Editor's Blog

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Rossi must reinvent himself once again

Rossi’s third-place finish in Qatar suggested he has fixed the front-end problem that haunted him during testing. Or was the result just a desert mirage?

Despite the lack of a refreshing gulp of Cava, no man on the Qatar GP podium was happier than Valentino Rossi. Maverick Viñales and Andrea Dovizioso had fully expected to be there, but not MotoGP’s ageing veteran. A miserable pre-season test programme followed by a lowly 10th place in practice had some people muttering in Losail’s pit lane: is this the beginning of the end?

Of course it wasn’t.

Rossi is nothing if not a Sunday man. From 1.1-seconds behind Viñales in practice, he finished the 20-lap race 1.9-seconds behind his team-mate.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP: in the lap of the gods

The Qatar GP very nearly didn’t happen on Sunday. Might it be time to admit that Losail’s floodlit folly is no more than a dazzling definition of more money than sense?

Man makes his plans and the gods laugh. All the way through the four days and nights of the Qatar Grand Prix you could look to the heavens and see the weather gods sitting atop their clouds, laughing loudly as several thousand frail little human beings rushed hither and thither around a paddock thrown into disarray by one biblical downpour after another.

The weekend schedule melted to nothing in the rain and remained fluid throughout. No one knew what was happening, except the rain gods, who spent the weekend puncturing the hubris of the billionaires and their floodlit vanity project. It had cost these megalomaniacs – who live above the world’s largest gas supplies – 44 diesel generators at 30,000 euros each, 500 kilometres of electrical cable and 3000 tonnes of concrete to turn night into electrical day. Surely they had defeated nature?

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - ‘Now we are together again at the top… Honestly, it’s strange!’

Maverick Vinales and Marc Marquez first raced each other 15 years ago. Now they are set to resume their battle, fighting for the biggest prize of them all

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and they are often right. This photo (follow the link) shows three schoolboy racers: an 11-year-old Frenchman called Clement Dunikowski and a couple of younger Spaniards called Maverick Vinales and Marc Marquez.

If life is a game of snakes and ladders, Dunikowski climbed ahead of the others over the next few years, making his Grand Prix debut at Le Mans in 2006, two years before Marquez and five before Viñales. But as the Spaniards kept moving up the ladder, Dunikowski slithered down the slippery snake. He struggled to get backing and faded out of the sport.

The podium photo shows Dunikowski after he had finished second in a round of the Catalan 50cc Metrakit championship, organised by the venerable Penya Motorista Barcelona club. Seven-year-old Viñales won the race, while nine-year-old Marquez finished third. The date is autumn 2002, roughly the same time as Valentino Rossi wrapped up the first four-stroke MotoGP title. The photo suggests Marquez isn’t too happy with the result.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Ducati is so fast at Losail

There were three Ducatis in the top five at last weekend’s final preseason tests – which is why Jorge Lorenzo may just make history next week

The two big questions ahead of next week’s season-opening Qatar Grand Prix: will Maverick Viñales win first time out with Yamaha, or will Jorge Lorenzo win first time out with Ducati?

We already know Viñales will most likely be competitive everywhere, while Lorenzo will probably be fast wherever the Ducati works, which includes Losail, where the bike was in the thick of the fight for victory in 2015 and 2016.

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John Surtees, 1934-2017, A Peerless Racer

The term GOAT - Greatest of all Time - is bandied around rather a lot these days. I have always found it a rather unsatisfying phrase, as the radical changes in every aspect of motorcycle racing make it impossible to compare the achievements of the riders who raced in very different eras. How do you compare riders who won on 15 kilometer tree-lined street circuits to riders who spent all their time racing on the ultrasafe short circuits, replete with run off and air fence? How do you compare victory on a 500cc single cylinder Norton or a four-cylinder MV Agusta or Gilera housed in a frame that was little more than some steel tubing connecting the wheels via rudimentary suspension, to the screaming two strokes of the late nineties, or the fire-breathing 990cc four strokes barely tamed by electronics, or the ultra-finicky and precise 800cc four strokes which required a deep understanding of extracting potential for electronic management? How do you compare the ability to manage the rock-hard rubber of grooved cross-ply tires to the pursuit of 64° lean angles on fat modern radials made of exotic blends of silicon and rubber?

It is impossible, yet there are some names whose achievements are so profound that they rise above the rest, regardless of circumstances, and set themselves apart in the annals of history. If they use of the phrase GOAT is questionable, there are some riders who are obviously among the most significant of all time. They made the biggest impact.

John Surtees, who died to day aged 83, was just such a rider. Others, with a greater grasp of racing history, can do his legacy much greater justice than I can - if you read just one obituary of Surtees, then make it this dual profile of the man on Motor Sport Magazine, by Mat Oxley and top F1 journalist Mark Hughes.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why MotoGP should get even better

Despite a record-breaking 2016, MotoGP should become even more exciting, thanks to a major cash boost for independent teams

The racing in last year’s MotoGP championship was some of the best in seven decades of Grand Prix competition. Can the 2017 season and beyond get even better?

The answer – against all the odds – seems to be yes.

One reason for optimism is Dorna’s new five-year deal that doubles its additional financial support for all independent teams from 2017.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How MotoGP anti-jerk works

The last in our series of blogs explaining the mysteries of MotoGP electronic rider aids

OK, enough with the sniggers. This isn’t a clever computer program that helps exasperated MotoGP engineers deal with petulant, prima-donna riders, it’s an important rider aid that’s become even more so since the advent of unified software.

Anti-jerk helps riders get through the transition from off-throttle to on-throttle in the middle of a corner. As they enter the corner they have the throttle fully closed, then when the right moment comes they start to ease the throttle open. At this point the engine goes through a transition from negative torque to positive torque, which causes tolerances in the transmission to deliver a jerk (or hit) in the engine. With so much lean angle and so much torque available, this can disastrous, either ruining the rider’s drive off the turn or triggering a slide from which he or she won’t recover.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Bigger bangs for bigger bucks

This season Marc Marquez will use a new engine configuration, inspired by Honda’s first big-bang GP bike of the early 1990s

Many moons ago I used to buy a plane ticket to Tokyo every November and then a bullet-train ticket to Suzuka, where HRC would let a few of us ride its GP bikes around Soichiro Honda’s magnificent figure-of-eight circuit.

On the very first lap of my first visit in 1989, Eddie Lawson’s title-winning Rothmans Honda NSR500 flew into a blood-curdling tank-slapper down the back straight, flat-out in sixth gear. I pulled into the pits, where an HRC mechanic fussed around the front of the bike, then grinned widely as he turned the steering damper up to maximum and sent me on my way. No more tank-slappers but now the NSR turned like an oil-tanker. And Lawson won the world title on this bike. Some achievement.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Can Valentino Rossi win in 2017?

A faster motorcycle, a more focused mind and a better atmosphere in the Yamaha garage. Could this be the year Rossi wins his tenth world title?

Last May I wrote a ridiculously premature story on this website, headlined: could 2017 be Rossi’s year?

The premise was straightforward. Jorge Lorenzo had already signed for Ducati, so I suggested that “the Desmosedici will do what he wants at some tracks but not at others”. Maverick Viñales looked set to take over Lorenzo’s user-friendly Yamaha, “but at some tracks he won’t have the experience of the bike to nail the set-up to the nth degree, without which he won’t win the title”. And Honda needed to build Marc Márquez a bike “that will allow him to do what he did in 2014”, when he walked the title, winning ten consecutive races.

In other words, if Lorenzo, Viñales and Márquez aren’t at 100 per cent, then Rossi could win the 2017 title because he alone will have a bike that “he probably knows as well as he knows his mum and dad”.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - An anti-chatter jounce box?

Last year Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna maddened many with his wings, now he may have solved an age-old problem with Formula 1-inspired jounce-dampers

This year’s brand-new MotoGP bikes are currently on their way from Malaysia to Australia for the second preseason tests, which take place next week at Phillip Island.

If you are a motor sport fan of a James Bond bent it’s tempting to imagine an industrial-espionage agent dodging through airport security to stow away aboard Dorna’s cargo plane, where he prises open Ducati’s flight boxes to disassemble that little black box at the back of Jorge Lorenzo’s GP17.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - It's Vinales versus Marquez

But what is Ducati up to – we reveal the secret (possibly) of the GP17’s so-called salad box

“If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.” They certainly saw us coming this time at Sepang.

The tropical skies opened on two of the three days, sending riders scurrying into the pits because they were there to work on their new bikes at the limit, not tiptoeing around on a wet track.

But the rain itself wasn’t a huge problem. In the steamy equatorial heat, Sepang used to dry very quickly. No longer, however. Ten months ago the circuit underwent a much-needed resurfacing, which also included adding cambers at some corners to improve draining and safety during torrential downpours.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - More silverware for Crutchlow

Yesterday Cal Crutchlow received Britain’s most prestigious motorcycling award and revealed that he is already close to signing a new deal for 2018

MotoGP preseason testing starts next week and no one will ride out of the Sepang pitlane more of a changed man than Cal Crutchlow.

Crutchlow wasn’t last year’s only first-time MotoGP winner but he was almost certainly more affected by his debut victory than Maverick Viñales, Andrea Iannone and Jack Miller were by theirs.

Most of us always knew Viñales would win a race, even if he didn’t, whereas Iannone always knew he was going to win a race, even if we didn’t. As for Miller, neither he nor we can be sure he will repeat his 2016 success.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How MotoGP launch control works

Launch control is the rider-aids programme designed to help MotoGP riders when they rocket away from the grid at the start of races. This is how it works…

Overtaking in MotoGP gets more and more difficult for all kinds of reasons, from the reduced braking distances allowed by carbon brakes to the fact that all the bikes now have very similar performance.

This is what makes the start of a race more important than ever and this is why launch control was invented. Launch-control programmes are designed to help the rider use maximum acceleration when he dumps the clutch on 260 horsepower. But like all MotoGP rider aids, Dorna’s recently introduced unified software is significantly less clever than the tailormade software created by the factories during the first decade or so of MotoGP.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - After 117 years: Triumph’s first GP win

Triumph has been around since 1902 but has never won a Grand Prix. That will change soon, with Triumph set to become Moto2’s sole engine supplier

MotoGP looks set to throb to the mellifluous tone of Triumph triples from 2019, when the British brand is expected to take over from Honda as Moto2 engine supplier.

This is good news. Motorcycling needs classic brands shining in MotoGP’s limelight, and there are few older marques than Triumph, which started selling motorcycles (or motor bicycles as they were called back then) 46 years before Honda, 48 years before Ducati, 50 years before Suzuki and 52 years before Yamaha.

Triumph was established in Coventry by German immigrants Maurice Schulte and Siegfried Bettmann, who later became mayor of the city, only to be stripped of his office when the First World War broke out. The company’s first motorcycle was powered by a Belgian Minerva engine, but Schulte soon designed his own three-horsepower single, which was good enough to win the brand the nickname ‘Trusty Triumph’.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How MotoGP engine-braking control works

High-performance MotoGP engines create a lot of negative torque on the overrun. It is the EBC’s job to control how much gets to the rear wheel

If you’ve been into MotoGP since the early days of 990cc four-strokes you will surely remember watching in delight as a rider braked hard with the rear wheel slewing this way and that, before flopping the bike into a corner.

These were the infant days of engine-braking control (EBC), when the hardware and software weren’t clever enough to reduce negative torque on the overrun, so the engine locked the rear wheel. The riders were left to cope with the consequences as best they could.

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