MotoGP of Spain in photosby Mat Oxley on 12th May 2017
Feast your eyes on Jochen Van Cauwenberge’s photo gallery from Jerez
Marc Marquez spent most of the weekend following Dani Pedrosa. The reigning champion knows his Repsol Honda team-mate’s smoother riding technique works better than his own through Jerez’s sweeping, interlinked curves. This is qualifying, through the high-speed Turn 7, which follows the Dry Sack hairpin.
What a difference a crankpin makes. Four races into its rookie MotoGP season KTM binned its screamer engine and switched to a retimed big bang. The lazier power doesn’t make the 'bike faster but it makes it easier to ride, which allows the rider to push harder. This is Pol Espargaro chasing Alvaro Bautista in qualifying. At COTA the best KTM was 2.5 seconds off pole. At Jerez the gap was one second.
This is a rider miming to his crew chief: too much wheelspin when I open the throttle! Championship leader Valentino Rossi had a weekend from hell. He struggled once again with Michelin’s squishy front slick and was caught in a no man’s land between the medium and hard rears. The Hondas made the tyres work, the Yamahas didn’t. But it may be the other way around at Le Mans.
Fifty points from the first two races, 10 from the next two. Maverick Viñales fared better than Rossi with tyres, until the race. He was lightning quick in warm-up but track temperature had almost doubled by the afternoon. He had no front grip from the start, making him easy prey for Andrea Dovizioso, who usually struggles at Jerez. Perhaps Viñales had a dud front?
Many people wondered if Cal Crutchlow could better his 2016 season. The Briton has yet to win another race but he is riding better than ever, thanks in part to Honda’s big-bang engine and increasing support from HRC, which does come with its responsibilities. HRC is using him more and more for trying new parts, which suggests they have a lot of faith in his feedback.
The early morning Andalusian sun brings a well-liveried MotoGP bike alive: Marquez and Andrea Iannone (Ecstar Suzuki) start the downhill run out of turn five at the start of FP3. Iannone surprised with his second-row start but crashed out of the race, again. He’s only scored points once so far. It’s taking a while to get The Maniac and the GSX-RR to gel together.
Alvaro Bautista takes aim at Jack Miller. The Spaniard was very fast once again, but spoiled his weekend when he wiped out Miller in the race. The Aussie was fined 1000 euros for shoving his nemesis in the gravel trap. It seems unfair to expect a rider to show zero emotion after getting knocked off his motorcycle at 80mph, especially when the real villain escaped any penalty.
Pedrosa is a new man this year. As always, there are reasons for this return to form after his worst MotoGP season. He has a new engine, a new frame, new tyres, a new rider coach in Sete Gibernau (here giving advice) and a new crew chief in Giacomo Guidotti (left), his third in four seasons. The combination is working – Pedrosa could challenge for the title again.
Everything is falling into place for the wise wizard of Bologna. Jorge Lorenzo is the latest part of Gigi Dall’Igna’s masterplan to bring the title back to Italy. His new rider’s first three races with Ducati didn’t go to plan, but Lorenzo had great speed in Qatar, so the potential was already there.
Lorenzo knew he was in with a chance at Jerez. The track has rarely been a happy place for Ducati, but Lorenzo loves the place and the tyre allocation worked well for the Desmosedici. Crucially, Lorenzo was able to run the medium front in the race, which gave him an important grip advantage.
Humble, polite and cool, even when things don’t go his way. Jerez didn’t go to plan for Viñales, making it two miserable races in a row. This season looks like being as up and down as last year, with the tyre allocation swinging the advantage from one team to another at pretty much every race. Viñales must navigate his way through that rubber jungle if he’s to win the title.
This is what MotoGP would look like if it went street racing – Marquez speeds beneath the so-called UFO on Jerez’s start-finish straight. It’s a nice place to watch the racing, but you’ll need a VVVIP pass.
Zarco is already riding like a MotoGP veteran, on the pace in every session and hassling factory bikes in the races. He has transferred his skills seamlessly from Moto2, helped in no small way by the user-friendliness of Yamaha’s M1, MotoGP’s learner bike of choice. He too ran the medium front in the race, which helped him make the stars look slow in the early laps.
No luxuries like electronic-braking controls in Moto2, so this is what you have to do to be fast. Alex Márquez backs it into the Dry Sack hairpin, proving that it takes time to master the art. This is the younger Márquez’s third season in the class and even this time last year it looked like he might not make it.
Alex Márquez salutes the crowd after his first Moto2 win, at his 39th attempt. The 2014 Moto3 World Champion may challenge for the title, but team-mate Franco Morbidelli is incredibly strong at the moment. Both men aren’t only riding for the Moto2 crown, they’re also riding for a future in MotoGP. The atmosphere within the Marc VDS garage could get interesting…
This could be the first lap or the last of the Moto3 race, with 17-year-old winner Aron Canet (#44, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) battling with Joan Mir (#36, Leopard Honda), Romano Fenati (#5, Marinelli Rivacold Honda), Fabio Di Giannantonio (#21, Del Conca Honda) and Marcos Ramirez (#42, Platinum Bay KTM). Canet passed Mir and Fenati at the final corner.
That mane of hair is unmistakeable: there’s a Simoncelli back in the paddock. Marco’s father Paolo takes his SIC team rider Ayumu Sasaki for a track walk on Thursday afternoon. The 16-year-old is doing well in his rookie season: two points-scoring rides from his first four races.
The Spanish GP crowd is probably the best of the year – they love their racing and they’re less feral and (slightly) less partisan than the fans at Mugello. Jerez is a pilgrimage, many Spanish fans riding right across Spain, from Barcelona in the north east to Jerez in the south west. It’s a must-do MotoGP event.