Analysis

2019 WorldSBK Testing Round Up: Panigale A Work In Progress, Rea Dominant, Lowes One To Watch

Testing paints a picture but it’s never a complete one. It shows only what the artist wants you to see with their work in progress. The winter is a time to work through your program and do it at your own pace. This year that has been even more the case. With new bikes for Ducati and BMW there is plenty of change in the air of the World Superbike paddock, and after eight days of testing there are arguably more questions than answers.

The Ducati V4R was billed as the weapon to finally end Jonathan Rea’s dominance of WorldSBK. It was a MotoGP-derived bike that didn’t pull punches. It was one that broke cover over 12 months before its competitive debut. It was expected to be a honed creation from the outset. It was expected to be seamless. But instead, Ducati’s introduction of their new machine has run aground this winter.

Circumstances have worked against Ducati. Four days of testing in November were ruined by bad weather in Aragon, and then a bad track surface at Jerez that would need to be replaced. With a brand new surface at Jerez, it was dirty for the opening test of 2019. It took time to clean and it was almost impossible for riders to do long distance stints without excessive tire wear. Coming to Portimao it was hoped that Ducati could get some information on the new bike.

Hampering progress

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Repsol Honda Launch: A Dream Team, A Youthful Dream, And Fear of Injuries

If you looked very carefully at the Repsol Honda 2019 livery, you could see a difference. A touch more black under the tail. A dash more white on the tank, and a different line here and there. But other than a large sticker celebrating 25 years of collaboration between Repsol and HRC, the differences were almost impossible to see.

And why should they change? In the previous 24 seasons together, Repsol and Honda have won the premier class championship 14 times, a strike rate of nearly 60%. Marc Márquez, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, and Alex Crivillé have all become world champions wearing Repsol colors. Repsol Honda riders have a combined 168 wins, 427 podiums, and 177 poles between them. So why ditch that in pursuit of novelty? The Repsol livery is proven, and it is timeless. And so it stays as it was, no matter how much the crowd bays for change.

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Ducati 2019 Launch: New Sponsors, New Team Strategy, Even More Horsepower

Ducati launched their 2019 MotoGP campaign at the Philip Morris R&D cube in Neuchâtel, Switzerland this evening. The Mission Winnow Ducati team, as it is now called, consisting of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci were presented to the world on stage in Switzerland, in a new livery with a lot more red and a lot less white in it compared to previous years, in a throwback to the 2008 color scheme. Like that color scheme, there is a link to Philip Morris once again, though this time, indirectly. But much more on that later.

In a tightly-scripted presentation, Ducati managed to let slip just enough information to make the presentation interesting, without giving too much away. But what they did let slip was enough to allow observers to read between the lines for an insight into the factory. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna spoke briefly about the bike for 2019, but more importantly, sketched a picture of how the team and the team's two riders will function in much more of a partnership. This was in stark contrast to the combative atmosphere which prevailed when Ducati had both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo aiming to win the championship.

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Exactly What Does Ducati's Torque Arm Do?


The forces in play with Ducati's torque arm

Ducati has always been known for taking the path less traveled when it comes to their MotoGP bikes. Their willingness to experiment and innovate – and sometimes, pick up old solutions which were dropped in the past – has been put into overdrive since Gigi Dall’Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse, the Bologna factory's racing department.

The appearance of a torque arm on the Ducati GP19s at the Jerez test in November last year is another example of exactly this kind of thinking from Dall'Igna. An idea which was once common practice in racing motorcycles in the 1970s and early 1980s, but disappeared shortly afterward. Why had Ducati reinstated the idea again? What were they trying to achieve?

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Puig vs Pedrosa vs Rossi: Why The Controversy Hides Some Fascinating Insights Into Marquez And Lorenzo

On Saturday 15th December, Barcelona-based daily newspaper La Vanguardia published a lengthy interview with Alberto Puig. That is in itself mildly surprising: despite being team manager of the Repsol Honda squad, Puig has little time for the media, and little interest in speaking to them. What is even more surprising is that it is a truly insightful and fascinating interview, revealing a lot about how Puig views running a MotoGP team, and what makes Marc Márquez tick.

So it is a shame that the discussion the interview has generated has centered around two of the briefest subjects Puig mentioned: his views of Dani Pedrosa, whom Puig thought had not been fully committed in recent years, and his thoughts on Valentino Rossi, whom he believed had seen his moment pass.

The old dog

Which of those generated the most controversy depended on where in the world you were. Puig's comments on Rossi were biggest in Italy, unsurprisingly. Perhaps rightly so, given the comparison Puig made between Rossi and Marc Márquez. Rossi has been a great rider who he fully respected, Puig said. He was impressed by Rossi's refusal to accept that he shouldn't be able to compete at his age, and by his undimmed desire to win. But, Puig said, "he is having a hard time accepting his moment has passed."

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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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