Johann Zarco

Valencia MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: The Dangers Of Racing, And The Season In Miniature

In these subscriber notes:

  • The dangers of motorcycle racing
  • Marc Márquez' remarkable season
  • Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
  • Jack Miller rides again
  • Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
  • What riders think of Johann Zarco
  • Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
  • Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha

The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.

Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.

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Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Lorenzo's Retirement, Lorenzo's Replacement, And A Track Where Lorenzo Won So Often

It has been a long year in MotoGP. Valencia is full of tired faces, the cold and windy weather a good reflection of the mood of the paddock. The last race of the season should be a festive occasion, but after eighteen races, and the last four overseas, there is little energy or enthusiasm left for the season finale.

Valencia made a fitting backdrop for Jorge Lorenzo's announcement that he would be retiring. It came as a surprise to almost everyone – except for one canny journo who had put a bet back on the Spaniard hanging up his helmet back in August – but it was a move which was widely understood. Spinal and head injuries are the two greatest fears of motorcycle racers, and the fact that Lorenzo came very close to suffering a life-changing injury made it easy to find sympathy for him.

There was respect not just for Lorenzo's choice, but also for the Spaniard's achievements. Until Marc Márquez came along, Lorenzo looked set to go down in history as Spain's greatest ever premier class rider. Even then, he remains the only rider so far to have won a title in the Márquez era. He was a rider whose ability to carry corner speed astounded his rivals, left them befuddled at how he could go so fast through corners without crashing. He leaves MotoGP as the fifth most successful premier class rider, and the sixth most successful rider of all time in all classes.

Hard act to follow

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Yamaha's MotoGP Test Program: Jonas Folger Out, But Who Will Take His Place?

With MotoGP testing becoming ever more restricted for full-time MotoGP riders, the so-called contracted riders, the importance of test teams has grown. Where in previous seasons most Japanese manufacturers have used Japanese riders based in Japan to push the development of their MotoGP bikes, in recent years, they have all switched to using teams based in Europe with ex-MotoGP riders as test riders. Suzuki have Sylvain Guintoli, Honda have Stefan Bradl, and Yamaha had Jonas Folger for 2019.

But not for 2020, it seems. In an interview with German-language publication Speedweek, Folger announced that Yamaha have decided not to continue with the German for next season. "This bad news came as a surprise to me," the German told Speedweek. "They gave me a verbal assurance that Yamaha wanted to continue with me. We were already discussing what the test plan and other events might look like. But then they canceled, despite saying I would get the contract." Folger said that he had been told Yamaha would continue with Japanese test riders.

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Crunching The Numbers: Silly Season 2021 - An Unprecedented Youth Wave Conquers MotoGP

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Youth tsunami

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Pace Counts, Consistency Counts, Why Dovizioso Was the Problem, And Crashes And Clashes

Editor's note: Three back-to-back weekends of Asia-Pacific flyaways have proved to be punishing in terms of disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, I am reverting to writing a brief set of Subscriber notes for Sepang, with a full race report to follow by the end of the day tomorrow.

In these subscriber notes:

  • How Maverick Viñales won
  • What Marc Márquez coming second means for MotoGP
  • Fabio Quartararo's weaknesses, to add to his strengths
  • Why it was Dovizioso, not Ducati, that was a problem for Valentino Rossi
  • Why Rossi is a problem for Yamaha
  • The clashes between Alex Rins and Jack Miller, and Joan Mir and Johann Zarco, whether the punishment fit the crime, and the role the track played
  • The future of Johann Zarco

Stability matters

Fabio Quartararo may have got all the headlines at Sepang on Friday and Saturday, but it was obvious to anyone who studied the timesheets that Maverick Viñales had the best pace in practice, and by a significant margin. Viñales' pace in practice was two to three tenths better than anyone else.

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: When Mind Games Go Wrong, And Why Yamahas Rule In Sepang

Winning championships starts with winning races. But there is more to winning races than just turning up on Sunday, whacking the throttle wide open and holding it there for as long as possible when the lights go out. Winning a race is a long, drawn-out process, involving planning, strategy, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes, after looking at the pace of your rivals, checking it against your own data, balancing expected tire life against performance, and watching where the rest of the grid is stronger and where they are open to attack, you have no choice but to admit someone else is faster. It then becomes a question of trying to see what is possible, and trying to find a different way to succeed. Winning may be hard, but it is never out of the question.

So riders explore other ways to try to beat their rivals. The race doesn't just happen on Sunday, it starts in practice. You can try to win by going faster than everyone else, but sometimes, you can win by making your rivals go slower. You try to get into their head, intimidate them. Sometimes you do that by posting an explosive lap that nobody believed you were capable of, and which they fear to copy. Sometimes you do that by following them around on track, watching them, copying them, making them aware of your presence all the time. After all, every ounce of energy spent worrying about you is one which can't be spent on trying to go faster.

King of the hill

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Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Smashing Records, Saving Crashes, Testing Brakes, And Yamaha Blazing A Trail

The point of motorcycle racing is to go faster than everyone else. And because motorcycle racing is a sport composed of many different parts, there are a lot of different parties wanting to be fastest. Riders want to be fastest to win races and championships. Factories want to be fastest to win championships, but also to have the bike with the highest top speed, and to collect lap records. Even tire suppliers want to collect lap records. That, after all, is how they measure progress.

Since coming into the class, Michelin have shattered a lot of records set by Bridgestone, the previous Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP. But not all of them, and if you speak to people from Michelin, this is something they are far from happy about. But they keep chipping away, circuit by circuit, looking for ways to improve the tires to allow the bikes to go faster. This is the way Michelin creates competition for itself, and sets goals for its R&D department to pursue.

So far, they have done pretty well, taking the race lap record at nine of the tracks which MotoGP raced at prior to 2016, when they took over from Bridgestone. Their record on outright lap records is even better. Up until Friday morning, Michelin still had five circuits where they hadn't beaten the fastest ever lap set during practice or qualifying by Bridgestone.

Moving the bar

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Phillip Island MotoGP Sunday Notes: A Track Where You Have To Feel It

That Phillip Island is a special racetrack is self evident. It is unique in so very many different ways. It flows like Mugello, and has the same high speed nature, with fast corners sweeping through a loop dictated by geography rather than a CAD program. It has a fast front straight, yet it is also a track where slower bikes can find a way to stay with, and even beat, faster bikes. Speed is a factor, but the rider counts for a lot more.

What makes Phillip Island even more unique is its location, exposed to the wild weather which blows in across the Bass Strait. The track has grip, but conditions can change quickly. The sun can warm the asphalt, and the cold ocean wind can whip the heat right out of asphalt and tires just as fast. The track feels more like a force of nature than a technical challenge to be mastered.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Windy Weather, Canceled Qualifying, And Old Arguments About Aero

The elements prevailed in the end. The weather gods threw rain and wind at the Phillip Island circuit on Friday, and after showing their power to pose real peril to the riders, the riders and Dorna surrendered to a power greater than them. The very strong gusting wind was just too dangerous to make riding at the Australian circuit safe.

Miguel Oliveira's crash was the last straw. The Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider was caught out by the changing wind in the early part of FP4, got pushed wide on the entry to the terrifyingly fast first corner, and took a massive tumble through the gravel. It looked like a huge crash, and Oliveira was very lucky to come away with no broken bones, though he had heavy bruising on his arm and hand.

"I was slipstreaming Zarco and at that point I was a little bit more close to the left side of the track," Oliveira said. "And from the morning to the afternoon the wind just completely changed the way and was really sideways going onto the straight. I rolled off to let Johann pass and when I braked, I braked completely sideways and the wind just pushed me out of the track."

Gale incoming

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