It was a good day for the eye-catching headlines at Mandalika. Pol Espargaro ended the day with a hot lap that put him under the WorldSBK Superpole by four tenths of a second. Among the first six were six different manufacturers. The management of the first day has changed ownership several times in the last few hours. But the headlines don’t mean much. The times have decreased because the track started dirty and only really cleaned up in the last hour of the day. This is the first use of Mandalika for MotoGP, so the teams and factories have very little data to continue, and the teams are working on basics such as identifying the best equipment for the track.
The track was incredibly dirty, because it is still in the middle of a construction site and has not been used since WorldSBK left the track last November. A lot of construction work has been carried out, the pit complex is much closer to completion than in November, but the combination of construction work and torrential tropical rains has left a lot of dirt and mud on the track. The track would have remained dirty if Dorna had not intervened and forced everyone to do laps. All drivers hate a dirty track, but the only way to clean up a dirty track is to drive it. But everyone wants someone else to ride on it instead of you. Alex Marquez found an ingenious solution after the entire paddock had withdrawn from the box after a few first laps. “In the morning, it was very dirty,” the Honda LCR driver told us.
“Everyone was waiting for someone to clean the track or something, but no one was coming out. So I gave the race management the idea of making it mandatory to do up to one hour 20 laps per driver. So they made it mandatory to do 20 laps per driver before 3 o’clock.”This request worked. “At that moment, everyone started cleaning the track, it was pretty good. The line is quite clean.”Off the track, the conditions are still difficult. “That’s right, if you make a little mistake, you’re out and you can fall. But the line is not bad and The grip of the asphalt and the track is not bad. It was just dirty.”Leaving the race line surprised a few people, including a number of Ducatis and Takaaki Nakagami.
“I had a fall in turn 10 around 5pm. This fall was totally my fault, I was a little too low at the braking point and I tried to stop the bike, but it was too fast, the speed was a little over the limit. I tried to stop the bike at the top, but I lost the front stop.”There was a mixed reception for being forced to go out and clean the track. “Once it dried, it made sense to get out of there,” agreed Jack Miller. “It would only get better and the guys from Dorna pushed us and it was just for the good of everyone. The track was not in bad condition at the end of the day.”Brad Binder did the same thing. “For me, it was the right decision to let everyone drive. They cleaned turns 1 and 2 the same way they cleaned the entire track, but it wasn’t that good. We need rubber.”
“It is still dirty and so sketchy that it is easy to wash the front or back, especially at the beginning. It was really difficult to learn the track because you weren’t really on the perfect line. You couldn’t drive deeply and you couldn’t always trust the braking when cornering. But it was a good decision to let us all drive, and it was more up to date after.”Jorge Martin was much more ambivalent. “We were all on the track. I think it was not the most logical way, but the fastest. After all, it wasn’t bad. At first it was really peril. But that’s what he is. Nothing crazy happened, which is good.”However, Aleix Espargaro was angry. “The track was not safe enough to ride. Not at all,” said the Aprilia driver. “We are used to arriving in a circuit that has a lot of dust. I remember Qatar on Thursday. It’s okay.”
“But today, it wasn’t about a little dust, today the track was not passable. It was completely peril. The decision they are making, the teams with Dorna, to force us to drive all together just to clean the track, did not please me at all. I was very angry.”Espargaro may have been angry, but he could not deny that the movement was effective. “Obviously, it works. If you put 25 bikes on the track round after round, it will be cleaned. But this is not the solution. I’m not here to clean up the tracks.”It wasn’t just dirt and dust. There was also a problem with stones on the track. Alex Marquez showed us a large red mark where the motorcycle in front of him had thrown a stone that had hit him directly in the throat.
“I was behind someone, and it’s awesome. I felt like it was a gun or something. Boom! On my neck,” the LCR Honda driver said. The problem was in turn 1 and turn 17, where the stones broke in the aggregate and detached from the asphalt. This made this part of the track very rough in the first laps.
“The worst is turn 1 and the last turn. It’s like another asphalt, and in Turn 1 you can be hit by a stone,” Alex Marquez said. “There is another point that we will have to talk about tomorrow at the Safety Commission, namely The asphalt, the equipment, it’s everywhere,” Andrea Dovizioso agreed.
“And if you follow other riders, you are in pain because you are hit by the small stones at every turn. Maybe this could be a problem, I don’t know.”The problem of dirt and dust should be relatively easy to solve. At the moment, it reminds a lot of Qatar a decade ago, when they built the Lusail Sports Arena, the huge indoor sports stadium located in front of the track. The construction work on it threw masses of dust, which aggravated the normal sand that would blow from the desert to the west.
The situation is similar on the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Termas sees very few advantages outside of MotoGP, so the track is still covered with a thick layer of dust and dirt when the series returns. This is what happened in Mandalika. There are other similarities with Termas de Rio Hondo. Mandalika invited favorable comparisons with the track in Argentina, which was both fast and smooth with a lot of fast turns. “A bit like Argentina in some places,” Jack Miller said. “He has his own character, is really cool and really fun to drive. He has a little bit of everything. This whole quick section is unreal. I’m really looking forward to coming back here and racing.”
Miguel Oliveira did the same. “It’s hard to compare it to another track. The last turn before the last straight reminds of Argentina. Something new are the fast right turns. In sector 1. And the quick change of direction after turn 7, 8, it’s quite nice.”Joan was just as enthusiastic to me. “I liked the track. It’s a nice layout, combined with slow curves and also a fast section, the second sector.”
This second sector, curves 5 to 9, is very fast and quite scary. A little too much for Marc Marquez, joked the Repsol Honda driver. “The first sector, I like it, I really like it. T3 is also a beautiful area and also T4. I don’t like sector 2, it’s too fast!”he joked.
Alex Rins thought it was more like the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. “This track is so similar to Austria, but the changes in direction are faster, so it’s an easy track,” said the Suzuki rider. Aleix Espargaro felt something similar. “The track is beautiful,” said the Aprilia driver. “Not very difficult. A lot of quick changes of direction.”For Rins, the layout was probably a tight race with an important group in mind. “I think at Race Time there will be a lot of drivers at the top, there may be a group of four or five drivers.”This is what the WorldSBK races show last November, where there were close actions for a large part of the race.