It is hard to keep secrets in the MotoGP paddock (though not impossible, as Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Repsol Honda conclusively proves). One of the worst kept secrets has been the news that the Sepang International Circuit, or SIC, is to expand its current operation to include a MotoGP team.
Over the months since rumors first started circulating, that Sepang was interested in running a MotoGP team, details have slowly dripped out, until we now have an almost complete picture. The whole picture is to be formally announced at Silverstone, at a press conference at 6pm BST on Friday.
Here’s what we already know: the team is to be an extension of the current Petronas Sprinta Racing team, which currently runs Adam Norrodin and Ayumi Sasaki in Moto3, and Niki Tuuli in Moto2.
The Petronas SIC Yamaha team, as it will almost certainly be called, will be the showcase team for the Petronas-backed structure run by the Sepang International Circuit.
The objective is to have two riders in each of the three Grand Prix classes, from Moto3 to MotoGP, as well as a team in the FIM CEV Junior World Moto3 Championship.
The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season.
With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.
There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season.
Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc.
Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.
The Sachsenring is a unique circuit, and a unique place. We say that about almost every racetrack we go to, but it is much more true of the Sachsenring than of anywhere else.
No track is as tight, yet deeply challenging as the tightly-coiled circuit in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, and the atmosphere among the fans is electric.
Normally here, I would give a brief description or history of the circuit at which MotoGP is due to race. But Mat Oxley has already done that much better than I would have, so I suggest you read his article on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
There is a very good chance that this is the last race here at the Sachsenring, as Oxley lays out in the article. But all hope is not yet lost: regional politics may yet solve the problem, though it will be done with taxpayers’ money.
Given the huge attendance at the circuit – Sunday numbers often well over 90,000, and over 100,000 on occasion – the race generates a huge amount of revenue for the surrounding area.
Hotels are full, restaurants are heaving, supermarkets stock extra food and drink (especially drink). All that generates more revenue for local government through taxes. But will that be enough to justify spending on keeping the race here?
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.
With the MotoGP paddock back in Europe and heading to Jerez, the first round of contract announcements is upon us, with the second wave not far behind.
First domino to fall for the moment is Pol Espargaro, who will be staying at KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Ahead of his first home grand prix of 2018, KTM today officially announced that they will be retaining the services of the Spaniard for the next two years.
Espargaro’s signing had been broadly expected. The Spaniard has outperformed his teammate Bradley Smith, and with the Austrian factory’s MotoGP project moving from the development phase to the point where they need to start producing results, Espargaro has been favored over Smith.
What you are looking at here is the bike that Honda hopes will win the Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race this year. It is called the Honda CBR1000RRW. It is not all that different from the WorldSBK-spec model, the one that Leon Camier and Jake Gange are competing with currently (and that PJ Jacobsen is helping develop), save for some interesting changes. For starters, the Honda CBR1000RRW dumps its Cosworth boxes, and instead runs the Magneti Marelli electronics package that Jacobsen is using in WorldSBK. Also, there are some obvious bodywork changes, namely where the exposed front spars of the frame would be, which are now covered by a silver painted panel.Then of course, there are the mechanical changes for endurance duty, like quick-change wheel pieces and functional lights.
Once upon a time in MotoGP, the life of a journalist was easy. At the end of every day, and after every race, there were four or five riders you absolutely had to speak to, plus another couple who would be either entertaining or worth listening to on occasion.
The rest of the field could be safely ignored, unless they happened to get lucky and The Big Names would crash out in front of them.
Then, a few things happened. Dorna cajoled the factories into accepting spec electronics and providing better bikes to the satellite teams.
Michelin replaced Bridgestone as official tire supplier, and supplied user-friendly tires to the riders. And a new generation of talent entered MotoGP through the Moto3 and Moto2 classes.
As a consequence, there are no longer just three or four stories that need to be told at each race, but a dozen or more. Journalists need to speak as many of the twelve factory riders as possible, plus another half or dozen satellite riders.
Factory PR bods add to the complexity by scheduling their riders to speak to the press five minutes apart, despite the fact that each rider debrief will go for at least fifteen minutes or more. Even the lower priority riders have genuinely fascinating tales to tell.
It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin’s first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics.
2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past. All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018.
Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well.
Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.
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.
A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses.
That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.
2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance.
There are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3 too, ready to push aside the old guard, and new rules in MotoGP may help to address the disparity between the championship front-runners and those who pursue them.
Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:
The Jerez MotoGP test provided three of the four MotoGP rookies with a chance to get familiar with their new bikes and their new teams.
The second test is often more important than the first one, as the rookies have had a chance to think about and absorb the data from the first test directly after Valencia, and approach the test with less pressure.
Expectations are mixed for Franco Morbidelli joining the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The last Moto2 champion to move up to MotoGP with Marc VDS was Tito Rabat, and Rabat endured two long and difficult years with the squad.
Morbidelli will be hoping that the Honda RC213V will be a little easier to adapt to than it was for Rabat, and that he will be able to pick up the pace more quickly.
So far, Morbidelli’s progress has been promising. The reigning Moto2 champion ended the Jerez test as eleventh overall among MotoGP riders, 1.260 behind the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.
Best of all for Morbidelli, he was just a few hundredths behind MotoGP regulars Jack Miller and Scott Redding. There is still much room for improvement, but things are looking positive.
We spoke to Morbidelli on Thursday, his second day on the bike. Here’s what he had to say about the test.