3 years ago
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It was a day of contrasting fortunes for the Factory Suzuki and Yamaha teams at the Catalan Grand Prix, or so it seems...
Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro surprised everyone to set the fastest time of the day, with his teammate Maverick Viñales also finishing inside the top five on the first day of practice for the first time in his MotoGP™ career. Not bad for a Factory team making their return to the premier class this season.
Compare that to Yamaha’s fortunes. Jorge Lorenzo, who has led the last three races from start to finish, was languishing down in seventh while his teammate, Championship leader Valentino Rossi, couldn’t even break into the top ten.
However, not is all as it seems.
For a start, it is only the first day of practice, and you cannot draw too many conclusions from lap times this early on in a Grand Prix weekend. In addition, while Lorenzo may not have had the outright one lap pace of Espargaro et al, he was lapping at a more consistent pace than anyone else could manage. In FP2, every single lap of the Spaniards was under the 1’43 barrier, a feat that no one else could match and something that was made even more impressive by his use of old tyres: “We have some margin to improve for tomorrow, but I think our pace is very good compared to our rivals, we keep a constant pace on a very old tyre, and this is very important for tomorrow.”
Lorenzo though, is not resting on his laurels and feels there is more to come: “In general, the bike is quite good, it can offer stability enough for me to stay at 1’42.5, which is going to be the pace of the race, so we need to improve this by 1 or 2 tenths for tomorrow, which we will work on this afternoon.”
Rossi is a bit more worried though, especially due to the threat of rain tomorrow. The nine-time World Champion found himself down in eleventh on the combined timesheets, and could not hide his concern: “It wasn‘t a bad start. At the end of the practice, we found a better setting and balance of the bike and I did not feel so bad. I‘m just a little bit worried about the position, because I‘m not inside the top ten. The reality is that everybody rode incredible lap times and pushed very hard.”
When asked if he had been caught out a bit by the pace in FP2, the Italian responded: “I went on track thinking 1‘42.3 was enough to guarantee me a spot in Q2, but unfortunately Redding overtook me and I‘m in eleventh place. However, the feeling with the bike is more important and we hope for some good conditions tomorrow.”
Therefore, while the prospect of “The Doctor” missing out on automatic qualification to Q2 tomorrow is a real possibility if the rain comes, as we have seen so far this season, Sunday is when he normally shows his class.
This brings us on to Suzuki who brought a new engine upgrade to the Catalan GP, and the Japanese manufacturer appears to be reaping the benefits of this newfound power. The GSX-RR bike was already regarded as one of the best handling bikes in the paddock, but now it would finally have the horsepower to back that up.
Thing is, Espargaro and Viñales are still down in 15th and 16th on the list of top speeds recorded, with their bikes conceding over 8kph to the Repsol Honda’s on the kilometre-long home straight. So how have they improved so much?
Viñales experienced his best opening day of a MotoGP™ weekend and says that while the engine upgrades have helped, it's also down to the nature of the circuit: “It feels like the bike fits really good for this track and also the engine was a little bit better, not a big step, but a little step that helps us just to follow the slipstream. I hope that we can now follow the fast bikes on the straight!”
What about the soft tyre available to the Suzuki team? Yes, while it is true that it does give them an advantage in practice and qualifying, with the Montmelo circuit particularly hard on tyres it is probably not a viable option for the race. Espargaro, who was riding in front of his passionate home support, set his fastest time with the soft tyre but seemed happy with his pace on the harder option too: “We improved by 2 or 3kph, which is not that bad, it is better so we are happy. The pace with the hard tyre is good, we led both sessions on the hard tyre, so we are very happy, and tomorrow we will try to do even more laps with the hard one.”
One thing is for sure, whatever the weather on Saturday, there are sure to be a few more surprises in store come Qualifying.
Check out the combined MotoGP™ practice results from Friday; FP3 kicks off at 9:55am local time in Barcelona on Saturday.
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