When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias.
Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr. misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because “Toni ride like the devil” – but none they can be sure of.
There is a less well-known explanation for Elias’ performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders.
In this case, Elias was handed a set of ‘Saturday night specials’ destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire that Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.
What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function.
Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle.
And that’s just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.
The old adage about not judging a book by its cover seems particularly apt after the first day at Qatar. Fans and followers were hoping the changes made over the winter might shake things up a little, but they weren’t expecting a revolution.
At the top of the timesheets in MotoGP sits Aleix Espargaro on the Open class Forward Yamaha, nearly half a second ahead of the rest. In second place was Alvaro Bautista, not on an Open bike, but on a satellite Honda. Bautista, in turn, was ahead of three other satellite machines, Tech 3′s Bradley Smith leading Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, with the other Tech 3 bike of Pol Espargaro behind.
The first factory rider (that’s factory rider, not Factory Option) was Dani Pedrosa in 6th, over a second behind the Open class bike of Aleix. Valentino Rossi in 7th, on the factory Movistar Yamaha, could only just hold off former teammate Colin Edwards on the other Forward Yamaha. Even Nicky Hayden was just a tenth off the pace of Rossi, despite the Drive M7 Aspar rider being on the production RCV1000R Honda, a bike which was giving away over 12 km/h to the M1 of Rossi.
Has the revolution finally arrived? Has the Open class turned MotoGP on its head? Not really, though that didn’t stop the bookmakers from shortening the odds of an Aleix Espargaro win from 51/1 down to 11/1. The first page of MotoGP’s 2014 chapter is deceptive, as the Open and satellite bikes all have a head start.
At the notoriously dusty and low-grip track, it takes time to get the bikes dialed in, and the factory riders, fresh from testing at the ultra-high-grip Phillip Island circuit are suffering a Qatari culture shock. The satellite and Open bikes have already spent three days testing here, and have both the setup and the feeling of the track under control.
It has been a long and confusing wait for the 2014 MotoGP season to begin. An awful lot has happened since the MotoGP bikes were rolled into their packing crates after the Valencia test and shipped back to the factories and workshops from whence they came. There have been shock announcements, shock testing results, and shock training crashes.
There have been last-minute rule changes, made in an attempt to keep all of the different factions in the paddock from rebelling. The final rules for the premier class were only announced on Monday, and even then, they still contain sufficient ambiguity to confuse.
But this confusion and chaos cannot disguise the fact that 2014 looks set to be the most intriguing championship in years. Gone are the reviled CRT machines – unjustly reviled; though slow, they were still jewels of engineering prowess – and in their place is a new class of machinery, the Open entries.
A simpler demarcation has been made, between factories running their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, and the Open teams using the championship software supplied and controlled by Dorna.
The latest rule change adds a twist, allowing underperforming Ducati all the benefits of the Open class – 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, 12 engines per season instead of 5, unlimited testing and a softer tire – until they start winning races. But the 2014 grid looks much more like a single coherent class than the pack of racing motorcycles that lined up last year.
After locking down Movistar with a five-year title sponsor contract, Yamaha has had to go back and re-shoot its 2014 MotoGP livery. That’s just fine by us, as we love any excuse to get high-resolution photos of GP bikes. The changes to the paint on the 2014 Yamaha YZR-M1 isn’t as dramatic as we thought it would be though, with Yamaha fitting the Movistar logos into its already existing layout.
At least this time around we get some professional looking photos for your viewing pleasure (the ones from Indonesia look like they were shot in a utility closet), though there must have been a rush to get them out as the color correction is a bit off, and you can spot some Photoshop artifacts in a couple photos. Still, with the 2014 MotoGP Championship about get underway in day’s time, we aren’t complaining…too much.
After a week of debate and discussion, the Grand Prix Commission has finally reached an agreement on the Factory 2 class. It took many hours of phone calls, and full agreement was not reached until late on Monday afternoon, but the agreement contains some significant changes to the long-term future of the MotoGP championship.
The Factory 2 proposal has been adopted in a slightly modified guise, with any manufacturer entering in the Open class liable to lose fuel and soft tires should they win races. But the bigger news is that the full MotoGP class will switch to use the spec software and ECU from the 2016 season, a year earlier than expected.
The proposals adopted by the GPC now lays out a plan for MotoGP moving forward to 2016. In 2014 and 2015, there will be only two categories – Open and Factory Option – with the set of rules agreed at the end of last year.
The new proposal sees manufacturers without a dry weather win in three years to compete as Factory Option entries, but with all of the advantages of the Open class – more fuel, more tires, no engine freeze and unlimited testing. However, should they start to achieve success, they will start to lose first fuel, and then the soft tires.
If Ducati – for it is mainly Ducati to which these rules apply, as they are currently the only manufacturer who are eligible at the moment – score 1 win, 2 second place finishes or 3 third places during dry races, then all bikes entered by Ducati will have their fuel cut from 24 to 22 liters for each race.
Should Ducati win 3 races in the dry, they will also lose use of the softer rear tires which the Open category entries can use. If Ducati were to lose the extra fuel or tires during 2014, they would also have to race under the same conditions in 2015.
If you wanted proof that things are changing at Ducati, you need look no further than the launch of their MotoGP team.
In years past, it was an outrageously flamboyant affair, a veritable extravaganza hosted by Philip Morris to showcase their two motor sports projects, the Ducati MotoGP team and the Ferrari Formula One squad.
Held at the upmarket Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio, the event even had a proper showbiz name: Wrooom. All that was missing was an exclamation mark.
Ducati’s 2014 launch was very different. Held not in Italy, but in Munich and Ingolstadt, on premises owned and operated by Ducati’s current owners, Audi.
The team presentation at the Audi Forum at Munich airport, the unveiling of the livery in the evening, at the Audi Gebrauchtwagen Plus center in Munich, then to Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt the following day, for the presentation of the Germany company’s annual report to the press.
If the Wrooom event had been flamboyant and over the top, the 2014 launch was serious, focused, yet still stylish. It felt very much like Italy versus Germany, and Germany won.
There was another difference too. Despite the media having been present at both Sepang tests and the Phillip Island tire test, there was still some real meat for journalists to get their teeth into in Munich.
Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna, MotoGP project leader Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali, head of technical development at Audi Ulrich Hackenberg, even the riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow all had something new to add. It was much, much more interesting than expected.
It has been ten days since Carmelo Ezpeleta announced to an unsuspecting world that a new category would be added to the MotoGP class to contain Ducati, the ‘Factory 2′ class.
The change was to be ratified on Tuesday, 11th March, in a telephone meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, and Ezpeleta was confident that it would go through without too many problems.
Tuesday came and went, and no agreement had been reached. In fact, it has taken all week and much of this weekend for the situation to approach a resolution.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have now confirmed that an agreement will be announced on Monday, allowing the rules to be set in place for the start of the season on Thursday, March 20th.