October 2019

Motegi MotoGP Preview: Can Ducati Upset The Marquez Machine?

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid. If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8 Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda's 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year's race is even more important. Before the previous Grand Prix in Thailand, HRC President Yoshishige Nomura told Marc Márquez to wrap up the rider's title in Buriram, so he could arrive in Motegi as champion, a goal Márquez dutifully fulfilled. The target at Motegi will be to clinch the manufacturers crown, which he can do by simply finishing ahead of the first Ducati.

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Marc Marquez: Six Titles In Seven Seasons - Where Does He Go From Here?

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place. Márquez' record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez' sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire. It was Rossi's third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

To find other parallels, you have to go back further in time. In 1997, Mick Doohan won 12 races out of 15, finishing second in two more and not finishing in the last race of the year, his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. Before that, there was Freddie Spencer, who won 7 races in 1985, finishing second in 3 more, crashing in Assen and choosing to skip the final race in Misano. To find greater dominance, you would have to go even further back, to the days of Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta, who either won or retired in every race he started in during the period from 1968 to 1971.

Closer than ever

Márquez' 2019 season stands above all of those, however, for the sheer level of competitiveness of the current era. When Agostini was racing, the MV was in a league of its own, the Italian regularly lapping the rest of the field. In 1985, Spencer's only real opposition came from Eddie Lawson, and from his own successful attempt to secure the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Tracks Of Our Years - Notes From Argentina

The sight of six top WorldSBK riders boycotting the Saturday race at the largely excellent Villicum circuit was alarming in so many ways. For the organisers, of both the race series and the track, it could have been more alarming had all the riders that the ‘Villicum6’ said were not going to ride - before being persuaded to - followed through with that plan. The verbal fallout was sometimes downright nasty, as battle lines were drawn and opinions hardened.'

How did things get so bad? How did people who would normally have been over the moon to ride at one of the best laid out contemporary circuits on the planet decide not to compete on the first raceday of the penultimate round?

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LCR Honda Press Release: Zarco Confirmed As Nakagami's Replace For Last 3 MotoGP Rounds

In a press release today, the LCR Honda team confirmed that Johann Zarco would be taking the place of Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda Idemitsu team for the last three races of the 2019 MotoGP season. For more background on the story, see our articles yesterday and last week.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How I rode - Mick Doohan

The teak-tough Aussie was the most successful 500 two-stroke rider of all time. This is how Mick Doohan did it

Mick Doohan raced 500 GPs from 1989 to 1999, during which time the 500 two-strokes evolved from truly malevolent machines to mostly rider-friendly missiles.

His debut season, aboard Honda’s vicious 1989 NSR500, was marred by injury. So too was what should’ve been his first championship-winning season, in 1992. Doohan nearly lost his right leg following an accident at that year’s Dutch TT, but fought back from that to win five consecutive 500 titles from 1994 to 1998. He retired injured, during the 1999 season, just like rivals Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz before him. As Doohan says, “I didn’t crash much, but when I did I did it properly”.

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WorldSBK Finale At Qatar: The Battle For Third

Argentina showed again just how tight the battle for third in the WorldSBK title will be. The championship battle gets the attention but don't underestimate how much the scrap for third can be worth

Three riders, one prize. The fight for the bronze medal of the 2019 WorldSBK campaign will go down to the wire in Qatar. Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Toprak Razgatlioglu are split by just six points, and while the Turk is the form man, don't rule anything out in the desert.

All three riders - a British Superbike champion, a WorldSSP champion and a WorldSBK race winner - are consumed by a need to be the best. They want to win. Fighting for third isn't where they want to be, but it has to be their target for 2019. The future will almost certainly hold title challenges but for now it's about doing the best possible and beating each other.

The WorldSBK grid is stacked. It's not enough to be doing a good job, you have to do a great job on every lap of every day to be able to fight at the front. These riders can be upset with a top five finish because they expect more from themselves. When you talk to engineers inside the paddock, however, they'll point to the consistency needed to be a leading rider. This is a world championship and the gap between it and other series can be huge. In WorldSBK to be at the front you have to maximise everything.

Teammate tussles

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Takaaki Nakagami Confirmed With LCR Honda For 2020, To Miss Last Three Races For Shoulder Surgery

Takaaki Nakagami will be staying with the LCR Honda team for 2020, HRC and the LCR Honda team have officially confirmed.  After a long period of negotiation, Honda and Nakagami have finally reached terms which will see the Japanese rider staying in Lucio Cecchinello's team for another season.

The announcement had long been expected. Nakagami was one of a few riders without a confirmed contract for 2020, but as his place in the LCR Honda Idemitsu team came with direct support from Honda and Japanese oil brand Idemitsu, there seemed little doubt he would be back. 

The sticking point in the negotiations was which bike Nakagami would be riding. Throughout the summer, Nakagami insisted he wanted a 2020-spec Honda RC213V for next year. However, as the flyaways approached, it became increasingly clear that the Japanese rider was resigned to settling for a 2019-spec machine.

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Grand Prix Commission Confirms Testing To Be Limited As Calendar Expands

Today, the Grand Prix Commission officially announced further restrictions on testing for the MotoGP class. Those restrictions were published last month on MotoMatters.com, including the news that the Brno and Valencia tests are to be dropped in 2020, with further reductions in 2021.

The idea is that as the calendar expands from 20 races next year to 22 in 2022, testing is reduced to reduce the workload and stress on the riders and teams. In 2020, there will still be two tests in February, at Sepang and Qatar before the season starts, and Monday tests after the Jerez and Barcelona races. 

The Brno test will be dropped, however, as it made for a very short week between the Brno and Spielberg rounds of MotoGP, especially for the crews who have to tear down and build up the hospitalities and garages before and after each race. 

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Paddock Pass Podcast Episode 119: Buriram MotoGP - The Making Of A Champion

The latest episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it, Neil Morrison and David Emmett talk about the Buriram MotoGP round in Thailand. There was of course plenty to talk about, most of all, about what Marquez' victory and sixth MotoGP championship mean for the future of the series.

Naturally, Marquez wrapping up the title is the main subject of discussion. Neil and David discuss how he did it, just how determined Marquez was to clinch the title with a win, and whether this is as close to perfection as you can expect to see in a MotoGP season. We also take a deep dive into some of the background, including Neil and Peter McLaren's interview with Takeo Yokoyama, HRC Technical Director, on the development of the RC213V, and a reminder that Marquez had major shoulder surgery at the end of the 2018 season, and was a long way from being fit at the start of the season, a subject which Neil discusses in some depth here on On Track Off Road.

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