KTM launched their 2019 MotoGP campaign at their factory in Mattighofen, Austria today. They introduced the Red Bull Factory MotoGP team, and the Red Bull Tech3 satellite squad. They issued the following press release after the launch:
2019 MotoGP is Go! Red Bull KTM race teams show new colours in Austrian unveiling
Press releases from the factories and teams after the first MotoGP test of 2019 at Sepang:
For fans of technological innovation, the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test had been something of a disappointment. There were very few clearly visible upgrades to the bikes on display on Wednesday, teams using the first day to get themselves accustomed, and focus on checking the engine choices made back at the November tests. There were one or two things going on, but they weren't obviously visible to casual fans.
Thursday was a much better day for MotoGP tech nerds. New parts started to appear, as factories started working their way through the list of parts they have prepared for the 2019 season. Suzuki debuted a new fairing, with a more Yamaha-like aero package, with wider wing surfaces and a slimmer side section.
Alex Rins was positive about the new fairing. "It gave me more support on the front, less wheelie, which is important for the speed. We are faster on the straight because of the fairing – it’s more aerodynamic. The front wheel is more on the floor." That was borne out by his lap times, the Spaniard finishing with the second fastest time of the day, and the second highest number of laps in 1'59, including a run of four in a row. This was pace, rather than just a single quick lap.
Hitting the holeshot
All eyes were on Ducati, however, as a mystery lever appeared on the top of the Desmosedici GP19's (and only the GP19) top triple clamp:
KTM has 40 years less experience than Honda in premier-class Grand Prix racing, so what does the Austrian factory need to do to get closer to the front?
KTM had an impressive rookie season in 2017, but last year the Austrian factory stalled. And when prize signing Johann Zarco first tested the RC16 in November he was shell-shocked.
The arrival of Zarco at KTM is supposed to be the factory’s next big step because he is the strongest rider to sit on the RC16. But the Frenchman’s first outings on the bike suggest the gap between KTM and the front of the pack is still huge, so what did KTM learn from 2018 – and what does it need to do in 2019?
With two WorldSBK tests under our belts, we are now just days away from the 2019 MotoGP preseason starting. The entire MotoGP field, minus the injured Jorge Lorenzo, will take to the Sepang circuit on 6th February for three days of testing.
But before that, from 1st to 3rd of February – that's Friday through Sunday – the MotoGP factories will be present at Sepang for the first shakedown test of the year. Test riders from all six factories will take to the track, and will be joined by the riders for the factories with concessions, who are allowed unlimited testing.
The original point of the shakedown test was to allow factories to ensure that all of the parts they have brought for their contracted riders (e.g. full-time entries in MotoGP) to test are actually working, and do some preliminary preparation ahead of the official test. After all, the full-time riders cannot afford to waste a day while engineers and mechanics try to figure out why something which worked at the factory has ceased to work at the race track, for example.
The Frenchman was a revelation during his rookie MotoGP season in 2017 and finished top non-factory rider last season – so how does he do it?
During 2017 and 2018 Johann Zarco made a habit of embarrassing factory riders aboard his second-hand Monster Tech 3 Yamaha YZR-M1.
The Frenchman seemed able to overcome technical deficiencies with a new way of riding which allowed him to get more performance out of his Michelin tyres. Last year he did drift into the doldrums after scoring two podiums from the first four races, then tumbling out of his home GP at Le Mans.
But he was back up to speed at the end of the season, taking a close third-place finish at Sepang, just behind factory riders Marc Márquez and Álex Rins.
You would think that after writing about what I got wrong in my predictions last year, I would not be so foolish as to try to make predictions again for the 2019 season. As it turns out, I am that foolish, so here is a list of things I expect to happen in the coming year.
2019 certainly looks very promising for world championship motorcycle racing, in just about every class in both MotoGP and WorldSBK. A range of changes mean the racing should be closer and more competitive. Cutting the MotoGP grid from 24 to 22 bikes, and having the Petronas Yamaha team replace the underfunded Aspar squad, means there are more competitive bikes on the grid.
Ducati will field only GP19s and GP18s, and the GP18 is a much better machine than the GP17. Honda will field three 2019 RC213Vs, and a 2018 bike for Takaaki Nakagami, and the fact that Nakagami was fastest at the Jerez MotoGP test last November suggests that it, too, is good enough to run at the front. Yamaha, likewise, will field three factory-spec bikes, with only rookie Fabio Quartararo on a 2018-spec machine. Suzuki made big steps forward in 2018, and have a more powerful bike for 2019.
It's not just in MotoGP either. In Moto2, the new Triumph engine will change the way riders have to ride the bike, and the introduction of electronics – very limited, but still with more than the old Honda ECU kit had to offer – will give teams more options. Ducati's introduction of the Panigale V4R will make the WorldSBK series a good deal more competitive. And the cream of last year's Moto3 crop moving up to Moto2, to make way for an influx of young talent, will make both classes fascinating and exciting to watch.
So what can we expect from 2019? Here are a few concrete predictions:
1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
The start of the year is traditionally a chance to look ahead, and make predictions for what is to come. But as an old Danish proverb, sometimes ascribed to the brilliant Danish physicist Niels Bohr, says, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. To demonstrate just how hard, we will kick off the year taking a look back at predictions I made last year, and what I got wrong.
I started last year with an article in which I made three predictions for the 2018 season:
1. Marc Márquez wins more on his way to title number seven
He's going to win a lot of races in 2018 – my best guess would be eight or nine of the nineteen – and the way you win championships is by winning races.
This one, I got right. Marc Márquez did indeed go on to win the 2018 MotoGP championship by a comfortable margin, wrapping up the title at Motegi, in front of Honda's biggest bosses. And – more by luck than judgment – my guess for how many races Márquez would win was right on the money, the Repsol Honda rider racking up a total of 9 victories last year.