February 2019

Changing The Qatar Race Start Time: No Good Answers To An Intractable Problem

The Qatar round of MotoGP is problematic for all sorts of reasons. Even setting aside the human rights issues, there are challenges from every direction in staging the race at the Losail International Circuit, just north of Qatari capital. Those challenges are due to the choices being made, and the choices are being made because of money.

The biggest problem is that the choices being made are all slightly at odds with one another. Qatar wants to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and pays a large premium for the privilege. Enough to cover air freight for the series for all of the flyaway races during the season. That need not of itself be a problem, but to make the race look more spectacular, the circuit wants to hold the race at night, under the incredible set of floodlights which light up the track. And of course, because it is the first race of the season, Dorna want to hold it at a time when it will receive maximum media attention. The right time slot for the race in key European markets is important.

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Interviewing Honda's Bosses: On The Triple Crown, Spec IMUs, Signing Lorenzo, Moto3, And WorldSBK

The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of MotoMatters.com Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Honda's racing program Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and Shinya Wakabayashi. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett

In 2018, Honda secured the triple crown, with Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez winning his third consecutive MotoGP title, bringing his total to five, Honda winning the constructors title, and the Repsol Honda team wrapping up the team championship. Everybody thought it was a perfect season for Honda, but what was the reality for them? At the beginning of January, we visited the HRC laboratory in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture and spoke to Tetsuhiro Kuwata, General Manager of Racing Operations Management Division and Shinya Wakabayashi, the boss of Technology Development Division for 90 minutes on how they saw Honda's 2018 season, and what they expect for 2019.

Q: In 2018, you won the triple crown again. Do you think it was a perfect season for Honda?

Kuwata: Not at all! Because the battle between manufacturers was very intense, like always. In 2017, we fought for the championship until Valencia, so when you compare this year to that, maybe you think 2018 was perfect for us. But it was not the case because our competitors were always very strong. We tried to pull away from them, but it was just impossible. To be honest, it was a very tough season, like in 2017.

Wakabayashi: After the middle of the season, we had an advantage in some points, but we also had a disadvantage in other points. We tried to improve our weak points to catch up with our competitors, but it was difficult to reduce the gap.

Q: What was the advantage and disadvantage you had?

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP preseason testing: Ready, steady...

The MotoGP grid concluded preseason testing in Qatar yesterday, with Maverick Viñales fastest. But riders weren’t just evaluating new parts and settings…

When I was a kid I had a Scalextric car racing set that included a trackside garage. Inside the garage was a clockwork car that would reverse onto the track, drive back into the garage, reverse onto the track and so on. It was a good way of livening up the racing.

During final preseason testing in Qatar, riders tried a new long-lap penalty system, a concept that will send penalised riders down a side road on the entry to turn six, costing them a couple of seconds before they re-join the track on the corner exit. It is MotoGP’s version of the naughty step, hopefully a better way of punishing miscreant riders than telling them to drop a position, which is an inconsistent penalty and difficult to implement effectively when the racing is frantically close, which it usually is.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Monday Notes: Yamaha's Conundrum, Honda's Doubts, Suzuki's Certainty, And Winning The Season Opener

The good news is that the next time the MotoGP assembles inside a racing circuit, nobody will be able to use "it's only testing" as an excuse. From now on, everything counts.

The bad news is that strong winds and low temperatures made the last day of testing a treacherous affair, disrupting testing plans, and causing a spate of crashes. (Which, in turn, disrupted testing plans even further.)

The really good news is that it looks like we are in for another immensely competitive season, with fifteen riders ending the test within a single second, and the list of realistic candidates for the title weighing in at around seven: the Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha factory riders, plus Alex Rins at Suzuki. Winning will be tough, but finishing on the podium if you can't win will be the key to taking the title.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Combined Times: Viñales Leaves Qatar As Fastest

Combined times after all three days of testing. Alex Rins (3rd), Aleix Espargaro (14th), Andrea Dovizioso (15th), Cal Crutchlow (17th), Johann Zarco (19th), and Karel Abraham (21st) did not improve their time from Sunday. Viñales' time is just under two tenths slower than Johann Zarco's time set at the test here in 2018.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Monday Final Times: Viñales Fastest As Yamahas Crowd Top Times

Maverick Viñales ended the final day of preseason testing for the MotoGP class as fastest, leading a Yamaha domination of the top of the timesheets. With Petronas Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo in second and Franco Morbidelli in sixth, and Viñales' Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in fourth, all four Yamahas put in fast times at the end of the session.

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2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Round Up: Wizard of Oz? Definitely. Wizard of WorldSBK? Not Yet

MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.

He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.

You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Monday 8pm Times: Viñales Leads Quartararo And Marquez

Both the wind and the pace have picked up as the Qatar test nears its end, the former not having too much effect on the latter, though a fair bunch of riders have crashed, including Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow, Taka Nakagami, Marc Marquez, and Bradley Smith, all without incident.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Monday 6pm Times: Petrucci Leads Rins As Final Day Gets Underway

A slow start to the final day of testing at Qatar, as the riders once again bided their time, waiting for the sun to start setting and the track temperature start to drop. At 6pm local time, it was Danilo Petrucci leading the way, with a lap of 1'55.842, nearly a second slower than his best time from Sunday. Behind the factory Ducati, the inseparable pair of Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales took second and third, the Suzuki rider a couple of tenths quicker than the Yamaha man. 

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