The FIM today released a provisional calendar for MotoGP in 2016, featuring much that was expected and a few surprises. The calendar will once again have 18 races, with Indianapolis dropped and Austria taking its place. The biggest change in the calendar is the moving of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which vacates its late August slot for the middle of July.
That move, and the scheduling of Austria and Brno back to back, will not be popular with the circuits. The British MotoGP round comes just three weeks after the F1 race at Silverstone, due to be held at the end of June. Silverstone will fear that having the two biggest events of the year in the space of a month will mean that they cannibalize attendance, with spectators choosing to attend either F1 or MotoGP. When there were two months between the two races, the chances of fans attending both were greater.
As for Brno and Austria, the Brno circuit feared that having Austria a week before their race would see German fans choosing to go to Austria rather than Brno, with an impact on attendance. So far, though, Dorna has prevailed in discussions.
With the news that the Brno round of MotoGP has been handed to a consortium consisting of local and regional governments, and that they are working to secure the long-term future of Brno, a major piece of the puzzle surrounding MotoGP's schedule for 2016 slotted into place. Brno, along with Indianapolis, had been the two biggest question marks still hanging over the calendar.
Most of the schedule fell into place once Formula One announced its calendar several weeks ago. The combination of an unusually late start (F1 kicks off in Melbourne on 4th April, two weeks later than last year) and an expansion of the schedule to 21 races has left few gaps for MotoGP to fit into. The upside to F1's late start is that MotoGP can get a head start on its four-wheeled counterpart, and kick the season off before F1 begins.
Preseason testing is slightly altered for 2016. Instead of two tests at Sepang, the MotoGP teams will head from Sepang to Phillip Island, and then on to Qatar, for a final test before the start of the season. Testing starts on the first three days of February, spending the 1st to the 3rd at Sepang, for the first start of the year. From there, the circus moves to Australia, for a three-day test at Phillip Island from 17th to the 19th February, before heading back across the equator to Qatar. MotoGP will test at the Losail circuit on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of March.
Marc Marquez has already lost one of his engines from his allocation of five for the season. The engine in the bike Marquez was forced to park against pit wall during qualifying at Austin can no longer be used, Marquez admitted to MotoMatters.com.
The engine problem occurred during Marquez' qualifying run at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As Marquez was about to start a hot lap, he saw a warning light come on on the dashboard of his Honda RC213V. The world champion had been told by his HRC engineers that if he saw that light, he was to stop as quickly as possible, which he duly did. The problem forced him to sprint back to his pit box, leap on his spare bike, and race out of the pits for a last-gasp dash for pole. It resulted in a spectacular lap, which gave him pole position, from which he went on to take a convincing win.
The engine from that bike was taken from Austin straight to Japan, where HRC engineers examined it as best they could, without breaking the seals. After the press conference at Jerez, I asked Marquez if he had heard whether the problem was with the engine or the gearbox. "I don't know," Marquez replied, "but we cannot use it any more."
Data – the reams of information logged by a vast array of sensors on a racing motorcycle – is a contentious issue in MotoGP. Riders differ in their approach to it. Mika Kallio, for example, has a reputation for being a demon for data, wading through his own data after every session. Other riders pay less attention, preferring to let their data engineers, sort the data out from them, and examine their data together.
Sam Lowes is one of the latter. In the long conversation which we had with him at Austin – see yesterday's installment on the 2015 Speed Up here – Lowes discussed the role of data, and his use of it, at length. Though all of the riders using the Speed Up chassis have access to each other's data (it is common practice for all manufacturers to share data among their riders), Lowes sees little use in looking at the data of other riders.
"I've never looked at other people's data," Lowes told the small group of journalists who spoke to him on the Thursday before the race at Austin . "I've never looked at anyone's. Just because, well, it's not a motorbike is it? I look at my data with my guys, but I wouldn't look at anyone else's. Maybe if Márquez was set next to me I'd have a quick glance over …" he joked.
Lowes did not believe that the data from other Speed Up riders would be of much use to him. "Not taking anything away from Julian Simon and Ant West, but if they're quicker than me here, I won't go look at their data."
Sam Lowes is a rider on the move. After impressing in both BSB and World Supersport, the Englishman made the switch to Moto2 in 2014, joining Speed Up to race the bike designed and built by the team run by Luca Boscoscuro. His first season in Moto2 was much tougher than expected, Lowes crashing often and never getting close to a podium, despite often showing good pace in practice in qualifying.
His 2015 season has gotten off to a much better start. Lowes has been fastest in both testing and practice, and with Johann Zarco, Tito Rabat and Alex Rins, has shown himself to be a true title contender for this year. A win at Austin confirmed that, as has a podium in Argentina and pole position at Qatar. On the Thursday before the Texas round of MotoGP at Austin, a small group of reporters had a long and fascinating conversation with Lowes, in which he covered a lot of territory, ranging from finding confidence when riding in the rain, to how the Speed Up bike has changed, to the value of looking at the data of other riders. Over the next couple of days, we will share some of that conversation with you.
One of the biggest changes in Sam Lowes' fortunes came as a result of a change to the bike. The carbon fiber swing arm which Speed Up have been running since they first starting building their own bikes back in 2012, and is a legacy of Boscoscuro's days working with Aprilia, has been replaced with a more conventional one made from aluminum. That switch had made a huge difference to the feel of the bike, giving Lowes and the other Speed Up riders much more feel for the rear tire of the Speed Up, and putting an end to a string of inexplicable crashes.
Bridgestone issued their customary post-race press release discussing how their tires fared at last weekend's race in Austin, Texas:
Americas MotoGP™ debrief with Shinji Aoki
Wednesday 15 April 2015
Bridgestone slick compounds: Front: Soft, Medium & Hard; Rear: Soft & Hard (Symmetric) & Medium (Asymmetric)
Bridgestone wet tyre compounds: Soft (Main) & Hard (Alternative)
Marc Marquez won his third consecutive race at Circuit of the Americas last weekend, the Repsol Honda star taking the chequered flag ahead of Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi.
The race weekend was subjected to variable weather with cool, rainy periods giving way to warm and sunny weather on Sunday. The peak track temperature of 40°C during was the warmest reading for the whole weekend.
Q&A with Shinji Aoki – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Department
On Friday the MotoGP riders had their first ever wet session at Circuit of the Americas. What can you tell us about the grip level of the circuit in the wet, and how your wet tyres performed?
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
122 seconds in the life of Marc Márquez
There was quite an admission of guilt from the podium trio at Austin on Sunday. Not one of the top three – Marc Márquez, Andrea Dovizioso or Valentino Rossi – had ridden the entire race flat-out. They’re not getting lazy or anything, they just knew that Austin’s 20 corners and especially the Turn 3/4/5/6/7/8/9 flip-flops and the never-ending Turn 16/17/18 right-hander chew the hell out of the front tyre. So don’t abuse it or it will abuse you.
All these things considered, Márquez was miraculous on race day. Following overnight rain, the track had lost some grip, so he held back in the early laps while Dovizioso crept ahead at the rate of several tenths a lap. Was Márquez struggling? Was he, hell. He was just getting acquainted with the new grip character and once he knew what he was dealing with, he surged forward and that was that. Another brilliant win, his 20th in the premier class, which puts him equal with his forefather Freddie Spencer.
But I won’t remember the weekend for Sunday’s 43-minute race. Much more memorable was what happened on Saturday afternoon.
Keep Austin Weird is the slogan of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, meant to promote small businesses in the Texan city. The Circuit of the Americas certainly did its bit this weekend. We had a delay due to marshals and medical support staff not being at their posts. We had a red flag due to a stray dog on the track. We had delays due to fog, we had one day of rain, followed by two days of peering at the skies wondering when the massive rainstorms which had been forecast would arrive. They never did. We had Keanu Reeves, star of both The Matrix and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, in the paddock, as well Carol Vorderman, British TV's brainiest beauty, at least for gentlemen of a certain age. You wouldn't imagine it could get much weirder.
It did get weirder, though. The MotoGP race ended up delayed by half an hour, because rainwater was dripping off a bridge over the track around Turn 3, leaving a puddle of standing water on the circuit. There had been some water there during the Moto2 race, Sam Lowes saying he had been very cautious through that section, as the bike was moving about. Franco Morbidelli had reveled in it, enjoying the feeling of the rear moving around as he powered through the puddle. Racers will be racers.
The sun which emerged at the start of the MotoGP race made the situation worse, paradoxically. Elsewhere, the track was fully dry and warm, but standing water remained in the shadow of the bridge. While making its final inspection lap of the track five minutes before the start, the safety car reported the water to Race Direction, and Race Director Mike Webb pushed the big red button to delay the start. That is not an easy decision. Webb knows that as soon as he presses the button to delay the start of a MotoGP race, it costs Dorna millions of dollars in TV penalty clauses around the world. It does not stop him pressing it, however, safety being paramount. If anyone ever wondered if Dorna sacrificed safety for TV money, their question was answered on Sunday.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race in Austin:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Austin: