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Casey Stoner

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I can tell you from personal experience that Casey Stoner is not one to mince words.

The two-time World Champion’s direct and sometimes confrontational approach to interpersonal conversations was at times difficult for MotoGP fans to get behind, but on the brightside, one always knew exactly were they stood in Stoner’s opinions.

Maybe that is why it is interesting to hear Stoner talking about the latest superbike from Ducati, the Panigale V4. Riding it around Valencia, the same venue where we tested the Ducati Panigale V4 S earlier this year, Stoner gives his fairly insightful thoughts on the 1,100cc machine.

The short version? The Australian was quite impressed with the new V4, though admittedly it still wasn’t up to the standards of his former MotoGP ride.

One can hardly blame Casey though, he does have a slightly different perspective than most, which is why he is one of our favorite GP riders of all time. Though, we should point out, he is technically a Ducati employee, so maybe that skews the perspective as well…

On a side note and for those keeping track, photos of this pre-launch test were “leaked” ahead of the Panigale V4’s debut at EICMA.

Looking at this video now, it seemingly confirms our suspicion that Ducati leaked the photos itself, as they are exact image captures from the video footage used here. Such is how the sausage gets made.

With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.

Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.

The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.

The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.

All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.

Though the world of motorcycle racing slowed to a crawl over the holiday season, that does not mean that nothing happened whatsoever.

Racing news trickled out from around the globe, as riders, teams, and factories made decisions, and racing collided with the real world.

So here’s a round up of some of the news stories you may have missed while we were on holiday over the past couple of weeks.

Last week during International Women’s Day, my colleague Tammy Gorali – the first female commentator ever in the MotoGP paddock, I should point out – tweeted some timely statistics about female attendance at MotoGP races.

In short, here tweets showed that over the past four years, the number of female spectators has declined an astonishing 19%. That’s no small drop, and the timeliness of that revelation should be noted.

On its face, this tweet showed that MotoGP was seemingly hemorrhaging female fans. But, the reality isn’t as clearcut, and this is also where things get weird.

Intrigued by Gorali’s info, I dug into the numbers a bit further to see what was behind this startling statistic. What I found was that if you pulled the scope back further by just one more year, then over the past five years female attendance at MotoGP races has actually increased by 33%.

If your brain is hurting right now, that’s ok, but it is difficult to understand how the number of women attending MotoGP races declined by 19% over the past four years, but increased somehow also increased 33% over the last five?

Keep on reading, and I will try and shed some light on this curious case of female MotoGP attendance.

Scouring through the timesheets after the second day of the MotoGP test at Phillip Island, and reading through everything the riders have said, a picture emerges, not just of what happened on Thursday, but also how history has affected them.

Seeing Marc Márquez’s workload, his approach, the things he is working on, and it is hard not to think back to his past three seasons in MotoGP. The lessons learned in each of those seasons color everything he is working at Phillip Island, and give us a glimpse of his objective for 2017.

On Thursday, Márquez put in 107 laps around Phillip Island. That is 20% more than most of his rivals, and nearly double the amount that some of them rode.

Asked if he was playing games in suggesting the 2017 Honda RC213V was not ready, Márquez was curt. “I don’t play games, because if I’m ready I would not make 107 laps! Because my hands are destroyed.”

Why put in so many laps? A look at the past three seasons offers an insight. In 2014, Márquez destroyed the field in the first part of the season, winning ten races in a row, and a total of thirteen.

For a man with a thirst for victory matched perhaps only by Valentino Rossi, this was an ecstatic period. It also lured him into a false sense of security, the bike suffering as a result. This was not helped by Honda’s insistence on building a bike as powerful as possible, with no view of making it easy to use.

2015 was a watershed year for Márquez. He crashed out of so many races trying to win them that he threw away any chance of defending his title. He put the lessons learned into 2016, and won the title last year by learning to settle for points.

Sometimes, after the race, you could see from the expression on his face that not winning races had caused him something approaching physical pain.

There’s this thing called sandbagging in motorcycle racing. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s where a rider doesn’t show his hand completely ahead of the season, doesn’t smile in public, hangs a tale of woe on the media, about how he is struggling with the bike, and how much work they have to do.

Then, when the flag drops and the racing starts for real, the rider goes out and completely destroys the opposition.

The key to sandbagging is not to give too much away on the timesheets. Riders find all sorts of smart ways of doing this. Working on one sector at a time, perhaps. Pushing for the first half of the lap, then backing off for the second half.

On the next run, they back off in the second half of the lap, and push for the second half. The bare lap time shows up as unimpressive, but put the two halves together and you have something very impressive indeed.

Marc Márquez appears to be trying to sandbag at Phillip Island, but he is not doing a very good job of it.

He has the act down just fine: lots of criticism of the bike, a lot of concerns about which areas still need work, pointing out that Phillip Island tends to hide the weak point of the Honda RC213V. The point where he is falling down on is hiding it out on track.

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening’s torrential rain.

Sepang’s weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco’s name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second.

The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don’t usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don’t waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media.

One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me.

But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.

That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions.

The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating.

Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.

Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams.

“You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it’s a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test.”

More factories racing means more factories testing. The usual one or two-day shakedown test ahead of the first official MotoGP test of the year organized by IRTA has expanded this year to become much more than that.

All six MotoGP factories are present with test riders – Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha – as well as a couple of factories testing Superbike machines ahead of the 2017 season.

The reason? The more factory teams there are, the cheaper the cost per factory to rent the circuit, and the more time they get preparing for next week’s test.

From one presentation to another. Having the Movistar Yamaha and Ducati Factory team launches on consecutive days made it a little too easy to make comparisons between the two. There was much complaining on social media about the fact that large parts of the Yamaha presentation were in Spanish only, causing the international audience watching the live streaming to lose interest. Ducati’s approach was better: while everything in the presentation was in Italian, there was simultaneous translation available on the live stream, so those following could hear it in English. That was no good to us in the hall, of course, though we would find out later that there had been headsets available with the live translation available. But nobody had thought to tell us about that, of course.