Joan Mir

Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Art Of Towing, Honda's Deep Difficulty, And A War Of Attrition

Saturday at Montmelo made several things crystal clear in MotoGP. We saw one rider emerge as the clear favorite for the win on Sunday. We saw just how critical tire choice and tire management is going to be at Barcelona. And we saw just how much pressure riders are under, whether it be seeking a tow to get through to Q2, celebrating a quick time in FP3 like a victory, or crashing out twice in an attempt to save a seat for next year.

Above all, we saw just how fast Fabio Quartararo is in Barcelona. The fact that the Frenchman was the only rider to get into the 1'39s in FP4 was not that much of a surprise; the Monster Energy Yamaha rider has been quick all weekend after all. What was a little more surprising is that nobody else managed it, Maverick Viñales getting closest, but still over four tenths behind his teammate.

What should be more worrying is the fact the vast majority of Quartararo's laps in FP4 were 1'39s: 8 of his 12 flying laps were 1'39s. His 9th fastest lap was quick enough to have secured fourth place, his 1'40.278 faster than Johann Zarco's best lap of 1'40.286. Quartararo's 10th fastest lap was a 1'40.290, just 0.004 slower than Zarco's best time.

In a different league

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: Top Turn Ten, Missing Grip Causes Tire Confusion, And Meeting The New Boss

Once upon a time, Barcelona was regarded as one of the great motorcycling tracks, all sweeping corners demanding the utmost concentration and skill. So much of a motorcycling track was it that a couple of sections had to be put into it to make it a better track for cars, and especially for F1. The grand sweep of La Caixa had a hairpin inserted, to give the cars somewhere to brake. And Turn 13 had a tight little chicane added on the inside, to slow the cars down before they got onto the straight. Four fat tires meant they were at risk of going through the final corner so fast that would be within spitting distance of the sound barrier by the end of the straight.

Then Luis Salom died when he crashed on the outside of Turn 13, hit by his bike as he slid into a wall along a section of hard standing which nobody thought needed gravel, something which turned out to be a misconception. Questions about safety were raised, and the F1 layout was adopted. A great motorcycle track ruined.

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Mugello Subscriber Notes: To Race Or Not To Race, And Quartararo, Rins, And Marquez

It is hard to sit down after a MotoGP weekend to write about the racing after a young rider has lost their lives. I have had to do it four times now, and it doesn't get any easier. It merely raises the uncomfortable questions we all know surround motorcycle racing: how do you enjoy a sport which is fundamentally dangerous? A sport in which a mistake risks not just injury, but death?

I have no ready answer to this question. It remains as uncomfortable now as it did the first time I had to address it, after Shoya Tomizawa's tragic accident at Misano in 2010. I feel just as ambiguous about it now as I did eleven years ago. It remains as clear as mud.

If anything, the manner of Jason Dupasquier's passing made the situation even more complicated. The Swiss rider fell right at the end of the Q2 session for Moto3, and was struck by following riders. The minimum combined weight for rider and bike for Moto3 is 152kg. The physics of speed differential and minimum weight meant Dupasquier sustained massive injuries in the incident.

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Mugello Saturday Round Up: The Dangers Of Racing, Underhand Tactics, And Outright Speed

For all the discussion of just how dangerous a track Mugello is, when a serious accident happens, it has nothing to do with the track. Jason Dupasquier, Moto3 rider for the PruestelGP team, lost the rear at the end of Q2 for the Moto3 class and crashed. A fairly regular occurrence in Moto3, as riders push the limits of the bike.

Tragically, however, Dupasquier fell directly in front of Tech3 rider Ayumu Sasaki, leaving the Japanese rider nowhere to go. Sasaki's KTM struck Dupasquier, leaving the Swiss rider gravely injured. It took the FIM medical staff half an hour to stabilize Dupasquier sufficiently for him to be flown by medical helicopter to Careggi University Hospital, where he lies in critical condition at the time of writing. Our thoughts are with Dupasquier, his family, friends, and team, and we fervently hope he makes a full recovery.

Dupasquier's crash unmasks the elephant in the room of motorcycle racing. No matter what you do to circuits, no matter how far you push back walls, how much run off you add, it remains a dangerous sport. If one rider falls in front of another, and is hit by the bike, serious injury, or much worse, is almost inevitable.

Unavoidable tragedy

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How To Win A Flag-To-Flag Race

It was inevitable really. The weather over the first two days of the Le Mans Grand Prix had been chaotic, so why would Sunday be any different? The skies were predictably unpredictable, the weather managing to provide different conditions for all three Grand Prix classes, in itself quite an achievement. We kicked the day off with a wet Moto3 race, the rain stopping early on to allow the Moto2 race to be dry. And to round things off, MotoGP started dry, then the drops of rain that started falling on lap 3 turned into a downpour on lap 4, triggering the first flag-to-flag race in MotoGP since Brno in 2017.

Chaos was unleashed, and a new Prince of Chaos crowned, the former prince brutally dethroned, betrayed by the conditions, and by the lack of strength in his right arm. Such is chaos, and such is the way of a flag-to-flag race. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch, and like all flag-to-flag races, immediately raised a host of questions over rules and safety. And reminded us once again that leads are meaningless early in the race. It's about the full 27 laps.

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Jerez MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Breaking The Mold, Consistency Counts, And The Ins And Outs Of Arm Pump

"That's why we line up on Sunday. You never know what's going to happen," the late Nicky Hayden once said, in response to a particularly stupid question on my part. Jerez proved him right once again, events conspiring to confound what seemed to be an obvious conclusion from the very beginning.

What happened? At 2pm on Sunday, the MotoGP grid lined up with Fabio Quartararo on pole, starting as favorite after laying down an intimidating pace in practice. Alongside him were Franco Morbidelli on a two-year old Yamaha, and the Ducati of Jack Miller, while the second Ducati of Pecco Bagnaia started behind him.

It was obvious to the experienced Jerez hands that Fabio Quartararo would walk away with the race, the Frenchman having way too much pace for anyone else to stay with him over 25 laps. The Ducatis may have lined up third and fourth on the grid, but they would surely face; Jerez is not a Ducati track after all. The last Ducati victory at the circuit was way, way back in 2006, when Loris Capirossi kicked off the season with a win aboard the Desmosedici GP6.

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The First Big Crash, The Safety Conundrum, And Finding A Way To Stop Fabio

Saturday was a tough day at the office for the Grand Prix paddock. Conditions were treacherous precisely because they were so deceptive. The sun was shining, and if you measured the asphalt temperature in the sun, it looked pretty good. But there was a cold wind blowing across the track which would cool tires and catch you unawares.

Which is precisely what it did, riders crashing in droves in all three classes on Saturday. There were 27 fallers on Saturday, more than any other Saturday at Jerez in the past five years. And with 41 crashes, we have already surpassed the total of 40 over three days at last year's Andalusia round, or Jerez 2, at the circuit. And only one crash behind the grand total at the Spanish round the week before.

Why are so many riders crashing? "It’s true that today the asphalt is quite hot. It’s quite okay, but the wind is quite cool," Joan Mir said on Saturday afternoon. "So probably these are not the best conditions. Normally the cool wind cools the tires a bit, and then the track is not really, really hot. So it means that maybe for the medium tires it’s a bit on the limit."

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Speed vs Pace, Bagnaia vs Nakagami, And Stifled Dissent

It is a truism to point out that it is just Friday, and too early to be getting excited about who is where on the timesheets. But the reason it is a truism is because (the clue is in the name) it's true. Friday is just the first day of the weekend, and not everybody is up to speed right away. Things change over a weekend, especially once the engineers have had an evening to examine the data.

The weather and the track changes too. The tail end of storm Lola has just passed over Jerez de la Frontera, and temperatures are slowly returning to normal after an unseasonally cold and wet period. The mercury is creeping higher once again, and with every degree of temperature and every ray of direct Andalusian sunlight, track temperatures are increasing, bringing more grip.

In addition, every bike that laps the track lays down a little rubber, creating more and more grip. And there are a lot of bikes turning laps at Jerez: in addition to the usual three Grand Prix classes of Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, there are also the Red Bull Rookies and MotoE. The MotoE bikes, in particular, help the MotoGP teams. Like MotoGP, MotoE uses Michelin tires, and the big, heavy machines lay down a lot of Michelin rubber which helps create grip for everyone, and especially MotoGP.

More rubber, more speed

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Portimao MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Yellow Flags, Track Limits, Fast Frenchmen, And Rider Intimidation

The idea behind setting the grid in Grand Prix racing is simple: after two 15 minute sessions, the rider who sets the fastest lap gets to start from pole position, the other riders ranked in order of their best lap times. Of course, the fact that qualifying is split into two sessions to prevent people using tows to artificially boost their starting positions (more on that later) is already a distortion, as the quickest riders left in Q1 have sometimes posted faster times than those who made it through to Q2.

Sometimes, though, the rules intervene to create an egregious breach of the idea that the rider on pole is the quickest rider on the grid. Riders have laps taken away from them for all sorts of reasons, and the grid is set by those who adhered most strictly to the rules. As Race Direction gets ever more technology at its disposal to help assess infractions of the rules, the breaches it finds look more and more petty and mean-spirited, no matter the intention of the regulations. And sometimes, the choices made by track designers, on where to put the marshal posts and flag stations, can make adhering to the rules nigh on impossible.

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