On Sunday at the Czech Grand Prix, Jorge Lorenzo got a rocket start, just as he did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway one week earlier. Brno’s pavement has more grip than Indy’s road course, and many, including current MotoGP championship points-leader Marc Marquez, expected Lorenzo to be untouchably fast. The factory Yamaha rider was fast, but not untouchable, and Honda has been raising its game.
At first look, the race was another of Marquez’s waiting games: sitting back like Marco Lucchinelli in 1981, letting the others consume their tires in speed, then striking in later laps with an overwhelming advantage in tire condition. Not so fast. Believing, as he stated, that Lorenzo’s big-line style might work well on Brno’s better pavement, the Repsol Honda rider had to keep him in sight, so his fastest lap of the race was Lap 3, a 1:56.135 to Lorenzo’s 1:56.405. Just as four-time 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson used to do, Marquez was measuring the opposition. Once satisfied that Lorenzo could not get clear, Marquez waited for the situation to mature. After Lap 6, then, no more hot laps for Marquez.
Lorenzo had topped first practice on Friday, was pushed to second behind LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl in the afternoon, then second to eventual pole-setter Cal Crutchlow Saturday morning. Marquez hovered in third, allowing skeptics to aver he was at last where he belonged in relation to his more experienced rivals. Bradl continued into the doldrums after such promising speed at Sachsenring and Laguna Seca.
After qualifying, Bradl said, “I am missing edge grip and cannot carry the corner speed I would like. I was pushing the front too much into the corner trying to make the lap time. As I opened the throttle, I could not use the rear tire because we had too much spinning. I am not able to make a good exit out of the corners and, for this reason, we are losing too much time.”
Marquez, who had been drafted in qualifying by Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista, said, “I could not take advantage of the second tire because there was a lot of traffic, and some riders were waiting for a tow.”
Lorenzo told a similar tale. “I had hoped for much more because I wanted to improve seven tenths or a second on my pace to make a fast lap, but I couldn’t take advantage of the new tire. We had so much spinning, and we went slowly.”
Crutchlow’s pole-winning record lap, a 1:55.527, showed the spinning was not a “Yamaha disease” affecting all YZR-M1s equally.
Assen-winner Valentino Rossi had failed to get his times down due to a lack of confidence hauling his Yamaha down from speed. “I am in trouble with the braking,” he said.
The qualifying order was Crutchlow, Bautista, Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Try to make sense of that!
In Sunday morning’s warm-up, Pedrosa showed his strength by topping the session. Perhaps, like Lorenzo before him, he was conserving himself through practice. His still-healing collarbone injury remains painful, but these men are both tough and focused. Warm-up is not a race; it is a last check of settings.
In the race, Crutchlow crashed on Lap 8. “I made a mistake,” he said. “I was trying to get myself back in contention for the podium, and I lost the front.”
In the next few laps, Marquez gave Lorenzo a couple of tries, but Lorenzo fought back. This cost both of them time, which is why two riders in contention at Daytona don’t get into passing and re-passing; it slows them both down, giving a third rider an opening. In the process, the difference between Lorenzo’s and Marquez’s lines was showcased: Lorenzo up high on his big line, Marquez pushing under him, braking later on his V-shaped line.
Why, it almost makes you think of short-geared, quick-turning Gary Nixon, coming up the inside of big-liner Cal Rayborn. As Kenny Roberts has often said, the corner-speed big line puts its rider at risk all through the corner, while the V-shaped line concentrates the turning risk only at the apex. The on-bike cameras often show this, with the Hondas dipping down to max lean only for a short time and being at lesser lean angles through most of the corners.
One more component in this bet: Honda has achieved improvements in braking recently. Post-race, Lorenzo said, “Especially under braking and on the straights, they were faster than me. Honda has improved its past weak points a lot.” At Indianapolis, this was very clear, with Marquez closing up braking for Turn 10 at the end of the infield straight.
Marquez made the final pass on Lap 16, and his Repsol Honda teammate, Pedrosa, passed Lorenzo for second on Lap 20.
“When Dani overtook me, it was too far [into the race] to fight back,” said Lorenzo. “I didn’t have the rear tire or physical condition after pushing a lot all the race. The championship is not lost yet, but it’s now getting very difficult. We need just a few tenths [per lap] to win, so we have to pray for that at Silverstone.”
To give all you have knowing that the unseen R&D battle is determined by available funding must be tough. In racing, as in life, you do what you can with what you have. Let’s hope the racing does not become more one-sided, because that may set Dorna leadership dreaming of “Moto1” with spec everything.
Marquez’s post-race remarks were economical. “This was a very hard-fought win,” he said, “and I enjoyed myself a lot. The battle with Jorge was really good, and we are pleased with the victory.”
“I am very happy with the result,” said Pedrosa, “because after all the problems with my injury and the doubts we’ve had at the last few races, we took a big step forward with my mental preparation today.”
And the sub-contests? The Ducatis were where we have learned to expect them: seventh, eighth and ninth, with still no sign of an emergency experimental development program or of effective leadership. Move a chassis weld a quarter-inch, test, then file a learned report. Aleix Espargaro was right behind Andrea Dovizioso, Nicky Hayden and Andrea Iannone on the production-based Aprilia, threating to penetrate their desmodromic disorganization with a metal-valve-spring warhead.
Rider Nation Team Time/Gap
1. Marc Marquez Spain Repsol Honda 42 minutes, 50.729 seconds
2. Dani Pedrosa Spain Repsol Honda 0.313
3. Jorge Lorenzo Spain Yamaha Factory Racing 2.277
4. Valentino Rossi Italy Yamaha Factory Racing 10.101
5. Alvaro Bautista Spain Go&Fun Honda Gresini 10.178
6. Stefan Bradl Germany LCR Honda MotoGP 19.807
7. Andrea Dovizioso Italy Ducati Team 35.015
8. Nicky Hayden USA Ducati Team 35.354
9. Andrea Iannone Italy Energy T.I. Pramac Racing 51.149
10. Aleix Espargaro Spain Power Electronics Aspar 56.392