Andrea Iannone

Pol Espargaro Renews With KTM For 2 More Years - New Round Of Silly Season Signings Imminent?

With the MotoGP paddock back in Europe and heading to Jerez, the first round of contract announcements is upon us, with the second wave not far behind. First domino to fall for the moment is Pol Espargaro, who will be staying at KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Ahead of his first home Grand Prix of 2018, KTM today officially announced they will be retaining the services of the Spaniard for the next two years.

Espargaro's signing had been broadly expected. The Spaniard has outperformed his teammate Bradley Smith, and with the Austrian factory's MotoGP project moving from the development phase to the point where they need to start producing results, Espargaro has been favored over Smith. 

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer On A Controversial Race In Argentina

MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. After every MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A Great Track, Processional Racing, And A Hero In Texas

There is a lot to love about the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As an event, it is fantastic: the facilities at the track are great, the city of Austin is a wonderful place to visit, with a lively party atmosphere downtown, and a million other things to do. The landscape the track sits on is great for spectators, and the surrounding countryside is charming.

It is a race the riders love, and they have grown to love the track. "I like this track very much, it's very good," Valentino Rossi says of the Circuit of the Americas. "It's good to ride because it's very difficult, you have emotional corners, so it's good." The bumps around the track have made it much tougher to ride, but the layout is still a favorite among many of the MotoGP paddock. It is highly technical and has a bit of everything: hard braking, hard acceleration, fast corners, slow corners, flowing combinations of corners which reward precision.

As great at the track is, it still produces rather lackluster races. The average margin of victory over all six editions has been 3.458 seconds, and that is discounting the time lost to the inevitable easing off to celebrate in the certain knowledge that victory is in the bag. The gap has never been under 1.5 seconds, and there has never been a closely fought battle for victory, or even the podium spots, in the history of racing at the track. The result of the MotoGP race in Austin is usually set in stone before the halfway mark.

Even the normally mental Moto3 races are decided by seconds rather than hundredths. Only two of the six Moto3 races run so far were won by a margin of less than a second. In Moto2, the winning margin has only once been under two seconds. That was in 2015, when Sam Lowes beat Johann Zarco by 1.999 seconds. The result in Moto2 has never been close.

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2018 Argentina Friday Round Up: Marquez' Slides, Ducati's Difficulties, Sensationalizing A Trailer, And The Canet Incident

We expected practice at Termas De Rio Hondo to be dominated by the weather, and we were right, though not in the way we expected. Rain had been forecast for all of Friday, but it largely held off except for the odd wayward shower which caused more of a nuisance than any real disruption. But a combination of a dirty track and strong and gusty winds made conditions difficult at the Argentinian round of MotoGP. It turned the field on its head: Andrea Dovizioso, the man who had won the previous race at Qatar, finished FP2 as 24th and last on Friday in Argentina.

The track played a big part in making life difficult for the riders (or more accurately, everyone not called Marc Márquez). The resurfacing had been a major improvement, removing the worst of the bumps, but the new surface didn't really have any extra grip, the riders said. "It's positive about the bumps," Andrea Dovizioso said. "Apart from Turn 4 all the other corners are much better, almost perfect. The grip is not good like the old one, maybe it's worse, maybe it's too new, I don't know when they did."

Valentino Rossi agreed. "The new surface is a bit better because we have less bumps," the Italian said. "I think Michelin was a bit worried about the level of grip because they bring more tires. At the end the level of grip of the new asphalt is the same as the level of grip with the old asphalt." The real problem was the track still being dirty, and not being rubbered in, Marc Márquez explained. "It's good. In terms of grip, very very similar the new and old, you cannot feel the difference, because there is no rubber, it's just dirty. But it's so good about the bumps. Last year it was at the limit, quite dangerous with big bumps, but this year it's completely flat," the Spaniard told reporters.

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The Comprehensive, Cover-All-The-Bases 2018 MotoGP Preview: Yes, It's A New Golden Age

It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin's first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics. 2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past.

All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018. Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well. Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there are ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

Once upon a time, winning a championship meant being on a factory Honda or Yamaha. The balance between the two bikes shifted from year to year, as one of the two would find an incremental improvement the other couldn't match. One year, Honda would find more top speed which the Yamaha couldn't compensate for. The next, Yamaha would add stability on the brakes, which allow its riders to match the Honda going into the corner, then leave it for dead on the way out. It was a game of small steps, the championship swinging one way then the other.

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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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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: The Fast, The Slow, And Learning By Crashing

The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.

Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks' time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year. Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner. Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance. Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.

Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive. They reinforced their status as the title favorites going into the first race of the season through sheer consistency. While others raced up and down the timesheets like hyperactive kittens from day to day and hour to hour, Márquez and Dovizioso were always there or thereabouts, just getting on with business.

There were others, too. Cal Crutchlow has been repaying HRC's faith, especially with a phenomenal long run on Saturday. Alex Rins has shown every sign of growing into the rider we thought he could be. Rins' Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone (absent due to illness on Saturday) may have been quicker, but Rins has shown the kind of consistency that puts him in the top five just about everywhere he goes.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Marc Marquez Moves The Markers, Tires Matter, MotoGP More Art Than Science

There is a peculiar type of athlete mathematics. It involves a failure to grasp the concept of percentages, leading to elite athletes promising to give "110%", or sometimes even "1000%". Logic dictates that an athlete putting 100% of their effort and reserves into an activity would lead them to collapse and die of exhaustion as they crossed the line. That would deny them the joy of victory, but more importantly, it would drastically curtail an athlete's career to just a single event, making it a rather fruitless avenue to pursue.

Of course, what they actually mean when they talk of giving 110% is of course making the maximum effort to achieve a goal. Some, commendably, refrain from mathematic hyperbole, sticking to the 100% maxim. Marc Márquez belongs to this group, speaking of giving 100% during practice and races.

A case can be made that Marc Márquez is the rider who most closely approaches 100% while riding. The list of legendary saves the Repsol Honda rider has chalked up at tests and races seems to grow every time he gets on the bike. Of course, he gets plenty of chances to practice: Márquez had 27 crashes in 2017, second only to Sam Lowes. Respected motorcycle guru Kevin Cameron believes that Márquez' saves are not saves, but actually the result of a technique he studies. With every monster save Márquez manages, that gets harder to argue with.

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