Analysis

2018 Jerez November MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Fast Times, Obvious Tech Updates, Yamaha vs Yamaha, And The End At Last

And the winner is... Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider's name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time. The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda. It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow's bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.

But it also doesn't really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don't necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend. Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.

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2018 Jerez November MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: Yamaha Still Struggling, Ducati Dominant, Honda and Suzuki Improving, KTM Chasing Their Tails

The trouble with post-season testing is that it takes place after the season is over. That is a problem, because the season runs well into November, so any testing after that is nearer to December than it is to October. And wherever you go inside of Europe to test, you will never get a full day's testing done, even with the best of weather.

So it came as no surprise that when the track opened at 9:30am on Wednesday morning for the first day of a two-day test, nothing happened. Or that nothing continued to happen for another couple of hours, as we waited for track temperatures to break the 20°C barrier, and make it warm enough to generate useful feedback. It is a perennial issue with no easy answers. Finding a warm, affordable track is tough this time of year.

The good news was that once the track had warmed up, we had ideal conditions for testing. Dry, sunny, warm if you were standing in the sun, though not quite so much if you were in the shade. Despite the fact that so much time was lost to the cold, the riders ended up with a lot of laps completed, and a lot of work done.

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2018 Jerez WorldSBK Test Tuesday Round Up: Rea Still Reigns, Ducati Makes Progress, Yamaha's Small Steps With The Rear

And so the season ends for WorldSBK. The weather finally behaved at Jerez, and the four WorldSBK teams and three WorldSSP teams got a full day of testing in at Jerez. Or rather, nearly a full day of testing: the track opened at 10am, but the riders didn't go out for about 45 minutes, as cold track temperatures made it a perilous undertaking in those early minutes. But the sun soon did its work, heated the asphalt, and away they went.

Heating the asphalt meant there was grip, but the surface is still in a bad way in several corners. Turns 1, 2, 6, and 8 are the worst, according to the riders. One seasoned rider spotter pointed out just how gracefully Jonathan Rea was riding around the holes in the tarmac, and still producing a really fast time. But it hadn't been as easy as Rea made it look.

"It’s wearing ruts in the short corners where everyone is using the same line and putting the power down, or pushing the front in it," Rea said on Tuesday night. "It’s lifting the asphalt up. It’s treacherous if you run over that. That’s the common racing line for track day users or normal racers. If you’re on the limit or really sharp you can stay just inside that, like pretty much on the white line. But even that, you compromise your line, especially in corner one, two, six… So the track’s in really bad condition so they’re doing right to resurface it."

Smoother on top

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2018 Jerez WorldSBK Test Monday Notes: Ducati's V4, Yamaha's Need For Speed, And Kawasaki As Fast As Ever

Three factories and eight WorldSBK riders turned up at Jerez on Monday, Ducati bringing their brand new Panigale V4R, but at the end, Jonathan Rea was fastest. Plus ça change.

All eyes were on the Ducati garage, and Alvaro Bautista's first day on the Panigale V4R. "First day at school" was how the Spaniard characterized it, taking some time to adapt to the bike. It was quite a switch from the Desmosedici he had been riding in MotoGP, the bike having a lot less power. But the V4 engine still has plenty, rival teams complaining that the Ducati was 10km/h faster than the others at the Aragon test. Here, the difference was less, but the Panigale was still clearly quicker than the rivals. 

The bike reminded him more of a 250, Bautista said, needing corner speed to get more out of it. Aruba.it Ducati teammate Chaz Davies joked that it might have reminded Bautista of his 250, but that bike was very different to the 250 Davies rode when he was in the class. But overall, Bautista's adaptation went well, the Spaniard trying two qualifying tires as it was the first time he had had a chance to ride qualifiers. He needed one set to figure out the potential of the tires, and a second set to attempt to set a time on the tires. His time was good enough for second place, three tenths behind Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki, and a couple of tenths ahead of his teammate Chaz Davies.

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Alex Baumgärtel On Kalex Moto2 Domination, And KTM's 'Baby-Eating' Air Intake

The switch to Triumph engines in Moto2 has had a major impact on the chassis manufacturers in the middleweight class, requiring a complete redesign of their chassis. The dimensions of the Triumph 765cc triple is very different to the Honda CBR600RR engines which they replace, and the power delivery places very different demands on the chassis in terms of handling and getting drive out of the corners.

After the first test at Jerez, Kalex appears to have done the best job of understanding the requirements the new engines place on the chassis. Eleven of the top twelve riders were on the German bikes, with only Jorge Navarro on the Speed Up spoiling the party in sixth. Austrian giant KTM were in real trouble, Brad Binder the best-placed KTM rider in thirteenth, over nine tenths behind Luca Marini on the Sky VR46 Kalex. Six of the last ten riders are on KTMs.

Reason for Kalex chief chassis designer Alex Baumgärtel to celebrate? "Well, it's too early to say," the affable German told us on Saturday. "It's just one and a half days now, and one of those had a wet session start, so I would say 'tranquilo', let's be calm. It was not a bad start, let's call it like that, with only minor problems. But everybody still had quite a lot of work to do to understand how systems work."

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2018 Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: New Engines, New Chassis, KTM's Front End Problems, And A Vintage Rookie Class

It's been a difficult test at Valencia. The weather simply hasn't played ball. Tuesday started wet, took a few hours to dry out, then rain started falling around 3pm, meaning the riders effectively had around two and a half usable hours on track. Rain on Tuesday evening meant the track was wet on Wednesday morning, and in the chill of a November morning, it took a couple of hours before the track dried out enough for the riders to hit the track.

At least it stayed dry and sunny throughout the day, and the last couple of hours saw the best conditions of the test, times dropping until falling temperatures put paid to any thought of improvement. The teams may have lost time, but at least they had a solid four and a half hours of track time to work.

For half the factories, what they were focusing on was engines. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all brought new engines to test, and in the case of Yamaha and Honda, two different specs. Ducati was mainly working with a new chassis, aimed at making the bike turn better. Aprilia had a new engine and a new frame to try. And as usual, KTM had a mountain of parts and ideas to test.

Choices, choices

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2018 Valencia MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: The Importance Of Testing, Yamaha Engines, Lorenzo Lags, Italians Impress, Ducati Improves

If you want to see the law of unintended consequences in action, just take a look at MotoGP testing. The nature of testing has changed as manufacturers have suffered the consequences of not fully understanding the effects of the engine development freeze during the season. Honda suffered, Suzuki suffered, and now Yamaha have suffered when they made the wrong choice of engine in preseason testing. They learned the hard way they had to get it right.

This has meant that the Valencia MotoGP test has become first and foremost about getting the engine in the right ballpark, giving the engineers enough data to work out the fine details over the winter. A tight track and cold air temperatures sees engines at their most aggressive, with plenty of horsepower on hand and very little room on track to actually use it. The addition of Jerez as an official winter test – to be held at the end of next week – makes this even more explicitly an engine test. If the factories bring an engine which is manageable at both Valencia and Jerez, they are in good shape for next season.

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2018 Valencia Race Round Up: KTM Cleans Up, New Tires Make The Difference, Emotional Farewells, And A 2019 Testing Preview

It has been a strange and intense year in MotoGP, so it seems fitting that we should end the year with such a strange and intense weekend. Three races defined by the weather, by crashes, and by riders holding their nerve and playing their cards right. And at the end, an explosion of emotion. Exactly as it should have been.

There were no titles on the line on Sunday – no serious titles, though the riders vying for Independent Rider and the teams chasing the Team Championship may choose to disagree – but the emotional release on Sunday was as great, or perhaps even greater, than if all three championships had been decided. We had records broken in Moto3, a new factory on the podium in MotoGP, and a farewell to old friends in all three classes, as riders move up, move over, or move on.

The weather figured prominently, as you might expect. Moto3 and Moto2 got off lightly, the rain falling gently and consistently, keeping the track wet, but never to a truly dangerous degree. That did not stop riders from falling off, of course, and dictating the outcome of both races. Those crashes – two races, two riders crashing out of the lead – were just as emotional as the riders who went on to win.

In with the new, out with the old

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2018 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Compartmentalizing Pain, Six Factories And Three Rows, And A Fiery Affair

The most remarkable skill of truly great motorcycle racers is their ability to compartmentalize everything. Break down every situation, put each part into its own separate container, and not let one thing bleed into another. Private lives – often messy, sometimes chaotic – stay in the box marked private life, and don't cross over into racing. Pain stays in the section reserved for pain, and is not allowed to encroach in the part set aside for riding. Crashes are to be analyzed, understood, and then forgotten, but not to be allowed anywhere near the part of a racer's mind where they keep their fears. That is the theory, at least, and the better a rider can manage to live up to the theory, the greater their chances of success.

Marc Márquez gave a masterclass in the art of compartmentalization during qualifying at Valencia. The Repsol Honda rider went out on his first run in Q2, and on his first flying lap, lost the front going into Turn 4, the first right hander after a whole sequence of lefts. It looked like a harmless low side, of the sort which Márquez has so often, and which he usually escapes without harm. But whether it was due to the bars being wrenched out of his hands, or due to his arm being folded up awkwardly beneath him as he tumbled through the gravel, he managed to partially dislocate his weak left shoulder.

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2018 Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wet Tracks Which Drain, Yamaha's Wrong Turn, And Reigniting Old Rivalries

It seems fitting that a year which has seen some pretty wild weather – from the heatwave in Brno to the deluge at Silverstone – should end at Valencia amid thunderstorms and torrential rain. It was so heavy at one point that the FP1 session for MotoGP was red flagged for 30 minutes, as pools of water gathered in a few corners around the track.

Echoes of Silverstone? Not quite. The company which resurfaced Valencia ensured that water drains quickly. The amount of rain having fallen was unheard of at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, yet the surface was quickly usable again. Was there more rain here than at Silverstone, Jack Miller was asked? "Way, way, way more and we are still out there riding," he replied. "It is night and day compared to Silverstone as the track has really good grip in the wet for one and I felt I could almost get my elbow down in some places this morning. So the track has got really good grip and there are some puddles but they are quite close to the kerbs so you can avoid most of them. Much more rain here than Silverstone – I am no meteorologist but I think so."

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