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.
Michelin Speaks: Piero Taramasso On 2016 Tire Allocations, Front Tires, Intermediates, And Performance
The change of official tire suppliers for MotoGP, with Bridgestone departing and Michelin arriving, is arguably the most significant change to the class since the series went to a single tire in 2009. Changing tire manufacturers has a massive impact on everything, from bike design to rider preference, and Michelin face a huge challenge to get everything ready in time. Bridgestone helped by staying on for an extra year to allow Michelin to properly prepare, and the tires which the French manufacturer have been developing are looking very promising.
Their preparations have not been helped by conditions. Test days have been hit by rain, with testing severely hampered. This was also the case at Brno, when the majority of the MotoGP field was due to get their first outing on the Michelins since Sepang, though the factory riders had a chance to test after Mugello. The rain did give a group of journalists a chance to grill Piero Taramasso, Michelin's manager of two wheel motorsports activities.
Had the weather affected their plans for the test at Brno, we asked? "The plan was to test in dry condition so it looks like it will be not the case," Taramasso replied. "We brought some new solutions for the front. For example we had the same profile with two different casings and three different compounds. For rear tires same profile, two different casings, and two different compounds. So this was the plan."
It is hard to overstate just how important the relationship between a motorcycle racer and his crew chief is. A rider must have complete confidence that his crew chief both understands what he needs from a motorcycle to go fast, and is capable of giving it to him. A crew chief must be able to interpret the sometimes confusing and mixed signals from his rider, filter out the non-essential information, identify priorities from that which will offer the greatest gains, and assign the work to the rest of the crew in the garage. There has to be complete trust between the two, or neither rider nor bike will achieve their full potential.
This was made all too apparent when I interviewed Ecstar Suzuki rider Aleix Espargaro and his crew chief Tom O'Kane for a story I wrote recently for the Dutch publication MOTOR Magazine, due out later this month. One part of the interview which did not make it into the magazine was the relationship between Espargaro and O'Kane, and how they first started working together. However, it is a story which offers a fascinating insight into how a rider and their crew chief work together.
Aleix Espargaro explained how they first met. Suzuki had already arranged for Espargaro and O'Kane to meet at Aragon last year. Espargaro had been uncertain, as he had been asking Suzuki to allow him to bring his own crew chief with him. "Actually before when I started to talk with Suzuki in the middle of last year at the beginning I pushed to bring my crew chief with me, Matthew [Casey]. Because I had good feeling, three years working with him, so it was good for me."
That turned out not to be possible, but the change had worked out well. Espargaro was very happy with the change, he said. "Matthew is a very, very good crew chief but with Tom I discovered that I can work really, really good. Sometimes it’s not bad to change. With Tom, the feeling I have is fantastic. He’s very good. I met him in Aragon last year and we start to talk there. He was really quiet so I thought that it would be difficult to work because I’m completely different, but he’s the opposite. He’s helping me a lot."
After Carlos Checa made a brief return to riding, participating in a three-day test of Ducati's Panigale 1199R World Superbike machine, Ducati issued the following press release on the test:
Testing concludes positively for Checa and the Ducati SBK development team at Mugello
Bologna (Italy), Thursday 2 July 2015 – Three tough but productive days for Carlos Checa who has carried out a series of tests at the Mugello track, working together with the Ducati SBK development team.
The former world champion, riding the Ducati Panigale R Superbike, worked hard over the three days, making all of the experience gained over his long career available to the Ducati Corse technicians, with the aim of giving the team information and feedback with which to continue development of the bike.
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.
Into the Lorenzo zone
It’s not easy finding out much about a rider in the 15-minute interview slots that are the norm in MotoGP now. Unless something interesting happens.
On one of the first occasions I interviewed Jorge Lorenzo, our brief time together was blighted by a malfunctioning automatic door. We were sat right by the door in the lounge area of Yamaha’s hospitality truck, with team staff coming and going as we chatted.
At first the door obediently swooshed open and shut like we were on the Starship Enterprise, but then it developed a fault, and each time it jammed Lorenzo became more infuriated, until I was certain I could see steam coming out of his ears.
Bridgestone issued their customary press release after the Mugello round of MotoGP. This week, Masao Azuma discusses the changing grip levels at Mugello, consistent weather conditions and the different compounds for the front tire.
Italian MotoGP™ debrief with Masao Azuma
Tuesday, June 2 2015
Bridgestone slick compounds: Front: Soft, Medium & Hard; Rear: Soft, Medium (Asymmetric) & Hard (Symmetric)
Bridgestone wet tyre compounds: Hard (Main) & Soft (Alternative)
The Italian Grand Prix was won by Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo who secured a third successive MotoGP victory at Mugello ahead of Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone and fellow factory Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi who finished in second and third place respectively.
Conditions were fine and sunny for the entire race weekend, with track temperatures reaching their maximum during the twenty-three lap race on Sunday, when a recording of 49°C was made. During qualifying on Saturday, Iannone was able to set a new Mugello Circuit Best Lap record of 1’46.489, beating the old record by over half a second.
There is more to Mugello than just MotoGP. Being so large and so fast, the track makes for great racing in all classes, though each with a decidedly different character. While the MotoGP race saw one rider escape and a tense game of cat-and-mouse behind, the Moto2 race was a game of chess with riders gaining and losing over twenty-one laps, and the Moto3 race turned into a spectacular battle, with the outcome uncertain to the end.
The first race of the day was probably the best. Polesitter Danny Kent had made his intentions clear, trying to make an early break and grind out laps which were simply too fast for the rest to follow. That worked at Austin and Argentina, where he could hold his advantage down the long, fast straights, but not at Mugello. The fast exit of Bucine means that a group always has an advantage, the lightweight Moto3 bikes slingshotting out of each other's slipstreams to hit speeds which would otherwise be impossible. At other tracks, a gap of half a second is sufficient to keep ahead in Moto3. At Mugello, you can lose that and much more down the fiercely fast straight.
Kent abandoned his attempt to make a break almost immediately, and switched tactics, dropping to the back of the group, which ebbed and flowed into two groups, then one, containing up to fifteen riders. The lead changed hands more times than there were fans in the stands, a new rider taking over every corner almost. Being Mugello, the front was replete with Italian riders. Romano Fenati, sporting a rather stunning special livery for his home round, Niccolo Antonelli, the youngsters Pecco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini, all had their sights set on the podium, and most especially the top step.
On the day after the Italian Grand Prix, the MotoGP riders were back testing at Mugello. This time, however, it was only the factory riders who remained, to give the Michelin tires another run out. The last time they took to the track on the Michelins was at Sepang, and Michelin had brought the latest iteration of their tires to test.
Due to the commercial sensitivities involved, there was no official timing, and the riders were not allowed to speak to the media about the test. Unsurprisingly: Bridgestone hold the single tire contract for the 2015 season, having spent a lot of money for the privilege, so they do not want Michelin stealing their PR thunder. Nor do Michelin really want to be subject the intense scrutiny which official timing would impose while they are still in the middle of their development program.
That does not mean that the small band of journalists who stayed at the test did not learn anything, however. Michelin had brought four front tires to the test, and the factory men spent the morning and the early afternoon selecting their favorite from the four. The plan was for the riders to then try that tire in a full race simulation, to see how the tire stood up to a race distance of 23 laps.
That plan was quickly canceled. There had been no falls during the morning and early afternoon, but on the first laps of his long run, Jorge Lorenzo crashed out at Materassi. Once the track was cleared, it was the turn of Marc Márquez to go out, but on the second lap of his run, he too crashed, this time at Arrabbiata 1. With the debris of the Repsol Honda out of the way, Valentino Rossi followed, the Italian falling at Correntaio. At that point, the plan was abandoned.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race at Mugello:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Mugello:
Mugello is always a little magical, but packed to the rafters with delirious fans, it becomes something greater than just a race track. Over 90,000 fans turned up in Tuscany on Sunday, up 20% from last year on the back of the renaissance of Valentino Rossi and of Ducati, complete with two Italian riders. Something special was always going to happen here.
It certainly did, but perhaps not in the way the fans had hoped. Valentino Rossi did not score the dream victory in front of the ecstatic yellow hordes which packed the hillsides, nor did Ducati finally get the elusive win they have been chasing since 2010. But the MotoGP was packed with excitement and incident, the Moto3 race was a typical Mugello classic, and even Moto2 had some tension down to the final lap. Those who came got their money's worth.
The MotoGP race may have ended much as you might have predicted based on pace in practice, but the journey to Jorge Lorenzo’s third utterly dominant win in a row was a lot more intriguing than the results suggest, with drama right from the start. Literally: Andrea Iannone made what looked at first glance like a jump start – though not as blatant as Karel Abraham's – and Marc Márquez threaded the needle from thirteenth on the grid to make up seven places before the exit of the first corner. And did so surgically and cleanly.
But first that Iannone start. So convinced that the Italian had jumped the gun were HRC that they sent someone up to Race Direction to complain that they were not doing their job. Race Director Mike Webb was able to show them that they were doing just that, by going through the footage. He explained to me the process: there are high-speed cameras on each row and on the lights, capturing the start at a rate of several hundred frames a second. After the start, a dedicated official responsible for all of the video reviews goes over the starts, and checks for a jump start. If one is spotted, such as Karel Abraham's lurch forward, then a penalty is issued. That must be done within the first four laps, to make it fairer on the offender.