The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture.
Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables.
Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec-electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.
It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing.
There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.
Bradley Smith is to keep his MotoGP ride with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team for another season. After a difficult start to the 2014 season, Smith’s place in the MotoGP team had been in doubt, as this was the year when the Englishman had been expected to deliver.
Smith had shown glimpses of his potential at a number of rounds, often being fast in practice. But several crashes and poor race results have seen Smith fall short on Sunday, when it counts.
Smith keeping his place is in part due to team boss Herve Poncharal keeping faith in the young Briton, who has raced for Tech 3 in Moto2 and MotoGP since 2011. But the lack of a suitable replacement was also a reason for Poncharal to retain Smith.
Under Tuscan skies, MotoGP ends its three-consecutive race weekends in Mugello, Italy — one of the most favorite stops on the Championship calendar each season. With Casey Stoner struggling at the Italian track, and Jorge Lorenzo dominating, a clear move in the Championship points seemed destined for the Italian GP. Adding a curve ball to the equation though was Repsol Honda man Dani Pedrosa, who sat on the pole-position, and who also showed a renewed promise to contend for the Championship title.
With the battle at the front of the Championship heating up, the battle between the best of the rest was also coming to a head — especially over the empty seat in the factory Yamaha squad. Said to be held up by one Mr. Valentino Rossi, waiting in the wings are also Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies, and Cal Crutchlow. With the American said to have an edge on keeping his seat, mostly due to the checks Yamaha USA writes, Spies’ abysmal season seems almost all but forgiven. Though anything can happen before MotoGP makes its next stop, in the USA at Laguna Seca.
At Mugello, a large number of pieces in MotoGP’s Silly Season are expected to fall into place. The long-expected announcement of the Repsol Honda team will be made on Thursday, according to Catalunya Radio, with Marc Marquez taking his place alongside Dani Pedrosa, who has inked a two-year extension with HRC. Pedrosa acknowledged at the Sachsenring that there were only details left to clear up, and after winning Germany, the Spaniard appears to have cleared the final hurdles to a new deal.
Mugello also looks like being the deadline for Cal Crutchlow. The 26-year-old Coventry man has offers of two-year deals from both the Ducati Corse team and his current Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team. What Crutchlow would really like is a seat at the factory Yamaha team, but with that seat probably unavailable – either being held open for a possible return to the fold of Valentino Rossi, or else retaining current rider Ben Spies – Crutchlow is instead likely to accept Ducati’s offer of a factory ride, believing that factory equipment is his only chance of winning races and a Championship. According to British motorcycling journal MCN, Crutchlow has been given until Mugello to make up his mind.
With the sun shining on the Spanish track outside of Barcelona, MotoGP returns to the Iberian Peninsula for the Catalan GP this weekend. Despite seeing the factory Repsol Honda’s of Stoner and Pedrosa top the time sheets previously all week, it was the Yamahas that stole the show during qualifying*.
Note that asterisks though, which stands for Casey Stoner, who continues to show the top pace, despite his retirement coming closer with every day. With the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha’s able to roll just as well as the factory units, it comes as no surprise then that all four Yamaha’s are in the Top 6, with Lorenzo and Crutchlow rounding out the front row for tomorrow’s race (in that order).
With Spies fourth, Hayden seventh, and Rossi nineth, the order of things could be shaken up tomorrow, as rain hasn’t been ruled out of the forecast. Full qualifying results after the jump.
Staying fit during the off-season is critical for any serious motorcycle racer. At the pinnacle of the sport, the off-season raises the stakes even higher as MotoGP riders are differentiated only by minute ticks on a very exacting scale of talent. Keeping one’s body and mind ready for battle is only part of the equation though, and we often see the top riders cross-training with a variety of sports, most notably off-road riding. Of course, with the added pressure to continue training hard in the off-season, there is bound to be accidents and injuries.
Nicky Hayden was caught out last week, as the American broke his shoulder and ribs during an indoor flat-tracking training accident. And this week, the off-season has claimed Monster Tech 3 rider Andrea Dovizioso, as the Italian broke his collarbone while training on his dirt bike. Though the full extent of Dovi’s injuries are not yet known (Tech 3 was between press officers the last we heard), it is expected that the Yamaha rider will be fit enough for MotoGP’s second off-season test January 31st at Sepang.
Another seat in the silly season game of musical chairs has been snatched, as Andrea Dovizioso has signed a contract with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad for the 2012 season. Shit out of luck, in more common vernacular, Dovizioso found himself the odd-man out after Honda announced that it would only have three factory riders for the upcoming season. With Stoner and Pedrosa still under contract through that term, this news meant a tough choice between Dovi and rival Marco Simoncelli. Though consistently placing higher than his fellow Italian, Dovizioso lost out to SuperSic’s bold track moves and likable off-track demeanor.
While bad news for Dovi, the falling-out from Honda meant good news for the rest of the MotoGP teams who were anxious to retain the services of the potently quick Repsol Honda rider. Hervé Poncharal’s Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team seemingly won the battle of the offers, as it’s being reported that the French team has signed Andrea Dovizioso for the 2012 season, beating out the many other offers Dovi had on the table, including a reportedly factory-spec Honda at LCR Honda.
Also joining Nicky Hayden at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway teleconference was the venerable Colin Edwards, who took some time off from scoping and loading his new 338 Edge rifle to talk to Asphalt & Rubber and a select group of other journalists about the MotoGP season and the upcoming Indianapolis round. By his own admission, Edwards is not having as good of a season this year in MotoGP as he would like, with many in the paddock wondering if 2011 is the Texas Tornado’s last year in MotoGP. Saying that he wasn’t ready to retire, Edwards hinted that some announcements were coming down the line, though probably not in time for the Indianapolis GP.
“Will we make any kind of announcement at Indy? Probably not. Misano, maybe, I don’t know,” mused Edwards. “We’ve got a few pieces of the puzzle laying around. We’ve just got to put those pieces together. Probably the worst thing is that I’m not ready to retire. That would make it easy for everybody. But at the moment, I’m still enjoying it. I’m still having a good time, and I’m still motivated. Until that goes away, I’m going to ride motorcycles.” Read the rest of the teleconference transcript after the jump.
Filling the void left behind by Ben Spies, who will be riding with the factory Yamaha squad in MotoGP next season, Cal Crutchlow has officially re-signed to a two-year contract with Yamaha, and will begin his MotoGP tenure with the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. None of this news should be shocking to the MotoGP and WSBK loyal, as Crutchlow has been linked with a MotoGP/Tech3 seat for some time now.
Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team Manager Hervé Poncharal revealed to Asphalt & Rubber back at Laguna Seca that Crutchlow was one of a few names on a very short list that could replace Ben Spies next season.With the Englishman seen repeatedly around the MotoGP paddock and meeting with Tech3 and Yamaha representatives, it was clear where Crutchlow would land, but the announcement is still a big one for Yamaha all the same.
If you haven’t seen today’s British GP at Silverstone, stop reading this article, and go watch your Tivo right now. We can hardly contain ourselves after watching the race, so we’ll keep this intro short. While the race winner is not going to surprise too many GP race fans, it’s the rest of the finishes that had us jumping up and down on our chairs. Spoilers after the jump