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Livio Suppo

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After the departure of both Shuhei Nakamoto and Livio Suppo from HRC and the Repsol Honda team, Honda has announced that it will be making Alberto Puig Team Manager of the Repsol Honda team.

The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda.

Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more.

He went on to become Dani Pedrosa’s personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.

But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces.

2017 has been a strange year in motorcycle racing. We have had one of the best ever seasons of racing in MotoGP, with close finishes and a surprise title challenger.

We have seen one of the best ever WorldSBK riders stamp his authority on the series, though that has also seen the championship suffer partly as a result.

We have seen young talent come through in the support classes, and older talent recognized and appreciated. There has been much to celebrate.

But there has also been much to mourn. 2017 saw two of the most iconic names in motorcycle racing lose their lives, ironically, both in traffic accidents and not on motorcycles.

Nicky Hayden was killed while out training on his bicycle, hit by a car as he crossed a road at a treacherous crossroads. Angel Nieto suffered head injuries when he was hit by a car while out riding a quad bike on Ibiza.

A bit of a surprise comes from the MotoGP paddock today, as it has been announced that Livio Suppo has resigned from Honda Racing Corporation (HRC).

A staple of MotoGP racing, Suppo started in MotoGP with Ducati Corse back in 1999, as the Italian brand’s racing Marketing Director. Moving on from Ducati in 2010, he joined Honda at HRC, where he has been the MotoGP Team Principal at the Repsol Honda squad since 2013.

The riders will have been off the bikes for about 80 hours before they take to the track again at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Back-to-back races are always tough, but doing back-to-backs with a test in between can be pretty brutal. At least everyone will be sharp when practice starts on Friday.

The Red Bull Ring is a unique track, though how you interpret the word “unique” is very much up to you. In one respect, the Spielberg circuit is just a few straights connected by sharp corners, with a replica of the Sachsenring’s Omega curve thrown in for good measure.

On paper, it looks pretty dull, yet it is surprisingly popular among the riders. This is in part because of the stunning setting, and the elevation changes that add charm to the circuit.

But mostly, it’s because it’s a very, very fast circuit. And there is nothing that a motorcycle racer likes more than going very, very fast on a motorcycle. Oddly enough.

After four weeks, MotoGP is back. That four-week break is a big deal. A much bigger deal than you might expect. Having a big break in the middle of the summer made the season much more manageable.

“The problem is the pressure we have,” Aleix Espargaro explained. “MotoGP looks like it’s a lot of fun on the TV, and it is very fun, but we have a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, so to be able to disconnect and do nothing, it’s always good.”

That comment came in response to a question about the addition of the KymiRing in Finland to the calendar in 2019, which will expand the schedule to 20 races, after the inclusion of the Chang circuit in Thailand next year.

The general feeling among riders was that 20 races was manageable, though with the caveat that Dorna ensures there is a large summer break.

Aleix Espargaro again: “For me the most important thing is to have a good break in the summer, like one month, because then you can disconnect. Really, I don’t care if we do four races in a row, I don’t care.”

“I would like to do it if possible, four races in a row or three times three races in a row, but it’s important in the middle to have a break, to just reset your mind, charge batteries. Because when you race a lot of consecutive races, it’s very very hard for the body, for the head, for everything. But if we still have the summer break, one race more is no big problem.”

The plan, as I understand it, is to cut testing to a minimum, with two, or perhaps even just a single winter test in late January/early February. The timing of the Qatar race would be changed, so the race would be at 7pm rather than 9pm, with Moto3 and Moto2 running during daylight.

That will allow Qatar to be scheduled for a much earlier start, perhaps the first week of March, or even the last week of February. The season could then be broken up into two parts of ten races each, with a month break in the middle.

Where Finland fits in with that is uncertain, but it seems clear that a change is coming.

The weather has not been kind to MotoGP in 2016. At the nine events since Barcelona, it has rained at some point or another at five of them. At two more, Austria and Motegi, it was the cold rather than the rain that was a factor.

Even Sepang, where in most years, it only rains once the riders have finished practice, has seen the rain ruin riders’ plans.

Heavy rains overnight left the track covered in damp patches, despite the resurfacing of the circuit, which was done to address the issue of standing water in some corners.

More rain at lunchtime meant the afternoon sessions were done on a wet track that dried slowly, despite the tropical sun beating down.

The track should have been dry in the morning, after the sun had had four hours to burn off the water. But patches remained at various points around the track, most away from the racing line, but there were some spots where the water remained on the racing line.

“The dampest part of the track is Turn 3 –that’s the slippiest,” Scott Redding said. “Turn 3 still had a lot of patches. Turn 4 had some too, especially on that acceleration point. There were a few into Turn 14. The angle that you have most, where Zarco went down, it was just everywhere around there. You had to work out a line, the way through there, without hitting any puddles.”

The music has stopped for the MotoGP riders, with all of them now having taken their seats for next year. That does not mean that contract season is over, however. We are in the middle of another migration, this time of crew chiefs and mechanics.

It all started with Jorge Lorenzo. The Movistar Yamaha rider’s move to Ducati for next season left him needing a crew chief. Once his current crew chief Ramon Forcada made the decision to stay with Yamaha, and work with Maverick Viñales, who takes Lorenzo’s place, that precipitated a search for someone to work with the Spaniard at Ducati.

It was a search that took some time, but which saw Cristian Gabarrini tempted back to Ducati. The quiet, reflective Italian had been set somewhat adrift after the retirement of Casey Stoner, with whom Gabarrini won MotoGP titles at Ducati and Honda.

First, he acted as engineering advisor to Marc Márquez and his crew chief Santi Hernandez, but Márquez made it clear he wanted only to work with Hernandez. Then he was put in charge of Honda’s Open Class project, and managing the bikes.

With seven races to go, and three to be held over the next four weekends, the MotoGP championship is entering a crucial phase. Marc Márquez’s 53-point lead over Valentino Rossi means finishing on the podium for the rest of the races would be sufficient for him to clinch his third MotoGP title.

The two caveats being that Valentino Rossi must win the remaining seven races, and Márquez must finish second on at least three occasions.

Márquez also has a lead of 59 points over Jorge Lorenzo. Just two second places among seven podium finishes would be enough to ensure he beat Lorenzo to the championship. Though once again, Lorenzo would have to win all seven remaining races.

A likely scenario? Not really. The chances of either Lorenzo or Rossi winning seven races in a row are very close to zero. The remaining seven races could conceivably all be won by a Movistar Yamaha rider, but the most likely scenario in that case would be both Rossi and Lorenzo swapping victories each week.

An even more likely chain of events would be Rossi, Lorenzo, and Márquez taking it in turns on the top step. And if Márquez finishes ahead of either Rossi or Lorenzo, that swings the pendulum in further in his direction.

The tire degradation during the MotoGP race at Brno was still a hot topic on the test on Monday, after so many riders suffered problems during the race on Sunday.

We asked most of the riders who tested on Monday what they felt about the tires, and whether they were safe. We also spoke to Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s technical director, and he explained why he felt that some riders had suffered problems, while others had been able to finish the race.

The comments below are offered without any further commentary. I do not wish to cloud the judgment of those reading the comments by first setting out my own theory of what happened. The comments stand on their own, and should be read as such.

The report last night that Dani Pedrosa will replace Jorge Lorenzo in the Movistar Yamaha garage had a devastating effect on the paddock on Saturday. It provoked an almost universal panic among everyone peripheral to the decision.

Maverick Viñales’ manager Paco Sanchez – strictly speaking, the lawyer who is helping Viñales with his contract negotiations, as Viñales is managing himself – was interviewed by every television broadcaster in the MotoGP paddock, along with nearly every radio station and most journalists.

Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo and Movistar Yamaha team director Maio Meregalli did pretty much the same, answering the same questions over and over. It was Silly Season at its most frenetic.

As an example, the Spanish sports daily – Spanish journalists are chasing this story hardest, as they have the most at stake – AS featured the following vignette on its website.

Reporter Mela Chercoles walked past Albert Valera, manager of Jorge Lorenzo, Aleix Espargaro and others, and heard him berating Alex Salas, assistant to Maverick Viñales.

“Tell me that Maverick won’t let the Yamaha train get away from him,” Chercoles reports Valera as saying. The sense of disbelief in the paddock is huge.

Phillip Island is arguably the greatest race track for motorcycles in the world. It is a circuit where every racer wants to race, where every trackday rider wants to cut some laps, where every race fan wants to visit. There are a million reasons to visit Phillip Island, all of them good.

Testing in preparation for a MotoGP season is not one of them, however. Phillip Island has a long history of riders winning based on bravery and ability, rather than equipment.

In October, Maverick Viñales finished in sixth on the massively underpowered Suzuki GSX-RR, just a second behind Dani Pedrosa, who had won a week previously at Motegi and would win a week later at Sepang.

Between the two of them, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi have won twelve of the last fourteen races on a variety of Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis.

Testing at Phillip Island does not teach you as much about the motorcycle underneath the rider as it does about the rider on top of the motorcycle, and the testicular fortitude they are able to display at the circuit.

Viñales described testing at the track as being about checking to see if he had “the cojones” around the circuit. With a new, more powerful GSX-RR at his disposal, there was one useful aspect of testing at the Island: “I need to use more cojones if I have more power,” he quipped.