Andrea Iannone

MotoGP Silly Season Update: KTM Confirms Line Up, Stalemate At Ducati

KTM sporting director Pit Beirer (left) and Danilo Petrucci

That Danilo Petrucci was heading to KTM was an open secret, after the Italian and his manager, Alberto Vergani, visited the Austrian factory's race department in Mattighofen. That he would not be replacing Pol Espargaro in the factory Red Bull KTM team is a huge surprise. Instead, Petrucci is to switch to the Tech3 satellite team, and take the place of Miguel Oliveira, who is to be moved up to the factory squad.

According to Italian media, the reasons Petrucci is headed to the Tech3 team are twofold: firstly, as the KTM press release makes clear, because all four KTM RC16s will be full-factory spec, and with full factory support. And secondly, because Brad Binder had a clause in his contract stating he would be in the factory team in his second year.

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MotoGP Silly Season Update: KTM's Actions Speak Louder Than Words, And Why Andrea Dovizioso Stays At Ducati

Danilo Petrucci enters Parc Ferme after winning the 2019 Mugello MotoGP race - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

Though racing has stopped, necessity is forcing teams and factories into making choices. With almost everyone in MotoGP out of contract at the end of 2020, and only a few riders already signed up, seats have to be filled for next year and beyond, racing or no racing.

After the early spate of more or less expected signings, the latest round of deals are more of a surprise. None more than the expected deal for Pol Espargaro to join Repsol Honda in 2021, displacing Alex Márquez as brother Marc's teammate before the younger Márquez has had a chance to prove his worth. That, as I wrote previously, will inevitably lead to a parting of the ways between Marc Márquez and HRC, I believe.

It has been two weeks since news of that deal emerged, and yet there is still no confirmation. Despite protestations to the opposite, the deal is very much on. But there is something of a hiccup along the way, in the form of a contractual stipulation that forbids Espargaro from discussing a deal with another factory before September 15th. No announcement will be made before then.

Actions speak louder than words

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Aleix Espargaro Interview, Part 2: On Doping, Teammates, Strategies For A Shortened Season, And 2021

In the first part of the interview with Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia Gresini rider talked about life and training in Andorra, finally getting back on a motorcycle in Andorra and at Barcelona, the plans for testing, and the financial impact of the pandemic for him and his sponsors.

In the second part, the eldest of the two racing Espargaro brothers talks about what happened to teammate Andrea Iannone, and who might replace the Italian at Aprilia, about rumors of brother Pol leaving KTM to head to Repsol, and about the strategy for coping with a short season featuring a lot of back-to-back races. Finally, Aleix Espargaro talks about how much he is looking forward to 2021, even more than 2020.

Q: You actually don't know who is going to be your teammate, either this season or next season. It's a very awkward situation.

AE: The situation for Aprilia right now is not easy, not easy at all. Andrea Iannone is a very, very fast rider, everybody knows that, but his future doesn't look very bright because now WADA are pushing even more [WADA has appealed the reduction of Iannone's ban by the FIM CDI]. So the situation for Massimo Rivola, for Aprilia is not easy. I would say that almost all top riders have already decided about their future; to take a talented guy coming from Moto2 would not be easy for the first year; to take an old guy from MotoGP with experience but with a better bike, it's not going to be easy. The situation is very difficult.

Q: Did you talk with Iannone?

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WADA Appeals Iannone Doping Ban, Demands CAS Reinstate Four-Year Ban

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has finally announced that they will be hearing the appeal of Andrea Iannone against his doping ban of 18 months, imposed by the FIM International Disciplinary Court at the end of March. However, in a surprise move, the CAS also announced they will be hearing an appeal against the leniency of the ban from WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, who want the full four-year ban reinstated.

At the heart of the case is the doping test Andrea Iannone failed after the race in Sepang, in November 2019. Traces of drostanolone, a banned anabolic-androgenic steroid, used mainly for weight loss, was found in that urine sample. As a non-specified substance, drostanolone use carries an automatic four-year ban under the WADA code, which the FIM signs up to and incorporates.

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A Doping Expert Explains Why Andrea Iannone's Suspension Was 18 Months

On April 1st, the FIM International Disciplinary Court (CDI) finally issued its judgment on Andrea Iannone's appeal against his suspension for doping. The Italian was handed a ban of 18 months, during which he is not allowed to participate in any events sanctioned by any organization subject to the WADA doping regulations. That includes events organized by the FIM or any national and regional motorcycling federations.

The length of Iannone's suspension was a significant reduction from the ban specified by the rules. Under normal circumstances, failing a doping test for drostanolone, a so-called non-specific substance (because it is not on a list of substances for which there is an alternative explanation), would result in a four-year ban.

Although the CDI did not comment on the case beyond the official press release announcing the 18-month suspension, Aprilia and the lawyer for Andrea Iannone claimed that the court had accepted the Italian's claim that he had ingested the substance accidentally, when he ate some contaminated meat.

Iannone's camp were still unhappy with the length of the ban, which would see him unable to race until 17th June 2021, and would appeal to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Italian has until 21st April, tomorrow, to file an appeal.

What are the chances that Iannone will prevail at the CAS? Doping cases are complex and highly technical, and difficult for laypeople to follow and understand. This is complicated further by the fact that the WADA rules are not like a normal legal system: any athlete accused of a doping infringement is assumed to be guilty, and must prove their innocence.

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FIM President Jorge Viegas On Iannone Doping Ban: "Everything Will Be Published After The CAS"

Since the announcement on Wednesday that Andrea Iannone's suspension for violating the FIM doping code had been reduced to 18 months, there have been questions surrounding the verdict. In interviews and press releases, Iannone himself, his lawyer, and Aprilia had all contended that he had been found innocent of intentionally ingesting drostanolone, a banned exogenous anabolic androgenic steroid. The International Disciplinary court of the FIM, the CDI, had accepted Iannone's claim that he had accidentally ingested the substance by eating contaminated meat, Iannone and his entourage told the media.

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Andrea Iannone Handed 18-Month Doping Ban By FIM CDI, Will Appeal To The CAS

The International Disciplinary Court of the FIM has reached a decision at last. Andrea Iannone has been found guilty of having a banned substance in his bloodstream, and suspended from competition for 18 months. The ban is backdated to December 17th, 2019, meaning that Iannone will be eligible to compete from the 16th June 2021.

The ban of 18 months is a reduction from the maximum allowed by the rules of 4 years, and an acknowledgement that Iannone did not ingest the banned substance - anabolic steroid drostanolone - with intent. According to a press release from Aprilia the court accepted that drostanolone ended up in Iannone's urine sample due to food contamination.

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What Does The Delayed Start To The 2020 MotoGP Season Mean To The Factories?

On Sunday, at 6pm, the desert night will erupt in a cacophony of sound, as Grand Prix motorcycle racing gets underway for the start of the 2020 season. But it won't be the vicious bellow of MotoGP machines which will shatter the desert silence; instead, the more modest howl (118 dB compared to 130 dB of the MotoGP bikes) of the Triumph triple-engined Moto2 machines will scream away from the lights and around the floodlit track.

It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. The Moto2 machines were supposed to race an hour and forty minutes earlier, their original start time planned for 4:20pm local time. Now, it will be the Moto3 riders starting their race at that time, and not the 3pm slot originally scheduled. The MotoGP machines will be sitting in packing crates, waiting to be shipped to the next race.

As I write this, it is not entirely clear where that will be. It might be Austin, Texas, unless the US authorities impose further restrictions. It might be Termas De Rio Honda, in Argentina, unless the Argentinian government changes its mind about allowing entry from Italy, or Japan, or anywhere else. It might even be Jerez, if international air travel is subject to sudden and extreme restrictions.

Evolution

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Qatar MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: Assessing All Six Factories After Qatar

So testing is done and dusted – at Qatar, quite literally, once the wind picks up – and the pile of parts each factory brought has been sifted through, approved, or discarded. The factories are as ready as they are ever going to be for the first race in Qatar, at which point the real work starts. Testing will only tell you so much; it is only in the race that the last, most crucial bits of data are revealed: how bikes behave in the slipstream; how aggressive racing lines treat tires in comparison to fast qualifying and testing lines; whether all those fancy new holeshot devices will help anyone to get into the Turn 1 ahead of the pack. Only during the race do factories and riders find out whether the strategy they have chosen to pursue will actually work.

Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test

So after three days of the Qatar test, what have we learned? In these notes:

Honda, from catastrophe to optimism courtesy of old bodywork

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Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: A Fast Yamaha, Ducati's Holeshot Squatter, And Aprilia Aggro

If there is one thing that we learned from the Sepang test, it is that the field is even closer this year. In Malaysia, 18 riders finished within a second of one another. That pattern has continued at Qatar, Pol Espargaro in fourteenth just 0.987 second behind the fastest man, Alex Rins. As comparison, the KTM rider was the last rider within a second of the fastest man after the first day of this test in 2019, but then, there were just eight riders ahead of him, rather than thirteen. And there was a gap of nearly four tenths of a second between the riders in second and third last year. Not so in 2020.

But if the single lap times were close, the race pace was a lot less so. Maverick Viñales towered over the rest in terms of consistent pace, with only the Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir getting anywhere near the pace of the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. Viñales laid down a real benchmark, with ten of his 47 laps in the 1'54s, which is under the race lap record. That included a run of ten laps, seven of which were 1'54s, five of which were consecutive. That is a rather terrifying race pace for the Spaniard to lay down, just two weeks ahead of the first race.

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