Author

David Emmett

Browsing

It’s been a difficult test at Valencia. The weather simply hasn’t played ball. Tuesday started wet, took a few hours to dry out, then rain started falling around 3pm, meaning the riders effectively had around two and a half usable hours on track.

Rain on Tuesday evening meant the track was wet on Wednesday morning, and in the chill of a November morning, it took a couple of hours before the track dried out enough for the riders to hit the track.

At least it stayed dry and sunny throughout the day, and the last couple of hours saw the best conditions of the test, times dropping until falling temperatures put paid to any thought of improvement. The teams may have lost time, but at least they had a solid four and a half hours of track time to work.

For half the factories, what they were focusing on was engines. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all brought new engines to test, and in the case of Yamaha and Honda, two different specs.

Ducati was mainly working with a new chassis, aimed at making the bike turn better. Aprilia had a new engine and a new frame to try. And as usual, KTM had a mountain of parts and ideas to test.

If you want to see the law of unintended consequences in action, just take a look at MotoGP testing. The nature of testing has changed as manufacturers have suffered the consequences of not fully understanding the effects of the engine development freeze during the season.

Honda suffered, Suzuki suffered, and now Yamaha have suffered when they made the wrong choice of engine in preseason testing. They learned the hard way they had to get it right.

This has meant that the Valencia MotoGP test has become first and foremost about getting the engine in the right ballpark, giving the engineers enough data to work out the fine details over the winter. A tight track and cold air temperatures sees engines at their most aggressive, with plenty of horsepower on hand and very little room on track to actually use it.

The addition of Jerez as an official winter test – to be held at the end of next week – makes this even more explicitly an engine test. If the factories bring an engine that is manageable at both Valencia and Jerez, they are in good shape for next season.

As an aside, going to Sepang rather than Jerez to test in the past couple of seasons may be one of the factors that led Yamaha down a blind alley with their engine. Sepang is hot, wide, and fast, sapping power and allowing a MotoGP bike to stretch its legs.

It is the kind of track that can hide an overly aggressive engine, which then can rear its ugly head when the season is underway, the engine spec is frozen, and it’s too late to fix the problem.

It has been a strange and intense year in MotoGP, so it seems fitting that we should end the year with such a strange and intense weekend. Three races defined by the weather, by crashes, and by riders holding their nerve and playing their cards right. And at the end, an explosion of emotion. Exactly as it should have been.

There were no titles on the line on Sunday – no serious titles, though the riders vying for Independent Rider and the teams chasing the Team Championship may choose to disagree – but the emotional release on Sunday was as great, or perhaps even greater, than if all three championships had been decided.

We had records broken in Moto3, a new factory on the podium in MotoGP, and a farewell to old friends in all three classes, as riders move up, move over, or move on.

The weather figured prominently, as you might expect. Moto3 and Moto2 got off lightly, the rain falling gently and consistently, keeping the track wet, but never to a truly dangerous degree.

That did not stop riders from falling off, of course, and dictating the outcome of both races. Those crashes – two races, two riders crashing out of the lead – were just as emotional as the riders who went on to win.

The most remarkable skill of truly great motorcycle racers is their ability to compartmentalize everything. Break down every situation, put each part into its own separate container, and not let one thing bleed into another.

Private lives – often messy, sometimes chaotic – stay in the box marked private life, and don’t cross over into racing. Pain stays in the section reserved for pain, and is not allowed to encroach in the part set aside for riding.

Crashes are to be analyzed, understood, and then forgotten, but not to be allowed anywhere near the part of a racer’s mind where they keep their fears. That is the theory, at least, and the better a rider can manage to live up to the theory, the greater their chances of success.

Marc Márquez gave a masterclass in the art of compartmentalization during qualifying at Valencia. The Repsol Honda rider went out on his first run in Q2, and on his first flying lap, lost the front going into Turn 4, the first right hander after a whole sequence of lefts.

It looked like a harmless low side, of the sort which Márquez has so often, and which he usually escapes without harm. But whether it was due to the bars being wrenched out of his hands, or due to his arm being folded up awkwardly beneath him as he tumbled through the gravel, he managed to partially dislocate his weak left shoulder.

He got up out of the gravel in obvious pain, doubled over and shambling towards the barrier. Once behind the tire wall, he was picked up by his manager and mentor Emilio Alzamora, and taken on the scooter back to the paddock.

He was rushed up into the Repsol Honda truck, where Dr. Mir examined him. He suited back up, put his helmet on, and went and sat in the garage, as his team held his second bike ready to go.

It seems fitting that a year which has seen some pretty wild weather – from the heatwave in Brno to the deluge at Silverstone – should end at Valencia amid thunderstorms and torrential rain. It was so heavy at one point that the FP1 session for MotoGP was red flagged for 30 minutes, as pools of water gathered in a few corners around the track.

Echoes of Silverstone? Not quite. The company which resurfaced Valencia ensured that water drains quickly. The amount of rain having fallen was unheard of at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, yet the surface was quickly usable again. Was there more rain here than at Silverstone, Jack Miller was asked?

“Way, way, way more and we are still out there riding,” he replied. “It is night and day compared to Silverstone as the track has really good grip in the wet for one and I felt I could almost get my elbow down in some places this morning. So the track has got really good grip and there are some puddles but they are quite close to the kerbs so you can avoid most of them. Much more rain here than Silverstone – I am no meteorologist but I think so.”

“For me, everything depends on the amount of water, because the track worked well,” Valentino Rossi said on Friday afternoon. “The asphalt has good grip in the wet and also good drainage. The problem is if it rains like this morning at 10 o’clock, you cannot race, because there is too much water and these big bikes make a lot of spray, so if you are in a group you cannot see. This morning it was enough to wait 10-15mins and after the conditions were better, so we have to do like this.”

It wasn’t just raining in the morning. It rained on and off for most of the day, sometimes heavier, sometimes drying up briefly. As we left the paddock sometime around 8pm, the torrential rain had returned, flooding the paddock and leaving small rivers flowing between the hospitality units. It is fair to say that the weather was pretty bad.

It’s been a long season. The difference between 18 and 19 rounds is more than the 5.5% increase it implies. The wear and tear of 19 races – well, 18 races and a day of hanging around in the rain at Silverstone – has taken its toll on the bikes, on the riders, on the teams, on the paddock. So what better way to round the season off with a giant party at the Circuito Ricardo Tormo near Valencia?

There are probably half a dozen or more places better suited to holding the last race of a MotoGP season. Phillip Island would be warmer, and guarantee an exciting race. Jerez would be less likely to see heavy rain or cold temperatures. South Africa, Argentina, even Sepang or Thailand would be more suitable, in terms of climate.

Yet Valencia still has an awful lot going for it. The track might be too tight for MotoGP bikes, but it sits in a bowl, forming a natural amphitheater, giving the fans in the stands a view of every part of the track. The fans turn up, too: 100,000 or more, creating a real party atmosphere, exactly what you need at an end of season race.

The fact that it is under four hours from Barcelona, Dorna’s base, meaning that most Dorna staff can sleep in their own beds on Sunday night (or for the lucky ones, on Monday, after Sunday night’s prize-giving ceremony and blowout party) is a bonus.

While the line up for the 2019 MotoGP season was settled surprisingly early in the year, the opposite has been the case for WorldSBK. With just two weeks to go to the first full test of 2019, there are still a whole range of seats open, and questions going unanswered.

One of the reasons for the delay became clear at the EICMA show in Milan last week. While the manufacturers were presenting their newest bikes, including some of the key machines that will star in World Superbikes next year, a couple of manufacturers also presented their racing programs for 2019.

Perhaps the biggest story came from Honda, where HRC presented Althea and Moriwaki as their new partners in running their WorldSBK program. After a partnership of three years, and a relationship going back nearly two decades, Ten Kate are out, with the Italians and Japanese taking over.

It wasn’t just Ten Kate: title sponsor Red Bull were also out. The energy drink firm had signed up when Nicky Hayden was with the team, a big name draw for sponsors, and a rider with a long connection to Red Bull.

It was Red Bull who brought in Jake Gagne, the American who never really found his feet in the WorldSBK championship. After two years of poor results, Red Bull withdrew.

The Grand Prix Commission is to tighten the noose on electronics a little further, in an attempt to prevent cheating. The GPC today issued a press release containing the minutes of their meeting held at the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.

There, they agreed restrictions on the ECU, agreed to limit riders in all classes to FIM homologated helmets, and increased the penalty for speeding in pit lane.

The two changes to the electronics are aimed at restricting the ability of teams to alter the data on the official ECU.

On Tuesday, Dorna issued a press release together with the Indonesian Tourism Development Company, or ITDC, that brought an Indonesian round of MotoGP one step closer to reality.

If the plans come to fruition, MotoGP could be racing on a specially-adapted street circuit on the island of Lombok as early as 2021.

Carmelo Ezpeleta and his son (and MotoGP Sporting Director) Carlos visited Nusa Dua, in the south of Bali, one of Indonesia’s favorite destinations for tourists, as guest of the ITDC. While he was there, they hopped across to Lombok, the next island east of Bali, to visit the Mandalika tourist resort on the south coast of Lombok, which is currently under development. 

The plan is for a race to be organized on a circuit using the public roads inside the resort. This is the ‘street race’ which was rumored much earlier in the year, but about which few details had emerged.

How close is MotoGP at the moment? If you just looked at the championship standings, you might reply, not particularly close. Marc Márquez wrapped up the MotoGP championship after just 16 of the 19 races, with a lead of 102 points.

He had won 8 of those 16 races, a strike rate of 50%, and been on the podium another five times as well. On paper, it looks like the kind of blowout which has fans turning off in droves, and races held in front of half-empty grandstands.

But that’s not what’s happening. The series is as popular as ever, TV ratings are high, crowds are larger than ever before, and social media lights up on every race weekend.

Rightly so: the show has been spectacular in 2018. Marc Márquez’ championship blowout belies just how close the racing actually is. How? Because there are eight or nine riders who can compete for the podium on any given weekend.

The five races leading up to Sepang bear this out. There have been four different manufacturers and six different riders on the podium, and that is with Jorge Lorenzo missing four of those five races.

The podiums are fairly evenly distributed as well: Honda have 6 of the 15 podium places, Ducati have had 4, Suzuki 3 podiums, Yamaha 2 podiums. Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha have all won races.