Chalk it up to his long experience with Ducati, Nicky Hayden seemed the only rider in red that seemed competitive this weekend in Catalunya especially after qualifying fifth, but the Kentucky Kid’s race ended on lap six, immediately after having passed Stefan Bradl.
Between the pumping, the heat and the slippery track and tire issues, only Andrea Dovizioso and substitute rider Michele Pirro finished the race that had a rather high incidence of crashes.
Dovizioso finished 7th and 32 seconds from Lorenzo (and almost two times slower than Rossi last year) and in the finale was forced to battle with injured MotoGP rookie Bradley Smith and loosing the 6th position to him.
Andrea Dovizioso is still riding the same bike that he did the Sepang 2 tests with, and admitted it is normal that there isn’t any improvement. He reiterated that the new frame on the laboratory bike that they tested at Mugello won’t be the solution to their chronic issues - which makes one wonder why they will continue testing it in tomorrow’s post-race test. The Italian rider said that they need a change and it has be ‘big and radical.’
Nicky Hayden qualified fifth today at Catalunya and this was his best result so far this season. The Ducati rider has been having a very interesting weekend, and this morning in FP3 he was just 0.063s from Marc Marquez who led the timesheets.
The Catalunya circuit’s long turns has seen the return of pumping issues in three of the four Ducati riders - even Michele Pirro who is riding a modified version of the laboratory bike suffered from the same problem - especially after a few laps, so tire management will be crucial for two factory riders in tomorrow’s race.
“Dani [Pedrosa] had a spectacular pole lap, but the front row wasn’t out of the question for me today. That would’ve been nice, but this is still my best qualifying position of the year so far. The bike is working pretty well when we have new tyres, but as soon as we lose a little bit of edge grip, it starts pumping. It was okay for qualifying, but we’ll have to try something tomorrow morning to see if we can make the tyre last longer. We know it won’t be an easy race, but hopefully we can put up a good fight and have some fun,” said Hayden.
“It’s a shame about the qualifying session. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do a perfect lap, and starting from the third row won’t be easy. That’s too bad because Barcelona is one of the nicest tracks to ride when you have a perfect lap, but I’m mainly disappointed that our spot on the grid will make it difficult for us tomorrow. My first exit was good, and I knew that if I could put all the sectors together, I could lower my time by three or four tenths. Then on my first lap with the second tyre, the bike closed the front in turn four. I almost fell and had to abort the lap in order to save the tyre. We’ve improved a lot from yesterday more with pace than on a fast lap but it will certainly be a very difficult race as we’ll all be struggling when the tyres wear. It will be important to make up some positions at the start, as anything can happen in the race,” said Dovizioso who will start on the third row in 8th.
The third and final MotoGP free practice at Catalunya ahead of the this afternoon’s QP1 and QP2 saw a very different situation from Friday. The Honda’s as usual came roaring back as did Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda rookie - wearing a special edition helmet with a lightning bolt design for his home race - stopped the clock in 1’41″853, lowering the record that Valentino Rossi had set just yesterday afternoon.
Ducati’s Nicky Hayden jumped to second with a soft tire and was just 0.063s from Marquez, while he broke the top speed record (341.4 km/h). Dani Pedrosa was third fastest and was the first rider to break the 1.42 barrier and he finished third and 0.134 adrift, in a very tight session that saw ten riders in less than one second.
Valentino Rossi spent the entire session testing the duration of the soft compound tires and he concluded in fourth and just 0.156s from Marquez after a last flying lap with a fresh tire. Cal Crutchlow, also used the softer option and was fifth, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (also wearing a special helmet design) who lost the front of his M1 and suffered a crash at the Seat turn (corner 5) - his first error of the season.
Ducati factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are heading to the Catalunya circuit after a two-day test with the ‘laboratory bike’ at Mugello last week, and where Max Biaggi’s test on the GP13 basically monopolized all the news.
Following the test, Andrea Dovizioso said that he would like to race the ‘new’ bike in this weekend’s Spanish GP, but there were doubts that there would enough parts ready in time.
Ducati’s team manager Vittoriano Guareschi however did say in the race preview press release “we found a couple of interesting things. Now we’ll try them on a different track to see if they provide some benefits,” but whether he was talking about ‘interesting things’ for the race weekend, means just some new parts for the GP13, or the complete lab bike remains to be seen, but you can expect someone will try to get some photos.
“Barcelona is one of the nicest tracks on the calendar, and it’s always fun to go to Spain for a race weekend. As for the Ducati, I’m not sure because I’ve never ridden the GP13 on this circuit, but it might not be the best track for us because of the fast corners where our bike tends to ‘pump’ a bit in the rear. Still, I’m keeping an open mind as we head to Barcelona. I’m always very excited to go there, and I’m optimistic following a good weekend at Mugello and a good test last week,” said Dovizioso who finished fourth and fifth in the last two rounds and qualified twice on the front row.
Max Biaggi’s presence in the two-day Ducati test at Mugello completely monopolized the attention of the press that seemed to completely forget that it was an important development test for the factory riders who had time to concentrate on ‘laboratory’ machine that Michele Pirro has rode in two wildcard entries and Jerez and Mugello.
Dovizioso, Hayden and Andrea Iannone all agreed that the bike is a step forward, but were the two factory riders were divided on whether the bike should take the place of the current machine they are riding.
Andrea Dovizioso would like to use the new machine in the upcoming Barcelona round, but Nicky Hayden was not completely convinced, so he’ll probably continue with his regular machine, as Ducati (and their frame supplier) won’t have the time to produce enough parts for both riders, so the question is moot.
After crashing in FP1 at Mugello, Andrea Dovizioso was unsure that he could even take part in today’s qualifying session, but not only did he take part, he actually put his Ducati on the front row for the second consecutive time.
Dovizioso admitted that he used a tow for at least three laps latching on to Dani Pedrosa for his last flying lap to make his best time, but despite the tow the Italian believes he has a podium chance if the temperatures are cooler so he won’t wear out his tires as fast.
“It feels incredible to make it onto the first row at Mugello, especially as a Ducati rider! It was one of my goals, but I still can’t believe it, particularly after yesterday’s crash. The Clinica Mobile and my physiotherapist did a really good job of making my neck feel better, which gave me the opportunity to push hard in qualifying. It still bothers me, but I can push at almost 100%, and because yesterday I didn’t even know if I’d be able to race, I’m very happy. We worked really well this morning, improving the setup a little, and I was pretty fast this afternoon, but when the tyres wear a little our pace isn’t good enough to fight for the podium. Anyway, we’ll try to do our best to get a good result tomorrow for Ducati and all our fans,” said Dovizioso.
The Mugello race circuit and Gran Premio d’Italia TIM is considered Ducati’s home race and the Italian manufacturer will be out in full force for the weekend, with Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden and also Michele Pirro who will be out with GP13 ‘laboratory bike’ in another wildcard entry after replacing Ben Spies at Le Mans and taking an 8th spot.
Ben Spies will finally return to track with his Pramac team after missing the Jerez and Le Mans GPs and Andrea Iannone should be sufficiently recovered from his arm pump surgery with the twenty odd surgical staples taken out, and his knee should also be in much better condition.
Ducati’s factory team riders tested at Mugello for two day earlier this month and that should give them a big head start on set-up especially if the weather is sunny and dry, but we won’t be holding our breathe on the weather forecast, because there could be scattered showers over the three days.
Even if the weekend should be wet we’ve seen what Andrea Dovizioso can do as he gave Ducati their best result so far, after leading the French GP and only fading in the finale to fourth as the track dried and his tires went off, and with Hayden finishing fifth which gave the team the big confidence boost that they needed.
For almost 14 laps in today’s French GP Andrea Dovizioso made Ducati fans around the world dream the impossible dream, after two difficult years, a victory. The Italian fought for the lead with Dani Pedrosa until the track started to dry out and began stressing his tires and he dropped from second, to third and finally finished fourth, but no doubt a moral boosting race.
Ducati works exceptionally well in the wet with its traction and Le Mans shorter corners also help the Desmosedici, and Dovizioso believed that if continued to rain he would have been on the podium, but he also admitted that with this Ducati they can’t solve the problems they have.
“It’s always nice to be at the front of the pack! I’m really happy with my feeling with the bike, and as long as the tyres were decent, I was able to manage the situation well. Dani had more than I did, but I was still able to keep a good pace. We had good grip, which helped us to have a nice race, but as the track dried, the tyres began wearing a lot. I couldn’t keep the pace in the last six or seven laps, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the podium. I’m sorry for the team about that, but we had a positive weekend in all aspects, even in the dry.” said Dovizioso.
Andrea Dovizioso gave Ducati their first front row start of the 2013 MotoGP season at Le Mans with a 1.33.603 lap that put him in third on the starting grid and he did it without a tow, which is also important.
The Italian is however keeping his feet on the ground because the Ducati still has all its usual problems and on race pace after a few laps the GP13 starts having tire issues.
Strangely enough at the French circuit the Ducati is more competitive and has less issues, with many believing that it’s due to the majority of the turns have a shorter radius so the riders can pick up the bike sooner without having to wrestle it back to the racing line like they usually do on the longer and faster corners.
“I’m pleased with the work we’ve done over the weekend because we’ve been consistently fast and we have the pace to do a good race—maybe not to finish on the podium but we’re much closer to the competition than we have been at other tracks. I was surprised to do a 1:33.6, as I didn’t think I’d be able to do that, but it was a beautiful feeling. Although I know it will be a difficult race, I still hope that it’ll be dry tomorrow; those are the conditions that we’ve practiced in and we’re pretty fast. Still, it shouldn’t be a big problem even if it rains, as it seems that our GP13 works well in the wet,” said Dovizioso.
Ducati riders have often scored podiums at Le Mans but have never obtained a race victory, not even with Casey Stoner who got the result only when he rode for Repsol Honda.
The layout of the track and the wet weather conditions often sees the Desmosedici competitive, however Andrea Dovizioso is hoping to capitalize on the Ducati’s characteristics at the circuit and also the fact that he has always had decent results, something that team mate Nicky Hayden hasn’t had. The American has never been on the podium in France in the 10 years he’s been in MotoGP.
Dovizioso and Hayden carried out two days of private testing at Mugello last week and it will be interesting to see if they can found some set-up solutions to better the performance of the bike.
“The conditions at Le Mans are always tricky, in part because it’s typically raining! Still, I think it’s a good track for Ducati, and it’s a really good track for me. That being the case, we should go there with confidence and see if we can understand a little bit about where we can improve, although for the moment, we still shouldn’t think too much about the result,” said Dovizioso.
“We’ve had a couple of days off after a very busy week, so I was able to head north and regroup. Honestly, I’ve struggled at Le Mans, but one of the keys to the track is hard braking, which is a strong point of the Desmosedici. We’ve seen a lot of spectators at the last couple of races, and I imagine that will also be true at Le Mans. My wrist has improved since Jerez, and although it’s still not perfect, I expect to have less pain in France. Hopefully we can have some fun and do a good race,” commented Hayden.