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Old July 9th, 2024, 01:50 PM   #1
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[] - Bagnaia Takes the MotoGP Championship Lead at Sachsenring

Jorge Martín started the weekend at Sachsenring with a pole and sprint win, but on Sunday he crashed out giving the win and point lead to Pecco Bagnaia.

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Francesco Bagnaia took the win at Sachsenring, moving into the 2024 MotoGP Championship point lead. (MotoGP/)OK, the big stuff first, like they used to teach in J-School: Jorge Martín (Pramac Duc) led Sunday’s race until the next-to-last lap and tipped over, allowing Francesco Bagnaia (factory Duc) to win and take over the point lead. Martín had won the Saturday sprint and looked like he’d pre-checked all the boxes. Sensationally in second place, after overcoming helpings of ill fortune and pain, was the man who has won Sachsenring every other time he has started there: Marc Márquez (Gresini Duc). In third, in proper fairy-tale fashion, Marc’s brother and Gresini teammate, Álex. The point standings are now Bagnaia 222, Martín 212, and Marc Márquez 166.

This weekend has valuable lessons to teach us and the riders participating.

Friday began with the expectation of many that Marc Márquez—lately returned to riding at near top level—must surely win as he has always won here. He was less certain, saying, “[The others] are faster in other racetracks, so let’s see if I have the level and speed to fight with them. It will not be as easy a weekend as people are saying.”

Despite a huge high-side crash on Friday, Marc Márquez was able to secure a second place in Sunday’s GP. (MotoGP/)A pattern has emerged in which new championship point leader Bagnaia and second-placed Martín begin the weekend by being fast from FP1 and making near-zero mistakes. This guarantees them front row starting positions that in turn are the key to front tire preservation. Riding behind others adds the “slipstream heat” of bikes ahead (hot exhaust plus radiator/oil cooler airflows) to the “normal” overloading of the front tire (see how much narrower it is than the rear tire), and consider that hard braking from high speed adds up to horsepower that the engine can’t match. The acceleration produced by the engine, in contrast, decreases as speed increases.

Develop a bike setup (distinct from the one you’ll use Sunday) that works with the softer, grippier tires that you will likely use for qualifying and the sprint race. To win on Sunday you need a bike capable of lapping quickly on used tires. As Ben Spies was coming up in the US AMA Yosh Supers team, it was hard to wean him off of focusing on setting top qualifying time, and instead learning to go as fast as possible Sunday, on used tires.

Be sure your bike is capable of controllable rocket starts every time (note that Aprilia riders have repeatedly complained of inconsistent clutch action). Get away first or lead as quickly as possible; riders today are setting initial front tire pressure in part according to their expectation: Will I be a “slow guy,” trapped in a hot drafting group? Or will I be up front in cool air?

The top men know they must lead from the start or take the lead as quickly as possible to maintain the grip of the front tire. If it heats too much behind another rider, its pressure rises, diminishing the footprint area, triggering the first warning of front trouble—locking during braking. Falling back or riding offset from another bike’s slipstream are often-used ways of avoiding this.

Lap records are falling dramatically these days; teams are optimizing their new technologies and there is the new Michelin rear tire—for those whose setup works with it. On his second lap of Q2 Martín set a new lap record* of 1:19.423, 1.808 seconds quicker than the old record (Maverick Viñales had lowered the record in second practice, but the previous record had belonged to Marc Márquez). This is now routine, as the average 2024 drop in lap record time has been 1.876.

Jorge Martín took the win in Saturday’s Tissot Sprint and it looked like he'd repeat the feat in the Grand Prix, then he went down on the penultimate lap. (MotoGP/)Give up the idea that fast guys win races. Everyone in MotoGP is fast, but not everyone wins. Being fast is a foundation of good race performance, but experience and the habit of analysis rise above that.

With wind and low temperature on Friday, there were many crashes—over a third of the field. Fabio Di Giannantonio observed, “…with this weather it was hard to work well. In the right [hand] corners [there are only three of them, including T1 and T11, versus ten right turns] it was hard for me to manage the temperature of the tire. When the temperature is low like this and we have to use the soft front tire…it’s hard to manage.” The right side of the front, being used only a third as often as the left side, remains cooler and so has less grip.

In Saturday’s 15-lap sprint race, Martín found himself initially third. “I had to overtake really fast because if I was back behind, I would have gone backward [from rising front tire temperature].”

Miguel Oliveira (Aprilia) came second. “…I just didn’t have anything else in the tank when I was behind Martín.

“…when my front tire pressure went up slightly too high it started to be difficult to manage the front. At that point he just started to go away from me.… Then the tire came back.”

Remember the story about the late, great Gary Nixon being asked by a neighbor, “How come you didn’t win this weekend?”

“Because two other guys were faster ‘n me, that’s why.”

As we have come to expect, Bagnaia was thoughtful in his approach to being behind Martín:

“I had a good start but when I got to the front [he led laps 2 through 6] I felt like the rear tire temperature had dropped, especially on the right side—I couldn’t stop in the first corner.

“So when Martín and Franco Morbidelli (Pramac Ducati) passed me, I tried to figure out the situation and slowly got the [rear tire] temperature back up. That was crucial [taking care of the rubber rather than going after the leaders] because if I had stuck to them I wouldn’t have had any rubber left at the end.

“When both Pramacs overtook me I saw they were both pushing a bit too much. So I decided to slow down a bit. With these tires, at some circuits, you have to wait. I started pushing from mid-race on.”

Jack Miller (factory KTM) added his analysis, noting that at a point during braking for turn 1, the track surface drops a bit: “You’re trying to stop it and then right at the most critical point, the track drops away.”

This unloading of the tire brings a sudden grip reduction.

Jack Miller finished 13th, battling with lack of grip. (MotoGP/)“…you…roll the dice going in there, when you brake later and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got it’ and it starts getting close to that drop-off…”

Bagnaia adds to the story: “Jorge knew I was faster than him in the third sector and wanted to prevent me from getting too close to him. In the last laps [his] front kept closing and when I tried to get closer he would force it. He slid off, but we were making an incredible pace.

“We could have had a good battle on the last lap.”

At the end of Lap 28, Bagnaia had been just a half-second behind Martín.

Right now some Marc Márquez fans want to know why he hasn’t reverted to the dominance they expected. Sachsenring well suited Márquez’s extreme style of hard braking with rear wheel in the air, rapid turning at a slow apex, followed by early lift and hard acceleration.

Most directly, Márquez suffered a 120-mph turn 11 highside in Friday afternoon practice, breaking a finger and painfully damaging ribs. Then a combination of things resulted in his starting 13th, loaded with potent painkillers.

Also consider that the Honda built for Marc’s style of pre-COVID times no longer exists, and he himself has been through a turbulent period of injury, false starts, and now the problem of adapting to a year-old version of a new-to-him Ducati.

It was a Márquez two-three at the finish line. (MotoGP/)Even if that Honda did exist, something better has taken its place. The group of young riders now on Ducati, plus Gigi Dall’Igna’s “freedom of engineering” management style, have developed a uniquely well-rounded motorcycle—one that combines the braking and acceleration of the point-and-shoot style with increased midcorner grip. That grip gets through long, fast corners quicker than did the stiffness of the bikes Honda tailored to Márquez.

Márquez is on a Ducati now, so where’s the problem? It takes serious time for riders—even of the top level—to get the best from the characteristics of a different bike. Bike and rider are not Lego pieces that snap together.

Despite the fifth-row start, the pain, and the rest, Márquez finished just 3.8 seconds out of first, on a year-old satellite team bike. Tremendous.

Tremendous also is Ducati’s accomplishment in again filling the top five. We hope to see the long-evident promise of Aprila (Viñales put his on top in first practice) and KTM rewarded, but it is up to them to go faster.

Bagnaia was just a half-second behind Martín and he expected the two to have a last-lap battle. It turned out to be much easier than that. (MotoGP/)How much longer can Dorna tolerate the special pleading of Michelin, in imposing the present tire pressure rule and attendant penalties? Riders naturally want to run the tire pressure that gives best race performance, but Michelin implies (by insisting on higher pressures) that its front tire is not safe at the pressures that give best lap times. Riders want to race, not devise ways around pettifogging rules.

Summer break starts now; Silverstone is August 2-4.
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