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David Emmett

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Four seasons in one day. That’s how they describe the weather at Phillip Island, and that’s exactly what MotoGP got on Friday. Jack Miller’s day summed up conditions nicely. “It was quite windy early as the doors were nearly blown off my house,” the Pramac Ducati rider said.

“Then it started calming down, then bucketing down, and believe it or not I was sitting out having a coffee at 6:30 this morning in a t-shirt as it was 18 or 19 degrees and then as I was driving to my parents’ house the temperature started going down and down and then the rain came in. I thought it would be set in for the day but it managed to clear up this afternoon and we managed to get on the slick tires.”

In the end, the MotoGP riders got three session in different conditions. FP1 was cold, wet, and blustery. FP2 was warm, dry, and fairly sunny. And the special tire test session, to put the final touch on the new construction rear tire Michelin wants to introduce in 2020 was cooler, with temperatures dropping.

Those changing conditions had a fairly significant impact. First, it meant the MotoGP teams were trying to cram an entire weekend’s worth of setup work and tire testing into 35 minutes, followed by chasing a time for Q2 in the final 10 minutes.

Even Marc Márquez, who never stresses about chasing a time for Q2, stuck in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick lap, nearly losing out when he found his teammate Jorge Lorenzo sitting on the line through the final two corners.

From one seasonally misplaced track to another. Fresh from Motegi, which MotoGP visits at the tail end of typhoon season, the Grand Prix paddock heads south – a very long way south – to Phillip Island, on the south coast of Victoria in Australia, perched on the edge of the Bass Strait.

It is a glorious location at the end of the antipodean summer, with good weather very nearly guaranteed. But unfortunately, MotoGP doesn’t visit at the end of the antipodean summer in February or March.

Instead, MotoGP is condemned to brave the elements in October, when it is spring in the southern hemisphere.

And all because the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the company which runs the MotoGP round at Phillip Island, is also the promoter of the Australian Formula 1 race, held in Melbourne Park, pays a premium to host the first F1 race of the year.

With Melbourne just under two hours away, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation doesn’t want to have its two biggest events too close together, to prevent fans from being forced to choose between the two races.

And having paid to make the F1 race the first of the season, moving MotoGP to October is the obvious choice. An understandable choice too: the F1 race at Melbourne Park draws over 100,000 fans on race day.

Race day at Phillip Island sees around 35,000 paying customers through the gates.

KTM has finally found a solution to its rider lineup problem for 2020.

Yesterday, the Austrian factory announced that they will be taking Brad Binder directly into the factory Red Bull KTM team, to race alongside Pol Espargaro, while they have signed Iker Lecuona to race in the Red Bull KTM Tech3 satellite squad opposite Miguel Oliveira.

This is something of a shake up to KTM’s original plans, caused by the early departure of Johann Zarco.

On the one hand, you could say that MotoGP got lucky. The heavy rain that was expected to cause flooding and potentially force Dorna to delay or even cancel practice at Motegi was not as bad as had been feared. The sessions started on time, and ran without incident, other than the normal perils of motorcycle racing.

On the other hand, the sessions were pretty much useless in terms of race setup. The weather forecast for Sunday is the best it has been all weekend, with some sun and high temperatures.

FP3 on Saturday morning was drenched, a fully wet session making race setup and tire testing impossible. FP4 saw a line dry enough for slicks to be used, though times were 4 seconds off the best time from Friday.

And qualifying took place on a mostly dry track, but again, times were more than a second off what the pole time should have been.

MotoGP pole was slower than Maverick Viñales’ fastest lap in FP1. Even if the track had been fully dry, qualifying is just too hectic to be working on race setup and assessing tire life.

Sylvain Guintoli has been disqualified for the FP1 and FP2 sessions of the Motegi MotoGP round, after having been found to have used an illegal spec of engine.

As a result, all of his times set in FP1 and FP2 have been scrapped, and Guintoli listed as having set no time. Guintoli does still qualify for Q1, having set a time within 107% of the fastest rider in FP3.

The punishment came after Sylvain Guintoli used a prototype of the 2020 Suzuki GSX-RR during his third wildcard appearance.

Two decisions plague the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.

One, a historical choice made back in 2010, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, throwing so much ash and dust into the air that it severely disrupted air travel around Europe, forcing Dorna to postpone the race from the original date in April to October.

The other, a more recent change made before the 2018 season, where tire allocation for all of the races throughout the year is already fixed before the season even begins.

The change of dates forced on the Japanese Grand Prix as a result of Eyjafjallajökull has stuck, meaning the race is now always in October, as part of the three flyaway races in Japan, Australia, and Malaysia.

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid.

If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8-Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda’s 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year’s race is even more important.

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place.

Márquez’s record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez’s sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire.

It was Rossi’s third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

Johann Zarco is set to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the final three races of 2019, and race the 2018-spec Honda RC213V for the Idemitsu LCR Honda team.

The news was first broken by Oriol Puigdemont of Motorsport.com, and though nobody contacted by us would comment on the news, it was later confirmed by Zarco to Thomas Baujard of the French publication Moto Journal.

The reason for the switch, according to Motorsport.com, is that Nakagami has been struggling with shoulder problems similar to those suffered by Marc Márquez, whose shoulder kept dislocating.

Nakagami is considering the same surgery as Márquez to rectify the problem, and based on the length of time Márquez took to recover from surgery, is looking at having surgery in October, rather than December, in the hope of getting a head start on rehabilitating the shoulder.

As a result, Nakagami would ride only his home Grand Prix at Motegi in Japan, before having surgery done.

This would leave Lucio Cecchinello’s LCR Honda team in need of a replacement rider. With Johann Zarco currently out of a job, after being released by KTM after Misano, Zarco would be the ideal replacement for the Japanese rider.