2017 has been a strange year in motorcycle racing. We have had one of the best ever seasons of racing in MotoGP, with close finishes and a surprise title challenger.
We have seen one of the best ever WorldSBK riders stamp his authority on the series, though that has also seen the championship suffer partly as a result.
We have seen young talent come through in the support classes, and older talent recognized and appreciated. There has been much to celebrate.
But there has also been much to mourn. 2017 saw two of the most iconic names in motorcycle racing lose their lives, ironically, both in traffic accidents and not on motorcycles.
Nicky Hayden was killed while out training on his bicycle, hit by a car as he crossed a road at a treacherous crossroads. Angel Nieto suffered head injuries when he was hit by a car while out riding a quad bike on Ibiza.
The 2017 British Grand Prix at Silverstone is the race that nearly didn’t happen. OK, that’s an exaggeration: Dorna was always going to ensure that a British Grand Prix would happen.
The British Isles are such an important market that it is unthinkable for the series not to race here. But the collapse of the Circuit of Wales project meant that a lot of negotiation had to go into ensuring that the British round of MotoGP would actually take place.
For many observers, the refusal of the Welsh Government to underwrite the construction of the circuit was inevitable. The numbers being claimed seemed at best wildly optimistic, and at worst woefully inaccurate.
Was Dorna wrong to get into bed with the Heads of the Valley Development Company, the organization behind the Circuit of Wales? Possibly. Dorna has a history of making deals with circuits that never get built, as anyone who can recall the saga of the Balatonring can surely tell you.
Then again, what has Dorna lost? They signed a deal with the Circuit of Wales for five years starting in 2015, with an option to extend for a further five years. The deal was reportedly lucrative, well above what Silverstone was offering to pay to host the race.
Donington Park was no competition at the time, the circuit in financial difficult and badly in need of upgrades. Since the deal was signed, Dorna has had two successful races at Silverstone, for which they have been well paid.
When the Circuit of Wales project collapsed, Silverstone stepped in to take over. Dorna will still be paid by Silverstone, though it will be less than the Circuit of Wales would have paid.
The Circuit of Wales, the track which was to be built near Ebbw Vale in South Wales, has been dealt what will likely be a fatal blow. Today, the Welsh Government rejected the request of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company to underwrite the debts incurred for the construction of the circuit.
The HOTDVC, the company that had been set up to build and run the project, had originally requested that the Welsh Government underwrite the full £280 million cost the project had been expected to cost.
After years of negotiation, the estimated costs had risen to £433 million, and the Welsh Government refused the HOTVDC proposal to underwrite half that debt.
The Welsh Government had demanded that the HOTVDC find external investors, and the firm had brought in outside money from UK investment firm Aviva, but Aviva had only agreed to become involved if the Welsh Government had promised to underwrite the project.
With the Welsh Government refusing to underwrite the debt, Aviva’s commitment now looks to be at an end.
The first week of 2017 has come and gone, and we are a week closer to the MotoGP bikes hitting the track again at Sepang for the first test of the year.
Though little of consequence is happening publicly in the midst of the winter break, there are the first few signs of activity.
So, after the jump is a round-up of the news from last week: most of the things that matter, all in one place.
The Circuit of Wales was dealt a significant setback on Wednesday, after the Welsh Economy Minister refused to offer a 100% guarantee for the £357 million development project.
Without the guarantee, the future of the project is now uncertain, with doubts over the willingness of Aviva, a British insurance company, to continue with backing for the project.
After a long period of preparation, which included a Public Enquiry on the transfer of public lands, work was set to start on the circuit, set just outside Ebbw Vale in South Wales. Work had already started to get the site of the circuit ready to start construction.
The final piece of the puzzle had been secured several weeks ago, in the form of financial backing from Aviva. However, the Heads of The Valley Development Company had asked the Welsh Government to underwrite 100% of the investment in the project, with reports in the regional newspaper South Wales Argus suggesting that such demands had come from Aviva.
Winglets are to be made compulsory in MotoGP from 2017, we can exclusively reveal, using a spec design to be implemented much along the lines of the current unified software introduced this year in the premier class.
The decision was taken in response to concerns over costs spiraling out of control should all of the factories become engaged in a winglet war.
The marginal gains to be had from increased spending on CFD computer modeling and wind tunnel work were a red flag for Dorna, who have spent the last seven seasons since the start of the Global Financial Crisis tweaking the rules to reduce costs and raise grid numbers.
With the grid now healthy, and set to rise to 24 in 2017, Dorna and the FIM feared all their hard work could be undone, and teams would once again be forced out of racing by rising costs.
The Circuit of Wales is edging ever closer to becoming a reality. BBC Wales is reporting that UK insurance giant Aviva will be backing the Circuit of Wales project, and providing funds to allow building work on the track near Ebbw Vale in South Wales to start.
Construction will take some time, however, and Silverstone will continue to host the British round of MotoGP for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the race only moving to the Circuit of Wales from 2018 onwards.
The news that Aviva is to provide financial backing for the Circuit of Wales still leaves many questions unanswered. It is not clear from the reports by BBC Wales exactly how much money Aviva will be putting into the track.
The circuit needs £300 million in private investment, on top of roughly £30 million in public funding in the form of loans. Whether Aviva will be providing the full £300 million for the Circuit of Wales, or sufficient seed money for building work to start is unclear.
The proposed Circuit of Wales has cleared the final planning hurdle left standing between it and the start of construction.
After an eight-day public inquiry, the decision was taken to approve the deregistering of common land needed for construction of the site. That clears the way for construction work to start once financing is in place.
The request to deregister common land was approved on the basis of extra land – 320 hectares, or some 800 acres – being provided to replace the deregistered land.
The Planning Inspector charged with examining the proposal judged that the overall effect of the land swap would benefit the nature conservation efforts in the area.
The Irish budget airline Ryanair gained something of a reputation for being, shall we say, creative with the names of the airports it flies to.
Fancy a trip to Sweden? They will fly you to Stockholm Skavsta, a mere 100 km from the city of Stockholm. The same trick is played out time and time again: Paris Beauvais? Beauvais is a charming French city, and well worth a visit, but it is very long way from the French capital. Munich West (Memmingen)? 112 km west of the Bavarian capital.
So perhaps we should call this British GP the Ryanair MotoGP round. Officially, it is being run by the Circuit of Wales, located in Ebbw Vale, South Wales.
Yet the race is to be run around the Silverstone circuit, nearly 200 km further East. Close, it is not. How did it end up at Silverstone? Thereby hangs a long and convoluted tail.
With the news that the Brno round of MotoGP has been handed to a consortium consisting of local and regional governments, and that they are working to secure the long-term future of Brno, a major piece of the puzzle surrounding MotoGP’s schedule for 2016 slotted into place.
Brno, along with Indianapolis, had been the two biggest question marks still hanging over the calendar.
Most of the schedule fell into place once Formula One announced its calendar several weeks ago. The combination of an unusually late start (F1 kicks off in Melbourne on April 4th, two weeks later than last year) and an expansion of the schedule to 21 races has left few gaps for MotoGP to fit into.
The upside to F1’s late start is that MotoGP can get a head start on its four-wheeled counterpart, and kick the season off before F1 begins.
It has been a relatively quiet week in the world of motorcycle racing, with much of the focus on preparations for 2015 rather than actual on-track action. The past week has seen riders spending more time on stage than on track, as many teams have presented their 2015 racing programs.
This is but the calm before the storm, however: from Saturday, there is another bumper period of world championship action, with MotoGP testing at Qatar from 14th-16th March, Moto2 hitting Jerez from 17th-19th, followed by the second round of World Superbikes at the Chang circuit in Thailand from 20th-22nd.
There have been some bikes from other series circulating in the past week, however. The British BSB series has been testing in Spain, the MXGP championship has raced in Thailand, two weeks ahead of the World Superbike series’ first visit to the country, and in the US, Florida is gearing up for the Daytona 200.