One more jigsaw piece has been slotted into place in the 2018 MotoGP line up. This morning, the Marc VDS team confirmed that Tom Lüthi is to take the second Honda RC213V alongside Franco Morbidelli for the 2018 season.
Lüthi was reckoned to be the outsider for the open seat at Marc VDS, with both Sam Lowes and Stefan Bradl in the running.
But the Swiss rider’s maturity and previous – albeit brief – experience aboard a MotoGP bike was what swung the deal. Having a rider of Lüthi’s experience alongside Franco Morbidelli also helps lessen the risk of running two rookies in MotoGP.
Aprilia has today confirmed another of the worst-kept secrets in the paddock, announcing that they have signed Scott Redding to replace Sam Lowes in the Gresini Aprilia MotoGP team for the 2018 season.
The news came as no surprise, after it became apparent that Aprilia had decide to break Lowes’ contract at the end of this season.
Lowes had been contracted for two seasons in MotoGP, but Aprilia decided to invoke an escape clause, after the Englishman had struggled at the start of the season. For the full background to the story, read the Friday MotoGP round up from Austria.
If the 2017 MotoGP season has been anything, it has been entirely unpredictable. After two races, we were declaring the season over, and penciling Maverick Viñales’ name on the trophy.
A race later, and we were conceding that Valentino Rossi had taken over the lead of the championship, and that meant that whoever won the title would be riding a Yamaha.
After four races the top four were within ten points, and we gave up on there being a favorite, only to change our minds again after Le Mans, where Valentino Rossi crashed out trying to beat his teammate, and Viñales took a 17-point lead again.
After Mugello, when Andrea Dovizioso won his first dry MotoGP race, Viñales led by 26 points, and was ahead of reigning champion Marc Márquez by 37 points. We had our favorite once again.
Three races and two changes in the championship lead later, and we have given up again. The top four are back within ten points of each other again, and making predictions is looking increasingly foolish.
There was one certainty we could cling to, and would not allow ourselves to let go: At the Sachsenring, Marc Márquez takes pole, and then goes on to win the race.
It has happened the last seven years Márquez has raced at the Sachsenring, from 125s to Moto2 to MotoGP. Surely he would repeat that again? Surely, Marc Márquez would break the unpredictability of MotoGP in 2017?
If the two MotoGP races so far this year have had the kind of internal logic more commonly associated with a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, the Moto2 and Moto3 classes have been rational seas of serenity.
Which, come to think of it, also makes them more than a little like the more pious parts of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. These are topsy turvy times indeed.
When Moto2 first started, it brought the most harrowing and raucous parts of Bosch’ work to mind, voracious insanity unleashed on two wheels, which sensible people feared to look at. Fortunately, motorcycle racing fans are anything but sensible. It is one of their better traits.
But those days are now long gone, and the intermediate class has become processional, races decided almost before they are begun.
A nostalgia for the madness of the past keeps us watching, hoping to see a revival of the old ways. From time to time, the series livens up again, and we start to dream that our prayers have been answered, though such thoughts are usually dashed as soon as they arise.
The Moto2 race in Argentina was very much a case in point. It started out processional, then grew tense, then the tension frayed, then renewed, only to end with bang.
Literally, in the case of Alex Márquez, who ended a long way up in the air before coming down to earth with a solid thump.
We need to talk about Johann Zarco. For a rookie to lead his very first race on a MotoGP bike is not just unusual, it has never been done before. To do so for six laps is beyond remarkable, and a sign that something rather special is happening.
To put this into perspective, it is worth noting that not only did Zarco lead the race, but he also set the fastest lap in his first race. The last rookie to set the fastest lap during their first race? Marc Márquez, Qatar 2013. Before that? Valentino Rossi, Welkom 2000. And before that, Max Biaggi, Suzuka 1998.
Zarco’s downfall came at Turn 2 on Lap 7. Quite literally: he got a little off line, hit a dirtier part of the track, and down he went. There is no shame in crashing out of your first MotoGP race.
Valentino Rossi crashed out of his first premier class Grand Prix too. On the other hand, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa all finished on the podium in their MotoGP debut race. Max Biaggi actually won his first 500cc race at Suzuka.
Is there such a thing as an Alien? The provenance of the term is uncertain, though most people believe that it was coined by Colin Edwards in 2009, after he kept finishing in fifth place behind Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa.
Whatever he tried, he could not stay with them. “They are riding out of this world,” he said.
The term has stuck. Since then, the term Alien has been applied to the top four riders, the only difference being that Marc Márquez has been swapped for Casey Stoner now that the Australian has retired.
The reality is that since Jorge Lorenzo entered the class until the start of the 2016 season, the five MotoGP Aliens had accounted for all but two of the 143 MotoGP races held.
The two non-Alien wins were by Andrea Dovizioso (Donington 2009) and Ben Spies (Assen 2011). Both of those races came in unusual conditions. The five Aliens dominated the podiums throughout that period as well.
2016 looks like becoming the year the Alien died. Or perhaps more realistically (and less dramatically) the year we had to readjust the concept of a MotoGP Alien. The season was going very much to plan up until Assen, when Jack Miller won an interrupted race in the driving rain.
Then in Austria, Andrea Iannone finally did what everyone has been waiting for, won a race with a Ducati. Cal Crutchlow used a drying surface to his advantage to win at Brno, and then Maverick Viñales won at a dry but cold Silverstone. Questions were asked whether Maverick Viñales was the next Alien.
This is truly a golden age of motorcycle racing. The Silverstone race was proof of that. A stunning contest, with positions fiercely fought over. A new winner added to MotoGP’s pantheon.
Five riders doing battle over second place, including some of the greatest riders of their respective generations. Bikes from four different factories in the top six.
And Silverstone is hardly unique this season. 2016 has seen two different satellite riders win races. It has seen seven different winners this season, and the last seven races each won by a different rider.
It has seen relative newcomers win, and seasoned veterans win. 2016 is the culmination of a long period of rich results, with four riders all capable of winning on any given day over the past four or five years. Margins of victory have never been tighter, nor has the gap between the front and the back of the grid.
This cornucopia is not just in the premier class. Racing is returning to Moto2, after a drought of processional contests. Moto3 is overflowing with young talent, with rookies quickly challenging the older guard, who are in turn off to fatten the field in Moto2 next year.
At Silverstone, the Moto2 race was hard fought between a small group of riders, with incidents that had serious long-term effects on the championship. The Moto3 class produced a customary thriller, Silverstone’s long straights and high winds making escape impossible, but making staying out of trouble imperative.
If you’re like us, the debut of the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike cannot come soon enough. The machine will officially be unveiled at the Austrian MotoGP round, which is the first race after MotoGP’s summer break, on August 14th.
We can expect to see the KTM RC16 take its first public hot laps at Valencia later this year (Austria should see some parade laps on the course), the post-season test also being Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro’s first chance to ride the new race bike.
Until all that happens though, we will have to suffice with the testing photos we get from KTM, as test riders Mika Kallio and Tom Luthi continue to hone the V4-powered machine.
If you believe the hype from KTM, the RC16 is a beast – making in the neighborhood of 270hp already.
Making the horsepower might be the easiest part of the project though, as KTM will not only have to ensure that reliability exists in its engine design, but also make sure all that the RC16 can get all that power down to the tarmac.
As such, the KTM RC16 was out spinning laps at Mugello last month. We don’t need much of an excuse to bring you massive high-resolution photos of this machine, so we won’t make you wait any longer.
Enjoy them after the jump, there is a new computer desktop background or two for you in the collection, for sure.
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.