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.
It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.
While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.
According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).
If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.
After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.
It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.
You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.
The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.
We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.
It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.
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.