Miguel Oliveira

Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: Judging Success on Limited Data

The point of the post-season test at Valencia is to give the new parts the racing departments have cooked up based on the data collected during the year their first run out. The hope is that the new parts – engines, chassis, electronic packages, etc – will provide improvements, make the bikes faster, and help drop the lap times even further.

There was plenty of good news for the MotoGP factories from the two days of testing at Valencia. Their work has been successful, judging by the initial results at the test. The new engines which have been brought are all quicker, the chassis which have been tested are all an improvement.

The bad news is that all of this applies to just about every manufacturer in MotoGP. Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM, even Aprilia, they have all made steps forward. The trouble is, that if everyone makes a step forward, they all end up still left in the same place.

So who comes out of the Valencia test ahead? It is still way too early to tell. At Valencia, the factories bring their new concepts, in a fairly raw format. Engines need adapting to electronics, chassis need adapting to engines, the setups the factories start the test with are based on data from last year's bikes, and still need tweaking to refine.

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Alex Marquez, Johann Zarco, And The Madness Of Paddock Rumor

This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. Winding down at the last race of the season, with only the most symbolic of prizes still on the line: the team championship; third overall in MotoGP. But the final round of MotoGP at Valencia has exploded into a frenzy of rabid rumor, wild speculation, and bizarre conspiracy theories.

It all started off with Jorge Lorenzo announcing he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Though the rumor had been floating around the paddock since the summer, it still came as a surprise. The rumor mill had calmed down a little since LCR Honda had first announced that Johann Zarco would be stepping in to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the last three races of the season. There had been a lot of talk of whether that meant Honda would sack Lorenzo, or Lorenzo would leave Honda for another team, with no satisfactory outcome.

Lorenzo's retirement was the sort of surprise which you half expect. After an evening of digesting the idea of MotoGP without Jorge Lorenzo, the hive mind of the paddock turned to thoughts of who might replace the Spaniard. On Friday, it didn't seem like it would be settled any time soon, rumor suggesting that Honda would not make a decision before the Jerez test.

The replacements

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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 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 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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KTM Complete 2020 MotoGP Line Up: Brad Binder To Factory Team, Iker Lecuona To Tech3

KTM have finally found a solution to their rider line up problem for 2020. Today, the Austrian factory announced that they will be taking Brad Binder directly into the factory Red Bull KTM team, to race alongside Pol Espargaro, while they have signed Iker Lecuona to race in the Red Bull KTM Tech3 satellite squad opposite Miguel Oliveira.

This is something of a shake up to KTM's original plans, caused by the early departure of Johann Zarco. The Frenchman's decision to leave the Austrian factory at the end of 2019 (accelerated to after Misano by KTM's decision to drop him from Aragon onward) left them with a puzzle to solve.

With almost everyone with MotoGP experience tied up for 2020, and most Moto2 riders holding on for 2021, when the entire MotoGP grid is out of contract, finding a replacement for Zarco was almost impossible. They had already signed Brad Binder to the Tech3 satellite team, and had few options to choose from. 

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Motegi MotoGP Preview: Can Ducati Upset The Marquez Machine?

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid. If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8 Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda's 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year's race is even more important. Before the previous Grand Prix in Thailand, HRC President Yoshishige Nomura told Marc Márquez to wrap up the rider's title in Buriram, so he could arrive in Motegi as champion, a goal Márquez dutifully fulfilled. The target at Motegi will be to clinch the manufacturers crown, which he can do by simply finishing ahead of the first Ducati.

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Marc Marquez: Six Titles In Seven Seasons - Where Does He Go From Here?

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place. Márquez' record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez' sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire. It was Rossi's third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

To find other parallels, you have to go back further in time. In 1997, Mick Doohan won 12 races out of 15, finishing second in two more and not finishing in the last race of the year, his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. Before that, there was Freddie Spencer, who won 7 races in 1985, finishing second in 3 more, crashing in Assen and choosing to skip the final race in Misano. To find greater dominance, you would have to go even further back, to the days of Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta, who either won or retired in every race he started in during the period from 1968 to 1971.

Closer than ever

Márquez' 2019 season stands above all of those, however, for the sheer level of competitiveness of the current era. When Agostini was racing, the MV was in a league of its own, the Italian regularly lapping the rest of the field. In 1985, Spencer's only real opposition came from Eddie Lawson, and from his own successful attempt to secure the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season.

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