Watching Paint Dry

Rain spoils MotoGP practice at Valencia.

Randy de Puniet

Randy de Puniet - 2012 Valencia MotoGP FP2

On Friday at Valencia, my colleague, Matthew Miles, came up with a term for rain days when the top MotoGP riders stay in their garages: "engine-conservation days." Now, at the end of the season, most riders have pretty much come to the end of their allowance of six engines each. What remains are a few good minutes on this one, a few on that, forcing mechanics to make a lot more engine changes than you might expect, rather like trying to sew clothes out of scraps.

Therefore, when it rains, factory bikes sit it out. With nothing to be learned, it is more important to conserve engine time.

Of course, there is another reason. The most difficult traction condition is what Valentino Rossi calls "mixed"—part wet, part dry—such that traction varies greatly from place-to-place, making everything tricky.

Combine this with MotoGP's money-saving rule against intermediate tires (slicks with just a few cut or molded drainage grooves), and there is a wide range of track conditions in which top riders will sit in their garages rather than go out to practice. If this were the music biz, the cover band would come out and do a set. MotoGP's answer to this is the CRT brigade, which resolutely comes out and does laps, secure in its greater 12-engine allowance per rider. For this reason, Randy de Puniet on an Aprilia "ART" was Friday's quickest rider.

The result is that onlookers, such as I, stare at the corners, hoping conditions are changing for the better.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday, those corners were black with wet. In mostly sunny conditions, some gray blotches—dry areas—began to appear during MotoGP FP3. But there were few takers among the factory riders until the last minutes of the session. Then, the order changed moment-to-moment as the gray blotches slowly expanded, allowing riders to go faster in more places.

And then, I realized what we are all doing here: We are, in effect, watching paint dry.