Tag

Aprilia Racing

Browsing

It was 7:30 in the evening, and we were standing on the porch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT hospitality chalet, talking to Fabio Quartararo about how his day had gone when the rain came.

It was a brief, intense shower filling the air with the sweet scent that comes when rain falls after a period of intense heat. It seemed a somehow fitting end to one of the most intriguing MotoGP tests in years.

The weather had played a major role in the test, though this time, for all the right reasons. Normally, test days at Sepang are disrupted in the late afternoon by a heavy rainfall, leaving teams trying to cram as much work as possible into the mornings, and hoping that the track dries out in the afternoon.

Every shower brings dust and dirt to the track, washing away some of the rubber laid down on the track, slowing the track down.

But not this time. There was a brief thunderstorm on Monday night, but that was the last rain to fall at the circuit until Friday night. Three full days of a dry track, the pace increasing as more and more rubber got laid down. It should hardly be surprising that Jorge Lorenzo’s fastest ever lap of the circuit, set last year, should be broken.

But that it should be broken by nearly six tenths of a second, and by six riders, is a sign both of just how good the track conditions were, and just how competitive the field is currently in MotoGP.

How that competitiveness came about is a matter for another day, when I have time to take a much deeper dive into the many revolutions and evolutions currently underway in the paddock. But for now, a few short notes and instant reactions to the three days of testing at Sepang.

Though bikes have been circulating at the Sepang circuit already, the MotoGP season only really gets underway once the full field of full-time contracted riders takes to the Malaysian track on Wednesday.

After the long winter break, we finally get to see where everyone stands as the 2019 season approaches.

Well, almost everyone: injuries always play a smaller or larger role, as riders recover from surgery, or suffer new injuries while training for the coming season.

You would think that after writing about what I got wrong in my predictions last year, I would not be so foolish as to try to make predictions again for the 2019 season. As it turns out, I am that foolish, so here is a list of things I expect to happen in the coming year.

2019 certainly looks very promising for world championship motorcycle racing, in just about every class in both MotoGP and WorldSBK. A range of changes mean the racing should be closer and more competitive.

Cutting the MotoGP grid from 24 to 22 bikes, and having the Petronas Yamaha team replace the underfunded Aspar squad, means there are more competitive bikes on the grid.

Ducati will field only GP19s and GP18s, and the GP18 is a much better machine than the GP17. Honda will field three 2019 RC213Vs, and a 2018 bike for Takaaki Nakagami, and the fact that Nakagami was fastest at the Jerez MotoGP test last November suggests that it, too, is good enough to run at the front.

Yamaha, likewise, will field three factory-spec bikes, with only rookie Fabio Quartararo on a 2018-spec machine. Suzuki made big steps forward in 2018, and have a more powerful bike for 2019.

It’s not just in MotoGP either. In Moto2, the new Triumph engine will change the way riders have to ride the bike, and the introduction of electronics – very limited, but still with more than the old Honda ECU kit had to offer – will give teams more options.

Ducati’s introduction of the Panigale V4 R will make the WorldSBK series a good deal more competitive. And the cream of last year’s Moto3 crop moving up to Moto2, to make way for an influx of young talent, will make both classes fascinating and exciting to watch.

So what can we expect from 2019? Here are a few concrete predictions:

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.

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.

As the Silly Season for riders is almost complete, the test rider market is starting to take shape. The first official announcement came today, as Aprilia announced that Bradley Smith will be taking on a role as test rider for the MotoGP project for the Italian factory.

Smith had told the media yesterday that he felt like he still had work left to do in the MotoGP paddock. “At the end of the day I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Smith said. “Also I’m not done. When you’re not done, the motivation is high.”

“I’ve said before I want to be back inside this paddock full-time in 2020. The motivation is high to help the whole project and ride well myself and put myself in the shop window. As long as that’s managed in the right way in the team structure, it’s certainly not a negative thing to be [a test rider].”

“Having wildcards available is always a good incentive for the rider and also a good incentive for the project. Everyone pushes on and pushes forward.” 

Smith had also been in the running for the job of test rider inside Yamaha’s new European test team, but that option disappeared during the British GP.

“In Silverstone the final nail in the coffin came from Lin Jarvis when he said there would be no British rider as a test rider,” Smith said. With Smith out of contention there, that means that Jonas Folger is almost certain to take the role with Yamaha as test rider.

Suzuki will have Sylvain Guintoli working as a test rider for them next year, while Michele Pirro will continue at Ducati. Mika Kallio will return with KTM, though the Austrian factory is also trying to persuade Dani Pedrosa to take on a role alongside Kallio.

Stefan Bradl is likely to return with HRC as test rider. At Ducati, Casey Stoner is leaving the Italian factory at the end of the season, though there is no sign of whether he wishes to continue as a test rider.

Source: Aprilia; Photo: © 2018 Sebas Romero / KTM – All Rights Reserved

The legacy of the Lost Grand Prix lingers on. Silverstone was on the minds of many at Misano, and there was still much to be said about the race. The conclusion remained nearly unanimous, with one dissenting opinion: it was way too dangerous to race at Silverstone, and the new surface was simply not draining correctly.

Riders chimed in with their opinions of what had gone wrong with laying the asphalt, but those opinions should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. They may be intimately familiar with the feel and texture of asphalt, but the ability to ride a motorcycle almost inhumanly fast does not equate to understanding the underlying engineering and chemistry of large-scale civil engineering projects.

What riders do understand better than anyone, of course, is whether a race track is safe to race on, and all but Jack Miller felt the same way eleven days on from Silverstone. “The amount of rain was not enough to produce those conditions on the track,” Marc Márquez told the press conference.

“For me it was more about the asphalt, more than the weather conditions. And it was T2 and T3, that part was something that you cannot ride like this. Because there are many bumps, the water was there but inside the bump was even more water, and it was impossible to understand the track.”

It had rained far more in 2015, when the race had been able to go ahead, than it had in 2018, when the race had been called off, Márquez said. “For example in 2015 it was raining much more, in Motegi last year it was raining much more. But for some reason, we already went out from the box and it was only light rain but the water was there. It was something strange.”

2015 Was Worse

Valentino Rossi agreed. “For me, the rain was hard, for sure, but from what I remember very similar to 2015,” the Movistar Yamaha rider said. “In 2015 it was very slippery but the amount of water on the track was normal. The problem of this year is that also with less rain, the water remained on the track. In fact, during FP4, when all the riders arrived to Turn 7, half-crashed and half went straight on.”

“So it means that it’s not normal, because also in FP4 it started to rain quite lightly. And for example last year, in Motegi, it rained a lot more. But there wasn’t a worst place of the track, it was all the same. When we did the sighting lap to the grid, the amount of water was too much everywhere. The problem is the asphalt more than the bumps, I think.”

Jorge Lorenzo was one of the first riders to run into problems during FP4, being forced to run straight on into the gravel when the heavy rain came. He explained his view of proceedings. “I was one of the riders who went straight in FP4,” he said. “It was very strange, because before arriving there, before arriving in the second part of the long straight, there was almost no water, or only very little splashes.”

“An almost dry track, so we were riding with confidence. But then I went into fourth or fifth gear, it was a different world there, it was like a big swimming pool in the straight, a little bit foggy. It was very strange and I started to close the throttle, but even like that it was not enough to stop the bike. To stop the bike, I needed like 400 meters, 500 meters, and even like that, the front was locking, the rear was locking, and I couldn’t stop.”

Things had improved by Sunday, after the work done at Stowe to try to improve drainage. “In the two sighting laps on Sunday before the race, it looks like they made some work in that area on Saturday afternoon, they improved a little bit the drainage of the tarmac, so it was a little bit better in that zone, but the problem was everywhere, in all the corners that the drainage was not correct, and we were spinning in all acceleration points, and it was very difficult to ride.”

It is a busy schedule for the MotoGP teams since coming back from their all-too-brief summer break. After back-to-back weekends at Brno and Spielberg, five teams headed to Misano, for a private test this weekend.

For Ducati (the only team to issue a press release after the test, the test was mainly about preparing for their second home race at Misano in three weeks’ time. Misano is a huge race for Ducati, and a good result there is an absolute necessity.

If the times released by Ducati are accurate, then a good result is almost assured: Jorge Lorenzo lapped at just about the circuit pole record, while Andrea Dovizioso was six tenths slower than his teammate.

Riders, teams, journalists, fans, almost everyone likes to complain about the layout of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg. Three fast straights connected by hairpins, with a long left hand corner thrown in for the sake of variety.

The facilities and setting may be magnificent, but the track layout is pretty dire. Coming from the spectacular, flowing layout of Brno, the contrast could hardly be greater.

And yet the Red Bull Ring consistently manages to produce fantastic racing. The combined gap between first and second place across all three classes on Sunday was 0.867 seconds, and nearly half a second of that was down to Moto3.

The MotoGP race was decided on the last lap again, just as it had been in 2017, though the race was decided at Turn 3, rather than the final corner. Spielberg once again served up a breathtaking battle for MotoGP fans, with a deserved winner, and the rest of the podium riders losing with valor and honor.

If we were to be picky about it, it would be to complain that the protagonists of the MotoGP race were rather predictable.

It is no surprise that the factory Ducatis would play a role at the front of the race: a Ducati had won in Austria in the previous two races, and the long straights from slow corners are almost made to measure for the Desmosedici’s balance of power, mechanical grip, acceleration, and braking stability.

Nor was it a surprise that Marc Márquez should be involved, the gains made by Honda in acceleration giving the RC213V the tools to tackle the Ducatis.

Episode 80 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison & David Emmett on the mics, as they discuss the recent Austrian GP at Spielberg.

Naturally, the show starts with a look at Ducati’s third-straight victory at the Red Bull Ring, and how it came to be that Jorge Lorenzo stood on the top podium step, come Sunday afternoon.

Part of Lorenzo’s victory can be credited to his tire choice, which creates some discussion as well about the Michelin rear tire selection. 

The conversation then turns to Marquez’s increasing lead in the MotoGP Championship standings, as he continues to gain on Valentino Rossi, who is making the best of a lackluster year on the Movistar Yamaha YZR-M1.

Lastly, the show takes a look at Aprilia Racing, which seems to be making little progress on its MotoGP program. The show covers the various reasons why Aprilia is struggling, and how the factory team can turnaround its fortunes.

Of course, the show finishes with out winners and losers from the weekend, which you won’t want to miss.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!