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Why There Are No Quick Fixes To MotoGP's Dearth Of Overtaking

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will have heard the criticism of MotoGP. Though the field is close, it has become harder and harder to overtake the riders in front. The Le Mans race was a case in point: the 27-lap race featured only a handful of overtakes, most of which were made possible only by a mistake by the rider ahead.

The problem was brought into stark relief by last weekend's WorldSBK races at Estoril. Alvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea, and Toprak Razgatlioglu put on a dazzling display of passing in all three races on Saturday and Sunday, finding ways to jam their bikes ahead of each other into the first corner, the fourth corner, the Parabolica Interior, and the tight, awkward uphill chicane. They produced three glorious races.

The spectacle of Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista knocking spots off one another reinforced that the problem is indeed down to the technological point at which MotoGP finds itself. With limited aerodynamics and no ride-height devices, the WorldSBK trio found no problem diving out of the slipstream and outbraking each other.

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Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Qualifying Surprises, Evaluating Aleix, And Retiring Numbers

The MotoGP riders are hoping that Le Mans doesn't turn into another Portimão. In Portugal, they spent two days perfecting their wet setup, only to find themselves racing in the dry with next to no time on a dry track, outside of morning warm up. At Le Mans, it could well be the opposite. Two days of practice in near-perfect conditions, only for the race to be held in the rain. Or not, the forecast changes every time you look at it.

The weather isn't the only thing capable of surprising. All through FP3 and FP4, a very clear pattern emerged. The reigning world champion had come to his home grand prix with a plan, and vengeance in his heart. Still smarting from finishing second in Jerez, Fabio Quartararo is intent on stamping his authority on the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The Frenchman's rhythm in free practice was fearsome. 1'31.7s with used tires in FP3, 1'31.6s with used tires in FP4. Not single laps either, but effortlessly stringing together runs of lap after lap. The only riders who came close to that kind of pace were Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro, but they didn't have the consistency which Quartararo was displaying.

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Jerez Test: Close Up Photos Of Yamaha's Swingarm And Fender, Honda's Exhausts, And Ducati's Ride-Height Devices

The Monday after Jerez was the first chance that the teams and factories got to work on their bikes since the entire design was homologated ahead of the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Given the oft-discussed weird start to the 2022 season, where the teams never seemed to have more than 5 minutes of normal or consistent conditions, having a whole day with a dry track allowed everyone some badly-needed time to work on some very basic stuff.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The weather was significantly cooler than it had been on Sunday, and the wind picked up considerably. There was also a nice thick layer of Michelin rubber, laid down in Sunday's race, the with the MotoE class, also Michelin-shod, adding yet more to the track surface. If anyone had hoped to work on low grip conditions, they would have to create them themselves by running very, very old tires.

Starting first with satellite riders – real satellite riders, that is, not the factory-backed riders in junior teams like Pramac – and rookies. When you have no new parts to test, then what you work on is setup, and especially the kind of setup changes that you don't have time to try during a race weekend.

Setup first

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Cursed Calendar, Damp Crashes, Honda's Testing Program, And Silly Season Kicks Off

I am starting to suspect that the 2022 MotoGP season might be cursed. The Sepang test happened, and was relatively incident free, but it's all been downhill from there. The track coming apart at the Mandalika test, an almost normal Qatar, the track coming apart at the Mandalika race, freight problems in Argentina, an almost normal Austin (or as normal as Austin can be, the same going for Qatar), and then rained out practice at Portimão.

So we arrived in Jerez with the weather forecast looking promising. Some rain on Thursday night, but all dry for practice and throughout the test. Friday night dawned sunny and bright as promised, but nobody had told the track. Though the surface was mostly dry, a few persistent damp patches remained throughout the day, stubbornly resisting all attempts to remove them. When I left the track at 10:30pm, circuit staff were still out with special blowers trying to dispel the remaining water.

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Portimão MotoGP Thursday Preview: How The Factories Fare At A Fast And Flowing Track

Traditionally, we say that the MotoGP season only starts properly once it reaches European soil. The overseas races which kick off the year are always held in rather unusual circumstances, or unique tracks, and with so little preseason testing, the bikes still have so many bugs and details to iron out before they really start to show what they are capable of.

The start of 2022 has been even less useful than other years. A day and a half of testing in Sepang before the rain came. A new track at Mandalika, which needed a day to clean and then started coming part. The race at Qatar was moved earlier, putting practice into a much hotter part of the day compared to the race. Freight delays to Argentina, which meant that Friday was canceled and two days of practice and qualifying were compressed into the Saturday. And Austin, the nearest thing to normality, remains a strange and unique circuit.

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Why Is MotoGP So Unpredictable? How New Technologies Have Changed The Face Of The Sport

It has been hard to make sense of the start of the 2022 MotoGP season. In the first three races, nine different riders filled the nine podium positions. In Texas, we had our first repeat winner in Enea Bastianini, and Alex Rins repeated his podium from Argentina, while Jack Miller became the tenth rider to stand on the podium in four races.

In one respect, the 2022 season is picking up where 2021 left off. In 2021, MotoGP had eight different winners in 18 races, and 15 different riders on the podium. The 2020 season before it had nine winners and 15 different riders on the podium from just 14 races, the season drastically shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Much of that variation can surely be ascribed to the absence of Marc Marquez as a competitive factor. The eight-time world champion missed all of 2020 and was only really getting up to speed toward the end of 2021. Without Marquez consistently at the front, there was more room for others on the podium.

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The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season: The Slow Burn Starts

Despite the fact that almost the entire MotoGP grid started the year without a contract for 2023 and beyond, it has been extremely quiet on the contract front so far this year. The only new contract announced was the unsurprising news that Pecco Bagnaia is to stay in the factory Ducati team for the next two seasons, with that contract announced between the Mandalika test and the season opener at Qatar.

The general feeling seems to be one of wanting to wait and see. An informal poll of team managers at the Sepang test suggest that they expected to wait until Mugello at the earliest to start thinking about next year. At the moment, it seems likely that major moves will not be made until after the summer break.

But that doesn't mean there won't be any major moves made, however. There are growing rumors of talks having started behind the scenes among several key players. If these talks play out as expected, the grid could see look rather different in 2023.

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Mandalika MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Indonesia Deserves Better, Why Confidence Matters, And A Surprising Rookie

As I wrote on Thursday, if there is one nation which deserves a MotoGP race, it is Indonesia. The fact that the President himself turned up for the race, (and actually hung around for the MotoGP race, rather than disappearing once the formalities had been handled) says plenty about the central role which the sport plays in Indonesia.

Indonesia may deserve a MotoGP round, but they deserve better than they got at Mandalika. Despite the fact that we had three races at the track, with three deserving winners, including an Indonesian rider on the front row in Moto3 and the first ever Thai winner of a grand prix, with Somkiat Chantra's victory in Moto2, MotoGP got through the event by the skin of its teeth.

Starting with the crowds. The fans who turned up were fantastic, enthusiastic and clearly reveling in the fact that they had a race in their home country at last. The official attendance figure was 62,923, but to paraphrase a popularly misattributed aphorism, there are lies, damned lies, and official sporting event attendance numbers.

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Mandalika MotoGP Friday Round Up: How Low Grip Helps Yamaha, And Ducati Dropping Their Front Ride-Height Device

We say it pretty much every Friday of a MotoGP weekend: it's hard to draw conclusions from the first day of practice. The first day of practice is usually spent trying out different setups and then assessing which tires are the best compromise between performance and durability for the race, so just glancing at the timesheets doesn't tell you as much as you would like.

The first day of practice at Mandalika is even more complicated to unravel. First, there is the fact that it rained heavily on Friday morning, leaving the track damp at the start before drying out. Then there's the fact that nearly half the track has been resurfaced, the work finished not long before MotoGP arrived. Finally, Michelin changed the construction of the rear tire from the one used at the test, in response to the heat at the track, the new surface, and the data from the test.

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Mandalika MotoGP Preview: MotoGP Madness In The Heat Of The Tropics

If there is one country that deserves to have a MotoGP round, it is Indonesia. A country of over 270 million people, all of whom are absolutely mad about the sport. Anyone with a significant presence on Social Media knows about the passion the country has for MotoGP, as a large percentage of their followers will be from there. (In my own case, 12.5% of my 51,800 Twitter followers are from Indonesia, the third largest territory after the UK, 28.5%, and the US 14.4%. A remarkable number, given I am tweeting mainly in English, and not at all in Bahasa Indonesia.)

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