Analysis

2018 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview: A Comprehensive Look At Who Is Doing What, And Who Will Succeed

The Sepang MotoGP test is always a key moment in the MotoGP season. It is the first time the riders get a look at all the hard work that has gone on over the winter. It is the first time the engineers get to see if the ideas they extracted from the data from the November tests have any value, or were just wasted effort. The Sepang MotoGP test is the place where the dreams of riders and engineers careen headlong towards the iron wall of reality. It is where they learn if they will destroy the wall, or the wall will destroy them.

This year, the Sepang test is even more important. With so many riders out of contract this year, the outcome of the test will heavily influence any decision about their future. The lucky ones will get to make a decision on their own future based on their results, and the result of the bike. The unlucky ones – the reader should regard "unlucky" as a synonym for "slow" here – will end up having decisions made about them, whether the fault lies with them or elsewhere.

Why are the first three of nine full days of testing, and still months away from the first actual race, so important? Silly Season grows ever more precocious, starting earlier and earlier, factories now regarding it as normal to make a decision before the season proper has even got underway.

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Silly Season Kicks Off: Petrucci To Leave Pramac - But Where To, And What About The Rest?

There were signs that the MotoGP Silly Season could be wrapped up early last week in Bologna, at the launch Ducati's MotoGP team. Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said he expected to sign the riders for the factory team 'quite early'. "Quite early probably means the second half of February or the first half of March," he clarified. So before the lights have gone out for the first race of the 2018 MotoGP season, Ducati hope to have two factory riders wrapped up, and they are unlikely to be the only factory to have done so.

It is apparent that the riders have taken note of this, and are adjusting their strategy accordingly. After Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran a story suggesting that Ducati were about to sign Pecco Bagnaia to the Pramac team, Danilo Petrucci has told the same paper that 2018 will be his last year with Pramac. "[Team boss] Paolo Campinoti and I both know this. He pulled me out of the gutter, but we know this is our last year together. The cycle is complete."

Poetry aside, Petrucci's announcement is significant. The Italian has a contract with Ducati which promises him a seat in the factory team if one becomes available, in much the same way that Andrea Iannone did previously. But the question is, will there be a seat there for Petrucci to take?

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Ducati MotoGP Launch Part 2: Dovizioso And Lorenzo On Distractions, Contracts, Money, And Life Lessons

The difference in perspective between team managers and riders is always fascinating. Team bosses always have an eye to the big picture, to the coming year and beyond. Riders are usually looking no further ahead than the next session or the next race. Anything beyond that is out of their control, and not worth wasting valuable energy worrying about. The future is a bridge they will cross when they come to it.

That difference was all too evident at the Ducati launch in Bologna on Monday. While the people in charge of Ducati – Paolo Ciabatti, Davide Tardozzi, and Gigi Dall'Igna – were already thinking of managing rider signings and sponsorship deals for 2019 and beyond, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were mostly concerned about the Sepang test and about being competitive in the 2018 season. New contracts for 2019 were on their horizons, but compared to their bosses, it was little more than a blip. First, there is a championship to win.

Andrea Dovizioso had spent the winter relaxing, and preparing for the new season. He starts the year as one of the title favorites, not a position he has been accustomed to. "A great sensation, and one I had lost in the last few years" is how the Italian described it. He did not feel the pressure of that sensation, but rather saw it as a challenge. Sure, he was one of the favorites, but there were a lot of competitive bikes with riders capable of winning. "The level of competitiveness has become very high in MotoGP in the last three years," he said. "There are many riders who can win races. It wasn't like this in the past."

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Ducati MotoGP Launch Part 1: Management On More Power, Fixing Turning, Sponsorship, And Silly Season Starting Early

MotoGP team launches are always the triumph of hope over experience. Each year, the bosses of every factory in the series tell the media that their objective is to win races and fight for the championship. Sometimes, they even believe it.

At last year's launch of the Ducati MotoGP team, Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna said they hoped to be fighting for the championship. That, after all, is why they signed Jorge Lorenzo to what is reported to be a very lucrative contract. The assembled press were skeptical, despite the clear progress which Ducati had made in the past couple of seasons, their first wins coming in 2016.

Such skepticism was unwarranted, though you get the distinct feeling that even Ducati were surprised at how close Andrea Dovizioso came to clinching the 2017 MotoGP title. Ducati were delighted by the Italian's first win at Mugello, amazed at his victory in Barcelona a week later, and impressed by the way he beat Marc Márquez at Austria. By the end of the season, Ducati had come to expect to win races, and realized just how far they had come on their journey since the dark days of 2013, when they didn't score a single podium all year.

So on Monday, when Dall'Igna echoed the words of Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali in Bologna, that Ducati's objective was to win races and challenge for the championship in MotoGP, they were deadly serious. There is no doubt that Ducati is capable of doing just that – Dovizioso's results and Lorenzo's improvement in 2017 demonstrate that – and though they are all too aware of the dangers of complacency, Ducati start the 2018 season with both a firm expectation and belief that they are candidates for the 2018 MotoGP title.

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Introducing The MotoMatters.com Travel Guide - How To Choose Which MotoGP Race To Go To

As someone who covers MotoGP, I get asked a lot of questions by fans. Most of those questions are about the racing itself, about why a particular rider did either well or poorly at a particular race, or why one manufacturer is performing better than another at a particular circuit, or any of a thousand other questions about riders, bikes, teams, and the series itself. I can answer most of the questions I am asked, some with more confidence than others, and usually find time to write about the questions I have been asked.

There is one class of question I don't get around to writing about, though. Again and again, I, like many other MotoGP regulars, am asked about which is the best race to attend, where to stay for a particular race, how to get to the track for a specific circuit, etc etc. Those are the kind of questions I don't get a chance to write about on the website, though I answer them on Twitter or Facebook regularly on an ad hoc basis.

So it's about time I rectified this situation. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on each race track currently on the MotoGP calendar. These articles will cover just about any question you may have about a particular track, and put you in a position to answer for yourself the question, "Which race should I go to?" I won't be telling you which race you should go to – tastes and preferences are different for everyone, and one person's Casey Stoner is another man's Valentino Rossi – but I hope that once you have read the articles, you will be able to decide for yourself which race you really want to go to, given the choice.

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A New Year: Three Predictions For The 2018 MotoGP Season

A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses. That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.

2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance; there are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3, ready to push aside the old guard; and new rules in WorldSBK may help to address the disparity between the championship front runners and those who pursue them.

Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:

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Rookie Reactions, Part 1: Franco Morbidelli After The Jerez MotoGP Test

The Jerez MotoGP test provided three of the four MotoGP rookies with a chance to get familiar with their new bikes and their new teams. The second test is often more important than the first one, as the rookies have had a chance to think about and absorb the data from the first test directly after Valencia, and approach the test with less pressure.

Expectations are mixed for Franco Morbidelli joining the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The last Moto2 champion to move up to MotoGP with Marc VDS was Tito Rabat, and Rabat endured two long and difficult years with the squad. Morbidelli will be hoping that the Honda RC213V will be a little easier to adapt to than it was for Rabat, and that he will be able to pick up the pace more quickly.

So far, Morbidelli's progress has been promising. The reigning Moto2 champion ended the Jerez test as eleventh overall among MotoGP riders, 1.260 behind the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. Best of all for Morbidelli, he was just a few hundredths behind MotoGP regulars Jack Miller and Scott Redding. There is still much room for improvement, but things are looking positive.

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Are MotoGP Managers Right About WorldSBK As A Talent Pool?

In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough. Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.

That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season. During that press conference, On Track Off Road's Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha's Lin Jarvis, Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM's Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.

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Crunching The Numbers: Jonathan Rea vs MotoGP vs WorldSBK - An Analysis

The start of December marks the beginning of what is rapidly becoming a tradition in the world of motorcycle racing. After the Jerez test in late November, it is now "Why Is Jonathan Rea Faster Than A MotoGP Bike" season. At Jerez, Rea pushed his Kawasaki ZX-10R WorldSBK machine – down 35+ bhp and up 10+ kg – to the fourth fastest overall time of the week, ahead of eleven MotoGP regulars (including two rookies), three MotoGP test riders and Alex Márquez, who the Marc VDS team were using to train up the new crew recruited to look after Tom Luthi's side of the garage while the Swiss rider is still injured.

How is this possible? And what does this mean? Are WorldSBK machines too close to MotoGP bikes? Why are MotoGP manufacturers spending ten times as much to be shown up at a test by Jonathan Rea? And why, for the sake of all that is holy, does Jonathan Rea not have a MotoGP ride?

The answer to all but the last of those questions is buried away in the bigger picture of the laps posted throughout the week. When you examine the numbers, the picture is a lot more complex than the headline times seem to suggest. Tires, temperature, and track all play a part. But all of that can't disguise a rather outsize dose of talent.

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Leon Camier: A Leap Into The Unknown

When a rider changes team they also face the same question; will I sink or swim? First impressions from riding the Honda are that Camier will be swimming

Leon Camier was the central pin of the 2018 rider market in WorldSBK. The former British champion was sought after having proven his worth as a development rider in turning around the fortunes of MV Agusta. He faces a similar task for next year having joined the unfancied and under performing Honda squad.

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