Once upon a time in MotoGP, the life of a journalist was easy. At the end of every day, and after every race, there were four or five riders you absolutely had to speak to, plus another couple who would be either entertaining or worth listening to on occasion.
The rest of the field could be safely ignored, unless they happened to get lucky and The Big Names would crash out in front of them.
Then, a few things happened. Dorna cajoled the factories into accepting spec electronics and providing better bikes to the satellite teams.
Michelin replaced Bridgestone as official tire supplier, and supplied user-friendly tires to the riders. And a new generation of talent entered MotoGP through the Moto3 and Moto2 classes.
As a consequence, there are no longer just three or four stories that need to be told at each race, but a dozen or more. Journalists need to speak as many of the twelve factory riders as possible, plus another half or dozen satellite riders.
Factory PR bods add to the complexity by scheduling their riders to speak to the press five minutes apart, despite the fact that each rider debrief will go for at least fifteen minutes or more. Even the lower priority riders have genuinely fascinating tales to tell.
Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don’t have time to write about. Here’s what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
About Those Chassis
Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the “new” chassis and one of the “old” chassis.
The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year’s chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The “old” chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.
Valentino Rossi was constantly clear about which chassis he favored, and which chassis he used. Yet Viñales consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, claiming he had been banned from doing so by Yamaha. So how can one rider answer and the other refuse?
Many (though not all) questions were answered at the Qatar MotoGP test. One of the most frustrating questions of the 2017 preseason has been answered at last, however.
For weeks, MotoGP pundits have been puzzling over what could be in the ‘salad box’ slung under the tail of the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. Was it a device to counter chatter (or ‘jounce’, as it is more properly known)? Was it something to do with Ducati’s patent on a variable exhaust nozzle for providing thrust?
At Qatar, MCN reporter Simon Patterson finally got a straight – though unofficial – answer from Ducati. The ‘salad box’ contains a bunch of electronics moved from the front of the GP17 to allow Ducati to use their new aerodynamic fairing.
That fairing has a much narrower nose, to allow for the large ducts and airfoil surfaces, which Ducati have used to replace their winglets. The reduced space in the nose forced Ducati to relocate the components which had previously been on a mount behind the front section of the fairing.
This revelation has allowed me to feel a brief sense of smugness. Since the ‘salad box’ first made an appearance, I had suspected that the contents of the box had more to do with relocating components from elsewhere, rather than any active function itself.
“The question may not necessarily be what is in the box,” I wrote before the Qatar test, “but what did putting whatever is in the box in there allow the Desmosedici GP17’s designers to move around elsewhere.” As it turns out what Ducati’s engineers were chasing was some empty space.
It’s early days for the 2017 World Superbike season, but already plenty of people are crowning Jonathan Rea as a three-time champion. To anyone thinking that with 22 races remaining that the championship has been sown up, it would be wise not to count any chickens just yet.
Rea has most certainly been the class of the field so far in Australia and Thailand, but they are two tracks that the Kawasaki rider had been heavily favored to win at. Phillip Island is a wide-open race to open the year, but Rea has traditionally been a force at the Australian circuit.
Likewise in three years of visiting Thailand he has won five races. There’s a lot that can be taken from the opening three rounds of the year, but it will take a couple of European rounds before a clear picture truly emerges.
Can we just have every race at Phillip Island? That’s certainly what a lot of fans will be thinking after a thrilling opening weekend of World Superbike action.
The tension that has simmered between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies over the winter came to the fore over the weekend, and once again it is these two riders fighting it out for wins.
The 2017 Dakar Rally is done and dusted. The competitors are either already on their way home, or now spending a well-deserved vacation in South America, after tackling what is easily the most difficult motorcycle race on the planet.
The Dakar is of course iconic and well-known for its difficulty, where it is not uncommon to see riders perish on its course, but this year’s rally raid was billed as one of the most challenging editions of the Dakar Rally ever.
When a man like Marc Coma – a man who has won the race five times – tells you that, your default mode is to believe him.
Tackling that challenge were 143 riders, of which only on 96 made it all the way to Buenos Aires. And while KTM has been the dominant manufacturer for the past 15 years, the 2017 edition saw early on that any of the major four brands could have a hand on the trophy in Argentina.
Of course we know that KTM made it to a sweet 16th victory, sweeping the podium no less, but the results sheet betrays what happened on the course. As such, I wanted to share some notes I have from the 2017 Dakar Rally.
On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test, which we attended. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out.
When they did start, the times were poor – around 2’08, rather than the 2’05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.
After two races on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015.
We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.
What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.
Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved.
Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see.
The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.