Alex Marquez

Motorland Aragon Moto2 Test Sees Triumph Make Debut, Folger Make Temporary Return

Two days after the Barcelona round of MotoGP had completed, some of the Moto2 riders were back testing again. At the Motorland Aragon circuit, a number of Moto2 teams gathered for a private test. Alongside them, the Moto2 chassis manufacturers were there for the first roll out of their 2019 chassis, housing the Triumph 765 Moto2 engine and Magneti Marelli electronics.

Three of the current Moto2 chassis manufacturers were there with their test riders. KTM had Julian Simon and Ricky Cardus, NTS had Alex De Angelis, and Kalex had official test rider Jesko Raffin, and to some surprise, Jonas Folger, who withdrew from the Monster Tech3 Yamaha MotoGP team at the start of this year.

The test was important for the manufacturers, as it was not just a chance to try their chassis with the Triumph engines, but also to test them with the Magneti Marelli electronics. The spec Magneti Marelli electronics package is significantly more sophisticated than Superstock package used with the Honda CBR600RR engines currently being used.

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The Comprehensive Silly Season Update: Mugello Madness Sees Lorenzo Go Repsol, Petrucci To Ducati, And More

Secrets are hard to keep in the MotoGP paddock. When it comes to contracts, usually someone around a rider or team has let something slip to a friendly journalist – more often than not, the manager of another rider who was hoping to get a particular seat, but lost out. It is not often that real bombshells drop in MotoGP.

So the report by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that Repsol Honda were in talks to sign Jorge Lorenzo came as a huge shock. The assumptions which almost everyone in the paddock had been making – that Lorenzo would be riding a full factory Yamaha M1 in a Petronas-funded satellite team operated by the Sepang International circuit – turned out to have been nothing more than a useful smokescreen. Instead, Lorenzo has signed a two-year deal with HRC to partner Marc Márquez. The announcement was originally due at Barcelona, but the publication by La Gazzetta forced Honda to make a hasty and brief announcement..

The Petronas rumors had plenty of fire to provide the smoke. In an interview with Crash.net, Sepang International Circuit CEO Dato' Razlan Razali openly discussed the possibility of running Yamahas with Lorenzo and Franco Morbidelli. Everyone I spoke to – including other team managers, rider managers, riders, journalists – believed that Jorge Lorenzo would be riding a Yamaha in 2019.

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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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Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

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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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2017 Silverstone Sunday Round Up: A New Kind Of Alien

If there is one thing that makes real life much more interesting than fiction, it is that real life is no respecter of plausible plot lines. If you were to take a script of the 2017 MotoGP season so far to a movie producer or a fiction publisher, they would reject it 30 seconds into your pitch. It is all a little too implausible.

Five riders battling for the championship after 12 rounds? Never happens. A championship leader with a record low number of points? A ridiculous notion. Riders winning races one weekend, then struggling to make the top five, or even top ten the next? A horribly transparent plot device to create tension. Championship leaders conveniently crashing, struggling with tires, or suffering bike problems? A little too convenient to be credible.

How about the supposedly colorless second rider in a team suddenly blossoming into a championship contender? The most trite of clichés, like the mousy librarian who transforms into a babe once she takes her glasses off. The struggle of a rider swapping bikes to become competitive, making up and down progress, and a big step forward when handed a technological MacGuffin? So blatant it's obscene. No professional writer of fiction would stoop to such depths.

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2017 Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Who Will Survive The Bumps?

Is it going to be Argentina or Austin on Sunday at Silverstone? Two of the bumpiest circuits of the first half of the season had very different outcomes. At the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit, Marc Márquez took off like a scalded cat to try to take the win, and claw back the valuable points from Maverick Viñales he had handed him at Qatar. In undulating Austin, Márquez rode his usual imperious race to take victory, while it was Viñales' turn to make a silly mistake.

The perils of a American bumps were rather bike-specific. It wasn't just Marc Márquez who crashed out of the lead in Argentina, Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa managed the same feat. Cal Crutchlow rode cautiously to finish third, while there were four Yamahas in the top six. At Austin, Márquez won, Pedrosa finished third, Crutchlow fourth. Valentino Rossi's charge came too late, and he finished well behind Márquez. A year earlier, it had been Rossi making a silly mistake in Texas, and slipping off.

So how does Silverstone compare to the two American tracks (North and South)? In Austin, the bumps were on corner exit, Maverick Viñales explained, whereas at Silverstone, the bumps are on corner entry. "So it seems more difficult to ride," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. In Argentina, it wasn't so much bumps as massive undulations which were causing the problems.

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An Unexpected MotoGP Silly Season - Who Goes Where In 2018?

With all twelve factory riders on two-year contracts, there wasn't supposed to be a MotoGP Silly Season in 2017, or at least, not much of one. That impression was further reinforced when the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad quickly tied up both Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger for an extra year, until the end of 2018.

As usual, reality intervened, of course. Though the factory seats were supposedly taken, there was plenty of interest in the satellite seats once the season got underway. All eyes turned to the Moto2 class, and especially to the remarkable performances by Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia. Alex Márquez, too, raised eyebrows. And so speculation started.

Then there were those factory seats. Yes, all twelve factory riders have two-year contracts, but all contracts have clauses that allow for either side to make an early escape. Great managers make sure the escape clause benefits their rider. Great factory lawyers make sure the contract is in their favor. The measure of a rider manager is where they end up on that side of the equation.

Trouble in paradise?

And so already, there are rumblings at two factories. The stories of Andrea Iannone and Sam Lowes are very different, but possibly related. It is an open secret that both riders have fallen far short of expectations. Iannone has struggled to get his head around the way the Suzuki needs to be ridden, especially the way braking needs to be done. The bike is built to carry corner speed, which means braking as hard as possible in a straight line, then releasing the brakes and carrying corner speed. On the Ducati, Iannone learned to brake later, and keep the brakes on into the corner all the way to the apex. His failure to adapt has seen a string of poor results and growing frustration.

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2017 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: An Age Of Champions

It sucks being the best rider in the world. Just as you believe you have everything under control and can dominate your rivals, along comes some jumped up kid with ideas above his station, determined to administer a king-sized kicking to your behind. That kid has answers to all the tricks you learned to use to beat your rivals, and now you have to reinvent yourself, push harder than you wanted just to stay in the game.

Back in 1998, for example, a cocky Italian swaggered into the 500cc class and threatened the supremacy of Mick Doohan. Doohan finished Max Biaggi off at the end of that year, but he had to dig deep. After Doohan retired, another cocky Italian took his place to rough Biaggi up, just as the Roman Emperor thought he owned the premier class. After a string of titles, Valentino Rossi, the cocky Italian in question, found himself facing a couple of rookies giving him real trouble. Casey Stoner beat him at the second time of asking in 2007, then Jorge Lorenzo took the fight to him inside Rossi's own team, getting the better of him in 2010.

Just as Lorenzo was settling in to take what he considered as his rightful place atop the MotoGP pile, along came a cheeky-faced Spanish youngster on a record-breaking spree, winning his second race and the title at his first attempt. After winning two titles in a row, then an impressive third last year, Marc Márquez suddenly finds himself grappling with an improbably fast Yamaha rider with steel in his soul and the name of a warrior (albeit a fictional one). And in addition to Maverick Viñales, Márquez has to contend with Johann Zarco, who has sprung from Moto2 like a jack-in-the-box, scaring the living daylights out of the regulars.

This is the circle of racing. Every racing series is in a state of permanent revolution, where the newcomers dream up new ways of usurping the established riders, and the old guard have to adapt or die. The moment you get comfortable is the moment your era has passed. The ultimate reward for being top dog is to ride around with a massive target on your back.

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