Romano Fenati burst onto the racing scene like a meteor, burning bright and lighting up Moto3. But, bright lights burn fast, and now we are seeing the end of Fenati’s short mercurial career.
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 is a lot to love about the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As an event, it is fantastic: the facilities at the track are great, the city of Austin is a wonderful place to visit, with a lively party atmosphere downtown, and a million other things to do.
The landscape the track sits on is great for spectators, and the surrounding countryside is charming.
It is a race the riders love, and they have grown to love the track. “I like this track very much, it’s very good,” Valentino Rossi says of the Circuit of the Americas. “It’s good to ride because it’s very difficult, you have emotional corners, so it’s good.”
The bumps around the track have made it much tougher to ride, but the layout is still a favorite among many of the MotoGP paddock. It is highly technical and has a bit of everything: hard braking, hard acceleration, fast corners, slow corners, flowing combinations of corners which reward precision.
As great at the track is, it still produces rather lackluster races. The average margin of victory over all six editions has been 3.458 seconds, and that is discounting the time lost to the inevitable easing off to celebrate in the certain knowledge that victory is in the bag.
The gap has never been under 1.5 seconds, and there has never been a closely fought battle for victory, or even the podium spots, in the history of racing at the track. The result of the MotoGP race in Austin is usually set in stone before the halfway mark.
Even the normally mental Moto3 races are decided by seconds rather than hundredths. Only two of the six Moto3 races run so far were won by a margin of less than a second.
In Moto2, the winning margin has only once been under two seconds. That was in 2015, when Sam Lowes beat Johann Zarco by 1.999 seconds. The result in Moto2 has never been close.
Every MotoGP weekend throws up dozens of talking points, notes and points of interest that can help an interested observer better understand what remains the greatest sport on earth.
Some weekends have more to offer than others. And then there are weekends like Argentina. Already by qualifying, the Grand Prix at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit had produced more wildness and weirdness than you get at most rounds. And then Sunday came along.
Yesterday, I wrote a little about the peculiar and unique set of circumstances that caused the start of the race to be delayed, and about how Cal Crutchlow came to win what would be a fantastic race riddled with controversy.
Before I move on to the most controversial part of the weekend – Marc Márquez’s frantic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ride through the field, which eventually saw him penalized out of the points – a few more notes on the race itself, and the result as it ended up in the books.
We expected practice at Termas De Rio Hondo to be dominated by the weather, and we were right, though not in the way we expected.
Rain had been forecast for all of Friday, but it largely held off except for the odd wayward shower which caused more of a nuisance than any real disruption.
But a combination of a dirty track and strong and gusty winds made conditions difficult at the Argentinian round of MotoGP. It turned the field on its head: Andrea Dovizioso, the man who had won the previous race at Qatar, finished FP2 as 24th and last on Friday in Argentina.
The track played a big part in making life difficult for the riders (or more accurately, everyone not called Marc Márquez). The resurfacing had been a major improvement, removing the worst of the bumps, but the new surface didn’t really have any extra grip, the riders said.
“It’s positive about the bumps,” Andrea Dovizioso said. “Apart from Turn 4 all the other corners are much better, almost perfect. The grip is not good like the old one, maybe it’s worse, maybe it’s too new, I don’t know when they did.”
Valentino Rossi agreed. “The new surface is a bit better because we have less bumps,” the Italian said. “I think Michelin was a bit worried about the level of grip because they bring more tires. At the end the level of grip of the new asphalt is the same as the level of grip with the old asphalt.”
The real problem was the track still being dirty, and not being rubbered in, Marc Márquez explained.
“It’s good. In terms of grip, very very similar the new and old, you cannot feel the difference, because there is no rubber, it’s just dirty. But it’s so good about the bumps. Last year it was at the limit, quite dangerous with big bumps, but this year it’s completely flat,” the Spaniard told reporters.
You might call that a good start to the new season. There were four races held on Sunday at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar: three Grand Prix classes and race two of the Asia Talent Cup.
All four would become titanic battles between riders, ending in searing duels to the line. Three of the four would be decided by less than three hundredths of a second. The fourth – Moto2 – would be decided by just over a tenth.
The combined winning margin for MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 is just 0.162 seconds. Add in the Asia Talent Cup, and that takes the grand total to 0.175 seconds.
It seems fair to say we were treated to some insanely close races at Qatar. In Moto2 and Moto3, three riders broke away to contest victory among themselves.
In both classes, an incident – a crash in Moto3, a technical problem with the rear brake in Moto2 – saw the trio whittled down to a duo, the race going all the way to the line.
The MotoGP race was even tighter, the closest finishing group ever at Qatar, with first place separated from seventh place by just 4.621 seconds, and from eighth by 7.112. The top three finished within a second, the top two by 0.027 seconds – a numerologically pleasing gap, given the race-winning machine.
This was the closest race in MotoGP that I can remember. The leaders streaked across the line to complete 22 laps on Sunday night, and on 11 of those laps, the gap between first and second was less than a tenth of a second.
On another seven laps, the gap was between one and two tenths. On the remaining four laps, the gap was always under three tenths.
There was nothing to choose between the leaders, the winner impossible to identify even up until the final corner. It looked for all the world as if someone had tried to organize a MotoGP race, and a Moto3 race had broken out.
A freight train of riders chased each other round the track for 22 laps, and at the end, two men fought it out in the last corner, with an entertainingly predictable outcome.
After announcing the 2019 FIM MotoE World Cup roughly a year ago, details have been slow to emerge about this electric motorcycle series, which will run in parallel to the MotoGP Championship. Late last year we learned that Italian firm Energica had won the contract to supply MotoE with race bikes, which would be based off the Energica Ego production superbike, and now today we learn a little bit more about this fledgling series. In a press event announcing Enel as the title sponsor (more on that in a minute), Dorna and the FIM laid out the basics for MotoE, in terms of teams, bikes, tracks, and race format. As such, Dorna envisions 10-lap races for the MotoE World Cup, with little desire to increase the race distance as the series continues beyond its 2019 start date.
The show breaks down the season into five categories, with the hosts trading their picks on best GP races, best and worst riders, the most surprising moments, and the best overtakes of the year.
Their picks make for some good debate, and it helps preview the coming pre-season tests, which are about to get underway. Winter might still be here, but racing is just around the corner.
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!
In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough.
Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.
That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season.
During that press conference, On Track Off Road’s Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis, Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM’s Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.
The time schedule for the 2018 round of MotoGP at Qatar is to undergo a radical shake up. As we have previously reported, from next season, the time slots are to be moved up much earlier, with most of the action taking place during the day, and only the MotoGP race to take place completely at night.
The change has been made to address a range of problems at Qatar. The 2017 race came under threat when rain started falling between the end of the Moto2 race and the planned start of the MotoGP race.
Fortunately, the track dried sufficiently for the race to start with a 45 minute delay, but the later start pushed the race right into the time period during which the dew usually starts to settle on the track, rendering it treacherous.
The dewpoint at the track has caused problems ever since the race switched to being held at night. As temperatures drop during what is the most humid (a relative term, admittedly) part of the year in Qatar.
That part of the year is also the time at which rain is most likely to fall, despite still being relatively rare. In 2017, rain caused the loss of qualifying for all three classes.