Having just finished production on the 2015 MotoMatters Motorcycle Racing Calendar, the 2014 season has been on my mind quite a bit over the past several weeks. So I thought I’d take look back at the MotoGP images I contributed here at Asphalt & Rubber and add a bit of perspective to each one.
After the resounding success of the Superprestigio indoor dirt track event back in January this year, the race is to return. On December 13th, the Sant Jordi stadium on Montjuic, the hill south of Barcelona, will host the second running of the Superprestigio, featuring the cream of motorcycle road racing taking on some of superstars of American flat track racing.
Reigning Superprestigio champion Brad Baker will be back in Barcelona once again, to defend the honor gained back in January. He will be joined by reigning AMA flat track Grand National champion Jared Mees, the two Americans defending the reputation of the home of dirt track, and the country the sport originated in its current form.
They will have their work cut out for them: they will face some the best circuit racers in the world, with reigning and former champions taking to the short indoor oval. All three Grand Prix champions – Marc Marquez, Tito Rabat, and Alex Marquez – will be lining up in Barcelona, the three avid practitioners of the art.
They will be joined by legendary former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss, now spending his retirement racing dirt track and running his own invitational dirt track event, the Troy Bayliss Classic, which will run on January 17th next year. Another world champion will also be taking to the dirt, with Supermoto S1 world champ Thomas Chareyre also joining the fray.
Testing is set to continue this week in a range of classes, as bikes take to the track in preparation for the 2015 season. The south of Spain will see the most action, with a group of MotoGP teams being joined by the Crescent Suzuki World Superbike team at Jerez, and a selection of Moto2 teams heading to Almeria.
At Jerez, Suzuki, and Aprilia will continue work on their bikes ahead of next season. As new factories, they receive the same concessions as Ducati, which means that they are allowed unlimited testing, more engines, they have the softer rear tire, and they are allowed to develop their engines throughout the season.
Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro will be riding the GSX-RR for Suzuki, while Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri will be taking the Aprilia ART out for further testing.
Ducati will also be present at the test, Andrea Dovizioso and new teammate Andrea Iannone continuing work on the Desmosedici GP14.2. They are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the GP15, but that bike will not be ready until the Sepang tests, and most likely, only at the second test at Sepang.
With the announcement that Scott Redding will ride with Marc VDS Racing in MotoGP, for the next three seasons no less, the rest of the pieces in the 2014 MotoGP Silly Season can finally start falling into place.
In the first of many announcements we expect to come in the following days, we learn that Alvaro Bautista has signed a two-year deal with Aprilia’s new MotoGP team.
The news is hardly a surprise, as Bautista currently rides for the Go & Fun Gresini Honda team, which will lose its title sponsor for 2015; and instead will manage Aprilia’s MotoGP efforts for the next four years, which will be called Aprilia Gresini Racing.
Keeping the team more or less intact, Bautista can expect a bike similar to the current-spec Aprilia ART of next season, while 2016 will see an all new bike (likely a purpose-built V4, that’s not too dissimilar from the 2014 ART)
It is to be a weekend of announcements, most of them already widely expected. The most widely trailed move has now been confirmed officially: from 2015, Aprilia is to return to MotoGP with the Gresini Racing team.
Aprilia and Gresini have reached agreement for the next four seasons, with Gresini running the Italian factory’s team through 2018. The partnership benefits both sides: by entering via Gresini, Aprilia will save €3.4 million in their first year in the class, an important saving which will allow them to spend more resources on development.
The partnership was important to Gresini, as having lost their sponsorship from Go&Fun, the future of the team’s places in MotoGP was under severe threat. Aprilia’s funding will now keep them in the premier class.
Marc Marquez did not take kindly to finishing fourth on Sunday, that much was obvious from the test. He lined up at pit lane exit at precisely 10am, waiting for the track to open.
As soon as it opened, he was away, the first rider to take to the track in a long way. When Jorge Lorenzo went fastest, Marquez seemed determined to catch him, finally leaving the test at the end of a long day at the top of the timesheets.
Testing is not really about who is fastest, though riders cannot avoid turning it into a competitive sport. It is more about carefully running through options and testing parts, selecting what works and what doesn’t, trying new bikes and parts, and testing out set up changes which are too experimental or time-consuming to try on a normal race weekend.
Riders are still trying to go fast, but they and the teams are more interested in comparing their own times, rather than the times of others.
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez’s record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before.
At some point, the chips will fall someone else’s way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. “A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed,” Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate said. “So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed.”
Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. “You can’t plan things against Marc,” Pedrosa said, “he is smart, he can adapt each time.”
If it will take a whole series of events going against him to beat Marc Marquez, Brno is probably a good place to start. Though the Spaniard won here last year, it is not a track he feels comfortable at. The flowing nature of the track, with lots of changes of direction and fast and wide chicanes, plays to the strengths of both Yamahas and Hondas.
Riders and managers will be very busy this weekend at Brno, as negotiations continue for the open slots left on the 2015 MotoGP grid. The deals that saw Stefan Bradl leave LCR Honda for Forward Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow depart Ducati and head for LCR Honda have kicked negotiations for the remaining seats into overdrive.
Forward Yamaha still has one seat open, with Aleix Espargaro set to join Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, a deal due to be announced in September. There are two Open class Hondas available, at Gresini and Aspar, with Scott Redding moving up to take the factory RC213V, and Hiroshi Aoyama set to lose his seat.
Pramac Ducati has one seat available, now that Andrea Iannone has moved up to take Crutchlow’s place in the factory Ducati team. And Aprilia will have two seats to fill when they re-enter the class in 2015. All that means a packed paddock at Brno.
Is Indianapolis really a Honda circuit? With four Yamahas on the two front rows of the grid, you would have to say it wasn’t any longer. There is a Honda on pole, but as that’s Marc Marquez, that doesn’t really count: alongside his perfect nine wins from nine races, he now also has eight poles from ten qualifying sessions.
Any discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different manufacturers at a circuit really needs to disregard Marquez at the moment. In 2014, the Spaniard is just too much of an outlier, as his ability to put a couple of tenths or more on the opposition at will demonstrates.
With the announcement that Cal Crutchlow is to move to the LCR Honda team for 2015, making space for Andrea Iannone to move up to the Factory Ducati team, the beginnings of a MotoGP grid are starting to emerge for 2015.
Both Repsol Honda seats are confirmed, as are both Factory Ducati riders and Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha, with Jorge Lorenzo expected to announce a deal with Yamaha very soon. In the satellite teams, only Pol Espargaro is confirmed at Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, as is Crutchlow at CWM-LCR Honda.
With those names in place, we can start to draw up a list of who will be where, and who could be where for 2015. We have broken that list into three separate tables, based on the certainty of their deals: riders with confirmed contracts; riders and teams with deals that are expected to be confirmed very soon; and deals which are likely to happen, but are still not certain.