This is the first in a series of weekly round ups of motorcycle racing news from around the world. Every Wednesday, we will bring a brief summary of stories that did not warrant a full article of their own. So here are some stories you may have missed, for the week preceding February 11th, 2015.
Mainstream news is mourning the death of Kenji Ekuan today, as the 85-year-old Japanese industrial designer is one of the most influential artists in Japan’s modern era, and is most well-known for his designing of the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.
Ekuan’s lesser-known works though include a number of motorcycle designs for Yamaha, including the now 30-year-old Yamaha VMAX motorcycle, which makes his passing even more meaningful to motorcyclists around the world.
Who has the best bike? Is it Honda? Or have they been passed by Yamaha? Did the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang answer that question? After Monday, we thought the answer was yes.
After Friday, it’s clear that it’s not clear. There is still a long way to go to the start of the season, and the only thing we can be sure of is the fact that this is going to be a fantastic year in MotoGP. When it’s hard to point to who has an advantage, it means the racing is going to be tight.
So how did the balance of power swing from Yamaha to Honda? Yamaha turned up at Sepang with a bike that was ready to go. They had plenty of parts to test, but following the Yamaha philosophy, all of those parts offer just a small, but positive change.
The bike was fast, and got a little bit faster. That meant that Yamaha were quick on the first day, and got a little quicker day by day.
Honda, on the other hand, turned up with four different bikes for Marc Márquez, and three for Dani Pedrosa, and the two Repsol Honda riders spent the first day of the test running back-to-back comparisons.
They had pretty much narrowed down their choice by the end of Wednesday, confirming their impressions on Thursday, then getting on with the job of improving the bike through Thursday and Friday.
The 2015 MotoGP season kicks off tomorrow. On Wednesday, the riders take to the track once again at Sepang to continue the development on the bikes they will be racing this year, and to test out the new updates the engineers have been working on during the winter break.
And yet the two most important and interesting developments won’t even be at the first Sepang test.
Ducati’s much-anticipated Desmosedici GP15 is not quite ready for primetime, and so will not make its public debut until 19th February at the launch in Bologna, and not make its first laps in public until the second Sepang test at the end of this month.
Yamaha’s fully seamless gearbox – allowing both clutchless upshifts and downshifts – will also wait until Sepang 2 before Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo get their hands on the bike.
The official reasons given for the delay are that the GP15 and Yamaha’s gearbox are almost ready, but not quite, still needing a few last checks by the engineers before they are ready to be handed over to the factory riders.
Those of a cynical – or perhaps even paranoid – bent may be tempted to speculate that the delays are more to do with the media than the engineering. The first Sepang test this week is well-attended by journalists and photographers alike, the MotoGP press just as eager as the riders and the fans for the winter to be over.
The second Sepang test sees only a very few journalists attend, with few publications willing to spend the money to cover the expenses for what is often just more of the same.
Perhaps the factories have caught on to this, and are taking advantage of the opportunity to test important new parts with a little less media attention. Or perhaps it really is just a case of not being quite ready in time.
Despite the absence of the really big news, there will still be plenty to see. So who will be testing what, and what are the key factors to keep an eye on?
2014 did not go to plan for Yamaha. After the first four races of last year, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo trailed the Repsol Hondas by 76 points in the team championship, and Yamaha was 33 points behind Honda in the manufacturers standings. Marc Márquez was in the middle of an unbeaten run, Dani Pedrosa backing him up strongly.
There were a lot of good reasons for Yamaha’s troubled start. Yamaha was struggling to get a smooth throttle response from a liter less fuel, the new Bridgestone tires were less suited to the YZR-M1’s need for high corner speeds, and Jorge Lorenzo arrived at the start of the season out of shape, after neglecting his training after surgery during the winter.
2015 looks like being the polar opposite. At the launch of their 2015 campaign, the Movistar Yamaha team looked forward with some optimism. Building on the progress made in the second half of 2014, the bike is much more competitive, Valentino Rossi arrives motivated by his strong season, and Jorge Lorenzo is lean and fit, having spent all off-season preparing. They are ready for big things.
In the fifth part of our season review of 2014, we turn to the Espargaro brothers. Both Pol and Aleix had excellent seasons, impressing many with their speed. If you would like to read the four previous parts of our season review, they are here: Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, and Pol Espargaro.
7th – 126 points – Aleix Espargaro
After being the best CRT rider two years running, all Aleix Espargaro wanted was to get a chance to test himself against the best riders on the world on equal machinery.
In 2014, he came very close to doing just that. Riding the Forward Yamaha – basically a 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1 with bodywork, triple clamps, linkage, and other peripheral parts built by FTR – in the Open class put the elder Espargaro brother on a bike which was fast enough to scare factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo into demanding that Yamaha seriously consider switching to the Open class.
As the season progressed, it would become apparent that there were still serious performance differences between the Forward Yamaha and the factory bikes. Yet Aleix Espargaro still ended the year having impressed a lot of people, and earning himself a factory ride for 2015.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Espargaro generated a lot of excitement during preseason testing, consistently elbowing his way into the top five, and topping the Qatar test when the factory riders were absent.
Short and simple here. MotoAmerica’s Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team got their hands on a stock 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1, and decided to give their rider Cameron Beaubier a go at it on the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.
The bike is mostly stock, save for a few Graves improvements, and we get one of our first glimpses of the new R1 on the race track. Enjoy!
In the fifth part of our season review of 2014, we turn to the Espargaro brothers. Both Pol and Aleix had excellent seasons, impressing many with their speed. If you would like to read the four previous parts of our season review, they are here: Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso.
6th – 136 points – Pol Espargaro
Being a MotoGP rookie got a lot tougher after 2013. Marc Márquez raised the bar to an almost unattainable level by winning his second ever MotoGP race, the title in his debut season, and smash a metric cartload of records. Anyone entering the class after Márquez inevitably ends up standing in his shadow.
Which is a shame, as it means that Pol Espargaro’s rookie season has not received the acclaim it deserves. The 2013 Moto2 champion started off the season on the back foot, breaking his collarbone at the final test, just a couple of weeks before the first race at Qatar.
He crashed again during that opening race, but quickly found his feet. He came up just short of his first podium at Le Mans, nudged back to fourth place by Alvaro Bautista.
It would be his best result of the season, but the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was to be consistently found in and around the top six. Espargaro would go on to bag a couple of fifth places and six sixth spots.
Yamaha’s papercraft projects are perhaps the most unique marketing pieces to come from any of the motorcycle manufacturers, and they are also some of the most impressive. Focusing on the upcoming Dakar Rally, Yamaha has made a set of papercraft rally raid machines, complete with riders and scenery.
As usual, the whole set is downloadable in PDF form (you can make both the 1995 Yamaha XTZ850R and 2014 Yamaha YZ450F), for you to try your hand at the tedious style of artwork. Be forewarned though, the models are extensive…including even a complete frame, knobby wheels, and other details.
You’ll need A4, an exacto knife, glue, and a steady hand before you download the model sets. If any reader attempts this model set, please send us your results in picture form.
The third part of our review of the 2014 season, in which we take a look at the top 10 finishers in MotoGP, sees us turn to Jorge Lorenzo, the man who took the final spot on the 2014 MotoGP podium:
3rd – 263 points – Jorge Lorenzo
If Marc Márquez’s season was one of two halves, then Jorge Lorenzo’s 2014 was doubly so. The 2010 and 2012 world champion ended the first half of the season in fifth place overall, 128 points down on the leader Marc Márquez. By season’s end, Lorenzo was third, having outscored Márquez by 29 points.
If Lorenzo hadn’t gambled on a tire change at the last race at Valencia, the difference would have been even greater: in the eight races before Valencia, Lorenzo had outscored Márquez by 54 points in total.
It all went wrong for Jorge Lorenzo during the winter. The Movistar Yamaha rider was under the surgeon’s knife three times during the winter break to fix some minor problems and remove old metalwork, most notably from the collarbone he broke in 2013.
That made putting together a training schedule more difficult than usual, and Lorenzo’s fitness, usually his strong point, took a nosedive.