Analysis

2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Sunday Round Up: A Comprehensive Look At Factory Fortunes

Have we emerged any the wiser after three days of testing at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand by the MotoGP field? That is hard to say. The test was more for the benefit of Michelin than for the teams, and the French tire maker brought some 2000 tires for the 24 riders who took part in the test. The track itself was not particularly challenging or instructive in terms of understanding how well bike development was going. "This track is also not so easy or so difficult, it's intermediate," is how Monster Tech 3 Yamaha replacement Hafizh Syahrin summed it up.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about how the 2018 championship might play out on the basis of the Buriram test? "No, impossible," Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso said, before proceeding to do just that in some detail. "I can see Marc in a better shape than at the beginning of last year," Dovizioso said. "I can see Dani in a good shape, I can see Zarco with a little bit more experience, so a little bit better for the championship than last year."

It was harder to judge the Movistar Yamahas, Dovizioso said. "It's very difficult to understand the two factory Yamahas, because they will be fast in the race, on race weekends, for sure. But when you look at the riders and the teams from outside, it's impossible to know the details, so I don't know. I can see the Pramac riders are fast, they are happy with the bike, so I think they will be quite fast during the season."

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2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: "Every Time, The Media Looks At The Lap Times And Makes A Mistake"

It is always easy to get carried away by testing. Seeing a particular rider at the top of the timesheets, it is tempting to start constructing a narrative which sees that rider dominate the season, while writing off the rest. That, of course, is nearly always a mistake. And in the case of the second day at Buriram, Thailand, it is definitely a mistake.

That doesn't mean Marc Márquez won't be fast for the rest of the year, as well as Saturday in Thailand. He has won the MotoGP title in four of his five seasons in the class, so topping the timesheets was not, as one journo joked, because Michelin gave him special tires for his birthday. Márquez had been fast, and consistently so, through both the Sepang and Buriram tests so far. But the order behind Márquez probably doesn't reflect the true relative strength of the field.

The reason? Tires, of course. On Saturday, Michelin brought a new rear tire for the riders to test, after the rears used on Friday had shown some signs of degradation. The original allocation of rear tires were the same as used at Brno, Argentina, Sachsenring, and Sepang. The new tire was the rear used at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. That is relatively unsurprising, given that the place everyone compared Buriram to the first time they saw it was Austria. The different compounds in the Austria rear were better placed to withstand the stresses of Buriram, especially along the three successive straights in the tropical heat.

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2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: A Pleasant Surprise, A Close Field, And Yamaha's Electronics Challenges

The MotoGP riders have had their first laps of the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, and the reviews are in. Simple to learn, but more fun than it looks on paper, is the short version. "The layout, I remembered it was more similar to Austria, so I was very worried," Valentino Rossi said, summing up the general feeling. "But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It's good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it's fun."

It was a change from what he had said at Sepang, when the Italian dismissed the Buriram circuit as "boring". "I rode the track in 2015 with a Yamaha 300 together with [Jorge] Lorenzo and [Pol] Espargaro," Rossi explained. "I remember that the track was similar to Austria. But in reality it's better, have good corners. Technically it's quite easy, but it's not boring."

On a side note, Rossi ended the day in eighth, less than four tenths behind the fastest man Cal Crutchlow. He finished three place and a tenth of a second ahead of his young teammate Maverick Viñales, the rider who was prematurely anointed world champion after preseason testing in 2017. Friday was Rossi's thirty-ninth birthday, and the start of his twenty-third season in Grand Prix racing, and nineteenth season in the premier class.

To still be racing at his age and after so many years is a remarkable enough achievement. To start the season as a legitimate championship contender – or perhaps, to still have the desire, the discipline, the ambition to do what it takes to start the season as a legitimate championship contender – is truly the mark of his greatness. When Valentino Rossi retires (not yet, he looks certain to sign on for two more years) he will be remembered for his titles. But to my mind, what marks him out above all other riders is the fact he is still competitive even now, when so many others have (understandably) given up on the hard physical and mental slog that racing at the very highest level demands.

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2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Thursday Notes: Argentina Or Austria, Ducati Or Yamaha, And Preparing For The Heat

Now that the riders have seen the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, (though so far, only on foot, bicycle, or scooter) they can at last express an opinion on it. The consensus so far is entirely unsurprising. "It's quite similar to Austria, the layout, but it's very flat," Danilo Petrucci summed up the feeling of most. Petrucci did not mourn the lack of elevation, however. "I don't know if this is maybe a good point for me, because in Austria I always struggle a bit, even though I have a Ducati."

Johann Zarco agreed with Petrucci. "I was watching many videos of the World Superbikes, and the first feeling is that it looks like the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg, but flat." But the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was broadly positive. "Finally I did many laps with the scooter, and I also ran on the track. I like it. I think it's going to be easy to learn, but easy to learn means that all riders will be so close, and the gap between maybe the first ten or fifteen positions will be very small. So that can make the game complicated."

When a track has fewer secrets to unlock, Zarco explained, it meant that everyone got the knack of the track quickly, leaving little to differentiate between them. No Casey Stoner at Phillip Island, no Marc Márquez at Austin. "I think it's easy to learn, you quickly know which line to use. I think Texas is more complicated to learn, with 20 corners. But easy means that many riders are able to be fast, but there is only one winner. That's the difficult point," Zarco said, before pausing and joking, "Well, in Superbike they have two winners, but in MotoGP, we have one!"

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The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team: Great Expectations?

Year three of Yamaha's return to WorldSBK will see the team expected to produce race wins, but are they ready to deliver?

For Alex Lowes and the Yamaha WorldSBK squad the goal is clear in 2018; to win races. Since joining the Crescent team in 2014 Lowes has been able to grow into a front running WorldSBK rider, but hasn't quite made the step to winning races. The package underneath him has rarely been one capable of delivering victories, but the progress of Yamaha last year offers hope that finally the illusive first win is possible.

“The second half of 2017 was quite good and we were able to challenge for the podium in most races,” said Lowes. “We're still a little bit behind Kawasaki and Ducati and I'm not really starting the year with any expectations other than to get the best we can at every round. The chassis is working really well but we need to keep working on the electronics of the bike. The plan is that we'll go to Phillip Island with an older electronic specification and then try to change the electronics for Thailand where we'll have some extra technical support and staff from Japan.

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2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Preview: Burning Rubber For Bibendum

The Sepang MotoGP test proved to be most instructive, both for the fans, who got a first taste of what the 2018 season could look like, and for the factories, who put the first imaginings of this year's bikes – and especially engines – through their paces. We learned that Ducati have taken another step forward, that Honda is improved, that Yamaha have solved one problem but possibly created another, that Suzuki are showing promise, that Aprilia are still waiting on a new engine to match their new chassis, and that KTM are starting to realize that closing in on the top ten was much easier than getting into the top five will be.

From Sepang, MotoGP moves to Thailand, some 1300km almost due north. The Chang International Circuit – mostly referred to as Buriram among the MotoGP faithful, as the circuit is owned by (and named after) the main Thai rival to Official MotoGP Beer Supplier Singha – may prove a good deal less instructive than Sepang, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it offers more of the same, especially from a climate point of view. And secondly, it offers less, in terms of variety of corners and bike maneuverability.

The layout of the Buriram circuit is relatively simple. There are no real elevation changes, though the track has one or two crests and dips. The track consists of three straights strung together with tight corners, and then an ornery section of tightish corners taking the riders back to the final first-gear corner, and back onto the relatively short start and finish straight. It is, unsurprisingly, a Hermann Tilke track, and exactly what you would expect as a result.

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Bradley Smith On What MotoGP Riders Learn From Rider Coaches, TV Footage, And Getting A Tow

At its core, motorcycle racing is a war of diminishing returns, where manufacturers, teams, and riders dive ever deeper into the details in search of an advantage. The latest battleground is in rider coaching, with riders and now teams using rider coaches / spotters / observers / analysts to help riders identify where they are strongest and weakest.

Spotters and rider coaches have been around for a while. Wilco Zeelenberg started working with Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha in 2010, and now has a similar role for Maverick Viñales. Jonathan Rea has worked with Keith Amor in WorldSBK, Amor also filming Rea to help him perfect his technique. More recently, Valentino Rossi started working with former 250cc world champion Luca Cadalora, and has employed a rider coach for the VR46 Riders Academy, the talent pool of young Italian racers Rossi has taken under his wing.

Current Red Bull KTM MotoGP rider Bradley Smith was also a relatively early adopter. The Englishman has worked with former 500cc legend Randy Mamola since his entry into MotoGP, and is fulsome in his praise of the idea. "I had Randy and I see that as a massive help just in terms of having eyes outside of the track," Smith said. The Red Bull KTM spoke about rider coaches, their role and benefits, to a small group of journalists at the Sepang test.

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The Winds Of Change At Ten Kate: Leon Camier And Kervin Bos On Honda's 2018 WorldSBK Challenge

No team has undergone more change than Ten Kate Honda this winter. With a new team manager and rider line-up will they have a change of fortunes?

It's hard to imagine a more tumultuous season than the one Ten Kate went through in 2017. On and off the track the team faced incredible challenges. The death of Nicky Hayden robbed the team of their leader and hindered the developed of a troubled bike. They had a season unlike any other and the winter has seen them make drastic changes for the 2018 WorldSBK season.

The introduction of the new Fireblade was supposed to be a game changer rather than a headache. A season that saw a best finish of seventh illustrated the task ahead of the team and wholesale changes have been made for 2018. Kervin Bos has been promoted to team manager, and Leon Camier has been brought in to lead the team as a rider.

For Bos, a long-time Ten Kate employee and former rider, the challenge is huge. The 30 year old replaces Ronald ten Kate, and inevitably with any change of management, the vision and direction of the team also changes.

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From Phillip Island To Coalisland: Putting Northern Ireland On The WorldSBK Map

There have been few projects as ambitious as the £30m development for the Lake Torrent circuit but the foundations seem solid

Ireland is a land of legends and tales. Many of these relate to finding paradise, but few are actually about creating paradise. That's the goal for David Henderson, the man behind the project to take WorldSBK to Northern Ireland. Yesterday's announcement of a three year deal to host a WorldSBK has put Henderson on the clock, but having spent 15 years working on the project he's keen to get started.

“I've wanted this for a long time,” said Henderson. “I've been involved in motorcycle racing for 40 years and unfortunately some of my dearest friends were killed road racing. I always felt that there had to be a safer way to go racing in Northern Ireland. When Joey Dunlop died in 2000 I was given an extra incentive to develop this circuit.

“Road Racing is special and unique but you would look at the circuit and think what lamp post can we remove? What cats eye can we take off the road? What changes can we make to improve safety? As a civil engineer I could see all the dangers, but I also knew that you couldn't remove most of them. I wanted to build a circuit with the feel of the roads but the safety of a closed circuit.

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Numbers Don't Lie: 2017 vs 2018 MotoGP Tests Prove You're Better Off On A Ducati

Normally, when comparing times from a test, it makes the most sense to stick to a single year. But sometimes, there are good reasons to look back at past years, in search of a larger and more universal pattern. Comparing the best laps of riders who were in the championship last year and this year proves to be a highly instructive exercise.

Doing that, there is one thing that immediately leaps out at you. The two riders who improved the most between the two seasons are the two who switched between a Honda and a Ducati. Honda riders will freely tell you that the RC213V is very physical to ride, and the fate of rookies who have come into the championship on a Honda has not been great. Tito Rabat came to MotoGP as Moto2 champion, but struggled to make an impression on the Honda. On a Ducati, he finished the test ahead of factory riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, and just seven tenths behind Lorenzo on the Ducati.

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