It has been a busy day for everyone involved in MotoGP. A large section of the paddock was sat either behind a computer or staring at a mobile device frantically refreshing their flight tracker app of choice, watching the exploits of Aerostan aircraft EX-47001, as it finally made its way from Mombasa in Kenya to Lagos in Nigeria to Salvador in Brazil. As I write this, it has taken off from Salvador and is winging its way to Tucuman, where it is due to land some time after 9pm. At Salvador, the flight number changed from BSC4042 to BSC4043. A sign? I leave it up to the reader to decipher the letters BSC in the flight number.
At San Miguel de Tucuman, the plane will have to be unloaded and the customs formalities dealt with, before the contents of the plane are transported from the airport to the circuit at Termas de Rio Hondo, just under 100km away. They should at least arrive some time before midnight.
That will mean mechanics working through the night to get the bikes ready for Saturday. In preparation for this, the Gresini mechanics left the circuit early on Friday, presumably to get some sleep ahead of a long night.
Prepping the bikes
How long will the mechanics need to get the bikes ready? Opinions differ. Alex Briggs, formerly a mechanic for Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan, believed it could all be done in relatively short order, despite the bikes being filthy after the wet race in Mandalika. One bike should be clean, as it didn't get used, and just needs new fluids and the setting and gearbox changed for the new circuit. The second bike might take longer, but even that shouldn't take too long, according to Briggs.
Other estimates were heard from various paddock sources. The factory KTM mechanics had needed 3 hours to clean up and prepare the bikes raced by Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira. Others estimated it could take the Gresini squad between 8 and 12 hours to get the bikes ready to roll. But given that the garages are completely empty, that might also include the time needed to set up the garage, at least to a minimum requirement to be able to work.
Cut and run
But why didn't they strip and clean the bikes on the Sunday night after the race, I hear you ask? Mainly because most of the teams were rushing to catch an 8pm charter flight from Lombok after the Mandalika MotoGP race, a situation which had been made worse by the fact the race had been delayed for over an hour. They had no time to do anything but the absolute minimum before packing them in crates ready for the flight.
But even under normal circumstances, they still wouldn't have stripped the bikes. After every race, the bikes are packed into crates as quickly as possible and either taken to the airport or packed into the race track, and only stripped and cleaned at the next race, or back at the workshop. Sunday night is the end of a long and hard week of work, and most people have flights to catch. Pretty much everyone is done in, and a mistake is easily made when you are tired. Better to do it all on the Wednesday and Thursday, when the mechanics are much fresher, and can work at a less frenetic pace.
The timing of the arrival of the bikes persuaded Dorna to draw up a new schedule. That seems aimed at both giving everyone more time on track, and giving the MotoGP teams more time to prepare their bikes. Moto2 and Moto3 fill the morning, MotoGP only taking to the track at 12:35.
There will be two sets of free practices for all three classes, which will decide who gets to pass straight through to Q2. Moto2 and Moto3 have 50-minute FP1 and FP2 sessions starting at 8:15am and ending at 12:20. MotoGP then gets an hour of FP1 at 12:35, after which Moto3 and Moto2 have their Q1 and Q2 qualifying sessions.
Once the support classes are done, MotoGP gets another hour of FP2, before the riders head into Q1 at 5:05pm local time, with Q2 starting at 5:30pm. With FP3 dropped (the equivalent of FP4 in the already shortened schedule), MotoGP warm up has been extended by another 10 minutes, to a 40 minute session. Moto2 and Moto3 get 20 minutes each. And the races for all three classes happen as scheduled, the only part of the weekend to remain normal.
Friday fan day
With normal activity canceled – including media debriefs, the riders had nothing new to say to journalists so why put them through the misery of having to face our inane questions? - Dorna put on a whole series of extra events for the fans. Attendance was huge for a Friday, a reminder of how important the region is for the sport. Teams passed the time with sports, training, and even a few golf lessons.
The delay worked out well for Takaaki Nakagami. The Japanese rider had previously tested positive for Covid-19, and been unable to travel. That proved to be a false positive, and after a negative test on Friday morning, he was able to fly to Argentina, and should arrive in time to ride in FP1 on Saturday afternoon.
What happens on Saturday? Putting Moto3 and Moto2 out for two sessions before MotoGP is smart if your main aim is to clean the track up as much as possible for MotoGP. Having 60+ bikes circulating for three and a half hours will do a lot to shift the dust and dirt which has accumulated on a track which does not get much use outside of MotoGP. The fat Dunlops of Moto2, especially, will make a difference here.
Having two long practice sessions makes a difference too. Moto2 and Moto3 will get the equivalent of two and a half normal sessions of FP, with 100 minutes on track instead of the normal 120 minutes from three 40-minute sessions. MotoGP will get 120 minutes instead of 165 minutes, the equivalent of losing one session of free practice.
But for both classes, they gain some time at the end of the sessions. There will be little point trying to set a fast lap at the end of FP1, as conditions will still be improving, so it is better to focus on setup and tire choice in FP1, and wait for the last 15 minutes of the session to start chasing a quick lap. This, as MotoGP race reporter Zara Daniela pointed out to me, will effective mean that MotoGP will have three qualifying sessions within the space of an hour or so. Riders will push at the end of FP2, then face Q1 and Q2.
Longer sessions will be better for race setup too. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is particularly hard on tires, so choosing the right race tire is going to be crucial, as well as setting the electronics to manage tire wear in the best way possible. Two 60-minute sessions gives the MotoGP teams enough time to do several long runs and get a real idea of tire wear.
With the missing cargo now almost certain to arrive, MotoGP fans everywhere, but especially those on the ground at Termas de Rio Hondo, can look forward to two days of action on track. The teams and riders face one of the longest days of activity I can remember for a very long time. And some teams face with a lack of sleep after a long night of work.
But the good news is that the races will happen. The show must go on, and with everything necessary at the track, it can, at last.
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