Mat Oxley's blog

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The Yamaha MotoGP bike you never knew existed

Almost two decades ago Yamaha built a single-crank new YZR500 to beat Honda and Valentino Rossi to the final 500cc title. The bike remained a secret, until now…

Yamaha has won plenty of MotoGP titles since the four-strokes arrived 16 years ago, but the factory had a miserable time in the final years of the 500cc World Championship. Yamaha was defeated nine years in a row, mostly by Honda, which is why its engineers built an all-new bike for the final 2001 season of 500s, when Honda and Valentino Rossi would be their greatest rivals.

This bike was tested in Europe in the summer of 2000 by Marlboro Yamaha riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa, less than 18 months before the final 500 GP, but never raced. And somehow, Yamaha managed to keep the project secret. Until now.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How does Zarco do it?

No doubt about it, Johann Zarco was MotoGP’s new kid on the block last season. Except he wasn't much of a kid at all, says Mat Oxley

The Frenchman was 26-years-old when he made his premier-class debut in Qatar. Compare that to MotoGP’s previous red-hot rookies Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales, who were both 20 when they graduated to the premier class.

France isn’t mad about toddler racing like Spain, so Zarco started relatively late and didn’t get fully serious until he was in his teens. When he was 16 he loaded up his 50cc scooter and rode 150 miles to live with the family of Laurent Fellon, who has been his mentor and manager ever since. Zarco was almost 19 when he made his GP debut, by which age Márquez had already won two world championships.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The truth behind Britain, MotoGP and World Superbike

Many Britons wonder why British riders do so well in WSB and not so well in MotoGP. It’s a long story, says Mat Oxley…

Congratulations are due to Jonathan Rea; heaps of congratulations: his MotoGP-beating lap time at Jerez last week, his history-making third consecutive World Superbike title, his record-breaking points haul, his MBE, his BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination and much, much more. All richly deserved by a great talent riding at his peak.

But as for all the WSB versus MotoGP talk of recent days – following last week’s combined WSB/MotoGP tests at Jerez – it’s just hypothetical barroom banter. Sam Lowes knows this better than most, having competed in WSB, MotoGP, World Supersport and Moto2. On Saturday he tweeted, “Stupid all the talk about WSB and MotoGP at Jerez. Means nothing. Lots of awesome riders on awesome bikes. Different tyres. Impossible comparison.”

Just like last November, when Rea also topped the Jerez tests, social media has been buzzing with the Northern Irishman’s performance; with many wondering why he hasn’t been signed by a MotoGP team.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP 2017: 1126 crashes!

Once again, MotoGP’s accident figures broke all records. But does that mean the racing is getting safer or more dangerous?

Late November is a guilt-ridden time of year to be a MotoGP journalist. While dozens of riders check themselves in for post-season surgery, like a reckless driver booking his car’s annual bodyshop makeover, we sit comfortably at our desks analysing MotoGP’s annual Falls Report.

This year’s report runs to 159 pages and contains almost as much pain and anguish as a war novel. Every single crash is recorded in detail: where, when and what were the injuries? And then Dorna’s Friné Velilla divides the accidents into numerous bar graphs, by class, by race track, by year and so on.

The Falls Report isn’t just a ghoul’s delight. There is science behind the data, which is used by MotoGP staff to improve safety. And sensible analysis of the crash statistics can tell us a lot about what’s going on in MotoGP, especially about how each rider gets along with his bike.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Team spirit, not team orders

The dust has settled on Sunday’s frantic season finale at Valencia; so it’s time to decide: was Jorge Lorenzo right or wrong to refuse assistance to his team-mate?

Team orders suck, right? Yes, they do. But team orders aren’t always what you think they are. If you are a professional racer and you race for a factory team in MotoGP you will have at least a hundred colleagues. You may be the star man, the best-paid employee, the worker who’s on the telly, the guy who gets chased by the ladies, but you go racing on the backs of everyone else. Without them, you are nothing. There is not a rider on the MotoGP grid who doesn’t know this.

On Sunday, Ducati had a chance to win the MotoGP world championship. A tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless. For several months Jorge Lorenzo had told us that he would happily help team-mate Andrea Dovizioso at the last two races. He made all the right noises and at Sepang last month he did indeed make way for Dovizioso. Everyone assumed he would do the same at Valencia.

But he didn’t. Lap after lap, he rode around behind Johann Zarco, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, with Dovizioso right behind him. The sense of dismay in the Ducati garage was palpable. Lorenzo knew exactly what was up, but he failed to do what any reasonable team-mate would do – team orders or not – move aside and let the world-title hopeful decide his own fate.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - ‘He was already world champion!’

Maverick Viñales started this season as MotoGP title favourite. But he’s not won a race since May. What went wrong?

It’s been a strange year for Maverick Viñales. He has lived his first season in the shadow of the sport’s brightest sun – Valentino Rossi – and has become a shadow of his former self.

Since Qatar his gait has changed entirely, so much so that he looks a different man. Back in March he was all relaxed smiles, now he looks worried, haunted, defeated.

And with good reason. Preseason was a dream: Viñales and his Yamaha YZR-M1 topped all three tests, then he comfortably won the first race in Qatar and ran away with round two in Argentina. “He was already world champion!” recalls Marc Marquez, who had amassed just one quarter of Viñales’ points haul after the first two races.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP: they think it’s all over…

…and it probably is, but even if Andrea Dovizioso fails to climb the cliff at Valencia, he can still be satisfied with a near-perfect 2017

The odds will not be stacked in Andrea Dovizioso’s favour when he gets to Valencia next week. But there’s a tired old saying we’ve been regurgitating in the MotoGP media centre for the past three decades or so: anything can happen in motorcycle racing, and usually does.

Or as the late, great Nicky Hayden put it: “That’s why we line up on Sunday – you never know what’s going to happen."

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How Márquez checked out in Australia

Marc Márquez's Phillip Island victory was arguably his best so far; surviving that vicious six-rider brawl, then going on to win by almost two seconds.

There must’ve been times in the early stages of that race when Marc Márquez must’ve thought he was waking up from a nightmare.

The previous weekend at Motegi he had fought wheel to wheel with Andrea Dovizioso, both men walking the line for five extra points. Situation normal: two rivals risking everything for the crown, each of them with as much to lose or gain as the other.

Phillip Island was the total opposite. For much of the race, Márquez found himself in the nightmarish position of being the only rider in the lead group with everything to lose, surrounded by rivals who mostly had nothing to lose. There’s no worse place to be if you’re chasing a title.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - “You release the brakes and believe”

Dovizioso and Márquez could hardly see where they were going at Motegi, yet their duel was reminiscent of one of the greatest of all time

It's been a generation since I have been so overawed about a motorcycle race: since Sunday May 26, 1991, to be precise. That’s the last time I recall witnessing such a heart-in-the-mouth finish to a premier-class Grand Prix that held a world championship in its hands: big speed, big risk, big heartbeat.

Of course, there have been numerous classic encounters over the years. We could argue about them forever.

But there was something different about Sunday’s race, something that reminded me of Hockenheim 1991, when Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey were fighting for the 500cc world title at one of the fastest, scariest circuits of them all. Motegi isn’t particularly fast or frightening, but it’s terrifying in a torrential downpour, when riders can hardly see where they’re going, blinded by spray from the rain and by steam from the engine. Unless you’ve been there, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine what it’s like to be hauling along at 185 miles an hour, peering through the murk for your braking marker, then slithering the front tyre all the way into the corner.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Riders: behave yourselves!

MotoGP has got its work cut out dealing with Moto3 maniacs hunting for slipstreams and by riders in all classes who get greedy with the asphalt runoff

If MotoGP was a high school, Moto3 would be the class of misbehaving young bad boys and girls that sends its teachers home each evening sobbing into their hankies.

There is no naughtier class in MotoGP than Moto3. The smallest category causes head teacher more of a headache than the other two classes combined. That’s right, Race Direction spends more time policing Moto3 than it does MotoGP and Moto2.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What is Bradley Smith’s problem?

Bradley Smith has struggled since the start of 2016 – this is what has wrongfooted the Briton

Changing tyre brands can make or break bike racers. There’s a long history of top riders riding the crest of a wave, changing tyre brands, then disappearing without trace.

In 1998 Simon Crafar was riding high on 500s. This was the New Zealander’s rookie 500 season and yet by Assen he was already hassling Mick Doohan, then at the peak of his towering career. Next time out at Donington Park, Crafar left Doohan trailing, beating the reigning champion by 11 seconds. It was probably the biggest defeat ever inflicted on Mighty Mick.

Crafar nearly did it again at Phillip Island, Doohan’s home race, breaking the lap record and crossing the line eight-tenths behind the Aussie hero. No doubt about it, Crafar was the Next Big Thing. His Red Bull Yamaha team believed it could challenge for the title in 1999, so long as it changed to Michelin, then the dominant force in 500 GPs. Michelin also wanted Crafar on its side, so the team switched from Dunlop.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Minor and major miracles at Arágon

Márquez’s win, Rossi’s Lazarus-style comeback and the performance of Aprilia and KTM made Arágon a special MotoGP weekend

Motorcycle racing is all about winning: at every race you get one winner and 20 or 30 losers.

However, every now and again you look down the finishing order and there are major and minor miracles everywhere. Sunday’s Arágon Grand Prix was like that.

Firstly, to finish first, first you must finish. So congratulations to MotoGP’s king risk-taker Marc Márquez, who won at Arágon to become Honda’s second most successful rider premier-class rider after Mighty Mick Doohan.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How Magic Marc walks the line

Eighty-five riders raced at rain-lashed San Marino GP on Sunday, and there were 80 crashes. How does Márquez stay on, let alone win, in such conditions?

It was difficult to watch Sunday’s race without imagining a kind of Gollum conversation taking place inside Marc Márquez’s head between his risk-taking self and his risk-averse self (if he has such a thing).

However tiny Márquez’s risk-averse self might be, it was in charge for most of the 28 laps. He wisely decided to let Jorge Lorenzo go about his business and then just as wisely decided to stay behind Danilo Petrucci, allowing the Italian to set the pace. All this while his risk-taking inner beast was surely fighting to get out…

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How Lowes can you go?

Who is to blame for Sam Lowes’ MotoGP demise: the rider, Aprilia or someone else? Look behind the scenes and there’s an obvious answer few have noticed

Silverstone was a weird weekend for Sam Lowes: his first and possibly (but hopefully not) last British Grand Prix as a MotoGP rider.

Lowes’ unceremonious sacking during the preceding Austrian Grand Prix caused a minor furore in the paddock and asked some major questions.

Most obviously, what is a contract worth? That’s an easy one to answer: a contract is worth next to nothing if someone is prepared to buy themselves out of it, to some extent. Lowes wanted to continue his MotoGP learning process with Aprilia next year, but all he will receive will be his salary. No bikes. It’s a miserable deal, but that’s the way the world works.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Rossi is back in the game

Valentino Rossi told us at Silverstone he doesn’t have the late-race speed to win the title, but recent bike improvements suggest otherwise

As we all know, on Sunday afternoon Valentino Rossi became the first motorcycle racer to contest 300 Grands Prix in the premier class; a statistic that makes your head swirl. If he had started his debut 500cc race in March 2000 from his hometown of Tavullia and kept racing westward on the same latitude he would already have completed a full circumnavigation of the earth and be well into his second lap at full-race speed, heading past Montréal, Canada, at around 220 miles an hour.

At Silverstone the 38-year-old led all but three laps of his 22nd British Grand Prix (including the only one that matters) to finish less than a second behind winner Andrea Dovizioso and place himself within 26 points of the championship lead.

So here’s the big question: can Rossi be world champion at the end of his 306th premier-class race?

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