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Jack Miller

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A number of the MotoGP teams have had a busy test at the Aragon circuit over the past two days. This is the test that played a role in not being able to move the Silverstone race to the Monday, a public holiday in the UK, as the trucks needed to travel the 2000km from Towcester to Alcañiz and set up ready for testing.

On Wednesday, Suzuki, Yamaha, and KTM were the factories taking to the track, with the Pramac Ducati squad also present. Thursday saw Yamaha and Pramac depart to make way for the factory Ducati squad. The teams were met with much better weather than at Silverstone, allowing two full days of testing, with the track improving as it got cleaned up with bikes circulating.

12 Ducati racers. 12 Ducati Panigale V4 S superbikes. 12 race liveries to drool over. If you are not on the Adriatic Coast of Italy right now, you are missing out on one of the motorcycle industry’s best events…even if you don’t ride a Ducati motorcycle. This is because World Ducati Week 2018 is about to kickoff in Misano this weekend, and while the festival has plenty to keep you entertained, one of the highlights to the three-day event will certainly be the Race of Champions. Slotted to race will be a dozen names that should be familiar to motorcycle racing fans: Troy Bayliss, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Michele Pirro, Chaz Davies (who will miss the race because of a broken collarbone), Marco Melandri, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Xavi Fores, Michael Rinaldi, Tito Rabat, and Karel Abraham.

It is a truism in MotoGP that though they hand out the trophies on Sunday, the race is often won on Friday and Saturday. Practice is when riders and teams can find the setup tweaks they need to go faster, evaluate tire choices, and plan a strategy.

Which tires offer the most potential? Which area of the track can we gain most while sacrificing the least in other points? Is there more to be gained by pushing hard early and trying to manage, or by being patient in the first half of the race, hoping to have an advantage in the second half?

The wide range of tires offered by Michelin make practice even more important. Michelin’s remit from Dorna is to produce three front tires and three rear tires that can all be used during the race.

That requires a certain amount of compromise: labeling tires soft, medium, and hard does not mean that Michelin make three tires with an equal step in between the three different tires. It is more like an indicator of how well the French tire make expects each tire to cope with the heat and stress of a race, and the trade off in terms of grip.

So a soft and a medium tire may use the same rubber on one side of the tire, or on opposite sides of the tire. Or they may use the same compounds with a stiffer carcass, to reduce flex and therefore the amount of heat being generated.

Understanding how all these factors work together, and what that will mean for the race, is what the teams spend their time doing in practice. The team and rider that does this best on Friday and Saturday gets to spend Sunday evening celebrating their victory during the race. If all goes to plan, of course.

Secrets are hard to keep in the MotoGP paddock. When it comes to contracts, usually someone around a rider or team has let something slip to a friendly journalist – more often than not, the manager of another rider who was hoping to get a particular seat, but lost out. It is not often that real bombshells drop in MotoGP. So the report by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that Repsol Honda were in talks to sign Jorge Lorenzo came as a huge shock. The assumptions that almost everyone in the paddock had been making – that Lorenzo would be riding a full factory Yamaha M1 in a Petronas-funded satellite team operated by the Sepang International circuit – turned out to have been nothing more than a useful smokescreen.

At the beginning of the year, I predicted on MotoMatters that MotoGP’s Silly Season this year would change the face of the MotoGP grid beyond recognition.

The revolution I predicted looks like it is coming to pass, but as with every prediction, the changes happening are beyond even what I had expected.

Young talent is coming into the series – Joan Mir, Miguel Oliveira – big names are changing bikes – Johann Zarco, Andrea Iannone – and a couple of major names face being left without a ride altogether.

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks. Contracts have been signed with Andrea Dovizioso, Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Alex Rins, Miguel Oliveira, and Pol Espargaro, adding to the contracts signed earlier in the year with Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales, Marc Marquez, and Pecco Bagnaia.

With Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, and Xavier Simeon already having a contract, there are thirteen seats officially taken for next year. Ducati have an option on Jack Miller – and look certain to exercise it – making it fourteen riders in a strong position.

And Taka Nakagami looks very likely to keep his seat at LCR Honda.

But the big news is what happens at Suzuki, Ducati, and Repsol Honda. Rumors that Joan Mir would sign for Suzuki grew very strong at Le Mans, as I wrote on Friday, and now appear to be taking shape.

The reliable Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles is reporting in sports daily AS that Joan Mir has signed a two-year deal with Suzuki, which will see him line up alongside Alex Rins for the next two years.

Episode 73 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is uploaded and ready for your consumption.

Covering the French GP in Le Mans, this episode sees Steve English and Neil Morrison on the mics, talking about all the news from the MotoGP round in France, as well as what is happening in the WorldSBK paddock.

An eventful race for the MotoGP Championship lead, the guys talk about the on-track action briefly, before switching gears and looking ahead to 2019. There are a lot of lucrative seats up for grabs next season, and the very real possibility that we could see Pedrosa and/or Lorenzo without a job.

Discussing those possibilities, and the rest of the rider market, the MotoGP Silly Season is truly in full-swing.

Switching paddocks, the conversation then turns to the WorldSBK Championship, and what contracts are on the tables there. Could Jonathan Rea switch to Ducati? Sykes to Yamaha? What about the Ducati Corse team.

There is some enticing smoke coming from the World Superbike teams, so it will interesting to see what fire comes of it.

Of course the show ends with the guys picking their biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s events, which isn’t as obvious this week as one would think.

We think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter 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!

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking.

In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways.

In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa’s brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden’s championship challenge was over.

Valentino Rossi’s heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time.

Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia.

The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship.

And Sunday’s drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn’t finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

There was good news and bad news for the MotoGP paddock after the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas.

The good news is that the work done to the track to try to remove the bumps had not made the track much more abrasive, as some had feared. Tires are wearing normally, so pit stops or worse will not be needed.

The bad news is that the work done to try to remove the bumps has not done anything to remove the bumps. It has moved them about a little, improved them in some places, made them worse in others, but the net effect has been zero, or worse than zero.

What’s worse, the process used has generated a huge amount of dust, bikes coming down the back straight billowing clouds of dust in their wake.

“It’s worse than Qatar,” Jack Miller said. “I said to the guys, ‘I hope you’ve got the air filter in from Qatar, because you’re going to need it’.”

At the first race of the season, the teams have to run a special air filter to prevent the desert dust from entering the engine and causing excessive wear. “The dust is far worse than Qatar, it’s that crappy concrete dust,” Miller explained.

The announcement that the official MotoGP.com website were to stream the Thursday media debriefs of Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi live raised some hackles in the paddock. The objections to the move differed with the interests of those complaining.

The print media complained that there was no point in flying half the way around the world to cover the series if everything was going to be streamed live anyway. Rival factories complained that the media debriefs of their riders were not being streamed live.

Some fans and journalists complained that by showing the debriefs, Dorna were merely fanning the flames, where they should be trying to calm the situation down.

In the end, there wasn’t much of a situation to calm down. Sure, the media debriefs of Márquez and Rossi were streamed live. But both men went out of their way not to say anything of interest.

The feud lives on, but we didn’t notice because we lost interest in what the protagonists were saying about halfway through. There is much to be said for trite media speak.

To an extent, this is probably a good thing. Aleix Espargaro, whose media debrief really should have been streamed live, as it was a great deal more entertaining than all the other rider press conferences put together, pointed out the irony of the situation.

“Everybody is talking about the Argentina clash and nobody is talking about the tarmac of America, which is more important!” the factory Aprilia rider complained.