Motorcycle racing is the cruelest form of addiction. What racers need to feed their habit is to win, but winning is hard, one of the hardest things of all. To do so, you have to go beyond yourself, push beyond your limits, exceed what you thought was possible.
That creates a paradox: if you want to win a championship, sometimes you have to accept you can’t win a race. Too much of that servility, though, and ambition will chafe at the bit. The temptation to have a go is hard to resist, with the risk of ending in gravelly ignominy.
That has been the fate of Marc Márquez so far this season. Wins have been few this season, just three in thirteen races. Even podiums have eluded him, Márquez ending off the box in three of the last four races. There is only so much a young man bursting with ambition can take.
That ambition looks set to burst forth at Aragon. If Misano was a track which Marc Márquez had marked down as a place he could risk losing a lot of points, he had comforted himself with the thought that Aragon followed.
Aragon is a Honda track, a Márquez track even. It is a track where he has won. But also a track where he has crashed trying to win.
Every day that sees MotoGP motorcycles circulating in earnest is an interesting day, but some are more interesting than others. Friday at Misano was one of those days which last, throwing up surprises and shattering preconceptions.
We found out that we need to throw overboard a lot of the things we thought about the current state of the MotoGP championship.
First, to the things that were not a surprise. That Yamahas should top both sessions of free practice, and establish themselves as favorites for the race was entirely to be expected.
That Valentino Rossi should impress is no surprise either: Misano is his home race, and a win here is his best chance of getting back into the championship. Jorge Lorenzo finding his feet again, and laying down a withering pace raised one or two eyebrows among those who had written him off.
But the real shocker was Pol Espargaro topping the second session of free practice, and ending the day faster.
Has Yamaha smuggled a few go-faster bits into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha garage? The answer to that question is quite simply no. Espargaro’s pace has a very simple explanation: the Spaniard has been strong throughout this season, the switch to the Michelins playing to his strengths.
“This is a track where I am fast,” Espargaro told us. “If we add here the new tires which are really grippy on the rear and quite good performance on the front, I feel like I can ride in my style, aggressive and opening the throttle really early with full lean angle. I feel really comfortable riding the bike.”
Plus, of course, the small matter of time gained by using another fast rider as a target. “For sure, I was behind Márquez, and it helped me two tenths more or less.” Taking away two tenths of a second would put him third rather than first, but as he was second fastest in the morning, Espargaro’s time in FP2 was no fluke.
This is truly a golden age of motorcycle racing. The Silverstone race was proof of that. A stunning contest, with positions fiercely fought over. A new winner added to MotoGP’s pantheon.
Five riders doing battle over second place, including some of the greatest riders of their respective generations. Bikes from four different factories in the top six.
And Silverstone is hardly unique this season. 2016 has seen two different satellite riders win races. It has seen seven different winners this season, and the last seven races each won by a different rider.
It has seen relative newcomers win, and seasoned veterans win. 2016 is the culmination of a long period of rich results, with four riders all capable of winning on any given day over the past four or five years. Margins of victory have never been tighter, nor has the gap between the front and the back of the grid.
This cornucopia is not just in the premier class. Racing is returning to Moto2, after a drought of processional contests. Moto3 is overflowing with young talent, with rookies quickly challenging the older guard, who are in turn off to fatten the field in Moto2 next year.
At Silverstone, the Moto2 race was hard fought between a small group of riders, with incidents that had serious long-term effects on the championship. The Moto3 class produced a customary thriller, Silverstone’s long straights and high winds making escape impossible, but making staying out of trouble imperative.
The tire degradation during the MotoGP race at Brno was still a hot topic on the test on Monday, after so many riders suffered problems during the race on Sunday.
We asked most of the riders who tested on Monday what they felt about the tires, and whether they were safe. We also spoke to Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s technical director, and he explained why he felt that some riders had suffered problems, while others had been able to finish the race.
The comments below are offered without any further commentary. I do not wish to cloud the judgment of those reading the comments by first setting out my own theory of what happened. The comments stand on their own, and should be read as such.
The Austrian GP might be tomorrow, but today the news is all about MotoGP’s newest entrant, KTM Racing. The Austrian team used its home to debut officially its MotoGP program, showing the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike in its officially Red Bull livery for next year.
The livery itself is what you would expect between at KTM/Red Bull collaboration, with the same blue and orange paint scheme as can be found on the Red Bull KTM Moto3 squad. The big difference of course is the rumored fire-breathing, 270hp, V4, engine, which Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro will attempt to tame.
At the MotoGP test at Spielberg, the KTM RC16 was two seconds behind the incredible lap times that the Ducati machines were capable of at the Austrian track, which bodes well for the project.
The bike’s next outing will be at Valencia, where Thomas Lüthi and Mika Kallio will ride with the MotoGP-regulars once again, competing as wild card entries.
The best apples-to-apples comparison though might be the subsequent MotoGP test at Valencia, where Smith and Espargaro will get their first rides on the KTM RC16.
So far though, the indications are good. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a new desktop background, these photos are MEGA high-resolution – because we love you.
In the last few years, the MotoGP season has shown remarkable stability. New tracks have been added from time to time, but the calendar has been very similar from one year to the next.
Even though you get to go to some of the most amazing tracks in the world, the travel becomes routine, humdrum almost. You get to know the road from the hotel to the track, the circuit itself, the idiosyncrasies of each paddock, each media center, like the back of your hand.
It becomes almost like a daily commute to an office. Almost, but not quite.
So new circuits have something a little special. They bring fresh faces, new ideas. There are new routes to learn to the circuit, a new paddock layout, figuring the most efficient path through the paddock.
As a journalist, each media center has its own secrets. The best place to sit to get a view of the TV screens, whether the setting sun in the evening will end up shining on your laptop making it impossible to work, where to sit to avoid being whacked on the head by cameras as photographers try to squeeze past.
You make note of which media center has good coffee, and which has none (Italy, surprisingly). You scout the paddock for food, if you do not wish to wear out your welcome at the hospitality units of various teams.
The Red Bull Ring in Austria has something special too. The track is different, in both good and bad ways, both simpler and at the same time more complicated.
There has been a reversal of fortunes in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage.
Last year, it was Bradley Smith who was the clear top satellite rider, putting in strong and above all, sensible and consistent performances week in, week out, while Pol Espargaro tried hard to get the Yamaha M1 to do things it didn’t want to do, and either crashed or finished well down the order.
This year, it is Espargaro who has the consistency, while Smith is trying (and failing) to get the Michelins to do what he wants them to do.
The 2016 Suzuka 8-Hours is in the bag, and once again the Japanese endurance race proved to be a formidable challenge to its competitors, and a great spectacle for fans.
As expected, this edition of the Suzuka 8-Hours saw strong teams succumb to the challenges of endurance racing – examples being the Honda factory-backed MuSASHI RT HARC PRO team, which had to retire early for mechanical reasons, as well as the SRC Kawasaki Team that also did not finish.
While there were surprises in defeat, we also saw surprises in victory, with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team once again winning the prestigious Japanese race. A repeat of last year’s result for Yamaha, today’s win is marks a shift in the balance of power for endurance racing in Japan.
“I’m very happy and very satisfied with this win, for me, for Alex and for Nakasuga-san because we really deserved it. From the start of the test we have worked so hard to get the best for us three,” said an ecstatic Pol Espargaro.
“After last year, to win two times with Nakasuga-san and one time with Alex is amazing. I’m sure Alex will complete the second one next year! I just want to say thanks to Yamaha, to all the people that support this fantastic team, because we are three riders but a lot of mechanics and other people work in the Yamaha Factory Team.”
“Thanks so much to Alex and Nakasuga, they were amazing today, I can’t say anymore, just thanks!”
The Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race is this weekend, and while the iconic race isn’t being broadcasted by a US television station, the Suzuka Circuit does make a live stream available via Ustream.
The live stream typically covers the Suzuka 4-Hour race (on right now, as of the time of this writing), as well as the free practice and qualifying sessions for the Suzuka 8-Hour. On race day, however, the stream usually just features a live-timing screen, which is still better than nothing.
You can find a schedule of the sessions on the Suzuka Circuit website, or just click right here.