The VROOM Blog, #IndonesianGP – Miguel’s Mandalika Masterclass

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

For the first time in 25 years, we were treated to an Indonesian GP, and it was definitely worth the wait! The last time a GP was held in Indonesia, it was Sentul which played host and back in 1996 and 1997 those 500cc races were won by Mick Doohan and Tadayuki Okada.

The week before the Indonesian GP saw the highly anticipated release of the new documentary series MotoGP Unlimited. Suggested by many as MotoGP’s answer to the Formula 1 series Drive to Survive, MotoGP Unlimited promised an insight into the life of MotoGP and was being released as an 8-part series on Amazon Prime.

With anticipation high, I sat down on Monday morning to watch the first episode and found that the rider’s voices had been dubbed over with an English-speaking voice. I paused the episode and investigated the subtitle and language settings – surely I could just turn off the dubbing and have the subtitles on? Apparently not. Was it an issue with my Amazon settings perhaps? I headed online to see if anyone else was having the same problem, and found that they were. People were not happy! I thought perhaps I was being a little dramatic when I declared the series unwatchable with the dubbing, but was greeted online by many people saying the same thing. Many had switched off just as quickly as I had – I didn’t make it to the two-minute mark – and hoped that Amazon would fix the issue so that we could listen to the original audio without the offensive dubbing.

In response to what was quite the backlash online, Amazon said that there had been a ‘technical issue’ with the release and that they were working to fix it. Thankfully they did fix it, and on Tuesday I watched the whole series which I really enjoyed. The series covers the 2021 season, and includes lots of behind-the-scenes coverage that we don’t see on a race weekend – and in between, with riders such as Viñales, Rins and Martin allowing the cameras into their lives outside of the track – and we gained an insight into what the riders go through from the highs to the lows and everything in between. I liked that the series showed the drama of MotoGP without being overly dramatic – MotoGP is what it is and they didn’t make it seem like an episode of EastEnders.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it yet I would highly recommend that you watch it – there’s no race this weekend so that’ll give you the free time!

In the run up to the race weekend, both Yamaha and Honda announced that they had made significant donations towards humanitarian aid for Ukraine and neighbouring areas, and while they said that they hoped the ‘crisis’ would be resolved soon, they stopped short of actually condemning the actions of Putin and the Russian military which I found disappointing.

While this is the first visit to the Mandalika circuit for the Moto2 and Moto3 teams and riders, the MotoGP teams tested here last month and were highly critical of the track surface. A substantial portion of the track had been resurfaced but there were clearly still issues with the track as the weekend progressed – Neil Hodgson’s on-board camera from his media lap showed holes in the surface at turn 2, and the Moto2 and MotoGP races ended up being shortened on Sunday “to preserve the track conditions because of the asphalt.” There are plans in place to resurface the whole circuit before the MotoGP paddock returns for 2023.

MotoGP track action got underway with FP1 on Friday morning with a track that was still damp from an early morning shower meaning that most of the riders headed out on wet tyres. Jorge Martin and Fabio Quartararo were among the riders who headed straight out on slicks though. The session was topped by Pol Espargaro from Miguel Oliveira, Marc Marquez and Franky Morbidelli.

FP2 looked like being a critical session again this week as rain was forecast for Saturday morning meaning that chances to improve times wouldn’t be great in FP3. There were issues for Fabio Quartararo whose Yamaha appeared to cut out on him early in the session, but he didn’t let that hold him back – he was top of the timesheets with 13 minutes to go. With 5 minutes to go the time attacks started and we saw crashes for Enea Bastianini and Marc Marquez at turns 13 and 11 respectively.

Quartararo topped the session, with Franky Morbidelli and Johann Zarco making up the top 3, but yellow flags brought out by the late crashes meant that riders such as Joan Mir, Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez found themselves at the bottom of the times and in danger of having to compete in Q1 should they be unable to improve their times in FP3.

Saturday morning rolled around and the track was indeed wet, although there was a drying line. Would anyone be able to improve their time and secure a slot in Q2? In short, no. There were no improvements to lap times, as Marc Marquez topped the session with a time that was still 2 seconds off what would’ve been needed to pinch 10th place from Rins.

Following the chequered flag, all riders returned to the pits and were released again to carry out practice starts on the grid in an attempt to clean the grid slots and lay down some rubber. Franky Morbidelli changed his mind about the slot he was going to start from and moved his bike but caused Joan Mir to have to ride around him, earning himself a 3-place grid penalty for the race.

Things had dried out in time for FP4, and things were certainly heating up for Alex Rins as his bike caught fire causing him to bail from his Suzuki at turn 13. Rins’ bike had dropped fluid onto the track before he realised what was happening however, and could possibly have been the reason that Johann Zarco crashed at turn 10. The session was red flagged while the bike was extinguished and the fluid on the track was treated, but it took longer than I’d have liked for the flag to come out considering there was a bike on fire at the edge of the track.

The track was cleaned up and the session got back underway, and by the mid-point of the session it was rookie Marco Bezzecchi that was fastest. By the end of the session, he had been demoted to 2nd by fellow VR46 Academy rider Franky Morbidelli, with Marc Marquez in 3rd place.

Q1 looked as though it was going to be a cracker – Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Joan Mir and Pol Espargaro would not only be battling each other for the 2 slots in Q2, but they would be up against Luca Marini who had been fast at the test here, and Marco Bezzecchi who had been quick in FP4.

Marc Marquez seemed to be planning a 3-run session, quickly returning to pit lane and changing bikes after setting a banker lap, and after the first set of runs it was Pecco and Bezzecchi who held the Q2 spots but there was still time for others to improve. Turn 13 saw a crash for Marc Marquez, and he was immediately on his feet and running in an attempt to get back to the pit lane and get back out on track – he got a scooter ride to the back of his pit box and ran straight through to find that his team had his bike ready and waiting. He headed back out onto track and set about trying for a faster lap time.

With just 3 minutes left on the clock, Bezzecchi crashed and remounted at turn 16, and with just a minute and a half remaining the session looked like a Moto3 one as no less than 5 riders were cruising. I couldn’t believe that I was seeing Marc and Alex Marquez, Pol Espargaro, Raul Fernandez and Joan Mir all slowed right down, presumably looking for someone to follow. Marc slotted in behind Taka Nakagami, pushed his way past him and promptly crashed again.

At the end of the session, it was Pecco Bagnaia and rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio who had set the fastest times and gained progression to Q2. Diggia is the first of the 2022 rookies to make it into Q2.

Q2 was slightly less dramatic than Q1, although with 11 minutes to go Franky Morbidelli crashed at turn 5, sending his bike barrel-rolling through the gravel. With less than 3 minutes remaining, Aleix Espargaro crashed at turn 10, bringing out the yellow flags.

It was Fabio Quartararo who set the fastest lap and took his first pole position since Catalunya last year, ending his longest sequence of successive races without a pole position since he stepped up to the premier class in 2019. Fabio would be joined on the front row by Pramac Ducati duo Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco, while Brad Binder qualified in 4th for his best ever MotoGP qualifying result.

Warm up on Sunday morning was a fully dry session, but with rain forecast for the afternoon many riders headed for an out-lap on wet tyres to scrub them in should they be needed later on. This also gave the perfect opportunity for riders to practice swapping bikes in case of a flag-to-flag race.

Towards the end of the session Marc Marquez crashed for the fourth time of the weekend and this one was a bad one. He had a massive high-side crash at turn 7 and his bike looked destroyed. It was horrendous to watch, and concerning to see him taking longer than usual to get back onto his feet – it was hard to tell from the camera angles, but I wouldn’t rule out him having been knocked out for a second or two. Marc got back to his feet, but he was unsteady and looked dazed as he made his way through the gravel.

The session was topped by Fabio Quartararo from Maverick Viñales and Miguel Oliveira, and once again the riders were sent out for practice starts on the grid following the conclusion of the session. As the riders headed out for their practice starts, Marc made his way to the medical centre and from there he was helicoptered to hospital for checks returning in time for the MotoGP race, but having been declared unfit due to a concussion sustained during the crash.

As the Moto2 riders assembled on the grid it was announced that the Moto2 race would be reduced to two-thirds distance “due to track conditions”, and just before Somkiat Chantra made history by becoming the first ever Thai rider to win a GP race, we learned that the MotoGP race would be cut down to 20 laps.

It wasn’t long after the end of the Moto2 race that it started to rain, and it was absolutely bucketing down! There was thunder and lightning too, with the cameras catching a lightning strike on the track that resulted in flames. Needless to say, the start of the race was delayed – there was a rather optimistic ten-minute delay at first, but with the rain still hammering down and the track looking more like a river than a race track, action was delayed for over an hour.

In the meantime, we saw riders waving to fans and trying to pass the time in their pit boxes. We also saw Rara Isti Wulan, a local pawang hujan – translated as rain handler – performing a ritual intended to stop (or at least lessen) the rain to allow the racing to go ahead.

Now, I don’t personally believe that a person can control or change the weather, but the comments from some people on the internet were ridiculous. People were being rude and making jokes at her expense and the level of disrespect for a culture different to their own was really disappointing. No doubt the people making such comments are the kind of people who holiday abroad with no knowledge of the local language but attempt to get around that by putting on an accent and shouting for what they want…

Finally, after a delay of over an hour, the riders headed out on their sighting lap to the grid. It was still raining as the lights went out, but it was substantially lighter than it had been and much of the standing water on the track had been removed.

Fabio Quartararo was off like a scalded cat, and was followed into turn 1 by Miguel Oliveira who had made a belting start from 7th on the grid. Another cracking start came from Franky Morbidelli who made his way from 14th on the grid to 7th by the 2nd corner, while Joan Mir had come through from 17th to 8th!

Lap 2 saw Fabio lose places to both Oliveira and Miller, and by the end of the lap it was Miller who was leading the way. The spray from the wet track was horrendous, quite how anybody further back in the pack was able to see where they were going is amazing – in fact, Franky Morbidelli said afterwards that he could only see “red dots in a white cloud”, which if nothing else proves that the rear lights at least do their job in the rain.

Fabio found himself losing out to Rins and Zarco on the straight, and Jorge Martin had a huge moment as he touched the paint at the edge of the track causing his rear tyre to slide out from under him. On lap 5 Oliveira made his way back into the lead of the race ahead of Miller, Rins, Zarco, Fabio, Joan Mir and Franky, and he started to pull a gap on his rivals.

Andrea Dovizioso retired from the race due to an issue with his bike a few laps later, and Jorge Martin crashed out at turn 1. As Oliveira continued to extend his lead at the front, there was a rookie making his way through the pack. Darryn Binder was up to 13th place by lap 10, and over the next few laps he worked his way to the front of the group of riders – which included the Espargaro brothers and his own brother Brad – that was fighting for 8th.

Also on the move was Fabio Quartararo who on the 17th lap set the fastest lap of the race as he tried to close the gap to race leader Oliveira. The battle for 8th place raged on and Brad Binder clearly decided he wasn’t having his younger rookie brother beating him in only his second MotoGP race, so he pulled a Darryn on Darryn, slicing underneath him and causing Darryn to lift his knee and allow his big brother through!

Miguel Oliveira took the chequered flag to win the race ahead of Quartararo, Zarco, Miller, Rins, Mir and Morbidelli. It was Brad Binder who was victorious in that wonderful battle for 8th, ahead of Aleix Espargaro, Darryn, Enea Bastianini, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez and Luca Marini while Pecco Bagnaia rounded out the points in 15th.

Fabio Quartararo was absolutely delighted in parc ferme, and why wouldn’t he be? He has never been great in the rain, and even pointed out in his post-race interview that this was his first podium in a fully wet race. Compatriot Zarco didn’t look as happy as Fabio, although he did say that he must be happy because it is a MotoGP podium, but that it took him too long to understand the grip he had and that it was difficult to overtake.

Race winner Oliveira was mobbed by his team when he arrived in parc ferme, and explained that he spent a few laps following Miller early on and that he realised he had more pace so he overtook the Australian.

I have been critical of the decision to move Darryn Binder straight up to MotoGP – and I do still believe that there are other riders who would have been more deserving of the ride – but I have to say I have been impressed with him so far. Yes, he was apparently a bit lairy in the Qatar race with Remy Gardner complaining about some of his riding, but to his credit he accepted Remy’s comments saying that he understood what was being said and that he would work on improving his riding. One decent performance in the rain doesn’t necessarily mean that all is great for Darryn, but he seems to be putting his head down and getting on with the job and he deserves credit for doing so.

Enea Bastianini’s 11th place finish was enough for him to hold on to the championship lead, but Brad Binder, Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco are hot on his heels and will no doubt be looking to steal the lead from him when they return to action in Argentina.

There was big news on Tuesday as Honda announced that Marc Marquez is suffering from a relapse in the diplopia issue that kept him out of the end of the 2021 season. Having experienced “discomfort with his vision” on the journey home from Indonesia, Marquez visited his ophthalmologist who confirmed the relapse. He will undergo a check up next week to evaluate the injury and predict an estimated recovery period before he can return to action.

Obviously, I wish Marc a speedy and full recovery, but I can’t help but wonder how many times he can put his body through this before he says ‘enough’. And yes, I know that’s easy for me to say from my sofa.

It was also announced on Tuesday that from 2023 front ride-height devices will be banned in MotoGP. Bikes will still be able to have the ‘hole-shot’ device for use at the start of the race. The news comes on the back of a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission and will no doubt be a massive blow to Ducati. Team boss Davide Tardozzi spoke with the BT Sport team over the weekend and suggested that he believed that the other manufacturers only wanted the devices to be banned because they didn’t want to have to spend the money to develop the devices like Ducati had, but that they were claiming it was a safety issue.

I’m looking forward to the Argentinian round as we return to another track that has been missing due to the pandemic. We don’t know yet if we’ll see Marc Marquez in action, but we do know that the rest of the riders will put on a show!

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