2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marquez' Return, Lorenzo's Standstill, Rossi's Qualifying, And Moto3 Money Troubles

After practice on Friday, it looked like the MotoGP race at Indianapolis was going to a knock-down, drag-out battle between Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo, both men very evenly matched. A day later, and it looks like the battle could be much bigger than that, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi on the same pace, and maybe even Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and if things go right for him, Aleix Espargaro involved in the fight. Unfortunately for the fans, the battle will be for second, as one man has moved the game on. Marc Márquez' reign in the USA is looking increasingly secure.

The Repsol Honda rider upped his game on Saturday, topping both free practice sessions comfortably, his pace in FP4 particularly fearsome. He finished FP4 over six tenths ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, setting his fast lap on old tires, in full race trim, on the second lap of a long run. His pace was solid, all mid to high 1'32s, where Lorenzo was cranking out low 1'33s. He then followed it up in qualifying with a display of supremacy which belied the ease with which he took pole. After going out and setting the pole lap on his first flying lap, he returned to the garage where he sat calmly for five minutes, unperturbed by the happenings on the track. He returned for another try, even though it was not needed, and set another lap faster than any other rider would manage.

In the press conference, Márquez explained that he was once again comfortable on the bike, and that his team had found another step forward. The language he used to describe his situation was both modest and inaccurate. "Yesterday, I saw that Jorge was really strong," he said, "but today we got closer and we had a similar pace." In truth, Márquez and Lorenzo had similar pace on Friday. On Saturday, Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest.

Lorenzo was confused and frustrated at not having been able to manage to match Márquez' pace. "To be honest, I expected to improve a little bit more the bike than I did today," he said. The trouble was that the bike was already so good when it rolled out of the air freight container on Friday, so finding improvements was hard. "We tried many settings and we couldn't improve really the setting of yesterday. That was really good." They have one more shot tomorrow morning, to try to find the couple of tenths a lap which Lorenzo is short of matching Márquez' pace.

Or Lorenzo can wait for the second half of the race, and see how it develops. "The Honda is more explosive, but I have a very good pace after ten or fifteen laps," he said. Indianapolis' unique surface means that tire wear can be a crucial factor, and having a little bit more left at the end of the race can be the difference between victory and defeat. The Honda thrives on the slippery surface, managing wheelspin better in the first part of the race. As the race progresses, however, the Yamaha comes into its own, better grip meaning less wheelspin, and less wheelspin meaning less tire wear. The race may appear over at half distance, but that may turn out to be a very wrong impression indeed.

Lorenzo is at least fortunate to be starting from the front row. That prospect looked a very long way from reality after the Movistar Yamaha rider's second run during Q2. On his very last run, he jumped from eighth up to third, and close enough to Márquez to be able to challenge, or at least follow. He had hoped to gain an advantage by trying three runs instead of two, making use of the extra medium tires he had saved by working with the hard during practice. That did not pay off in the first two runs, Lorenzo languishing well down the order. Only on his final run did the Spaniard put it all together. He was "as precise and perfect as I could be," and he moved up onto the front row. But his gamble on three runs, swapping only rear tires but not bikes, meant he spent just a fraction too long in the pits. He came up just a second short of having another shot at a fast lap on that final run. He did the lap anyway, probably not having seen the checkered flag, but the lap was untimed. Curiosity makes us wonder how fast that final lap was, though the question is, whether Yamaha would release that data.

While Lorenzo has been treading water, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi have made a big step forward. Pedrosa is pretty much a match for Lorenzo's race pace, and is likely to pose a formidable obstacle on Sunday. He starts from second, putting himself between Lorenzo and Márquez, and if the Repsol Honda man can find his former razor sharp speed off the line, then he should be capable of spicing up the race. He could end up making life difficult for his teammate, getting in Márquez' way while Márquez is capable of escaping. The question was asked in the press conference whether he believed that HRC might want to get involved in finishing order, and whether Pedrosa would be inclined to follow such instructions. Pedrosa was diplomatic about the answer, but reading between the lines the message was clear: I am here to win races, Márquez is more than capable of looking after himself.

Rossi also made a step forward on Saturday, and was much relieved about the whole affair. They had changed the balance of the bike from Assen and the Sachsenring, and that had made Rossi faster everywhere, though he was still losing too much in the second sector. At least he had the pace to match the front three, though he conceded that Márquez was probably beyond his reach. But it was Pedrosa who he was most worried about, marking the Repsol Honda man out as the main obstacle to getting on the podium. If Pedrosa is between Rossi and Lorenzo, that would put a big dent in Rossi's slim 13 point lead in the championship.

Rossi's biggest problem was once again his qualifying performance, ending up eighth on the grid. He too had gone for a three-run strategy, though the first run was merely to scrub in a brand new front tire with a used medium rear, for fear of pushing the front too hard on the first outing and risking a crash. Rossi found himself caught up in traffic, and not pushing hard enough to make a difference. A quarter of a second separated Rossi from the second row; a third of a second would have put him on the front row, and demoted his teammate to the second row. Valentino Rossi has a formidable array of weapons in his racing armament, yet his Achilles' heel, a weakness in qualifying, may still cost him the title.

The above is the rational scenario, based on the weather remaining stable and the race being dry. The weather, however, is not inclined to play ball, and looks set to intervene. The current forecast is for rain to start falling sometime after noon, with a good chance of rain falling during the MotoGP race. A wet race – or even worse, a half-wet, half-dry flag-to-flag race, with conditions changing rapidly – would well and truly put the cat among the pigeons, not least because the already slippery circuit is even more difficult in the wet. When asked for his opinion on the chances of rain, Bradley Smith was blunt. "I think it would be a total disaster for everyone!" he said. The lack of time in the wet here would make it very difficult to manage in the race. "I don't think anyone has really ridden here in the rain. There's low grip in the dry, so I can't imagine how it's going to feel in the rain round here."

Smith may not relish the prospect of rain, but it would certainly spice things up. It might also give the men on the second row a chance to benefit from their sterling work. Cal Crutchlow came close to grabbing a front row spot before being demoted by Jorge Lorenzo, missing out by just a couple of hundredths of a second. An outstanding ride and clever use of the slipstream put Danilo Petrucci into fifth, just behind Crutchlow. And Smith matched his best qualifying of the year, ending Q2 in sixth. There was little to choose between then, less than a tenth of a second separating Smith in sixth from Lorenzo in third.

The Suzukis were once again impressive, with Maverick Viñales once again shining on the GSX-RR. Aleix Espargaro had been in despair on Friday, but was positively upbeat after qualifying. They had made a big step on Saturday to put them into contention. Espargaro only qualified in twelfth, but he had been eighth in FP4, less than half a second off Jorge Lorenzo. The Misano test had proven useful, making a good step forward in base set up. They were also much closer in terms of top speed, though team boss Davide Brivio attributed that more to where the speed traps were located. Still, Maverick Viñales posted a top speed of 343.8 km/h, less than 5 km/h off the top speed of the Ducatis. Whatever the circumstances, being just 5 km/h off the Ducatis means your bike is fast.

In the support classes, the picture is a little less clear. Throughout practice and qualifying, Tito Rabat has once again been setting the formidable pace for which his so famous. But the favorite for victory is surely Alex Rins, the young Spaniard taking pole and showing outstanding pace in every session. The Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider has come to Indianapolis with a mission, and is not looking like a man who will be denied. The main obstacle in his way remains Tito Rabat, but Indy could well be the scene of Rins' first victory in MotoGP. It will almost certainly not be his last.

Indianapolis is the first race where Johann Zarco has looked vulnerable. Circumstances have conspired against the championship leader, with technical issues plaguing his weekend so far. He starts from eighth, a tricky situation when Rabat and Rins start from the front row. Still, a cushion of 65 points means Zarco can afford to have a single bad weekend still not have to worry too much about the championship.

In Moto3, Danny Kent is still firmly in charge of the class. Kent wrapped up his fourth pole of the season, though the margin by which he did so were slim. In the press conference, Kent admitted that he had expected to have a greater advantage at Indianapolis, but the field was much closer than he had hoped. That did not change his plan, however: try to escape at the front, and if that doesn't work, then sit in the front group and figure out a plan to maximize his points haul. Getting away would be difficult, he said, the back section of the track not sufficient for him to gain the three to four tenths he needs to maintain his lead along the long front straight. That had been possible at Austin, with the longest front straight of the season, but a repeat did not look likely at Indy.

That doesn't mean that Kent will not emerge victorious at Indianapolis. The Englishman has proven capable of winning under almost any circumstance, and taking points when he can't. His objective, he reiterated in the press conference, was to become champion. That means winning when you can, taking as many points as you can when you can't win, and riding with an awareness of how your title rivals are doing, and where they are on the track. Winning a world championship is all about know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, and Danny Kent has demonstrated all year long that he makes a rather outstanding poker player.

Among all the excitement of the return to racing, there was also a reminder of the ugly side of MotoGP. Spanish TV reporter Izaskun Ruíz chased down Isaac Viñales and Jaime Fernández Avilés, manager of the Laglisse team who had let Isaac Viñales go ahead of Indy, ostensibly over poor results. Viñales painted a rather less flattering picture, telling Ruíz that after Laglisse lost a sponsor, budgets had been drastically cut and he had had no time for testing, and received no upgrades to his bike.

Fernández Avilés did not take such accusations lying down, throwing out counter accusations of his own, saying that he was still owed €140,000 by Viñales for previous seasons. On Twitter, Viñales refuted that charge, claiming instead that he was owed €100,000 by Fernández Avilés, and that his contract was very clear about the payments owed to him.

It was a demonstration, if such were needed, of the precarious situation in which most of the teams find themselves, and that it is all too often the riders who pay the price for that. At every level, MotoGP suffers a lack of finances, caused largely by a shocking lack of professionalism in sponsorship and marketing among the teams. It is common practice for teams to shift the burden of finding funding onto the riders, making them go out and find personal sponsors willing to bear the cost of riding with a team. Too many teams make the mistake of scrimping on marketing and sponsorship management, team managers trying to do it themselves. It is a false economy of the most foolish sort. More money in the team means better equipment, better riders, more competent team members, better results, and a more attractive proposition to put to sponsors.

The question of sponsorship is a two-way spiral. Too many teams ride it to the bottom, and find themselves in a pretty dire situation. The smart teams, of which there are a few, ride the spiral ever higher, building results with sponsorship investment, and leveraging those results for more sponsorship.

As ever, the victims are the riders, whose ambition drives them to go to any lengths to get a chance in Grand Prix racing. Often, that chance is an illusion: paying good money to a mediocre team for poor equipment, and a chance in the big show. Without a good team, however, they might as well set fire to that money and dance around the flames.

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I am not too surprised at the lack of sponsorship in Moto3 (or Moto2, for that matter) and I think it is more than just many teams not having a proper marketing department. Ever since the four-stroke MotoGP class was introduced, Dorna have focussed all attention to that class and the two lightweight classes have more and more been demoted to 'support classes' (which nowadays actually is the term used for them, which says enough) instead of being real, full-blown GP classes. That already started with the existing 125cc and 250cc classes, and has been made worse with the introduction of the technically inferior Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Spec road bike engines and 250cc four-strokes that have less power than 250cc four-strokes of 50 (!) years ago do not really have the magical appeal and sound of exotic GP machinery.

Another thing is that the lighter classes have now been purely positioned as feeder classes, where the top finishers are supposed to step up a class the following year, and even with age limits to make sure older riders would move on or go away. Because of that, the experienced lightweight specialists have disappeared, meaning that there are no longer famous names which everyone knows. At most you see some slightly older riders lingering in Moto2 just to stay in the game, but there's no icons anymore that form a known and famous factor in those classes. I think that limits interest from the crowd as well.
Actually, this year Tito Rabat is an exception to that pattern, although I don't know if it is just for one extra year in the class. Who knows, he may turn out to be the re-institution of the class specialist. He even has re-installed the once so desirable number-one plate, for which I applaud him.

That brings me to another thing, one that annoys and baffles me for many, many years. Why on earth are the riding numbers so horribly difficult to read?! That makes it very, very difficult to follow what's going on on track in classes that have mostly new names. This is already a problem on tv, but a disaster from the grandstands. You just see big groups of riders coming past, but the excitement is not there because it's hard to see how the race is unfolding. I saw a brilliant pass, but who was it? And where did he come from? So you don't get to know those new names very easily either.

I did not even bother to buy the very expensive official program at Assen, because it does not help me one bit, apart from the time schedule.

Please bring back the uniform number plates, with properly sized and shaped numbers in uniform colors, so that your eyes catch them immediately, instead of having to readjust all the time. And bring back the side number plates too! They were abandoned because - hold on - 'they were impossible to read anyway'.
I know it will cost fairing space that sponsors like to use, but it will be much better for them if their riders can actually be identified! If I had a team, I would make sure that my bikes would stand out by their big, easy to read numbers, so people would notice them on track.

And then there's the already much-discussed tv rights thing. The races have mostly disappeared from regular tv stations, and usually it's just the MotoGP class that's broadcasted. Internet is of course the more modern way to go, but instead of using the official live stream and video service as a way of promoting the sport, increasing the fan base and giving sponsors maximum exposure, Dorna just uses those pricey subscriptions to make instant money themselves. It seems short-sighted to me.

Sorry for the long post and some things I have mentioned before, but since the sponsorship thing came up, I could not resist.

Definitely agree about the class specialists and the age limit. Big shame that everybody is forced to move on to classes or machines that may never suit them rather than staying put and building a good career.

I agree with much of what Powervalve58 writes. I am old enough (as I suspect s/he may be) to remember those times, several decades ago, when all categories had similar status (granted, not the same, as the 500cc were always considered the pinnacle.) Some of the most iconic riders of all times were specialists in the small or intermediate categories: Ángel Nieto, Ricardo Tormo, Jorge Martínez Aspar, Anton Mang,Walter Villa, Carlo Ubbiali, Luigi Taveri, to name a few. Of course the smaller classes were more appealing back in the 60s when 17-speed, two cylinder 50cc, 5 cylinder 125cc, and 4 and 6 cylinder 250cc machines were raced. I assume Powervalve58 has the Honda 6 in mind when s/he says those 250s made more power than the current Moto3s, but it is surely not fair to compare a 6 cylinder engine built with no technical limitations (it revved up to 18,000 rpm to produce 60 horsepower) with a one-cylinder engine limited to 13,500 rpm and with a number of cost-reducing specifications. Nonetheless, Moto3 engines make around 55 bhp, which would have been an astonishing accomplishment for a 250 mono in the 1960s, not to mention that with the modern chasis, brakes, suspension, and tires they go way faster than even the 500s of that decade (and the next). So, the comparison was not completely fair, in my view. Anyway, I'm afraid the years of technical sophistication in the smaller classes are gone forever, as are side number plates with uniform colors ... Let's celebrate the unprecedented quality of the racing that we have in all categories nowadays. In spite of all the (numerous) problems, the world championship is way, way better off today than it ever was, is it not?

Is a major problem. It's no longer on FreeView in the UK. With the inaccessibility of live racing, my interest in MotoGP is slowly, but surely, waning.

(Yes, I could maybe watch it on the computer, however I want to watch it on the TV in my living room which, at the moment, doesn't do Internet and Flash easily. I could maybe change that by changing my TV but... it's easier to just not bother and not watch MotoGP).

..as ever. Marc has gained his confidance back and Honda gave him the material to shine again. As much as I like to see Rossi getting his 10th WDC or maybe Lorenzo his 3rd in a Master class, Marc is a beast of his own...

In a comment that I made at the end of the article by Sir David Emmett on who will be the champion in MotoGP this year, I had said that it was just a feeling that I had that neither Valentino Rossi nor Jorge Lorenzo are likely to be champions despite the formidable lead they have over Marc Marquez. That feeling is getting stronger and at around the midway stage of the championship I feel things will go downhill for Rossi and Lorenzo will fight but end up behind Marquez. I think Marc Marquez is going to be a different proposition in this part of the season after the summer break. But like I said it is just a feeling.

Regarding the problems of money and lack of sponsorship, I really feel that MotoGP and WSBK should be clubbed together and create one series so the sponsors money comes into one place and does not get dispersed over two series. I don't see why this cannot happen now that both are owned by Dorna. Just my tuppence, I am sure many will be outraged at this suggestion, so please go easy on me.

Well Dorna is doing this, in regards to dumbing down WSBK, I live in Australia and work away from home for half the year, at home, I can watch both series of racing, MotoGP and WSBK, live on pay tv. When I am away, can only watch MotoGP live streaming and WSBK racing is not available for 7 days after the fact.

Come on Dorna, get your act together, in regards to the fans!

From the comment Vinales made on Twitter, it's not clear that the amount he's talking about is actually owed to him personally. The tweet says only "el nos debe 100mil a la familia viñales", using "we" and "Vinales family" instead of "me".

Seeing that his cousin used to be in the same team before, it is well possible that this claim indeed has nothing to do with his situation, but instead with some payment owed to his cousin, hence mixing two supposedly unrelated things together in this argument. I am also fairly certain Isaac was never paid by the team, so I am wondering what that kind of money should have been paid for in his case.

Not nitpicking, just clarifying the source material.