2017 has been a strange year in motorcycle racing. We have had one of the best ever seasons of racing in MotoGP, with close finishes and a surprise title challenger.
We have seen one of the best ever WorldSBK riders stamp his authority on the series, though that has also seen the championship suffer partly as a result.
We have seen young talent come through in the support classes, and older talent recognized and appreciated. There has been much to celebrate.
But there has also been much to mourn. 2017 saw two of the most iconic names in motorcycle racing lose their lives, ironically, both in traffic accidents and not on motorcycles.
Nicky Hayden was killed while out training on his bicycle, hit by a car as he crossed a road at a treacherous crossroads. Angel Nieto suffered head injuries when he was hit by a car while out riding a quad bike on Ibiza.
The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover.
The team members aren’t the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.
The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday’s test.
Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.
They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans.
The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC was there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.
A major piece in the silly season puzzle came into place today, as Dani Pedrosa re-signed with the Repsol Honda MotoGP team. This should put to bed any ideas that Pedrosa was ready to jump ship to Yamaha’s factory MotoGP team, though sources do confirm the two parties were in talks.
The news also gives a clear path for Maverick Viñales to move to the Yamaha garage, leaving the Ecstar Suzuki team at the end of this year, though official word on that has yet to appear, despite much talk on the internet.
Now 30-years-old, Dani Pedrosa has been a Honda rider throughout his career, and with today’s announcement, he seems certain to finish his career riding for Big Red.
Phillip Island is arguably the greatest race track for motorcycles in the world. It is a circuit where every racer wants to race, where every trackday rider wants to cut some laps, where every race fan wants to visit. There are a million reasons to visit Phillip Island, all of them good.
Testing in preparation for a MotoGP season is not one of them, however. Phillip Island has a long history of riders winning based on bravery and ability, rather than equipment.
In October, Maverick Viñales finished in sixth on the massively underpowered Suzuki GSX-RR, just a second behind Dani Pedrosa, who had won a week previously at Motegi and would win a week later at Sepang.
Between the two of them, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi have won twelve of the last fourteen races on a variety of Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis.
Testing at Phillip Island does not teach you as much about the motorcycle underneath the rider as it does about the rider on top of the motorcycle, and the testicular fortitude they are able to display at the circuit.
Viñales described testing at the track as being about checking to see if he had “the cojones” around the circuit. With a new, more powerful GSX-RR at his disposal, there was one useful aspect of testing at the Island: “I need to use more cojones if I have more power,” he quipped.
It is no secret that Honda are struggling with the engine for the RC213V MotoGP. HRC have been making the engine ever more aggressive for the past three years, but in 2015, they finally went too far.
The power delivery of the RC213V was too difficult to contain, even with Honda’s electronics, and HRC suffered their worst season in MotoGP since 2010.
Things had not been looking much better for 2016 either. The engine Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez tested at Valencia and Jerez last November was at best a marginal improvement, with a bit more power at the bottom end, but still delivered in a very aggressive manner.
Added to this, HRC have had problems with the new unified software which is compulsory for 2016. Where Ducati, and to a lesser extent Yamaha have managed to integrate the less complex spec software into their engines, Honda have yet to get a handle on it.
That has made assessing the engine character even more difficult for Pedrosa and Márquez, the Repsol Honda riders finding it hard to pinpoint aggressive and abrupt throttle response on the engine character, the cruder software, or the interaction between the two.
It is a problem that Honda is now acknowledging publicly. HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto admitted to the Spanish sports daily Marca that they were having trouble making their engine less aggressive.
The start of a new year, and though there is little going on in the world of motorcycle racing in the first week of January, there is still enough to fill our weekly news round up. Here’s what happened this week.
The controversy surrounding the “Sepang Clash” continues onward this week, now with HRC Executive Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto weighing in on the events that happened in Phillip Island and Sepang.
The Q&A released by HRC comes after a series of important events: Repsol issued a strongly worded press release that casts doubt on their future in MotoGP, FIM President Vito Ippolito issued an open letter on the subject that urged parties to act in the best interest of MotoGP racing, Valentino Rossi appealed his penalty with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Marc Marquez was allegedly assaulted by Italian TV prank show.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of drama in the MotoGP world at the moment, and there’s no sign of it abating until the conclusion of the final round, in Valencia.
Find after the jump the full transcript of HRC’s Q&A with Shuhei Nakamoto, it is an interesting insight into how Honda views what happened in Australia and Malaysia. We will let you form your own opinions on its contents.
Nine races down, nine to go. The Sachsenring marks the mid-point of the season, and in all three Grand Prix classes the outlines of the championship are becoming clear.
In Moto2 and Moto3, there is one rider who can dominate, winning often, taking a hefty points haul when he can’t, and having luck work in their favor and against their opponents. In MotoGP, the title looks to be settled between the Movistar Yamaha teammates, with the Repsol Hondas playing a decisive role.
The three races in Germany all played out following the broader patterns of their respective championships. In the Moto3 race, Danny Kent steamrollered his way to victory, his teammate Efren Vazquez helping him to extend his lead in the championship to 66 points by taking second ahead of Enea Bastianini.
In Moto2, Johann Zarco narrowly missed out on victory, the win going to Xavier Simeon. The Belgian plays no role in the championship, while Zarco’s nearest rival Tito Rabat was taken out by Franco Morbidelli in the final corner. Rabat’s crash means Zarco now leads Moto2 by 65 points.
Both Kent and Zarco can start to pencil their names in for the respective championships, their leads starting to edge towards the unassailable.
In MotoGP, the title chase is still wide open, with both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo easily capable of winning. The championship started strongly in Rossi’s favor, then the momentum swung towards Lorenzo, before creeping back towards Rossi in the last two races.
Something always happens at Le Mans. Something happens at every MotoGP race, of course, but Le Mans seems to always have more than its fair share of happenings.
Unlikely events, weird crashes, high drama. Marco Simoncelli taking out Dani Pedrosa. Casey Stoner announcing his retirement. Things that nobody had seen coming emerge from the shadows. News that was half-suspected is suddenly thrust into the limelight. Something always happens at Le Mans.
Qualifying confirmed what we had already seen on Friday: the old Jorge Lorenzo is back. The Movistar Yamaha rider was fastest in FP1 and FP2 yesterday. He was fastest in FP3 in the cool of Saturday morning, and he was quick in the heat of FP4.
He wasn’t fastest in the one session of truly free practice for the MotoGP class – Andrea Iannone put in a quick lap on the Ducati, proving once again that the GP15 is an outstanding motorcycle – but he posted five laps faster than Iannone’s second-quickest lap.
Then, during qualifying, he set a pace which no one could follow. Using a three-stop strategy, copied shamelessly from Marc Márquez last, Lorenzo posted a 1’38.2 on his second rear tire, then became the first man to lap the Jerez circuit in less than 1’38, stopping the clock at 1’37.910.
That is a mind-bendingly fast lap. Especially given the conditions. Set in the middle of the afternoon, in the blistering heat: air temperatures of over 30°, and track temps of nearly 50°.
Set on a track which is notoriously greasy when it’s hot, offering the worst grip of the year, especially now that Misano has been resurfaced. Set on asphalt that was laid eleven years ago, and has been used very intensively ever since.
If there was ever a time and a place to break the pole record at Jerez, Saturday afternoon was not it. Nobody told Jorge Lorenzo, though.
The Circuito de Velocidad in Jerez is not just a single circuit, it is three. It is a highly abrasive, very grippy track in the wet.
It is a grippy, flowing track in the dry, when track temperatures are below around 35°C. And it is a treacherous, greasy, low-grip track when it is above 40°C. It didn’t rain today (nor will it for the rest of the weekend) and so we only got to see two of the three tracks on Friday. But boy were they different.
Different or not, the same man ended both MotoGP sessions at the top of the timesheets. In the cool of the morning, when track temps were low and grip high, Lorenzo went out and dominated, hammering out a string of low 1’39s, well below the lap record pace.
In the afternoon, the Movistar Yamaha man took his time, experimenting with then discounting the harder of the two tire options, before putting the soft back in and running another string of mid 1’39s, five of which were better than Marc Márquez’ second fastest lap. It felt like the real Jorge Lorenzo was back.
Was Lorenzo’s down solely to the fact that he was running the medium tire, where others were struggling to make the hard tire work for race distance? To an extent, but that is to misunderstand Lorenzo’s intention.