This year's MotoGP's silly season has seen many badly-kept secrets, and one of the very worst of them is now out in the open. Today, the LCR Honda squad confirmed what everybody has known since July, and suspected since the beginning of June: Jack Miller is to make the leap directly from Moto3 to MotoGP, to ride the Open class Honda in the LCR team alongside Cal Crutchlow.
Miller may be riding in the LCR Honda team, but hsi contract is directly with HRC. Lucio Cecchinello has long insisted that he has had no direct involvement with the deal, Honda working hard to secure the services of Miller for the future. Miller's contract is for three years, according to GPOne.com, and the young Australian will spend the next two seasons with LCR. That would put him in the frame for the second seat in the Repsol Honda team, with both Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa out of contract at the end of 2016.
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.
A new way of riding, a new way of crashing
Well, it appears that whoever coined the term ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ didn’t know what they were talking about.
On Sunday in Italy a middle-aged man defeated a young phenomenon for several reasons. Firstly, he’s learned a new trick or two.
I can only assume that Valentino Rossi discovered his new way of riding his Yamaha YZR-M1 by reading old copies of Grand Prix annual Motocourse because he seems to have adopted the outlandish riding style of 1990s BSB champ James Whitham. The Yorkshireman rode in a highly unusual fashion, with upper body completely out of line with the motorcycle, neck craning towards the inside of the corner, as if he was literally dragging his machine to the apex.
Misano was the stage for a flurry of negotiating among riders, though much of it was dependent on the fate of Scott Redding. As was previously the case with Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow, Redding was proving pivotal in which seats would be available. With Redding now firmly ensconced in the Marc VDS Racing team for the next two years, the other seats can start to fill up.
Below is a list of all of the seats currently filled and available in MotoGP, with notes on individual contracts and speculation on who could fill the empty seats. PBM has sold its grid slots to IRTA, who will be selling them to Suzuki. The IODA team have made no announcement on their future, but they seem unlikely to continue, given the dearth of funding for the project. The grid as it stands consists of 24 bikes, two more than IRTA's target of 22. All 24 will get a start, but the grid slots with the worst record at the end of 2015 will lose their IRTA travel allowance.
Here's the state of play so far:
It is no secret that Eugene Laverty is keen to move to MotoGP for the 2015 season. The Irishman has been present at the last three MotoGP rounds, touting his services around the teams in the hope of securing a ride. He has been in talks with Forward, Pramac and Aspar about a ride in 2015, but as yet, no deal has been announced.
It is certain that one has been signed, however. Today, the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team - his team in World Superbikes - issued a press release wishing Laverty well on his step up to MotoGP. No details were given of where Laverty is headed, other than that he will not be in World Superbikes in 2015, but will be racing in MotoGP.
Though no announcement was made, it seems certain that Laverty will be riding a production Honda for Aspar in 2015. A deal had to wait until Scott Redding's future had been secured, as Redding was Aspar's preferred choice, despite never having spoken to either the Gloucestershire rider or his manager. Once Redding was confirmed as riding with Marc VDS in MotoGP next season, that cleared the way for Laverty.
Press releases after Sunday's dramatic MotoGP race at Misano from the teams and from Bridgestone:
It would be fair to say that Sunday at Misano turned into a perfect Italian fairy story. After being forced to sit through two renditions of the Spanish national anthem after the Moto3 and Moto2 races, the Italian fans were finally able to bellow along with Il Canto degli Italiani, or the Song of the Italians, at the end of the MotoGP race. Valentino Rossi took his eighty-first victory in MotoGP in front of a crowd awash with yellow #46 banners, at the track just a few miles from his home. It was Rossi's first victory since Assen last year, and his first victory at Misano since 2009.
But the happy ending to the fairy tale was Rossi's win was no fluke, and came with no asterisk attached. There were no riders out through injury, as there were at Assen in 2013. Rossi came to Misano determined to score a good result. His team worked perfectly to give him a competitive bike, improving an already strong set up. The Italian dominated practice, qualified on the front row, and got a strong start. He then chased down his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, beat up Marc Marquez, and drew the Repsol Honda rider into making a mistake.
This was the Valentino Rossi of old, the man that many (myself included) feared had disappeared. He had not. A shoulder injury, two years on the Ducati, and then a year to adapt to the Yamaha had merely left him working out how to go fast again, and get back to winning ways. That Rossi was prepared to suffer through the Ducati years, then put in the long, hard hours of work adapting his style to the new realities of MotoGP, changing his approach, learning new skills and putting them to use on track speaks of the hunger Rossi still has for success. Valentino Rossi is unquestionably one of the most talented riders ever to have swung his leg over a motorcycle. But he owed this victory to far more than his talent. Dedication, hard work, ambition, mental toughness: these were the keys to his win at Misano.
Marc VDS Racing are to move up to MotoGP, fielding a factory Honda RC213V for Scott Redding. The deal was announced late on Sunday night via the Marc VDS Racing Twitter feed, after meetings between the team, Honda, and team owner Marc van der Straten.
The agreement means that the Marc VDS team will field a factory Honda RC213V for the next three seasons, through 2017. The duration of the contract had been a critical point in the negotiations, allowing the team to spread the costs out over a longer period, and showing HRC's support for both the team and Redding.
The move to MotoGP had been mooted after the Indianapolis GP. After Indy, rumors emerged that Gresini's title sponsor, Go&Fun, would be pulling out of their deal a year early. Without the money from Go&Fun, Gresini could not afford the factory Honda. Gresini have now officially switched to Aprilia, leaving a factory Honda and an Open class Honda going begging.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Misano:
2014 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Prospect Of A Rossi Win, And Mika Kallio, The Forgotten Man
It looks like we might finally have found a Yamaha track. After Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Brno, Silverstone, all places which were supposed to favor the Yamaha, but where a Honda won, Misano looks like it could be the place where the reign of Big Red comes to an end. Jorge Lorenzo took his first pole since Motegi last year, Valentino Rossi got on the front row for the first time since Phillip Island last year, and Marc Marquez was off the front row for the first time since Barcelona, 2013. In fact, this is the first time that a Repsol Honda has been missing from the front row of the grid since Valencia 2010. That is a very long time indeed.
Jorge Lorenzo's pole nearly didn't happen. In the first sector of the lap – the tight section through the first five corners – Lorenzo made a couple of mistakes which he feared had cost him a couple of tenths. He thought about pulling in and abandoning the lap, giving it one more shot with a fresh tire if he could change it fast enough. He rejected that idea, then went on to post what he described as an 'unbelievable lap'. His first fast lap had been trumped by Andrea Dovizioso, the Ducati man making clever use of Lorenzo's slipstream. But that first lap had made the Movistar Yamaha rider realize that he was not using the ideal lines. It helped make sure his second exit counted.
While Lorenzo aced qualifying, Valentino Rossi laid down a withering pace in FP4. Fast out of the gate, the Italian's race pace was mid 1'34s in his first run, then low 1'34s in his second. More importantly, his crew made a change to the bike after his first run, which made a big improvement, and allowed him to drop his pace. Rossi described FP4 as 'a great practice', and praised the work his team had done on the bike. "We started well, the bike was good, but we improve a lot," Rossi said.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice on a soaking wet Misano:
2014 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wet Weather, A Terrible Surface, And A Raft Of Rider Announcements
For anyone on a budget, Misano is one of the cheaper MotoGP rounds to attend. Ticket prices aside, the area has a large amount of tourist accommodation, and the race takes place right at the tail end of the tourist season, when hotel prices are starting to drop. Buses run to and from the circuit from Riccione, making transport to and the track affordable. Misano is a great circuit to go to if you are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
Misano may be a cheap weekend for fans, but it certainly wasn't cheap for the teams in all three classes in MotoGP. The rain-drenched conditions on Friday saw riders crashing left, right, and center, in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. They racked up a grand total of 62 crashes in all three classes, in just a single day. Given that crash damage on Grand Prix machinery tends to start at a minimum of around a thousand euros, going up arithmetically with the severity of the crash and the class the bike is racing in, a conservative estimate of the grand total for repairs on the first day of practice would be enough to pay for a ride in Moto3. Or possibly even on a MotoGP Open class bike.
The cause of those 62 crashes? The water certainly didn't help. Rain fell through the night and all day, leaving the track soaked and standing water on some part of the track. But it wasn't just the water, the surface of the track itself was very poor, and rubber left on the track made braking on the racing line a treacherous affair, riders in all three classes going down as the front locked up. The fact that Bridgestone had started the MotoGP riders off on the harder of the two wet tire options didn't help either. It was an understandable choice: in previous years, when riders have used the softer wet tire, they have ended up being destroyed at Misano. But on a track with standing water to cool the wet tires, tire temperatures were never raised enough for the soft tires to start to show any significant wear. The harder front tire never really reached the temperature at which it started to offer any real grip.
It is to be a weekend of announcements, most of them already widely expected. The most widely trailed move has now been confirmed officially: from 2015, Aprilia is to return to MotoGP with the Gresini Racing team.
Aprilia and Gresini have reached agreement for the next four seasons, with Gresini running the Italian factory's team through 2018. The partnership benefits both sides: by entering via Gresini, Aprilia will save €3.4 million in their first year in the class, an important saving which will allow them to spend more resources on development. The partnership was important to Gresini, as having lost their sponsorship from Go&Fun, the future of the team's places in MotoGP was under severe threat. Aprilia's funding will now keep them in the premier class.
No riders have been announced, but it is widely anticipated that Marco Melandri wil return from World Superbikes to race the Aprilia, where he will partner with current Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista. Gresini may also be looking to retain Scott Redding, but Redding is keen to ride the Honda RC213V stipulated in his contract. With the 2015 Aprilia being an uprated version of the ART machine currently being ridden by Danilo Petrucci, that bike is unlikely to be competitive. For 2016, Aprilia will be bringing an all-new machine, only loosely based on the current ART.
Press releases previewing the Misano round of MotoGP from the teams and Bridgestone:
2014 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Honda At A Yamaha Track, Ducati's Test Bonus, And The Redding And Crew Chief Merry-go-round
With Marc Marquez back to winning ways at Silverstone, the Misano round of MotoGP (or to give it its full name, the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini) is the next venue to host the Marquez MotoGP record demolition steamroller. At Misano, Marquez can equal Mick Doohan's record of twelve wins in a single season, clearing the way for him to break that record at a following round.
What are the odds of him actually achieving that? Misano is a circuit where he has had a great deal of success, having won in 125s and both the Moto2 races he contested here. A mistake during last year's MotoGP race meant he lost ground on the leaders, though he recovered to finish in second. Going by his past record, Marquez is once again favorite to win.
It should not be that simple, however. Misano is what we used to call a Yamaha track: Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won five of the seven races contested here since MotoGP made a return to the circuit in 2007, after a fourteen year absence. Lorenzo has won the last three in a row at Misano, and took second when Rossi won in 2008 and 2009. This is a circuit which Lorenzo has always gone well at, and after a strong showing at Silverstone, you would expect him to be extremely motivated. "We arrive here in good shape," Lorenzo told the press conference. At Silverstone, his team had done a great job to give him a competitive package, matching tires and set up to make the bike competitive. Lorenzo was aware that his previous record at the track was no guarantee of success. "The past doesn't give you any advantage for this year, so we all start from zero," he said.
Mike Leitner Interview: Pedrosa's Crew Chief Talks Race Strategy, The Dangers Of Starts, And Tires Past And Future
Dani Pedrosa has been with his crew chief Mike Leitner for over ten years now, since Pedrosa's first season in the 250cc class in 2004. Pedrosa and Leitner have been a strong partnership, with the Austrian helping Pedrosa win two world championships and 41 victories in the two classes they have been together.
The arrival of Marc Marquez into MotoGP has had a profound impact both inside and outside the Repsol Honda team. Marquez' natural speed has forced Pedrosa and his crew to rethink their approach to the races, to try to match the pace of Pedrosa's young teammate. At the beginning of the season, Pedrosa complained a number of times that he felt the revised strategy taken by Leitner was not working as hoped, and that had left him unable to compete.
Though Pedrosa's competitiveness has improved, the Spaniard being the first person to beat his teammate with victory at Brno, it has still left tension in Pedrosa's garage. Rumors are circulating that Pedrosa would like to drop Leitner and change his crew chief.
Intrigued by the question of what exactly had changed in Pedrosa's race strategy, we spoke to his crew chief Mike Leitner. The resulting conversation gave a fascinating insight into race strategy, and how teams approach each MotoGP race. Leitner talks about how Pedrosa was the first rider to realize that pushing hard from the earliest laps could be a profitable strategy, and how other riders have now followed his lead. He talks about the potential and the dangers of the Bridgestone tires, and how crucial the starts have become in MotoGP.