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.
The work done by the teams at the Losail International Circuit provides valuable insight into how the first week of racing will play out in the GP paddock. As such, MotoGP fans will want to count this show as part of their 2016 season buildup.
We think you will enjoy the insights that David, Neil, Steve, and Tony share about the progress of the Michelin tires, Casey Stoner’s role in the Ducati garage, the development of the Aprilia RS-GP and its unique crankshaft, and of course the continued mind games between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. It’s all very intriguing.
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!
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.
MotoGP testing is underway in Losail, Qatar right now, as the paddock gets ready for the season-opener in a little over two weeks’ time. As such, we are seeing teams debut their liveries, and none of the unveils are more anticipated than that of Aprilia Racing.
The Noale brand has been hard at work developing a brand new MotoGP race bike, and while the name remains, the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP is a completely new machine for riders Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista to tackle.
Aprilia says it is using a “narrow” V4 engine, which by definition would mean anything less than 90° in the cylinder head angle. Paddock chatter suggests that the new RS-GP does not share the 65° cylinder head angle of the RSV4 superbike though, which should make for good speculation during the season.
Rated at over 250hp, the Aprilia RS-GP uses pneumatic valves, and has a counter-rotating crankshaft. This is mated to a gearbox that handles seamless upshifts and downshifts. The frame is an aluminum twin-spar design, with the swingarm also made of aluminum.
Aprilia isn’t disclosing the weight of the 2016 RS-GP, but we can expect it to be at, or very near, the minimum weight requirement for MotoGP machines – thus roughly 20 lbs lighter than its predecessor.
Here is our first good look at the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP race bike, as the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini squad just wrapped up a three-day test in Qatar, with Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.
The entire 2016 machine is a departure from the RS-GP that was raced last year, which also means that an all-new V4 engine powers the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP. There has been much debate about what cylinder angle the new Aprilia is using, as the old bike used the 65° angle found on the RSV4 street bike.
The 2016 Aprilia RS-GP is also said to be considerably lighter than its predecessor, likely right on the line of the FIM’s minimum weight requirement for MotoGP race bikes.
Max Biaggi continues to find the allure of the race track calling him, and accordingly will race in the World Superbike season-closer in Losail, on a wild card Aprilia ride.
This isn’t the first time that The Emperor has climbed back aboard the Aprilia RSV4 racing platform, and we would be surprised if it actually did turn-out to be his last.
Qatar is to host a MotoGP race through 2026 — the Losail International Circuit has extended its current deal, which expires in 2016, for another 10 years.
The race is to remain a night race, and will stay as the season opener for the foreseeable future. The race is a lucrative one for Dorna, the fee paid by Qatar covering all of the costs of all of the flyaway races for all of the teams for the full season.