MotoGP WRAP-UP: 2015 Czech Republic Grand Prix

At bumpy Brno, the cream (Jorge Lorenzo) rises to the top.

Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez race action Brno 2015

As experienced observers had predicted, Jorge Lorenzo took the lead at the start of the 2015 Czech Republic Grand Prix at Brno and held it to the end, winning by 4.462 seconds over Marc Marquez in a stark contest of pace. Valentino Rossi, who had qualified 3rd, was unable to magically find extra pace in morning warm-up, as he historically often has, and was 10.4 seconds behind the leader at the end, finishing 3rd.

Second practice on Friday defined the problem: finding grip on pavement that is old, bumpy, and turns to grease in hot weather. Seven MotoGP riders fell, Marquez twice.

Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso said, "It's very difficult to feel when you go over the limit," while Marquez added: "I am fast over a single lap, but I am finding it harder to set a constant pace." Rossi put it this way on Friday: "This afternoon was difficult for everybody because the track is very slippery and the amount of grip is very low. And at the same time there are a lot of bumps, so every time I entered the corner I was pretty much at the limit."

Riders in the camp of hard braking/quick turning/early acceleration found the hard front tire to be “right on the limit .” Although it could handle the higher loads of such braking, it lacked corner grip. Crutchlow continued: “We certainly need to improve entry into some of the corners under braking, and we found some strange things with the front tire that I wasn’t happy with and it meant I couldn’t ride so comfortably.” Added Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso: “Here the braking is very important. When you brake also with angle, so you need the support from the hard tire, but it didn't work, because with the asphalt, the stiff rubber and stiff casing didn't work.”

Andrea Dovizioso race action Brno 2015

Lorenzo’s tire choice for the race was medium/medium. Marquez chose a medium/hard combo while Rossi went with a hard/hard selection.

A motorcycle is basically a dragster with limited turning ability, and there are two basic approaches to that limited ability.

One is the Marquez/Honda approach—to minimize what the motorcycle does badly, turning, and maximize what it does well, acceleration. Marquez and Dani Pedrosa carry straightaway speed as deep as possible into turns, then brake at the ragged maximum, yank the machine quickly around early, then lift up and use the remainder of the corner as a drag strip on which to exit at high speed.

The other method, exemplified by Lorenzo, is to work on making the motorcycle turn as well as possible, by riding a line of maximum radius at maximum speed. This higher corner speed requires less braking and less acceleration. It also requires softer suspension to maximize tire grip, stability, and gradual transitions (no yanking or Marquez-style snatching stability from the teeth of chaos) to avoid the upset of spike tire loadings.

It was no contest when American Kenny Roberts brought his original point-and-shoot dirt-track style to Europe in 1978. Yes, the big-radius classicists were faster at the apex, but Kenny, re-purposing the corner for acceleration, was almost always faster at the exit.

Valentino Rossi race action Brno 2015

Tires have evolved hugely in the 37 years since then. Goodyear’s strange and wonderful high-temperature rubber compounds are gone, replaced by Bridgestones that can give phenomenal grip start to finish, but only if the rider manages them thoughtfully. Americans who had hoped Nicky Hayden’s first year in MotoGP—2003, on Michelin—would give the Europeans another master class were disappointed to see him riding too hard for downfield positions, being passed, riding harder yet, being passed again and then crashing out.

Has that old magic lost its mojo? No, it just needed the new form that Casey Stoner gave it in 2007, looking a lot like corner-speed style but with a faster-turning dip down onto the tire edges at the apex, followed by a quick lift onto the more durable shoulder for fast acceleration. All the dirt-track elements were there, but smoothly blended into what Cal Crutchlow has colorfully called, “Honda’s V-shaped line.” The point of that “V” is where Marquez turns his bike most rapidly. At Indianapolis, Marquez sat behind leader Lorenzo for 24 laps, betting his own tire, spending less time on the edge, would outlast Lorenzo’s. It did.

But Indianapolis was repaved last year, while Brno’s bumpy pavement has seen many an East European winter. To maximize grip on bumps, softer springs and damping rates are the medicine, because they transmit less upset to the vehicle and work the tire less. But the hard-braking/quick-turning riders need stiffer front suspension that can support 100 percent of vehicle, fuel, and rider weight during braking and corner entry. With that extra stiffness, their bikes lose grip on a bumpy corner entry, taking the edge off their method.

Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso race action Brno 2015

Dovizioso, when asked about his Ducati’s new engine and fairing, said the parts don’t help consistency in the race, or control. Nor do they improve the bike in rear grip, or in turning. The two factory Ducatis were clearly the fastest in top speed but that had little meaning in Brno. Dovi commented specifically on the front tire: “We compared today the 38 (hard front) with the 33 (medium front), but it didn't work well.”

The hard brakers needed the stability of the harder front to support their style, but it was a compromise that required careful thought.

Lorenzo went to the top in qualifying: “My pole position lap was very good, almost perfect, except maybe the last corner wasn’t because I had a lot of wheel spin, but a perfect lap is impossible, so we have to be very satisfied.”

With the softer suspension of a corner-speed setup, and with the added stability of Yamaha's longer wheelbase, corner entries that threatened to send Lorenzo's competitors skating wide were soaked up by his freer-moving wheels. He had an edge, even though Marquez qualified only 0.074 seconds behind him.

Marquez had progressed since FP1: “This morning in FP1 I was a bit worried because I start to have the feeling of the first part of the season. We did great work for this afternoon and improved a lot.” He then noted, “I'm far out of the points lead, and the important thing is that I have nothing to lose. So if I need to take the risk I will do it.”

Sunday morning warm-up revealed no demon tweaks, but you never know with Valentino.

Jorge Lorenzo on the podium Brno 2015

In the race, Lorenzo led from the grid with Marquez a fraction of a second behind him for eight laps, an apparent replay of Indianapolis. But then it was Marquez whose setup first showed fatigue, and the gap grew and grew. The two had in the meantime pulled steadily away from Rossi in 3rd.

“After a few laps I started to brake better with less fuel in the tank, and enter corners faster than before,” said Lorenzo. “I improved my times only by one tenth of a second but it gave me a six-tenths of a second advantage in one lap, and that went up to one second and I was able to get away little by little and win the race.”

MotoGP remains firmly in the hands of its master riders, with the Ducatis next, followed by that cloud of hopeful youngsters who pop up to high positions occasionally in practice. Do they lack the consistency and pace to finish higher than they do? Are their bikes, whose engine ECUs are under the control of a manufacturer, ruthlessly dialed back for the final to avoid having some young pistolero take points essential to higher strategy?

As with so much in racing, we can’t know. In a way, these are riders being held in limbo for observation, like seedlings in a garden. Pedrosa, whose bike pushed a fork seal in practice—causing both himself and Rossi to crash on oil—received a painfully damaged left ankle but managed to get past Dovi on the last lap for 5th. The development Aprilias of Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl improved to 13th and 14th. Aleix Espargaro pushed his Suzuki into 9th while teammate Maverick Vinales crashed out.

Lorenzo’s win brings him even in points with Rossi, but his greater number of wins now makes him the MotoGP points leader.

RESULTS: 2015 CZECH REPUBLIC GRAND PRIX

Pos. Rider Num Nation Points Team Time/Gap
1 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 25 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 42:53.042
2 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 20 Repsol Honda Team +4.462
3 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 16 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP +10.397
4 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 13 Ducati Team +13.071
5 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 11 Repsol Honda Team +15.650
6 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 10 Ducati Team +15.725
7 SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 9 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +21.821
8 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 8 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +23.240
9 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA 7 Team Suzuki Ecstar +43.784
10 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 6 Pramac Racing +45.261
11 HERNANDEZ Yonny 68 COL 5 Pramac Racing +49.973
12 REDDING Scott 45 GBR 4 Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS +50.174
13 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 3 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +54.437
14 BRADL Stefan 6 GER 2 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +54.624
15 BAZ Loris 76 FRA 1 Athina Forward Racing +1'00.316
16 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 0 Avintia Racing +1'01.595
17 HAYDEN Nicky 69 USA 0 Aspar MotoGP Team +1'02.388
18 DI MEGLIO Mike 63 FRA 0 Avintia Racing +1'05.944
19 MILLER Jack 43 AUS 0 CWM LCR Honda +1'11.407
20 CORTI Claudio 71 ITA 0 Athina Forward Racing

RIDER STANDINGS: AUGUST 16, 2015

Pos. Rider Num Nation Points Team
1 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 211 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
2 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 211 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
3 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 159 Repsol Honda Team
4 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 142 Ducati Team
5 SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 106 Monster Yamaha Tech 3
6 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 104 Ducati Team
7 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 91 Repsol Honda Team
8 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 81 Monster Yamaha Tech 3
9 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 74 CWM LCR Honda
10 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 63 Pramac Racing
11 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 62 Team Suzuki Ecstar
12 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA 53 Team Suzuki Ecstar
13 HERNANDEZ Yonny 68 COL 41 Pramac Racing
14 REDDING Scott 45 GBR 37 Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS
15 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 20 Avintia Racing
16 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 16 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
17 BAZ Loris 76 FRA 15 Athina Forward Racing
18 MILLER Jack 43 AUS 12 CWM LCR Honda
19 BRADL Stefan 6 GER 11 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
20 PIRRO Michele 51 ITA 8 Ducati Team
21 HAYDEN Nicky 69 USA 8 Aspar MotoGP Team
22 LAVERTY Eugene 50 IRE 7 Aspar MotoGP Team
23 AOYAMA Hiroshi 7 JPN 5 AB Motoracing
24 DI MEGLIO Mike 63 FRA 2 Avintia Racing
25 DE ANGELIS Alex 15 RSM 1 Athina Forward Racing

Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Valentino Rossi.

Valentino Rossi.

Marc Marquez.

Dani Pedrosa.

Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso.

Andrea Dovizioso.

Andrea Dovizioso.

Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso.

Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso.

Cal Crutchlow.

Cal Crutchlow.

Jack Miller.

Jack Miller.