Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo outdid even himself this past weekend, getting such a strong start from second on the grid at MotorLand Aragon that, after just one lap, he had a one-second lead. Yet he was unable to pull away. Dani Pedrosa, who has been riding extremely well, caught and passed his Repsol Honda teammate, Marc Marquez, on Lap 5 at Turns 8/9.
Now came the reaction, as Marquez, braking very hard for the left-hand Turn 12, made a mistake. To recover, he ran wide, clipped the outside of Pedrosa’s bike, and then briefly ran off the track onto a paved area. As Pedrosa throttled-up, his bike spit him off.
Later, Team Principal Livio Suppo explained that, as a result of the brief contact, the wire connected to the rear-wheel-speed sensor on Pedrosa’s machine was severed. When Pedrosa turned the throttle, there was no traction control because it cannot operate without wheel-speed data.
At this point, Lorenzo’s lead was 1.7 seconds—the largest it would be. Marquez now began to make up tenths each lap. In eight laps, they were together.
“Like always,” Lorenzo said, “I tried to open up a gap at the beginning, but when Marc recovered all of that gap, I just relaxed to try to save a bit of energy to be with him at the end of the race. Really, he was stronger all weekend. I pushed to the limits to follow him, but it was impossible.”
Pedrosa was explicit: “I was going into the corner. [Marquez] was over the limit, completely missed the braking, tried to avoid me, and at that moment, touched me a little bit and went off. When I opened the gas, the cable of the traction control was broken, so I had a big highside.”
Now, we must endure the storm of claim and counter-claim, as the controversy lovers duke it out. In this, the only opinion that matters is the official one. What is clear is the reason why essential systems are triplicated on aircraft: Anything light enough to fly (or race) is light enough to be vulnerable to damage. Heavy trucks can carry armored wiring.
“The start of the race was not so good,” Marquez said after the event, “but I was able to be aggressive on the opening few corners and only lost around a second to Lorenzo on the first lap, after which I was able to recover step by step. After Dani passed me, I started to feel better with the bike, though I did lose some time after I touched him. I was on the limit for many laps after that point, but I could catch and pass Jorge quite quickly, and getting 25 points here was very important.”
Unless something unforeseen happens, Marquez is champion. Honda has worked hard to make a bike that works, and, at least for the moment, Yamaha is unable to match that R&D effort dollar for dollar. Today, everyone is talking about edge grip, and as veteran Öhlins technician Jon Cornwell said, “Edge grip is a finite resource.” Lorenzo’s corner-speed style is based on edge grip, so his setup has to treat the tire kindly.
Casey Stoner showed the way in 2007, when he steered the “unsteerable” Ducati by discovering something new: If the bike won’t turn, lean it over more. That puts the machine on the “flabby edge” of the rear tire, which, through its flexure, begins to run wide—to oversteer. Stoner created this “final oversteer,” and today, Marquez is his prophet.
Cornwell describes hearing Marquez crack the throttle and seeing the bike not turning. Then, leaning it over farther, Marquez cracks the throttle again, and the bike goes around the corner. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are seeing more and more, riders leaning over farther, elbow on the ground, inside knee pulled up for clearance because there’s no room left for the old outmoded way—the classic knee on the ground.
The on-bike camera shows Marquez dipping down to very high lean angle only briefly, not carrying that angle through whole turns. Repeat after Cornwell: “Edge grip is a finite resource.” It is finite because, flexing enough to produce the steering effect, the edge is generating heat intensively. Once that heat does its irreversible work, grip decays.
It may be that Honda, with torque-sensing elements in the RC213V’s final drive, has taken steps beyond Yamaha’s 2008 “mu learning” system, which maps the track’s coefficient of friction and then matches engine torque to the tire grip left after cornering load has taken its share. Andrea Zugna, the software writer for that system, was hired away by Honda just as in ’50s GP auto racing one maker might try to hire another’s magneto or gearbox engineer. It’s all part of the game.
Yet the game does change. There will be no 2014 U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; that event will go to either Argentina or Brazil, seeking new markets. As it is impractical to have more than 19 or, at the outside, 20 dates in a year, a future Indian or Indonesian GP will take a date from Spain.
One more thing: What’s with Cal Crutchlow’s Tech3 Yamaha? Before the race, Crutchlow said, “I am quite slow compared to the rest in the speed traps and also quite a way off the fastest Yamaha, so that is one area we need to look at tonight and work on improving.”
After finishing sixth, Crutchlow said, “A useless race for me. We should have been way ahead of where we were, but we were let down by the engine. We had no speed on the bike for no apparent reason. We had a brand-new engine this morning, but all weekend, we have been struggling and losing 10, 12, or 13 kilometers average to the Hondas and six or seven to the other Yamahas.” This is not the only instance of top riders experiencing mystery speed loss, and, unfortunately, it fosters conspiracy theories. Hmm …
With Pedrosa out, Valentino Rossi inherited third, while Alvaro Bautista prevailed in a back and forth with Stefan Bradl.
We are told the Ducatis will not change for next season, and there they were in their unchanging positions: eighth, ninth, and 10th. Yet at the same time, there are rumors of continuing, close-to-the-chest prototyping and testing, predicting something new to appear at the first of next year. MotoGP has only two ingredients right now: Honda and Yamaha. While you can make a hard flatbread with just flour and water, all sorts of delicious possibilities open up when you add a third ingredient: leavening.