Catalunya MotoGP Wrap-Up

Ten wins for Valentino Rossi at Barcelona

Valentino Rossi raises arm in victory
Valentino Rossi.Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

In the normal course of affairs, Catalunya is reckoned as a "Yamaha circuit" because its several longish corners, requiring steady turning, do not allow the Hondas much scope for late braking or early acceleration. The Yams, generally optimized for corner speed (softer suspension, high-stability, longer wheelbase) surprised no one by looking good in early practice.

Then a terrible thing happened. Luis Salom fell in the second Moto2 free practice, receiving injuries that he did not survive.

As Salom’s fall has been reconstructed from data recovered from his bike, slow acceleration off the previous corner caused him to arrive at the long third-gear right-hand Turn 12 about four-mph slower than normal. To enter at his normal corner speed he braked almost 30-ft late for the corner. Ordinarily this would have been okay, but by moving braking closer to T12, he was still hard on the brakes when he came to a bump for which this entry is known. With suspension working freely (brakes having been released) this bump is not a problem, but Salom’s delayed braking meant that his front end was still under heavy side-load, making it act stiffer. Losing grip, the front went away, causing the fall. No one can predict the dynamics of such falls. In general, riders fall and walk away.

In response to this event, the track layout was shifted to its Formula One configuration, which shifted the nature of this track more to favor the Honda "compressed approach" corner style of late braking, early turning, and use of the remaining real estate as a drag strip to enable a high exit speed. Where previously the race had looked like "advantage Yamaha," now the adaptable, push-at-100-percent Marc Marquez was able to qualify on pole.

Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi race action
Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Naturally, the result was some back-and-forthing over whether Valentino Rossi could have got a better deal for Yamaha had he attended Safety Commission hearings more regularly. But for me, this comes under the heading of racing offices and job titles rather than bikes—I can’t get very interested in it.

Then came Sunday morning warm-up, when it was clear the Yamaha men had found something to help they through the new section.

Rossi said, “…we modify the bike for the last section and in the warm-up I was fast.”

As we have come to expect, at the flag Lorenzo shot into the lead, settling into a pace of mid minute-forty-sixes. Rossi, getting away less well in eighth, immediately used a similar pace to advance aggressively past those ahead.

Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa race action
Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.Courtesy of HRC

Lorenzo commented after the race that he knew there was a possibility that his front tire would “grain” (form parallel “beach marks” of rolled-up rubber swarf). This is usually regarded as a symptom that the rubber compound in question lacks sufficient tensile strength to match its grip. Lorenzo continued to lead the race for six laps at his mid-46 pace, but then his front tire did grain, slowing him by about 6/10ths of a second per lap. Now Rossi took over at roughly the same pace that had allowed Lorenzo to lead. Naturally, he hoped to get away, having passed several riders without excessive effort.

It was not to be—Marquez, so often able to improvise a faster pace, stayed with Rossi as the two left the field behind.

Vinales, who will be on a Yamaha in 2017, now may have overworked his tires a bit in trying to stay with the lead group (everyone has been predicting that soon he will keep his pace race-long and actually finish where he appears capable of finishing), losing ground that would require more work for him to recover to fourth, where he finished.

Rossi described the final laps: “At the end, the battle was great. I like a lot for sure. Because when I saw Marc overtake me I understand that also for him it was difficult with the tires. From that moment I tried the maximum and was able to take a small gap for the last lap.” (Rossi won by 2.562 seconds)

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez shake hands
Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez shake hands.Courtesy of HRC

Marquez had a series of “moments” during this exchange (he led lap 23). These are the large mistakes that occur when a rider pushes to the maximum and must take time to gather them up. After a particularly bad one he decided it was better to take the 20 points for second rather than fall while trying for the full 25 that go to the winner.

On lap 17 Iannone came up fast on Lorenzo, whose times were gradually slowing. A collision took both men down and out, resulting in assessment of a start penalty for the Ducati rider at the next race (he'll start at the back of the grid).

Marquez observed of Rossi that “He has a really good level,” and the two shook hands in the parc ferme after the finish.

Just when you think racing is a matter of form, circumstances change suddenly, forcing everyone to improvise. Rossi had the pace and tire conservation to win.