The FIM has announced the provisional WorldSBK calendar for the 2019 season. The calendar as it stands has 13 rounds, 12 of which have been confirmed. Brno and Laguna Seca are out, while Jerez makes a comeback, with a midsummer round still to be announced. That round could be Kyalami.
An indomitable force, a monumental achievement, and an impressive legacy – these are all apt phrases to describe Jonathan Rea’s 2018 season, as he clinched another WorldSBK Championship victory this weekend.
Now the winningest rider ever in World Superbike history, Rea becomes the second rider ever to win four WorldSBK Championship titles in total, and the first to win four titles in a row.
Onboard the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR, Rea has been the benchmark at virtually every superbike round this season, with the rest of the field having to play catch-up each time he comes onto the race track.
The show starts with a look at the race itself, which was hotly contested. A proper battle between the two Ducati riders unfolded in front of Marc Marquez, who despite finishing third, snatched a bigger lead in the MotoGP Championship.
With tire management a key element to success at the Czech GP, the guys talk a bit about the role that Michelin is playing in the championship, and whether it is helping or hurting the racing action.
Off track, things were just as interesting, with the trouble between Maverick Viñales and Romano Forcada spilling out into the media.
Aided by a botched PR effort (or lack thereof) at Yamaha, the Movistar Yamaha rider’s complete displeasure with Forcada grabbed all the headlines this week, especially as another lackluster result ensued.
Lastly, the show examines a few loose ends of news in the MotoGP paddock, like the growing role of test teams, the future of Dani Pedrosa, KTM’s counter-rotating engine, and whether adding Mexico to the calendar is a good idea.
Of course, the show finishes with out winners and losers from the weekend, which you won’t want to miss.
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You would think that after a tough weekend of racing in punishing conditions, the riders would find it very hard to spend eight hours on a MotoGP bike, pushing as close to race pace as possible, testing new parts and setup.
Not according to Andrea Dovizioso. “No, for me it’s very easy, and it’s the easiest way to do that. If there is a break, it’s worse,” he told us at the end of Monday’s test at Brno.
There was a pretty full cast of MotoGP characters present, with one or two notable exceptions. The Reale Avintia and Angel Nieto Team Ducati teams were both absent, because they had nothing to test except setup, and testing is expensive.
Pol Espargaro was in the hospital waiting for scans on his broken collarbone and his back, which confirmed that luckily only his collarbone was fractured, and it won’t need to be plated (though he will definitely miss KTM’s home race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria).
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl was also absent, after stretching ligaments in his right shoulder in a crash he caused on the first lap. A crash in which he also took out Maverick Viñales, who also suffered a minor shoulder injury, and decided not to test.
Given the massive tension in Viñales’ garage at the moment between him and his crew, skipping the test may have been the best option anyway.
A third of the way into Sunday’s race at Brno, and there was a group of eleven riders fighting for the lead. That’s the MotoGP race, not the Moto3 race. In the Moto3 race at the same stage, there was still a group of twenty riders at the front.
In Moto2, ten riders were in the group at the front. If you wanted to see close racing, Brno delivered the goods, in all three classes. The MotoGP race saw the eighth closest podium finish of all time, and the closest top ten in history.
Moto2 was decided by seven hundredths of a second. The podium finishers in all three classes were separated by half a second or less. And the combined winning margin, adding up the gap between first and second in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3, was 0.360. Are you not entertained?
“A good battle,” is how Cal Crutchlow described Sunday’s MotoGP race at Brno. “I think again, MotoGP has proved to be the best motor sport entertainment there is. Week in, week out we keep on having these battles.”
The race may not have seen the hectic swapping of places which we saw at Assen. The lead may not have changed hands multiple times a lap on multiple laps. Yet the race was as tense and exciting as you could wish, with plenty of passing and the result going down to the wire.
Is it any surprise that Brno should produce such great racing? Sunday’s race reiterated just how crucial circuit layout is in racing. The track is one of the widest on the calendar, with sweeping corners which run into each other.
A defensive line going into a corner leaves you open to attack on corner exit. What’s more, even if you ride defensively, or pass a rider and get passed again, you still end up with the same lap time. Brno, Assen, Mugello, Phillip Island: these tracks are made for motorcycle racing.
Ever since Jerez, when the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team debuted a new engine with a counter-rotating crankshaft, fans and journalists have been asking when factory riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith would be able to use the new engine on a race weekend.
KTM test rider Mika Kallio had been very positive about the engine during the Jerez weekend, and Smith and Espargaro had spoken in glowing terms about it after the Jerez test.
KTM’s response was always that it would not be ready until at least after the summer break. Reversing the direction of crankshaft rotation is not as simple as sticking an intermediate gear between the crank and the clutch, to allow the crank to spin in the opposite direction while maintaining forward thrust.
Reversing the crankshaft means that the stresses in the engine are very different, and require careful testing to ensure it will operate reliably.
At Brno, it was evident that Bradley Smith finally had the new engine at his disposal. The difference is visible, if you look very carefully, from the torque reaction and other clues.
Normally, I would start my Saturday round up talking about how pole position was won, whether it was expected or a surprise, and taking glance at race pace among the main contenders for victory on Sunday.
But that would be to ignore the elephant in the room. Sure, Andrea Dovizioso’s pole was impressive, and a little unexpected given just how quick Marc Márquez has been all weekend. But, that’s not the big news from Brno.
The big story in MotoGP is in the final place on the fourth row of the grid, and how he ended up there.
Brno is the place the bomb finally burst between Maverick Viñales and crew chief Ramon Forcada. The tension has been building between the two for months, with rumors that Viñales has wanted to replace Forcada since the beginning of the year.
Viñales has complained that Forcada will not make the radical changes that the young Spaniard requested in search of a solution to the traction problems. Forcada has wanted to stick to the plan, and work through issues methodically, so as not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
For the past few weeks, it has been an open secret that Viñales will be getting a new crew chief in 2019 (Esteban Garcia, currently crew chief for Bradley Smith at KTM).
But Forcada and Viñales have soldiered along, their disagreements only occasionally seeping out into the public, such as at the Le Mans race, where Viñales told the media he had tried to crash in every corner because he felt it was the only way to demonstrate to his team that the bike would go no faster.