Michael van der Mark
It seemed like a foregone conclusion. Since Austin, when it became apparent (if not official) that Jorge Lorenzo was off to Ducati, the idea that Maverick Viñales would take his place went from being likely to seeming almost inevitable. After all, Yamaha already have a seasoned veteran in Valentino Rossi, and as 2015 showed, a rider capable of winning a MotoGP championship when the circumstances are right. What they need is someone who can make an immediate impact, a rider who can perhaps win races, and who they can develop into a world champion. That description has Maverick Viñales all over it.
Until today, that is. On Tuesday, UK publication Motorcycle News reported that the Viñales deal could be called off entirely, after a failure to agree financial terms. Instead, in a shock revelation should it turn out to be correct, MCN is linking Dani Pedrosa to the empty seat at Yamaha, with Viñales remaining at Yamaha.
How much credence should we place in the MCN story? Journalist Simon Patterson is sure of his sources, and the details are in line with what I have heard when speaking to Yamaha sources about Viñales. Paddock gossip suggest that Yamaha offered Viñales €4 million to make the switch to the Movistar Yamaha team, but that the Hamamatsu factory upped their offer to €5 million to keep the rider they regard as their future at Suzuki. Paying over that amount for a rider who is yet to score a single podium in MotoGP may have been a little too much for Yamaha.
Four rounds into the WorldSBK season we have seen three different race winners, two manufacturers vie for the title but unfortunately one man proving the dominant force.
After eight races it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Rea’s title defence having gotten off to a better start, but it’s happened despite his lack of comfort with the new Kawasaki ZX10-R Ninja. The Northern Irishman has not been comfortable with his new mount. The much discussed “low inertia” engine has clearly taken some of the edge off Rea’s confidence in the bike. With a different engine braking characteristic it has forced him to adjust his riding style to get the most from the bike.
Rea has a very natural style on the bike that has been similar on everything he has ever ridden. Whether it’s a Supersport, Superbike or even a MotoGP machine Rea has been able to ride in the same way. He’ll continue to adapt to the new bike and mould it to allow his style to flourish.
Good clean racing or overstepping the mark? That was the question being asked on Sunday night in Thailand after a thrilling race long duel between Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea.
For many the sight of Sykes fighting tooth and nail and refusing to cede the win to his teammate was something that was hoped for but not expected this year. The Kawasaki teammates fought a war of words over the winter but after Rea's dominant title victory last year, many expected something similar this year.
While Rea has walked away with 95 points from the first four races, the message from Sykes in Thailand was clear: You're not going to have it all your own way this time around!
Having split the honors at the Chang International Circuit both will feel positive about their Far-East jaunt but the happier of the two will be Sykes. The Englishman laid down a marker on Sunday and his robust defense of the lead on the last lap was a clear statement of intent. Swerving across the track on the short straight to the last corner he made clear to Rea that there was no room for a move and that he would have to settle for second.
The move was criticized by some as being too aggressive, particularly against your teammate, but in the eyes of Race Direction and the majority of onlookers it was simply a strong defense with everything on the line.
Press release previews from the WSBK and WSS teams, as well as the organizers, ahead of this weekend's Thai round of World Superbikes:
The 2016 MotoGP season hasn't even got underway yet, and there is already so much to talk about. New bikes, new tires, new electronics: viewed from this point in the season, the championship is both wide open and highly unpredictable. Testing has given us a guide, but it was clear from the three preseason tests that much will change throughout 2016, with the balance of power changing from track to track, and as Michelin bring different tires to different circuits.
All of this will also play in to what is likely to become the biggest talking point of the 2016. At the end of this year, the contracts of all but two of the 21 MotoGP riders are up, with only the friends Jack Miller and Maverick Viñales having deals which extend through 2017. Even Viñales and Miller are not certain to stay where they are, with Viñales having an option to leave, and Miller so far failing to impress HRC. And with KTM coming in to MotoGP in 2017, there could be up to 22 seats available.
That has and will generate a veritable tsunami of speculation and rumor surrounding who will be riding where in 2017. There are so many unknowns that anything is possible, from a total overhaul and general shuffling to just minor tweaking, with most of the protagonists staying where they are. The most likely scenario, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, with a few big names moving around, and plenty of shuffling among the satellite squads.
When the music stops...
We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.
What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.
Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved. Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see. The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.
Press releases from the teams after qualifying for World Supersport and Race 1 of World Superbikes from Phillip Island:
WorldSBK 2016: This Is War
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
WorldSBK: Yamaha are BACK!
Press releases from the MotoGP and World Superbike teams after the final day of testing at Jerez: