Mat Oxley's blog

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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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Is Ducati’s grip computer-enhanced?

The Ducati MotoGP team is using trick new software created to improve tyre performance, so how important is this technology to the factory’s title challenge?

It looks like we may get away without a proper soaking at Silverstone this weekend, but that won’t make it much easier for riders and teams trying to choose the best tyres for Sunday.

This year tyre choice is by far the most important factor separating MotoGP victory from defeat, so the teams clever enough to find their way through the Michelin maze have a crucial advantage on race day.

Ducati is currently the most successful factory out there, with three victories from the last six races, which suggests that its engineers have become very good at choosing the right tyres. But how?

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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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