Friday would prove to be an eventful first day of practice at Brno. Thrills, spills and plenty of flag waving, mostly of the red variety, as crashes played havoc with the day's schedule. It started in the morning, during FP1 for MotoGP, when Valentino Rossi ran wide in the final corner and his rear wheel kicked up a couple of sizable rocks. The rocks hit Dani Pedrosa, on the top of his foot and the front of his fairing, destroying the screen. How fast was he going when he was hit by the rocks, one intrepid reporter asked? "I don't know my speed," Pedrosa quipped, "but the rocks were going like they were shot out of a gun."
And they weren't small rocks either. Asked what size they were, Pedrosa held up both hands, touching thumbs and forefingers together to make a circle. "Like this," he said. About the size of a grapefruit, then. Pedrosa said he had been worried that the impact had broken a bone in his foot, and the Spaniard was limping visibly as he got off his Repsol Honda, but the pain subsided as the session continued, reassuring him that there was nothing broken, just banged up and bruised.
It did not stop Pedrosa from being the fastest man in both sessions. The Honda was supposed to have problems at right-handed tracks, Pedrosa was asked. "We have a lot of chatter at the front and at the rear," he agreed. It was worse in some corners, but he was making up the loss in others. Pedrosa is due to test some new parts on Monday, and even more new parts at a private test in Aragon in two weeks' time. If this is how good the Honda is with chatter, it might be time for Jorge Lorenzo to start getting worried once Honda fix the bike.
The incident with Rossi and Pedrosa caused the session to be red-flagged, for the marshals to clear the track. It would be the first of three: the following session, FP1 for Moto2, Claudio Corti flung his Italtrans Kalex into the air fence, destroying a section which then needed replacing. Yonny Hernandez repeated the trick in the afternoon's MotoGP FP2 session, once again bringing out the red flags.
The falls causing the red flags were not the only crashes. In total, riders went down 21 times - that is 3 more than at Indianapolis on Saturday, a total which triggered a chorus of complaints that Indy was too dangerous a track - with Riccardo Moretti and Alan Techer being taken to the medical center with heavy bruising and a concussion, respectively. But for the most part, the types of crashes were different, riders lowsiding rather than highsiding, and generating more ignominy than injury.
Why the crashes? Was the track so greasy, as one photographer had noted upon his return from the track? Yes, most riders agreed, the track had been greasy, but it was more that the grip had not improved in the afternoon session as much as they had expected, and so riders were pushing harder, then being let down by the hot track temperature.
The track was also giving some cause for concern over tire choice. Most riders had tried both the harder and the softer tire, but few had been able to get the hard rear to provide any grip. Whether the soft tire would last the distance was a question mark. Dani Pedrosa was not so concerned; Valentino Rossi, on the other hand, was rather worried, and everyone wanted more time on the tires to check their durability. That may not be possible: rain started to fall just as night fell at the circuit, and it is predicted to keep falling through the morning and perhaps part of the afternoon. A similar pattern is predicted for race day, with a wet morning followed by questionable conditions for the afternoon.
For the first time in a while, Valentino Rossi won't be praying for rain in Sunday. The Italian looked much stronger at Brno than he has for a while - "You looked like Valentino Rossi," one veteran journalist quipped to the Italian - and the gap to Pedrosa was only half a second. The difference was not related to his decision to leave Ducati at the end of the year, Rossi said, explaining that the difference was much more about the track than anything else. Rossi has had problems in left handers with the Ducati, and Brno goes the right way round for the Desmosedici. Brno was also one of the best races for Rossi last year, and that confidence is carrying into this weekend as well. They still have some settings to try tomorrow, but Rossi is confident of going well if it's dry on Sunday.
Rossi also told reporters that he would no longer be working on developing the 2013 Desmosedici. The team were heading for Misano later this week for a private test, at which Rossi will try some parts that he will be able to use later in the season. But his role in developing the bike for the future is over, he said.
That role falls to Andrea Dovizioso now. "I don't want to talk too much about Ducati," the Italian protested, as he faced a barrage of questions about 2013 and whether he feared the same fate as Rossi and Marco Melandri on the bike. Would he be able to ride the bike? "You don't know until you try," Dovizioso reiterated. "When I switched from Honda to Yamaha, they told me many things about the Yamaha, which turned out not to be true." The feeling was different than he had been led to believe, Dovizioso explained, and so he would have to wait until Valencia to find out exactly how the bike would actually feel. While he had been reluctant to consider Ducati when he was forced out of Honda at the end of 2011, meetings with Filippo Preziosi and Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio were what had convinced him. They had made him believe in the Ducati project, Dovizioso said.
First, though, Dovizioso is hoping for some good results at Brno. Ending the session less than two tenths from Dani Pedrosa - and assisted by the absence of Casey Stoner - the Italian could go one better than the handful of third places he has had. Really, he would like to win, Dovizioso said. "But still there is Jorge and Dani. This is not a small problem." Just how close he can get we shall see on Sunday.