The Aragon GP got underway today as the MotoGP class took to the track for the first two Free Practice sessions of the weekend. It was former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden who led the way out onto the track as the American World Superbike Honda rider is replacing injured Jack Miller.
Miller ruled out of the Aragon GP; Hayden to replace him
It turns out that the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Miller has been competing with a broken hand. Enduring the pain for as long as he could he has been forced to miss several rounds as a result of the injuries sustained in a crash several meetings previous and Hayden was approached to replace him for the independent team.
Although he is heavily experienced, there have been a lot of changes within the MotoGP that Hayden is to overcome. He agreed to stand in as he would have been following the bikes anyway and thought why not enjoy the experience, although he is fully aware that the new tyres, electronics and other components will mean that his work is cut out ahead him.
First race at MotorLand Aragon for Michelin
Keen to come to grips with things as soon as possible he immediately took to track for Free Practice 1 as did many more of the riders; it was almost like a race on track as they tried to put in a good time whilst probably testing previous settings used in Aragon. French tyre manufacturer Michelin, who are supplying the MotoGP field after taking over from Bridgestone at the start of the season, have never raced here before (although they hve completed a test) and so as much track time as possible is needed by all.
First crash from Hernandez within moments of session starting
Immediately during the session Pull & Bear Aspar MotoGP rider Yonny Hernandez was caught out with a cold tyre as he became the first victim in the field to Turn 2; a corner that was going to quickly become notorious throughout the day. It is the first right-handed corner after several left-handed turns at the track they run anti-clockwise on and he was first to go down; not the start he would have wished for but luckily he was OK.
Movistar Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi headed straight for the top of the leaderboard as he immediately set the quickest lap, however it was not going to remain this way for long. Movistar are sponsoring the event at MotorLand Aragon this year and so a good result from the Italian would surely go down well with his sponsors, as it will with Rossi who is pursuing Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) for the championship title.
With 37 minutes remaining it was Marquez, who has won here once before in 2013, who was the first to break through the 1:50 minute barrier with a time of 1:49.748. However it was still way off the record pace. Despite the track being busy Marquez was able to improve by over half a second and he was soon joined by independent team rider Cal Cruthclow (LCR Honda) who slotted in in second.
Close call for injured Baz
Now Avintia Ducati rider Loris Baz is also also injured; a crash at a previous round re-hurt a previous injury sustained earlier in the season. The Frenchman has been hobbling round after missing the previous round because of more damage to his right fot; much needed for heavy braking at Aragon.
Less than 15 minutes into the first session he almost made things much worse as he ran off at the top of one of the hill, whilst learning to cope with his injuries at the track, and was forced to use the gravel traps to come to a stop.
Aleix Espargaro almost hits the wall head on
Hernandez had made his way back onto track midway through the session and as he pushed he experienced a huge wobble which fortunately he was able to save as he approached turn one. He wasn’t the only rider whose rear end was seen lifting under heavy braking as they approached the turn, throughout the day.
Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also had a close call as his GSX-RR seemed to have no brakes as he was unable to slow through turn 12 and ended up travelling across the run off areas; the gravel was able to stop him just before he hit the barrier, he thanked the Marshals who were ready to help him and continued on the slip road.
Marquez flying on home soil
As Marquez continued to push he was first again to lap under 1:49 minutes with his new time of 1:48.830 after shaving off 0.342 seconds off his previous time. Riders then made their way to the pits to make their final stop before their last push during the first session.
In the closing stages Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso, whose competitors believed he is most likely to become the ninth MotoGP winner this season, was able to set a fast lap which brought him up the ranks and he slotted in in second.
Rabat crashes out at turn 2
Just two minutes remained and rookie Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) became the next victim to turn two as he crashed at the fast right hander. The bike went from under him before they both slid and ended up in the gravel. Rabat was not hurt but it meant the session was over early for him.
Marquez fastest at the end of Free Practice 1
Several flying laps from the likes of Rossi and Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Maverick Vinales which switched things up a bit at the end of the session. It was Marquez who remained fastest at the end of the session with his previous time Rossi was second fastest and Vinales was third ahead of Dovizioso.
Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) who has won the last two years here was fifth quickest ahead of injured Andrea Iannone who made his return for the Ducati Team finishing sixth fastest.
Iannone ruled out of a second round at Aragon
Iannone’s return was short-lived though. He broke several vertebrae at during Free Practice in Misano and was ruled out of the race. Michele Pirro, who was initially standing in for Baz, was then transferred to the factory Ducati Team where he replaced Iannone instead; it would have been more benficial to both Pirro and financially to the Ducati Team.
It must have been too much too soon as Iannone was unable to return to work for the rest of the day. Pirro will again replace the Italian this weekend which will allow ‘The Maniac’ to recuperate.
The fastest independent team rider at the end of FP1 was Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci who was seventh quickest; his time was 0.889 seconds slower than that set by Marquez. Aleix Espargaro was eighth quickest ahead of Pol Espargaro (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) who is hoping to do well at one of his home tracks in Spain and reclaim the independent team championship lead from Crutchlow who finished FP1 in tenth.
Cooler conditions for Free Practice 2
Conditions were much cooler by the time Free Practice 2 got underway as storm clouds were looming over MotorLand Aragon; this meant that the track temperature was low and riders would struggle to keep the tyres and therefore the brakes at optimum temperature.
Riders were getting caught out left, right and centre, one of them being Eugene Laverty (Pull & Bear Aspar MotoGP) who ran on straight at the last turn. Riders continued to struggle with turn one, Marquez at one point was seen using his left foot as a brake and smoke coming from his boot.
Pedrosa makes his way to the top of the timesheets
After winning the last round at Misano, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa is hoping to win in Aragon again as he did in 2012. Midway through FP2 he was on top of the timesheets with his time of 1:48.860. The Spaniard has struggled to find his form of late and it is great to see him back to his old ways.
Same fate for the Espargaro brothers
Unfortunately for the Espargaro brothers, both suffered at the hands of turn two within moments of each other. Around 22 minutes remained when Pol was first to crash at the right handed corner. He was able to get to his feet and walk away as the Marshals recovered his bike.
Then moments later Aleix fell victim to the turn. The front end of his Suzuki tucked and the bike went from under him. It was wrecked, and knowing what damage that corner does to a bike, Aleix didn’t even bother to look at it as he hopped back to his feet. He ran to a scooter waiting on the slip road and returned to the pits as Marshals struggled to recover his bike from the gravel; it returned to the pits with a sheet over it.
Pedrosa remained the fastest man within the final stages as the MotoGP riders entered the pits for one last stop before their final spurt. With six minutes remaining, Marquez came along and completed his quickest time of the day of 1:48.494.
Turn two strikes again and again
Turn two then claimed its next victim in the form of Laverty. Like the others the front end of his Ducati tucked on entry to the corner and the bike was again wrecked; fortunately Laverty was OK but it was day over for him as the session came to an end.
Shortly after Alex Lowes (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), who is again replacing injured Bradley Smith, came off at turn the same corner. He did everything but drop the Yamaha after he missed the turn and was forced into the run-off areas where he was able to regain control.
Along came Crutchlow, another Honda rider to have found his form of late he was able to complete a fast lap that took initially up to fourth. He was quicker through the first three sectors of the track, and had he not lost the time gained in the final sector he would have gone top. Pol had returned to track and aware that he has to beat Crutchlow, he was able to slot in in fourth.
Pedrosa quickest at the end of day one of the Aragon GP
But then along came Pedrosa again to take the top spot from his teammate. He lapped consistently, first improving on Marquez’s time by 0.011 seconds, and then on his own by 0.054. It was enough to complete the fastest time by anyone on the day of 1:48.429 (it is still almost two seconds off the best ever lap here set by Marquez in qualifying last year). Pedrosa is the man to beat at the end of day one of the Aragon GP ahead of his teammate Marquez and Crutchlow made it a Honda one, two, three finishing third quickest after FP2.
Rossi was fourth ahead because of a late lap which put him ahead of Pol Espargaro in fifth. Vinales was sixth quickest ahead of Lorenzo and fellow Spaniard Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati). Petrucci and Dovizioso completed the top ten. If conditions worsen and riders do not improve on these times during FP3, these riders will automatically progress to Qualifying 2.
Hayden just three seconds off the pace on his first day
Aleix Espargaro finished 11th ahead of Hernandez in 12th. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini riders Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were 13th and 14th ahead of Pirro who was on hand to stand in for Iannone who was unable to continue on the Ducati.
British rider Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) was 16th ahead of Laverty. Rabat, Baz and Lowes all finished above Hayden who completed the field in 21st; his time at the end of his first day since his return to the class was three seconds off the pace of the leaders.