It is a good job that the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina is one of the finest on the calendar. Because actually getting there would test the patience of Odysseus.
For most of the MotoGP paddock, it is at least a 24-hour journey to get to the track. If everything goes according to plan, that is, which, as any experienced traveler will tell you, things tend not to do.
This year, as usual, a sizable portion of the paddock found themselves taking the better part of two days or more to get to the circuit. Poor weather, a diverted flight, or a missed connection meant that some paddock folk found themselves rerouted via Montevideo in Uruguay.
Pol Espargaro got bumped off his overbooked flight to Buenos Aires. Members of the Marc VDS MotoGP team took 48 hours to get to Termas, with team press officer Ian Wheeler the current record holder, taking 50 hours to get from Dublin to the Argentinian track.
It took him 28 hours to travel just 500km, an average speed that even I, an overweight, aging journalist manage to exceed while out cycling.
It’s worth it once you get there, though. The atmosphere at the track is phenomenal, and the circuit layout is one of the best of the season.
The circuit has a bit of everything, and a lot of the thing which racers love: fast, flowing, challenging corners which test rider courage and skill equally. Though there is no real elevation change, the circuit has enough dips and crests to require precision in braking.
If you thought the 2019 MotoGP Silly Season was already in high gear, a bombshell announcement has just put it into overdrive. Today, the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team announced that from 2019, they will be parting ways. Tech3 will no longer be a satellite Yamaha team.
The split brings to an end an association of nearly 20 years with Yamaha. They first started in 1999 with Shinya Nakano and Olivier Jacque in 250cc, before switching to the premier class with the same pair in 2001.
Tech3 has been a loyal partner for many years, giving up one seat to a factory-backed rider on a number of occasions, as occurred with Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, and Pol Espargaro. However, there had been a few signs of tension over the past few months.
Although Hervé Poncharal remained ever the gentleman when talking about Yamaha, toeing the company line, there were occasional hints of frustration in his response to questions, though never anything explicit.
With Tech3 having been given a better offer from a different manufacturer – as the press release states – that made it easier to end the association with Yamaha.
Confirming what had been the suspicion at the MotoGP test in Thailand, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team has confirmed that Hafizh Syahrin will race with the squad for the 2018 season.
The Malaysian rider showed good pace on the Yamaha YZR-M1, and promises a great deal of potential to the satellite MotoGP squad – more importantly, he fit into the tight criteria that team boss Herve Poncharal required for Folger’s replacement.
The first day of testing after the winter break is always tough, and often deceptive. Riders spend the day trying to get their heads around mind-warping speed, which simply can’t be replicated by time on an MX or Supermoto bike.
They have to deal with cramp in muscles they had forgotten existed, and which are only taxed by the very specific task of wrangling a 157kg MotoGP around Sepang’s serpentine tarmac at speeds of over 320 km/h.
They have to do all this in tropical heat, temperatures in the mid 30s °C and humidity of over 70% or more. The fresh-faced youngsters who spoke to us the day before are looking about 20 years older at their debriefs.
So sure, we have a timesheet, with names ranked in order of fastest lap. But that ranking should be regarded with a certain amount of caution.
The first day of the test is a day of acclimatizing to riding the fastest racing motorcycles in the world again, and preparing for what is to come before the season starts.
“The target today is just ride,” Andrea Iannone said on Sunday night. “Ride, recover the feeling and arrive ready for tomorrow to start the plan we have.”
Some recover that feeling faster than others, of course, and some aim to put in a fast lap and establish themselves, while others prefer to focus on getting back into a race rhythm, and working on all that entails.
But in the end, the results should be taken with a grain or two of salt, at the very least.
It is hard to envision a worse time to lose a rider for the season. Jonas Folger’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the 2018 MotoGP season to focus on his health was a hammer blow for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team.
Just weeks before the start of testing for the new season, and long after riders good enough to race in MotoGP have signed contracts, Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal is left looking for a replacement.
It is a massive task, especially as Poncharal is refusing to break any contracts to take a rider. “You would be amazed to hear how many phone calls I have had, and who from,” he told us.
“There were some interesting names, honestly, but priority for me, the basis for me is that I will never take or enter into any kind of discussion with someone who has a contract.”
That attitude is born not just from a sense of what is right, but also from self interest. “At the end of the day, everybody is working hard, everybody is trying to finalize and make a plan,” Poncharal said.
“Finally you end up with a contract, and when both parties sign, this needs to have a value, because if a rider signs something thinking, ‘OK, worst case scenario, this is what I have, but if there is a better opportunity, I’m going to take it…’ then why do we sign a contract?”
The 2018 season starts off with a nasty surprise for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. On Wednesday, the team announced that Jonas Folger will not be racing in 2018, leaving them without a second rider for the coming season.
The reason Folger gave for pulling out of racing is to focus on recovery from the health issues he suffered at the end of 2017.
The German was forced to pull out of the three Asian flyaways, after health problems later diagnosed as Gilbert’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the liver which causes chronic fatigue.
Folger still does not feel at 100% fitness, and decided to take a year out of racing to focus fully on his recovery.
In a sign of how difficult Yamaha’s 2017 season has been, they have a busy testing schedule ahead of them in the next few weeks. After the traditional two-day test at Valencia, both the Movistar Yamaha and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will be heading to Malaysia, for a private test at Sepang.
The testing schedule for Yamaha means that Michael van der Mark will not be taking part in the two-day test at Valencia. Yamaha needs the resources from the Tech 3 team to assist Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Johann Zarco get through their program.
“They have so much to test here that they need my team to help prepare everything,” Van der Mark told the media on Thursday.
The testing schedule and the decision to enlist the help of the Tech 3 team is a sign of how much work Yamaha fear they have ahead of them.