Johann Zarco

Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Session, KTM vs Ducati, And Yamaha As Supplicant

We nearly got away with it. The clouds hung heavy over the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for much of the morning, but it stayed dry for all three classes, and the Red Bull Rookies practice as well – I will leave it to the imagination of the reader as to why the Red Bull Rookies are racing in Spielberg this weekend. But halfway through FP2 for the Moto3 class, at the beginning of the afternoon, the heavens parted and the deluge began.

The weird thing about the rain is that it was so incredibly localized. The Red Bull Ring is a relatively compact circuit, not elongated like Assen, or spread out over a vast territory like Silverstone, so to have a downpour in Turn 3, the track completely soaked and water running across the track, while a few hundred meters downhill, along the front straight and at Turn 1, the track was completely dry, made for impossible conditions. A few Moto3 riders nearly got caught out as they hammered up the hill toward Turn 3, then found themselves unable to brake for the corner and forced to run wide.

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Austria MotoGP Preview: The Risk Of Rain Riding At The Red Bull Ring

A short hop over the Alps – or rather, a short drive south, and then west between the Alps, to avoid the slow but spectacular progress over the mountain passes to the north of Spielberg – and the MotoGP paddock reassembles at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. From one of the best tracks on the calendar, plagued by financial problems, to one of the best-funded tracks on the calendar, plagued by the fact that, well, frankly, it's not a very good circuit for motorcycle racing.

The setting is spectacular, nestled at the foot of the hills rising from the valley of the river Mur and heading up to snow-capped peaks a couple of kilometers skywards. The circuit sits on a slope at the bottom of those hills, making for a surprisingly steep climb up to Turn 1, then up the hill to Turn 3, along the hillside to Turn 4, before rolling down through a huge Omega right-left-right combination to get back to the bottom of the hill, and the straight which runs along it.

But the circuit belies its heritage, as a spectacular but treacherous mountain circuit crossing hills and woods. And like many mountain circuits, there is little room for mistakes, with runoff limited at Turn 1, Turn 3, between the barriers from Turn 3 to Turn 4, and at the bottom of the hill into the final corner. In the dry, it is all just about manageable. But in the wet, it can be a terrifying place.

Hard rain is going to fall

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Brno MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Remarkable Rookie, KTM & Concessions, Yamaha's Engines, A Direction For Ducati, And Honda's Many Mistakes

If there was any doubt 2020 was going to be a historic season for MotoGP, the Czech round at Brno erased the last of them. It has been a weird year, the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the calendar out of kilter, then the resumption of racing bringing excitement, drama, and a whole boatload of surprises.

There was Marc Márquez breaking his arm one week, and trying to ride the next. There was Fabio Quartararo dominating both races. There was Valentino Rossi looking lost on the first Sunday, and finishing on the podium seven days later. And that was just the tip of the iceberg of weirdness.

After the topsy-turvy events of the two Jerez races, Brno turned the MotoGP world even more upside down. In these subscriber notes, an attempt to make sense of the madness, to filter some signal from the noise. There is a lot of signal, but also plenty of noise. Here's the signals we have picked up so far:

  • The rookie who finally lived up to expectations
  • The new best bike on the grid?
  • The consequences for the championship
  • Concessions explained
  • Petronas Yamaha's other rider gets what he deserves
  • Yamaha's engine situation
  • The Zarco vs Espargaro smackdown
  • Are Ducati really as lost as they seem?
  • Honda's litany of errors

Lots to get through. But there is only one place to start: with the winner.

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Brno MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Stolen Laps, Surprise Front Rows, And Why Old Is (Sometimes) Better Than New

If ever there were a day where qualifying and practice told two very different stories, it was Saturday at Brno. The tales were linked and related, interwoven in many ways, but the differences outweighed the common threads. The grid tells a tale of heroism, surprises, and the cruel application of sensible rules. Practice is a story of dark foreboding, of the grim war of attrition that awaits on Sunday afternoon. Qualifying was tough; the race is going to be much, much tougher.

Qualifying is always the highlight of Saturday afternoon, though the final free practice session, FP4, is what matters most. With nothing on the line but race setup, and conditions close to what they will face at race time on Sunday afternoon, teams and riders show what they are really capable of. Even then, the story told is not in the overall result, but tucked away in the analysis timesheets, where teams send out riders on old tires, to see how they hold up once they get a lot of laps on them. The secret code created by combining tire compound with tire age and run duration is almost impossible to decipher, but there are fragments of the real story of the weekend tucked away for the diligent student.

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Heat, Wind, And Tires

Be careful what you wish for. For four months, MotoGP riders sat at home and twiddled their thumbs, hoping for the racing to return. They got their wish, but there was a catch: the season opener is in Jerez, in July, in the withering heat of an Andalusian summer.

It was positively punishing on track, especially in the afternoon, once track temperatures started to creep into the mid 50s °C. The track gets greasy, and that catches riders out, especially rookies. Alex Márquez was one such rider: the Repsol Honda rider tucked the front at Turn 8, disrupting the plan for the session.

"In the crash, I was too optimistic, coming from the morning with a good feeling on track, you know," the younger Márquez brother told us. "I made a rookie mistake. The grip changed quite a lot from the morning to the afternoon. I was a little bit wide in the entry, but I was on a good lap so I tried to go back to the right line but I was a with a little bit too much lean angle on a dirty surface, and then the front was just closed."

Understanding how the heat affected the track was the key to the afternoon. The track has plenty of grip when temperatures are in the 30s and 40s°C, but once the mercury creeps past 50°C, the grip goes away, turning the MotoGP bikes into a real handful. By the end of FP1, track temperatures had hit 40°C. By the start of FP2, the track temperature was already 54°C, and rising.

The heat is on

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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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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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