Depending on who you ask, MotoGP's summer break is either too short, or too long. For the fans, three full weekends without MotoGP is a painfully long time, though both World Superbikes and BSB have done a pretty good job of making MotoGP's absence much more bearable. For the teams, riders and staff, the four weeks between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis pass in an instant, seeming way too short to qualify as a break.
In between PR appearances and negotiations for 2016, riders are lucky to grab five days R&R before getting back to training for the remainder of the season. Team staff, on the other hand, spend their time catching up with all of the stuff they didn't get done in the first half of the season, and trying to get a head start on the second half. What were supposed to be 23 days away from it all get eaten up by a myriad of minor tasks that had been neglected, and before they know it, they are on a plane again and heading for the next race. Not that they mind: for 99% of the people involved in MotoGP, they are driven by a passion for racing, and being at a race track is their idea of heaven. That is why they are paid so poorly, and what makes the paddock such an inspirational place to be.
Indianapolis is a pretty good place to get back to racing, too. Downtown has a real motorcycle buzz, with bike-related activities going on throughout the weekend. Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains one of the most special motorsports facilities in the world, drenched in legend and racing history. Getting in and out of the circuit is a breeze, in contrast with other races, meaning you don't have to get up at insane o'clock if you want to get to the track in time for the start of morning warm up.
It has its downsides too: in a facility is gargantuan as IMS, the crowd of 60,000 or so MotoGP fans just rattle around the place. The layout of the track, housed in the circuit's infield, is limited by the exigencies of its location. The changes made for 2014 were a major improvement on the previous road course, making it a lot more flowing than it was, but it remains flat, with corners that have been designed rather than evolved. This year, it also lost the link with the Indy Mile, at the Indiana State Fairground, the legendary flat track race being held a month earlier.
The event has not attracted the masses of bike fans from the eastern seaboard, as had been hoped, nor has it had much of an impact in expanding the fan base of MotoGP in the US. The circuit and the city may love MotoGP, but the surrounding area remain indifferent. The fans at Indy are often the same faces as at Austin, and at Laguna Seca too, when the race was held in Northern California: America's band of rabidly enthusiastic MotoGP fans, prepared to go to any lengths to see a race in their country, even if it means using up all their brief vacation days and spending their hard-earned money on watching racing on home soil. That failure means that this is likely to be the last ever race at Indianapolis, as Dorna is forced to concede that the fan base and finances can only support a single race in the USA. It will be a shame to lose it, as Indy was always the best US event in terms of the fan experience. But harsh economic realities and the lure of new markets make its demise inevitable.
The Indianapolis track will come as a blessed relief to the Repsol Honda riders. After a difficult start to 2015, kicking off the second half of the season at a track where they have won the last five editions offers a chance to move the momentum from the Sachsenring up a gear. The lack of a flowing layout means that the biggest weakness of the 2015 Honda RC213V (or the hybrid version being ridden by Marc Márquez) does not rear its ugly head. Braking for corner entry is mostly done in a straight line, the rear sliding relatively controllably.
If a Honda has won here for the past five years, who take victory in 2015? If Marc Márquez has any hope of retaining his title, he will have to win here, and keep on winning. Márquez has a strong record here: he has not been beaten in either Moto2 or MotoGP, having won the last four times he competed at Indy. Victory at the Sachsenring gave him a major morale boost, and he will carry that on to Indianapolis.
He will have to beat his teammate, though, as Dani Pedrosa's season is on an upward trend. Pedrosa has also won here twice, and before last year, had not finished any worse than second at Indy. The arm pump issues which plagued Pedrosa all last year have now been cured, and his physical rehabilitation is very close to complete. Pedrosa has not won a race for nearly a year, and is eager to buck that trend. Indy is the first in a string of tracks where the Spaniard has traditionally excelled, so kicking off the second half of the year with a win could presage great things to come.
The biggest problem for both Márquez and Pedrosa come in the shape of a brace of Movistar Yamahas. The Yamahas have been inching closer to ending the Honda hegemony in the heartland for the past couple of seasons, and 2015 could see the year they finally prevail. The Yamaha M1 is the best bike on the grid at the moment, and both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are in peak form. Both men have won here, and both men know that the title will be decided between the two of them. Beating their teammate will be their main goal, preferably by putting as many of their rivals between them.
Will it be Rossi or Lorenzo who seizes the advantage at Indy? Given the high stresses placed on the tires, and the fact that Bridgestone were giving serious consideration to bringing the extra hard rear which made its debut at Argentina to the circuit. In the end, they decided against it, and will supply the medium and hard rear tires instead. Both Lorenzo and Rossi raced with the hard last year, and it is a tire which Rossi prefers. But Lorenzo got to within a couple of seconds of Marc Márquez in 2014, so it is not that much of a handicap. Just as at the rest of the remaining nine circuits, there really is very little to choose between the two of them.
What of the Ducatis? Indianapolis could be a circuit where they can excel. The factory Ducati team halved the distance from the winner between 2013 and 2014, slashing the gap to Marc Márquez from 40 to 20 seconds. If they can take another 20 seconds off their race time, well, you do the math. The problem for Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone is that while the Desmosedici GP15 is a massive step forward over last year's bike, the other bikes – and especially the Yamaha – have improved as well. Though it looked like the GP15 had allowed the Ducati catch the two leading manufacturers at Qatar, since then, Yamaha and Honda have moved the goalposts again, leaving the two Andreas floundering in their wake. Gigi Dall'Igna and his engineers have had another four weeks to come up with improvements to help catch them. Indianapolis is a good place to try.
The challenge for Suzuki and Aprilia is much greater. The layout of Indianapolis is the epitome of everything the Suzuki hates: a long front straight entered in a low gear, followed by a lot of tight corners connected by straight lines. The strength of the Suzuki GSX-RR is its incredible agility, but when a circuit does not reward agility, the bike suffers. The lack of a seamless gearbox exacerbates the lack of both horsepower and acceleration, meaning that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales face a weekend of being left for dead out of the corners. Their first real hope of salvation will probably only come at the test at Brno, when Suzuki is due to bring some upgrades, hopefully including a seamless gearbox. For now, Espargaro and Viñales must grit their teeth and hope for the best.
Things are much tougher at Aprilia, but now that Stefan Bradl has been drafted in as a permanent replacement for the melancholy Marco Melandri, the whole project should at least take on a more positive path. The problem is that the RS-GP remains an interim project, a bike evolved from the RSV4, modified to compete as a CRT within the MotoGP class. The CRTs are gone, and Aprilia faces a full prototype onslaught, though the Open bikes are hampered by the subpar Open class software. While the data from Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl is being used to shape the all-new, fully prototype bike being designed by Romano Albesiano, their current bike is far from competitive. Slow, heavy, still using a wet clutch, the bike does not want to enter the corner or turn like a Yamaha or Honda.
While Bautista is gritting his teeth, Bradl will at least be glad to have saved his season. The demise of the Forward Racing team – whether their appearance at Brno is merely temporary, or they will be able to complete the rest of the season is still something of a mystery – left Bradl out in the cold. Jumping in to replace Melandri puts him in the hot seat for the Aprilia ride next year. His first few races will be instructive, and give him an idea of whether that is where he wants to be.
What of the satellite riders? The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha partnership of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro head to Indianapolis on a high, still elated after their victory at Suzuka. The win should provide the Tech 3 twosome with even more motivation to start the second half of the season in style. The question mark is just how much the sweltering heat and intense pressure of the Suzuka 8 Hour race took out of them. Can Bradley Smith continue his rock solid form from the first part of the season? Can Pol Espargaro turn his year around on the back of his 8 Hour win? Indianapolis gives them a chance to find out.
As for the Hondas, Indy should prove very instructive. Cal Crutchlow heads to the US looking for a good result, and hoping to close the gap to the Repsol Honda riders. Crutchlow has adapted well to the RC213V, but past results at Indy do not bode well. His hopes rest on the strong result he had in 2013, when he finished as the best satellite rider aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Finishing fifth against as strong a factory field as the 2015 line up would be a very decent result indeed.
Scott Redding is perhaps the rider most eager to get back to work at Indianapolis. After a very difficult start to the 2015 season, struggling far more than he ever expected on board the Honda RC213V, Redding showed signs of real progress at the Sachsenring. A first-lap crash left him frustrated and annoyed, yet still confident that he had made a step forward. Often, the summer break can serve as a chance to reflect on the lessons of the first half of the season, and to start to internalize that knowledge. At Indianapolis, he has a chance to confirm his progress at the Sachsenring, and move on even further. His yardstick will be the gap to the front. First, that must fall, then he can start to think about results.
Adding spice to all of this is the advent of silly season. With no factory seats of any significance up for grabs, it has gotten off to a slow start. The implosion which has occurred among the private and satellite teams has made things even more complicated. The future of Forward Racing is far from certain, to put it mildly, after the arrest of team boss Giovanni Cuzari. LCR look likely to lose their link with CWM, as CWM boss Anthony Constantinou comes under ever growing legal scrutiny and faces multiple charges of sexual assault. Losing CWM backing would force Lucio Cecchinello to go from two bikes to just one, with Jack Miller likely to move to the Aspar team. Aspar, meanwhile, are strapped for cash, and struggling to stay afloat for next year.
Despite the many difficulties, Indianapolis could see the first few loose ends being tied up. Bradley Smith looks set to extend his contract with Tech 3 any day now, and Indy would be as good a place as any to announce the deal. Teammate Pol Espargaro must negotiate his deal with Yamaha rather than Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal, and looks set to take a pay cut to stay where he is. Espargaro's deal is a little further away than Smith's, but he is just as likely to stay put as his teammate. Cal Crutchlow's contact extension with LCR is a formality, but there are hoops still to be jumped through. Sam Lowes is rumored to be close to a deal with a MotoGP team, a deal which could also be announced at Indy.
All things considered, what is likely to be the final running of MotoGP at The Brickyard promises to be one of the best editions yet. Enjoy Indy while you can, US bike fans, for you will miss it more than you realize once it is gone.
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