Marc Marquez was fastest in a crash-landed FP2 session.
Jorge Lorenzo set the pace in boiling conditions in Brno.
Andrea Dovizioso finished Day 1 in 5th place on his Ducati.
The new superbikes from Honda and Suzuki have been grabbing the headlines recently, but its the updated Aprilia RSV4 RR and Aprilia RSV4 RF superbikes that we are most excited to see for 2017. The factory in Noale, Italy has been smart about consistently updating the RSV4, keeping its stout superbike package constantly relevant – the 2017 model year machines are no different. New for this year is improved suspension, brakes, and electronics (now with cornering ABS), along with Euro4 homologation, which comes without a power decrease, thanks to an extra 300 rpm from the lighter engine components. The 2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR and Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory get similar upgrades, and help to round out Aprilia’s sport bike lineup.
The ECSTAR Suzuki squad rolled on the track day with its new aerodynamics package on full display, showing how the Japanese manufacturer was going to cope with the ban on winglets on its GSX-RR race bike. Like the solutions we have seen thus far from other manufacturers, Suzuki is using vanes that are covered by an external fairing to channel the airflow and create downforce. The solution is a clever adaptation to the MotoGP rulebook, and solutions like Suzuki’s should allow for teams to to tune their aerodynamics package during the season, without running a foul of the homologated fairing rule. As my colleague David Emmett pointed out, the design should carryover to future street bikes, where we would expect the 2018 Ducati V4 superbike to be the first model to show such advances
You may remember the LEGO Technic set of the BMW R1200GS Adventure motorcycle that we featured not too long ago. Now the German automotive brand and Danish toymaker have collaborated to bring an “alternative model” to the 603-piece building block toy set. Making the R1200GS Adventure model toy now a 2-in-1 kit, the collaboration between BMW and Lego has produced a futuristic flying motorcycle called the Hover Ride Design Concept. Interestingly enough, the BMW Junior Company – a BMW Group training unit – will build a full-size replica of what this flying R1200GS could look like (complete with its boxer engine, which of course makes perfect sense).
Guy Martin’s return to the road racing at the Isle of Man TT continues to draw big headlines, and while we already know that the Lincolnshire man would partner with John McGuinness on the factory Honda Racing team of this year’s TT, that’s not all. Today, we learn that Guy Martin will partner with John McGuinness on another team as well, and he will once again take the seat on an electric bike for the TT Zero class in the process. As such, Martin has been confirmed as Team Mugen’s second rider, replacing Bruce Anstey in the squad. Both McGuinness and Martin will race on the new Mugen Shinden Roku electric superbike – the sixth iteration of the Japanese outfits TT Zero racer – and they will be looking to break the 120 mph barrier for electric motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT.
What conclusions can we draw from the first MotoGP test of 2017 at Sepang? Well, it’s the first test of 2017, and the factories still have the best part of two months to refine their bikes before the season starts in earnest in Qatar. Any conclusions we draw are at risk of crashing headlong into reality at the end of March. But with all that data from the test available, it is hard to resist the temptation to dive into it and read the tea leaves. To make some sense of the timesheets from Sepang, I examined the lap times of the fastest thirteen riders at the end of Wednesday. The reason for selecting Wednesday was simple: as it was the last day of the test, the riders were all fully up to speed, and the teams were putting together the lessons they had learned on the first two days.
When you think of the Piaggio Group, in terms of its two-wheeled creations, your thoughts probably conjure up images of motorcycles made by Aprilia or Moto Guzzi, or maybe a scooter with a Vespa badge on it. Surely, the Gita is not what first comes first to your mind, but it might be the most impactful idea from the Italian brand to-date. Sure, the brightly colored self-balancing rolling cylinder doesn’t seem like much of a novel creation, even with its ability to follow its owner, or autonomously navigate a prescribed route. But then again, you have probably been carrying stuff around in our arms, or on your back, like a big sucker.
We know that we can expect a finalized version of the KTM 790 Duke at this year’s EICMA show in Milan, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the streetfighter model has been caught testing by spy photographers. The bike’s parallel-twin engine can clearly be spotted in the pictures, tipping us to its model, and many of the lines from the prototype machine remain, as further clues. Though, noticeable differences include a new tail section design, different exhaust, as well as a headlight. The headlight is clearly derived from KTM’s new design language, and its shape mimics what we’ve seen already added to the Duke, Super Duke, and Adventure lineup. The KTM 790 Duke prototype hinted that we would see a similar face in the new hoon-machine, so no surprises there.
Race teams continue to debut their 2017 liveries and riders, and this time around we feature the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike squad that will race in the World Superbike Championship. Chaz Davies of course returns to the team, and this season he will be joined by Marco Melandri. The duo will be an interesting pair to watch this season, with Davies holding onto his impressive form from the last-half of the 2016 season, and Melandri making his return to motorcycle racing, after sitting out last season. With 2017 to be the penultimate season for the Ducati Panigale R in the World Superbike Championship, the v-twin superbike has shown itself to be an extremely mature machine on the race track.
It is a tremendous shame that the options for a road legal supermoto for are so limited, with the venerable Suzuki DR-Z400SM being the only offering in the 450cc on-road class. For virtually a decade, Suzuki has left the DR-Z basically unchanged – as it has done with many of its sport models – so we would love to see Suzuki and other manufacturers give this space more attention (a hat tip to Husqvarna for bringing the track-only FS450 to market, long with the 701 Supermoto). Although you can wake-up the DR-Z400 with a few simple modification, and there are a bevy of aftermarket kits that can punch the 398cc machine out in size, what we really want from Suzuki is a proper 450cc street supermoto – one that doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s current strong motocross offering. So, when we saw this little bit of Photoshop work by the folks at the German Suzuki dealership of DSR-Suzuki, we got a little excited.
News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.
It was a hectic trip across the Atlantic for many in the MotoGP paddock. The air at Brno was thick with tales of airport-based woe, of overbooked flights, bad weather delays, missed transfers, and lost luggage.
Despite the supposed privilege of platinum frequent flyer status – one of the side benefits of working for a MotoGP team is you rack up a lot of air miles – the staff of one MotoGP team were stuck in one airport for over 24 hours, thrown out of the airport lounge and unable to leave.
Chicago O’Hare was temporarily transformed into the motorcycle racing equivalent of purgatory: large numbers of riders, mechanics, and other staff kicking their heels with nothing to do.
That is especially tough on riders: most of them suffer from some form of hyperactivity or another. Few can sit still, and most are very outdoor types. L’enfer, c’est les aéroports, if you will forgive me paraphrasing Sartre.
But there was an overwhelming sense of contentment at being in Brno. The track is much loved, even among those who do not go particularly well here. It is wide, fast, and flowing, and allows the riders to play with the lines. Dani Pedrosa, who has won here twice in MotoGP, explained why he liked the track.
“It’s wide, and the corners are with a nice shape, so you can be precise,” Pedrosa told us. “It’s a track that demands that you are precise, and I like this. Also, you can try many things, one centimeter more out, one centimeter more in, later, deeper, or earlier. This gives you a gain to be able to adjust your riding lap by lap, and some tracks are just one line and one pace and you cannot change. Here you can play a little bit more and that’s positive. I like it.”
Not all of the paddock got out on time: overbooked flights and thunderstorms caused massive delays, and left riders, teams and media stuck hanging around in airports for many hours.
Hardly the ideal way to adapt to a shift of time zones by six hours, but they have little choice. There will more than a few bewildered faces in the paddock at Brno, trying to figure out where they are and what day it is.
A quick glance around should be enough to remind them. Brno is a glorious circuit, set atop a hill in the middle of a forest. To reach the track, you drive up the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads that once formed the basis of the old street circuit.
The closed circuit that replaced those roads still retains most of that character: fast, flowing, rolling up-hill and down-dale through the trees. Where the track really differs from the public roads is in how wide it is.
The space that creates is seized upon eagerly by the riders, using it to take a number of lines through each of its corners, giving plenty of opportunities for passing.
The fact that the corners are all combinations helps: riders flick right-left, left-right, right-left again and again. Make a pass into one corner, and your rival has a chance to strike back immediately at the next.
It is a track which is made for great racing, and great motorcycle racing at that. Riders, fans and media alike all hope fervently that the financial and political problems which have dogged the Czech Grand Prix can be resolved, and we can keep this spectacular circuit.
The Forward Racing team have found a temporary lifeline, and will be back in action at Brno. The MotoGP team of Loris Baz and replacement rider Claudio Corti, and Moto2 men Lorenzo Baldassarri and Simone Corsi will be racing in the Czech Republic, as the team have found the finances for that race at least.
Beyond Brno, however, the question marks remain. The press release issued only mentions Brno, and not the races beyond that. However, racing at Brno will buy current team boss Marco Curioni more time to go looking for more sponsors to try to fund the remainder of the season.
Assen is a funny old track. And when I say old, I mean old, the event has been on the calendar since 1925, though back then there was no such thing as world championship, and the race took place between Rolde, Borger and Schoonloo, some ten kilometers east of Assen.
From 1926, it moved to a route between the villages of De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen and Laaghalerveen. The roads, forced into short straights with fast sweeping kinks and bends by the complex drainage patterns of the creeks and ditches which keep the region from reverting back to peat bogs, gave shape to the track which was to follow.
They still leave their mark on the circuit today, despite being a closed-circuit since 1955, though the track has been much shortened since then.
What remains is a track with nary a straight piece of asphalt on it. The back straight meanders between the Strubben hairpin and the fast right and long left of the Ruskenhoek, living up to its name of Veenslang, or Peat Snake.
The short stretches between the fast combinations of corners weave and flow, and the only thing keeping the front straight straight is the pit wall. As a piece of geometric design, it is a disaster.
As a race track, it is glorious, proving that the best tracks are not designed on paper, but laid out in a landscape. Mugello, Phillip Island, Assen: all great riders track, each owing a debt of gratitude to the landscape which forms them.
This year’s Brno round of MotoGP looks to be under severe threat. Ticket sales on the circuit’s official website for the event have been suspended as of this afternoon, after talks with Brno city council and the regional government broke down over funding of the race.
The message on the Brno circuit website reads:
With an immediate effect, Automotodrom Brno suspends the sale of tickets for the Grand Prix of the Czech Republic 2015 due to insufficient funding for the event.
The final decision on the Grand Prix of the Czech Republic 2015 will be published on 29 June. In case of cancellation of the event, all paid tickets will be refunded.
The 2015 MotoGP round at Brno is still not certain to go ahead as a result of a battle for control of the race.
According to German-language website Speedweek, circuit owner Karel Abraham Sr. and South Moravian governor Michal Hasek have been arguing since August last year over who will organize the Czech round of MotoGP at the Masaryk circuit in Brno.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has given them an ultimatum, saying that if the situation is not resolved by the first week of June, the 2015 Brno MotoGP round will be canceled.
One belief common among motorcycle racing fans is that racers will ride harder while they are negotiating a new contract, only to slack off once the contract is in the bag.
Ask a rider about this, and they deny it fervently, saying they have to ride just as hard after a new contract is signed as they did before. That their contract situation affects their performance is beyond question, though it is not as simple as it appears.
Bradley Smith is a case in point. Since the start of the season, the Englishman has known he has been riding for his place next year, with Yamaha and Tech 3 taking a seriously look at riders in both Moto2 and Moto3 to replace him.
The pressure was starting to get to Smith, the Tech 3 man crashing rather too frequently, with the low point being the race at the Sachsenring. Smith crashed four times that weekend, twice on Friday, once on Saturday, and again in the race. It was a very tough weekend indeed.
So when Smith signed a new deal with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team ahead of the race at Brno, there was a palpable sense of relief. With this future secure for another year, he could get concentrate on racing again with a clear mind, and without the pressure of his results being judged every race.
Over the course of the weekend at Brno, we asked Smith how he felt after his contract extension, and what effect he felt it had had on his results. His answers were revealing, and provide an insight into the pressure which all MotoGP riders must function under.
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.
Marc Marquez put in a late push in the afternoon to top the post-race test on Monday, the Repsol Honda rider dipping under Cal Crutchlow’s pole record from 2013. Marquez deposed Jorge Lorenzo at the top of the timesheets, though Lorenzo closed down the Repsol Honda man’s advantage.
Rain fell late in the session, stopping activity for a while, and looked like preventing Valentino Rossi from going out on the 2015 version of the YZR-M1, but the sun burned off the rain and dried the track enough for testing to resume for the final hour.