If there are two facts that you need to know about the Jerez circuit - apart from its wonderful setting in one of the nicest parts of the world - it is these: The track is difficult in terms of grip, and the circuit demands a lot of the front end of motorcycle races. If you were unaware of those two facts, then watching qualifying - for any of the three classes that race in the MotoGP series - would be enough to acquaint you with them.
In the MotoGP class, Valentino Rossi crashed, Hiroshi Aoyama crashed, Ben Spies crashed, Randy de Puniet crashed. It would be quicker to sum up who didn't crash rather than who didn't end up on the floor. Even Casey Stoner managed to topple over in the gravel trap, though the Australian's incident was the least serious of the session, and had more to do with misjudging the tire rather than pushing the front beyond the limits of endurance.
Not so for both Ben Spies and Valentino Rossi, both men confessing to having asked too much of their tires. Spies admitted to getting into Turn 1 just far too hot, and his hope of being able to save the situation turning out to be far too optimistic. Spies laid it down and slid off, acknowledging that his luck had lost out to physics.
Apart from that, Spies was relatively happy. His team had "worked their asses off" to give Spies a bike that he felt much more comfortable with. They changed the weight distribution for the faster corners, and that left Spies much closer to the front three. A podium was a little too much for ask for, but they were at least closing in on the point where that was a reality.
Rossi's crash was another case of optimism triumphing over common sense. The Italian got in too hot and too far over, and once he touched the throttle, the front lost grip and washed out. "The problem? 65 degrees of angle!" the Italian said, pinpointing the exact cause of the crash.
The bigger problem, though, was that Rossi had crashed on the bike with the setup that was working for him. The other bike in the garage was setup completely differently, and the Italian just could not get that Ducati Desmosedici GP11 to work for him. With no time to switch setups on his B bike, nor enough time to fix up his A bike, Rossi had to muddle through to a 12th spot on the grid.
The Marlboro Ducati rider was remarkably cheerful about it, though. On the bike he sent into the gravel, Rossi felt capable of claiming a second row start. That would allow him to stay in touch with "the second group," basically the riders fighting for 4th. That is about the best that Rossi can hope for at the moment, until they have revised the Ducati far enough to make it easier for Rossi - and the other Ducati riders - to ride.
Rossi also got drawn into a few other discussions, some of which were not his own making. He was first asked what he thought of Max Biaggi slapping Marco Melandri during Superpole at the Donington World Superbike round last weekend, but he wisely refused to be drawn, saying only that he hadn't seen the incident, and didn't want to judge the situation on the facts. He also clarified his views on the Superbike series, saying that he was wrong to say that World Superbikes was like the Italian "Serie B" soccer league. "It is more like Superbikes is Serie A, but MotoGP is the Champions League," Rossi said.
Rossi was also fingered - justly or unjustly - as the mastermind behind a proposal to change the rules concerning rider weight. Marco Simoncelli - the lankiest, heaviest rider on the grid - has been complaining all weekend that the lighter riders (Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner) had an unfair advantage, and the Italian media were adamant that Rossi and Simoncelli had submitted a proposal to force a minimum combined rider and bike weight.
Though Rossi protested his innocence over the proposal, he said he broadly agreed with the premise, that lighter riders had an advantage. His teammate - the 69kg Nicky Hayden - agreed, saying that the biggest differences were in fuel consumption and in tire wear. Hayden said that when he was partnered with Dani Pedrosa - 52kg - he was forced to run a much leaner fuel map than Pedrosa. Of course, that was in the first years of the 800s, directly after the fuel limits were reduced to 21 liters.
Naturally, Dani Pedrosa was opposed, and was both eloquent and witty in his defense of the status quo. "If Valentino thinks being small is an advantage, maybe he should try being small!" Pedrosa quipped. "This story follows me all the time," Pedrosa said during the press conference, pointing out that when he came to MotoGP, the media wrote him off as being to small to ride a MotoGP bike successfully. He put the comments from other riders down to a misunderstanding: "How do you say, the grass is always greener on the other side," he told the qualifying press conference.
He did not rule out the proposal, though he had a counterproposal of his own: "They can have less weight on the bike if I can have pills to make me grow!" He joked. Stoner concurred, pointing out that in the 500 era, nobody ever brought the subject up. Which was surprising, as the bikes now were 15+ kilos heavier and made 240 horsepower.
As for tomorrow's races, the rain which is expected is likely to throw a spanner in the works of any predictions anyone might make. If the track were to remain dry, and the sun to miraculously shine, then it would probably be a battle between Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, with the big question being how long Pedrosa's shoulder will hold up. Pedrosa is hoping that it will last all the way to the final lap, but that is probably overly optimistic. Lorenzo may have been 3rd fastest during qualifying, but his race pace has looked good all weekend, and he should not be discounted. Casey Stoner insisted that this race gave his Spanish rivals an extra boost, and will make them that little bit quicker. And that will make them a good deal harder to beat over the course of the race.
If it does rain - a prospect that looks like a racing certainty - then things could get extremely complicated. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi have not seen a drop of rain on their new machines, while Dani Pedrosa had not ridden in the rain since Aragon last September. The rain might be a wildcard, and play into the hands of Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies, and maybe even some of the riders further down on the grid, and anyone prepared to take a risk.
In the 125 class, the race looks like going down to a contest between Nico Terol and Sandro Cortese. The German and the Spaniard have been a cut above the rest, and the interest in the 125 class is likely to be the battle for the final podium spot. There's four or five riders who are in with a chance, including Hector Faubel, Jonas Folger, Sergio Gadea, Johann Zarco and Luis Salom. That looks like providing a host of entertainment in the opening race of the day.
The Moto2 class is much more difficult to call. The problem has been the fact that Dunlop brought two different tires to Jerez, the softer of which was a whole second faster than the harder compound. Practice saw riders and teams nursing used tires over all three sessions and qualifying, while trying to save one tire for the race. But that meant that at any given time, it was not clear who was really fast and who was merely being hampered by the tires. One rider had been nursing his tire so much that the left side was completely unusable while the right side was good, making posting a fast, full lap extremely difficult.
It is a safe bet to assume that Stefan Bradl will feature in the equation, the German having been quickest all weekend. Bradl has an extra motivation to win here, as his father, former 250cc racer Helmut, won the race back in 1991. Illustrating the fact that competitiveness as a character trait runs in families, at the qualifying press conference, when asked if matching his father's victory here, Stefan said that he didn't think that that Helmut had taken pole at the same race. In fact he did, and he set the fastest lap in the race at the same time.
Rain or shine, Bradl and Marc Marquez are certain to feature. But after that, it is anyone's guess as to who could be in the mix. Yuki Takahashi and Thomas Luthi would appear to be a relatively safe but, with Bradley Smith and Alex de Angelis in with a strong outside chance. But Andrea Iannone, and perhaps even Kenan Sofuoglu could turn up a surprise on Sunday, with Moto2 remaining very much a lottery.
Only one way to find out. On Sunday, we go racing.