Confirming what had long been a suspicion in the Grand Prix paddock, the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) is set to field a MotoGP team with Yamaha YZR-M1 machinery.
Signing a memorandum of understanding with the Yamaha Motor Company, the Sepang circuit will race for at least the next three seasons (2019, 2020, & 2021), filling the satellite team role once held by the Tech3 racing team.
Taking over the grid entries from the Angel Nieto Racing Team, the Sepang circuit has also announced that its team will take on Jorge “Aspar” Martinez as the team’s “Sporting Advisor” for the 2019 season.
With still only a thimble of information being released, we can expect more information to come to light at the next MotoGP round, which is the German GP on July 15th.
The Aspar Team has announced that it has extended its contract with Karel Abraham. The Czech rider will continue to race for the team in 2018, with Abraham likely to get a Ducati Desmosedici GP16 for next season, while his teammate Alvaro Bautista contests a GP17.
With Abraham confirmed at Aspar, and Taka Nakagami announced at LCR Honda, that leaves only three seats still open.
The second seat at Marc VDS will probably be announced at Silverstone this weekend, with all signs pointing to “a rider with previous MotoGP experience” as the favorite to race alongside Franco Morbidelli.
Aprilia has today confirmed another of the worst-kept secrets in the paddock, announcing that they have signed Scott Redding to replace Sam Lowes in the Gresini Aprilia MotoGP team for the 2018 season.
The news came as no surprise, after it became apparent that Aprilia had decide to break Lowes’ contract at the end of this season.
Lowes had been contracted for two seasons in MotoGP, but Aprilia decided to invoke an escape clause, after the Englishman had struggled at the start of the season. For the full background to the story, read the Friday MotoGP round up from Austria.
The Pull&Bear Aspar Team will continue to race with Ducatis for the 2018 season. At Le Mans, the team signed a one-year extension of their deal with Ducati, which will see the Italian factory continue to supply satellite bikes to the team for next year.
Exactly what spec machinery the team will run is still to be decided. Depending on budget and the riders Aspar can sign, the team will either run two Desmosedici GP17s, or one GP17 and one GP16.
When former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his comments about “known knowns and unknown unknowns” in 2002, he was widely ridiculed for producing what seemed like incomprehensible gibberish.
Yet since his appearance at a press conference on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, the phrases he coined that day have demonstrated their usefulness, being employed in an ever greater array of contexts.
Rumsfeld’s phrase fits remarkably well with the 2017 MotoGP grid as well. The three categories apply just as well to different groups of riders on the grid. We have the “known knowns” of the Aliens, riders who are guaranteed to win races.
We have the “known unknowns”, the wildcards such as Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso who could easily stage a surprise.
Then you have the “unknown unknowns”, a group of riders for whom any result would be imaginable. Given the events of last year, any one of them could end up on the podium, or even winning a race.
But they are just as likely to finish outside the points, or anywhere in between. There is no way of knowing on Thursday night where any of these riders might finish on Sunday.
There is some resistance to talk of there being “Aliens” in MotoGP. Why, fans ask, should we regard these riders as so very different from the other riders on the grid? In previous years, the answer to that objection was simple.
Of the 143 MotoGP races held between 2008 and 2015, only two had been won by someone other other than the riders regarded as MotoGP Aliens.
In 2009, Andrea Dovizioso won the British Grand Prix at Donington Park. And in 2011, Ben Spies won the Dutch TT at Assen. At both races, the weather conditions were a factor.
2016 put an end to that objection. Last season, there were a record-breaking nine winners in eighteen races. Andrea Dovizioso won his second race (and nearly won a third). Cal Crutchlow won two in the same season, one in the wet, one in the dry. Does that mean there are now more Aliens? Or does it invalidate the term altogether?
2017 is going to muddy the waters on the term Alien even further. Yes, there are five riders who can be expected to win a race every time they turn up at a track. But there are three or four others who are just as likely to spring a surprise and win a race this season.
Nobody would expect them to win six or seven races, but neither would anyone be surprised if they were to win one race each. If they are not quite Aliens, what then shall we call them? MotoGP’s astronauts?
The final piece of the MotoGP puzzle has finally dropped. Eugene Laverty has decided that he will be switching back to WorldSBK, where he will ride a factory-backed Aprilia RSV4-RF with the Milwaukee Racing SMR squad.
The departure of Laverty means that Yonny Hernandez will get to keep his place in the Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team, filling the final empty slot on the MotoGP grid.
It may seem strange for Laverty to abandon MotoGP, just as his star has been rising in the class. Since Aspar switched from Honda’s RC213V-RS Open Class machine to the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2, the older Ducati working very well with the Michelin tires, more rear grip helping to reduce the understeer the GP14.2 suffers from.
He is currently eleventh in the championship, and has a fourth and a sixth as best finishes, Laverty being annoyed that early traffic cost him the chance of a podium at Brno. It took the factory Ducatis on their brand new GP16s six races to get ahead of the Irishman in the championship standings.
So why has Laverty decided to abandon MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK? There are a number of reasons, but all of them boil down to a single issue: Eugene Laverty is a winner, and he likes to win.
On two-year-old machinery, in a private team (though with good factory support, unlike other satellite set ups), Laverty’s only chance to win in MotoGP would come when the weather acts as the great neutralizer.
It is but a short trip up the road from Spielberg to Brno, but it is a journey between two very different worlds.
From the hyper-modern facility at the Red Bull Ring, to the frayed-around-the-edges buildings of Brno. From a track which has been missing from the calendar for the best part of twenty years to a circuit which has seen racing almost since its inception, where teams often come to test.
From a track with a paucity of corners, all hard braking and acceleration, to one which flows from corner to corner, where bikes mostly exit in third gear when getting on the gas.
The starkest difference between the Red Bull Ring and Brno is the layout. Both tracks snake up and down hillsides, but where Austria is a track stuck up against a mountain, Brno is a winding road which threads its way through hills and vales.
Where Spielberg is basically seven corners, three of which are almost hairpins, all fourteen of Brno’s corners are long and flowing.
Ironically, Brno’s flowing layout makes it somewhat more simple to set up a bike for it. All of the corners are similar, with no camber and needing the same approach.
“The set up is more important than at other tracks because all the corners are similar,” Danilo Petrucci explained to us on Thursday. “You have to be good on braking and especially the feeling of the front. Because for more than 50% of the track you are on the edge of the tire.”
The penultimate piece of the 2017 puzzle has fallen into place. Today, the Pull&Bear Aspar team announced that they have signed Alvaro Bautista to race for them for the 2017 season.
The deal had long been anticipated, Bautista confirming at the Sachsenring that he was in talks with Aspar, and expected a contract to be signed.
The final details were sorted out in Austria, and an announcement made the day before the Czech Grand Prix is to get underway in Brno.
Eugene Laverty took a calculated risk when he came to MotoGP at the start of 2015. The plan was simple: spend a year on a bike that was poor (Laverty was under no illusions that the RC213V-RS would be competitive) gambling on having a much sharper tool for 2016.
The gamble has paid off only partially. The Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2 Laverty has at his disposal this year is a much stronger bike than last year’s Honda, but the Aspar team’s financial troubles have meant resources have dwindled.
That has also meant top mechanics leaving, to be replaced with much less experienced ones. Fortunately for Laverty and teammate Yonny Hernandez, Aspar have finally secured a new title sponsor for the remainder of the season in Spanish clothing brand Pull&Bear.
That should ease the situation, and perhaps even bring them some help.
The 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the best and most memorable of all time. The title was tightly contested between two of the best motorcycle racers of all time, while two more of the best motorcycle racers of all time won races and helped make the championship exciting.
It saw a resurgence of Ducati, bringing the grand total of competitive manufacturers back up to three, along with a solid return to the fold of Suzuki. It also saw rising young stars join the class, showing promise of becoming possible future greats.
Above all, 2015 offered fantastic racing, with the results going all the way down to the wire. We were treated to triumph and tragedy, the title battle ebbing and flowing between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo almost week to week.
We saw races decided by fractions of a second, brave passing maneuvers rewarded, while hubris was punished mercilessly. We saw controversy, including one of the most controversial incidents in many, many years, where a clash between riders looked like deciding the championship.
The title went down to the wire, decided only at the final race, in another event which was filled with controversy. It was eerily reminiscent of the 2006 season, the first year I started writing about MotoGP. The aftermath of the 2006 season also has valuable lessons for 2016.