The long-awaited news of Johann Zarco’s MotoGP contract has been announced. The Frenchman is to join Jonas Folger in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team for 2017. Zarco’s contract is for one year, with the team holding an option on the Frenchman for a second year.
While Johann Zarco is out in Japan, testing the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, the 2017 MotoGP rider line up is starting to solidify further. Ironically, it is looking like Johann Zarco will not be the rider that Suzuki selects to pilot its factory MotoGP bike alongside Andrea Iannone.
Team boss Davide Brivio is in Japan, along with the test team, to finalize their plans for 2017. At Barcelona, Brivio admitted to us that he would be going to discuss Suzuki’s choice of rider for next year.
The Italian acknowledged that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins were under discussion, and though he declined to state a preference, he did say “It’s clear what our choice is.”
The announcement that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins will be in the pre-event press conference in Assen is a further sign that an announcement is imminent.
“I am not a very happy man,” Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal told us on the Thursday before Barcelona. His problem? Attracting competitive riders to take the seats vacated by Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro.
Their destination was emblematic of Poncharal’s problem: at Barcelona, Espargaro announced he would be reunited with his Tech 3 teammate in the factory KTM team in 2017 and 2018.
So Poncharal found himself with the looming likelihood of fielding two rookies in 2017. The Tech 3 boss signed Jonas Folger back in Le Mans, while Johann Zarco is the prime candidate to fill the second Tech 3 seat.
Zarco is currently in Japan testing Suzuki’s GSX-RR MotoGP machine. He is expected to sign with Tech 3 once Suzuki have announced they are signing Alex Rins to partner Andrea Iannone.
The original hope was either to keep Pol Espargaro alongside Folger, to ensure consistency of results, or welcome Alex Rins into the fold on a factory Yamaha contract.
Either way, it would ensure the publicity which is vital to keeping sponsors happy. Two rookies and no factory connections is a lot less appealing to the people who help provide the €8-€9 million it costs to run the Tech 3 team.
On the day after the Barcelona MotoGP race, the entire grid bar the Aspar Ducatis were back at the track for a full day of testing. Conditions were ideal; so ideal that they perhaps a little confusing.
Though it was hot and dry, the fact that only MotoGP bikes are circulating and laying down Michelin rubber meant the track felt different to race day, when the MotoGP bikes have to follow Moto2, and cope with the Dunlop rubber the fat rear tires smear on the track.
The grip was also helped by the fact that Michelin had three new rear tires to test. They were three slightly different versions of construction of the current rear tire, using one of the compounds available for the race weekend.
The tires were well-received, everyone praising the added traction the tire offered. The only criticism offered was that they had a very short life, dropping off after two or three laps.
Michelin were pleased with the results of testing. The main aim of the new tires had been to proved extra traction, and that is what they had delivered. Michelin chief Nicolas Goubert was very satisfied.
“All three tires were better than the reference tires, so we just have to choose which one to make.” The tires were very much test items, used to gather data, and were to be taken away and examined back at the factory.
There, a decision would be taken on when and where the tires will be used. “Technically it’s possible to produce them for the next races, but we will analyze whether they are needed for the tracks we will be going to before the summer.”
News from Catalunya today is that Pol Espargaro and Yamaha Racing will go their separate ways at the end of the 2016 MotoGP Championship season, effectively also ending the younger Espargaro’s tenure in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage.
It is not clear yet where Espargaro will go for the next season, though that decision and announcement could happen as swiftly as this race weekend in Barcelona. Similarly, it is also not clear who will replace Pol Espargaro with a Yamaha contract in the Tech 3 garage, for next season.
Every year at Mugello, Valentino Rossi and Italian designer Aldo Drudi come up with a special helmet design for Rossi’s helmet.
They vary in originality and ingenuity: my own personal favorite by far was the helmet from 2008, which featured Rossi’s face on the top, wide-eyed with the terror he felt braking for the first corner at San Donato, one of the highest speed approaches on the calendar.
Others have varied from the obscure and personal, to the entertaining or passionate. Most people have their own personal favorite, a few curmudgeons find the whole idea rather pointless.
Rossi’s helmet for this year, features a simple design, based on a pun in Italian. His AGV Pista GP helmet is yellow, featuring an outline of the Mugello circuit, and the word “MUGIALLO” around the front.
“Mugiallo” is a play on the words Mugello, the name of the circuit, and “giallo”, the Italian word for yellow. Rossi’s tribal color is yellow, his fans call themselves “Il popolo giallo”, or The Yellow People. The press release from Dainese described it as a tribute to the circuit, and to Rossi’s fans.
Is that what it means to Rossi himself, though? On Saturday, Rossi made his helmet look more like an act of appropriation than a tribute. Rossi’s searing qualifying lap laid bare his intentions: Valentino Rossi laid claim to the Mugello circuit. He came here to win.
“This morning was not Mugello weather,” joked Pramac Ducati team manager Francesco Guidotti when we went to speak to him on Friday evening. It was cold, wet, and overcast, with a track still damp from the overnight rain.
The Tuscan sun stayed hidden behind the clouds, lending no hand in burning off any water on the track. It was that horrible half-and-half weather that teams and riders fear so much, a completely lost session in terms of preparing for the race.
It was also precisely the kind of conditions that had prompted the return of intermediate tires. Fearing empty tracks – and consequently, dead TV time – Dorna had asked Michelin to produce tires that might tempt riders out on track, give TV viewers something to watch, and TV commentators something to talk about.
It didn’t really work. At the start of MotoGP FP1, a group of riders went out on the hard wet tires, switching to intermediates as the track started to dry out a little.
But it was still only about half the field, the rest preferring to remain safely ensconced in the pits, only venturing out at the end of the session to do a test start or two. Why, fans and journalists alike asked, did the riders not make use of the tools they had been given?
The next piece of the 2017 MotoGP Silly Season puzzle has fallen into place. Today, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team announced that they have signed the German youngster Jonas Folger for the 2017 season, with an option to keep him for a second year into 2018.
That Tech 3 should sign Folger is no real surprise. Hervé Poncharal made no secret of his opinion of Folger, mentioning the German in every conversation about finding riders for Tech 3.
Poncharal had tried to sign Folger previously, hoping to get him into MotoGP in 2014, but the German was in the middle of a two-year deal, and unable to get out of it. Two year’s later, Poncharal has his man.
Folger had also been a target for KTM. As a German speaker, Folger would have been a good fit with the Austrian manufacturer, and give them the young Moto2 rider they are looking for to slot in alongside Bradley Smith. The lure of a proven bike at Tech 3 may have been the deciding factor for Folger, though.
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.
The 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the best and most memorable of all time. The title was tightly contested between two of the best motorcycle racers of all time, while two more of the best motorcycle racers of all time won races and helped make the championship exciting.
It saw a resurgence of Ducati, bringing the grand total of competitive manufacturers back up to three, along with a solid return to the fold of Suzuki. It also saw rising young stars join the class, showing promise of becoming possible future greats.
Above all, 2015 offered fantastic racing, with the results going all the way down to the wire. We were treated to triumph and tragedy, the title battle ebbing and flowing between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo almost week to week.
We saw races decided by fractions of a second, brave passing maneuvers rewarded, while hubris was punished mercilessly. We saw controversy, including one of the most controversial incidents in many, many years, where a clash between riders looked like deciding the championship.
The title went down to the wire, decided only at the final race, in another event which was filled with controversy. It was eerily reminiscent of the 2006 season, the first year I started writing about MotoGP. The aftermath of the 2006 season also has valuable lessons for 2016.