Czech GP


Episode 112 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison and David Emmett come together on the microphones, as we discuss the happenings at the Czech GP at Brno.

In this episode, we talk quite a bit Marc Marquez, as the Spaniard continues his dominance in the MotoGP Championship standings. Of course, this begs the question whether Marquez’s success is hurting MotoGP.

When a dry line formed during Q1, we knew that there would be riders who would gamble on slicks in Q2. We could even fill in the names: Jack Miller would obviously take a shot on slicks.

Marc Márquez might have a go, but then again, why would he risk it? He leads the championship by 58 points, and a starting position on the first two rows would be more than sufficient. But Marc Márquez is Marc Márquez, so of course he is going to take a shot on slicks.

Who else? Anyone who fancied taking a gamble. Maverick Viñales rolled the dice on slicks after setting a time on wets. After a little contretemps with Márquez – more on that later – Alex Rins decided to try slicks.

Seeing so many other riders out on slicks already, Danilo Petrucci and his team decided to take a chance on slick tires as well. Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Cal Crutchlow, all stuck slicks on for their last run. If you could get the slicks to work, they would give you a clear advantage.

Getting them to work is not easy, however. “We know the slicks can work in damp conditions,” Michelin’s Piero Taramasso said on Saturday evening. “If there is standing water, they won’t work, but if it is damp, and the rubber is up to temperature, you can use the slicks. But it’s not easy.”

It is always hard to tell where things stand in MotoGP on a Friday. The track is green, riders are working through the tire allocation to assess the best choice, factories with new parts will send the riders out to test them, to get feedback in the least important part of the day.

Teams are still working through their checklist of ideas, some of which won’t work, but having crossed an idea off the list, that can send the rider in the right direction. Or not.

It is even harder at a track like Brno, where a lap takes the best part of two minutes to complete. For a race which is 21 laps long, six laps counts as a long run during practice. Trying to assess race pace from six laps during FP2 is a very tricky proposition indeed.

And as FP2 is usually the session where new parts are tested – the idea is, first establish a baseline with your existing setup, then put the new parts on to try at the end of FP1 or sometime during FP2 – that makes identifying patterns even more difficult.

What we did learn is that the Brno track is incredibly bumpy, more bumpy than it has been in the past. There are bumps at some crucial points in the track: Turn 3, the left hander at the end of the short back straight. Turn 8, in the stadium section.

The chicane of Turn 11 and 12 and up the hill. Turn 13, the first corner of the final chicane before the finish straight. Complaints were shared equally, but opinions were divided on whether the track was becoming unrideable.

Frank Brno Assessment

“The track is in quite rough condition,” Jack Miller said, with his customary frankness. Does the track need resurfacing?

“100%. It needed resurfacing last year but this year is even worse because you’ve got this two really long right hand corners where you are on the angle for such a long time, Turn 1 and Turn 10, and you’re going it around it just… I feel sorry for the poor Moto3 boys because they’ve got a tiny surface area on the ground and they are bouncing around through there.”

The problem is the sheer amount of asphalt that needs to be laid to resurface. “It’s probably one of the most fun tracks on the calendar but at the moment you get to corners like that and you don’t really feel too comfortable,” Miller said.

“She definitely needs resurfacing. I understand being how wide and how big it is, it’s a massive amount of money, but I think they’ve been putting it off for a few years now and it’s about time.”

Some bumps were more costly than others, Fabio Quartararo felt. “In the corners where there are bumps, you feel it a lot, in the change of direction at Turn 11 and 12.

Also for us it’s difficult in the climb uphill, so if we make a small mistake in acceleration, we lose a lot of power from Turn 12 to 13, so there, even in my fast lap time, we need to be really precise, and not make any mistakes, and don’t lose time with our bike.” Make a mistake out of Turn 12, and you lose drive up the hill, a huge disadvantage for the underpowered Yamahas.

But the bumps are not necessarily a risk, Quartararo said. “In Turn 13 there is one big bump, also in Turn 3. But in the end you get used to these bumps, and it’s the same for everyone. So everyone has these bumps. But you feel it quite aggressive. There is always a risk! Normally, the bumps are quite early, so it doesn’t affect the apex.”

Familiarity Breeds Contempt?

Valentino Rossi was the most flippant of the riders about the bumps. “The bumps of Brno are famous because they are there from 1996 exactly in the same places,” the Monster Energy Yamaha rider joked. “We call the bumps with a name. You have entry to turn eight, entry to turn ten, last corner. And for me it’s like this. Every year the asphalt drops the condition but for me it’s not so bad.”

Marc Márquez agreed with Rossi. “Yeah it’s bumpy but we have worse tracks on the calendar,” the Repsol Honda rider opined. “I mean of course it’s bumpy, there are two or three corners with some bumps, but they are inside the limit. Of course you would like to have a flat track because you enjoy it more but it’s still inside the limit.”

Aero Updates

The fact that it might rain on Saturday also meant that the teams were compressing a lot of test work into the first day, including chasing a time quick enough to put them through to Q2.

Ducati, for example, tried a new fairing, with a reshaped intake, and very different upper and lower wings. The fairing was meant to make the bike easier to turn, while retaining the positive aspect of providing anti-wheelie.

Andrea Dovizioso liked the fairing, but with so much to test, it made it hard to draw any real conclusions. “I don’t have the answer unfortunately, because tomorrow it looks like the weather will be wet so we tried a lot of things,” the factory Ducati rider said.

“Something on the setup, but we wanted to try the fairing because if tomorrow is wet we won’t be able to test the fairing before the race. We put a lot of things together and it’s not the best way to analyze the things together.”

“I couldn’t make the comparison so I don’t have the answer. Also because when you try something like that the change is not big and you need a comparison to understand the details. It looks good but I don’t have a clear answer.”

Yet he would not rule out using the new fairing during the race. “We want to try the new stuff. We don’t have a lot of time to test the new parts. We wanted to test that before the test. There was a chance and we did that. If the fairing is better we wanted to try it and use in the race as well.”

Reading between the lines, the fairing provides a clear advantage, but Dovizioso did not want to tip his hand. And with so little time, the factory are having to draw conclusions based on the evidence at hand.

But Ducati will already have a lot of data from test rider Michele Pirro, and given that they only have one update for the year, and they have chosen to use it on this new fairing, it seems safe to assume this is better.

Sincerest Form of Flattery

Alex Rins was much more open about Suzuki’s new fairing. “We tried a new fairing here, with the new winglets, that works much better, sincerely. We need more information, but the initial feeling, it’s working good,” the Suzuki Ecstar rider said.

The new fairing, looking for all the world like the Honda top fairing on steroids, helped reduce wheelie a lot.

The good news was that Rins could find no discernible downsides to the new fairing. “At the moment, no. We need to check during the Monday test, because the plan was to try on Monday.

But we were pushing a lot last night to try it today. But for sure we will need to compare more.” If Rins was able to persuade Suzuki to let him homologate the new fairing, he must have been confident in the work done by Sylvain Guintoli to ensure that it was an improvement.

Managing Risk

Honda’s new carbon fiber chassis cover is an example of what happens when the advantages of a design are not absolutely clear. Marc Márquez tried the chassis at Assen, and again at the Sachsenring, but chose to race the standard frame in both those races. The carbon chassis got another run out at Brno, the Repsol Honda rider back-to-backing it with the standard frame in both the morning and the afternoon sessions.

But he will probably race the standard frame once again, he said, despite being faster on the new chassis. “Today I tried both chassis in FP1 and again in FP2, because tomorrow the weather looks like not so good and that it will be half-half, some storms, and it’s important to have two exactly the same bikes, exactly the same chassis” Márquez explained.

“I did the fastest lap with the new one, but the old one is the old one and I know everything about that chassis. And I know the reactions of that chassis. So now the engineers are trying to analyze everything, the pace with both chassis was very similar, but with the old one is there, with the new one still we need to work and it looks like tomorrow the weather will be not so good. Still it’s not decided yet but we have a Monday test so maybe we will retry on Monday.”

The new chassis may potentially be better, but Márquez is still in championship mode, and is consequently still risk averse. He understands the old frame, knows its strength and can work around its weaknesses, and so racing the old frame should leave him with no surprises to deal with.

He needs more time on the new frame before he is confident enough to make the switch for good, time which the Monday test will afford him. Even then, he may well hold off until he is confident that his advantage over his rivals is enough to be able to risk making a mistake, and possibly losing points as a result.

Massive Drop

What Friday turned out to be good for is testing tires, though even that managed to throw up some surprises. The poor grip of the asphalt meant that tire performance was good for three or four laps before it dropped off a cliff. Figuring out the best option to deal with that was causing everyone headaches.

“The rear tire drops a lot, so for that reason the pace is quite difficult to understand because when you put new tires then you improve by nearly two seconds,” Marc Márquez explained. “Then when the tire drops you lose 1-1.5 seconds per lap. So it’s important to work with the used tires and it’s what we did. We tried to analyze all the things.”

Jack Miller was confounded by both the medium and the hard. “I felt the medium was the worst, he said. “I went out this morning, was getting quicker and quicker, came back in and then went out again and couldn’t get back in the 1’57s again no matter how hard I tried.

The hard felt like it was getting better and better, but my medium front this morning let’s say felt overpowered by the rear. It was just pushing a lot like I said through those long corners, especially on the right hand side.”

Valentino Rossi believed that everyone was struggling with the rear tire. “For me the bigger drop for everybody is the rear tire,” the Italian said. “All the specs have a big drop. This will be the key on Sunday: to try to be fast, but also to try to not stress the rear tire, because after three or four laps there is already a big drop.”

Softs are Super

Maverick Viñales may have stumbled on the right choice for the race. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider put in a soft tire in the middle of FP2, in search of a fast time to secure a slot in Q2 on Saturday.

Once that was locked up, he went back out again on the same rear tire and did half race distance, stringing together 1’57s with consummate ease. Nobody, not even Marc Márquez, was capable of running that pace that consistently on any of the other tires.

Viñales’ pace certainly caught the attention of Fabio Quartararo. “It’s strange, because even with medium or hard tires, you feel the drop quite fast. But with the soft at the end, when I see Maverick doing 1’56.0, I said, woah, that’s a really fast lap time, even if it’s with the soft.

But as soon as I put the soft, it was a big difference with the medium and the hard, so I was really impressed. Because since the beginning of the year, when we swap to a soft tire, we improved at least half a second, six tenths, but now it was a big, big step, and I was quite impressed to get down to the 1’56s.”

“I didn’t check the pace of Maverick, but my mechanics tell me that even with the soft, he can make a really good pace, and I think we need to analyze this tire to see if we can make the race with this one,” the Petronas Yamaha rider said.

“We need to check how it is dropping also. Because if it drops the same as the medium or the hard but has a lot of performance, we need to analyze. So I think tomorrow we need to work a little bit with the old soft tire to see if it can make the race distance.”

If it doesn’t rain on Saturday, or if the track is dry enough in either FP3 or FP4, expect to see a lot of other riders going out on the soft rear. The soft seems to be significantly quicker than the medium and the hard, and if it can hold up for as long as the other two tires, it could be the right choice, at least for those who can run it.

Front Fun

It wasn’t just the rear tire which was causing problems, however. The front was an issue for some of the riders, the consensus being that the allocation Michelin have brought is a little on the soft side.

“I think all the riders have the same problem with the front tire,” Alex Rins said. “Because it looks like are all the tires are soft, even the hard one. So we need to take care, because after five or six laps, the tire performance goes down.”

Andrea Dovizioso confirmed that some Ducati riders had an issue with the front as well. “I had a good feeling with the hard front and I did the lap time with the hard front, because I normally brake quite hard and am quite good to create temperature in the front tire,” the Italian said. “It worked for me but it didn’t work for some other Ducati riders, who normally use the same front tires as me. I think it’s about the way you ride and to create the right temperature on the front tire, to push and make a lap time.”

Did this affect the Honda riders, and especially Marc Márquez, who uses the front harder than most? Paradoxically, Márquez suffered least, as he was used to the front tires being too soft for him, and has learned to work his way around it.

“The front tire was already too soft last year, especially the softest option, but maybe Michelin checked the weather and brought the same one,” Márquez said. “But we are always on the soft side. One of the things that we are working this year is to try to know how we can work with the soft tires, because it’s what we have.”

Blowing a Gasket

Tires were almost rendered irrelevant during FP2, when Valentino Rossi appeared to blow an engine and then cruised around half the track, smoke trailing out of his Yamaha M1. It was behavior which earned him a reprimand from his fellow riders during the Safety Commission on Friday night, telling him that if an engine breaks, his priority should be to head to the side of the track and stop immediately, no matter how inconvenient that is.

But Rossi told us on Friday night that he had made sure that he was not leaving oil on the track when the engine went. “During the practice I had a problem with the engine of bike one,” the Italian said.

It was an old engine with quite a lot of kilometers. Something broke but I don’t know exactly what. Fortunately I could pull the clutch before the engine broke. I felt it lose performance. When you are able to be fast enough with the clutch the engine normally don’t lose oil because it’s the moment before it breaks.”

He had checked to make sure that the bike wasn’t losing oil. “I checked both sides,” Rossi said. “I saw some smoke. I tried to stay off the line. But usually you have some oil from the chain and the foot or boot becomes full of oil. I checked both sides and I continued for this reason.”

The proof for Rossi that he was not losing oil was that he was able to continue with the same rear tire in his second bike. “In fact I just moved the tire to the other bike and we started again because I don’t have any problem.”

More Races, Young Blood?

Outside of the track, developments are starting to warm up both for 2020 and beyond. Rumors are starting to circulate about the 2020 calendar, which looks like have 20 races, including Brno and Finland. There could be a shake up to the schedule, with more races back to back, and some races being shifted from their traditional slots.

The introduction of Finland is one of the complicating factors, logistics for the Kymiring meaning that the trucks cannot get there and back within a week, meaning it will have to have a free weekend either side.

In the past, Finnish rounds at Tampere and Imatra were held in late July or late August, and those seem the most likely slots for 2020. But a late August slot would mean bumping Silverstone from the August Bank Holiday weekend.

More changes are expected, with a provisional calendar likely to be drawn up some time in early September.

As for 2021, I had a conversation with a rider manager today, asking about the entire grid all being lined up for new contracts at the end of next year.

This is the last time this is likely to happen, I was told: with riders such as Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, and Jorge Lorenzo all approaching their mid-thirties, factories may not be inclined to offer then a two-year deal, opting instead for a one-plus-one deal.

That would allow them to move on to a younger rider from Moto2 should the opportunity present itself, and also allow for riders deciding to retire of their own accord. Cal Crutchlow, certainly, has been hinting at stopping for some time now, and with a young family, and his daughter Willow approaching school age in a couple of years, he may decide to stop sooner rather than later.

Those were just three names we bandied about. There could be up to seven riders being nudged out for 2021, I was told. The arrival of this year’s crop of rookies could signal the start of a new era. In 2021, MotoGP could see a wave of young riders force out the old guard.

MotoGP returns to action from the summer break at Brno, probably for the last time. Not, as we thought, because the Brno MotoGP round faced being removed from the calendar – with constant arguments between the circuit, the city of Brno, the South Moravian Region, and the Czech ministry of sport over funding, there were regular delays in payment of the sanctioning fee – but because in 2020, the MotoGP season will almost certainly resume at the Kymiring in Finland at the end of July.

The good news is that it looks like MotoGP will be staying at Brno, at least for next year. That was the implication when Dorna announced the Northern Talent Cup at the Sachsenring, which included a race at the Brno MotoGP round in the calendar for the series.

The truth is that Brno belongs on the MotoGP calendar. In the pantheon of MotoGP racing circuits, Brno sits very close to the top, and like Assen and Silverstone, half a rung below Mugello and Phillip Island. It is a fast and wide track which tests every aspect of bike and rider, despite top speeds being relatively limited. Like Assen, top speeds don’t get much above 310 km/h.

But like Assen, the track flows, challenging riders to brake later, enter corners faster, and take their bikes closer to the limit to find an advantage.

The rider line up for the 2020 MotoGP season is nearly complete. Today, the Avintia Ducati team announced they would be signing Tito Rabat to a new two-year deal, for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, with a promise of obtaining factory-spec equipment.

The announcement is a result of the Pons Moto2 squad announcing that they would be signing Lorenzo Baldassarri and Augusto Fernandez for the 2020 season in Moto2.

Baldassarri had been strongly linked to the Avintia ride, while Rabat was said to be in talks to head to the WorldSBK championship, to ride a Kawasaki alongside Jonathan Rea. When Baldassarri decided to stay in Moto2, Rabat became Avintia’s best option.

The deal has two interesting details. The first is that Avintia are trying to obtain factory-spec machinery and commensurate support for 2020. That would imply that Ducati would field five GP20s (or six, if Karel Abraham were also get one) for next year.

For Ducati to support that many factory bikes is a question of money, which would mean Avintia stepping up their investment, and raising more money from sponsorship. 

The second is that Rabat has chosen to sign for two years instead of one. That puts him out of step with the whole of the rest of the grid. Everyone else with a contract will be free for the 2021 season, and in a position to negotiate for a new deal with every other team on the grid, potentially at least. Rabat has no such freedom.

On the other hand, Rabat being signed for 2021 also means he won’t have to fear losing his ride to one of the influx of youngsters from Moto2 expected at the end of next season.

With Rabat signed, only one signature is missing to complete the field. Jack Miller is still in talks with Pramac Ducati about 2020, though they are currently only talking numbers. The rest of the details – including having a Ducati GP20 – have been settled. A deal should be announced soon.

Here is the nearly complete rider line up for the 2020 MotoGP season:

Rider Bike Contract until
Monster Energy Yamaha
Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 2020
Maverick Viñales Yamaha M1 2020
Repsol Honda
Jorge Lorenzo Honda RC213V 2020
Marc Márquez Honda RC213V 2020
Ecstar Suzuki
Alex Rins Suzuki GSX-RR 2020
Joan Mir Suzuki GSX-RR 2020
Gresini Aprilia
Aleix Espargaro Aprilia RS-GP 2020
Andrea Iannone Aprilia RS-GP 2020
KTM Factory
Johann Zarco KTM RC16 2020
Pol Espargaro KTM RC16 2020
Factory Ducati
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP20 2020
Danilo Petrucci Ducati GP20 2020
Satellite Teams
Pramac Ducati
Pecco Bagnaia Ducati GP20 2020
Jack Miller Ducati GP20 2019
LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow Honda RC213V 2020
Taka Nakagami Honda RC213V 2019
Tech3 KTM
Miguel Oliveira KTM RC16 2020
Brad Binder KTM RC16 2020
Petronas SIC Team
Franco Morbidelli Yamaha M1 2020
Fabio Quartararo Yamaha M1 2020
Avintia Ducati
Tito Rabat Ducati GP19? 2021
Karel Abraham Ducati GP19? 2020

Source: Avintia Racing

Episode 79 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison & David Emmett on the mics, as they discuss the recent Czech GP at Brno.

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.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

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.