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Xavier Simeon

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The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season.

With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.

There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season.

Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc.

Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wZZUtFz4zI

World Ducati Week 2018 was this past weekend, and the event saw 90,000 people show up at the Misano World Circuit (for reference, about 150,000 fans show up to the race track on a MotoGP weekend).

While there is plenty at the race track for loyal Ducatisti to see, the crown jewel of WDW2018 was the Race of Champions, which saw a number of Ducati riders battling in sprint race, on race-prepped Ducati Panigale V4 S superbikes.

If seeing riders like Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Melandri, and Troy Bayliss banging bars wasn’t enough for you, the liveries on the Panigale V4 race bikes were truly eye-catching.

Wisely, Ducati is making these 12 special machines available, in a public auction on eBay, which will go until 6pm (CET) on Saturday, July 28th.

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.

A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses.

That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.

2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance.

There are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3 too, ready to push aside the old guard, and new rules in MotoGP may help to address the disparity between the championship front-runners and those who pursue them.

Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:

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.

Marc Marquez has taken revenge at the event he helped to create, winning the 2016 edition of the Superprestigio in dominant style. The 2016 MotoGP champion had dominated the qualifying heats, and chose the inside gate to start from.

Though he dropped behind the excellent French Supermoto champion Tom Chareyre off the line, he entered the first corner in good position, with AMA star Brad Baker tight on his tail. The pair quickly slid through to take the lead.

In previous years, Baker was capable of taking the fight to Marquez and beating the Spaniard, but this time, Baker struggled. Marquez quickly built up a lead that would not be challenged.

Baker, meanwhile, had trouble behind him, with Toni Elias sliding inside him to take second, leaving Baker to battle with Chareyre for the final podium spot.

Chareyre tried one hard move on up the inside with a couple of laps to go, but Baker kept the door closed, and Chareyre went down after hitting the inside of Baker’s Honda. A disappointed Baker crossed the line to take third.

The Barcelona Superprestigio has proven to be a popular staple of the winter break. The indoor flat track race, which takes place at the Palau Sant Jordi, is returning for its fourth edition on December 17th.

Once again, the stars of the MotoGP, World Superbikes and Endurance will take on the cream of dirt track and off-road disciplines. Former winners Marc Marquez and Brad Baker face off for the fourth time.

The event follows the formula which has been so successful in the past. The field is divided into two classes: the Superprestigio class, which features some of the best asphalt riders in the world; and the Open class, in which the best of the off-road world will compete.