The second round of the Superbike World Championship will take place this weekend in Thailand, and while Jonathan Rea has started the year in terrific form there’s plenty of reason for optimism along the pit lane.
Thailand will offer a true indication of what to expect this year in WorldSBK and while it’s unlikely we’ll see the same number of bikes fighting for the win, it’s likely that the scrap at the front will be just as competitive.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and championships aren’t won on the opening weekend of the season, but in Australia Jonathan Rea put down a marker to the field that showed that he won’t relinquish his World Superbike title without a fight.
Though much of the attention during this year’s Silly Season will be on the Yamaha and Honda garages, which we wrote about yesterday, the more interesting stories are to be found in the rest of pit lane.
With Yamaha and Honda looking likely to remain virtually unchanged, the other factories in MotoGP could see a lot more changes.
The garage likely to generate the most speculation is that of Ducati. Since the arrival of Gigi Dall’Igna as the head of Ducati Corse, the Ducati Desmosedici has been transformed from a career killer to championship contender.
Or at least we believe it has: last year, the Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone grabbed eight podiums between them, and came close to a win at the first race in Qatar, Dovizioso coming up just 0.174 short of Valentino Rossi.
The GP16 – or the Desmosedici GP, as Ducati have deigned to call it – is meant to be even more competitive, benefiting not only from a year of refinement, but also from experience with the spec Magneti Marelli electronics.
Last year, at the launch of the GP15, Dall’Igna said the goal of Ducati was to win a race that year. They did not, but the overall competitiveness of the bike led many to question whether the problem might be the riders the factory team have.
Both Dovizioso and Iannone come with impeccable pedigrees, both having won multiple Grand Prix, Dovizioso also having won a MotoGP race and a world championship in 125. Yet neither has managed to pose a consistent threat to the established hierarchy on the Desmosedici.
They have been there or thereabouts, and sometimes looked seriously dangerous, as they both did at Qatar, and Iannone did at Phillip Island. But are they the right riders to mount a campaign for the 2016 MotoGP championship?
The 2016 MotoGP season hasn’t even got underway yet, and there is already so much to talk about. New bikes, new tires, new electronics: viewed from this point in the season, the championship is both wide open and highly unpredictable.
Testing has given us a guide, but it was clear from the three preseason tests that much will change throughout 2016, with the balance of power changing from track to track, and as Michelin bring different tires to different circuits.
All of this will also play in to what is likely to become the biggest talking point of the 2016. At the end of this year, the contracts of all but two of the 21 MotoGP riders are up, with only the riders Jack Miller and Maverick Viñales having deals which extend through 2017.
Even Viñales and Miller are not certain to stay where they are, with Viñales having an option to leave, and Miller so far failing to impress HRC. With KTM coming in to MotoGP in 2017, there could be up to 22 seats available.
That has and will generate a veritable tsunami of speculation and rumor surrounding who will be riding where in 2017. There are so many unknowns that anything is possible, from a total overhaul and general shuffling to just minor tweaking, with most of the protagonists staying where they are.
The most likely scenario, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, with a few big names moving around, and plenty of shuffling among the satellite squads.
Ducati’s MotoGP test plan has suffered a blow, after the Bologna factory wrongly interpreted the testing rules in booking the Losail Circuit in Qatar for a private test on Sunday and Monday.
The plan for the private test had been to have Casey Stoner test the Ducati Desmosedici GP (or GP16, as everyone else calls it) at Qatar on Sunday and Monday, after the official IRTA test had finished at the track.
The benefits for Ducati would have been that Stoner would have been testing on a relatively clean track under broadly similar conditions as the other MotoGP riders, allowing a good back-to-back comparison of the feedback between the factory riders and Stoner.
Qatar is a tough place to test. First, there’s the timing. The track is open between 4pm and 11pm, giving a full seven hours of track time. In theory, that is. In practice, the first two hours are pretty much unusable, as track temperatures are much higher during daylight than after the sun sets.
The final hour is a risky proposition, as the moisture in the air tends to settle at some point after 10pm, forming dew on the track. The dew is as good as invisible, yet it drastically reduces grip. Crashes start to happen without warning, and at high speed.
Then there’s the sand. The first day of testing is usually more about cleaning the track than setting times, as the dust blows in from the desert to the west. It is better than it was: much of the construction in the area has now been completed, making the sand on the track just a smattering, rather than a full four-ply coating.
Effectively, there are four hours of usable track time, and a little less on the first day of the test. For the first two hours of the Qatar test, only the official test riders present at the track were actually circulating, putting laps on bikes and creating a clean line.
The official MotoGP riders were left to act the vampire, only venturing out once the sun removed its deadly rays from Arabian skies.
We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.
What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.
Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved.
Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see.
The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.
The 2016 Ducati Desmosedici GP, also known as the Desmo 16 GP, will be the factory-backed machine that Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone campaign in this year’s MotoGP Championship.
Like its name change, the Desmo 16 GP is an evolution over last year’s model, the Desmosedici GP15. Subtle changes can be seen to the aerodynamics package, the most striking aspects of which are the four aerodynamical wings that protrude like a catfishes whiskers from the motorcycle.
The Akrapovič exhaust system has been changed slightly as well, with its low-mount can tucked nicely away into the Desmo 16 GP’s belly pan.
Of course, the big changes are the 17″ wheels that are now shod with Michelin tires, as well as the unified spec-electronics package that is hidden within the Desmo 16’s ECU – these being the big rules changes for the 2016 season.
Great hope has been placed on the shoulders of the 2016 Ducati Desmosedici GP, with the expectation that the machine can gain Ducati a MotoGP victory this year.
With ample power, and finally sharp handling, the recipe is all there, but Ducati Corse clearly has some more work to do before the season-opener in Qatar.