Lorenzo “inspired” to impeccable Valencia Vault
The signs were good. “Everything is decided so everyone will push to 100%,” World Champion Marc Marquez grinned in his first media debrief of the Motul Valencian Grand Prix. Fresh tyre batches from Michelin and face-warming Mediterranean sunshine met with that ‘Friday’ feeling for MotoGP at round eighteen of eighteen. There was a sense of the ‘Monday morning’ to come…with work for 2017 commencing already on Tuesday/Wednesday and testing boxes sealed and hidden in the dark corners of pit garages but mostly there was an end-of-term vibe.
The path and progress for Michelin for their return to MotoGP was given closure on Friday. Only Yonny Hernandez skittled off-track: a stark contrast to the twenty-thirty crashes at the Valencia test twelve months ago for what was an alarming first scrape of rubber. The increased stickiness was most evident with Lorenzo’s M1. Harking back the Spaniard was faultless under extreme pressure in 2015 to take his fifth crown and admitted on Thursday that he did not know if a 2016 repeat was possible at the flat and compact (one-liney) circuit where he has three previous triumphs and four podiums from seven MotoGP appearances.
Lorenzo set an early pace and torched his best attempt on another two occasions through Q1 and Q2 to melt the Pole record and circuit record with the first 1min 29 second lap of the Ricardo Tormo asphalt (resurfaced across a bumpy first corner). “I’ve been very confident, very motivated with the tyres, with [the] tarmac. So I reached my top level today and made three very, very quick laps. Improving two tenths every time. Today I was inspired,” said Lorenzo, who recorded his first Pole Position on his Yamaha debut at Qatar in 2008 (where he finished second) and admitted that third place overall in 2016 was still the goal as well as signing off in blue with another trophy. “Everything I tried was worth it. The bike ‘stayed’, even if I push every time more and more. It was my day and I’m very proud.”
The tyre barriers took some abuse. Marquez volleyed the fence in anger at Turn 6 after getting into the corner too quickly and planting his RCV into the back of the repair truck at a crucial stage of qualification. “I already knew that it would be difficult to be on Pole because for some reason here Yamaha are very, very strong,” #93 said as top Honda by six positions. “I was angry because for some reason this weekend I feel much better with the bike I crashed with than the other one. So I was not able to use the first bike. In the end it’s more or less the same but sometimes you feel a little bit better with the other bike.”
Valencia does not hold the happiest memories for Valentino Rossi – 2006 and nine years later spring to mind – and the Italian still wasn’t able enforce any mastery despite significant progress from the 8th of FP2. “We improved the balance of the bike but it is difficult to overtake in Valencia so the starting place is important,” the 38 year old commented. “[Maverick] Viñales is stronger than me so we need to improve tomorrow to fight for the podium.”
MotoGP 2016 might be dwindling but there was still plenty of intensity on display. In QP1 Cal Crutchlow was rightfully furious with a factory Aprilia for baulking a fast lap but mistook the berth of Alvaro Bautista for Stefan Bradl; the German looking to take something from a MotoGP swansong with Eugene Laverty (confirmed by the Italian manufacturer as their official test rider/replacement for 2017 while also on WorldSBK duty) and Hernandez also outgoing. Marquez was irate with the popular Andrea Iannone and ran the Italian wide to make his umbrage known to the track-hogging Ducati rider. Like the world champion Crutchlow also crashed – in Q2 – and had to stunt-roll the high tyre wall to get back to the pits. He couldn’t better a searing 1 min 30.5 from Q1 and amusingly recounted how a lift back to the paddock with a random scooter owner was more fraught than his on-track activity.
There were some concerned faces in a crammed garage further down the pitlane. Red Bull KTM are making their wild-card MotoGP debut and both Mika Kallio and the myriad of technicians were confused as to why their Friday pace was slower than their testing times at the same track. On Saturday their relief was palpable as Kallio better negotiated a lack of rear grip to lose a second and put the fetching RC16 20th on a grid of 22.
One rider with a wider smile than Moto2 World Champion Johann Zarco (with this seventh Pole of 2016) was Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda’s Aron Canet; the seventeen year old earning the top spot for the first time in Moto3 and at his home round.
Photo by CormacGP