Mat Oxley's blog

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP’s first Honda v Ducati title duel

Sunday’s breath-taking Austrian GP heralds the first-ever Ducati versus Honda duel for a MotoGP crown

Incredible but true: Honda and Ducati have never battled each other for a Grand Prix world championship. For one reason or another, each factory’s best years have never coincided with the other’s. Until now…

When Casey Stoner won Ducati’s first Grand Prix crown in 2007, Dani Pedrosa finished second, but the Honda man was never in the hunt, ending the season a whopping 125 points down. The only other time Ducati came close to winning a GP world title was in 1958, when Alberto Gandossi rode Fabio Taglioni’s first desmodromic engine to second in the 125cc championship, just seven points behind MV Agusta’s Carlo Ubbiali. Honda entered the Grand Prix arena a few months later.

Now, here we are, seven races to go in the 2017 MotoGP Championship and the season is developing into a Honda versus Ducati duel, rather than the usual Honda versus Yamaha fight, the recurring theme of the last 35 years.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP’s thrilling unpredictability explained

This year MotoGP is more unpredictable than ever, which is great for fans. Here’s why

This may turn out to be the best season of Grand Prix racing ever. It is already the closest-ever contest for the premier-class world title: after nine of 18 races the top four are closer on points than they were after the season-opening race in March. Championship leader Marc Márquez and the fourth-placed Valentino Rossi are separated by just 10 points, with Maverick Viñales and Andrea Dovizioso in between. This has never happened in the previous 68 seasons of Grand Prix competition.

The racing has mostly been good, too. There have already been five different winners and last time out in Germany the reigning world champion aboard the latest factory weapon spent much of the race fighting with a rookie using a two-year-old chassis.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta had died and gone to heaven at the Sachsenring. Right there, before his very eyes, was the culmination of a life’s work: an indie rider hassling a factory rider, lap after lap after lap.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Out there with the big boys – part 2

Part two of Mat Oxley's 1989 Suzuka 8 Hours: race day. This story is one of many that appear in Mat’s The Fast Stuff, available on Kindle

The Suzuka 8 Hours race celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sunday. I contested the race several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with a best finish of seventh in 1986, riding with Vesa Kultalahti for Team Howard Lees. This story, written at the time, tells the tale of the 1989 race, when I partnered French journalist Gilbert Roy to 12th. They were the boom years of the 8 Hours, when you got to share the track with Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, Gardner and the rest

Read part one

Race day dawns a little sunnier but a few clouds keep the temperature down to a ‘cool’ 30 degC. Normally Suzuka can be 35 degC with stifling humidity.

The hype fuels the tension as the 11.30am start approaches. I was slightly faster than Gilbert in practice so I’m doing the Le Mans start. And from where I stand it’s a long, long way to the front of the grid where Doohan stands on pole. After a few mouthfuls of electrolyte energy drink I line up for the sprint. My mouth is parched, my heart racing and my legs nervy like jelly as Suzuka’s electronic grandstand info board counts down to ‘GO!’.

I make a good getaway but within two seconds all hell breaks loose. Two bikes collide in the melee. I swerve wildly to avoid the exploding debris and I can’t believe it when another bike alongside me ploughs into the wreckage. The last I see of the rider he is six feet in the air hanging onto his motorcycle, upside down.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Out there with the big boys – part 1

Mat Oxley's account of his foray into the biggest race on the endurance calendar: the Suzuka 8 Hours. This story is one of many that appear in Mat’s The Fast Stuff, available on Kindle

The Suzuka 8 Hours race celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sunday. I contested the race several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with a best finish of sixth in 1986, riding with Vesa Kultalahti for Team Howard Lees. This story, written at the time, tells the tale of the 1989 race, when I partnered French journalist Gilbert Roy to 12th. They were the boom years of the 8 Hours, when you got to share the track with Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, Gardner and the rest

The weather is typical of Japan in July: so steamy hot that the air you breathe feels second-hand and rivulets of sweat run down every part of your body.

I shouldn’t care though: I am lying on a couch with two women draping nicely chilled towels across my legs and torso. I have an ice-cold drink in one hand and a bowl of sliced orange and banana within reach of the other. A Japanese doctor massages my body and an electric fan blows a cooling draft at my face, rustling the leaves of the nearby palms.

Heaven surely couldn’t be a much more delightful place but the pleasure of this visit through the pearly gates is tainted by the knowledge that soon I must return to the fiery torment of hell.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How to fire up a MotoGP star

You would think that gold and glory would be enough to get them fired up, but a little extra always helps…

Journalists sit very low in the feeding chain in MotoGP. We have little or no use to the riders and teams, or at least that’s what they tell us.

But occasionally we do have our uses, because the pen can be a mighty thing.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How do you solve a problem like Andrea?

Suzuki is having a nightmare MotoGP season; who to blame: the riders, the factory or the team?

I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again, I like Andrea Iannone, mostly because he’s funny. MotoGP is lucky at the moment, not least because the grid includes a full rainbow of characters, from angelic assassins and gritty little boxers to scary old men and (pantomime) gangsters.

It’s not me suggesting Iannone is a wannabe gangster. A journalist recently asked the Italian what he would do for a living if he didn’t race bikes and he immediately replied he would be a gangster.

Meanwhile Iannone still races bikes and right now he’s got a problem. His performances with Suzuki have plotted a steadily downward path since he first got on the GSX-RR last November: from quietly promising to loudly disappointing.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MM v MV: never the twain shall meet?

The much-hyped Márquez/Viñales title fight is turning out to be the weirdest in GP history. Here’s why…

Remember all that preseason hype? This was going to be the year of a new duel, a new rivalry to follow Marc Márquez versus Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi versus Casey Stoner.

Márquez and Maverick Viñales were the new duellists, battling for the 2017 MotoGP title from start to finish.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - I’m (almost) speechless

I have no words after watching an old man win in the riskiest of conditions, but that wouldn’t make much of a blog…

In October 2011 a photographer and I flew to Bergamo, Italy, for an audience with 15-time world champion Giacomo Agostini. Ago and his wife Maria welcomed us into their home and ushered us straight to the dining table: it was lunchtime. Lunch was served by the family butler – dressed all in white – and the world’s most successful motorcycle racer was his usual charming self.

The reason for the visit was simple. For many years the racing world had been wondering if Valentino Rossi would one day eclipse Ago’s record of 122 Grand Prix victories. By the end of his first miserable season at Ducati, there was a lot less wondering.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Assen, née The Cathedral

Assen was despoiled some years ago, just like Catalunya more recently, but then the history of racing is a history of epic race tracks disappearing

Being an old MotoGP journalist is a bit like being a very old man. You keep losing the people you love, or in this case, the circuits you love. This week the paddock goes to Assen, once the most fascinating circuit on the championship calendar because it was entirely unique, offering a special challenge to riders and engineers alike.

The old Assen (shown above in all its glory) had all kinds of tricks hidden in its 3.7 miles of serpentine curves, from devilishly tricky cambers to 160mph direction changes that had to be ridden just so to prevent your machine from convulsing into the mother of all tank-slappers. The brainwork needed to solve these conundrums involved everyone, from riders to engineers to mechanics, tyre technicians and suspension twiddlers. If a rider won at Assen, his crew knew as well as he did that they had done something very special. Not for nothing was the place called The Cathedral.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Is Rossi’s title challenge over?

Three podiums at the first three races and none since. Rossi needs a miracle if he’s to win a 10th world title

“It was strange because I won without pushing 100 per cent and this has never happened to me before… I don’t know why we won the last two races,” said Andrea Dovizioso after his second win in a week. And when a rider says something like that, you know that something strange is afoot.

Dovizioso’s favourite phrase has always been “the reality is…” and the reality of Sunday was that while the sun burned down, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking it was drizzling. The riders weren’t riding to their own limits or to the limits of their bikes, they were riding to the limit of the asphalt and the tyres.

The once-great Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a horrible mess. The ancient asphalt is overused, bumpy, hellishly slippery and burns up tyres, which is why Michelin says it’s MotoGP’s most challenging track, even worse than Phillip Island. And when temperatures exceeded 50deg C during the weekend the tyres just couldn’t cope.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Ducati isn't there yet

Ducati had a huge day on Sunday but there’s one last fix it must make before the Desmosedici can challenge for the title again

Andrea Dovizioso deserves double congratulations for Sunday: for surviving that terrifying 210mph tank-slapper on lap three and for scoring Ducati’s most important victory since the Casey Stoner years. And Danilo Petrucci too, a Mugello podium is good going for someone who nearly packed it in a few years ago because he was fed up with finishing at the back.

However, Dovizioso and Petrucci know better than most that Ducati still doesn’t have a bike that will work well at enough different tracks to make them world-title challengers.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The tyre that may change everything

Sunday’s Italian GP marks one-third distance in the 2017 MotoGP championship, but Mugello may be the start of a new championship

There is no part on a racing motorcycle more important than the front tyre. Everything comes from the front tyre: the all-important rider feel, corner-entry speed, mid-corner speed and therefore corner-exit speed.

And this weekend Michelin changes its front tyre for the remaining 13 races; from the 06, used at the first five races, to the 70, which features a stiffer casing.

Everyone knows it was Valentino Rossi who preferred the 70 from preseason testing, but the majority preferred the 06, so the 70 was put aside and everyone went racing with the 06. But as soon as riders started digging deeper, most realised they wanted a stiffer front, which would deform less during braking and entry.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Vive le Zarco!

Finalement, France has someone to cheer in MotoGP. Rookie Johann Zarco has lit up the 2017 season and will be going all-out at Le Mans this weekend

MotoGP has never seen anything like it; at least not since Marc Márquez arrived in 2013. Two weeks ago at Jerez, reigning Moto2 champion Johann Zarco rode the first few laps like he was the king and the rest were rookies. He charged past Valentino Rossi (twice), Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Viñales, Andrea Iannone and Márquez in just a few laps, finding gaps where others could find none.

“Zarco reminds me of me when I arrived in MotoGP,” grins Márquez. “He is really aggressive, he pushes to the limit and sometimes he nearly crashes. This is the way to learn, you need to push, so he’s working in a good way.”

Zarco’s pace and bravery at Jerez were magical and will bring tens of thousands of French fans to Le Mans. It’s about time France had someone to cheer in the class of kings. During 69 years of Grand Prix racing the nation has won only three races in the premier class – that’s an average of one victory every 23 years. Compare that to 230 victories by Italians, 154 by Americans, 137 by Britons and 135 by Spaniards.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Grand Prix

Four races into 2017 and the racing is more unpredictable than ever, which is why even MotoGP’s cleverest engineers left Jerez confused

In 1991 Wayne Rainey referred to the start of the European Grand Prix season as the start of “the ground war”, because in that year the GP circus arrived at Jerez shortly after the first Gulf conflict.

Many riders still think of Jerez as the place where the title race gets real, because the out-of-Europe season-openers can be a bit rare-groove. Even Valentino Rossi still holds that opinion, kind of. “I don’t want to say Jerez is the start of the real championship, but…” said the seven-time Jerez winner on the eve of the 31st GP at the Andalusian track.

Rainey spoke of the ground war as separate from the rest of the championship because European tracks are different, because teams operate out of elaborately equipped trucks, instead of flight cases, and because the riders live in the paddock.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP: ballet or battle?

Rossi’s COTA penalty came from MotoGP’s ever-growing rulebook, so is there a chance that micromanagement could ruin MotoGP?

And so to Jerez, the place where MotoGP’s modern era of gladiatorial combat began at 2.45pm on Sunday, April 10, 2005.

Bumping and barging have been going on ever since people started racing motorcycles, but Valentino Rossi’s last-corner attack on Sete Gibernau at Jerez 2005 was probably the start of the tactics we now know so well.

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