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David Emmett

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The inaugural round of World Superbikes in India is under serious threat, which leaves Dorna facing severe problems just months after taking over the running of the WSBK series. Bureaucracy, customs formalities, and import bonds threaten to see the race, scheduled to be held on March 10th at the Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi in India, either postponed or called off indefinitely, according to reports over on GPOne.

This is part 1 of a new series entitled ‘Under the Radar’. In it, we will be looking at stories we believe will have a major impact on MotoGP and World Superbikes in the next season, but which are not currently receiving much attention. While everyone expects Marc Marquez in MotoGP to be a big story, or Valentino Rossi’s return to Yamaha, these are the stories which you won’t hear much about by the start of the season, but which could end up playing a major role in 2013.

Everyone can guess the big names that are likely to make an impact in MotoGP in 2013: Marc Marquez will clearly be an exciting rookie to watch, Valentino Rossi should be competitive on a Yamaha, Pol Espargaro looks set to dominate Moto2, and Maverick Viñales and Luis Salom will be major players in Moto3. But look beyond the obvious candidates, and there are a number of candidates who could cause a surprise in 2013. Here are some of the riders to watch this season.

Monster Energy has agreed to a two-year partnership deal with Yamaha Factory Racing, which will see the Monster brand act as sponsor to Yamaha’s MotoGP team. The announcement had been widely anticipated, and reported on here prior to Christmas, and extends Monster’s participation in MotoGP, where they go head-to-head with the other energy drink giant, Red Bull.

Though the deal between Yamaha and Monster will provide a useful influx of cash for the Japanese factory team (Spanish website Motocuatro.com put the total sponsorship deal at 4 million euros) Monster will not become title sponsor. Instead, the Monster logos will receive the same kind of prominence as Japanese oil sponsor ENEOS, appearing on the fairings of both bikes, as well as on the leathers of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

With the announcement of the introduction of price caps for brakes and suspension in MotoGP from 2015, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, appears to have finally found an effective way of controlling costs in the series. Instead of trying to control costs indirectly and seeing their efforts kicked into touch by the law of unintended consequences, the rule-makers have decided to attempt to go straight to the heart of the problem.

Will capping prices unleash a whole set of unintended consequences of its own? Will, as some fear, the move to cap prices lead to a drop in quality and therefore a reduction in R&D in the areas which are price-capped? And will the price cap act as a barrier to new entrants, or stimulate them? These are hard questions with no easy answers, yet there are reasons to believe that price caps are the most effective way of controlling costs, while the risks normally associated with a price cap, such as a reduction in quality, are lower in a racing paddock than they are in other environments.

The cancelling of the Argentinian round of MotoGP has had a knock-on effect for the World Superbike series as well. The dropping of the race in Argentina caused MotoGP to push its season opener at Qatar back a week to April 7th, which then put it on the same weekend as the World Superbike round scheduled for Aragon on the same date.

To avoid a clash of the two series, the FIM has chosen to move the date of the Aragon WSBK round, moving it back a week in turn to April 14th, filling the gap between the MotoGP rounds at Qatar and Austin.

There is no real mystery to why Yamaha signed Valentino Rossi. His seven MotoGP titles are a sign of his undisputed talent, and despite two years in the wilderness at Ducati, he is expected to be competitive from the start of the 2013 MotoGP season.

But with the reigning MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo already signed, there was more to Yamaha’s decision than the need for a competitive rider. Marketing also played a massive role in the decision to sign the Italian, with reports that the decision came mainly after pressure from the marketing department, and in face of resistance from the people inside Yamaha’s racing department.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Yamaha will be sure to maximize their return on investment in Valentino Rossi. Rossi’s massive popularity in key markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and India mean that he could be a significant factor in expanding market share and sales in those regions, as well as consolidating Yamaha’s position in contracting sports bike markets such as Europe and the US.

Today, Yamaha took advantage of the first opportunity to use the selling power of Valentino Rossi to their advantage. The factory posted a video on Youtube welcoming Rossi back to the fold. The video runs through the highlights of Rossi’s career, ending with photo highlights of his return to Yamaha at the Valencia test in November 2012. It will be a fascinating time for both Yamaha and Valentino Rossi.

It is looking increasingly likely that energy drink company Monster is to take on a role as co-sponsor of Yamaha’s MotoGP team. Spanish website Motocuatro is reporting that Yamaha has bought Jorge Lorenzo out of his personal sponsorship by rival energy drink maker Rockstar and that both Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi are to carry Monster sponsorship on their leathers and on the fairings of their Yamaha M1s for 2013 and 2014.

According to Motocuatro, the story started earlier this year, after Lorenzo renewed his contract with Rockstar, and Valentino Rossi announced he would be signing with Yamaha. Both Rockstar and Monster had been in talks with Yamaha to step up their sponsorship of their riders – both men have personal contracts with their respective energy drink brands – to increase exposure for the brand.

At first, Motocuatro reports, Monster showed an interest in moving up as co-sponsor on Rossi’s bike, gaining the same level of sticker coverage as ENEOS, the Japanese oil brand which also adorns the Yamaha’s fairings.

In response, Rockstar started negotiations with Yamaha to match Monster’s offer, meaning that both Lorenzo and Rossi would have equal levels of energy drink sponsorship on their bikes. Lorenzo would have Rockstar stickers, while Rossi would have Monster badges.

Watch a modern MotoGP, Moto2 or World Superbike race with a casual fan and you can be certain there is one question they will ask you: “Why are they waving their legs about like that?” Many theories have been offered, often directly contradicting each other.

For example, several years ago, I suggested that the leg wave is entirely mental. Earlier this year, the Australian motorcycle coaching organization MotoDNA described the possible role which aerodynamics play, the exposed leg helping to create more drag. Much has been said, yet it seems impossible to settle the argument one way or another.

Asking the riders to explain does not help much. It is a question I and other journalists have asked of many different riders, including Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, and Dani Pedrosa. Their answers always boil down to the same thing: “It just feels natural,” they say. An interesting response, perhaps providing an insight into how deeply racers have internalized so much of the physical part of their riding, but not doing much to help explain the phenomenon.

To attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery, I turned to some of the best minds in the MotoGP paddock. For an explanation of the physics behind the leg wave, I asked Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief and technical guru Guy Coulon, while for further insight from the point of view of an observer and ex-rider, I spoke to Wilco Zeelenberg, team manager of Jorge Lorenzo – the one current MotoGP rider who does not dangle his leg while riding.

In just two races, Jorge Lorenzo’s championship lead had been slashed from 23 to 13 points. From nearly a win, to a fourth place finish. Lorenzo was using his consistency – apart from Assen, he had never finished in anything other than first or second place – to grind out a path to the championship. But Pedrosa was clearly closing; Lorenzo’s Spanish rival had momentum behind him, and had become the favorite in every race he lined up at.

That pattern looked set to be repeated at Misano, with Pedrosa showing outstanding speed – once the track had dried up sufficiently to make it worth the riders’ time to actually go out – during qualifying, though Lorenzo was close behind. But the second Italian race would prove to be yet another turning point in the championship, this time through a series of bizarre incidents which started with a leaking clutch cylinder.

What does it take to be a world champion? A little bit of luck, certainly. A whole heap of talent, for sure. But above all, it takes preparation: physical, mental and mechanical. That, most of all, is the lesson of Jorge Lorenzo’s 2012 MotoGP championship. The 2010 champion came better prepared to the title chase, and ground down his opponents with his sheer consistency.

Lorenzo’s assault on the 2012 championship started in Yamaha’s racing department in 2011. The new 1000cc M1 may have been visually almost identical to the 800cc 2011 machine, but beneath the similarities was a very different machine. Yamaha’s engineers had made the bike longer to cope with the extra torque and horsepower, and completely redesigned the engine to cope with the new rules. Modified electronics improved traction, while better wheelie control meant the bike lost less time in acceleration. The improved wheelie control alone cut a tenth of a second from the lap times.

It was obvious to Lorenzo that the 2012 bike would be competitive as soon as he rode it for the first time during the post-race test at Brno in August 2011. Where on the 800cc bike, he had been nearly half a second slower than Casey Stoner during Sunday’s race, the day after, on the 1000cc M1, he was immediately within a tenth of the Australian on the Repsol Honda. Yamaha had done their homework, and Lorenzo knew that the rest was down to him.

Lorenzo’s own preparation began during the winter of 2011. Knowing that the additional power and weight of the 1000cc bikes would make different demands on the rider, he focused his training on coping with that. At the Sepang tests in February, while the rest of the grid sat in their garages waiting for the sweltering afternoon heat in the tropics to subside, Lorenzo was pounding out the laps, running full race simulations to test his endurance and the behavior of the bike. He wanted to be sure he was ready for the first race of the year in Qatar. He was not as fast as Casey Stoner during pre-season testing, but he knew he could be competitive.

After several years of steady deterioration, the surface at Phillip Island is about to get fixed. According to reports from Australia, work commences on resurfacing the iconic Australian circuit on Tuesday morning (Monday USA time), and over a period of two days, the track will receive a fresh layer of asphalt, for the first time since 1998.

The new surface is to be laid over a flatter substrate, with 40mm of the old tarmac already having been removed to make way for the new asphalt. The aim of the project is to remove the bumps which have accrued over the years, as the track has taken punishment from MotoGP, World Superbikes, Australian V8 Supercars, and the many track days and other events which happen at the circuit nearly all year round.