It’s been a long season. The difference between 18 and 19 rounds is more than the 5.5% increase it implies. The wear and tear of 19 races – well, 18 races and a day of hanging around in the rain at Silverstone – has taken its toll on the bikes, on the riders, on the teams, on the paddock. So what better way to round the season off with a giant party at the Circuito Ricardo Tormo near Valencia?
There are probably half a dozen or more places better suited to holding the last race of a MotoGP season. Phillip Island would be warmer, and guarantee an exciting race. Jerez would be less likely to see heavy rain or cold temperatures. South Africa, Argentina, even Sepang or Thailand would be more suitable, in terms of climate.
Yet Valencia still has an awful lot going for it. The track might be too tight for MotoGP bikes, but it sits in a bowl, forming a natural amphitheater, giving the fans in the stands a view of every part of the track. The fans turn up, too: 100,000 or more, creating a real party atmosphere, exactly what you need at an end of season race.
The fact that it is under four hours from Barcelona, Dorna’s base, meaning that most Dorna staff can sleep in their own beds on Sunday night (or for the lucky ones, on Monday, after Sunday night’s prize-giving ceremony and blowout party) is a bonus.
MotoGP heads 6400km north for the final leg of the Pacific flyaways, and the penultimate race of the season. The contrasts between Phillip Island, where the paddock has just departed, and Sepang, where they have just arrived, could hardly be greater.
Phillip Island famously has four seasons in one day, though all too often, those seasons are winter, spring, winter, and winter. Sepang has two seasons in one day: hot and humid, and hot and pouring with rain.
The rain can come as a blessed relief, though, in what is undoubtedly the toughest race of the year. “I think this will be the toughest race of the year,” Danilo Petrucci said. “Yesterday I went out for a run, and I was lucky that in the middle of the second lap when I was running that a thunderstorm has arrived, and I asked to the rain if it can come on the second lap of the race!”
“Joking apart, it helped me a lot yesterday. The last two years it has been wet, and it’s tough anyway, because in the wet, the problem is not the temperature, but the humidity, and it’s very difficult to breathe. You don’t breathe oxygen, you breathe oxygen and water. Last time we rode here in the dry was 2015, and the race was very, very tough.”
So there’s your choice: breathe oxygen and water, or struggle to breathe at all.
MotoGP’s Asia-Pacific races tend to get lumped together in the popular imagination. They are “The Flyaways”, formerly three, now four races in parts East, a long way away from the homes of the vast majority of the paddock.
The triple header – Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang – is especially susceptible to this, as the three back-to-back races tend to leave the paddock in a state of constant befuddlement, fatigued from jet lag, and spending much of their time on 8+ hour flights between the various venues. Everything tends to become one big blur.
Yet there are vast differences between all four flyaways. Leaving the crushing heat of Thailand, the paddock heads east to Motegi, a track where conditions can be almost Northern European, with mist, rain, and cold mornings.
Across the equator to Australia, and the edge of the Bass Strait, from a massive circuit complex to an old-fashioned facility perched on a cliff above the sea, from stop and go to fast and flowing. Then north again to Malaysia, and more oppressive tropical heat.
Conditions, tracks, and cultures, all are different. Buriram lies in the heart of Thailand, a long way from the tourist-filled beaches. Motegi is up in the hills in central Japan, a place where the 21st Century meets a very traditional culture.
Phillip Island can be boiling hot or arctic cold, those two extremes often within 20 minutes of each other on what is essentially a vacation island. Sepang sits next to Kuala Lumpur, the epitome of a fast-growing Asian city, and a hodgepodge of cultures. The contrasts could hardly be greater.
The next four MotoGP races are a glimpse of the sport’s future. The first and last of the foursome, in Thailand and Malaysia, are truly in the heart of all MotoGP’s tomorrows. The growth of the sport of motorcycle racing is explosive in Southeast Asia, and the expected crowds – already talk of crowds of up to 150,000 on Sunday – speak for themselves.
If Indonesia ever manages to overcome the political instability and endemic corruption which plagues the country, and finally completes a circuit or two, we could be complaining of having four races in Indonesia, rather than Spain.
But the addition of a round at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand highlights the issues with the current MotoGP schedule. The first five races of 2018 were spaced over 9 weeks.
The final European round of the WorldSBK season sees Magny-Cours play host to Jonathan Rea’s first attempt to make history by winning a fourth consecutive championship.
The Northern Irishman is on the cusp of history, and he clinched the title here 12 months ago.
Naming a corner after a rider confers a particular honor on that rider, but it also puts enormous pressure on them. The last time it happened – Jerez in 2013, where the final corner was named after Jorge Lorenzo – things didn’t quite work out the way the honoree had hoped.
Dani Pedrosa went on to win the race comfortably, while Lorenzo was bumped aside in his eponymous corner by Marc Márquez, finishing the race in third, and clearly upset. That gave rise to an episode of “Handshakegate”, a recurring paddock melodrama, where Jorge Lorenzo refused the proffered hand of Marc Márquez, wagging his finger in the younger Spaniard’s face as a sign of disapproval.
So what does this mean for Turn 10 at the Motorland Aragon circuit? The long left hander which starts at the bottom of the “Sacacorchos”, Aragon’s very own version of Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew, dips then rises round towards Turn 11, and the back half of the circuit.
Today, after resisting for several years, Marc Márquez finally accepted the honor of having the corner named after him, in a ceremony featuring Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta, the circuit director Santiago Abad, and circuit President Marta Gaston.
And so we leave England, and the debacle that was Silverstone, a race that was canceled due to rain in a land which is green and pleasant thanks to the generous application of precipitation all year round. It is said that the English language has as many words for rain as some Inuit languages have for snow, but I have been told that the number of words the Inuit have for snow is greatly exaggerated.
MotoGP heads south to Misano, for a late summer race on the Adriatic Riviera and the certainty of a race actually happening. The washout at Silverstone could never happen at Misano, could it? Those with longer memories will remember 2007, and the first race back at the Italian circuit since Wayne Rainey suffered his career-ending injury there.
A sudden flash storm on Friday revealed a severe drainage problem, with water flooding into the garages causing teams to scramble to get everything up above floor level, and leaving circuit officials standing waist-deep in water at one part of the track looking for a blocked drain.
Fortunately, the circuit fixed the problems, and since then, rain has not stopped practice from happening. So if it rains this weekend – and the forecast is for showers both on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning – the event should be able to proceed as normal. But if the forecast is correct, then it will have an effect on Sunday’s race. Any loss of practice time will benefit any rider who has tested here recently. And as it happens, a bunch of factories and teams have done just that.
A permanent and bitter debate rages among British fans over where the home of the British round of MotoGP should be. One faction believes that Donington Park should play host to MotoGP. The other states categorically that, no, the true home of MotoGP in the UK is the Silverstone circuit.
There is a third, far smaller faction which claims that Brands Hatch is where the British Grand Prix should be held. Blinded by nostalgia, they hark back to the halcyon days of World Superbikes, when fans packed the track to watch Carl Fogarty dominate.
But they ignore the fact that the circuit is too short, too tight, and frankly, too dangerous to play host to 270+hp MotoGP machines. The Ducati would barely get out of third gear around Brands. The Brands Hatch faction can safely be ignored.
The battle lines between Donington and Silverstone are clearly drawn. Donington is set on a rolling hillside, with grass banks where fans can watch a large part of the action. Fans love Donington for the views, and for the access (though not so much for the facilities).
Silverstone is a vast affair, with lots of fast sweeping corners where the MotoGP bikes can really stretch their legs. Racers love Silverstone for the challenge of riding fast and hard, but fans complain of limited access, limited views, and cold and windy seats up in grandstands.
Which track is better? In terms of racing, there is really no contest. Donington is too small, too tight to host a modern MotoGP machine.
The final sector, the Melbourne Loop, was a late addition to find the necessary length to allow the track to qualify as a Grand Prix circuit. It was added without any thought or imagination on how to make the circuit more interesting.
It is hard to imagine two tracks more different from one another than Brno and Austria.
From one of the most flowing and challenging circuits on the calendar, which caters to many different styles of bike and many different types of rider, to one of the plainest and simplest tracks which emphasizes braking and acceleration, and little more.
The Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria is an amazing facility, set in a stunning backdrop, but the track layout remains a simplistic and uninspiring affair.
“You can split the track in two parts,” Johann Zarco explains. “The first part until Turn 4, that you have hard braking and then strong acceleration, you restart from the corner from almost no speed to 300 km/h.”
From Turn 10, the last corner, there is the front straight, braking hard uphill for Turn 1, then the climb up the hill through the narrow and fast kink of Turn 2, before braking for the hairpin at Turn 3, then following a gentle downward slope along the hillside down to another tight right hander at Turn 4.
“Then second part with fast corners, but not many,” the Monster Tech3 rider continues. The loop through Turn 5, then the omega of Turns 6 and 7, the kink of Turn 8, then the hard right of Turn 9, which is crucial for lining up the final corner at Turn 10, and back onto the straight again.
“You get focused on four corners, and you are already finished the lap,” Zarco said. “And I don’t know, I like that, you repeat things many times, so it’s a lot of concentration for a short time, and then you repeat it.”
There are modern tracks on the MotoGP calendar, and there are old tracks. The modern tracks offer plenty of run off and nice wide tarmac, but are usually too tight and convoluted to give free rein to a MotoGP bike.
The old tracks are fast, flowing, offer plenty of overtaking opportunities, and are a real challenge, but they also tend to be narrow, and, frankly, dangerously lacking in run off. The riders find the new tracks irritating, but enjoy the safety, and they love the old tracks, but fear the consequences of a bad mistake.
The Automotodrom Brno seems like the perfect compromise. Fast and flowing, challenging, and big enough to give a MotoGP bike its legs. But also wide, with plenty of run off in most places, and plenty of grip from the track.
It has a stadium section, giving fans the chance to follow the action through a section of track. But it also flows up and down a hill, and through the woods, a ribbon of tarmac snaking through a beautiful natural setting, high on a hill above the city of Brno.
That location offers its own challenges. Up on the hill, it is usually a little cooler than down in the town. The woods exhale oxygen which gives the bikes a little power boost.
But they also hold moisture, the combination of high hills and thick woods raising the possibility of rain. Fortunately, the track retains its grip in the wet, though the rain can still shake up a race.
The Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race kicks off this week, with the racing action coming to us this weekend. The final stop on the FIM Endurance World Championship calendar, Suzuka also happens to be the endurance race that all the Japanese manufacturers want to win.
To put Suzuka into perspective, this race means more to Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha than the Motegi round of MotoGP.
It means more than any domestic championship, the World Superbike Championship, and possibly even the MotoGP Championship as well. For the Big Four, this is big business.
It is no surprise then that we are seeing three official one-off factory teams entering this year’s Suzuka race, on top of the bevy of factory supported squads already in the FIM EWC paddock.
With so much on the line this year, Asphalt & Rubber will have boots on the ground for the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours, bringing you content every day from this truly unique race in Japan.