Any in racing series, defending the #1 plate is no easy feat, and when it comes to motorcycle racing, this statement is the most true in the FIM Endurance World Championship.
Composed of only four races for the 2016 season, the endurance championship still requires 52 hours of racing, and many more hours of practice and qualifying leading up to that figure.
To put that in perspective, it is roughly three-times more racing that MotoGP does in a season, and twice as much racing than what occurs in the World Superbike Championship.
All that extra racing time means there are more opportunity for where things can go wrong, and with only four opportunities to score points, it makes reliability, teamwork, and racecraft all the more important.
It is also worth mentioning the FIM Endurance World Championship is the only racing series where a tire war still exists, and it is also a battlefield where four factory-backed manufacturers can win at any particular event.
With all that considered then, we must give a well-earned congratulations to the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), along with its riders Vincent Philippe, Anthony Delhalle, and Etienne Masson, for winning the 2016 FIM Endurance World Championship.
Is Maverick Viñales the next Alien? There are many who claim that he will be. Yamaha clearly believe he has the potential to become one, as they signed him as Jorge Lorenzo’s replacement for 2017 and beyond.
In 2016, Viñales has show real potential with some impressive performances. Yet at other times, he has been positively middling. The jury is still out at the moment.
The Japanese company’s proper foray into the current small-displacement sport bike market, the Suzuki GSX-R250 has been rumored for some time, but never before seen. Until now.
We should point out that the true displacement of this machine is still unknown, and Suzuki would be wise to actually bring a machine that has more punch than 250cc – as the current market trend sees 300cc bikes and larger winning at the dealership.
If there is such a thing as a Honda track, then the Sachsenring is surely it. Of the nineteen premier class races held at the tight, tortuous circuit, Honda have won twelve.
That includes the last six races in a row: From 2010 through 2012, nobody could touch Dani Pedrosa around the circuit. From 2013 onwards, Marc Márquez has been unbeatable at the track.
What makes the Sachsenring such a Honda track? Maybe it’s the two key braking points at the circuit, going into Turn 1, and at the bottom of the hill for Turn 12.
Maybe it’s the ability to use the Honda horsepower going up the hill out of the final corner, across the line and into Turn 1. Or maybe it’s the tight corners, the Honda always a strong bike in turning.
The Sachsenring circuit is invariably described in disparaging terms – “Mickey Mouse”, “a go-kart track” – but that does not do the track justice. It may not challenge the bikes in terms of horsepower, but it demands an awful lot of the riders.
From the moment they arrive at the end of the short, uphill front straight, brake hard for the sharp right-hander of Turn 1, and pitch it into the corner, the bike barely leaves the edge of the tire until the plunge down the Waterfall after Turn 11.
There is a brief moment of respite between Turns 7 and 8, before heeling the bike over again for another series of lefts going up the hill to the circuit’s crowning glory.
The next piece in the puzzle which is the 2017 MotoGP grid has fallen into place. As had been widely expected, Alex Rins has signed a two-year deal to race with the factory Ecstar Suzuki team from next year. Rins will line up alongside Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki GSX-RR next season.
Rins had long been favorite to take the second seat at Suzuki, as his profile best suited the Ecstar Suzuki team’s strategy of having young rider with potential alongside a fast, more experienced rider to help lead development.
When Maverick Viñales left for the Movistar Yamaha team, Rins was the name most touted to take his place.
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.
When the Honda Grom debuted in 2013, the other Japanese manufacturers took note. The first copycat was Kawasaki, which earlier this year debuted the Kawasaki Z125 Pro, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that Suzuki brought out its EXTRIGGER concept at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, as well.
Listening to our calls, the Suzuki EXTRIGGER coming to market seems to be getting more likely now, as Suzuki has filed for patents in the China, Europe, and the United States for the plucky electric machine. Just in time, to battle with the freshly updated Honda Grom.
In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP’s Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year.
Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away.
Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.
So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha.
Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would “definitely continue with this bike.” He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a “perfect” contract.
Suzuki, KTM, and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes’ seat at Aprilia was settled already two years ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018.
Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.
Episode 25 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out for your two-wheeled pleasure. This episode sees David (MotoMatters) & Neil (Crash.net) discussing the French GP at Le Mans, while I provide color commentary and mild comedic relief.
In all seriousness though, the show covers extensively the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 races in France, and gives an ongoing update to the rumors and movements in the paddock for the 2017 season.
Our main focus of the latter is course about the reports from the British and Spanish press, about Maverick Viñales’ future, whether he will go to Yamaha or stay with Suzuki. As has been the case, this seems to be a situation that is constantly changing, and a lot has moved in this space since we recorded this show.
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!