The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.
The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement. All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle. That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.
It's not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU. The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year's CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia's ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.
With the 2014 MotoGP season about to get underway, at least one team is likely to miss the first test of the year at Sepang, from 4-6 February. Speaking to the official MotoGP.com website, new signing Leon Camier said that the plan was to skip the first Sepang test and only attend the second test, taking place at the end of the month.
The reason for the delay is simple. The IODA Racing team is yet to sign a contract with Aprilia to supply them with bikes, despite the season being close to starting. According to the Italian magazine Motosprint, IODA are still haggling over the price with Aprilia, though an agreement is likely to be reached. Both Aprilia and IODA have an interest in reaching an agreement: IODA, as they do not really want to spend another season on the Suter BMW, undeveloped almost since its introduction two years ago; and Aprilia, as the IODA team is the only team willing to take the ART machines, with PBM having only signed up to use Aprilia's engines.
After a year of evolution in MotoGP which brought them few rewards, Ducati looks set for a radical shake up for next season. Respected Italian website GPOne.com is reporting that Ducati is considering racing in MotoGP as an Open entry, instead of under the Factory option. In practice, Ducati would be free of the engine freeze in place for Factory Option teams in 2014, have 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, and twelve engines per season instead of just five. In addition, they have more freedom to test with factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. In exchange, they will have to forego the freedom to develop their own software, and will run the spec Dorna-supplied software instead.
GPOne's source is impeccable, quoting Ducati factory rider Andrea Dovizioso. The two bikes - the GP13 in factory configuration, and in the Open configuration with more fuel and the spec software - have already been tested back-to-back, at the test in Jerez in November. However, those bikes were ridden by test riders, and not by Ducati factory men Dovizioso and Crutchlow. 'The real test will come when we test the bike,' Dovizioso told GPOne.com. That test is set to happen at Sepang, at the first test of the 2014 season from 4th to 6th February. One of the things which was said to be improved was the engine response when running with more fuel. An aggressive throttle response is something which Ducati riders have all complained of in the past, and having more fuel available could alleviate.
The first major change to the 2014 MotoGP schedule has been announced. Though the dates remain the same, the order of the Asian flyaway triple header has been reshuffled, with Sepang moving from first of the three to last. The Grand Prix classes will now head to Japan first, for the Japanese GP at Motegi on 12th October, before heading south to Australia for the Phillip Island round a week later, on 19th October. The weekend after that the MotoGP paddock visits Malaysia, for the last of the three overseas races at Sepang on 26th October.
The change is unlikely to be the last. It is widely anticipated that the new track in Brasilia will not be ready for the Brazilian round of MotoGP on 28th September, and that the Motorland Aragon race, due to take place on 21st September, will be rescheduled for a week later. That decision will not take place for some time, however, as the Autodromo Brasilia Nelson Piquet will be given a few more months before the mandatory circuit homologation inspection.
Below is the updated, and still provisional, 2014 MotoGP calendar, with changes highlighted in bold. You can always find the latest, most up-to-date version including all changes on this page.
The 2014 MotoGP calendar:
2014 World Superbike, World Supersport and FIM Superstock 1000 calendar (provisional)
At long last, the FIM and Dorna have released a calendar for the World Superbike and World Supersport classes for 2014. The calendar features fourteen World Superbike events, but it is still very much a provisional list, with three of the fourteen still subject to contract, and the final race still marked as to be confirmed, with neither the location nor the country known.
The season kicks off as always in Australia, the World Superbike and World Supersport classes headed to the Phillip Island circuit for the opener on 23rd of February. There follows another WSBK tradition: the interminable wait for round 2. In 2014, there are seven weeks between the first and second rounds, with the second event taking place at the Motorland Aragon circuit just outside of Alcañiz. The WSBK circus then takes off for a tour through Europe, heading to Assen, Imola and Donington Park, before heading overseas again to Sepang, and a Malaysian round. Two rounds in Europ follow, at Misano and Portimao, before the World Superbike class heads to Laguna Seca, taking the slot vacated by the MotoGP class.
Race Director Mike Webb Interview, Part 1: On Penalty Points, Precedent, Jerez, Sepang And Whether Motorcycle Racing Is A Contact Sport
It has been a busy year for MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb. Since taking on the job of ensuring that MotoGP events take place safely and efficiently, stepping into the shoes vacated by Paul Butler at the start of the 2012 season, Webb has faced some tough decisions and unusual situations, his second year in the job even more eventful than the first.
In response to criticism over the warning system in 2012, a new penalty points system was introduced to allow for harsher penalties for persistent offenders. There were several high-profile incidents involving Marc Marquez in his rookie season, including a clash with Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez, a touch which severed the traction control sensor of teammate Dani Pedrosa's Honda and caused Pedrosa to crash, and the situation at Phillip Island, where the new asphalt at the circuit caused the tires to degrade much more than the two spec tire manufacturers had expected, requiring last-minute adjustments to the race schedule on the fly.
We spoke with Mike Webb extensively at Valencia, on the Thursday evening before the race, covering the above subjects and more, and reviewing his second year as Race Director. In the first part of the interview, Webb talks of whether motorcycle racing is a contact sport, how the penalty system has worked out, explains why Marc Marquez was not given points at Jerez, why Jorge Lorenzo wasn't penalized for the touch at Sepang, and of changing perceptions.
Q: You're at the end of your second year in the job of Race Director. Was it easier than the first?
When it was announced that the claiming rule was to be dropped and the rules would be changed for 2014, one of the main questions was what to call the new class. After some complaining early on, MotoGP fans had become used to the CRT name, and understood what was meant by it. With the choice of software now determining how much fuel and how many engines a team can use - 24 liters for the spec Dorna software, 20 liters for factories using their custom software with the spec Magneti Marelli ECU - there was no easy and obvious nomenclature for the bikes.
Under the first draft of the rules, the bikes were divided into two categories: 'MotoGP' and 'MotoGP with factory option'. That appears to have encountered resistance, however, and so a new name has been found for the non-factory bikes: for 2014, non-factory bikes will be referred to as 'Open' entries. There is of course a small irony in the fact that the new 'Open' class bikes will have less freedom than the factory option bikes, having both ECU and software closed, but with more fuel available, they will at least not be strangulated by the factory option fuel restriction.
If there was any doubt that Race Direction in MotoGP is trying to impose a stricter code of behavior on riders in all three Grand Prix classes, the bumper crop of penalty points issued at Aragon and Sepang makes their intention clear. At Aragon, three penalty points were awarded: One for Alessandro Tonucci in Moto3, for staying on the line during qualifying, and one for Sandro Cortese for the incident in the Moto2 race, when he touched Alex De Angelis, causing the Italian to crash.
The most discussed penalty was of course the one issued for Marc Marquez, who was penalized for the touch on Dani Pedrosa which severed the cable to Pedrosa's rear wheel speed sensor, confusing the electronics and causing the unlucky Pedrosa to be ejected from his Repsol Honda. Marquez had to wait until Sepang to be hear what the punishment for that incident would be, after Race Direction asked for more data.
At Sepang, a couple more penalty points were handed out. One to Pol Espargaro, for not respecting the newly instated starting zones, and cutting across in front of other riders waiting to do a practice start, and one for Maverick Viñales, for his excessively robust move in the run to the finish line, when he barged Jack Miller aside to grab 5th place.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Lorenzo vs Márquez
There’s been so much written about bump and grind in MotoGP that I hardly dare add to it. But here goes anyway.
During Thursday afternoon’s pre-event media conference at Sepang, Jorge Lorenzo let loose with a sarcastic appraisal of the one point penalty imposed on wild-man Marc Márquez for his Aragon indiscretion – when his RCV no more than kissed Dani Pedrosa’s, leading to the latter’s downfall.
In fact the reigning world champ was quite funny, but his sarcasm was lost on most of the attendant media, possibly because sarcasm is a bit of an English thing and there aren’t many Poms in the MotoGP media.
The future of Nicky Hayden appears to have been decided. Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, has decided to drop Aprilia in favor of Honda, according to German language website Speedweek.com. Aspar is set to make an announcement later this week on their future, and that decision appears to be that the Spanish team will be running Honda's production racer RCV1000R for next season.
The decision was made almost inevitable once it was announced that current Aprilia racing boss Gigi Dall'Igna would be leaving the Noale factory to join Ducati. Dall'Igna and Martinez had a strong working relationship dating back to the years in which Aspar ran 125 and 250cc team, and Aspar's faith in Aprilia's MotoGP program was based on the strength of that relationship. With Dall'Igna gone, that leaves Aprilia's MotoGP program in disarray - at least, temporarily - and makes the Honda production racer the best option. Aspar also had the option to run a Ducati GP13 as a customer bike with the spec Dorna software, but with Dall'Igna just arrived and little chance of any updates to that bike, it was not a promising option.
Bridgestone issued their customary press release today, containing a discussion of conditions at Sepang. Big topic of the weekend was of course temperatures, and how they affect the tires:
Malaysian MotoGP™ debrief with Masao Azuma
Tuesday 15 October 2013
Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Medium & Hard. Rear: Soft, Medium (Symmetric) & Hard (Asymmetric)
Bridgestone wet tyre compounds available: Hard (Main) & Soft (Alternative)
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa clinched his third victory of the year in sultry conditions at Sepang ahead of teammate Marc Marquez and Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo.
After unsettled weather on Friday and Saturday, conditions on race day were warm and fine with the track temperature reaching 46°C at the start of the race. Softer slicks front and rear were preferred by the twenty-three riders contesting the Malaysian Grand Prix, with only two riders selecting the harder rear slick option, and just five riders opting for the hard compound front tyre. Strong tyre performance at Sepang resulted in new qualifying and race lap records being set and an overall race time eighteen seconds quicker than the previous record.
Q&A with Masao Azuma – Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Department
2013 Sepang MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: Pedrosa's Revenge, Lorenzo's Valiant Defense, And History Made In Moto3
Sunday at Sepang provided a fascinating mix for motorcycle racing fans. A blistering Moto3 race, an impressive, if shortened, Moto2 race, and some breathtaking action in MotoGP. History was made several times over, and best of all, the races took place in front of a sellout crowd. Over 80,000 fans packed the stands in Malaysia, proof, if any were needed, of the slow, eastward drift of motorcycle racing's center of gravity.
In the MotoGP race, Dani Pedrosa did what he had set out to do two weeks earlier at Aragon, before he was so rudely ejected from his bike. Pedrosa had a look of grim determination on his face from the moment he rolled up at Sepang, and it barely left him all weekend. He had come to do a job, the pain in his hips merely spurring him on to get what he had been robbed of by an overeager teammate and an exposed sensor. He ruled proceedings in free practice, got caught out by conditions in qualifying, but leapt off the line at the start, as he has all year, and slotted in behind Jorge Lorenzo. After four laps, he worked his way past a valiantly defending Lorenzo, put the hammer down and went on to win.
This was what Pedrosa had intended to do at Aragon, and he took the win in Malaysia as clear vindication of his form. He made an extra effort to thank his team, and his family, but especially the fans who had supported him, posting a message on Twitter thanking the people who had continued to believe in him. Pedrosa may be unloved in some quarters - especially among those who cannot get over an insignificant piece of ancient history - but his ability is beyond question. Now that the pendulum has swung back towards Honda, as it does the second half of every season, Pedrosa is reaping the rewards he believes he is owed. His win at Sepang was flawless.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang: