Mat Oxley's blog

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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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Climbing Mount Everest

MotoGP now has fewer rider controls, so once again we’re seeing riders getting all acrobatic. That’s why Marc Márquez was a sight to behold at COTA

That was quite a weekend and this is quite a photograph. It reminds me of the old days – Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and the rest – climbing all over their flighty 500 two-strokes, trying to get those deadly missiles-on-wheels pointed vaguely in the right direction.

It is Marc Márquez, playing the outer limits during COTA qualifying, climbing all over his Repsol Honda RC213V like Sherpa Tenzing used to climb all over Mount Everest.

When we talk about riders racing Grand Prix bikes, we usually talk about the corners because racing around racetracks is mostly about corners. The straights are just the bits connecting the corners, where racers can relax for a moment, loosen their grip on the handlebars and give their brain a chance to catch up and get ready for what’s coming next.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What is Maverick’s secret?

The youngster is riding the crest of a wave as he heads to Texas, home to the world’s first maverick

Maverick Viñales is enjoying a golden moment; you don’t need me to tell you that. The former Moto3 world champion didn’t just win the first two races of the 69th Grand Prix season, he dominated them, twice coming from behind to win on his own terms.

His talent and daring have been on display since he arrived in the 125 class in 2011, when he barged past that year’s world champion to win a Grand Prix at his fourth attempt, at the last corner. Two years later he secured his first world title, at the last corner.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Honda's failed Great Escape

A different front tyre may have changed the world champion’s race, but this isn’t the first time that the outside world has had its say in motorcycle sport

There are many good things about a MotoGP weekend, but one of the sweetest is living inside a MotoGP bubble for a few days and leaving the big, bad world behind.

Occasionally events in the big, bad world can puncture that bubble. That’s what happened almost exactly 35 years ago when the 1982 Grand Prix season got underway in Argentina, just as the Falklands War erupted. Most of the paddock only just made it out of the country in time, the vulnerable British contingent landing in Madrid, not London, because their Aerolineas Argentinas plane didn’t want to risk impoundment in Britain.

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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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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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