2016 Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Of Cockroaches and Contracts

For sheer, stunning beauty, it is hard to beat Mugello. 'Nestling in the Tuscan hills' is an overused cliché precisely because it is so very true. The Mugello circuit runs along both sides of a beautiful Tuscan valley, swooping up and down the hillsides as it flows along the natural contours of the land. Like Phillip Island, and like Assen once was, it is a truly natural circuit. It does not feel designed, it feels as if it was left there by the raw overwhelming natural forces which hewed the landscape from the limestone mountains, discovered by a man with a passion for speed, who then proceeded to lay asphalt where the hand of nature dictated.

It is fast, flowing and challenging. It demands every ounce of speed from a bike, and courage from a rider. It lacks any really tight corners, keeping hard acceleration in low gears to a minimum. Corners flow together in a natural progression, with a long series of left-right and right-left combination corners. The riders call them chicanes, which they are only in the very strictest sense of the word. In reality, they are way, way too fast to be what fans call chicanes, more like high-speed changes of direction. What they do is allow riders to line up a pass through one part of a turn, and the rider being passed to counter attack through the second part of the corner. That makes for great racing.

Silly Season Updates: Pedrosa to Honda, Viñales to Yamaha, and Who Else?

After the drama and speculation at Le Mans, it will be Maverick Viñales who will join Valentino Rossi in the Movistar Yamaha team in 2017. The reports pegging Dani Pedrosa for the seat alongside Rossi turn out to have been wrong, despite coming from highly credible sources. On Friday, Spanish magazine website Solomoto reported that Viñales flew to Milan to sign the contract at Yamaha Motor Racing headquarters in Gerno di Lesmo, a stone's throw from the Monza circuit.

Solomoto's report was followed by a deluge of other Spanish news sites reporting the same facts, though citing different sources. This makes it more likely that the news really is true this time, and that Viñales has indeed signed with Yamaha. The deal will see Viñales sign for two years alongside Rossi, with the announcement to be made on Thursday at Mugello.

The fact that Viñales is to be in Thursday's pre-event press conference at Mugello could have tipped us off to the news, but the Suzuki rider's podium at Le Mans – his first in MotoGP, and the first for a Suzuki since 2009 – was a legitimate reason to have Viñales in the room. Dorna's rule of thumb for putting together the press conference line up is to have the championship leader, the winner of the previous race, a rider relevant to the event (e.g. a local rider, or someone with ties to the event through their team, etc.), and other riders who are in the news for one reason or another. Getting a first podium in MotoGP is a good reason to be invited onto the press conference panel. Then again, so is signing a factory contract.

2016 Le Mans Sunday MotoGP Round Up: On Crashes at Le Mans, and a Wide-Open Championship

Three race at Le Mans, three winners, and all three displays of complete control. In the first race of the day, Brad Binder waited until the penultimate lap to seize the lead, and render his Moto3 opposition harmless. Alex Rins took the lead much earlier in the Moto2 race, toyed with Simone Corsi a little more obviously, before making it clear just how much he owned the race. And in MotoGP, Jorge Lorenzo faced fierce competition at the start, but in the end he did just what Valentino Rossi had done two weeks ago at Jerez: led from start to finish, and won by a comfortable margin.

Lorenzo's victory was hardly unexpected. The Movistar Yamaha rider had been dominant all weekend, quick from the off, and peerless during qualifying. Everyone lined up on the grid knowing they had only one chance to beat him: try to get off the line better than the Spaniard, and enter the first chicane ahead of him. Lorenzo knew this too, and his start was picture perfect, no one close enough to launch an attack into the chicane. Andrea Dovizioso came close, but launching off the second row gave him too much ground to make up at the start, and he had to slot in behind Lorenzo and settle for second.

Lorenzo did not have it all his own way in the early laps. Both Andreas on the Factory Ducatis kept him honest for the first five laps, Dovizioso leading the charge at first, until Iannone took over. Iannone felt he had the pace to run with Lorenzo, perhaps even beat him, but that required the one thing he has not excelled at in 2016: staying upright. If the Le Mans race was meant to be an audition to be the rider Ducati will keep for next season, then it was a gambit that would fail. On lap 7, Iannone hit the deck, his race over.

2016 Le Mans Saturday Round Up: Pedrosa Again, Tires, & Qualifying Strategies

The report last night that Dani Pedrosa will replace Jorge Lorenzo in the Movistar Yamaha garage had a devastating effect on the paddock on Saturday. It provoked an almost universal panic among everyone peripheral to the decision. Maverick Viñales' manager Paco Sanchez – strictly speaking, the lawyer who is helping Viñales with his contract negotiations, as Viñales is managing himself – was interviewed by every television broadcaster in the MotoGP paddock, along with nearly every radio station and most journalists. Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo and Movistar Yamaha team director Maio Meregalli did pretty much the same, answering the same questions over and over. It was Silly Season at its most frenetic.

As an example, the Spanish sports daily – Spanish journalists are chasing this story hardest, as they have the most at stake – AS featured the following vignette on its website. Reporter Mela Chercoles walked past Albert Valera, manager of Jorge Lorenzo, Aleix Espargaro and others, and heard him berating Alex Salas, assistant to Maverick Viñales. "Tell me that Maverick won't let the Yamaha train get away from him," Chercoles reports Valera as saying. The sense of disbelief in the paddock is huge.

2016 Le Mans Friday Round Up: On Tires, Winglets, and Pedrosa Going to Yamaha

They say that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. There are also two certainties in MotoGP so far this year: at every race, Michelin will introduce yet another new tire, and the Ducati Desmosedici GP will sprout a new set of wings. For Le Mans, Michelin brought a new rear tire, with a slightly softer construction but identical compounds, to try to generate a little more grip and address rider complaints about the rear spinning without creating drive, even in high gears. The new wings on the Ducati were much larger than the previous versions, to perhaps address the need for drive out of the many first gear corners at Le Mans.

Michelin bringing yet another tire to another race may sound like they are still flailing around, but in reality, it is a sign that the French tire maker is starting to settle on a development direction, after their plans had been sent astray by the double Ducati disasters of Loris Baz and Scott Redding. The rear tire raced at Austin and Jerez was the so-called "safety tire", a construction Michelin was certain would make race distance without any nasty surprises. It was raced without any real testing, meant only as a back up, not seriously intended for competition.

2016 Le Mans MotoGP Preview - Viñales' Indecision, Michelin Rubber, And Yamaha vs Ducati

MotoGP at Le Mans is a weekend filled with anticipation. Anticipation of much-vaunted moves, with fans and media eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future. Anticipation of further negotiations, with the rest of the MotoGP and Moto2 grids eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future, so that they know which seats might be open for them. Anticipation – and for riders such as Scott Redding, trepidation – at the tires, front and rear, which Michelin have brought to Le Mans, and how different (and hopefully better) they will be from the tires which appeared at Austin and Jerez, which caused problems for so many riders. And anticipation of what the notoriously fickle weather will do at Le Mans.

To start with the last question first, the weather actually looks like being utterly glorious all weekend. Not Mugello or Barcelona style heat, but sunny, dry, and warm. Even the morning sessions should be warm, giving the teams a chance to try all of the tires Michelin have brought to Le Mans (three different fronts, three different rears), and make a fair assessment of them. For the first time this year, the weather gods are smiling unequivocally on MotoGP.

From the last question to the first, what of the big announcements expected at Le Mans? For the moment, it looks like everything is on hold. That is Maverick Viñales' fault, as the talented young Spaniard is struggling to make a decision between Yamaha and Suzuki. The Yamaha one-two in Jerez had given him food for thought, he told reporters, but then at the test the next day, he found himself close to the front, and among the fastest on race pace. "This makes me think a lot," the Suzuki rider said. "If we can take everything from the test, we can be there."

Silly Season Madness: Pedrosa or Viñales at Yamaha, Rins, Moto2 and More

It seemed like a foregone conclusion. Since Austin, when it became apparent (if not official) that Jorge Lorenzo was off to Ducati, the idea that Maverick Viñales would take his place went from being likely to seeming almost inevitable. After all, Yamaha already have a seasoned veteran in Valentino Rossi, and as 2015 showed, a rider capable of winning a MotoGP championship when the circumstances are right. What they need is someone who can make an immediate impact, a rider who can perhaps win races, and who they can develop into a world champion. That description has Maverick Viñales all over it.

Until today, that is. On Tuesday, UK publication Motorcycle News reported that the Viñales deal could be called off entirely, after a failure to agree financial terms. Instead, in a shock revelation should it turn out to be correct, MCN is linking Dani Pedrosa to the empty seat at Yamaha, with Viñales remaining at Yamaha.

How much credence should we place in the MCN story? Journalist Simon Patterson is sure of his sources, and the details are in line with what I have heard when speaking to Yamaha sources about Viñales. Paddock gossip suggest that Yamaha offered Viñales €4 million to make the switch to the Movistar Yamaha team, but that the Hamamatsu factory upped their offer to €5 million to keep the rider they regard as their future at Suzuki. Paying over that amount for a rider who is yet to score a single podium in MotoGP may have been a little too much for Yamaha.

2016 Jerez MotoGP Test Round Up: Funny Front Tires, Wings, and a Chance to Test Properly

The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out. There really was a lot to test: not just parts and set up, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the "safety" rear tire introduced after Argentina.

First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm. Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday's race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.

A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use. There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding's rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned. Bradley Smith had described it as "a prototype". The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.

World Superbikes: Look Back at Assen

Four rounds into the WorldSBK season we have seen three different race winners, two manufacturers vie for the title but unfortunately one man proving the dominant force.

After eight races it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Rea’s title defence having gotten off to a better start, but it’s happened despite his lack of comfort with the new Kawasaki ZX10-R Ninja. The Northern Irishman has not been comfortable with his new mount. The much discussed “low inertia” engine has clearly taken some of the edge off Rea’s confidence in the bike. With a different engine braking characteristic it has forced him to adjust his riding style to get the most from the bike.

Rea has a very natural style on the bike that has been similar on everything he has ever ridden. Whether it’s a Supersport, Superbike or even a MotoGP machine Rea has been able to ride in the same way. He’ll continue to adapt to the new bike and mould it to allow his style to flourish.

2016 Jerez Sunday Post-Race Round Up: Of Genius Young and Old, and Tire Trouble

Jerez is an important punctuation mark in almost every Grand Prix season. Whether it kicks off the year, as it did ten or more years ago, or whether it marks the return to Europe after the opening overseas rounds, the racing at Jerez is always memorable and remarkable. Not always necessarily exciting, but always portentous, marking a turning point in the championship.

So it was this year. The MotoGP race saw a shift in momentum, and Valentino Rossi win in a way we haven't seen since 2009. The Moto2 race solidified the positions of the three best riders in the class, and edged winner Sam Lowes towards a role as title favorite. And in Moto3, Brad Binder broke his victory cherry with one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen in any class, let alone Moto3. Put to the back of the grid for an infraction of the software homologation rules, Binder worked his way forward to the leading group by half distance, then left them for dead. It is a race they will be talking about for a long time.

The old switcheroo

First, though, to MotoGP. Valentino Rossi needed a win to get his championship back on track, and he got it in the least Rossi-like way imaginable. The Italian got the holeshot, held off attacks in the opening laps, including a fierce assault from his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, then set a metronomic pace which nobody, not even Lorenzo, could follow. He opened a gap of a couple of seconds, then managed it home to take what looked like an easy victory.