This is the second part of our two-part series on how the silly season for next year’s MotoGP rider line up may play out. If you missed the first part, you can catch up with the situation in the Honda and Yamaha factory teams here.
Up until late in the 2013 season, changes in the rider lineup for Yamaha and Honda’s MotoGP squads looked to be limited. Though all four riders will technically be on the open market at the end of 2014, the most likely scenarios for 2015 and beyond looked fairly settled.
Either the lineups of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams would remain identical, or Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa might swap seats. The biggest question mark, it appeared, hung over whether Valentino Rossi would continue racing after 2014.
Two major shake ups changed all that. For Valentino Rossi, the replacement of Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera – and the increased role for electronics engineer Matteo Flamigni – has helped him find at least some of the time he was losing to the three Spaniards who dominated MotoGP last year, making it more likely he will stay on at Yamaha for another couple of seasons. That leaves the situation at Yamaha look more stable than before.
The biggest change, though, came at Ducati. The top of the entire Ducati Corse department underwent radical change. Gigi Dall’Igna was brought in to replace Bernhard Gobmeier as head of Ducati Corse, while Davide Tardozzi joined Paolo Ciabatti and Ernesto Marinelli to help manage the MotoGP and World Superbike teams.
The arrival of Dall’Igna and Tardozzi has had a major impact, and will likely become even more significant as the season progresses. Dall’Igna has greatly improved communications between staff at Ducati’s Bologna headquarters and the race teams at the track, making for a much more efficient organization.
It has been a long and confusing wait for the 2014 MotoGP season to begin. An awful lot has happened since the MotoGP bikes were rolled into their packing crates after the Valencia test and shipped back to the factories and workshops from whence they came. There have been shock announcements, shock testing results, and shock training crashes.
There have been last-minute rule changes, made in an attempt to keep all of the different factions in the paddock from rebelling. The final rules for the premier class were only announced on Monday, and even then, they still contain sufficient ambiguity to confuse.
But this confusion and chaos cannot disguise the fact that 2014 looks set to be the most intriguing championship in years. Gone are the reviled CRT machines – unjustly reviled; though slow, they were still jewels of engineering prowess – and in their place is a new class of machinery, the Open entries.
A simpler demarcation has been made, between factories running their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, and the Open teams using the championship software supplied and controlled by Dorna.
The latest rule change adds a twist, allowing underperforming Ducati all the benefits of the Open class – 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, 12 engines per season instead of 5, unlimited testing and a softer tire – until they start winning races. But the 2014 grid looks much more like a single coherent class than the pack of racing motorcycles that lined up last year.
So you live in the US, have heard about the awesome Superprestigio indoor dirt track race in Barcelona, and you want to watch Marc Marquez, Alvaro Bautista, Maverick Vinales, and Brad Baker go at it, but don’t know how?
Never fear, Cycle World has sprung into the breach and pulled a rabbit out of the hat. The event will be streamed on the Cycle World website, from 9am Pacific. You can find a link to the stream here.
Tip of the hat to Mark Gardiner of Motorcycle USA, for persuading Brad Baker to fly across the Atlantic to take on the challenge.
Normally, motorcycle racing fans face a long and empty wait between the last tests in November and the first tests in late January and early February. Fortunately, this year, it’s different, thanks to the revival of the Superprestigio brand by Jaime Alguersuari, father of the Formula One driver of the same name, and founder of Spanish magazine Solomoto.
Alguersuari has pulled off a massive coup by getting 2013 MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez involved, and getting him to front the race. On Saturday, 11th January, some of the best riders in the world will race on an indoor dirt track oval at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona’s Olympic Park.
The Superprestigio was always a chance for the best American riders to test themselves against the top Spanish riders, and Alguersuari has arranged for this to happen again.
With Marquez already involved, AMA flat track champion Brad ‘The Bullet’ Baker responded to a challenge from American writer Mark Gardiner on Twitter, and has traveled to Barcelona to race at the event.
In part six of our series looking back at 2013, we reach Alvaro Bautista. Below is our view on Bautista’s season in MotoGP. You can catch up with the rest of this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; and part 5, Cal Crutchlow.
Alvaro Bautista is arguably MotoGP’s most under-appreciated rider. A former 250cc champion, the Spaniard has been on a downward trajectory since moving to MotoGP, through no real fault of his own. First, he signed with Suzuki, making him a factory rider with MotoGP’s weakest factory.
After Suzuki left, Bautista moved to Gresini, where he rides for a pittance, and is forced to earn his keep as a test rider for Showa and Nissin. Left to fight against the industry standard Ohlins and Brembo on his own, Bautista does not get the recognition he deserves even when he is punching above his weight.
A new chapter is to be written in the long and illustrious history of motorcycle racing on Montjuic, the hill that borders the south side of Barcelona. On January 11th, a selection of Grand Prix racers, including all three world champions Marc Marquez, Pol Espargaro and Maverick Viñales, are to compete in the Superprestigio dirt track event to be held at the Palau Sant Jordi on Montjuic. The event is to be broadcast on Spanish TV
The race is to be held on single cylinder four-stroke flat trackers, raced around a 200 meter dirt oval inside the former Olympic indoor arena. Entry is by invitation only, and racing will take place in three separate classes: the Junior category, for riders under 18; the Open category, for experienced riders from around the globe racing in national championships; and the Superprestigio category, for riders currently competing in the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes. At the end of the evening, a run off is to be held between the four best racers in the Open category and the four best from the Superprestigio category.
The entry list for both categories is impressive. The Superprestigio category will see Marc Marquez, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales, Bradley Smith, Alvaro Bautista, Julian Simon, Jonas Folger, Moto3 teammates Alex Marquez and Alex Rins, Hector Barbera, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Niklas Ajo, Jordi Torres, Lorenzo Baldassari and Ricky Cardus race against one another. Nicky Hayden was also invited, but as he has just had wrist surgery, wisely but regretfully decided to pass on the event.
Mixed emotions greet the final race of most MotoGP seasons. There is sadness at the prospect of four months or more without racing. There is interest and expectation, as fans look past the race weekend to the test which immediately follows, when the bikes for next year appear and the riders switching teams get their first shot at a new ride.
And there is excitement of course, at the prospect of a race to wrap up the season. But with the title usually already decided in advance, there is only pride at stake, and not much more to play for.
This year, it’s different. Yes, the test on Monday is a big deal, with Cal Crutchlow’s debut on the Ducati, the Honda production racer making its first appearance, with Nicky Hayden on board, and the Aleix Espargaro giving the Yamaha production racer its first run out. But for the first time since 2006, the Valencia race really matters, and will decide who gets to crown themselves champion.
As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on the factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs. Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting.
It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series.