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Episode 132 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one comes to us from the WorldSBK paddock, as Steve English and Gordon Ritchie join us from Phillip Island, just ahead of the season-opening round.

As you would expect, the duo catches us up on the pre-season happenings in the production class, and give us a preview of things to come from the Australian round.

This weekend, MotoGP bikes have been rolling onto the track for the start of the 2020 season.

They have done so almost completely out of the public eye (prompting the philosophical question of if an RC213V is fired up at a circuit, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) as three days of the MotoGP shakedown test gets underway at Sepang.

The shakedown test was a private test, meaning it is closed to the media and public. There is no live timing publicly available from the test, and lap times are probably unreliable, as teams and factories release the times they want to make public (if any), rather than a neutral timing system recording every lap.

How quickly things can change. At Phillip Island a week ago, Valentino Rossi was being feted for his 400th Grand Prix start against a background of concern over the nine-time champion’s pace.

Sitting seventh in the championship with 153 points, behind both Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales and Petronas Yamaha SRT rider Fabio Quartararo, questions were being asked whether it was time for Rossi to retire.

And yet a year ago, at Sepang, Rossi came within four laps of winning the race, or at least taking the race down to the wire with Marc Márquez. The Italian crashed out at Turn 1, washing the front out and handing victory to his arch rival. But the race was as clear a sign as you could get that Rossi was still competitive, still capable of winning races.

Jorge Lorenzo finds himself in a similar situation. At Phillip Island, he had one of the worst races of his career, finishing 66 seconds behind his teammate, the winner Marc Márquez.

Lorenzo is on his way out, the media and fans said, he can’t ride the Honda. Yet in November last year, at the Jerez test, Lorenzo was fifth fastest overall, a tenth of a second behind his teammate, and 0.160 slower than fastest rider Takaaki Nakagami.

It is clear that circumstances matter. Sure, riders lose their pace over time, start to slow down with age, take more time to adapt to one bike rather than another. But riders don’t go from winning races one year to being mid pack or much worse the next of their own accord.

There is more going on than meets the eye – in Rossi’s case, a search for speed and the balance between grip and tire life, in Lorenzo’s, a return from a vertebrae injury combined with a bike he still doesn’t trust completely. So changing circumstances may help change their fortunes.

From one seasonally misplaced track to another. Fresh from Motegi, which MotoGP visits at the tail end of typhoon season, the Grand Prix paddock heads south – a very long way south – to Phillip Island, on the south coast of Victoria in Australia, perched on the edge of the Bass Strait.

It is a glorious location at the end of the antipodean summer, with good weather very nearly guaranteed. But unfortunately, MotoGP doesn’t visit at the end of the antipodean summer in February or March.

Instead, MotoGP is condemned to brave the elements in October, when it is spring in the southern hemisphere.

And all because the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the company which runs the MotoGP round at Phillip Island, is also the promoter of the Australian Formula 1 race, held in Melbourne Park, pays a premium to host the first F1 race of the year.

With Melbourne just under two hours away, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation doesn’t want to have its two biggest events too close together, to prevent fans from being forced to choose between the two races.

And having paid to make the F1 race the first of the season, moving MotoGP to October is the obvious choice. An understandable choice too: the F1 race at Melbourne Park draws over 100,000 fans on race day.

Race day at Phillip Island sees around 35,000 paying customers through the gates.

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid.

If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8-Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda’s 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year’s race is even more important.

On paper, the Chang International Circuit at Buriram is a very simple proposition.

A tight corner followed by a short straight, then a tight corner followed by a very long straight, and then a long hairpin followed by a medium-length straight. And then a bunch of complicated twists and turns to get back to the start and finish line.

Of course, a track is never the same on paper as it is when motorcycles actually race on it. Sure, Buriram has three straights which determine a lot of the circuit’s character.

But there is much more to it than just getting the bike turned and getting on the gas as quickly as possible. There are a plenty of places with a choice of lines, where a canny rider can find an opening on the rider ahead. And the nature of that tighter interior sector is such that a bike which isn’t a basic drag bike can make up a lot of ground.

Take Turn 3 (the long back straight has a kink formally designated as Turn 2), the long hairpin at the end of the straight. Not perfectly flat, it offers a choice of two lines: stay inside and hug the inside kerb, and try to make the ground up on corner exit; or run in wide and cut back to the second apex carrying more speed. Both lines work.

Both lines get you to the corner exit at roughly the same point in time. And both suit two very different bike characters. It may look point and shoot, but it really isn’t.

In the space of a week, we travel from a race track set in the heart of a bustling tourist spot to one sitting in the middle of nowhere.

We go from having affordable accommodation withing 15 minutes of the track, to having to drive for 50 minutes or more to find somewhere which costs less for 5 nights than the budget of a mid-pack Moto2 team.

It’s worth it though. The Motorland Aragon circuit is set in some spectacular scenery, sat on the side of a hill looking over the arid plains of Aragon’s southern interior.

To the south and east, the low mountains of the Maestrazgo, a wild and empty place of visceral beauty. There is no better place to combine a hiking or mountain biking holiday with a race weekend. And the roads are pretty good too.

The fact that the circuit is used a lot for testing tells you a lot about the layout of the track. It has a little bit of everything, from the long, fast back straight, to tight changes of direction like the ‘Sacacorchos’ or Corkscrew at Turns 8 and 9, to long and fast corners like Turns 10 and 11, and Turns 16 and 17.

There are places where you brake hard: Turn 1, Turn 12, and Turn 16, the corner at the bottom hill having the added complication of being downhill before turning for a long off-camber corner which then heads back up the hill.

There is a lot to like about the Gran Premio Octo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini, aka The MotoGP Race With The Name Which Is Too Long To Fit In A Headline. The track is just a stone’s throw from the Italian coast, so visitors can spend their days at the track and their evenings at the beach, soaking up the atmosphere.

The weather is (usually) spectacular, the food is outstanding, and the area has a long association with motor sports, and motorcycle racing in particular. A quarter of the paddock could probably sleep in their own beds and commute to the track at the weekend.

But the upsides also have a downside. The location of the circuit may be perfect for the fans, but it is a nightmare for crew chiefs and riders. The sea mist which settles on the track most nights brings salt along with it, robbing it of grip.

The spectacular weather in September usually also means the sun burning down, raising track temperatures to the high 40s Centigrade, and into the region where the grip falls off a cliff. The track can be greasy and unpredictable, and despite being resurfaced to address these issues, physics and chemistry will always prevail.

Franco Morbidelli knows the track well. As part of the VR46 Riders Academy, he rides the track on a very regular basis, and knows how it changes throughout the year.

“We all know that we are going to struggle with the grip,” he says. “Misano, especially in this moment of the year has no grip at all. It’s very hot, I think that the salt that comes from the sea somehow affects the grip. I know the track very well, and I know how it reacts, and during the summer, it’s completely different, no grip at all.”

This time last year, the entire paddock was stood in the rain, looking at the skies, and wondering how we were ever going to have a MotoGP race at Silverstone again.

After a brief shower of torrential rain on Saturday put more water on the track than the new surface could drain away, making the track unrideable and creating conditions which saw a series of riders crash at the end of Hangar Straight, Tito Rabat coming off worst as Franco Morbidelli’s wayward Honda smashed into his leg and destroyed his femur.

With the forecast for rain later on Sunday, the race was rescheduled for an early start, the lights due to go out at 11:30am local time. But the rain came earlier than forecast, and was heavier, and the track never dried out. There was standing water at several sections around the track.

We waited, and we waited, and we waited. And we looked at one another and asked, have you heard anything? And every time we heard about a possible start time, or a time to evaluate track conditions, that was contradicted or retracted ten minutes later.

In the end, conditions never improved enough to be able to run the race safely, and after an impromptu meeting of the Safety Commission convened by at least some of the riders, race day was canceled. No MotoGP race, no Moto2 race, no Moto3 race.

Nothing. The crowds, who had sat valiantly in the rain for hours with nothing to see except the safety car and its attendant bow wave, went home with surprisingly little fuss. Hard to riot when you are stone cold freezing and wet to the bone, I suppose.

Racing in Austria has always been about speed. When Grand Prix motorcycles first raced in Austria, they went to the Salzburgring, a hairy, narrow track that snakes along one section of the mountain east of Salzburg, then down a bit, and then all the way back again.

It was fast, and it was terrifying, and by the time Grand Prix left the track, the average speed of a lap was over 194 km/h. But it was also incredibly dangerous, with no runoff in sections, and steel barriers along large parts of the track.

After abandoning the Salzburgring, Grand Prix moved to the A1 Ring, the predecessor of the modern Red Bull Ring.

The A1 Ring was a shortened and neutered version of the original Österreichring, a terrifyingly quick circuit that rolled over the hill which overlooks the little town of Spielberg, where the F1 cars reached average speeds of over 255 km/h.

The original circuit is still there, at least in outline, visible from the satellite view of Google Maps.

Shortened and neutered it may have been, but speeds were still high. In 1997, Mick Doohan took pole for the race at an average speed of 175 km/h, faster than the 171 km/h average speed for pole at Phillip Island, a notoriously quick track.

When MotoGP returned to Austria after an absence of 20 years, speeds were still high: Andrea Iannone’s pole lap was set with an average speed of nearly 187 km/h, making it the fastest track on the calendar.

And yet the track is not fast in the traditional sense. It is not fast and flowing like Phillip Island, Mugello, Assen, or Termas de Rio Hondo.

Nor it is a track where the bikes explore the limits of outright top speed: at the Red Bull Ring, the highest recorded speed is 316.5km/h on the climb up the hill, 40 km/h slower than the front straight at Mugello, where they have clocked 356.7 km/h.

MotoGP returns to action from the summer break at Brno, probably for the last time. Not, as we thought, because the Brno MotoGP round faced being removed from the calendar – with constant arguments between the circuit, the city of Brno, the South Moravian Region, and the Czech ministry of sport over funding, there were regular delays in payment of the sanctioning fee – but because in 2020, the MotoGP season will almost certainly resume at the Kymiring in Finland at the end of July.

The good news is that it looks like MotoGP will be staying at Brno, at least for next year. That was the implication when Dorna announced the Northern Talent Cup at the Sachsenring, which included a race at the Brno MotoGP round in the calendar for the series.

The truth is that Brno belongs on the MotoGP calendar. In the pantheon of MotoGP racing circuits, Brno sits very close to the top, and like Assen and Silverstone, half a rung below Mugello and Phillip Island. It is a fast and wide track which tests every aspect of bike and rider, despite top speeds being relatively limited. Like Assen, top speeds don’t get much above 310 km/h.

But like Assen, the track flows, challenging riders to brake later, enter corners faster, and take their bikes closer to the limit to find an advantage.