Phillip Island, Australia
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.
Rossi needs 'stuff' to happen
Cue the Jaws theme tune, because Jorge Lorenzo is coming to get Valentino Rossi. The Spaniard took a nine-point chunk out of Rossi’s championship lead at Aragon, at which rate he will lead the championship at Phillip Island, with all to play for in the final two races at Sepang and Valencia.
Rossi always knew this moment was coming; indeed he’s been there before. Way back in June 2009 he likened Lorenzo and Casey Stoner to sharks, circling around him in the water, ready for the kill.
“They look at me with some blood flowing and they think, ‘Okay, now is the time’,” he said. “If I am not strong, they will eat me in one bite.”
Six and a bit seasons later he is in exactly the same position. So what will it take to repulse Lorenzo’s latest attack?
Things appear to be looking up for Forward Racing. After a very dark period when the future of the team was in danger, following the arrest of team owner Giovanni Cuzari, the team is moving on to a slightly more stable footing. Earlier this week, they announced that former Moto2 champion Toni Elias is to ride for the team for the last five races of the 2015 season. Elias will be replacing Claudio Corti, who has stood in for Stefan Bradl after the German departed for Aprilia.
Though the press release makes no mention of it, it seems likely that the signing of Elias will help strengthen the financial basis of the team. Speaking to MotoMatters.com and MCN at Misano, team boss Cuzari said that "95%" of the team's sponsors had returned after he had explained that the corruption charges against him were to be dropped. Cuzari also expressed optimism at being back in MotoGP for 2016. Though the team is too late to secure the use of Yamahas for next season, Cuzari was confident of obtaining alternative equipment, mentioning talks with both Ducati and Aprilia for the supply of bikes. All that depends on the view of Dorna, however. The fate of the team lies in the hands of senior Dorna management, who must make a decision on whether to allow Forward Racing to race in MotoGP again in 2016. A decision is expected before Aragon.
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.
Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi head into Silverstone tied on points, with Lorenzo only leading because he has more wins to his name this season than his teammate. With the race that close, who does the season favor? Who will emerge victorious at the end? It is far too early to make any firm predictions, but perhaps we can guess from looking at last year.
There are seven races left in 2015, and the seven left this season are the exact same races in the exact same order as the last seven of 2014. That parallel invites comparisons, and the drawing of conclusions, though such conclusions are tenuous at best. However, there are tracks which favor Rossi, and tracks which favor Lorenzo, and their performance there may yet be indicative of the final outcome.
First, the numbers. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo currently have 211 points after the first 11 races. With seven races left, there are a grand total of 175 points still up for grabs. Though neither rider is likely to run the board – they are too evenly matched for that – a look back at their performances last year can be instructive.
In the last seven races of 2014, Rossi won two, at Misano and Phillip Island, and Lorenzo won two, at Aragon and Motegi. Lorenzo took three second places, while Rossi ended in second just twice. Rossi ended in third two times, Lorenzo just a single time, and both riders scored a blank due to poor weather. Rossi crashed at Aragon on a damp track, while Lorenzo retired after a tire change at Valencia in half-wet, half-dry conditions.
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.
With just days to go until MotoGP hits the second half of the season, now is a good time to start asking the question who is in the hot seat for the 2015 MotoGP championship. Valentino Rossi leads the title chase by 13 points, but his lead is due more to his terrifying consistency than racking up win after win. Jorge Lorenzo had a seemingly invincible run from Jerez to Barcelona, but has also finished well off the podium. Andrea Iannone has been brilliantly consistent, but has not looked capable of winning, which is a prerequisite for a MotoGP title. Marc Márquez struggled in the first part of the season, but a new swing arm and a return to the 2014 chassis has taken the edge off the worst characteristics of the RC213V. Dani Pedrosa, meanwhile, missed too much of the first part of the season to be a factor.
Will Valentino Rossi pull off his his eighth MotoGP title, and his tenth title overall? Will Jorge Lorenzo become the first Spaniard to win three MotoGP titles? Or will Marc Márquez pull a rabbit out of the hat and take his third championship in a row? Let us run through the options and weigh the probabilities.
Four rounds into the World Superbike season and the contours of the 2015 championship are starting to become clear. Some of the things we expected to happen have unfolded much as predicted, but there have also been a fair few surprises. Time to take a quick look at the state of World Superbikes so far.
New technical regulations have been put in place aimed at reducing cost and leveling the playing field somewhat. Their effect so far? Despite the protestations of the Kawasaki and Aprilia riders, all of whom have been complaining of a loss of horsepower, neither top speed nor overall lap times appear to have been affected much. Taking Tom Sykes as perhaps the best example, as he was on the Kawasaki ZX-10R both this year and last, his lap times were half a second slower at Phillip Island, half a second quicker at Assen, the only two tracks at which it is possible to compare. Chaz Davies on the Ducati Panigale was a second quicker at Assen, and eight tenths quicker in race one at Phillip Island, but in race two lapped just as fast in 2015 as he did in 2014. Overall, the Phillip Island track was a little slower in 2015, while conditions at Assen were definitely improved this year over last. The jury is still out on the new rules, but there are definite rumblings audible from the jury room.
Perhaps the biggest effect of the new rules is on the expectations of riders. The Kawasaki is among the most affected of the WSBK bikes by the new rules, with claims that the ZX-10R has between ten and twenty fewer horses than it had in 2014. That has had a bigger impact on Tom Sykes than on his new teammate, Jonathan Rea, Sykes struggling while Rea has come in and cleaned up. Sykes finds himself with a bike that is down on power to what he is used to, a development which is not good for a positive mindset. Rea has come off a bike which he knew to be incapable of winning a championship, and hopped onto one which has been proven capable of doing just that. It's easy to go fast when what you have is better than what you had, and you see opportunity looming.
Bridgestone have added two new tires to their 2015 allocation, in response to developments in 2014. A new extra-hard rear will be made available at a few of the more abrasive circuits on the calendar, while the asymmetric front, debuted at Phillip Island last year, will also be available at more tracks.
Two new tires means two new color codings, to distinguish them from the existing allocation of tires. The extra hard rear will carry a yellow stripe around the side, while the asymmetric front will be indentifiable by a light blue band on the sidewall. The existing color codings for the remainder of the tires remain unchanged, as shown in the tire chart and table below.
It has been a busy week for racing, with the World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island followed by the MotoGP test at Sepang, including the extra day of testing on Michelins. There has been a lot of news, but between MotoMatters.com's star WSBK reporter Jared Earle and I, we got most of it covered, with an extra bonus of photos from top Australian shooter Andrew Gosling.
But there have been one or two things we may have missed, so here's our weekly round up of racing news.
Scratching the itch: Young Gun vs Old Master
There were a lot of happy faces at the Australian round of World Superbikes. Troy Bayliss, three-time World Superbike champion and arguably, WSBK's last superstar, made a return to the series, replacing the injured Davide Giugliano on the Aruba.it Ducati Panigale. The replacement was at very short notice, Giugliano having crashed during the test which preceded the opening round and fractured a couple of vertebrae.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the thrilling opening races at Phillip Island:
Rain was showing south of the track, but luckily it didn't get close to the track and left the riders to get on with twenty two more laps of close racing.
Eighteen uninterrupted laps under light cloud cover offering excellent conditions for racing.