As a motorcycle racing journalist, I think Americans sometimes forget about P.J. Jacobsen (Facebook & Twitter). That’s a shame, because the 22-year-old finished second in last year’s World Supersport Championship, and again is a top contender for the title in this year’s WSS Championship.
Despite successfully making the jump from the US national racing scene to the race tracks of Europe, it seems Americans have a hard time remembering that they have a fellow countryman rising up the ranks of motorcycle racing’s elite.
Americans are obsessed about asking who will be the next great American champion, and when they do so, they talk about riders still in the AMA/MotoAmerica paddock, or talk nostalgically of GP riders of old, like Colin Edwards, Ben Spies, or Nicky Hayden.
While there is certainly cause for excitement about Nicky Hayden’s entry into the World Superbike paddock, the reality is that P.J. Jacobsen has quietly been climbing the ranks of motorcycle racing at the international level without anyone noticing. He might be America’s next World Champion, yet only diehard race fans know his name.
In the hopes of changing this situation, we plan to bring you a few stories about P.J. over the course this season. Our first opportunity so far was to sit down with him at the Aragon World Supersport round this past weekend.
The first race of the 2016 MotoGP Championship is finally in the bag, and the boys at the Paddock Pass Podcast have all the analysis and insight from Qatar that you have been waiting for.
There’s a great discussion about how the Michelin tires and spec-electronics have changed/not-changed the racing in the MotoGP class; of course the events in the Moto2 class cannot go without some discussions; and the boys wrap-up with a quick chat about Moto3 and who they have their money on this season.
Since there were some contract announcements at Qatar, the lads also have a wee chat about the current state of affairs in the MotoGP silly season. If you’re a true motorsport fan, you won’t want to miss this one.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
Good clean racing or overstepping the mark? That was the question being asked on the Sunday night in Thailand, after a thrilling race long duel between Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea.
For many the sight of Sykes fighting tooth and nail and refusing to cede the win to his teammate was something that was hoped for, but not expected this year.
The Kawasaki teammates fought a war of words over the winter, but after Rea’s dominant title victory last year, many expected something similar this year.
While Rea has walked away with 95 points from the first four races, the message from Sykes in Thailand was clear: You’re not going to have it all your own way this time around!
If the second day of practice for the 2016 MotoGP season taught us anything, it taught us that everything is still wide open.
Yesterday, the Movistar Yamahas were clearly a cut above the rest during FP1. During the two free practice sessions on Friday, the top of the timesheets looked a little different.
In FP2, it was a wild mixture of Ducatis, Hondas, and Maverick Viñales on the Suzuki GSX-RR. In FP3, when the stakes were raised with direct entry to Q2 on the table, Jorge Lorenzo put his Yamaha M1 back into contention, but his previous clear superiority from Thursday was gone.
The reason? There isn’t a single cause you can put your finger on. In FP2, the Movistar Yamaha riders spent their time working on tire choice, and especially the tricky task of figuring out which front tire to use in the race.
That differs depending on which bike you happen to be riding: the Hondas are trying to make the hard front work, with different success, the Yamahas have abandoned the hard for the medium, and may even race with the soft, while the Ducatis are caught in a similar dilemma.
The Hondas – at least, the factory bikes – made a big step forward with electronics, and that made the competitive. Or rather, it was a step backwards, reverting to the settings Marc Márquez had tried in the test.
“Yesterday, we changed a small thing that we expected normally would not be a big difference on the bike on riding, but this time was a big difference with these electronics,” Marc Márquez explained. Dropping that change made a massive difference, and Márquez was competitive in both sessions on Friday.
The one constant through all three sessions of free practice has been Andrea Iannone: third fastest on Thursday, fastest in both FP2 and FP3 on Friday. “A perfect day,” was how he described Friday. He was far from complacent, however. “Just because I am first, it doesn’t mean we are completely ready.”
Bikes are on track, and the roar of racing four strokes is filling the desert skies in Qatar. We can check our moral compasses at the door, sit back and once again revel in the glory of Grand Prix racing.
The fog of testing is lifting, exposing the reality which lies beneath. We don’t need speculation any longer. We have actual timesheets.
Conclusions from Day One of 2016? We learned a lot.
Some of it confirmed what we already knew: the Yamahas are quick, especially Jorge Lorenzo; Maverick Viñales can be competitive; Hector Barbera is going to surprise a few people; the Hondas are still juggling the electronics in search of the right set up; there is a clear elite group in Moto2, which includes Sam Lowes and Alex Rins; the rookie group in Moto3 is exceptional this year.
Some of it surprised: MotoGP silly season is already in high gear, with reports that Johann Zarco has already signed for Suzuki, and talk about Tech 3 for next year; Zarco’s poor times in testing were anything but representative; Livio Loi is in deadly form at Qatar, opening up a gap which shouldn’t really be possible in Moto3; the rubber left on the track by the different tire brands is affecting Moto2 far more than MotoGP, instead of the other way round, as it was last year.
There is good news and bad news for MotoGP fans. The good news is that the 2016 season is just a few hours away from kicking off, with the Moto3 bikes the first to go out at 6pm, shortly after the sun sets in Qatar.
The good news is that the season opener takes place at the Losail International Circuit, a first class facility featuring a fantastic track, with a good mixture of fast and slow curves, and a serious test of both rider and machine.
The good news is that with the switch to spec electronics and the unified software, the racing is set to get closer among the factories, and put more control in the hands of the rider.
The best news is that the MotoGP field has never been so strong, so deep in talent, and feature such a broad range of competitive machinery, that Moto2 looks like being much more of a contest this year than it was in previous seasons, and that Moto3 features some spectacularly talent rookies, up against fiercely competitive established riders.
The racing this year is set to be outstanding in all three Grand Prix classes.
The bad news, though, is really bad. Of immediate importance to MotoGP fans is that it has rained on and off in the Gulf region for the past couple of weeks, and rained all day on Wednesday.
The fact that Qatar is a night race means that if it rains at any time, the track will be immediately closed, the floodlights causing dazzling reflections from any water on the surface, making it impossible to ride.
The current forecast is for it to stay dry until Tuesday, but whether such forecasts can be trusted remains to be seen.
The worst news is that the opening race of the season is in Qatar. The first race of the year will be held in front of a tiny crowd (more fans will often turn up at a European track on a Thursday, when there is no on-track action, than on race day in Qatar), at a track surrounded by desert, where sand and dust tends to blow in and cover the track, causing severe tire wear and making the track treacherous if a rider gets off line.
Beside the track sits the Lusail Sports Arena, part of a massive expansion of sporting facilities which have cost the lives of over 1200 migrant workers already, and are set to cost the lives of more.
You see these migrant workers packed into buses as you drive to the track, on their way to work long hours for little pay, which all too often they do not receive. They cannot leave, as under the country’s Kafala system, the employers take away their passports, making travel or complaint impossible.