As the world of motorcycle racing starts to get into the swing of things, activity is starting to ramp up.
The first of the MotoGP factory launches is due this week, Ducati to present their 2020 livery and (unchanged) rider line up in a 13th Century palace in the middle of Bologna.
That event happens on Thursday evening, January 23rd, and I will be attending to try to find out more about Ducati’s plans for the coming season.
The other factories will have to wait. The three Japanese factories will be launching their bikes just ahead of the Sepang test.
Repsol Honda go first, holding their launch in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on February 4th. The Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams will be holding their launches at the Sepang circuit on the February 6th, as will the Suzuki Ecstar team.
By then, testing will already be underway, with test riders and MotoGP’s three rookies – Alex Márquez at Repsol Honda, Brad Binder in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, and Iker Lecuona in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 squad – taking part in the shakedown test at the Sepang circuit.
The shakedown takes place February . As concessions teams, the factory KTM and Aprilia teams will also be taking part.
Iannone’s Future in the Balance
Andrea Iannone will not be taking part in the shakedown test, that at least is certain. The Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Iannone has a date set for his hearing at the CDI, the International Disciplinary Court.
That is to be held on February 4th, the last day of the shakedown test, at 1pm at the FIM headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.
As explained at some length in a previous article, Iannone’s defense will be based on arguing food contamination. The burden of proof for that is extraordinarily high.
Iannone must not only prove that the traces of drostanolone found in his urine got there because he ate some kind of contaminated food, but he must also prove he had no way of knowing that his food could be contaminated, or reason to suspect it might be contaminated. In essence, he has to prove he was certain the food was safe to eat.
The CDI has 45 days to make a decision based on the evidence presented, though it is likely the court will reach a decision more quickly, especially given that the 2020 MotoGP season is set to start on March 8th.
A range of outcomes is possible, from acquittal, to a reprimand, all the way up to a four-year ban. Avoiding a four-year ban will be extremely difficult, however.
Aprilia now has a backup plan. Lorenzo Savadori is to take Iannone’s place at the test. The Italian rode for Aprilia in WorldSBK, and is currently uncertain of competing in WorldSBK this year due to sponsorship issues.
Bradley Smith will continue to test as normal at Sepang, but if Iannone is not cleared to race at Qatar, the Englishman will take his place in the factory Aprilia squad.
The brief flirtation between Aprilia and Max Biaggi turned out to be nothing more than an exchange on Twitter, after the Italian legend had tested their new RSV4-R at Sepang.
A Glimpse of the Future
The Sepang test is going to be a vital one for Aprilia. The Noale factory will have two of their brand new RS-GPs at the test, featuring a 90°V engine.
The engine angle was confirmed in an interview on GPOne with chief engineer Romano Albesiano. Italian broadcaster Sky was given access to Aprilia Racing’s dyno, where the engine was being tested, and the images clearly showed a 90°V configuration.
The engine has been completely redesigned, Albesiano told GPOne‘s Paolo Scalera. Cooling system and gearbox have been repositioned to allow both the greater V angle, and an external flywheel, as used by Ducati and, reportedly, Honda.
An external flywheel allows the weight to be changed from track to track, making it better adapted to each circuit.
Much work was done on the ignition firing interval and sequence, Albesiano explained, in an attempt to find the ideal configuration. That has also required changes to the chassis and aerodynamics, to accommodate the different dimensions of the new engine.
More change is on the horizon for Aprilia after 2021. In another interview with GPOne, team boss Fausto Gresini confirmed that Aprilia will have their own full-time entry as a separate factory team from 2022 onward, when the new contract period begins.
That will leave Gresini free to become an independent team once again. Staying with Aprilia as a satellite team is definitely an option, but there have long been rumors that Gresini is looking at Suzuki as an option.
Yamaha to Improve Its Starts?
In an interview with leading Indonesian website TMCBlog, Maverick Viñales gave a glimpse into what Yamaha is working on ahead of the Sepang test.
The M1 has outstanding handling, but it has two weaknesses: a lack of power, and mediocre starts. Yamaha has already brought a couple of engine updates so far during testing, but Viñales let slip that the starts are something which Yamaha are also working on.
Sepang could see the Japanese factory debut a holeshot device similar to Aprilia and Ducati which would help the M1 get off the line. Whether that locks the front down, like the Aprilia, or the rear, like Ducati, is yet to be seen.
While the MotoGP teams have to wait until early February to get back on track, the WorldSBK paddock is only a few days away from starting again.
The World Superbike teams will start a two-day private test at Jerez on Wednesday, and a chance to see most of the WorldSBK teams and riders in action. Barni Ducati rider Leon Camier will be forced to miss the test, as he continues his recovery after shoulder surgery.
The Jerez test should be the first chance the WorldSBK teams get to see the new Honda Fireblade. Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam will be lining up at Jerez on the new excessively-lettered CBR1000RR-R.
Given the reports of how fast the bike has been at previous private tests, with no other bikes present, Jerez should give a much better idea of how the project is going.
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl is also at the Jerez circuit, and will have the track to himself on Tuesday. The German will be testing the Honda RC213V.
As a test rider in a test team, Bradl is not covered by MotoGP’s winter test ban, which runs from the start of December 2019 to the end of January 2020.
The man that Stefan Bradl has been working for is still hard at work trying to get ready for Sepang. But that process is not going as quickly as he had hoped, Marc Márquez said at an awards ceremony where he and brother Alex were names Catalan sportsmen of the year. “The recovery is not going as quickly as hoped,” Márquez said.
It is possible that his expectations were set too high. The operation on his right shoulder, which took place on November 27th last year, was much less complicated than the operation on his left shoulder in 2018. But the surgery was still extremely invasive, and requires a lot of work to recover from.
Márquez is still aiming to be ready to test at Sepang, but he will be a long way from 100% fit. The Repsol Honda rider posted a short video of his training on Twitter, and in that video, the difference in muscle mass between left and right shoulders was clearly visible.
Recovering full strength in his right shoulder will probably take well into the start of the 2020 season, but Carlos Garcia, the physiotherapist Márquez is working with to prepare for the coming season, was at pains to point out how hard the reigning champion is working.
“Nobody knows the hard work this guy is doing on his back, or rather his shoulders. By November, nobody will remember.”
Márquez is still some way from being able to ride a motorcycle, but his support team has found a way to get him used to the feeling of speed again. The Repsol Honda rider is spending time driving karts, to get back the sensation of speed.
Driving a kart also has the useful side effect of diluting Márquez’ desire to get back on a bike. Last time around, his team had to literally take the wheels off his flat track bike. Allowing him to go karting gives him a release valve for his pent up frustration.
Though Márquez’ recovery may be going slowly, his rivals should not draw too much comfort from this. The Spaniard was a very long way from being fit at the Sepang test in 2019, but he went on to have one of the most impressive MotoGP seasons in the past couple of decades, and dominate the 2019 championship.