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Ever since we found out that Yamaha was only going to release Jorge Lorenzo from his contract to test at Valencia after the last race, but not at a private test at Jerez a week later, there has been much speculation as to the cause.
Had growing friction between the factory and Lorenzo led Yamaha to block the test? Was Yamaha afraid of just how competitive Lorenzo would be on the Ducati? Or, as the more conspiratorially inclined would have it, was this the invisible hand of Valentino Rossi at work?
The massed media had to wait until Motegi to find out. In the pre-event press conference, Jorge Lorenzo acknowledged that Yamaha had told him that the Jerez test was off the cards.
“Well, obviously I would like to make the Jerez test, but it is not a thing that depends on myself. For the moment, looks like I will test in Valencia. Looks like for Jerez, Yamaha is not so keen to permit that.” Lorenzo felt disappointed by the decision.
“I think that for the years we’ve spent together, and for the things we’ve won together, I deserve it. But obviously it doesn’t depend on myself and I will respect whatever decision Yamaha will make, because I am a Yamaha rider.”
Due to the large number of journalists asking to speak to Lin Jarvis to get his side of the story, Yamaha convened a press conference to allow the assembled media to ask questions.
In the space of half an hour, the Yamaha Motor Racing boss laid out in clear terms why the decision had been made. It was a masterclass in the underlying truth of MotoGP: this is a business, with millions of dollars involved, and a tangled web of interest beyond just Yamaha.
Yamaha has a duty to its shareholders and its sponsors to hold Lorenzo to the contract they both signed. Helping Lorenzo to try to beat Yamaha on a Ducati would be to fail their sponsors and Yamaha’s corporate interests.
MotoGP is about to enter the toughest stretch of the season. Three races on three consecutive weekends is tough enough.
But three races separated by three, seven plus hour flights, kicking off with a race in a time zone seven hours ahead of the place most riders live. So riders, mechanics and team staff all start off a triple header struggling with jet lag and facing a grueling schedule.
And they are thrown in the deep end from the very start. Only the MotoGP riders can afford to stay at the Twin Ring circuit near Motegi. Most of the team staff stay in Mito, an hour’s drive from the track, meaning they have to travel for two hours a day.
Up in the hills in the middle of Japan’s main island, and sufficiently far north for temperatures to drop in the fall, Motegi is notorious for poor weather. It is usually cold, often damp, and sometimes ravaged by typhoons.
It is not just challenging on the riders and teams, however. The road circuit which sits half inside, half outside the oval course, giving the Twin Ring its name, is like Le Mans on steroids.
A series of straights of varying lengths, connected by a series of precisely engineered corners, as befits a circuit designed specifically as a test track.
The legal oddity that riders’ contracts are out of sync with the MotoGP season creates an uncomfortable truce among the factories.
When riders sign with a factory, their contracts run from January 1st to December 31st. But for the factories and teams, the new season starts on the Tuesday after the last race of the year, at Valencia.
This is a particular problem for the 2017 season, with so many riders changing factories. Traditionally, there has been a gentlemen’s agreement among the factories to allow the riders to test with their new team, despite still being under contract to the old one.
So in previous years, the likes of Valentino Rossi (twice) and Casey Stoner have lapped Valencia aboard their new steeds dressed in plain leathers.
The plain leathers are just one side of the compromise. As a rule, the riders switching factories are not allowed to speak to the media, or only allowed to speak in the most general of terms, avoiding direct comparison between their new bikes and their old bikes.
The riders continue to perform PR duties for their old factories up until the end of the contract deadline.
Andrea Iannone is to miss the MotoGP round at Motegi. The Italian has been advised by his doctors to skip the first of the three Pacific flyaway rounds to allow the vertebra he fractured at Misano to heal.
Iannone picked up the injury on the first day of his home race at Misano. Though the injury is on the forward side of the T3 vertebra, making it less vulnerable to a repeat injury, the fracture has caused him to miss both Misano and Aragon. Motegi will be the third race which Iannone will be forced to miss.
It was smart strategy that won Chaz Davies the opening race of the French round of WorldSBK; but in Race 2, it was patience and perseverance that won out.
The Welshman clocked up his third win in four races, and each have come in very different circumstances. A dominant victory in Germany started this rich vein of form, but France showed how strong Davies has become.
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The decision on whether to be conservative or aggressive with your choices wasn’t the key in Magny-Cours, rather it was just about having belief in your convictions.
With a drying track, Chaz Davies was one of the few riders to start the race with intermediate tires, and the gamble proved worth the risk for the Ducati rider, as he romped to victory.
In the early stages, with a wet track, Davies was a sitting duck to riders with more grip from full wet-weather tires. The Welshman even said afterwards that “I was so slow that I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had hit me!”
When the track started to dry, the race came to Davies, and rather than being a sitting duck he became a shark and picked off his rivals. It was an inspired race by Davies who rarely seemed to have push but instead kept calm and allowed the race to come to him.
Could there be a ninth winner in nine MotoGP races? On Thursday, the massed ranks of MotoGP riders had elected Andrea Dovizioso for the role.
“I’m happy they said my name,” Dovizioso told us journalists on Friday, “but they have put a lot of pressure on me. Because I have to win this race, and today wasn’t the best day for me to try to think about winning…”
The Ducati rider had struggled with a lack of grip on the track, adding to the fact that this is not a great track for Dovizioso.
“This track doesn’t have the best characteristic for my style,” he said. Dovizioso’s strength lies in hard braking and quick turning, and there is not enough of that to suit the Italian. Add low grip to that, and he faces an uphill struggle.
Dovizioso also faces Aragon with a new teammate. Andrea Iannone has once again been forced to withdraw, the T3 vertebra he injured at Misano causing him too much pain to continue. He could manage three or four laps, before needing to return to the pits and get some rest.
With 22 laps coming up on Sunday, Iannone quickly understood that would be too much. Michele Pirro was already on standby, and once FP1 made it clear that Iannone would not be able to ride, Ducati’s test rider was put on the bike.