Andrea Iannone

2016 Le Mans MotoGP Preview - Viñales' Indecision, Michelin Rubber, And Yamaha vs Ducati

MotoGP at Le Mans is a weekend filled with anticipation. Anticipation of much-vaunted moves, with fans and media eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future. Anticipation of further negotiations, with the rest of the MotoGP and Moto2 grids eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future, so that they know which seats might be open for them. Anticipation – and for riders such as Scott Redding, trepidation – at the tires, front and rear, which Michelin have brought to Le Mans, and how different (and hopefully better) they will be from the tires which appeared at Austin and Jerez, which caused problems for so many riders. And anticipation of what the notoriously fickle weather will do at Le Mans.

To start with the last question first, the weather actually looks like being utterly glorious all weekend. Not Mugello or Barcelona style heat, but sunny, dry, and warm. Even the morning sessions should be warm, giving the teams a chance to try all of the tires Michelin have brought to Le Mans (three different fronts, three different rears), and make a fair assessment of them. For the first time this year, the weather gods are smiling unequivocally on MotoGP.

From the last question to the first, what of the big announcements expected at Le Mans? For the moment, it looks like everything is on hold. That is Maverick Viñales' fault, as the talented young Spaniard is struggling to make a decision between Yamaha and Suzuki. The Yamaha one-two in Jerez had given him food for thought, he told reporters, but then at the test the next day, he found himself close to the front, and among the fastest on race pace. "This makes me think a lot," the Suzuki rider said. "If we can take everything from the test, we can be there."

Silly Season Madness: Pedrosa or Viñales at Yamaha, Rins, Moto2 and More

It seemed like a foregone conclusion. Since Austin, when it became apparent (if not official) that Jorge Lorenzo was off to Ducati, the idea that Maverick Viñales would take his place went from being likely to seeming almost inevitable. After all, Yamaha already have a seasoned veteran in Valentino Rossi, and as 2015 showed, a rider capable of winning a MotoGP championship when the circumstances are right. What they need is someone who can make an immediate impact, a rider who can perhaps win races, and who they can develop into a world champion. That description has Maverick Viñales all over it.

Until today, that is. On Tuesday, UK publication Motorcycle News reported that the Viñales deal could be called off entirely, after a failure to agree financial terms. Instead, in a shock revelation should it turn out to be correct, MCN is linking Dani Pedrosa to the empty seat at Yamaha, with Viñales remaining at Yamaha.

How much credence should we place in the MCN story? Journalist Simon Patterson is sure of his sources, and the details are in line with what I have heard when speaking to Yamaha sources about Viñales. Paddock gossip suggest that Yamaha offered Viñales €4 million to make the switch to the Movistar Yamaha team, but that the Hamamatsu factory upped their offer to €5 million to keep the rider they regard as their future at Suzuki. Paying over that amount for a rider who is yet to score a single podium in MotoGP may have been a little too much for Yamaha.

2016 Jerez MotoGP Test Round Up: Funny Front Tires, Wings, and a Chance to Test Properly

The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out. There really was a lot to test: not just parts and set up, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the "safety" rear tire introduced after Argentina.

First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm. Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday's race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.

A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use. There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding's rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned. Bradley Smith had described it as "a prototype". The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.

2016 Jerez MotoGP Post-Race Press Releases

Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's race at Jerez:


Rossi Seals Superb Spanish Victory As Lorenzo Scores Second

Race

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP's Valentino Rossi highlighted why he is the most successful rider at Circuito de Jerez today and rode one of the strongest races of his career to receive a standing ovation as he jumped onto the top step of the podium for the Gran Premio de España. Jorge Lorenzo also put in a stunning effort under the Andalusian sunshine and made it a perfect 1-2 for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team.

2016 Jerez Sunday Post-Race Round Up: Of Genius Young and Old, and Tire Trouble

Jerez is an important punctuation mark in almost every Grand Prix season. Whether it kicks off the year, as it did ten or more years ago, or whether it marks the return to Europe after the opening overseas rounds, the racing at Jerez is always memorable and remarkable. Not always necessarily exciting, but always portentous, marking a turning point in the championship.

So it was this year. The MotoGP race saw a shift in momentum, and Valentino Rossi win in a way we haven't seen since 2009. The Moto2 race solidified the positions of the three best riders in the class, and edged winner Sam Lowes towards a role as title favorite. And in Moto3, Brad Binder broke his victory cherry with one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen in any class, let alone Moto3. Put to the back of the grid for an infraction of the software homologation rules, Binder worked his way forward to the leading group by half distance, then left them for dead. It is a race they will be talking about for a long time.

The old switcheroo

First, though, to MotoGP. Valentino Rossi needed a win to get his championship back on track, and he got it in the least Rossi-like way imaginable. The Italian got the holeshot, held off attacks in the opening laps, including a fierce assault from his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, then set a metronomic pace which nobody, not even Lorenzo, could follow. He opened a gap of a couple of seconds, then managed it home to take what looked like an easy victory.

2016 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: You're Nothing Without Wings

The infection of the MotoGP paddock is almost complete. At Jerez the last of MotoGP's factories fell to the winglet virus. Aprilia debuted some massive double decker items on the nose of the fairing. Suzuki brought a more modest pair, sitting below the bike's nose. And Honda's case of winglets grew more severe, the tiny side-mounted winglets replaced with much larger versions, akin to the early Yamaha ones. The only holdouts are most of the satellite teams, and even they are starting to look longingly at the mustachioed factory bikes.

Why is this happening? Because the winglets provide a tangible benefit. Not huge, but big enough to make a difference. As Valentino Rossi put it, after also succumbing to the winglet infection, "small wings, small help." That had been the tenor of rider comments on winglets from the moment they first started to appear at the start of last season.

But at Jerez, we finally heard from a rider who was unashamedly enthusiastic about the wings. Aleix Espargaro had spent Thursday night pleading with Suzuki engineers to be given a chance to try the winglets during the weekend, instead of waiting until the Monday test, following the original plan.

2016 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Imperious Marquez, Complex Crashes, and Intrigue in the Support Classes

If the big question at the Circuit of the Americas was "Who can beat Marc Márquez?" then we found out the answer on Sunday: Nobody. There were only two brief moments during which Márquez was not leading the MotoGP race. Off the line, Jorge Lorenzo was a fraction quicker going into Turn 1, but Márquez turned earlier and already had the lead on the exit. Lorenzo tried once more into the hairpin of Turn 11, but overshot and ran wide, Márquez taking back the lead immediately.

After that, Márquez was gone. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest for a couple of laps, but the Repsol Honda rider's relentless pace forced them to concede. Márquez went on to win his fourth straight Grand Prix of the Americas, and his tenth straight win in the United States of America. Since ascending to MotoGP, he has never been beaten on American soil.

There are plenty of adjectives you could throw at Márquez' performance – imperious, dominant, superlative – but perhaps the best word to sum up Marc Márquez at the Circuit of the Americas is "Unbeatable." His rivals will have to wait another year to try to find a way of stopping him.

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