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Takaaki Nakagami

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Honda doesn’t want you to see these photos. I am pretty sure that there is a dark room somewhere on the Suzuka Circuit facility, possibly guarded by Yakuza henchmen, where they are keeping Steve captive for his misdeeds in bringing you the detailed photos we are about to show you. This is how seriously HRC is taking this year’s Suzuka 8-Hours. “Win at all costs” is the mantra being used by the Red Bull Honda team, which will field PJ Jacobsen, Takaaki Nakagami, and Takumi Takahashi at this year’s edition of the race. Their goal is simple: to restore honor to the company, and win the most prestigious race on the Japanese calendar. To do this, Honda has built a special machine. A one-off superbike, this Honda CBR1000RR SP2 was designed to race at only one race track, for only one race, for only three riders.

It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin’s first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics.

2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past. All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018.

Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well.

Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.

Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.

The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.

The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.

All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.

The MotoGP grid is set to expand to 24 riders for the 2018 season. As had been widely expected, the LCR Honda team is to add a second bike for next season, with Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami moving up to MotoGP. Nakagami will operate alongside Cal Crutchlow in the LCR Honda team.

Like Crutchlow, Nakagami’s contract is directly with HRC, rather than with Lucio Cecchinello’s LCR squad. Unlike Crutchlow’s deal, however, Nakagami’s contract is only for 2018 at the moment.

Nakagami’s wages will come directly out of Honda’s pockets, but the bike will largely be funded by money from Idemitsu, the Japanese oil company already backing Nakagami in Moto2.

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.” The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year, Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8-Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the #21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren’t exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga this was the final moment of their 2017 in Suzuka, Japan. Sitting in their paddock office, the trio of riders were relaxed, but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold.

Yamaha claimed its third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there is still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8-Hours

There are no team sports quite like motorsport. Fans focus their attentions on the riders on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance.

At the Suzuka 8-Hours, teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.

Yamaha retained its vice-like grip on the Suzuka 8-Hours by leading the way in qualifying, ahead of this weekend’s 40th edition of the legendary race, but Honda’s consistency could be a real threat.

Alex Lowes was the pace-setter for the Factory Yamaha Team with the WorldSBK star setting his fastest ever lap of the Japanese circuit. His 2’06.4 was marginally faster than his teammate, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, and afterwards Lowes was pleased with their efforts and excited for the weekend.

“I’m really happy with today,” said a smiling Lowes. “I did a 2’06.4 on the same tires that we will be using for the race, so that’s very positive. It’s also the first time that I’ve done a 2’06 around here. Today was difficult in the morning because there were some damp patches, but the bike is really good here.”

With all twelve factory riders on two-year contracts, there wasn’t supposed to be a MotoGP Silly Season in 2017, or at least, not much of one. That impression was further reinforced when the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad quickly tied up both Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger for an extra year, until the end of 2018.

As usual, reality intervened, of course. Though the factory seats were supposedly taken, there was plenty of interest in the satellite seats once the season got underway.

All eyes turned to the Moto2 class, and especially to the remarkable performances by Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia. Alex Márquez, too, raised eyebrows. And so speculation started.

Then there were those factory seats. Yes, all twelve factory riders have two-year contracts, but all contracts have clauses that allow for either side to make an early escape.

Great managers make sure the escape clause benefits their rider. Great factory lawyers make sure the contract is in their favor. The measure of a rider manager is where they end up on that side of the equation.

Episode 49 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison covering the opening round of the MotoGP Championship, the Qatar GP at Losail International Circuit.

The race weekend was a tumultuous affair, with the rain in the desert throwing huge wrenches into the plans of the race organizers. With the qualifying sessions cancelled because of standing water on the track, Sunday’s race was marked with question marks.

Thankfully, the weather gods spared us a rescheduled race, and allowed for some excellent on-track action. As such, the guys catch us up on everything that happened in Qatar for the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 riders.

They also finish the show with a new segment, picking their “winners” and “losers” from the season-opener. With some interesting picks, it makes for some good debate between David and Neil. We think you will enjoy the show, and enjoy more that the GP season is finally upon us.

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