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2018 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: Crashes Shape The Championship, Yamaha's Woes, Ducati's Decision, And Moto3 Madness

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking. In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways. In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa's brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden's championship challenge was over. Valentino Rossi's heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time. Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia. The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship. And Sunday's drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn't finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

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2017 Motegi Race Round Up: Battle Of The Titans

Motegi was tempestuous, in every sense of the word. It was as if the elements were conspiring to become a metaphor for the 2017 MotoGP season. The weather is always a factor in an outdoor sport such as motorcycle racing, and in Japan, the elements threw almost everything they had at MotoGP, the cold and the rain leaving standing water all around the track, throwing yet another spanner into the works.

The teams had seen almost every variation of wet conditions during practice, from soaking wet to a dry line forming, so they at least had an idea of what to expect. What they feared was that each rider, each team had their own Goldilocks zone, the precise amount of water on the track in which their bike worked best. For one rider, too little water meant they would eat up their tires, whereas for another, a track that was merely damp was just right. For one rider, too much water meant not being able to get enough heat into the tires to get them to work and provide grip. For another, a lot of water meant they could keep the temperature in their tires just right, and really harness the available traction.

One man seemed immune to this Goldilocks trap. Whatever the weather, however much water there was on the track, Marc Márquez was there or thereabouts. He was quick in the wet, he was quick in the merely damp. So confident was he at Motegi that he even gambled on slicks for his second run in qualifying, which meant he missed out on pole and had to start from third. But would it make any difference? Would anyone be able to stop Marc Márquez from taking another step towards the championship?

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Interview: Aspar's Gino Borsoi On Creating A Pathway To MotoGP For Young Talent

The world of motorcycle racing is undergoing a major change behind the scenes. Increasingly, teams are working on creating a path for bringing on young and talented riders. Where once individual teams would merely scour the classes below the one they competed in for talent, and engage in bidding wars for the most promising riders, now, they take a very different tack. Talent scouting starts at the very lowest level, and a path created all the way from Pre-Moto3 to MotoGP.

One of the first examples of teams creating such a pathway came about when Marc VDS teamed up with Monlau for the 2015 season. Monlau had an existing racing structure in Spain, reaching down to regional championships, as well as a technical academy for budding race engineers. Marc VDS had a successful Moto2 team which could take over from the Monlau operation, and a newly created MotoGP operation. Suddenly, the team had a complete package they could offer riders, with sponsorship and consistent support starting in Pre-Moto3 and carrying on through the FIM CEV, Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. All with the backing of Spanish beer giant Estrella Galicia.

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Valencia Moto2 & Moto3 Test - Rain Stops Play As Bagnaia, Antonelli Fastest

Rain has been a factor at both the Moto2 test at Valencia and the World Superbike test in Jerez on Tuesday. In Jerez, the track dried up as the day went on, while at Valencia, the weather got worse as the day went on. It started cold and wet, and that was enough to persuade most teams to pack up and go home.

A few riders did ride on Tuesday, however. The Moto2 rookies dominated the timesheets, as riders who had the most to learn in the wet. Pecco Bagnaia was the fastest Moto2 rider in the wet, ending just ahead of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM. Fabio Quartararo took third spot on the Pons Kalex, while Remy Gardner was fourth fastest on the Tech 3 bike.

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