As the MotoGP class were about to get their weekend underway at the modified Circuit de Barcelona in Catalunya where they were meeting for the seventh round of the season, the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, a light rain shower added to already damp conditions causing many riders to remain in the pits.
First anniversary of the late Luis Salom
Already mourning the death of the late Nicky Hayden, at Catalunya it is the first anniversary of the death of Luis Salom; the Moto2 rider who lost his life during an incident in Moto2 Free Practice 2. Many tributes have been, and continue to be made to the young Spaniard whose anniversary was just under a week previous.
As a result of his crash, the track was immediately changed to a different layout for safety reasons in 2016. The Safety Commission settled on using the Formula 1 track that was already in place so that turn 12 could be completely bypassed, and so the riders would have a run off area at turn 12.
Changes made to the Circuit de Barcelona
For 2017, the long and sweeping turn 10, has been changed to a harsher hairpin that leads to a short straight before a left obtuse corner that leads to a long right handed curve at turn 12. Turn 13 is quite a sharp right hander that runs into a short straight before the chicane at turns 14 and 15, and the final turn, 16 is a long sweeping right hand turn that leads them to the start-finish straight.
As well as the new layout, riders have to contend with changes to the tarmac as there is a new patch in place, and Michelin have brought three new front tyres. Of an asymmetric design, they are built up slightly on the right to compensate for more right hand turns and available in soft, medium and hard compounds.
MotoGP class tested in Catalunya prior to meeting
Although there has been a test completed in Catalunya since the last meeting in 2016, the first Free Practice session was mainly an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new layout. The conditions meant that some riders refrained, and the quiet track and the modifications led to quite some confusion for Australian rider Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS).
Miller gets lost
Out on the track on his own, it appeared that he was slightly lost. Instead of using the new layout, he referred to the old one, completely missing the corner at turn 14. It went on for several laps, his spotter from his team stood trackside with his arms in the air with no way of communicating to him his mistake. His crew on the pit wall signalled to him to return to the ‘BOX’ and eventually he was black-flagged by race control.
Just before this, other riders had signalled to him to slow down in the hope he would follow them and realise his mistake. He knew by the time he returned to his garage and was clearly embarrassed when his team confirmed it. Loris Capirossi, former MotoGP rider and Safety Officer ensured he had a word with the Australian.
Late flurry of laps saw riders challenge for top spot
It was a quiet session mainly; only seven riders completed a lap before the final 10 minutes of the session. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) topped the timesheets up until then with a time of 1:54.940. Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco followed on ahead of Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha), Sylvain Guintoli who is standing in for injured Alex Rins at Team Suzuki Ecstar, Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) and local boy, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). It would have been eight on the timesheet, had Miller not had his lap times cancelled for ‘exceeding the track limits’.
Folger takes to the top of the table
With around 22 minutes remaining, Folger went to the top of the timesheets when he returned to the track on slicks, with a dry setup and reduced Lorenzo’s time by 4.663 seconds when he lapped at 1:50.277. His lap time was a signal to others that the track conditions had improved significantly, and one by one they joined him on track.
As Folger began lapping in the 1:48 minute era, Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) joined him lapping 0,170 seconds quicker with seven minutes remaining. By this point, all riders bar Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing) and Reale Avintia Racing teammates, Hector Barbera and Loris Baz, were out on track and pushing for a fast time.
Marquez quickest at the end of Free Practice 1
The session ended with the 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) lapping quickest at the second of his home rounds on the calendar. He was the only rider to lap under 1:46 minutes with a time of 1:45.875; the time in turn became the new lap record as the new layout means that the previous listings were scrapped.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was second fastest with a time of 1:46.201 and the winner of the previous round in Mugello, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), who became the first Italian to win in Italy on Italian machinery since 1974, was third quickest.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) who caused he and Crutchlow to collect a DNF when he wiped him out on the last lap of the race in Mugello, was fourth quickest on his home track ahead of Folger who was the highest placed of the rookies in sixth. Spanish Movistar Yamaha rider, Maverick Vinales was sixth ahead of British rookie, Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Bautista, Redding and hero in Mugello, Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) who earned his first dry podium, completed the top 10.
Previous pace met straight away
Immediately the MotoGP class were able to match and improve on the times set by the end of Free Practice 1 when they took to a much warmer track later on in the day for Free Practice 2. Marquez was able to go faster as was Dovizioso, but Marquez improved further in the opening 10 minutes lapping with a low 1:45 minute time.
Things settled down for a bit, some riders were able to achieve personal bests but no one quite matched the times set by the front runners. Rabat put into practice his technique from the previous round and tagged onto the back of faster riders, this time it was Lorenzo, and was able to improve his time by pacing himself against them. Lorenzo managed to slot into third with around 20 minutes to go, and Rabat placed fourth.
Several close calls before crashes
It was a close call for Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) and Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing) as the two nearly had it all go wrong as they passed through the new turn 14. They nearly lost the front of their Ducatis and were both forced to save from crashing on their knee.
On his next lap ,Bautista was less fortunate and unable to save a crash. He ran over the bump and the front this time folded causing him to slide out. He was unhurt and began to recover his bike with the assistance of the Marshalls only to accidentally drop his Ducati again and once again have to be recovered.
Barbera then came off at turn 10 of one of his lap that followed. Just after he approached the left hand turn, he was hard on the brakes and the front lifted. As he turned into the left hander, the front folded and he slid off. Immediately he removed his glove and checked his little finger on his left hand. When he returned to the pits he received further treatment.
Bautista returns to track and goes quickest
Bautista returned and meant business as on his spare bike he was able to complete fast laps that displayed red sectors in the first three areas of the track, but it would be spoiled by the final sector with the new section. He went top with a time of 1:45.116 with just over five minutes remaining; Pedrosa slotted into second behind him.
Crutchlow ends day early with a crash
In the closing stages Crutchlow was braking as he went into the downhill left hander of turn five. The front end folded, early and he slid out. Crutchlow landed by the track but his bike picked up momentum in the gravel trap and wrecked itself forcing the British rider to return to the pits via a nearby scooter. He then legged it down the pit lane hoping to get back out on his spare bike gesturing hands at someone in the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS camp.
Further improvements on track
Pedrosa continued with his form and lapped with a really low 1:45 minute lap that once again placed him top. Lorenzo then stole the top spot when he became the first rider to lap under 1:45 minutes with a time of 1:44.700. His lead did not last long however as along came Marquez who improved by a few hundredths of a second setting what would be the fastest time of the session and the new circuit record of 1:44.478.
He did improve further on his next lap, but as well as almost losing time when he ran slightly wide, he almost narrowly avoided an incident ahead of him in the final chicane. His actual quickest lap of 1:44.295 was cancelled due to exceeding the track limits.
Baz crashes and is luckily avoided
Ahead, Baz had gone down at turn 14 when the front end folded on his Ducati. He slid along the tarmac and was immediately narrowly missed by Aleix Espargaro. Then Vinales, Pedrosa and Marquez already narrowly squeezed between him and the bike as he got back up to his feet. He was able to get the bike restated and return the pits but that meant that like Crutchlow his day ended early.
All riders were able to improve during the second conditions and the improvements meant that they were able to thoroughly investigate the asymmetric tyres supplied to them by French tyre supplier, Michelin. They were given the option to use a soft, medium or hard compound tyre that was harder on the right hand tyre to compensate for two more right hand corners than left.
Marquez on top on home turf at end of day one
Despite his time being cancelled, Marquez remained quickest with him time of 1:44.478 which is now the lap record for the new layout. Lorenzo was second quickest on his Ducati making it two Spaniards on top on home turf.
An amazing run rom Folger saw him finish third quickest as the top rookie and independent team rider, just 0,361 seconds off leader Marquez. Dovizioso was fourth despite running wide in the closing stages. He finished ahead of Petrucci in fifth who made it so that the three Ducati Desmosedici GP17s were in the top five at the end of day one.
The remainder of the results
Frenchman Zarco was sixth quickest ahead of Pedrosa in seventh and Bautista was pushed down to eighth. The 2016 Catalunya GP winner, Rossi was ninth as he was 0.640 seconds off Marquez, and Barbera completed the top 10. British rider Redding was 1th ahead of Iannone, Aleix Espargaro who stalled during his practice start and required assistance was 13th, Baz was 14th ahead of British rookie in the MotoGP class, Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).
Unusually for Vinales, he was 16th as he appeared to be struggling with track modifications on home turf. Miller was 17th, he managed to record a time after finally finding his way. Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) was 18th ahead of Crutchlow who ended up 19th, and Rabat dropped to 20th. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammates, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith completed the timesheets with Guintoli slotted in between them.