Britain’s Cal Crutchlow ran a few laps with a new aero package on his LCR Honda but painted in HRC colours, not in any of Lucio Cecchinello’s many and varied sponsor liveries. Both could be indicative that Crutchlow has or is about to sign a new deal with the team but via a direct factory contract with Honda.
Crutchlow has said he has factory options on the table for next year – which most took to mean a change to Aprilia – but it would make more sense if he was to become an HRC man like Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Jack Miller’s contract with the manufacturer comes to an end this season so Crutchlow could either replace or complement his friend in the stable.
Honda team principal Livio Suppo is ready to have six Hondas on the grid in 2018 with Taka Nakagami joining Crutchlow at LCR and Franco Morbidelli or Alex Marquez making the step up to replace Tito Rabat at Marc VDS.
Rabat could make a home for himself at one of the satellite Ducati teams or join fellow Moto2 champion Stefan in exile in WorldSBK – probably at Honda – which would please that series’ chief Daniel Carrera no end. He is desperate for some young, fast and non-British talent to percolate down from the MotoGP paddock.
Speculation abounds as to the future of Sam Lowes in MotoGP, even though boss Romano Albesiano has said his neck isn’t about to the stretched yet. With Crutchlow out of the running and Andrea Iannone confirming he is staying at Suzuki, there are precious few out-of-contract riders left (although Iannone is in the midst of a two-year deal).
Danilo Petrucci is one as is Octo Ducati team-mate Scott Redding and both could be in line should Lowes’ results not achieve the required standard.
Over at Yamaha, Maverick Vinales again experienced a return of pace in testing just one day after a disastrous race in Barcelona. The Spaniard was again at a loss to explain the turnaround in form after just one sleep but the same thing happened at Jerez where he laid the blame squarely at Michelin’s door.
This time – and probably after getting his pants pulled down – he was somewhat more diplomatic: “Today I felt good again on the bike after Friday, Saturday and Sunday with no good feeling. I was riding really good and also, as I was feeling confident, I could push a little bit more the bike on the limit. It was nice to ride good again.
“We try many things on the bike and I was feeling great with all parts. I was doing many 1’45 laps and with 20-25 laps, 1’46 high-‘47 low. So was quite good lap times compared to the race. But anyway it was good that I could make long runs and gain good confidence.”
He and Valentino Rossi spent two days at Montmelo – the second being a private test – evaluating new chassis for the M1 in order to try and eliminate their low grip/high temperature problems.
Monster Yamaha’s Jonas Folger, who was third in the test, also got a new chassis to test. He said it was better under braking but worse on turn-in. Team boss Herve Poncharal said ‘Paf’ before nipping off for a cheeky Pernod.
KTM’s Bradley Smith marmalised his little finger during FP3 on Saturday and because of the infection risk, didn’t race or test. Instead, he did a Sunday grid walk for TV and then spent Monday entertaining his OCD by Hoovering the pit garage. It is not known whether Smith actually suffers from OCD but as a breed, motorcycle racers are lousy with it, so we think he probably has.
While Smith was Wanting To Break Free, team-mate Pol Espargaro got to grips with new chassis and aswingarm. It was a setup they had tested before but discarded – but bosses decided to give it another run out in an attempt to help their riders with tyre life over a race distance.
Test rider Mika Kallio was pleased, although it probably didn’t show: “I did a lot of laps, but I had to get to know the new layout. In the heat the grip was low, so we looked for a way to make better use of the tyres. I tested two new frames and worked on the electronics. In the end I drove a good time. I was not far from Pol. This is important for me.”
‘But I have to be sure, When I walk out that door, Oh how I want to be free, baby…’