In the fifth part of our season review of 2014, we turn to the Espargaro brothers. Both Pol and Aleix had excellent seasons, impressing many with their speed. If you would like to read the four previous parts of our season review, they are here: Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, and Pol Espargaro.
7th – 126 points – Aleix Espargaro
After being the best CRT rider two years running, all Aleix Espargaro wanted was to get a chance to test himself against the best riders on the world on equal machinery.
In 2014, he came very close to doing just that. Riding the Forward Yamaha – basically a 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1 with bodywork, triple clamps, linkage, and other peripheral parts built by FTR – in the Open class put the elder Espargaro brother on a bike which was fast enough to scare factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo into demanding that Yamaha seriously consider switching to the Open class.
As the season progressed, it would become apparent that there were still serious performance differences between the Forward Yamaha and the factory bikes. Yet Aleix Espargaro still ended the year having impressed a lot of people, and earning himself a factory ride for 2015.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Espargaro generated a lot of excitement during preseason testing, consistently elbowing his way into the top five, and topping the Qatar test when the factory riders were absent.
It seems the rumors out of Indianapolis were true, as Colin Edwards’ role at the NGM Forward team has come to awkward end. Officially “retiring early” Edwards will continue to ride for the team by “doing some wild cards,” according to the team press release. The only round confirmed by the team is Silverstone, though Edwards says he will ride at Valencia as well.
“It has been a great weekend here at Indy with lots of support from the family, the friends and the team,” said Edwards. “I’m not 100% certain about how many races I will do till the end of the season but for sure I will be in Silverstone, weather [sic] I will be racing or not.”
“I have a big fans support there and I cannot miss this appointment. I am thinking about my future, the different possibilities. I’m happy and I look forward to the second part of my life,” concluded the Texas Tornado.
A failed experiment, it may have been, but one good thing to come from the Claiming Rule Team (CRT) regulations in MotoGP was the ability for private teams to own the GP machines they were racing, rather than be victim to the lease programs imposed by the factories. As a result, from time-to-time we get to see these truly special motorbikes come on the market, and today is one such occasion. Listed for sale on eBay is the Forward Racing’s Kawasaki-FTR race bike that was campaigned by Colin Edwards during the 2013 MotoGP season. With a dry weight of 157 kg (346 lbs), and a peak horsepower figure of 245+ horsepower at the crank, this might be the ultimate Kawasaki on the market.
With all of the prototype seats occupied for 2014 – barring a contractual bust up between Ducati and Ben Spies, which is only an expensive theoretical possibility at the moment – battle has commenced for the rest of the MotoGP seats regarded as being most competitive. While the factory bikes – the bikes in the factory and satellite teams being raced as MSMA entries – are all taken, the privateer machines – using Dorna spec-ECU software and extra fuel – are still mostly up for grabs.
The three most highly sought after machines are the 2013 Yamaha M1s to be leased by the NGM Forward squad, Honda’s production racer (a modified RC213V with a standard gearbox and metal spring instead of pneumatic valves) and the Aprilia ART bikes, which are a heavily modified version of Aprilia’s RSV4 superbike.
Of the three, only the ART machine is a known quantity, with Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet having raced the bikes with some success in 2012 and 2013, joined by Yonny Hernandez and Karel Abraham this year. Teams and riders will have to guess about the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas, though given the basis of the two machines, it is a safe bet they will be relatively competitive.
The most popular machine among riders is the Yamaha M1, naturally enough. The bike is a near complete 2013 machine, with a few parts excluded, such as the fuel tank, and will utilize the spec-ECU software from Dorna, being developed by the current CRT teams.
Given just how good the 2013 M1 is – Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have won races on it, Cal Crutchlow has scored regular podiums – it is expected to be the best privateer machine on the grid next season, and anyone hoping to advance in the series is angling for a ride on it.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders. In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year. For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend.
With the available seats at the teams with factory prototypes all now full with the exception of the final satellite Honda – most likely a toss-up between Scott Redding and Alvaro Bautista at Gresini Honda, though rumors persist of Marc VDS Racing taking the Honda RC213V from Gresini and fielding Redding in their own team – attention has now turned to the CRT grid, and the available seats being filled there.
At Misano, two teams announced their plans for 2013. On Thursday, the NGM Forward squad announced they had persuaded Colin Edwards to stay for another season, meaning that the Texan will remain in MotoGP for another year. The team is to finish the 2012 season on the Suter BMW, before making a decision on which bike to use for 2013. The team had been considering a switch to the Aprilia ART machine, but promises of an expanded testing program and more development have kept Forward on board for the rest of the season.
The Cardion AB team will be using the Aprilia ART, however. Today, the team officially confirmed that they would not be continuing with Ducati and would be switching to an Aprilia ART machine. The team will work in partnership with Aprilia and the Aspar team to help develop the Aprilia, in preparation for the new rules in 2014, which will see a rev limit and spec ECU imposed. Karel Abraham will remain the rider for the team.
Late last week, Indianapolis Motor Speedway held a teleconference with MotoGP riders Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden, helping gear us up for this coming weekend’s Indianapolis GP. We couldn’t make the call, since I was busy freezing my ass off on some mountain in Colorado, but the good folks at IMS were kind enough to transcribe the interview, and share it with us.
With the teleconference taking place just before the announcement that Valentino Rossi would be leaving Ducati at the end of the season, and joining Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha, Hayden had to field a couple questions regarding the 2012 MotoGP Silly Season and his teammate for next year. Of course, Hayden also fielded questions about
Audi’s Lamborghini’s acquisition of Ducati, and how that would affect Ducati Corse’s MotoGP efforts.
The interview sheds some good insight into what is happening with Colin Edwards at the NGM Forward Racing team, which has struggled with its BMW/Suter CRT package all season. Forward Racing is expected to make a switch to an Aprilia ART bike at Indy, which so far has been the most competent CRT package on the 2012 grid, and the topic the CRTs vs the Prototypes is one Edwards talks about at length. Perhaps most interesting is Edwards’ take on the American road racing landscape, and the geopolitical issues within the MotoGP paddock.
Continue after the jump for the full transcript of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway teleconference.
Silly Season has hit full swing in Germany, not just for the MotoGP class but for the support classes as well. And while movements in MotoGP are mainly about what is happening next year, in Moto2 and Moto3 – and even among the CRT machines – there is some serious rider swapping going on for the rest of this season.
In MotoGP, the next two key movements just got a lot closer. Dani Pedrosa is now very close to staying with the Repsol Honda team, telling Spanish journalists that he would sign a new two-year contract with HRC either here in the Sachsenring or at Mugello at the latest. His priority had been to stay on a bike he felt he could win with, telling the Spanish newspaper ABC earlier this week that Honda and Yamaha had been his only realistic options. The Ducati, he said rather pointedly, was more something a rider might consider before their retirement.
Chris Vermeulen has been named as the replacement for Colin Edwards in the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team for the Le Mans round of MotoGP. Edwards broke his left collarbone in a crash during free practice at Estoril, and has decided after surgery to skip the French Grand Prix, and return at Barcelona in early June.
Vermeulen has been named as replacement for Edwards because of the Australian’s prior experience on a MotoGP bike. Vermeulen spent four years in MotoGP with the factory Suzuki team, and spent all that time using Bridgestone tires. Vermeulen also has form at Le Mans: he won his only Grand Prix at the circuit, albeit in the pouring rain in 2007. After losing his ride with Suzuki in MotoGP, Vermeulen returned to the World Superbike series to race with Kawasaki.
A series of bad crashes left the Australian struggling with a serious knee injury, and having problems racing. Just as it looked like Vermeulen may have returned to full fitness, he was left without a ride in WSBK. To return to MotoGP, on a bike still in the midst of development, places a rather heavy load on the shoulders of one who has not raced for nearly 10 months.
Colin Edwards has broken his left collarbone in a crash during qualifying for the Portuguese MotoGP round at Estoril on Saturday. The NGM Forward rider was knocked off his bike in the latter part of qualifying practice, as he cruised around off the racing line. Randy de Puniet lost the front of his Power Electronics Aprilia machine, which slid along the track and hit Edwards’ Suter BMW. Edwards fell heavily, suffering a mild concussion and injuring his collarbone in the fall. De Puniet was taken to the medical center, where he was diagnosed with bruising to his finger, and general soreness.
Many in the MotoGP paddock have been waiting to cast their verdict on the CRT endeavor, withholding their judgments until a top GP rider took to the helm of a CRT machine and properly put the bike through its paces. With tests earlier in the year showing Mika Kallio on-board the BMW/Suter to be over six seconds off the pace of the 800cc-era machines, the CRT future of MotoGP looked to be in jeopardy. Those lap times improved over the year to be “only” four seconds off that 1,000-era bike pace, showing improvement, yet a gap to the front-runners. Now with Edwards finally swinging a leg over the BMW S1000RR-powered Suter prototype, surely more comparisons between the factory prototypes and CRT offerings are to ensue.