Tuesday, September 2

HONDA TO WIN THEM ALL?

Dani Pedrosa leads Jorge Lorenzo on his way to victory at the Czech Grand Prix in August.

WITH Marc Marquez very much the dominant force in MotoGP this season, his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa has come in for some criticism on websites, blog sites and Facebook pages around the world.

The reason for the criticism?

That Pedrosa has failed to deliver after eight years as a factory Honda MotoGP rider and should be replaced by someone the commentators find more “worthy.”

There is no doubt that Honda expected Pedrosa to take the MotoGP championship before now.  The diminutive Spaniard was fast-tracked into MotoGP from the World 250 Championship, which he had won back-to-back in 2004 and ’05, the latter on a special Honda RSW250. 

Japanese rider Hiroshi Aoyama was his team-mate in 2005 before switching to the KTM team to contest the World 250 Championship for three years.  He then returned to Honda and won the final World 250 Championship using an updated version of the bike he had raced alongside Pedrosa in 2005.

Like Pedrosa, Aoyama has remained a loyal Honda servant ever since.  Unlike Pedrosa, no one is calling for him to move over for a more “worthy” rider.

Fortunately for Pedrosa, Honda Racing Corporation takes a slightly broader view than armchair pundits and in July HRC signed Pedrosa for a further two years. 

While it is true that after winning two 125 championships and a brace of 250 titles on Honda machinery, big things were expected of Pedrosa – particularly from the vocal Spanish media – when he went to MotoGP in 2006.

That was the year Nicky Hayden finally won the MotoGP title for Honda – winning just two races in the process.  Pedrosa finished fifth in that championship and also won two races.  Hayden had joined the Honda factory MotoGP team in 2003 and had gone winless for three years.  It was only in his fourth year on the V5 Honda RC112V – the most successful bike in MotoGP racing – that Hayden finally won a race.  But Pedrosa won two in his rookie year, and scored six other podium finishes.

With the move to the 800cc formula for 2007, Honda built a V4 which was said to be tailored for Pedrosa’s small physique.  Hayden didn’t fit it properly but soldiered on, finishing eighth in the 2007 MotoGP title chase.

There is little doubt Pedrosa would have won the 2007 championship, except for one thing.  An Australian.  A man the armchair critics had dubbed a ‘crasher’ and not worthy of consideration. 
Casey Stoner.

Valentino Rossi may have started the ‘get Stoner’ campaign after the Aussie went on a winning streak on the 800cc Ducati in 2007, ascribing the Australian’s success to the Ducati’s speed, the Bridgestone tyres and so on.  But the fact is there were several other riders racing Ducatis through 2007 and none of them were scoring race wins the way Stoner was.

Loris Caprirossi, who had been on factory Ducatis since the Italian company joined MotoGP in 2003, finished seventh in the 2007 championship, Alex Barros was eighth and Shinichi Ito scored a solitary point and finished 26th.

Stoner won ten races and Dani Pedrosa on the first 800cc Honda V4 won two, but finished on the podium six more times and finished second in the championship, one point ahead of Valentino Rossi.

Beating Rossi in the title chase should have earned Pedrosa lots of brownie points with the fans.  Unfortunately for him, it didn’t.

In the years since then, Pedrosa finished each season as the top scoring Honda rider, except in 2011 when Stoner joined the Honda team and won the last championship of the 800cc era and in 2013 when Marc Marquez won the title in his rookie year.

Pedrosa is a tough little bugger, with a list of injuries that would make an All Black go weak at the knees.  But he has always come back, challenged for race wins and with his success in the Czech Republic in August, has notched up 26 MotoGP race wins.

As a result of Pedrosa holding out the Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi at Brno, Honda has won every MotoGP race so far this season.  With six races to go, HRC will be hoping Marquez and Pedrosa can hold the Yamahas at bay for the rest of the year and score an all-Honda sweep of the championship.

Last time that happened was in 1997 when Mick Doohan won 12 races, Alex Criville won two and Tadayuki Okada won the long-forgotten the Indonesian round at Sentul, giving Honda victory in all 15 races of the season.

That was 17 years ago.

Without Dani Pedrosa, Honda’s chances of repeating that this year would have gone down the gurgler at Brno.

Dani Pedrosa celebrates after scoring his 26th career MotoGP win at Brno.
Can anyone spot the Kiwi?

Monday, September 1

DOOHAN'S RECORD UNDER THREAT

By Michael Esdaile

UP until the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on August 17, there was a steady buzz in the motorsport media around Repsol Honda MotoGP champion Honda riderMarc Marquez.  

At that point he had won the first ten MotoGP races of the season.
That equalled Giacomo Agostini’s string of ten consecutive race wins from the 1968 and 1970 seasons.  It also equaled Michael Sydney Doohan’s ten race streak in 1997.
 
Unlike Agostini’s record, Doohan’s ten race string did not start from the first race.  The Australian won the first two races, then was beaten by Honda team-mate Alex Criville at the third round, perhaps not surprisingly at Jerez where Criville was in front of his home crowd.

After that, Doohan won the next race, at Mugello, and carried on to win up to and including round 13 at Barcelona in September.  Eleven in a row looked possible heading to the final round at Phillip Island but with a six second lead in his home grand prix, Doohan crashed and Criville took the win.

Had he not crashed and instead carried on to win, Doohan would have taken Agostini’s record for the most consecutive wins in a single season in the premier class.  As it was, he established a record with the greatest number of wins in a single season in the premier class with his 12 race victories.

After Marquez scored his tenth win this year at Indianapolis, the talk was no longer of whether he would retain the title he won in 2013 – with six race wins – but whether he would go on to sweep all 18 races in the season.

In a news item on the subject in the Sydney Morning Herald on August 11, Doohan was reported as saying he was surprised his record of 12 wins in a single season had been unmatched for so long, especially during the years Rossi won his first MotoGP titles.

"Rossi had a good crack at it and Marquez, in his current form, is looking like he's going on to win maybe another 10," Doohan told AAP.

"He's certainly the man of the moment – he's making the other guys look like amateurs.  He's got a team-mate on a similar bike, he's got good rivals on other competitive bikes, but he's just riding on a different level to everybody.  There is every chance he's going to win all 18 [races this year]."

On the prospect of Marquez breaking his record of 12 wins in a single season in the premier class, Doohan saw the young Spaniard as odds-on to do it.

"There were 15 races in the season I did it, so ... with eight races left, and on his current form, there's a good chance he's going to pick up more than two wins," he said at the time.

The five times World 500 Champion said while Honda clearly had the edge on Yamaha in 2014, Marquez's mental strength and confidence has proved to be the real difference.

"What he gets away with is nothing short of spectacular," Doohan said.

"He's consistent as well.  He doesn't make a mistake,” he added.

"The thing with that is the other guys will lift their level as well.   It may not be the next race, but certainly they'll keep pushing until they try and close the gap, that's for sure."

Marquez himself marveled at his unbeaten start to the year, but in that August 11 Sydney Morning Herald piece, he predicted it would not be easy to maintain it.

"Every weekend I say, 'Okay, here is maybe the time to finish second or third. Here will be the time where I struggle'. But every race I feel so strong," he said.

"The most important thing is that I enjoy it and, like we saw on the podium, the team enjoys every victory like the first one, which keeps the motivation and concentration.

"But it will be so difficult to win every race.”

Almost as if on cue, a week later Marquez’s Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa won the very next MotoGP race, at Brno in the Czech Republic.

That ended any chance Marquez had of winning every race in the season but now he has won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, he is just two wins away from breaking Doohan’s 17-year-old record.  With six races left in this year’s championship, there’s every chance he will do it.

Following his Silverstone win, Marquez leads the world championship by 89 points over team-mate Pedrosa.

After the race he said he was surprised with the strong ride from two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo.
“Honestly today I didn’t expect Jorge to be like that! He was so strong from the beginning. The pace was very high,” he said, adding they were running the same lap times as in the fourth practice session.
“He was pushing a lot at the start and I was trying to save the tyres a little.
“In the second half of the race my pace was slightly better and I tried to overtake him but made a mistake. I started to think about last year and I said ‘ok we’ll make a small gap.’  It was very tough on the last few laps. Luckily it was enough.  A great battle and great to return to victory,” he beamed.
Since he stepped up to MotoGP from Moto2 in 2013, Marquez has finished on the podium in 27 of his 30 races.





MARQUEZ 11/12

IN another closely fought British Grand Prix at Silverstone, two Spaniards went head-to-head for the full 118 kilometres.  Last year Marc Marquez chased fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo for 17 of the 20 laps of the 5.891 kilometre English circuit before making his move.  But he only led across the line once before Lorenzo put his factory Yamaha back in front.

This year was almost a carbon-copy.  Lorenzo led the first 13 laps before the now defending world champion struck, putting the Repsol Honda in the lead for the first time with the fastest lap of the race.  To some it appeared that Lorenzo had ‘accidentally’ run wide allowing his young rival through and after pressuring the young Honda man for two laps,  Lorenzo dived through to lead once more.  He immediately opened a gap and for a while it looked like déjà vu all over again.  Faced with a similar situation at the Italian GP in June, Marquez found something extra and pounced with a lap to go.  At Silverstone he did not wait for the last lap, he got back in front to lead the final three laps, and scored his eleventh win from 12 starts this season.

When the chips were down, Marc Marquez had marginally better grip than Lorenzo and was able to dart and parry - and pull away.


Going into the race, the portents were for another Marquez win.  The 21-year-old had topped the time sheets in every practice session, was fastest in qualifying and fastest again in the warm-up session on race day morning.

Yamaha struggles
In contrast Lorenzo had struggled.

In Friday morning’s first practice session, Lorenzo’s Movistar Yamaha was a second off the time Marquez set, and, depressingly, that put the double MotoGP world champion down in seventh place on the time sheets with Andrea Iannone (Pramac Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (factory Ducati), Alvaro Bautista (Gresini Honda), Aleix Espargaro (Forward Racing Yamaha) and Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) in front of him.

The only potential front-runners who weren’t ahead of Lorenzo were his Yamaha stable mate Valentino Rossi and Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa.  Yellow Leader was eighth fastest in that first session, while Pedrosa was tenth quickest.

It got worse.  In Friday’s second practice, Lorenzo was 11th on the time sheets, with Rossi 13th.  Worse, Lorenzo was now 1.3 seconds adrift of Marquez, from being a second slower in the first session.

And Pedrosa had found some settings he liked to go ninth fastest.

Lorenzo said the situation was down to the tyres.

“We only have one problem: it seems Bridgestone has brought the same tyres that we had in the first races so we have the same problems as then. We have no grip to stop the bike, no grip in the middle of the corner and no traction so we have a lot of spinning and the negative point is it creates problem on the front,” he said.

 “No grip on the rear doesn't give us the balance in the middle of the corner which means we have to lean less and have lower speed.  All the Yamaha riders are the same, we have similar problems.  It seems that with this tyre we have now it's very difficult for us.  Of course we are going to try everything to solve this problem, we have to try to manage the situation, the tyres will be the same all weekend so we have to adapt to it.”

Overnight the Movistar Yamaha team found something that helped.  In Saturday’s morning practice the Yamahas were fourth and fifth fastest with Rossi a fraction quicker than Lorenzo. 

Pedrosa, who had also languished on Friday, was now third fastest.  Ahead of him was Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, and of course, his perennially fast team-mate, the seemingly indomitable Marquez.

Ducatis improve
The second session on Saturday saw Dovizioso and Pedrosa again second and third fastest with Rossi again fourth, then Iannone on the Pramac Ducati just ahead of Lorenzo in sixth place on the timing monitor.

Clearly the Ducatis had made a step forward, getting closer to the level they had been at in the Stoner years.  The question was, would they be able to keep up the pace for the full 20 laps?

On the strength of the foregoing, Lorenzo’s chances of winning the race for the second year running looked slim.  But the Yamaha team took another look at their data, made some more changes and suddenly Lorenzo topped the timing screen in the early stage of the 15 minute qualifying session.

Dovizioso raised the bar with a lap time two tenths faster, then Marquez shot to the top with a 2m 01.259s effort, three tenths faster again.

Qualifying
But Lorenzo was not quite done.  With less than a minute remaining, he stopped the clocks at 2m 01.175s.   What would Marquez do?  Thirty seconds later: bam!  Marquez scorched to pole position with a 2m 00.829s effort while Dovizioso racked a 2m 01.140s to grab second spot on the grid.

Lorenzo was third, but significantly, on the front row of the grid.

“I’m very satisfied and very proud of my lap time. I pushed to the limit and I improved six tenths of a second on the last lap compared to my first try,” he said. “The soft tyre on the front is much better for our bike. I would like to use it tomorrow, but it will be a long race, so we have to improve the bike a little bit more during the warm-up to be more comfortable with the harder tyres. This year the engine and the clutch are different.  I don’t have the same feeling, making it difficult to make similar starts to last year. Starting from third place of the grid is not the best position, because you are too much on the inside for the first corner, but it is still better to be on the first row than to be on the second. It’s a good position. Let’s try to improve the bike for tomorrow and try to stay with the front group during the race.”

Lorenzo holeshots
Clearly Lorenzo was much happier with the Yamaha and the Bridgestone tyres than he had been after the first session on Friday, but he still had one more hurdle to overcome.  Marquez.  That did not change in the race morning warm-up but when the red lights went off for the race start, Lorenzo was out of the blocks and into the first corner with a mighty holeshot.  Marquez was right with him while Dovizioso had the Ducati running third, ahead of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha.

Lorenzo got his head down and went for it, hard out.  Behind him Marquez was never more than half a second adrift and the two of them edged away from the Doviziosi-Espargaro-Rossi cluster while Pedrosa closed in after an indifferent start.

Espargaro held Rossi at bay for a lap.  And Pedrosa also got the better of the older Espargaro on the second lap.

Dovizioso held third for the first four laps, then Rossi took over for the next four before Pedrosa grabbed it and held it for another four laps.  Then, with eight laps to go, Rossi took it back and held it, despite both Dovizioso and Pedrosa maintaining the pressure right to the end.

Out front Lorenzo was looking strong.  His Yamaha seemed to behave better than Marquez’ twitchy Honda and he was able to lay down blindingly fast lap times in that ultra-smooth, apparently unfussed way of his.

“I was struggling”
Well, that’s what it looked like on the outside.  Lorenzo says it was quite different:  “I was struggling a lot with my physical condition to keep the bike on two wheels and being able to ride these lap times.”

Perhaps that is what told in the final few laps, after Marquez got back in front for the second time, twice making contact with Lorenzo as he did so.  Lorenzo tried to fight back but he no longer had the edge grip he likes and was slower off the corners as a result.

 “Knowing what this weekend was like, this race is much better than we expected.  I made a really good start and pushed 100 per cent.  The only thing is that here we probably don’t have the best package. Though we did a really good job improving little by little and practice by practice, we were not able to have the same comfortable pace as Marc.  I was pushing a lot and maybe he was able to relax a little bit more,” Lorenzo said.

‘Relaxed’ is not the term you would use to describe Marc Marquez style.  If Lorenzo’s smooth approach can be compared with that of  1980s Yamaha ace Eddie Lawson, Marquez’s riding is like a combination of the ‘grab it by the throat’ approach of Wayne Gardner combined with the ‘let it all hang out’ style of Freddie Spencer.

As a result, just when you think the Honda has used the best of its tyres, Marquez dials up some more throttle and gets even bigger slides.  His final lap was a classic case in point.  On well used tyres he banged in a 2m 02.570s effort to Lorenzo’s 2m 02.801s.

“At the beginning I tried to save the tyre a bit,” Marquez revealed, “but it was difficult because the pace was really high. I was trying to save some rear tyre because especially on the left side, as you saw on TV in the last laps, I arrived at the limit. I think everybody was the same,” Marquez said. 


“We probably expected a different kind of race today, but Jorge was really strong from the beginning but through the race we improved and at the end we were able to fight with him,” he added.


“I just attacked at the end because normally I feel more comfortable on the used tyres.”

And Lorenzo?

“We started the weekend 1.3 seconds slower than Marc and we finished the weekend just 7 tenths behind after 20 laps.  That’s fantastic!  Thanks to a very good job from my team, all together we improved the bike.  I rode well from the first corner to the last one and I did my best.  Unfortunately you can’t ride the Yamaha as aggressively as our rivals. You have to open your lines more otherwise you lose corner speed. That’s a difference,  but we have our strong points and they have theirs.  It’s just unfortunate that in the braking areas it makes it a little harder for me to fight.  But we will try to improve the bike and win races,” he concluded.


At Silverstone he was just 0.732 of a second away from Marquez in a race that took 0.680 of a second less time to run than last year.


Last year Lorenzo covered the 20 laps in 40m 52.515s.  This year it took him 40m 52.567s.

Conversely, Marquez took 40m 52.596s to cover 20 laps of Silverstone last year.  This year he did it in 40m 51.835s.  These are the fine margins by which races are won and lost, and right now Marquez’ strength is doing the business when the tyres are well past their best.

Full results here


Lorenzo and Rossi spray the bubbly after finishing 2-3 at Silverstone.  But Marc Marquez continues Honda's unbeaten run in MotoGP so far this year.