Press releases from the factories and teams after the first MotoGP test of 2019 at Sepang:
For fans of technological innovation, the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test had been something of a disappointment. There were very few clearly visible upgrades to the bikes on display on Wednesday, teams using the first day to get themselves accustomed, and focus on checking the engine choices made back at the November tests. There were one or two things going on, but they weren't obviously visible to casual fans.
Thursday was a much better day for MotoGP tech nerds. New parts started to appear, as factories started working their way through the list of parts they have prepared for the 2019 season. Suzuki debuted a new fairing, with a more Yamaha-like aero package, with wider wing surfaces and a slimmer side section.
Alex Rins was positive about the new fairing. "It gave me more support on the front, less wheelie, which is important for the speed. We are faster on the straight because of the fairing – it’s more aerodynamic. The front wheel is more on the floor." That was borne out by his lap times, the Spaniard finishing with the second fastest time of the day, and the second highest number of laps in 1'59, including a run of four in a row. This was pace, rather than just a single quick lap.
Hitting the holeshot
All eyes were on Ducati, however, as a mystery lever appeared on the top of the Desmosedici GP19's (and only the GP19) top triple clamp:
The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of MotoMatters.com Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Suzuki's MotoGP program, Shinichi Sahara, Ken Kawauchi, and Daijiro Mashita. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett
Team SUZUKI ECSTAR started the 2018 season as a Concession team. Thanks to Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins’ hard efforts, Suzuki managed to score three successive podiums from Round 2 to Round 4. At Aragon, Round 14 of the championship, they finally accumulated 6 concession points in total, which lost them their concession status and restored them to the normal MotoGP rules for 2019 alongside their competitors. At the end of December, we visited their headquarters Hamamatsu to interview Suzuki’s MotoGP Project Leader Shinichi Sahara, Technical Manager Ken Kawauchi, and their engine design team leader Daijiro Mashita. They gave us a lot of interesting answers and honestly revealed their resolutions for the forthcoming 2019 season.
Q: You started the 2018 season in good shape, taking three successive podiums in Argentina, COTA, and Jerez. Were these results just as you expected?
Kawauchi: Even though we had good results in these races, I had to say we weren't confident we could achieve it, to be honest. In fact, we were fortunate to take third place at Jerez, but it was a result of the crash by other riders. So, we recognized we had to improve ourselves to be more competitive.
Q: Concession teams can update their engines during the season. Did you update your engine and other parts from the beginning of the year?
Suzuki and Yamaha have struggled to keep up with Ducati and Honda in recent years, so what are their chances for 2019?
Inline-four MotoGP bikes have won two of the last 30 MotoGP races. That’s why some outsiders predict the end of the line for them.
But if you’ve been paying attention you will know that Ducati’s V4 and Honda’s V4 dominate MotoGP for reasons other than engine configuration. Both layouts have their good and bad points; end of story.
Honda RC213V steering damper
David Emmett: Honda have switched the location of their steering damper to above the tank. It's a conventional damper (the rules say electronic control of the steering damper is not allowed), but it has been relocated because of the change to the air intake, which now goes straight through the steering head.
Joan Mir’s Suzuki GSX-RR
David Emmett: This is the 2018 version of the chassis. The later version doesn't have the carbon sections glued to the upper part of the frame. Suzuki staff said that working with the carbon sections had allowed them to work on varying stiffness, and they weren't needed any longer.
You would think that after writing about what I got wrong in my predictions last year, I would not be so foolish as to try to make predictions again for the 2019 season. As it turns out, I am that foolish, so here is a list of things I expect to happen in the coming year.
2019 certainly looks very promising for world championship motorcycle racing, in just about every class in both MotoGP and WorldSBK. A range of changes mean the racing should be closer and more competitive. Cutting the MotoGP grid from 24 to 22 bikes, and having the Petronas Yamaha team replace the underfunded Aspar squad, means there are more competitive bikes on the grid.
Ducati will field only GP19s and GP18s, and the GP18 is a much better machine than the GP17. Honda will field three 2019 RC213Vs, and a 2018 bike for Takaaki Nakagami, and the fact that Nakagami was fastest at the Jerez MotoGP test last November suggests that it, too, is good enough to run at the front. Yamaha, likewise, will field three factory-spec bikes, with only rookie Fabio Quartararo on a 2018-spec machine. Suzuki made big steps forward in 2018, and have a more powerful bike for 2019.
It's not just in MotoGP either. In Moto2, the new Triumph engine will change the way riders have to ride the bike, and the introduction of electronics – very limited, but still with more than the old Honda ECU kit had to offer – will give teams more options. Ducati's introduction of the Panigale V4R will make the WorldSBK series a good deal more competitive. And the cream of last year's Moto3 crop moving up to Moto2, to make way for an influx of young talent, will make both classes fascinating and exciting to watch.
So what can we expect from 2019? Here are a few concrete predictions:
1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
And the winner is... Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider's name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time. The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda. It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow's bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.
But it also doesn't really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don't necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend. Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.