Brad Binder

Risk vs Reward: Is Motocross Too Dangerous For MotoGP Riders?

Andrea Dovizioso at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP test - Photo by Rob Gray, Polarity Photo

66 million years ago, an object somewhere between the size of Mt. Everest and the country of Luxembourg (or the island of Puerto Rico) slammed into what would become the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico at a speed of 20 kilometers per second, or 72,000 km/h. The impact that an asteroid of that size moving at that speed made was unimaginably vast: scientists estimate that the energy released was around 100 million times that produced by Tsar Bomba, the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever built. The devastation that impact caused, helped along by wide-scale volcanic eruptions and climate change, killed a large percentage of life on earth, wiping out virtually all land and amphibian species larger than 25kg in body weight.

It could happen again. Objects from outer space hit the earth with alarming regularity. 50,000 years ago, a nickel-iron meteorite 50 meters across struck Arizona, creating the aptly named Meteor Crater. In 1908, a slightly larger object exploded a few kilometers above the forests of Siberia, near Tunguska, flattening 80 million trees. And in 2013, a 20 meter object lit up the skies above Chelyabinsk in Russia, eventually detonating some 30 kilometers up. The ensuing explosion and shock wave destroyed windows and damaged buildings in an area a hundred kilometers long and tens of kilometers in length.

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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 And WorldSBK Back On Track: Three Days Of Testing At Misano

World championship motorcycle racing takes another step back to the season returning at Misano. The next three days sees both MotoGP and WorldSBK teams testing at the Italian circuit, preparing for the resumption of hostilities at Jerez in July and August.

Present are the MotoGP teams of KTM and Aprilia, allowed extra testing due to their status as concessions teams. Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith are riding for Aprilia, the second test for the Italian factory. Espargaro was forced to miss the first test, unable to travel to Misano, and so waited for this test to get back on track, as he explained to Tammy Gorali in an interview a week ago. He joins Bradley Smith, promoted from test rider to permanent rider for 2020, to replace Andrea Iannone, still suspended after a positive doping test.

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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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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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Cormac Goes Testing: Photos From The Sepang MotoGP Test


Second year in the premier class. Is 2020 the year of Fabio Quartararo?


Jack Miller on the Desmosedici GP20. A few riders commented at how the rear seemed to stay low under acceleration, as if Ducati have found a way to keep the holeshot device activated out of corners

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MotoGP Silly Season Grinds To A Halt: What Next For Ducati?

It had promised to be a spectacular Silly Season in MotoGP this year. With all 22 rider contracts up for renewal at the end of this season, several long months of hard bargaining was expected, resulting in a major shakeup of the grid. Few seats were expected to be left untouched.

Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at the Sepang MotoGP test

Yamaha dealt the first body blow to any major grid shakeup, moving quickly to extend Maverick Viñales' contract through 2022, then moving rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo to race alongside him in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi was promised full factory support from Yamaha in a satellite team if he decided to continue racing after 2020 instead of retiring.

Yamaha's hand had been forced by Ducati. The Italian factory had made an aggressive play for both Viñales and Quartararo, and Yamaha had brought the decision on their future plans forward to early January. Yamaha decided to go with youth over experience, and Ducati was left empty-handed.

Next stop Hamamatsu

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Sepang MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: The Tightest Field Ever, New Tires, Suzuki Smells, Yamaha's Revival, And More

What can you learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? A lot, and not a lot. The balance of power on the MotoGP grid already seems to have shifted, for all sorts of reasons. The construction used on the 2020 rear Michelin tire is having a major impact on the performance of the bikes, with more grip available in all conditions, and more durability. But because the tire has changed, it will take at least the first part of the season for the factories and riders to figure out how to get the most out of the tire. That means we are likely in for a fair few surprises throughout the year. This could be like 2016 again, some inside Michelin believe.

That doesn't mean that we can share the championship spoils out among the bikes which are ahead at the Sepang test already. The test raised more questions than it answered. It's not so much that factories and riders were sandbagging, more that so much is new this year that most factories are closer to the beginning of their development project than the end. Add in the complication of Marc Márquez coming off his second shoulder surgery in two seasons – and Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the same boat – and there are more unknowns than knowns. The balance is likely to shift several times though the 2020 season. Which is good for fans, though it tends to annoy the manufacturers.

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