The MotoGP launch season is still upon us, and now that we have seen the teams and bikes from Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha – it is time for Honda to take the wraps off the team its campaigning for its title defense.
Debuting the 2017 Honda RC213V at a press event in Indonesia, not much has changed outwardly for the 240+ horsepower GP bike, though there a subtle differences to be seen, if you look closely and compare it to last year’s bike.
The Repsol Honda fairings cover the biggest change that we know of, as reports from the test tracks confirm that Honda is experimenting with a “big-bang like” firing order on its V4 engine, a change from the “screamer” configuration of last season, which was handful for Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to manage.
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.”
So 2016 is officially at an end, and the first test of 2017 is in the books. By the end of what is essentially a week of hard work, the entire paddock – riders, mechanics, journalists – are completely exhausted, and tired of it all.
The frisson of the first test of 2017, with so many riders swapping teams and new bikes being debuted, made it all much more interesting. But we are still all glad it’s over.
First, there was the last day of testing to get out of the way. The last day of the test is perhaps the most dangerous. A mixture of tiredness and competitiveness means riders are pushing hard in sometimes tricky conditions.
2016 is the year of the impostor. Everything we thought we knew about the current riders in MotoGP has been turned on its head. Marc Márquez is a shining example of this.
He has gone from a rider who wants to win every race, even if he risks crashing out, to one who is willing to settle for less when there are no better options.
The reason for his transformation is simple: the lessons learned in the tough first half of the 2015 season.
If there is such a thing as a Honda track, then the Sachsenring is surely it. Of the nineteen premier class races held at the tight, tortuous circuit, Honda have won twelve.
That includes the last six races in a row: From 2010 through 2012, nobody could touch Dani Pedrosa around the circuit. From 2013 onwards, Marc Márquez has been unbeatable at the track.
What makes the Sachsenring such a Honda track? Maybe it’s the two key braking points at the circuit, going into Turn 1, and at the bottom of the hill for Turn 12.
Maybe it’s the ability to use the Honda horsepower going up the hill out of the final corner, across the line and into Turn 1. Or maybe it’s the tight corners, the Honda always a strong bike in turning.
The Sachsenring circuit is invariably described in disparaging terms – “Mickey Mouse”, “a go-kart track” – but that does not do the track justice. It may not challenge the bikes in terms of horsepower, but it demands an awful lot of the riders.
From the moment they arrive at the end of the short, uphill front straight, brake hard for the sharp right-hander of Turn 1, and pitch it into the corner, the bike barely leaves the edge of the tire until the plunge down the Waterfall after Turn 11.
There is a brief moment of respite between Turns 7 and 8, before heeling the bike over again for another series of lefts going up the hill to the circuit’s crowning glory.
The 2016 Honda RC213V has officially debuted in Indonesia today, giving us our “first” glimpse at the machine that Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez will be riding in the upcoming MotoGP season.
Much has been said about the development of the Honda RC213V, especially after Honda’s disastrous season in 2015. Early indications show that the 2016 model will be tamer than the 2015 model, but not by much.
Honda’s 90° V4 engine still produces a brutal amount of power, which is only going to be more difficult to contend with in 2016 because of the move to the unified electronics package, which HRC has also struggled to come to terms with.
MotoGP fans will remember that the 2015 Honda RC213V was so unrideable, Marc Marquez switched back to the 2014 chassis mid-season, and instantly started seeing better results with that hybrid bike.
Despite all this, Honda has the temerity to say that its 1,000cc engine has been made to be “lighter, more power and [have] rider-friendly characteristics.” The proof will be in the pudding of course, but we are not expecting to see the Repsol Honda machine as dominant on the race track as it once was.
It is no secret that Honda are struggling with the engine for the RC213V MotoGP. HRC have been making the engine ever more aggressive for the past three years, but in 2015, they finally went too far.
The power delivery of the RC213V was too difficult to contain, even with Honda’s electronics, and HRC suffered their worst season in MotoGP since 2010.
Things had not been looking much better for 2016 either. The engine Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez tested at Valencia and Jerez last November was at best a marginal improvement, with a bit more power at the bottom end, but still delivered in a very aggressive manner.
Added to this, HRC have had problems with the new unified software which is compulsory for 2016. Where Ducati, and to a lesser extent Yamaha have managed to integrate the less complex spec software into their engines, Honda have yet to get a handle on it.
That has made assessing the engine character even more difficult for Pedrosa and Márquez, the Repsol Honda riders finding it hard to pinpoint aggressive and abrupt throttle response on the engine character, the cruder software, or the interaction between the two.
It is a problem that Honda is now acknowledging publicly. HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto admitted to the Spanish sports daily Marca that they were having trouble making their engine less aggressive.
The start of a new year, and though there is little going on in the world of motorcycle racing in the first week of January, there is still enough to fill our weekly news round up. Here’s what happened this week.
Look at the smile on this guy’s face! That’s the smile of the first person on planet Earth to take deliver of their new Honda RC213V-S street bike.
The first example of the €188,000 “MotoGP bike with lights” goes to Mr. John Brown, a Brit who owns and runs a Honda motorcycle dealership in Manchester, and is also an avid collector of Honda motorcycles.
Honda says that other customers will begin to take receipt of their RC213V-S motorcycles after the New Year.
Dani Pedrosa, Honda, 4th, 206 points – Score: 8
If you wanted the very definition of a roller coaster career, look no further than Dani Pedrosa. Three world championships in the junior classes, and one of the most successful riders in the premier class.
He has never won a championship, but he has come within a whisker in 2012, winning more races than the eventual champion Jorge Lorenzo. Injury has dogged him, breaking most of the bones in his body, and fracturing his collarbone so often there is hardly a piece left intact.
His collarbone nearly ended his MotoGP career once, the plate fitted after his practice crash in Motegi in 2010 causing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, causing numbness and weakness in his left arm, making it almost impossible to last a race.
He suffered through 2011, until the removal of the plate on his collarbone fixed the problem. He was back with a vengeance in 2012, winning seven races and getting close to beating Jorge Lorenzo. That experience stood him in good stead in 2015.
Marc Márquez, Repsol Honda, 3rd, 242 points – Score: 8
This was Marc Márquez’s worst season in Grand Prix racing since 2009. From 2010 onwards, in 125s, Moto2, or MotoGP, Márquez has finished as either champion or runner-up.
Not only did Márquez finish outside the top two for the first time since finishing eighth in 2009, but this was also his worst championship points total since that year. You could say this was a very bad year for the Repsol Honda rider.
Yet it was also undoubtedly the year in which Márquez learned the most in his Grand Prix career. This was the year in which Márquez changed his approach, and gained a deeper understanding of how to win a championship, rather than just races.
Márquez crashed out six times in 2015, fully one third of the races. Four of those crashes were entirely on his own, and completely his own fault.