Kalex chassis, and the new Triumph engine.
Last year the son of Australia’s first 500-class champion Wayne rode the Honda-powered Tech 3 Mistral chassis, and was able to shine spasmodically, at maximum risk and mainly in the wet.
This year, on the ONEXOX SAG Kalex, he has been a top candidate in testing, and remained so in practice and qualifying, placing third on combined session times.
Asked on the difference between riding last year’s bike and this, he said laconically: “It’s easier, that’s for sure.”
In line with the general impressions, he appreciates the benefits of the more powerful and race-ready second-generation Moto2.
The most obvious difference is that the bikes no longer run into all the corners sliding sideways.
“That’s mainly to do with the electronics, with the throttle blipper,” he said.
But overall the bike offered more alternatives in all areas.
“The old bike was really just one-line, with high corner speed. With this you can ride it in different ways – square the corner off, or run a smooth line.
“There’s definitely more rider input.”
Along with the established stars like Binder, Marini and Lowes, Gardner is widely tipped as a potential race winner and even title candidate.
F1’s Lewis Hamilton Attends Qatar
F1 multi-champion Lewis Hamilton was a one-day visitor to Qatar, sporting a corn-row hairstyle and a keen interest in his fellow-Petronas competitors in the new MotoGP satellite Yamaha team.
Hamilton, en route to the first car GP of the year in Australia, is a keen and reportedly extremely fast motorcyclist and fan of MotoGP, and according to Petronas Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli “asked a lot of questions about how I was riding.
“I didn’t give him advice … just a lot of data,” he said. He was impressed by “how humble he was, and how much interest he showed.”
Given that FP1 and 3 are run in daylight and hotter track temperatures, Friday evening’s cooler and faster FP2 was the session that mattered. And it was then that defending champion Marc Marquez stamped his authority on the premier class, shattering the previous best lap time by three tenths of a second, and claiming an even bigger margin over the next-best runner, Monster Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales.
Marquez had been third-fastest in the morning, behind his new Repsol Honda team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and surprise leader Valentino Rossi (Monster Yamaha).
But in the afternoon, with soft tyres and qualifying sessions at stake, Rossi was the only rider not to improve his time, saying later that “we destroyed the front tyre … we don’t know why”.
Marquez’s time of 1m 53.380 seconds was exactly three tenths quicker than Zarco’s pole time of last year, and the first nine were with a second of him.
But if you take a second from Vinales’s second-fastest 1m 53.854s the group goes down to 14th, backing up the close times of testing.
Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati) was a close third, better than a tenth quicker than factory Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci; then came the surprise.
Class rookie Fabio Quartararo was second-best Yamaha on the Petronas satellite bike, snitching fifth ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati). Second Petronas rider Franco Morbidelli came back from a fast crash at the first corner to place seventh, ahead of Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and another rookie, Joan Mir (Ecstar Suzuki).
This edged Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda) out of the top ten, as well as LCR Honda team-mates Takaaki Nakagami and Cal Crutchlow.
Rookie Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati) was 14th; Rossi 16th, behind Real Avintia Ducati rider Tito Rabat.
It is unlikely that positions will change on tomorrow afternoon’s daylight times, making for a highly competitive Q1, with big stars Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Rossi vying to get into Q2.
The smaller classes faced new challenges, with the introduction of MotoGP-style Q1 and Q2, making it important to get into the top 14 to go straight into the Q2 top group.
The new Triumph-powered Moto2 bikes, as expected, smashed track records, and ended up packed close, with 15 within one second, and the last of them obliged to go through Q1 for a chance in Q2.
Kalex chassis took the top five spots, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (1m 58.635s) a couple of tenths clear of Marcel Schrotter, a rapid Remy Gardner, Sam Lowes and Alex Marquez.
As at tests, best of the rest was Jorge Navarro’s Speed Up; then another Kalex ox Andrea Locatelli one place ahead of Brad Binder’s Red Bull KTM, less than half a second off the top.
The Kalexes of Xavi Vierge and top class rookie Enea Bastianini completed the top ten, from Augusto Fernandez (Kalex) and Bo Bendsneyder (NTS).
Tom Luthi (Kalex) was 13th, walking away from a huge crash at the end of the session, one place ahead of fast rookie Jorge Martin’s KTM; with Tetsuta Nagashima and Luca Marini (both Kalex) just missing the top-14 cut.
Moto3 opened proceedings, with experience counting for speed, and honours split between Honda and KTM … but only behind the flying Aron Canet, who was fully six tenths ahead of the pack, the rest all up close.
Canet, who has switched from Honda to Sterilgarda KTM, ran 2m 04.561s.
The morning leader Romano Fenati (Snipers Honda) was next up at 2, 05.156s; with Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Honda) a close third, from Bester KTM’s Andrea Migno.
Gabriel Rodrigo (Gresini Honda) was an impressive fifth, overcoming pain from a broken collarbone in testing.
Kornfeil (KTM), Dalla Porta, Arbolino (both Honda), Masaki and Arenas (both KTM) completed the top ten. Rookie Can Oncu (KTM) was in the top 14, at 13th.
Rider Request for Earlier Race Start Time Denied
Would the time of Sunday’s race be changed? The answer came late on Friday night, after impassioned pleas from the riders to return MotoGP to last year’s 7pm start time fell on deaf ears.
Last year’s race was moved from the previous 9pm to 7pm, but this year it was scheduled an hour later.
The issue was first raised by Jorge Lorenzo at the tests last week, after a planned on-time half-race simulation ran him into bad grip problems and a tumble as the track temperature dropped and dew started to form.
By the time race weekend rolled around, all rider were singing the same song.
“For sure we will talk about it in the (Friday) Safety Commission,” said Lorenzo; with everybody echoing his hopes of returning to a 7pm start.
Marquez also pointed out that an earlier race would be a better show.
Several riders mentioned that conditions were changeable, but overall the argument was badly undermined by the 8pm free practice, in which the outright circuit record was smashed by three tenth by Marquez.
Rescheduling would have required a major rejig of the race-day programme to fit in with predetermined TV scheduling, but Lorenzo was disappointed that the effort was not made.
“I believe they could have done it, for the safety of the riders. Almost all the riders agreed. Yesterday at 6pm it was very cold. On Sunday, we would be lucky and if it can be okay, but if we are unlucky …”
New Aero Packages Revealed
The year’s new final aerodynamics made a confirmed first appearance in the first practice session, with some confirmations of what has already been seen, and some variations in the same pits between riders – notably at Ducati and Yamaha.
The Italian factory riders took quite the opposite approaches.
Both had the six-wing faring seen at tests, but while Dovizioso’s bike and Jack Miller’s satellite-team GP19 had no further adornments, Petrucci was using both the enigmatic front-wheel shields and rear-wheel air scoop.
The front shields are flat plates covering the lower half of the wheel below the axle and brake calipers, almost touching the rim. The rear scoop, thought to direct cooling air onto the tyre, fits beneath the front of the swing-arm.
Yamaha had two variations of wing, with Vinales’s bike fitted with a pair of slightly staggered pointed loops, one behind the other. Rossi (and satellite-team riders Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli) had a simpler single-stage loop, which as last year seems to defy regulations prohibiting sharp-edged wings.
Yamaha riders were also displaying variety in padding for the very wide new seat unit, with Vinales and the satellite riders using extra foam at the rear.
All the factory Hondas – both Repsol bikes and Crutchlow’s LCR machine – were using the block-ended high-mounted wings, shaped like bow ties, plus little squared-off boxes on the fa; Takaaki Nakagami’s 2018 bike retained the drooping-moustache 2018 wings.
Suzuki had shapely double loops as seen at tests; Aprilia and KTM something very similar. The Suzukis also had a Torductor on the output shaft, a device that measures real-time horsepower pioneered some years ago by Honda.
New Holeshot Device for Ducati
The Ducati drag links to the rear brake caliper seen at various tests were conspicuously absent on all the bikes, but the so-called hole-shot device was definitely there – as on-bike footage of Dovi’s post-session practice start clearly revealed.
Dovi gave the control three or four twists, and then one twist back before pulling up at the controlled-start position for his practice start.
Details of the system remained obscure, with doubt over whether it acts only on the rear suspension, reducing squat, or at both ends.
Pramac rider Jack Miller confirmed that it keeps the bike more level off the line, saying “it works well – though you have to be prepared for when it disengages.”
It is understood that Ducati requested a meeting with Dorna to complain about the location of that on-bike camera.
Lorenzo had a typically quirky innovation: a seat cover made of brown leather rather than the usual foam. “We are looking for a different kind of grip,” he said. “Now we just need to change the colour.”
Honda’s Set-Up Radically Different for Marquez and Lorenzo
Rider-wise, the injury and surgery victims arrived at least 12 days better than at the tests, and in Marquez’s case apparently even more than that.
“I’m really happy, because I can forget my injury and shoulder problems,” he said on Thursday. He was “close to my 100 percent”, and confirmed that after his record-breaking time on Friday “I have not any problem.
“Now we need to work on the bike and how to improve,” he said. But he didn’t expect help from new team-mate Lorenzo. “We are like day and night. I am aggressive and he is smooth.”
Lorenzo confirmed that they would not be able to make the bike faster for each other, preferring a “sun and moon” analogy. His own condition was not fully healed, but if he could get the bike to his liking, he would be able to run a strong race pace.
“I use very different settings from the other Honda riders. We’re not close to our full potential … but we will arrive. It is about experience,” he said.
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