2018 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Old Hards Vs. New Softs, Avoiding Electronics, And Dovi's New Deal

Andrea Dovizioso's manager arrived in Le Mans on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, the Italian had a new two-year contract with Ducati, provisional pole after FP2, and a new lap record. Not a bad start to the weekend, and a harbinger of good things to come, you might think. This is after all not particularly a Ducati track, yet here he was, on top of the timesheets.

Perhaps having his future settled helped, but Dovizioso has been an expert at excluding distractions from his race weekends. The simple fact is that the Ducati man was quick at Jerez, and is quick here, because he is in good form, and the bike is working really well. Dovizioso heads into qualifying feeling confident.

But there is a fly in the ointment, and it is Márquez-shaped, as always. Dovizioso had been pretty quick throughout the first part of FP2, just a couple of tenths behind the leader Márquez. Then in his final run, he fitted a new soft rear slick, dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. It was an impressive showing of blistering speed.

Dovizioso had demoted Marc Márquez to second place, yet that still left Dovizioso much to fear. Márquez may have been nearly two tenths faster than Dovizioso, but Dovizioso had set his quickest lap on a new soft rear with just four laps on it. Márquez had set his best time on an old hard rear tire with twelve laps on it. In terms of outright race pace, Márquez looks very hard to beat.

But it is still only Friday, and the difference between the soft and the hard rear tires is not as great as you might think. After all, Dovizioso had set a 1'32.562 on an old soft tire with nineteen laps on it, or about two-thirds race distance. Race pace for both Dovizioso and Márquez looks to be very strong indeed.

The best form of flattery

Some of the Honda's speed came from the new fairings HRC had homologated for the two Repsol RC213Vs. The fairings for Márquez and teammate Dani Pedrosa bear an uncanny resemblance to the ones which appeared on the Yamaha at the end of last year. A mustache-shaped winglet, looping back to the lower fairing. It had been a big help here at Le Mans, where the riders struggle a lot to keep the front wheel down in acceleration.

"It's different, but improves in some areas, especially it creates a little bit less wheelie," Marc Márquez said. His teammate concurred. "Mainly the biggest effect is on the wings, so today we tried the wings on the last exit, and I could feel there is much less wheelie on the straight," Dani Pedrosa said. "So on a track like here, there is an advantage, because you can be more relaxed on the straight, not fighting so much with the throttle and the wheelie on the exit of the corners. But it's the first time, so I need to do more work on it, but it looks like it matches this kind of track more."

Back to back, track to track

The two riders had tested the fairing three times, at the Jerez private test, the Monday test after the race at Jerez, and at Mugello. The new fairing was better for reducing wheelie, but its effectiveness varied from track to track. At Le Mans, it is vital, but at other tracks, the Repsol Hondas will be able to use the fairing they started the year with. Switching between the two is simple: unbolt one set of aerodynamic appendages from the standard fairing, and bolt on the other set.

This does mean that Honda have used up their won aerodynamic update for the season. It was a calculated gamble, Marc Márquez admitted. "We used the joker, because we believe that in this race track the fairing can help," he said. Combining this new fairing with the old one meant they had something which will work at every track, Márquez believed.

Electronics? No thanks!

The fact that the Movistar Yamahas finished in third and fourth, and ahead of the Monster Tech3 Yamaha interloper Johann Zarco, was positive news. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales were relatively upbeat on Friday, Rossi more relieved at being quick here after struggling at the private test in Mugello, he said. "It's just Friday, but it was a good start," Rossi told his media debrief. "Sincerely, also more positive than I expected, because in Jerez, I knew that we have to suffer, but we made the test in Mugello, and also in Mugello I was quite slow. So I was very worried, also about the bike."

Le Mans was different, however. "In this track, our bike works very well, and I think that the M1 likes Le Mans, for the layout, and also this asphalt is very good, it has a lot of grip. And also I think the low temperature helps, because today was perfect, it was sunny but not very hot. So it was the perfect conditions for us. We have a lot less problems, also with the used tire I have a very good rhythm which is very important for the race. It's just Friday, but like this, it's a lot more fun compared to Jerez."

One possible explanation for the speed of the Yamahas – especially the factory Movistar bikes – is that the layout of Le Mans is much less demanding of the electronics. The toughest challenge for the electronics is long corners with partial throttle, before full throttle has to be applied. There are very few of those at Le Mans, its stop-and-go nature meaning the bike has to be stopped, turned quickly, then fired out of the corner on the fat part of the tire.

"In this track, historically you spin less, because the corners are shorter, and also because the asphalt has more grip, Rossi explained. "When these two things are together, the electronics are less important, so we suffer less. So this shows that this bike is good. For me, yes, we have just to improve in some areas, but it's not easy."

Short and sweet

Johann Zarco had a different perspective on the same issue. "I don’t really know why the Yamaha works so well here, Le Mans is a small track and you are never pushing the bike to the maximum as you really need to be smooth in all the corners," the Frenchman said. "Also the corner speed is quite important so that is why I think we are good with the Yamaha here, which is better for us. Also the pace of the Yamaha with the electronics and suspension is pretty good as you feel from starting the first laps immediately you are in a good range, so you can work on yourself and do small things, as you don’t need to change the bike to find the setup. Sometimes that it is difficult at other GPs but here we are in a good place immediately."

The top ten was full of surprises, though perhaps Jack Miller in sixth is no longer the surprise you would expect to see. The Pramac Ducati rider has been quick all season, and Le Mans was no exception. A bigger surprise is Pol Espargaro on the KTM, the bike performing well at the stop-and-go Le Mans. Both KTMs had been relatively quick in the morning, but Espargaro swapped a new set of mediums for an old set of softs, and immediately improved his lap time. Bradley Smith was not able to make the progress that his teammate did, as he was given test donkey work to do in verifying a frame they had tested in Jerez. With Aleix Esparagaro in tenth on the Aprilia, that made it five manufacturers in the top ten. But the whole top sixteen is within a second, so even the smallest mistake can be costly.

Dovi's Ducati Deal

Back to the contracts. Why had Dovizioso signed on with Ducati for two more years? "We have to be happy about this decision because last year we did an incredible season," he explained. "We fought for the championship until the last round. After five years I think we did a great job together. We were struggling a lot but at the end we fought for the championship. In the end, that is really good. This is another reason why I think it’s good to continue because you want something more. We have in front of us three years to try and get the result. We know how tough it is but we want to fight for that. I know a lot about Ducati. Ducati knows a lot about me. This creates a good situation inside the team, to try and work on the details, to try to work on the bike and fight for the championship."

That long history together was a reason to continue, but it did not mean he had not considered other factories. "It’s normal," Dovizioso said." The riders are egoistical (selfish). The riders have to be [selfish] in the way you think to be fast." But staying with Ducati meant being able to build on the experience that he has with the bike, and with the team, and that would have been the same if he had stayed for the same length of time with any factory. "I think with every manufacturer everything is the same situation."

"I think especially in the way I live the six years with Ducati it was important to stay in the same team, and improve together. I think we were in the same situation in 2013. Both we believe we can fight for the championship. In that time nobody believed that I can fight for the championship. And at that time, after Valentino’s story, nobody really believed in Ducati. That is the special thing, because we start in a really… I mean, I finished fourth the year before in Tech 3 which wasn’t too bad, but in any case, we started from the bottom together. We struggled a lot for many years but at the end we came back together. This is something special. This is the relation with Ducati. We created something important to put on the track. The relations are really important to get a result in the world championship. You know how tough it is to beat everybody."

With Dovizioso gone, the latest logjam in silly season has been removed, and a new round of haggling will commence. Jorge Lorenzo is trying to wait for a couple of races – Barcelona, where he will have to prove his worth to Ducati – to try to score a podium or two to boost his bargaining power. Lorenzo had been widely expected to go to Suzuki, but it seems that Suzuki are unhappy coming off a bad experience with Andrea Iannone – on current form, fast enough to deserve his job – and aren't interested in a new major star.

Instead, it is the name of Moto2 rookie Joan Mir being bandied about. That would align with Mir's interests, as he wishes to spend as little time as possible in Moto2. Mir is already being hailed as the next big thing, and on the evidence of FP2, he could well be just that. But we are still only four races in, and Suzuki's budgets and deadlines are tight. Suzuki would have to take a massive gamble on Mir, and hope he continues to show his brilliance for the rest of the year. But that is what the best MotoGP teams do: know the Moto2 field, and gamble on a young rider coming good.

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It's hard to read into the laptimes and guess who has the best pace, but it does seem as if we're in for a great race. Dovi's methodical approach means he always has room for improvement after friday and the Yamahas were off to a very promising start. Marc is up there as usual.

Fingers crossed.

Can we please go ahead and start discussing the weird deal going on at both MarcVDS and Suzuki? Suzuki looks to be balking in crunch time. And within the management of MVDS there is a pissing match around fiscal accountability? I tend to think there is something here Forward Racing-esque. It seems in process, headed to lawyers. We aren't hearing anything re what is or isn't happening within Suzuki are we? I am discouraged and assuming bad things. Get your shit together folks! This isn't a time for hesitation

Well, apparently a pretty good race weekend is interrupting the Marc VDS attempt to corner the market on Bedlam.

Marc van der Straten, AKA "The Beer Baron", is wealthier than Croesus, loves the sport, and it's his name on the Team. But, it turns out, it isn't really his team, and his role is contractually defined as being "Mr.Wallet".

 Michael Bartholemy, AKA "The Fox", is the ex, or current, or double ex-manager of Marc VDS, and evidently he writes one hell of a contract. Because while all the money flows from the Beer Baron, it does not do so directly to Marc VDS as a racing entity. Rather, it first goes through a management company formed by the clever Mr. Bartholemy. In fact, it is Mr Bartholemy who owns all the race equipment (the MotoGP bikes are leased, but he owns the Moto2 bikes lock, stock, and barrel), including the transporters, tools, uniforms, and probably the salad forks in the hospitality tent. All the employees of the Marc VDS Team are employees of the Fox's company, not the Beer Barons. And the two Moto2 Grid Slots? They are in the Fox's pocket, not the Baron's.

Evidently when this arrangement was clarified to Mr. van der Straten (by a former Marc VDS employee with what is...supposedly...a bit of a grudge against Mr Fox), it did not sit too well. It would be like finding out that after years of paying the mortgage on the house you and all your racing pals live in that, in fact, the land, the dwelling, and all of the furniture  belong to the landlord you employed to just manage the place, leaving you, Mr. Wallet, without a pot to piss in or a window to toss it out. Naturally, after being so rudely nutted by reality, you may now want to properly defenestrate the rascally landlord, but that is...well...a bit tricky when the rascal actually owns the window you are trying to toss him through and has a contract in his jacket pocket...that you signed...stating as much.

So there is one hell of a messy divorce in progress, with each party essentially now holding a wolf by the ears (the trick being...how do you stop holding said wolf's ears and keep your forearms?). If the Beer Baron wants to drop the Fox like a sack of hops, he will find himself without motorcycles, equipment, or transporters (OK, look on the bright side; without the bikes or equipment, who the hell needs transporters anyway?). If the Fox wants to play hardball and take all the toys away, he has to understand that he has no way of paying for their use. And the employees may well be contracted to the Fox, but they have to all know that the value of any paycheck not backed by the Beer Baron's largesse is pretty much fuck-all.

So how did Marc van der Straten get snookered? Well, for one thing, evidently the contract between him and Michael Bartholemy was written in English, a language that Mr. van der Straten is not fluent in (and evidently, that description might be a kindness). And as is often the case with the rich and powerful, they employ one set of criteria for business (one can assume the enormous empire Mr. van der Straten owns has some perfectly crackerjack lawyers and accountants on the payroll), and a completely different one for their hobbies and avocations. And make no mistake about it, Marc van der Straten is paying for the Marc VDS effort because he loves racing. Period. His assumption that he is dealing with a crew of mates who all share the same deep love of the sport probably led to him dropping his guard. I mean, why ruin a beautiful thing like a racing team by allowing the stench of accountants and lawyers to permeate every decision? He evidently feels quite aggrieved at what he sees as a massive betrayal, and has inferred that much worse was afoot than could adequately be described as just a "betrayal".

Michael Bartholemy, on the other hand, says he has a contract that allowed him to do, well, pretty much what he did. He has delivered consistent high results on the track, and simply bent the rest of the process very much to his advantage. An argument could be made that he properly hoodwinked his employer, but may not have defrauded him. And the key point may be this: When Mr van der Straten conducts his business (as opposed to his racing hobby), one can confidently assume he does so in a very hard-nosed way so as to place his enterprise in a position of having every legitimate commercial advantage. But for Mr Bartholemy, managing the VDS Race Team is his business, not his hobby, so he applied the same tactics that Mr. van der Straten would recognize (and perhaps even appreciate) in the boardroom. So we may not be looking at two fundamentally different approaches, one virtuous and one steeped in treachery, but rather just the different perspective each of the parties brought with them. One saw it as a happy band of brothers, the other as the usual jolly business of keeping the wolf from the door, Devil take the hindmost, and fair play to the winners. As usual with these dramas, this has more perception than deception flavoring the stew they are both now choking on.

In the mean time, things just get loonier by the day. Mr. van der Straten has appointed a new "Boss" to run the Marc VDS Team this weekend, but Mr. Bartholemy showed up as well in the paddock, evidently with his lawyer in tow. Given all of this, it is small wonder that Suzuki wants as much to do with this as they would with a crate marked "plague rats". So it appears (subject to change) that Hamamatsu will not field a satellite team next year. But Yamaha and Honda still are at the table, and now they are holding much better cards than they were thirty days ago, while Marc VDS has managed to play themselves into a very bad position from which to negotiate. Mr van der Straten has stepped up and guaranteed the viability of the Marc VDS effort for 2019-2020, so as messy as things are currently, there is a future.

How will it end? Who knows, probably with some healthy checks being exchanged in return for a pile of hold-harmless and non-disclosure agreements...as well as handing over the bikes, the employee contracts, the tools, the uniforms, the keys to the transporters, and probably the salad forks.

But screw all this: I probably have a bunch of this wrong, so wait patiently like the rest of us until Krop explains it all  properly. I will not lose a minutes sleep over this melodrama (my only real interest is where Joan Mir lands) as both the Beer Baron and the Fox are better suited today than 99.997% of the rest of us, and will continue to be tomorrow, so ultimately my care factor = 0. Besides, FP3 is starting, and compared to that The Drama Queens of MotoGP couldn't draw my attention away from the track if they chased each other around the paddock with flamethrowers and their pants around their ankles. Cheers.

PS - A lot of this came from Speedweek.com, and who the hell knew the Germans could be such gossips?




Jinx, you're a genius. Do you write fiction as well. I see the makings of a million seller. It's the combination of David's articles and comments from informed and articulate contributors like you which finally convinced me to break open the piggy bank and subscribe to arguably the best GP news source. Thanks from the bottom of the world.

Holy shite mate, thanks a TON for this - fantastic write up. My favorite in a long while. Sincerely, thanks and much respect.

I agree re flamethrowers and pants off track. I am finding myself VERY invested in both Suzuki and Yamaha establishing strong Jr Teams w factory-ish kit. Your write up helps me. The timing of this must very definitely coincide with a review of business affairs they plan for a new venture.

This model they have - it may reflect an old way of doing things. Customer bikes et al. I am sure ze fox did not have anything like this running the Kawasaki garage. This is intriguing for me in that the business model means something for what happens on track. Contrast Tech 3 to KTM, and Monster - main/title sponsor was nothing but wallet. Now Monster is looking at Suzuki Lorenzo as per the rumor mill. Simpler.

Looks like MarcVDS embarked on a joint venture with Ze Wolf and Co. But what happens when Suzuki sits at the table? Poor Suzuki opened a can of worms. This is a loss for MotoGP. The two programs are a fantastic fit, a major sponsor and a program in lower classes with expertise much needed.

Nope. Now back to the drawing board. (Sigh)

Anyone wondering if Aspar and Suzuki are chatting? Seems the last permutation.

Given all of this, it is small wonder that Suzuki wants as much to do with this as they would with a crate marked "plague rats".

now that's funny.

Not a lap record "dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. " Come on David, last time I dreamt of a lap record they had to be set in a race. That is still the case, to the best of my knowledge. Not up to your usual high standard David.

Thanks, Mr Emmett, give me a mo I will read the rest.

I hope Dovizioso got more beans for next year. Welcome back Maverick & V.R.46. Yes it does seem as if we're in for a great race or it could be good.

Silly season Suzuki oh dear, maybe Jorge Lorenzo is talking about staying on at Ducati because Suzuki are not all that keen on him, how the mighty have fallen. JLo99 did the business several times, now he has so much unfinished business. Barcelona, how did the resurfacing & moving back the grandstands go. Apparently there is some car race on at Catalunya. It would be good to find out about the track

What a monumental shame that whole drama is turning out to be.  One of the best satellite outfits in the class, which would have suited Suzuki to a tea as a junior squad, with the feed from Moto2 and it all gets ruined because of money and pride. What a mess.  Now it looks strongly like Suzuki will not field a satellite team and even Yamaha are at risk of not running one either. And next year was looking sooo promising with all the changes.  No doubt Pedrosa will stay with Honda again (boring) and who knows, maybe even Lorenzo will stay…… I was soooo looking forward to some real riders movement too.

Great write up Jinx, I had tried following some of the German mags but doing the google translate thing did not add any clarity at all.