Bradley Smith

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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Romano Albesiano On Why Aprilia Changed The Engine Angle, Satellite Teams, And Measuring Success

The 2019 MotoGP season was a long, hard road for Aprilia. The hiring of Massimo Rivola as CEO of Aprilia meant that the development of the RS-GP came to a standstill while he first straightened out Aprilia's organization, and allowing Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new machine, with a 90° V4 engine, from the ground up.

The 2020 prototype of the Aprilia RS-GP, at the Sepang MotoGP test

It was a major gamble. Aprilia was throwing away four years of development in MotoGP, and starting almost from scratch again. The Noale factory had a lot of new data to go on, but they had to make the right choices in so many areas that it would be easy to find themselves chasing down a blind alley.

The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith were wildly enthusiastic about the new RS-GP. "I didn't really expect that with a bike as new as this, that I would be as competitive as I am," Espargaro said. "Even with 20 laps on the tires, I can do 1'59s, it's unbelievable how fast I was. I think that with this RS-GP, the bike is a lot more close to the podium."

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Bradley Smith: New Aprilia RS-GP 'Worth The Wait'

2019 was a long, hard year for Aprilia. The hiring of new Aprilia Race CEO Massimo Rivola signaled a year of rebuilding for the Italian factory, as Rivola took over the organizational side of the MotoGP project, freeing up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new RS-GP from the ground up, and providing Albesiano with the resources to do so. That project forced Aprilia riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to battle on through the 2019 season with a bike which was struggling to be competitive.

The wait came to an end at the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang, where Aprilia rolled out the new RS-GP, in the hands of test rider Bradley Smith. "Those six or seven months of waiting were worth it," was Smith's verdict after the first full day of testing on the 2020 prototype.

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Doing It Right: How Aprilia's Organizational Changes Give Hope For The Future

Since they returned to the MotoGP paddock officially, and not under the guise of the ART, the RSV4-based bike which raced first under the Claiming Rule Team banner, and then in the Open Class, Aprilia have struggled. Their MotoGP program got off to a bad start, the loss of Gigi Dall'Igna to Ducati forcing them to reschedule their plans.

Romano Albesiano, who took over as head of Aprilia Racing, found it hard to combine his role as lead engineer with the organizational duties of managing the racing department. Albesiano came from a development and engineering background, and seemed to lack interest in the practicalities of a running a race team. Those took time away from developing the RS-GP, and so the project floundered.

To solve this situation, Aprilia brought in Massimo Rivola. With his experience running F1 teams and Ferrari's Driver Academy, Rivola was given the organizational side to manage, leaving Albesiano free to lead the engineering side of the project. With a clearer division of responsibilities – and the people doing what they are good at and interested in – some semblance of structure was restored to Aprilia's MotoGP program, and with that came the first green shoots of progress.

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Andrea Iannone's Doping Suspension: What Happens Next?

2020 is supposed to be a big year for Aprilia. The reorganization instigated by Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has helped free up lead engineer Romano Albesiano to design a brand new RS-GP from the ground up. The bike is expected to be much more competitive than the 75° V4 which has served them up until now.

But they enter 2020 with every chance of being without an important part of the MotoGP program. Andrea Iannone's lawyer confirmed to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Iannone's B sample from the drug test he failed in Sepang has also come back positive. The Italian now faces a four-year ban for use of the anabolic steroid drostanalone.

The quantities found in the sample were minute, Iannone's lawyer Antonio De Rensis told Gazzetta. "The counter-analysis showed the presence of metabolites equal to 1.15 nanograms per milliliter," De Rensis said. Taking into consideration that the sample was extremely concentrated due to Iannone being dehydrated from the hot and humid MotoGP race in Malaysia, that would point to an even lower concentration, De Rensis claimed. This would corroborate the theory of accidental contamination through food, according to Iannone's lawyer.

Iannone's options

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2020 Week 1 News Round Up: Valentino Rossi's Decision, Jorge Lorenzo's Future, And What Next For Aprilia

The world of MotoGP and WorldSBK has been relatively quiet for the last two weeks, as factories close and teams and riders take time off to celebrate their various holidays. Very little has happened, with people off around the world, and only now returning to prepare for the 2020 season.

Rossi speaks

The winter break did offer an opportunity for Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport to interview Valentino Rossi. Fortunately for English speakers, the interview was translated and posted on the website of esteemed US publication Cycle World, meaning race fans could read the whole thing for themselves, and not have to rely on translations of interpretations of summaries posted on many websites.

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Cormac Shoots Testing: Photos From The Valencia Post-Race MotoGP Test


This was the last ever Valencia test, for a lot of reasons. Riders and teams hate it. Photographers love it, for the light. Here's Dani Pedrosa in the setting sun


Valentino Rossi with a shiny new frame on his M1. Yamaha have changed the way they work, and the progress is starting to show

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: Lorenzo And Zarco Recapped, And The Marquez vs Dovizioso War

Sometimes events overshadow events. The MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring turned into an instant classic, pretty much as the last three editions have done, with the race decided at the last corner, but despite the adrenaline-filled, heart-pumping, edge-of-the-seat final few laps, it is the drama which happened off track for which this race will be remembered. The insanity of a rider stepping away from a MotoGP contract with no guarantees of a ride for 2020, and the insanity of a rider flirting with another factory with a few to swapping teams and manufacturers in the middle of a contract rather took attention away what turned out to be a fantastic race.

So let's get the off-track stuff out of the way first. Though I have covered both the Jorge Lorenzo situation and the Johann Zarco situation in some detail elsewhere, here is a quick recap of where we stand.

Jorge Lorenzo first, as that situation is now resolved. Over the summer break, it appears that Lorenzo had been in touch with Ducati about a possible return to the Italian factory, after having severely hurt himself on the Repsol Honda, and found it a far more difficult beast to tame than he had expected. That all came to a head in Austria, as the seat Lorenzo and Ducati were discussing was currently held by Jack Miller at Pramac Ducati.

Not worth the paper they are written on?

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The Zarco Saga: Johann Zarco To Part Ways With KTM For 2020, But Who Will Take His Place?

The Austrian round of MotoGP has been a weekend of bombshells. After the news that Ducati and Jorge Lorenzo had been in talks to replace Jack Miller in the Pramac squad before the weekend, on Sunday night it emerged that Johann Zarco has asked to be released from his contract with KTM for 2020.

The Frenchman has long been unhappy with the Austrian factory, sometimes very publicly so. Since the moment he jumped on the KTM RC16, he has struggled to adapt to the bike. Zarco's style is to be very smooth and precise, while the KTM only really responds to a very physical riding style, to being bullied around the track. The harder you push the bike, the faster you go, and that has always run completely counter to Zarco's natural riding style.

The relationship was star-crossed from the very beginning. Johann Zarco's former manager Laurent Fellon signed Zarco to a deal with KTM at the end of 2017, the Frenchman's first season in MotoGP. In the year that followed, Fellon continued to negotiate with both Repsol Honda and Yamaha, despite Zarco already having a deal signed with KTM. It was just one unusual aspect of the Frenchman's relationship with his manager.

From bad to worse

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Tom's Tech Treasures: Black Carbon From The Valencia MotoGP Test


Under the tank of the Yamaha YZR-M1 (Petronas)
Peter Bom: A dummy fuel tank on the Yamaha R1 as used by the mechanics to start and warm up the bike in pit lane. The real fuel tank is constantly measured for weight (= amount of fuel) to calculate fuel consumption. It was with a fuel tank like this that things went horribly wrong at the Suzuki pit box in Sepang. Fuel leaked out from a leaking hose and the bike caught fire.


Carbon swingarm on the RC213V (Marc Márquez)
Peter Bom: Honda RC213V’s carbon swingarm. Note the aluminum chain tensioner integrated to make room for the brake caliper and speeds sensors.

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