Analysis

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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Scoop: This Is What Ducati's Holeshot Device Looks Like

The eyes of the MotoGP world have been on Ducati over the past few months, as they have rolled out new and surprising (not to mention controversial) engineering ideas on the Desmosedici GP19. At the Jerez test, there was an aerodynamic seat, and a brake torque arm connected to the rear chassis, and more.

But up until four manufacturers protested Ducati's use of an aerodynamic spoiler attached to the swingarm during the first race of the season at Qatar, all the talk had been of Ducati's so-called holeshot device. It first came to public attention when Ducati riders were spotted stopping at the exit of pit lane at Sepang, and twisting a lever on the top plate of the triple clamp (shown below) before practicing their starts.


Key for engaging the holeshot device

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Austin MotoGP Race Round Up: Making History, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of The US GP

There are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Marc Márquez winning any MotoGP race organized in the United States of America. That has been true since the Spaniard moved up to MotoGP, and for both years he spent in Moto2 as well. There is something about America which makes Márquez nigh on invincible. Is it the anticlockwise tracks? Is it the low grip and tricky surfaces found at the circuits? Or is high fructose corn syrup Márquez' equivalent of Popeye's spinach?

MotoGP went to Austin hoping this might be the year when things changed. With good reason: the racing in the series has been getting closer and closer almost on a race-by-race basis. Valentino Rossi finished just 0.6 seconds behind race winner Andrea Dovizioso at Qatar, but he crossed the line in fifth place. In Argentina, the seven riders fighting for second place were separated by 3 seconds on the penultimate lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP19 is faster and better than ever, the Yamaha M1 has made a huge step forward since 2018, and the Suzuki has consistently been in the hunt for podiums since the middle of last year.

That is all very well and good, but the margin of Marc Márquez' victory in Termas de Rio Hondo suggested that ending Márquez' reign in the US would require something extraordinary to happen. The Repsol Honda rider had a 12 second lead going into the last lap in Argentina. The Honda RC213V had the highest top speed in both Qatar and Argentina, the bike having both more horsepower and better acceleration. Then, during qualifying, Márquez took pole – his seventh in a row at the Circuit of the Americas – with an advantage of more than a quarter of a second over Valentino Rossi. Normal service had been resumed.

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Alvaro Bautista: The (Excessive) Cost Of Success

Alvaro Bautista continued his unbeaten run of success at Assen. The time might be nearing for Ducati to evaluate the costs of such success

On Sunday Alvaro Bautista won his 11th straight race in WorldSBK. He’s unbeaten in 2019 and he’s well on his way to adding a Superbike title to his 125GP crown. The Spaniard is riding with incredible confidence and consistency and he’s a joy to watch. That is unless you’re the financial directors of Ducati. The costs of his success are racking up and he’s put himself into a very rare position - he’s potentially winning too much!

In racing all success is measured in numbers. Number of wins, number of podiums and number of pole positions. The contracts for riders reflect this. The more you win the more you make. Incentives have always been heavily rewarded and no doubt Alvaro Bautista’s contract is structured in a similar way.

In conversation with riders and team representatives in Assen the general figure bandied about for race wins was €25,000. Of course with the Superpole race having been introduced for this season it’s possible that the ten lap shootout has a different value attached to it. Some riders said they aren’t paid bonus money for the Superpole races and others are on the same as any other race.

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2019 Austin MotoGP Fast Notes: Jump Starts, Winning Ways, A Tight Championship, And Outstanding Team Managers

Jump starts

Have Race Direction suddenly decided to have a crackdown on jump starts? After a long period without a single jump start, we suddenly have three in two races. Look at the video, and it's clear the reason Race Direction issued two more penalties for jump starts is because two riders moved on the grid in Austin. A random statistical distribution tends to be lumpy, not smooth, and so random events look like they are clustered together. And at the point of the race where the riders are most intensely focused, occasionally mistakes will occur. Sometimes even simultaneously.

The two culprits in Austin were Joan Mir and Maverick Viñales. Mir's infraction was the smallest, barely moving and then almost coming to a stop. He was quietly seething after the race, angry at a penalty he felt he didn't deserve, and at the disproportionate nature of the penalty for the tiniest infraction in which he didn't gain an advantage, like Cal Crutchlow in Argentina. "It ruined my race," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said. "All the weekend for this. It ruined my whole weekend. When I see my lap times every lap and the pace that I had, it makes me even more angry because sincerely we had today a great pace to fight for the podium or top five, sure."

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2019 Austin Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Poor Weather, Strong Winds, And Battles Which Are Still Wide Open

It never rains, but it pours. Especially around Austin, where warm damp air blows in from the Gulf of Mexico, and the rising terrain of the start of Hill Country generates turbulence which causes the towering clouds to dump their burden of moisture onto the earth below. That happened early on Saturday morning, when the heavens opened and a torrential rain drenched the ground, causing deep puddles and running streams throughout the area east of Austin which houses the Circuit of the Americas. And it happened again in the late morning, a brief but enormously intense storm dumped another centimeter or so of rain onto the track in the space of a quarter of an hour.

Both rainstorms were accompanied by thunder and lightning, which caused the most problems for the organizers. Lightning poses a significant danger, not just to anyone foolish enough to try to race a motorcycle in a thunderstorm, but to corner workers, the fans and the staff who work around the track. Lightning strikes regularly claim lives in Texas, so when a thunderstorm hits, it gets taken very seriously indeed.

It never rains but it pours in the metaphorical sense as well. After Friday's raft of complaints aimed at the bumpiness of the Austin track, Saturday started off with track action being first delayed, and then canceled, and fans being locked out of the circuit for safety reasons. It was very much an inauspicious start to the weekend.

No track time, no experience

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2019 Austin Friday MotoGP Round Up: The Paddock Hates The Bumps, Honda's Spoiler, Ducati's Steering Supports, And Remembering Nicky Hayden

It is becoming a familiar refrain. At the end of each day at the Circuit of the Americas, the riders express their admiration for the event, for the setting, for the venue. And they express their dismay at the state of the asphalt, at the bumps in the track – the most common comparison was with speed bumps put in to slow traffic – and at the danger that entails. The Grand Prix of the Americas is one of the paddock's favorite events at one of their favorite venues, at one of their favorite track layouts. It is also the race with the worst asphalt.

Despite this, opinions are split, though not diametrically opposed. There are those who think the track is dangerous now, and who fear we will not be able to return if the track is not resurfaced, and there are those who feel that the track is fixable, and not quite as bad as the more apocalyptic predictions suggest.

Not at Grand Prix level

Aleix Espargaro always wears his heart on his sleeve, and so predictably does not hide his concerns about the state of the track. "Super dangerous," was how the Aprilia rider described it. "I’ve never ridden a track like this. It’s not at the level of MotoGP. Not at all. I don’t think we can race here one more year with these conditions. Absolutely no way."

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2019 Austin Thursday MotoGP Round Up: Dealing With A Bumpy Track, And Addressing Jump Starts

The Grand Prix of the Americas is one of the MotoGP paddock's favorite races, because of the setting, the atmosphere, and the city of Austin. The layout of the Circuit of the Americas is beloved by many a rider. They love the challenge of threading the needle of Turns 2 through 10, the braking for Turn 11, Turn 12, Turn 1. They love the run up the hill to Turn 1, the sweep down through Turn 2, the fact that the back straight is not straight, but meanders like the straights at many great tracks. The front straight at Mugello wanders, the Veenslang at Assen is anything but straight, that adds an element of challenge to a straigeht.

What the riders don't love are the bumps. The bumps turn the Austin racetrack into a rodeo, the MotoGP bikes into bucking broncos. At close to 350 km/h along the back straight, the bikes become very difficult to control. The bumps turn into whoops, a motocross track taken at light speed, and almost impossible to ride safely. Turn 2, that glorious sweeping downhill right hander has a bump in it which threatens to unseat anyone who takes it at the speed it begs of a rider.

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2019 Austin MotoGP Preview: Grinding Down Bumps, Beating Marquez, And Surviving Injuries

After a display of utter domination by Marc Márquez in Argentina, MotoGP heads 7000km north to Austin where if history is to be the judge, we are in for a repeat performance. Marc Márquez has never been beaten at Austin, and indeed, has not been beaten on US soil since he moved up to Moto2 in 2011. It seems foolish to bet against him at the Circuit of the Americas.

Yet the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit and the Circuit of the Americas are two very different beasts indeed. Termas flows, with only a couple of points where the brakes are challenged, and is a track where corner speed and the ability to ride the bike on the rear is paramount. COTA is more a collection of corners than a flowing race track. Three tight corners where the brakes are taken to the limit – Turn 12 being the toughest, braking from nearly 340 km/h to just under 65 km/h – a dizzying extended esses section from Turn 2 to Turn 9, a tight infield section and a big sweeping right hander.

If there is a section where the track sort of flows, it is from the top of the hill. The first corner is one of the most difficult on the calendar. The riders charge uphill hard on the gas, then slam on the brakes compressing the suspension harder than at any point on the calendar. At the top of the hill they release the brakes and try to turn in, managing rebounding suspension with a corner which rises, crests, and then falls away down towards Turn 2.

Precision and forcefulness combined

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2019 Argentina MotoGP Race Round Up: False Starts, Close Fights, And The Raw Emotion Of Racing

A sense of dread must fill the hearts of senior MotoGP staff as they head to Argentina each year. There is so much to love about the round – one of the best race track layouts in the world, and probably the best atmosphere at any race – and yet somehow, the Fates always find a way to cause controversy, filling the media and fan chatter with debate about rules, regulations, and anything but the actual racing.

Since MotoGP first returned to Argentina in 2014, we have had customs hold ups, a collision between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, rear tires blistering and shedding rubber, compulsory pit stops, complaints about bumps causing riders to crash out, start line chaos, another collision between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi (and between Marc Márquez and a whole bunch of other riders), just to mention a few things in no particular order. On more than one occasion, the Argentina round of MotoGP has forced adjustments to the rules, or clarification on how the rules are applied. As sure as night follows day, intense criticism (whether deserved or not) of Race Direction follows a MotoGP race at Termas de Rio Hondo.

Rolling

So why would 2019 be any different? Sitting on the starting grid as the starting lights came on, Cal Crutchlow balanced his LCR Honda RC213V on his tiptoes, and inadvertently rolled his toes forward, moving the bike imperceptibly forward a few centimeters. Just as that happened, the lights went out, and the pack tore off towards Turn 1.

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