Analysis

2017 Brno MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Summer Break, Ducati's New Fairing, And Choices Ahead For Miller

After four weeks, MotoGP is back. That four-week break is a big deal. A much bigger deal than you might expect. Having a big break in the middle of the summer made the season much more manageable. "The problem is the pressure we have," Aleix Espargaro explained. "MotoGP looks like it's a lot of fun on the TV, and it is very fun, but we have a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, so to be able to disconnect and do nothing, it's always good."

That comment came in response to a question about the addition of the KymiRing in Finland to the calendar in 2019, which will expand the schedule to 20 races, after the inclusion of the Chang circuit in Thailand next year. The general feeling among riders was that 20 races was manageable, though with the caveat that Dorna ensure there is a large summer break.

Aleix Espargaro again: "For me the most important thing is to have a good break in the summer, like one month, because then you can disconnect. Really, I don't care if we do four races in a row, I don't care. I would like to do it if possible, four races in a row or three times three races in a row, but it's important in the middle to have a break, to just reset your mind, charge batteries. Because when you race a lot of consecutive races, it's very very hard for the body, for the head, for everything. But if we still have the summer break, one race more is no big problem."

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2017 MotoGP Season Review: The First Nine Races, A Wild Ride

Can part two of the (melo)drama which is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started. Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between a point behind Viñales. If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture. At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers. In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016. But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next. Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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The Suzuka 8 Hour Yamaha R1 and the art of compromise: speed vs stamina over 220 laps

The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed their third consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. We take a look at the Yamaha Factory Racing Team's YZF-R1.

It's often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motor sport. Whether it was Audi's decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, it's clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

At this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team fielded arguably the most advanced YZF-R1 on the planet. With open regulations for electronics, a tire war and plenty of scope for innovation in the rulebook, the machine raced by Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark is very different to their regular WorldSBK mount.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Race Round Up: Triple top for Yamaha as they sweep to Suzuka success

Smooth day at Suzuka for Yamaha as they wrap up a third consecutive 8 Hours success

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man's finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.”

The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8 Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the Number 21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren't exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, this was the final moment of their 2017 Suzuka.

Sitting in their paddock office the trio of riders were relaxed but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold. For Van der Mark it was the realization that for a third time he had stood on the top step of the podium. It was a case of “job done” for Lowes, whose trio of stints were a superb display of speed, consistency, and maturity. Nakasuga joins Van der Mark as a three-time winner, and his status as the King of Suzuka is retained. Indeed, it was his opening stint that laid the foundations of their success.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Saturday Round Up: Yamaha lay the foundations with pole position

Yamaha claimed a third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there's still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8 Hours

There are no team sports quite like motorsports. Fans focus their attentions on the rider on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance. At the Suzuka 8 Hours teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.

For the last two years the faces in the Number 21 Yamaha crew have changed. Katsuyuki Nakasuga has been a constant in their run of success and the Japanese rider helped claim pole position once again for the team. Nakasuga will turn 36 next week, and with Alex Lowes having also shown a great turn of speed on his lap the team are well placed for the race.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Friday Round Up: Honda lurking in the shadows as Yamaha set the pace

Yamaha retained its vice-like grip on the Suzuka 8 Hours by leading the way in qualifying ahead of this weekend's 40th edition of the legendary race but Honda's consistency could be a real threat.

Alex Lowes was the pacesetter for the Factory Yamaha Team with the WorldSBK star setting his fastest ever lap of the Japanese circuit. His 2m06.4 was marginally faster than his teammate, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and afterwards Lowes was pleased with their efforts and excited for the weekend.

“I'm really happy with today,” said a smiling Lowes. “I did a 2'06.4 on the same tires that we will be using for the race, so that's very positive. It's also the first time that I've done a 2'06 around here. Today was difficult in the morning because there were some damp patches, but the bike is really good here.

“I think that all three of us are doing a really good job so far this weekend and that's the most important thing. It's great to set a fast time like today and I'm pleased with how I'm riding the bike. In an 8 hour race, it's not about your pace on one lap, it's about winning across the 8 hours, and that's what we're focused on.”

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Suzuka 8 Hours Thursday Round Up: Yamaha strike first at Suzuka

On first glance the field looks to be close ahead of this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours. Yamaha led the opening session, Honda topped the second, and there are four manufacturers inside the top five and all within a second of the pace.

It seems to be setting up for a great weekend of racing, but when you delve into the times it's clear that, while Honda has made progress, they are still playing catch up with their CBR1000RR SP2. Despite a crash for Jack Miller the 634 machine led the way in the afternoon session but with Yamaha electing to use only one set of tires in the session their true one lap pace is still unknown. Miller's crash came on what would have been his fastest lap of the day but having rolled off on his previous lap may have been caught out by a slightly cold tire. There were plenty of positives on the opening day for Honda and while they probably need to make a small step to compete with Yamaha they are in the ballpark.

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Suzuka 8 Hours: A lap around legendary Suzuka

There aren’t many circuits as challenging as the Japanese track. So what's the key to a quick lap?

Suzuka is a real roller coaster racetrack. The unique figure-of-eight layout ensures that it is unlike any other circuit on the racing calendar. But the Japanese venue isn't a gimmick; it's a true test of skill and bravery for every rider. As riders come across the start-finish line, it’s a rare chance to catch their breath as they look across for their pit board – and the Suzuka 8H is not a short race.

The mental challenge of Suzuka is huge, and it's easy to get fatigued. The heat and humidity play havoc with the riders, but the 20 corners, most linked together, mean that mental errors are heavily punished. With such a long lap and stifling conditions, the lap counter seems to grow at a snail’s pace.

As the riders start the laps they'll grab sixth gear as they come across the line but it's all about getting ready for Turn 1, a fast right hander, where the bikes approach in sixth and start braking just before the 200m board. Turn 1 is the beginning of the Suzuka Snake, where the track winds around the contours of the land, one turn leading directly to the next. If you're wide at one corner, it can affect the next three.

Having snatched back three gears, the key thought when peeling into Turn 1 is about being in the right part of the track for Turn 2. Riders clip the apex just outside the kerb for Turn 1 and run the bike wide for 2, where they hook back another gear on the entry. Trying to square off Turn 2 and use the power of the Superbikes, riders slide the bike on the exit to get into the right position on the track for the first left-handed corner of the lap.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Preview: The heat is on, the pressure's high

When Glenn Frey released one of the biggest hits of the 80s the Suzuka 8 Hours was on the verge of its glory days. Those days are now being repeated

In 1984 the Suzuka 8 Hours was on the cusp of being the biggest race of the season for the Japanese manufacturers, and that year's edition was won by double WorldSBK champion Fred Merkel and 500GP rostrum finisher Mike Baldwin. The win was Baldwin's third and final victory but started a run of success by the world's biggest names in racing. The following six years saw riders such as Wayne Gardner, Kevin Magee, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson all have their name etched on the winners’ trophym and in 1991 the first “Suzuka Super-team” emerged victorious.

With Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner winning, the all-Australian team was a 500GP dream team taking on the rest of the field. With Doohan sidelined by his horrific Assen crash the following year, Gardner nevertheless claimed his third win in Japan with Daryl Beattie as his teammate. The run of Grand Prix winners then came to an abrupt end in 1993 with Superbike stars Scott Russell and Aaron Slight delivering Kawasaki’s only victory in the race. It was an era of exotica with the Japanese manufacturers using incredible machinery to try to win the race; an era of big budgets and no holds barred racing - a true golden era of motorcycle racing.

In the following years the fortunes of the race ebbed, though some Superbike riders remained. Colin Edwards would put his name on the trophy on three occasions, winning for two different manufacturers, Yamaha and Honda. His 2001 win alongside Valentino Rossi, when the Italian was en route to his first premier class title, was another invigorating moment for the 8 Hours that saw interest in the race spike once again - but for much of this century the race was an afterthought of the racing calendar.

That changed in 2015 when Yamaha upped the ante and brought their MotoGP riders to the event. With Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith riding alongside Katsuyuki Nakasuga on a “Suzuka Special”, the race was relevant once again. Casey Stoner made a one-off racing return in that year's edition, and with Kevin Schwantz on the grid, the relevance and interest in Suzuka was huge. It became a spectacle again, and showed the power of having some of the biggest names in racing back at the event.

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World Superbike Silly Season - All Quiet On The WorldSBK Front

It looks set to be a quieter year on the rider market for WorldSBK with the leading seats already filled for 2018 but there will still be some significant deals announced in the coming weeks and months.

Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri are all secure in their seats for next year but Sykes had been linked with a move away from Kawasaki earlier this summer. Prior to winning two races before the summer break the 2013 World Champion had been touted as a potential target of Yamaha but with wins in the bag it looks highly unlikely that he will make a switch.

For Ducati there is little reason to change their status quo and the only change in their ranks could be the addition of a second bike to the Barni squad. The Italian entry has thrived with Xavi Fores in the last year and came close to adding a second machine for this year. If there is a fourth Ducati on the grid it will likely have a rider bringing money to the table for Barni.

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