Episode 97 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one is another WorldSBK show. As such, this means that we see Steve English joined by Gordon Ritchie on the mics, as they are now our WorldSBK reporting duo for the 2019 season.
Recording straight from Motorland Aragon, the guys talk about the on-track action in Spain, where once again (have we said that before?) it was a sweep by Alvaro Bautista and the factory-spec Ducati Panigale V4 R race bike.
Alvaro Bautista came to the WorldSBK championship and has been unstoppable. Since figuring out how to get the right feeling from the front end of the brand new Ducati Panigale V4 R, he has won all six races held so far – four full-length races, and the two new Superpole sprint races held on Sunday.
His winning margins in the four full races were 14.983, 12.195, 8.217, and 10.053 seconds. He won both sprint Superpole races by over a second as well.
Naturally, that kind of domination attracts attention. The WorldSBK series is meant to be a close battle between bikes based on road-going motorcycles, and as modification of the standard bikes is limited, there are mechanisms in the rule book for keeping the disparity between the different bikes racing to a minimum, giving any manufacturer which sells a 1000cc sports bike a chance to be competitive.
To ensure this, the rules have a section on balancing performance between the different bikes competing. The method of balancing performance has varied over the years, but the current rules use only the maximum revs to try to keep the bikes close.
The maximum rev limit is set when each new model is homologated, following a formula described in the rules, and explained by WorldSBK Technical Director Scott Smart in a video on the WorldSBK website. The short version is that the bikes are limited at 1,100 RPM above the point at which they make their peak horsepower.
Episode 84 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics, as they discuss the recent Aragon GP in Spain.
The first section starts with the controversy from Motorland Aragon: the crash of Jorge Lorenzo, which the Ducati rider blames on Marc Marquez. This then pivots to a discussion about the championship rivalry that is brewing between Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, as the pair once again found themselves trading corners in Spain.
It is a common enough sight in Grand Prix racing: slower riders cruising around at the edge of the track, waiting for a faster rider to come by so they can get a tow. It is especially common at the Motorland Aragon circuit. With its massive back straight of nearly a kilometer in length, a decent slipstream can be worth an awful lot.
It is less common to see slower riders cruising for a tow in MotoGP. In Moto3, sure: with horsepower at a premium, cutting down on drag equates to free speed. In Moto2 as well, as the fact that the bikes all produce exactly the same horsepower means that riders have to find an advantage anywhere they can.
But MotoGP? A lack of horsepower is not really a problem in the premier class. The bigger problem is usually transferring it to the tarmac to generate drive, and translate that power to speed.
But Aragon is different. Sure, tucking in behind another bike can give you extra speed using their draft, but above all, using another rider as a target makes you that little bit faster. “MotoGP is so close now that if you can follow someone, get a bit of a tow, that’s obviously going to improve your time,”
Bradley Smith explained on Saturday afternoon. “We don’t see it very often in MotoGP, to be honest, as much as it was today, but it shows how important it is here in Aragon.”
Naming a corner after a rider confers a particular honor on that rider, but it also puts enormous pressure on them. The last time it happened – Jerez in 2013, where the final corner was named after Jorge Lorenzo – things didn’t quite work out the way the honoree had hoped.
Dani Pedrosa went on to win the race comfortably, while Lorenzo was bumped aside in his eponymous corner by Marc Márquez, finishing the race in third, and clearly upset. That gave rise to an episode of “Handshakegate”, a recurring paddock melodrama, where Jorge Lorenzo refused the proffered hand of Marc Márquez, wagging his finger in the younger Spaniard’s face as a sign of disapproval.
So what does this mean for Turn 10 at the Motorland Aragon circuit? The long left hander which starts at the bottom of the “Sacacorchos”, Aragon’s very own version of Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew, dips then rises round towards Turn 11, and the back half of the circuit.
Today, after resisting for several years, Marc Márquez finally accepted the honor of having the corner named after him, in a ceremony featuring Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta, the circuit director Santiago Abad, and circuit President Marta Gaston.
A number of the MotoGP teams have had a busy test at the Aragon circuit over the past two days. This is the test that played a role in not being able to move the Silverstone race to the Monday, a public holiday in the UK, as the trucks needed to travel the 2000km from Towcester to Alcañiz and set up ready for testing.
On Wednesday, Suzuki, Yamaha, and KTM were the factories taking to the track, with the Pramac Ducati squad also present. Thursday saw Yamaha and Pramac depart to make way for the factory Ducati squad. The teams were met with much better weather than at Silverstone, allowing two full days of testing, with the track improving as it got cleaned up with bikes circulating.
The 2019 Moto2 Championship is rapidly approaching, and next year’s season sees the introduction of a new spec-engine platform. Using a 765cc three-cylinder engine from Triumph, Moto2 competitors have begun testing their new chassis designs for the British triple.
Out in Aragon, we get our first glimpse of the front-running race bike providers: Kalex, KTM, and NTS, as well as Triumph’s own test mule, which uses a Daytona 675 chassis.
Shaking down their machines ahead of the start of next season, bike manufacturers focused on learning the new race engine and its accompanying spec-ECU.
The Kalex was ridden by Moto2 racer Alex Marquez and test rider Jesko Raffin; on the KTM was Julian Simon (2009 125cc World Champion and Moto2 runner-up) and test rider Ricky Cardús; and on the NTS was Moto2/MotoGP veteran Alex de Angelis.
Six races into a new era of WorldSBK, and it seems as though we have seen a lot has changed, without anything changing.
Ducati and Kawasaki are still doing the winning, with Yamaha the only manufacturer to upset the podium homogeneity enjoyed by the leading manufacturers.
The first European round of the WorldSBK season always brings excitement.
With trucks and hospitality units back on site, the paddock starts to feel more familiar; and with the opening round of the Supersport 300 and STK1000 series, there’s certainly a lot more track action.
The action on track so far in 2018 has seen the series receive a much-needed shot in the arm, and the new regulations have certainly helped to produce more competitive racing.