Analysis

Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Winning Tactics, Overheating Front Tires, What Yamaha and Ducati Want, And The Impossibility Of A KTM Aluminum Chassis

There are lots of ways to win a motorcycle race, but most racers are only capable of applying one. Some riders can only win they can break away at the front, and have a clear track to ride clean, fast lines. Other riders can't maintain a pace on their own, so have to sit behind a fast rival and wait until the end of the race to pounce. Some need to sit in a group and exploit the dynamics of that group to create the right moment to strike.

Great riders can adapt to any type of race. If they need to break away, they break away. If they need to sit with another rider and wait, they wait. If they need a group to drag them along, they sit in front of a group and slow the whole thing up to control the race and wait to pounce.

The truly great riders can manage all of this, and understand what is needed in any particular situation. They don't just adapt to a type of race, they create the race they need in order to win. It can render them nigh on invincible, as they control the race. They write the rules, and force everyone else to play along with them. Then they rewrite them again, and leave their rivals on the back foot.

Finding a way to win

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Le Mans Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Strategy, Luck, Gambling, And Lorenzo And Zarco Finding Speed

Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day. Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.

The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session. The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.

The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them. The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.

Poker face

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Two Fast Ms, Saves Which Mask A Weakness, And Going Faster Thanks To Ergonomics

The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted. Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.

But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third. We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez' trick, instead ending up in the gravel. We learned that Alex Rins still can't put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.

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Le Mans MotoGP Preview: Jekyll And Hyde, Stop And Go, Wet And Dry

Le Mans is very much a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of a weekend. The city of Le Mans is utterly charming and sedate, its historical center full of buildings reaching back to the 12th Century. The Le Mans circuit (the shorter Bugatti Circuit used by MotoGP and motorcycle racing events, that is) is a run down affair beside an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.

In the evenings, the central square in Le Mans has peaceful and civilized air, where people gather to eat and drink. A few miles further south, inside the circuit and at the campsites which surround it, mayhem is unleashed, a bawdy, rowdy riot of drink, fire, and noise. The atmosphere during the day is the opposite, almost, a friendly, lively, and especially passionate crowd roam the wooded areas around the track, enjoying some of the richest entertainment you will find at a race track anywhere around the world.

In the evenings? Well, best leave the track before the sun goes down. Though the entertainment goes on all night – a ploy forced on the organizers to keep the bike fans out of the town in the evening – the atmosphere turns from joyful to wild and chaotic. At night, things can get a little unruly.

More than stop and go

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Jerez MotoGP Race Round Up: A Winning Package, A Mechanical Failure, And A Surgical Suzuki

Motorcycle racing fans have heroes. They worship the riders like demi-gods, beings capable of superhuman feats of speed and agility. And watching riders at the top of their game – Marc Márquez skating the edge of disaster, Alex Rins sweeping through corners, Andrea Dovizioso braking not when he sees god, but after he has been invited home to meet god's mother, Valentino Rossi disposing of rivals like they are standing still – it is easy to understand why they are deified like that. They truly are exceptional, awe-inspiring, breathtaking to watch.

This idolization of riders makes it easy to forget that there is more to MotoGP than just a superhero on two wheels. If a rider is to destroy his rivals, he needs a weapon, and that weapon needs to honed to a fine point before being wielded with the kind of malice racing requires. Bikes need engineers to design them, mechanics to prepare them, crew chiefs and data engineers to make them fit the riders' needs.

Riders, too, need preparation. They don't just wake up one day, leap on a bike and go racing. They must train, and diet, and stretch, and get themselves ready. They must listen and learn from engineers, coaches, team managers. They need support when they are down, encouragement when they are up, guidance when they are out of control. They need to be honed and fettled as much as the motorcycles they race.

E pluribus unum

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Jerez MotoGP Monday Test Round Up: Quartararo Leads, Honda Use New Chassis, Yamaha Make Small Steps

The day after the Spanish round of MotoGP, the riders were back on track, busting out lap after lap with a lot of work to be done. After 25 laps on Sunday in the punishing heat, almost the entire grid did another three race distances or more on the Monday. Everyone rode, with the exception of Andrea Iannone, who was still suffering with an extremely painful ankle after a crash on Saturday, and Stefan Bradl, who had handed his test bike over to Marc Márquez to turn some laps on.

Conditions were ideal, the track all rubbered in after Sunday's race and the track temperature in the mid-40s, perfect for Jerez. That was both a good thing and a bad thing: riders who wanting to work on something specific, such as corner entry or mid-corner speed, could take full advantage of the grip to understand the finer details of what they were working. Teams and riders who are chasing traction on corner exit, like the factory Yamaha riders, or confidence in low grip conditions, like Jorge Lorenzo were not helped at all. With plenty of grip, it was much harder to work on their problems.

Fabio Quartararo ended the day as fastest, destroying his own pole record by half a second. And it wasn't just a single lap: of the 73 laps the Petronas SRT Yamaha rider put in, 21 were under the 1'38 barrier, 7 of them faster than 1'37.5. As a satellite rider, the Frenchman did not have a whole bunch of things to test, though he did have some forks from Ohlins to try.

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Jerez MotoGP Subscriber Notes: On Quartararo, Dealing With Adversity, Young Pretenders, And A Tight Championship

What is a new surface worth? The short – and wrong – answer is just under a second a lap, for Jerez at least. The long answer is that there have been too many changes in the series to give a definitive answer. Comparisons between 2018 and 2019 are complicated, as much more than just the surface has changed.

But the track is undoubtedly much quicker, and the surface is much better. The MotoGP race was 31 seconds faster than in 2018, Marc Márquez taking seven tenths of a second off the race lap record. But the Moto3 race was only (well, "only") 9 seconds faster than last year. The Moto2 race was cut to just 15 laps, making comparison impossible, but the race lap record in the intermediate class was 0.9 seconds faster than the previous record.

So how much of that improvement is the track? Moto3 is arguably the wrong class to judge the track by: what makes the class so enjoyable is the fact that nine or ten riders spend almost the entire race engaged in fierce combat at the front, so nobody is riding an ideal line. Moto2 has different engines, different electronics, and Dunlop brought a different profile tire with a larger contact patch to Jerez, all three of those factors adding a significant element to the much faster pace of the race.

Tight and fast

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Record Breakers, A Close Field, And Tires That Will Go the Distance

We came to Jerez expecting records. A new surface with most of the bumps removed meant the bikes were always going to be quicker around the track. A weekend of stable weather conditions promised ideal conditions for realizing unbelievably quick laps around the track. And a field which is closer than ever ramps up the pressure on the riders to extract the absolute maximum from their bikes. In FP3, for example, there were 16 riders within a second, and the gap between Andrea Dovizioso in fourth and Pol Espargaro in thirteenth was precisely two tenths of a second.

So records were always on the cards, but we were not to know just how many records would be obliterated at Jerez. Thanks to the Triumph Moto2 engines, and a new profile Dunlop tire with a larger contact patch, the Moto2 pole record was smashed by eight tenths of a second. And in fact, Jorge Navarro's Moto2 pole time would have put him second on the grid for the 2004 MotoGP race, between Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha M1, and Sete Gibernau on Honda's fearsome RC211V, a fire-breathing 990cc V5.

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Exposing Ducati's New Swingarm Spoilers, Honda's Software, And Track Grip In Hot Conditions

Friday is turning into update day, especially since Ducati opened the can of worms which is aerodynamics in places not covered by aerodynamics. The first day of practice at any race now is the day the other factories roll out their new swingarm attachments, or devices, or whatever you want to call them. But let's be honest: they are aerodynamic spoilers.

Jerez was no different. On Friday, both Aprilia and Yamaha debuted their versions of Ducati's swingarm spoiler (poetic justice for Yamaha, as their water-deflecting spoiler from last year was the inspiration for Aprilia and Ducati to start adding parts to the swingarm). Stefan Bradl, making an appearance as a wildcard as a reward for his role as HRC test rider, was spotted riding a chassis covered in carbon fiber (stuck on top of aluminum, not an entirely CF frame).

Normally, test riders don't attract too much media attention, but HRC's obsessive secrecy managed to change that around. As soon as Bradl entered the garage, mechanics from the test team put up massive screens, hermetically sealing off the garage to prying eyes. This alerted the media to the fact that Something Big Was Going On in Bradl's garage, and a group of keen observers gathered every time he exited the pits. That kind of behavior did more to draw attention to what Honda was doing, rather than keep it out of the public eye.

The hidden, the visible, the overlooked

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2019 Jerez MotoGP Preview: Back To The Track Where There Are No Unknowns

And so MotoGP returns to terra cognita. At Qatar, the sand and dust conspire with temperature and moisture to make for unpredictable conditions. Termas De Rio Hondo, despite its magnificent layout, barely gets used, meaning conditions change from session to session. And the shifting substrate below the Circuit of the Americas means bumps come and go, and shift around from year to year in Austin. Furthermore, MotoGP visits Argentina and Austin just once a year, meaning the teams have very limited data for the track, making setup just that little bit more complicated.

How very different is Jerez. There cannot be a rider on the MotoGP paddock who does not have thousands, if not tens of thousands of laps around the Circuito de Jerez in Andalusia, Spain. If they raced in the Spanish CEV championship (now the FIM CEV championship), they raced there once or twice a year. When they got to 125s or Moto3, they tested there two or three times a year. Same again in 250s or Moto2. Even in MotoGP they test there regularly, both private tests and now at the official IRTA test in November. Each and every one of them could post a lap of the track blindfolded.

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