Episode 62 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics, as they cover the three flyaway races for the MotoGP Championship: Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang.
MotoGP’s stops in Asia and Australia have proven to be pivotal to the championship standings, as Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez have been battling during the latter half of the season.
Now going into the final round of the season, Marquez leads Dovizioso by 21 points, creating a do-or-die scenario for the Ducati rider at Valencia. There are only a few ways that Dovizioso can win the Championship, but during this episode, we focus on how that came to be.
Examining the results of the top riders in MotoGP, and the highlight of the flyaway races, Neil gives his insights from being at the races, while David provides is usual analysis.
The focus then turns to the Moto3 and Moto2 classes, with the show wrapping up with our winners and losers from the flyaway rounds. It’s another great show from the Paddock Pass crew, and you won’t want to miss it.
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MotoGP testing is to be further restricted from next season. At the meeting in Motegi of the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, the teams, factories, FIM, and Dorna agreed to limit the amount of testing which can be done next year and in 2019.
The 2018 testing season will look largely familiar, with a two-day test at Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday after the race, then three three-day tests at Sepang, Thailand, and Qatar ahead of the start of the MotoGP season, and one-day tests after three of the European rounds (Jerez, Barcelona, Brno).
In 2019, the number of preseason tests will be reduced, with testing taking place only at Sepang and Qatar before the start of the season.
Motegi was tempestuous, in every sense of the word. It was as if the elements were conspiring to become a metaphor for the 2017 MotoGP season.
The weather is always a factor in an outdoor sport such as motorcycle racing, and in Japan, the elements threw almost everything they had at MotoGP, the cold and the rain leaving standing water all around the track, throwing yet another spanner into the works.
The teams had seen almost every variation of wet conditions during practice, from soaking wet to a dry line forming, so they at least had an idea of what to expect. What they feared was that each rider, each team had their own Goldilocks zone, the precise amount of water on the track in which their bike worked best.
For one rider, too little water meant they would eat up their tires, whereas for another, a track that was merely damp was just right. For one rider, too much water meant not being able to get enough heat into the tires to get them to work and provide grip.
For another, a lot of water meant they could keep the temperature in their tires just right, and really harness the available traction.
One man seemed immune to this Goldilocks trap. Whatever the weather, however much water there was on the track, Marc Márquez was there or thereabouts. He was quick in the wet, he was quick in the merely damp.
So confident was he at Motegi that he even gambled on slicks for his second run in qualifying, which meant he missed out on pole and had to start from third. But would it make any difference? Would anyone be able to stop Marc Márquez from taking another step towards the championship?
If you watched the Japanese GP this weekend, then you have already seen that the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has updated its aerodynamic package for the season, adding a more radical design to the Suzuki GSX-RR, in the pursuit of better lap times. The new aeros take some visual inspiration from what we have already seen from Ducati Corse, adding a complex shape that mimics a winglet design, while staying within the letter of the law of MotoGP’s current winglet ban. Unlike some of the designs that we have seen, namely the ones from Honda and Ducati, Suzuki’s doesn’t appear to have the capacity for modular changes – that is to say, the aerodynamic package doesn’t appear to be adjustable for different conditions.
MotoGP Race Results from the Japanese GP at Motegi, Japan: Pos. Rider Team Bike KM/H Diff. 1 Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati Team Ducati 146.3 47'14.236 2 Marc MARQUEZ Repsol Honda Team Honda 146.3 +0.249 3 Danilo PETRUCCI OCTO Pramac Racing Ducati 145.8 +10.557 4 Andrea IANNONE Team SUZUKI ECSTAR Suzuki 145.3
If anyone needed an argument that MotoGP’s current system of qualifying is arguably the best available, Saturday at Motegi was proof positive.
There are plenty of arguments that can be made against it: there are fairer systems imaginable, and there are simpler systems imaginable, but in the end, the element of chance the current system injects opens up opportunities for riders to seize. And it can either reward or punish those willing to gamble.
The weather at Motegi provided ample evidence of the spoils on offer, and the risks involved. A wet morning practice, a damp FP4, and a track which was starting to lose water from the surface.
As Q1 progressed, the faintest hint of a dry line started to appear. Still too wet for slicks, but perhaps the ten minutes between Q1 and Q2 would be just long enough for the dry line to consolidate itself. Would anyone be brave enough to go out on slicks?
MotoGP Qualifying Results from the Japanese GP at Motegi, Japan: Q2 Results Pos. Rider Team Bike KM/H Time Diff. 1 Johann ZARCO Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 297.7 1'53.469 - 2 Danilo PETRUCCI OCTO Pramac Racing Ducati 300.9 1'53.787 0.318 3 Marc MARQUEZ Repsol Honda Team Honda 295.8 1'53.903 0.434
The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes that don’t, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.
The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. “Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble,” Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.
“We don’t understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange.”
The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. “We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip,” Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate.
“We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive.”
Jonas Folger has been forced to pull out of the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, and may be absent for the remainder of the overseas triple-header as well.
The German has been taken ill with what could potentially be a recurrence of the Epstein-Bar Virus, which he suffered from previously. Japanese test rider Kohta Nozane is to replace him in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team for the Motegi round at least.
Folger took ill on his travels to Japan, suffering from a complete lack of energy, forcing him to miss a number of official Yamaha events. He had hoped that some rest would mean he was strong enough to race at Motegi, but rest has not helped.
In the week in which MotoGP marks ten years since the remarkable Norick Abe tragically died in a traffic accident (an occasion which MotoGP.com is marking by posting videoes of some of Abe’s career highlights on their Facebook page, news comes of extra Japanese presence at the Motegi round of MotoGP.
There will be at least two Japanese riders on the grid for the start of the race on Sunday, 15th October.
With Australian rider Jack Miller out through injury, the Marc VDS Honda team will be fielding Hiroshi Aoyama as a replacement at Motegi.
The choice of Aoyama should come as no real surprise: the former 250cc champion is one of HRC’s official test riders, and still heavily involved in Honda’s MotoGP effort, and especially with the development of the Honda RC213V.
The 2017 season has claimed another training victim. This time, Jack Miller is the victim of misfortune, the Australian breaking his right leg while out trials riding in Andorra.
Miller was relatively fortunate, in that he suffered the injury at very low speed, putting his foot down trying to save the front-end from washing out. However, his foot got stuck, causing the tibia to fracture just below the knee.