Analysis

2018 Assen MotoGP Race Round Up: Another Monument To The New Golden Age

When it comes down to it, it is always individual races which define an era. Silverstone 1979 defined the late 1970s, with Barry Sheene coming up just short of Kenny Roberts, a milestone in the American takeover of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. In 1983, at Anderstorp in Sweden, Freddie Spencer brought the Roberts era to an end, by beating the triple world champion with an outrageously late braking maneuver on the final lap.

In the 1990s, what we might now refer to as the First Golden Age, Hockenheim 1991 typifies the battles between Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, where quarter was neither asked nor given. The wild scenes at Eastern Creek and Jerez in 1996 marked the rivalry between Mick Doohan and the man came closest to stopping him, Alex Crivillé. Valentino Rossi's arrival in MotoGP may have been spectacular, but his win at Welkom in South Africa in 2004, his first race on the Yamaha since leaving Honda beating arch enemy Max Biaggi, was a watershed in his career. That was the point at which Rossi truly transcended the sport.

When we look back at this period, which will surely be called the Second Golden Age, then Assen 2018, along with the 2015 and 2017 races at Phillip Island, will be the races that fans and pundits point to as the ones which defined the era. Mass battles between multiple riders, hard and close passing in which contact is frequent and accepted, a healthy mix of riders and bikes, of factory and satellite. Battles which rage almost from start to finish, with frequent lead changes, and an almost uncountable number of passes.

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2018 Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Deceptively Tight Field, The Limits Of A Satellite Bike, And Not Thinking And Riding

How close is MotoGP right now? At the end of FP3 on Saturday morning, the top five bikes were separated by 0.062 seconds. The top three had just six thousandths of a second between them. And the difference between Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales, first and second in FP3? Just one thousandth of a second. If they were both lapping at the same time, it would have needed the special finish line camera to separate them.

It was pretty close behind the top five as well. There were sixteen riders within nine tenths of Márquez, gaps between them counted in hundredths of seconds, rather than thousandths of seconds. Qualifying was much the same: the difference between pole and eleventh place on the grid was just half a second. If you made a mistake in two corners, costing you a tenth or so in each, you would have ended up starting from the third row, rather than the front row.

It was even worse for riders who hadn't made it straight through to Q2. If Jack Miller had been a six hundredths faster in FP3, he could have ended up tenth instead of twelfth, and not have to go to Q1. If he had been eight hundredths of a second faster in Q1, he would have been through to Q2, and not starting from sixteenth on the grid. But why pick on Miller? Taka Nakagami missed out on going to Q2 by a couple of hundredths, Tito Rabat and Hafizh Syahrin by seven hundredths. Even Scott Redding, starting from seventeenth, was just four tenths off going to Q2. That is quite literally just the blink of an eye.

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2018 Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: Spectacular Saves, Hard Tires, And New Parts For Ducati And Suzuki

Another Friday, another save that would have seen any other rider rolling through the gravel. And at Assen, with its collection of terrifyingly fast corners, rolling through the gravel often ends up rolling into the back of an ambulance, and X-rays, cat scans, and metal plates holding your bones together. But Friday wouldn't be Friday without Marc Márquez folding the front completely, jabbing his elbow into the tarmac, and hanging on long enough for the front to catch again and stay upright, or what passes for upright if your name is Marc Márquez.

This time it happened at the Ruskenhoek, the very fast left hander after the Veenslang back straight, where the bikes flick right, then long left, and then right again for the short run towards Stekkenwal. Márquez was traveling at something approaching 200km/h when the front went, but he caught it, stayed on board, and ended up running just off track and clipping the gravel. "I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t want to have a 'safe' crash in fourth gear at a very high-speed corner," Márquez explained.

Holding your line is difficult because of the track changes direction at very high speed, so being precise is of the utmost importance, Márquez said. "Here at Assen, the speed is so high and to take the correct lines is difficult but we were already in FP2, but in the first run it is always difficult to understand the lines and to be precise. A small mistake is a big mistake here: you cannot adjust with the brakes or the gas and you need to keep the speed during all the lap."

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2018 Assen MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Waiting For Pedrosa/Petronas, The Crew Chief Shuffle, And Silly Season Remedies

Another weekend, another racetrack, but exactly the same story. We all gathered once again to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say about his future, and once again, Pedrosa had nothing to say. "I know there are a lot of people waiting and wanting to know some information, but unfortunately not yet," Pedrosa told the pre-event press conference. "I can't give any different news from what I already in Barcelona. I expect to, but still things are going slow, so we don't know at this moment exactly. Sooner or later I will have something to say!"

Once bitten, twice shy, the media were a little more prepared this Thursday. Dorna had put Dani Pedrosa into the press conference, a little safer situation than the masses crowded into the HRC hospitality at Barcelona. We were acting on a little more information as well: journalists have been talking to a range of sources since Barcelona, and so there is a much better sense of where we stand on the Petronas-Yamaha story, as I explained on Tuesday. There was some hope Pedrosa might announce something, but a realistic expectation he would not. So the disappointment when the Repsol Honda rider told there was still no news on his future was much more limited at Assen than it had been at Montmeló.

Where do we stand? Sepang International Circuit boss Razlan Razali is at Assen this weekend, but unavailable for reporters, as he is in wall-to-wall meetings finalizing various details. That suggests that the deal is basically done, and he is now going through the laborious business of tying up loose ends. There is a lot of work to be done to get a MotoGP team off the ground from scratch.

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2018 Assen MotoGP Preview: Where History Lives, And History Is Made

The tale of the TT Circuit at Assen is really the tale of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. That is hardly surprising, given that the race has featured on the calendar since Grand Prix racing was born, or rather, since the FIM Motorcycle Grand Prix Road Racing World Championship was established, back in 1949. And like Grand Prix racing, it has roots which go back a long way before that.

The first race took place in 1925, a year after the Dutch government passed a law permitting racing on public roads. It ran over cobbled roads and sand tracks between three villages to the east of Assen: Rolde, Borger, and Schoonlo. The next year it moved south of Assen, again over public roads, between De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen, and Laaghalerveen. It stayed there until 1955, when the first sections of what would become the modern circuit were built. The roads were closed and the circuit was separated from the world, an isolated loop of tarmac, where racing was safer, easier to organize, and, not coincidentally, easier to monetize.

The inaugural Grand Prix season in 1949 took place mainly on circuits set out using public roads, which made for long tracks taken at high speed (Bremgarten in Switzerland and Monza in Italy were the two purpose-built circuits on the calendar, but Bremgarten, in particular, was a spectacularly dangerous circuit which wound through a forest).

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2018 Laguna Seca World Superbike Notes: What We Learned At Laguna

The US Round of the 2018 WorldSBK season highlighted once again the importance of hard work in motorcycle racing. Last year it was hard to imagine Milwaukee Aprilia standing on the podium on merit; on Sunday Eugene Laverty made his long awaited return to the rostrum. We have seen in recent rounds Yamaha win three races with the R1, but last weekend's races arguably did more to prove the potential of the bike.

Aprilia back in the hunt

After a four-year wait Eugene Laverty finally managed to scratch an itch, and spray some prosecco. The Irishman has been a title contender in the past, though he has suffered from poor machinery in recent years, but the hard work of the Shaun Muir Racing outfit paid off with a superb weekend. Laverty was on the pace throughout and looked very comfortable from FP1 as he finally converted potential into points. His 2018 season will always be punctuated by his crash in Thailand, but it now appears to be a pause rather than a full stop on his aspirations.

Yamaha making strides

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Subscriber Feature: Petronas, Sepang International Circuit, Yamaha, Pedrosa - How It Happened

This has truly been a revolutionary year for MotoGP, in terms of the rider's market. Not only has there been more movement between factories than expected, some of the switches would have been unthinkable previously. Most people expected Johann Zarco to get a factory ride, Dani Pedrosa to be forced out at Repsol Honda, Jorge Lorenzo to leave Ducati. But nobody saw Lorenzo's move to Repsol Honda, it only being picked up by Gazzetta dello Sport Paolo Ianieri being willing to look past the preconceptions which clouded the vision of the entire MotoGP media.

There have also been some radical developments which nobody expected. At the start of the year, nobody gave a thought to the question of whether the Marc VDS team would pull out of the premier class or not. Then again, nobody expected Jonas Folger to withdraw from MotoGP for health reasons either. The odds of seeing a Malaysian rider in MotoGP for 2019 were slim, and zero for 2018.

Few people expected to see a Malaysian team contemplating entry in MotoGP either. The grid was full, the independent teams happy to hang on to their grid slots, at least until their contracts run out at the end of the 2021 season. And yet that is what will happen: in 2019, a Petronas-backed MotoGP team run by the Sepang International Circuit will be on the grid, on factory-spec Yamahas, with Franco Morbidelli and (almost certainly) Dani Pedrosa riding them.

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2018 Laguna Seca World Superbike Track Guide - Maintaining Momentum And Being Precise

The US Round of WorldSBK sees the paddock decamp to the West Coast and for the Superbike riders this is certainly a favorite round of the campaign. The challenging Laguna Seca circuit is unique and rightfully regarded as one of the most action packed and thrilling on the calendar. The lap might be short but there's no rest for the wicked in the Northern California hills.

The lap begins with one of the most difficult corners of the entire season. While the Corkscrew gets the attention, it's Turn 1 over a blind crest that grabs the attention of riders. There's a variety of lines on offer depending on bike setup with gearing a key concern. In WorldSBK gear ratios are fixed for the season and with the deduction in revs for 2018 this will be even more crucial. We see a lot of variety at Laguna Seca with regards to gear patterns, and this will be even more exaggerated this season.

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2018 Laguna Seca World Superbikes Preview: What To Expect At The Dry Lake

Laguna Seca is one of the world's most famous race tracks and it could play host to a memorable race this weekend. Yamaha are on a roll, Kawasaki are in the midst of what could become a difficult break-up, and Ducati are looking to recapture lost form at a venue of past glories.

Can Yamaha keep it up?

Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes have combined to win three of the last four WorldSBK races but few circuits have uncovered the R1's shortcomings in recent years like Laguna Seca. A best result of fifth since 2016 has seen the US become a round to forget in the past. However" the progress made this year could change their fortunes and see the PATA squad head to California like the prospectors of 200 years ago. There's glory in the hills of Northern California and their confidence could see Yamaha spring a surprise again.

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2018 Barcelona MotoGP Post-Race Test Round Up: What They Did And Didn't Tell Us

The Monday test at Barcelona felt like a proper test. Normally, such tests descend into a simple shoot out in the last fifteen minutes, frail egos demanding to finish fastest, especially when only pride is at stake. But perhaps the Barcelona race had taken a little too much out of the protagonists, or the hot and humid conditions were simply not conducive to spend even more energy risking everything for pointless pride, or perhaps the riders realize that the season is now so tightly packed with no summer break that they cannot risk injury when it doesn't count. Whatever the reason, at the test, people concentrated on testing.

Not that the riders or teams were particularly forthcoming about what exactly they were testing. Some were more open than others: Suzuki said they were testing a new swingarm, and engine update, and retesting the new chassis they have been using since Mugello. Danilo Petrucci tested a new exhaust, a new gearbox, and a new swingarm, which he promptly broke by taking it for a tumble through the gravel.

Show and tell

Some had nowhere they could hide: KTM debuted a new aerodynamic package taken straight out of the HRC playbook, which had in turned been "inspired" by Yamaha. Repsol Honda debuted a new bike in carbon fiber fairings, not the 2019 bike, they insisted, but rather a potential update for this season. But Honda were so intensely secretive that I would not be surprised if they had merely slapped a black fairing on it to distract from parts they were testing on the Repsol bike, as much as I detest conspiracy theories.

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