MotoGP: Grand Prix Of Aragon Wrap-Up

Rain in Spain brings drama and an unexpected race winner.

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This one’s a mystery. How did Jorge Lorenzo, who, with factory Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi, was far down the listings through practice, qualifying, and warm-up, emerge to nail the start and battle with MotoGP championship points-leader Marc Marquez to the win? Especially, as Lorenzo noted after the race, “We won at a track where we’ve never won, and we’ve had a lot of problems all weekend.”

Weather alternated between cool and warm through practice. After qualifying, in which Marquez set a lap record and Rossi and Lorenzo were sixth and seventh, Lorenzo said, “I’m very disappointed because today we got two wrong tires for the rear. They were not good. One was defective in the morning, and the second tire in qualifying was also not good. I expected to improve four or five tenths but I couldn’t, improving by just one tenth.”

Getting a bad tire does have a history in spec series, where we have seen another manufacturer save a tidy sum by handing out year-old stock. Business is business; it’s not easy to explain the high cost of race tires to skeptical stockholders. And, as TV commentator Julian Ryder has noted, “The newest Bridgestones have a harder edge than last year and don’t enjoy the cold.” FP1, in which Lorenzo was fourth fastest (Pramac Ducati’s Andrea Iannone was at the top!), was the coldest temperature all season, 59 degrees Fahrenheit.

Marc Marquez race action shot

Lorenzo had been unsure which of two fronts to choose but for the race selected the soft front and medium rear, while three Honda men—Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Stefan Bradl—chose the medium front and hard rear. It cannot have been that simple! Yamaha MotoGP Team Director Massimo Meregalli commented after the race that Rossi had said, "The changes we made were perfect, and he felt the bike was working well."

Meregalli was referring to changes made after qualifying. Sunday morning warm-up was wet, its times being 14 seconds off qualifying, and the start of the race officially dry, making the gamble unusually large. We just don’t have the information that could explain all this. Bridgestone characterized Aragon’s pavement as “relatively smooth and slippery, similar to Misano,” which would suggest softer rubber. But there are also long corners and downhill braking, calling for harder rubber. They called it “a balancing act.”

Conditions seemingly suited the Hondas. “Qualifying went very well,” Marquez said, “continuing the form we have had so far this weekend. We have focused a lot of our work on our race pace, looking less at setting a one-off lap time and more at finding a strong pace. Things are looking good for the race.” Pedrosa was similarly upbeat.

In the race, their confidence seemed justified. Pedrosa led into turn 1 but was passed by the exuberant Iannone in turn 2. Marquez was meanwhile pressing forward against Iannone, who ran wide, culminating in an “aviation get off.” Lorenzo had a rocket start from the third row (Rossi actually had to undergo the humiliation of Q1!) and now pushed into second, obstructing Pedrosa’s rapid advance.

Dani Pedrosa race action shot

America’s great champion of the late 1960s and early ’70s, Calvin Rayborn, resembled Lorenzo in that he raced against the track, inscribing lines of maximum radius in every turn. This is potentially very fast, until it comes up against a rider like Gary Nixon, whose opponents were other men, not the track. The classic “big line” has the disadvantage that your rivals know exactly where you will be and can neatly arrange to get in your way.

Nixon, who could seemingly appear anywhere, was more difficult, like the dodge ’em warhead of the Russian Topol-M ICBM. Now, it seems, Lorenzo has made himself at once less predictable and wider. This is how racing educates all its participants, who simultaneously learn and teach.

On lap 4, Rossi, too, flew through the air and was out cold.

Lorenzo had the grip to pass Marquez on lap 9, initiating a close engagement, which Marquez seemingly won on lap 12, with Pedrosa getting past Lorenzo, as well. Was this it? Had the Honda men’s harder tires now “come good,” setting the stage for a classic and Shuhei Nakamoto-pleasing Honda one-two finish?

Then it began to rain. “The problem was it was spitting,” Lorenzo said, “so I didn’t have much confidence. I was very careful, and the others were going away in front. Andrea was catching me, and I thought I was going to be fighting for third or fourth position. But finally I had an intuition.

Valentino Rossi Aragon Paddock shot

“Every lap I felt the spotting was coming worse, and it was very dangerous and easy to crash. When I saw Marc and Dani keep on racing and without going into the pits in the last corner, I said, ‘Okay, I will take a risk and enter.’ I changed the bike, the new tires were very difficult to warm up, not so much grip, but I tried to be very focused and not make many mistakes.”

Marquez had said before the race that, “It is time to think of the championship,” meaning that his points lead is now so great that it is no longer worth taking substantial risks to earn points he will not need. As the rain fell, Marquez’s crew had his B bike ready on rains, off the stand.

Pedrosa overdid turn 1, crashed, and rejoined well down. With just two laps to go, also still on slick tires, Marquez crashed in turn 2. He, too, was able to rejoin, the two pitting for bike changes and eventually finishing 13th and 14th. Slicks can generate amazing grip on a moist track, but as the water depth increases, the tire pushes a bigger and bigger hill of water ahead of it until suddenly it climbs onto it. Engineers call the result “full film lubrication.”

Lorenzo’s margin of victory was more than 10 seconds. In drama invisible behind him, Aleix Espargaro, Cal Crutchlow, and Stefan Bradl also moved up rapidly. “Jorge made no mistakes,” Meregalli summed up. “He took the right decision at the right moment to change the bike, and he chose the right tires for the dry also at the start of the race. His decisions were very well made.”

Aragon GP Crowd Shot

This race is important for the success of Espargaro, finishing second on the factory-managed earlier-model Yamaha (mediums front and rear), and also for Cal Crutchlow (same tire combo), emerging from a down period to ascend the podium on Ducati. And there in fourth was Stefan Bradl.

Rossi was taken away for a CT scan. “Valentino suffered a concussion with a suspected loss of consciousness,” Clinica Mobile’s Michele Zasa said. “From a neurological point of view, he has recovered very well. A scan has ruled out any bleeding in the brain. As a precaution, he will be observed in the coming hours, but there are no special reasons for concern.”

If anything deepening the mystery was Bradley Smith in fifth and Pol Espargaro in sixth, making it four Yamahas in the top six on a track believed to be a negative for Yamaha. Something to ponder.

Aleix-Espargaro

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