2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Hondas Thrive and Yamahas Struggle in the Cold

There are plenty of ways of explaining the results of qualifying at Phillip Island. Lack of set up time in consistent conditions make the qualifying order a bit of a lottery. Rain and wind coming in off the Bass Strait and the weather changing every minute or so meant getting your timing and strategy right was crucial. Changing track conditions and unpredictable weather meant that some teams gambled right on whether to have their bikes in a wet set up, on intermediates, or on slicks. Or even on the correct mixture of tires front and rear.

In reality, though, the main factor in determining the qualifying order was this: the temperature in the front tire. Riders who could generate it had confidence in the front and could push hard in the sketchy and cold conditions. Riders who couldn't, languished well down the order, unable to feel the front and unable to lap with any confidence or feedback from the tires.

That explains why Marc Márquez and Cal Crutchlow are on the front row of the grid at Phillip Island, while the factory Yamahas languish back in twelfth and fifteenth place (or "on the fourth and fifth row of the grid" as it is known in press release speak). The Hondas have a tendency to overheat the tires due to the way they brake and their geometry. The Yamahas lean heavily on the front tire to generate corner speed, and on the edge of the rear tire to maintain it. At Phillip Island, it was too cold and too windy to do either.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up - Rossi's Tire Troubles, Lorenzo's Woes in the Rain

Though I am not one to blow my own trumpet, my Phillip Island preview turned out to be prophetic. (Of course, it helped that my prediction was written just a few hours before the start of practice in Australia.) The Southern Ocean imposed its will on the Australian Grand Prix, and heavy rain and strong winds hampered morning practice, then caused the afternoon practice to be called off.

All three classes used their sessions in the morning, and the Moto3 class set off boldly for FP2, despite worsening conditions. They battled through to an increasingly damp finish, but the rain intensified, postponing MotoGP FP2 for some 40 minutes. Eventually, the session was given the green light, but only a few riders went out to attempt a few laps. After thirteen minutes, Race Direction decided it was too dangerous. FP2 was red-flagged, and all action canceled for the rest of the day.

The poor weather made most of the day's action meaningless, but it also had an upside. Hector Barbera finished the red-flagged FP2 session as fastest, while Mike Jones, his replacement in the Avintia team ending in second. Whatever the circumstances of the session, that goes down in the record books forever. Just as Josh Hayes timed his fast lap in morning warm up at Valencia in 2011 to perfection, and ended up quickest, Mike Jones can say he was second fastest in a MotoGP practice.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Preview: A Wild Weekend at the Greatest Track in the World

If you needed to find a time and place to organize a MotoGP race, then Phillip Island in October is among the worst combinations in the world. A track located on the edge of the freezing Southern Ocean, with nothing between it and the South Pole but the brief blip of Tasmania. Held while the southern winter still has a firm grip on the track, wracking it with blasts of icy wind and soaking it in freezing rain. And yet it is the best race on the calendar.

The answer is simple. Phillip Island is arguably the purest motorcycle racing circuit in the world. Like all great circuits, it follows the lines dictated to it by the landscape. The track ebbs and flows, dips and rises its way around the rolling hills which sit atop the cliffs overlooking the Bass Strait. It is fast, the second fastest track on the calendar, but unlike the Red Bull Ring, which knocked it off top spot, its speed is all in the corners, brutally fast turns which require courage, balance, and bike feel in equal measure. It is above all a test of the rider, rather than machinery.

That makes Phillip Island beloved of every rider on the grid. The love of the place is nigh on unanimous, up there with Mugello, and the uncastrated part of Assen. It encapsulates the reason motorcycle racers ride: a chance to surf the wave of inner terror, face it down, and overcome it. The flood of adrenaline that engulfs the senses, knowing that you are teetering on the brink of disaster, and if you step over, it is going to hurt. Controlling the bike, sensing its movement, riding the edge of the tires and the limits of adhesion. This is what it means to feel alive.

2016 Jerez World Superbike Race 2 Notes - Down To The Wire

Jonathan Rea stands on the verge of defending his World Superbike title after finishing second at Jerez in Race 2. The Northern Irishman came out on top of a tussle with his Kawasaki teammate, Tom Sykes, and will enter the final round of the season with an almost unassailable 48 point lead.

2016 Motegi MotoGP Round Up: The Path of the Sensei

Chasing down a championship lead can be both liberating and extremely stressful. On the one hand, your objective is simple: beat the rider who is leading the championship, and try to outscore them by as much as possible. On the other hand, you have to take more risk, as riding conservatively means you risk not scoring enough points to close the gap to the leader. Finding the balance between the two is always difficult.

Defending a championship lead is just stressful. The best way to defend it is to keep trying to win races, and make it as hard as possible for your rivals to catch you. But winning races means taking risks, and a crash can mean throwing away a big chunk of your lead in a single race. Riding conservatively is not necessarily an easier option: it is paradoxically harder to ride just off the pace than right on the pace, requiring more focus and concentration to manage the race. Giving away points every race can be like Chinese water torture, your rivals closing the gap with each drip. Tension rises every race, and containing it without bursting is extremely stressful.

The Motegi MotoGP race provided a perfect example of both of these situations. Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo came into the Japanese Grand Prix knowing that they had to win the race if they were to retain any hope of keeping the 2016 MotoGP title out of Marc Márquez' hands. The job was significantly easier for Rossi than for Lorenzo. Outscoring an opponent by 52 points in four races is easier than trying to make up a deficit of 66 points. Conversely, that put more pressure on Rossi: keeping an achievable target within reach makes winning paramount.

2016 Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Return of the Highside

If anyone was nostalgic for the days of 500cc two strokes, they got a glimpse of what the dark side of that era was like this weekend at Motegi. Rider after rider has been flung from his bike, spat into the air as a rear tire slipped then bit again, snapping the bike around, suspension compressing and then explosively decompressing, catapulting the rider into the sky. It has kept the medical helicopter busy: Eugene Laverty and Jorge Lorenzo have been flown to and fro for medical examination, with the second helicopter kept on standby having to take its place.

On Friday, the victims had been Eugene Laverty and Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa had paid the heaviest price, snapping his right collarbone and flying home to Spain for another operation – his fourteenth, by all counts. Laverty had escaped relatively lightly, but was still forced to sit out the morning session on Saturday as a precaution. Jorge Lorenzo was even more fortunate. He was launched at Turn 3 at the end of FP3, and had to be flown to hospital for checks, before being allowed to return and take part in FP4. He feared he had damaged his left ankle, but checks revealed it was just bruising.

2016 Motegi MotoGP Friday Notes: Highsides, Tires, and the Speed of Marquez

What is the biggest downside of the flyaways? The three back-to-back races are crucial on the way to the end of the championship. This is the time you need to perform, where you can make the difference by pushing that little bit harder. The downside, of course, is that if you push too far you can lose everything. "Three races in a row is always complicated," Valentino Rossi told the press conference on Thursday. "You can have a small problem in the first race and pay a lot."

2016 Motegi MotoGP Preview: Punishing Schedules, Punishing Braking, and Winner #9?

MotoGP is about to enter the toughest stretch of the season. Three races on three consecutive weekends is tough enough. But three races separated by three, seven plus hour flights, kicking off with a race in a time zone seven hours ahead of the place most riders live. So riders, mechanics and team staff all start off a triple header struggling with jet lag and facing a grueling schedule.

And they are thrown in the deep end from the very start. Only the MotoGP riders can afford to stay at the Twin Ring circuit near Motegi. Most of the team staff stay in Mito, an hour's drive from the track, meaning they have to travel for two hours a day. Up in the hills in the middle of Japan's main island, and sufficiently far north for temperatures to drop in the fall, Motegi is notorious for poor weather. It is usually cold, often damp, and sometimes ravaged by typhoons.

Why Would Yamaha's Prevent Jorge Lorenzo From Testing the Ducati at Jerez?

The legal oddity that riders' contracts are out of sync with the MotoGP season creates an uncomfortable truce among the factories. When riders sign with a factory, their contracts run from 1st January to 31st December. But for the factories and teams, the new season starts on the Tuesday after the last race of the year, at Valencia.

This is a particular problem for the 2017 season, with so many riders changing factories. Traditionally, there has been a gentlemen's agreement among the factories to allow the riders to test with their new team, despite still being under contract to the old one. So in previous years, the likes of Valentino Rossi (twice) and Casey Stoner have lapped Valencia aboard their new steeds dressed in plain leathers.

The plain leathers are just one side of the compromise. As a rule, the riders switching factories are not allowed to speak to the media, or only allowed to speak in the most general of terms, avoiding direct comparison between their new bikes and their old bikes. The riders continue to perform PR duties for their old factories up until the end of the contract deadline.

2016 Magny-Cours World Superbike Sunday Notes - Opportunity Knocks

It was smart strategy that won Chaz Davies the opening race of the French round of WorldSBK but in Race 2 it was patience and perseverance that won out. The Welshman clocked up his third win in four races and each have come in very different circumstances. A dominant victory in Germany started this rich vein of form but France showed how strong Davies has become. Having the mental strength to stick to his guns, and his intermediate tyre choice, in the opening race was contrasted with his patience in waiting for an opportunity to pass the Kawasaki riders in Race 2.