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David Emmett

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The start of the year is traditionally a chance to look ahead, and make predictions for what is to come.

But as an old Danish proverb, sometimes ascribed to the brilliant Danish physicist Niels Bohr, says, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

To demonstrate just how hard, we will kick off the year taking a look back at predictions I made last year, and what I got wrong.

I started last year with an article in which I made three predictions for the 2018 season:

After what has been a very difficult year for Aprilia’s effort in MotoGP, the Noale factory is to shake up its racing department.

Current Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano is to be moved sideways to concentrate on the technical side of the racing program, while Massimo Rivola, former Ferrari F1 team boss and head of Ferrari Driver Academy, will take over as CEO of Aprilia Racing.

The move is a response to the difficulties Aprilia has faced since making a full-time return to MotoGP.

On Saturday 15th December, Barcelona-based daily newspaper La Vanguardia published a lengthy interview with Alberto Puig.

That is in itself mildly surprising: despite being team manager of the Repsol Honda squad, Puig has little time for the media, and little interest in speaking to them.

What is even more surprising is that it is a truly insightful and fascinating interview, revealing a lot about how Puig views running a MotoGP team, and what makes Marc Márquez tick.

So it is a shame that the discussion the interview has generated has centered around two of the briefest subjects Puig mentioned: his views of Dani Pedrosa, whom Puig thought had not been fully committed in recent years, and his thoughts on Valentino Rossi, whom he believed had seen his moment pass.

Ever since the Superbike Commission – the rule-making body for WorldSBK – announced back in October that a third race would be added to the WorldSBK race weekend, we have wondered exactly what this would mean for the class, both in terms of championship points and qualifying position for the second WorldSBK race, held on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the FIM issued a press release containing the missing details for the coming season.

The new schedule impacts both qualifying and the races. The current two-stage Superpole has been abolished, replaced with a single Superpole session for the World Superbike and the World Supersport series.

Marc Marquez has had surgery on his left shoulder to fix the recurring problem of dislocating that shoulder.

The surgery was carried out by Dr. Mir, together with Dr. Victor and Dr. Teresa Marlet, at the Hospital Universitari Dexeus in Barcelona on Tuesday. 

The surgery, which involved grafting a section of bone onto the head of the humerus, is meant to stop the shoulder from being dislocated so easily.

And the winner is… Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider’s name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time.

The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda.

It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow’s bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.

But it also doesn’t really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don’t necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend.

Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.

That’s what the riders will tell you, anyway. And while that is absolutely true, there is also a touch of the Big Book of Rider Excuses about it. Motorcycle racers race because they can’t stand the thought of anyone beating them, being faster than them.

Even when it doesn’t really matter. Just ask anyone who has played cards with a racer.

The trouble with post-season testing is that it takes place after the season is over. That is a problem, because the season runs well into November, so any testing after that is nearer to December than it is to October. And wherever you go inside of Europe to test, you will never get a full day’s testing done, even with the best of weather.

So it came as no surprise that when the track opened at 9:30am on Wednesday morning for the first day of a two-day test, nothing happened.

Or that nothing continued to happen for another couple of hours, as we waited for track temperatures to break the 20°C barrier, and make it warm enough to generate useful feedback. It is a perennial issue with no easy answers. Finding a warm, affordable track is tough this time of year.

The good news was that once the track had warmed up, we had ideal conditions for testing. Dry, sunny, warm if you were standing in the sun, though not quite so much if you were in the shade.

Despite the fact that so much time was lost to the cold, the riders ended up with a lot of laps completed, and a lot of work done.

By the end of the day, almost everyone bar Andrea Iannone had done over 50 laps, with Alex Rins having racked up a grand total of 87 laps on the Suzuki GSX-RR.

Iannone at least had an excuse, a crash costing him most of his afternoon. The crash, it seems, was a result of the Italian’s struggles to get to grips with the front end of the Aprilia RS-GP. A struggle he lost on this occasion.

And so the season ends for WorldSBK. The weather finally behaved at Jerez, and the four WorldSBK teams and three WorldSSP teams got a full day of testing in at Jerez.

Or rather, nearly a full day of testing: the track opened at 10am, but the riders didn’t go out for about 45 minutes, as cold track temperatures made it a perilous undertaking in those early minutes.

But the sun soon did its work, heated the asphalt, and away they went.

Three factories and eight WorldSBK riders turned up at Jerez on Monday, Ducati bringing their brand new Panigale V4R, but at the end, Jonathan Rea was fastest. Plus ça change.

All eyes were on the Ducati garage, and Alvaro Bautista’s first day on the Panigale V4 R. “First day at school” was how the Spaniard characterized it, taking some time to adapt to the bike. It was quite a switch from the Desmosedici he had been riding in MotoGP, the bike having a lot less power.

But, the V4 engine still has plenty, rival teams complaining that the Ducati was 10km/h faster than the others at the Aragon test. Here, the difference was less, but the Panigale was still clearly quicker than the rivals. 

There have been some major shake ups on the WorldSBK grid for 2019, leaving some big-name riders without a ride. Today, one of those big names found a home.

The Go Eleven Team announced they had signed Eugene Laverty to race a Ducati Panigale V4 R in the WorldSBK championship for the 2019 season.

“I’m delighted to join Team Go Eleven to ride the new Ducati Panigale V4 R in 2019! The past five weeks has been a stressful period so it’s great to secure a competitive seat in the end,” said Laverty.