Retro Racing: A look back to the 2015 Aragon Grand Prix (Part 2)
To catch up on Part 1 of our look back at the 2015 Aragon Grand click here
The Aragon Grand Prix would be a perfect illustration of the 2015 MotoGP World Championship. On the days where Jorge Lorenzo could hit the front he was unbeatable. When Marquez had to push harder than ever he’d run along a tightrope balancing between success and failure. Valentino Rossi was fast…but just not quite fast enough. The battle was intense but now as the MotoGP paddock heads for the flyaway races it would be Rossi vs Lorenzo. Teammate vs teammate. Split by just 14 points with five races left…
Lorenzo leaps towards the title…
Even though Lorenzo trails Rossi by 14 points in the championship standings, the momentum is firmly moving towards the Spaniard. Rossi had won in Silverstone but when Lorenzo was on form he could take chunks out Rossi’s points advantage.
Aragon started to see the title momentum firmly shift towards the Spaniard. It’s been a patchy 2015 campaign thus far for Lorenzo: six dominant victories punctuated by lulls in performance. However Aragon showed him at his best and afterwards he couldn’t contain his excitement at the prospect of a fifth world title.
Typically this was another lights to flag victory for Lorenzo and from turn one to the chequered flag his win was never really in doubt. The opening corners of the race showed again his greatest strength with Bridgestone tyres, total confidence in pushing to the limit on lap one. The reward was 25 points and crucially tacking back nine points on Rossi.
With his rival having been baulked by Dani Pedrosa in the fight for second Lorenzo half-joked after the race that “I have to thank Dani because these four points are very important to the championship.” The intent was clear however, the swing created by those four points has hurt Rossi’s charge far more than anything that emanated from Lorenzo on Sunday.
Aragon was always going to be a strong race for Yamaha. It’s been their designated test track this year and they enjoyed the advantage of that extra track time at the Spanish track. For Wilco Zeelenberg this was crucial:
“All the test days that we have had here have paid off,” said the Yamaha man. “We’ve always struggled here in the past, last year was a crazy race to win, but this year we were quick all weekend. You’re always happy to win a race because it’s always difficult to do that in MotoGP and those 25 points are always important.
“It was impressive from Dani to fight with Vale on the last lap and you have to say chapau to Dani for beating Vale because everyone knows how difficult it is to do that. We all know that Vale is very strong in a one on one battle, especially at the end of the race, and those nine points that Jorge has taken back could be very important.
“I think that the standings are quite accurate at the minute because of how the season has been so far for both riders. There’s a lot of question marks for the rest of the year because 14 points is not a lot when you consider the amount of points that you can give away. I think that we’ll know a lot more about who’ll win the championship soon.”
As Zeelenberg said Lorenzo was on form from Friday morning. Hitting the ground running he was immediately on the pace. Rossi’s form fluctuated to a much greater degree and was no surprise that the race distilled to a Lorenzo benefit once Marc Marquez crashed out of second position.
“I knew that if I would lost even more points in this race to Valentino it would be almost impossible to win the world title,” said Lorenzo. “It has been key today to be so fast in the race and I was maybe a bit lucky about Marquez’s crash. I was very emotional because after these two races that I have some mistakes and probably some bad luck about the weather. I had some negative feelings and with this victory I can probably just forget a little bit these two races and just look forward to keep the good work we are doing.”
The season has been a case of Lorenzo trying to catch Rossi in the championship but then suddenly lose ground with a poor finish only to then recover once again. For most of the year it’s been clear that Lorenzo is the faster Yamaha, but Rossi’s consistency has made him a formidable opponent. However, Lorenzo has now shown once again that he has the type of speed and consistency that Rossi simply can’t match at the moment.
Having crashed out of the race at Misano in tricky conditions it looked as though Lorenzo had handed Rossi a huge advantage in the championship standings. The last two races saw the rain cost him dearly and with clouds forming on Sunday morning he could have been forgiven for thinking that luck was against him. Instead the clouds started to clear and sun started to shine and suddenly the complexion of the championship changed completely.
Sunday showed that when the chips are down and all things are equal Lorenzo is still the class of the field, but with 2015 having been one of the most compelling, exciting and action packed season in years it’s also clear that nothing can be taken for granted by either rider.
“It’s been amazing. Recovery, losing points, and then recovery again. It’s making this championship so interesting so I’m going to keep try to recover some more points in the next races. I know it’s not going to be easy because Marc will be very strong in Japan. And Valentino as he demonstrated today always never give up on the race and he’s very strong. We are going to give the maximum for the rest of the year.”
Rossi’s title plans get hit by Pedrosa
Lorenzo was left counting his blessings that he had Dani Pedrosa as a buffer to Valentino Rossi, who will be left counting the cost of his failure to finish second.
The four points that Pedrosa denied Rossi in Spain could be crucial when the final standings are counted up. With a 14 point advantage suddenly Rossi has gone from a commanding position in the championship to being under fire and looking vulnerable for a tenth world title. With four races remaining there’s still a lot to play for and nothing can be taken for granted.
The title battle between the Yamaha riders is finely poised now. Rossi once again has seen Lorenzo take the initiative, but despite the Spaniard’s speed it has been Rossi who has led the championship all year. That consistency gives Rossi hope of holding serve in the remaining races, but on Sunday it was also clear that the title could be decided by the speed of Yamaha’s rivals and their ability to take points off the title protagonists.
In Aragon it was Rossi who missed out and the speed of the Honda’s wasn’t lost on the Italian, who admitted that his decision to fight so hard with Pedrosa came because he knows that every point will matter at the end of the season.
“I fought so hard with Dani because for the championship I need those four points. For me when you race and you have the opportunity, also a small opportunity, you have to fight and if you can improve one position you have to try because this is racing.”
After almost a decade of being defined as an alien, Pedrosa has looked like more of a movie set extra than an extra-terrestrial this year. On Sunday he proved once again why he’s still an alien in MotoGP and the only rider capable of fighting and beating Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez.
This year has been incredibly difficult for Pedrosa. The season started with a recurrence of his arm pump problems and he was forced to undergo aggressive surgery to rectify the problem. Having missed races and taken time to get back to speed and back to full health, Aragon was the perfect opportunity for him to show his potential.
Even though he wasn’t able to take his first win of the year, Pedrosa’s stirring defence from Rossi showed that he still has the belly for a fight and the determination to win race. It’s a quality that he has lacked at times throughout his career and after the race he admitted that in the past this race may have been decided differently.
“It’s one of the best battles I’ve had because of the rider it was against,” admitted Pedrosa. “Normally you can have a good battle with many riders but Valentino is a master of these situations. Normally he’s so comfortable in this moment and he has so much confidence. He can play a lot with the bike and change lines and do different moves, change braking points and he picks point to turn the bike. So normally he’s super comfortable in that and it’s one of my weakest points so I’m really, really happy about this result.”
In the final five laps Pedrosa was under intense pressure from Rossi with the Italian diving underneath him in braking zones, only to run wide and see Pedrosa retake the position. Their positions changed five times on the last lap alone and afterwards Rossi made clear that the only reason he could fight like that was because of the respect that he has for Pedrosa.
“I think that when you lose a battle like this it’s always a bad feeling in one point of view but it’s a good result. I wasn’t strong enough to stay in front of Dani. At the end of the day I played all the cards that I have, also one extra that I didn’t expect, but it was not enough. Dani was stronger than me today. It’s a shame because for the championship for sure five points are important. But I try and it wasn’t enough. I know that with Dani I can trust in him when we race hard. We can try to arrive close to the limit because I know it’s a going to be hard but fair battle.”
On the final lap, Pedrosa was struggling for rear grip after struggling for front grip at the start of the race. After the race Crutchlow said that “We’re pushing the front so much because we have no rear grip. It’s as simple as that. That’s why Marc crashed. Dani had to ride harder than he’s had to ride probably in the last two years, and he fought like anything. He did a fantastic job.”
For Marquez, the performance of his teammate was also noted with the champion saying, “Dani had a really good race. I think here and Malaysia are his favourite tracks and also he is very competitive. In the first laps he was struggling a lot with the front end and then in the last laps with the rear grip. I think the Yamaha was one step in front because Valentino was catching him a lot in the acceleration.”
With his hands tied by a machine that wasn’t as strong as Rossi’s, Pedrosa was able to prove once again just how good he can be. Over the course of his premier class career Pedrosa, has won 26 times. He has proven time and again that he is one of the best riders in the world but Sunday gave the world another nudge to remind them how strong he still is.
Marquez crashes out but now he’s the wildcard
For the fifth time this year Marc Marquez crashed out of a Grand Prix while running in the podium positions. This year had been the most difficult of the Spaniard’s career, but with the championship already conceded to the Yamaha riders he admitted that he was pushing to the limit.
“It was completely my mistake. Maybe the fact that I didn’t have anything to lose and was a home grand prix, I pushed too much on the second lap. It was not necessary because in one lap I had already caught Jorge and was already really close to him. With a full fuel tank and maybe the tyres not at the correct temperature I made a mistake.”
Throughout the weekend, Marquez was a match for Lorenzo and with four races remaining it’s certain that the double MotoGP champion will play a wildcard role in the final championship standings.
“This weekend we worked really good and I feel we have enough pace, set-up and everything to fight for the victory. I feel I had the pace, but to beat Lorenzo I had to push at the start. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose time when Jorge pushed because I knew with the new tyres he was really fast. But maybe I tried to go too quick. Next time… when I lose at the start I need to recover the distance step-by-step.”
Compared to previous years, Marquez had to adapt his riding a lot and learn lessons that weren’t needed in his title years. His riding style has changed considerably with the extreme braking now replaced by a greater fluidity on the bike. A new swingarm raced at Aragon helped improve his edge grip and give him more confidence with the bike when leant over, which should offer benefits throughout the rest of the season.
“It looks like maybe we gain a little bit edge grip and turning, but a very small difference. But for some reason the lap time was a little bit faster with this swingarm and for that reason I raced with it.”
Building that confidence is key for Marquez, but the steps in recent races show the improvements that he has made. Since switching to last year’s chassis at Assen, Marquez has rebuilt his confidence and the flyaway races should present him with tracks where he can get amongst the Yamaha riders again and play a huge role in the title outcome.
Midfield minefield led by a conflicted Dovi
Cal Crutchlow was left disappointed on Sunday, with the LCR Honda lucky to avoid a similar fate to Marquez in the early stages. A lack of balance hurt Crutchlow and as the race progressed he had less and less rear grip and he felt that the weight advantage enjoyed by Pedrosa was doing a lot to take the stress away from his tyres.
“Dani weighs 20kg less,” said Crutchlow. “The stress he puts on the tire is nothing compared to me. And that’s the problem we’re having, that’s the problem Scott’s having. The more weight we put on the tyre, on a bike that’s got no grip, the worse it is. That’s on the rear, and then we put it on the front when we’re braking. I think with what we had today, we did a good job to finish in the middle of that group. This bike is difficult to ride and we need to learn to ride it a little bit still, and get those race distances under our belt, which we did today.”
Crutchlow’s grip issues were highlighted by seeing him struggle to get close to the Suzuki of Aleix Espargaro on the straights. With no grip he couldn’t drive out of corners and the underpowered Suzuki could stay in front. It was a strong day for the Spaniard who was using a new exhaust and some engine upgrades.
“I’m happy,” said Espargaro. “Before the race I already knew that we had a good chance. This weekend I enjoy a lot riding the bike. The setting with the hard tyre was fantastic. At the start I immediately felt really good. It was a shame because I felt I had some more performance but the Ducati is really unbelievably fast. It looked like a Formula 1 car! To overtake them is always ver hard. In the acceleration they open a big gap so on the brakes I was very far. To overtake Dovi I couldn’t really be clean. I touched him a couple of times.”
While Desmo Dovi could enjoy an advantage on the straight, he was certainly struggling on corner entry again. The common complains of Ducati in recent years were once more coming to the fore. Having qualified 13th the Italian did very well to scrap his way to a top five finish.
“In one way I’m not happy but in another I am,” said Dovizisoso. “To start 13th in MotoGP is really difficult because it’s hard to gain positions. Fifth position at the end is really good for us but we can’t be happy with our speed. I wasn’t fast. Every practice and also the race. We can’t be happy about this.
“I was struggling a lot on braking. For my riding style I need strong braking performance. I can’t be aggressive at the minute and I can’t push too much. In the middle of the corner I’m not so fast. With the grip we had today it was very difficult to make a lot of fast laps. This is one of the characteristics of the bike. We can improve but I don’t know how much. With this bike we have improved lot the turning but when you do that you lose in other areas. This is what happened and it’s normal.”
Dovizioso trailed his teammate, Andrea Iannone, by almost 20s at the flag. The Italian was racing with a dislocated shoulder so his performance is one to be lauded.
“I am really happy with this race,” said Iannone. “It was a really great performance from me and my team this Sunday. For sure I try to fight for the podium but it wasn’t easy. I tried my best, especially in the middle part of the race. I didn’t have a good feeling with the front tyre because I wore them out trying to close the gap. I’m so happy because when you ride for 23 laps with this shoulder this situation is really difficult to manage. The Clinica Mobile worked well and this result is the best for the moment.”
Light at the end of the tunnel for Laverty
While the Factory Spec Honda riders were struggling, Eugene Laverty was finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a long time coming but Sunday saw him finally make his breakthrough and it looks set to ensure his future on the MotoGP grid. It’s been a difficult rookie campaign for the former World Superbike title contender, but claiming the Open class honours at Aragon left him feeling confident for the rest of the year.
The future of the Aspar squad has been hugely uncertain throughout the year. With the loss of their title sponsor prior to the start of the year the team has openly admitted that their plans for next year are not known. That uncertainty played a role in Danny Kent’s decision to move to Moto2 because the team couldn’t guarantee the machinery that they could offer the Moto3 title contender.
With the team’s future having been so uncertain the fact that Laverty has a contract with them for next year has been an afterthought, but it looks likely that he will remain with the team and be teamed with Yonny Hernandez.
“This was the first weekend this year where I was fast from FP1, qualified well and was fast in the race. It was the complete weekend for us and results are really important at this time of year. It was important for the team and really important for me to win the Open class. My aim is to stay with the Aspar team so this result is really important for that and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Laverty came to MotoGP with the intention of spending one year learning the bike and the second year of his contract to show his speed.
“I’ve always said that I came here solely because it was a two year programme. These bikes are difficult to ride and they take time to learn. I’ve learned so much already this year and I think that the last three rounds we’ve had good pace but the weather didn’t let us show our true speed. Motegi could be a difficult race but I’m looking forward to it and especially Philip Island because it’s a track that should suit this bike.”
Flyaways and title fights
After Aragon, the paddock has a couple of weeks to gear up for the final four rounds of the year. Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang and Valencia. Lorenzo was now in the ascendency but Rossi still held his advantage. It wouldn’t be easy for either rider to claim the title so the next race in Motegi was likely to be crucial. The Japanese circuit can see some wild races with bad weather hitting the region. This would happen again in 2015 but who’d come out on top?