The current status of MotoGP’s silly season? Two down, plenty still to go. Valentino Rossi may have joined Marc Marquez as the only other factory rider to have put pen to paper for 2015 and 2016, the rest of the grid is still in the middle of negotiating their riders for next year. Even Cal Crutchlow, who has a contract to race with Ducati in 2015, but more of that later.
Testing alongside the rest of the MotoGP paddock, Suzuki Racing was present again at the Catalunya test, with Randy de Puniet once again turning laps on the Suzuki XRH-1. Now using the Magneti Marelli electronics, Suzuki has the long process of dialing-in the XRH-1’s full potential.
Also a priority at Catalunya was Suzuki’s more powerful iteration of its inline-four engine, which the Japanese OEM hoped would close its gap to the other OEMs. In the hands of Randy de Puniet, the Suzuki XRH-1 was 2.499 seconds off the pace of test-leader Marc Marquez, though that margin comes with an asterisk.
While the rest of the paddock has had since Friday to hone their machines and bodies to the Circuit de Catalunya, Suzuki and RdP did not have that luxury going into Monday’s test. One can also argue De Puniet’s pace to the other GP riders, as with all due respect to the Frechman, Marc Marquez he is not.
With a thousand variables at play (we can even question the validity of test times in general, as teams are testing not qualifying/racing), it is easy to make excuses for RdP and Suzuki as to why the gap remains so far from the other factories, but the end result is that the XRH-1 is a tough character to judge. That makes Suzuki’s return to the GP paddock a bit of a wild card.
With Both of Ducati Corse’s riders praying for a miracle, or a better option, Suzuki could be that salvation. One also has to consider Dani Pedrosa’s rumored $8 million price tag, and the bevy of other contracts that expire at the end of the season. Suzuki’s impending presence is a considerable factor in MotoGP’s game of musical chairs..
Being a difficult factor to judge though has made Suzuki, the Suzuki XRH-1, and Randy de Puniet’s role in all this is very speculative and uncertain. The only thing we can say for sure then is that it will be interesting to watch the limited number of “factory” seats sort themselves out.
It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said.
“It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.” The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. “We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.”
Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, “struggling” means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong.
Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything.
A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two “horns” of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight.
Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.
With Marc Marquez already signed up for 2015 and 2016, and Valentino Rossi on the verge of penning a new deal with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.
Will Lorenzo want to stay with Yamaha or switch to Honda? Will Pedrosa be prepared to take a pay cut or head off to a different factory? All these are thing we will learn over the coming weeks.
Pedrosa’s case is particularly interesting. Some well-informed sources are starting to report on his options for the future. According to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Dani Pedrosa has been offered a substantial pay cut by Honda, with a base salary cut from something in the region of 6 million euros a season to 1.5 million euros, with a very generous bonus scheme for winning races and the championship.
But Suzuki have also shown an interest in Pedrosa. The Japanese factory needs a winning rider to help make their new bike fully competitive, times set by Randy de Puniet are so far lagging a second or more behind the factory Hondas and Yamahas.
At the Assen round of World Superbikes two weeks’ ago, we caught up with Voltcom Crescent Suzuki boss Paul Denning, to get his vision on how the new technical regulations proposed for World Superbike from 2015 onwards would affect Suzuki’s WSBK effort.
Denning gave us a fascinating alternative view of the regulations, emphasizing that revenue generation was at least as important as cost cutting, and warning against false economies that could end up destroying the close racing World Superbikes has traditionall enjoyed.
Denning also covered just where he saw the biggest costs in World Superbike racing, and how the new TV schedule has impacted the series, and could spell the end of the one-bike rule in WSBK.
Suzuki’s MotoGP test team took advantage of the presence of the MotoGP paddock at Austin to plan a test directly after the Grand Prix of the Americas.
Under the watchful eye of team manager Davide Brivio, the team planned to have test rider Randy De Puniet put in three days of testing at a circuit, as the team had not yet tested the Suzuki XRH-1 at COTA, in a bid to gather more data ahead of their return to the series in 2015.
Unfortunately for Suzuki, very heavy hail and thunderstorms made testing extremely difficult on Monday, leaving the track very dirty and much slower than it had been for Sunday’s race. But testing resumed in earnest on Tuesday, with Randy De Puniet running through testing electronics and another back-to-back test of the two chassis options Suzuki has been working on.
This is the second part of our two-part series on how the silly season for next year’s MotoGP rider line up may play out. If you missed the first part, you can catch up with the situation in the Honda and Yamaha factory teams here.
Up until late in the 2013 season, changes in the rider lineup for Yamaha and Honda’s MotoGP squads looked to be limited. Though all four riders will technically be on the open market at the end of 2014, the most likely scenarios for 2015 and beyond looked fairly settled.
Either the lineups of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams would remain identical, or Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa might swap seats. The biggest question mark, it appeared, hung over whether Valentino Rossi would continue racing after 2014.
Two major shake ups changed all that. For Valentino Rossi, the replacement of Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera – and the increased role for electronics engineer Matteo Flamigni – has helped him find at least some of the time he was losing to the three Spaniards who dominated MotoGP last year, making it more likely he will stay on at Yamaha for another couple of seasons. That leaves the situation at Yamaha look more stable than before.
The biggest change, though, came at Ducati. The top of the entire Ducati Corse department underwent radical change. Gigi Dall’Igna was brought in to replace Bernhard Gobmeier as head of Ducati Corse, while Davide Tardozzi joined Paolo Ciabatti and Ernesto Marinelli to help manage the MotoGP and World Superbike teams.
The arrival of Dall’Igna and Tardozzi has had a major impact, and will likely become even more significant as the season progresses. Dall’Igna has greatly improved communications between staff at Ducati’s Bologna headquarters and the race teams at the track, making for a much more efficient organization.
Towards the end of the 800cc era, MotoGP looked to be in dire condition. Grids were dwindling, factories were reducing their participation, and teams were in difficult financial straits indeed. By the end of 2011, there were just 17 full time entries, Suzuki was down to a single rider, and were about to pull out entirely for 2012.
How different the situation looks today. The CRTs have served their purpose – to persuade the factories to help fill the grid, and supply the teams with (relatively) affordable equipment – and the reduction in costs brought about in part by the spec electronics is enticing factories back to MotoGP.
Suzuki is in full testing mode, and getting ready to return to racing full time in 2015, and Aprilia is working towards a full-time return in 2016.
In a recent interview with the official MotoGP.com website, Aprilia Corse’s new boss Romano Albesiano gave a brief outline of their plans. The Italian factory will continue to work with the IODA Racing team for 2014 to collect data on the electronics and tires, which they will use as input on an entirely new project being worked on for 2016.
The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock…and social media…and bike racing forums…and biking bars around the world, I expect.
Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.
The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers.
Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb ‘to disappoint’ in various conjugations.
On track, however, the situation was largely unchanged from the last couple of days of testing: interesting names at the top of the timesheet, belying the utter dominance of the Repsol Hondas, in the person of Dani Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi was the fastest man on the day, and leaves as the fastest rider of the test, pleased with the progress they have made.
But dig deeper, examine the times set during the long race simulations, and Dani Pedrosa comes out streets ahead, half a second or more quicker than the competition. Pedrosa’s average pace is faster than any other riders best lap on their long run.
The fourth installment of Suzuki’s four-part video series (part 1, part 2, & part 3 here) on its MotoGP program is out, and this time around the Japanese OEM is talking about the relentless perils of testing, testing, and more testing (no surprises here). One of Suzuki’s biggest hurdles though, as it gets ready for the 2015 season, is switching from its Mitsubishi electronics system, to the spec-ecu being built by Magneti Marelli for Dorna.
The process is more difficult than it sounds. Not only does Suzuki have to do the general development necessary to get the most out of the Suzuki XRH-1 GP prototype (more photos here, too), but then once complete, Suzuki must port those settings to the Magneti Marelli unit. Meanwhile test riders Randy de Puniet and Nobuatsu Aoki are constantly finding things to improve with the race bike, which can require further changes to the ECU software.
No one ever said it was easy to race in the premier class of motorcycle racing, and Suzuki’s efforts prove that point. With the MotoGP proving itself to be an ever-changing landscape for rules and regulations, Suzuki also faces a very slim window to use the bike that they are currently developing. Thus in our minds, their place as the 2015 underdogs has already been solidified well ahead of their debut. Good luck to all of them.