Niccolo Antonelli

10 Things To Look Forward To In 2017

The New Year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing. Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017. That also leaves them free to post about the new season on social media again. Aleix Espargaro was so keen to do so that he posted right on the stroke of midnight.

If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.

1. Six factories

For the first time since 2004, MotoGP has six different manufacturers* competing again. Unlike 2004, however, the level at which those manufacturers are competing is much more equal. In 2004, only Yamaha and Honda won races, though Ducati were regular visitors to the podium, and would win more consistently in 2005 and 2006. In 2016, four different manufacturers won races in the dry – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati – and all four were consistent podium threats.

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Moto2 Silly Season: Who Replaces Rins, Lowes, and Zarco?

The first half of 2016 has seen a long and intense period of speculation, gossip and conjecture over which rider ends up where in MotoGP. Big names have jumped from one factory to another, the entry of KTM has opened up opportunities for established satellite riders, and there has been much talk of the rookies entering MotoGP from Moto2 – Sam Lowes to Aprilia, Alex Rins to Suzuki, and Johann Zarco to Tech 3 (though the latter is still to be announced).

What there has been much less talk of is who is to fill their seats. Traditionally, Silly Season for Moto2 and Moto3 starts much later than for MotoGP, speculation and negotiations commencing in the run up to the flyaways and often only being finalized at Valencia. But with three of the strongest teams in Moto2 having seats to fill, team managers are looking ahead a little earlier than usual.

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2016 Assen MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Filling Up The Record Books

We knew that the 86th edition of the Dutch TT at Assen was going to be historic. It was, after all, the first time the race was to be run on Sunday, after being run on Saturday since 1925. What we didn't know was that the day the race was held would end up being the least interesting historic fact about it. The record books will have plenty to say about Sunday's race at Assen.

There was some fascinating racing in all three classes, as is is so often the case at Assen. The Moto3 race saw a scintillating race decided at the line, the podium separated by less than four hundredths of a second. We had a return to something like the Moto2 of old, with a sizable group battling over the podium spots. And last but not least, we had a bizarre two-part MotoGP race, red-flagged, restarted, and with a mold-breaking winner. When we look back, the MotoGP race at Assen could well prove to be a pivotal point in the championship.

The red-flagged MotoGP race was down to the weather once again playing a starring role in the weekend. After rain on Saturday, Sunday started bright, though the track took time to warm up and dry out. Clouds rolled in and rolled back out again, as is their wont at Assen, occasionally spitting but not looking like they would cause major problems for any of the three classes. Until the last part of the Moto2 race, when the heavens finally opened and drenched the track. That race would be red-flagged, and it would not be the only one.

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2015 Phillip Island Moto3 And Moto2 Round Up - How The Championship Went Undecided, And Who Caused The Crash

If you thought the MotoGP race at Phillip Island was thrilling, you should have seen Moto3. Phillip Island is a track where it is almost impossible to escape on a Moto3 bike, the long fast straight, usually with a headwind, allowing a chasing group to draft each other forward and catch anyone trying to get away. The only hope is for something to happen, to split the group and force a break.

Boy, did something happen. There was only one crash all weekend in the MotoGP class; there was the grand total of seventeen crashes in Moto3, with just nineteen of the thirty five starters actually making it across the line to finish the race. The reason? The heady mixture of close racing and youthful exuberance inevitably leads to people taking too much risk, and taking either themselves or someone else out. Add in some tension over the 2015 Moto3 title, and you have an incendiary mix indeed.

And tension there was. Danny Kent started the race in Australia with a simple goal: finish ahead of Enea Bastianini if possible, and within five positions of Miguel Oliveira. That would see him finally wrap up the Moto3 title he could have had his hands on already, if he hadn't made a silly mistake at Aragon and crashed. Beating Bastianini should be easy: the Italian had a nightmare weekend at Phillip Island, unhappy with the bike from the very beginning, qualifying 28th and starting from 25th due to penalties for other riders.

The unexpected rival

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2015 Motegi Post-Race Round Up, Part 2: On Tire Wear, Moto2 And Moto3, And The Dangers Of Racing

With the title chase so incredibly tight, it is inevitable that every MotoGP race from now until Valencia will result in journalists and writers – and I include myself in that group – spend most of their time writing about the clash between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The outcome of that confrontation matters, as it will decide the 2015 MotoGP championship.

This is tough on the rest of the MotoGP field and the riders in other classes. They, too, are riding their hearts out, aiming for – and in Moto2 and Moto3 attaining – glory, yet they are ignored as the rest of the world gazes in wonder at a few names at the front of MotoGP. They do not deserve such treatment, but life in general, and motorcycle racing in particular are neither fair nor just.

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2015 Mugello Moto2 And Moto3 Round Up: On Winning Races, And Consistency Winning Championships

There is more to Mugello than just MotoGP. Being so large and so fast, the track makes for great racing in all classes, though each with a decidedly different character. While the MotoGP race saw one rider escape and a tense game of cat-and-mouse behind, the Moto2 race was a game of chess with riders gaining and losing over twenty-one laps, and the Moto3 race turned into a spectacular battle, with the outcome uncertain to the end.

The first race of the day was probably the best. Polesitter Danny Kent had made his intentions clear, trying to make an early break and grind out laps which were simply too fast for the rest to follow. That worked at Austin and Argentina, where he could hold his advantage down the long, fast straights, but not at Mugello. The fast exit of Bucine means that a group always has an advantage, the lightweight Moto3 bikes slingshotting out of each other's slipstreams to hit speeds which would otherwise be impossible. At other tracks, a gap of half a second is sufficient to keep ahead in Moto3. At Mugello, you can lose that and much more down the fiercely fast straight.

Kent abandoned his attempt to make a break almost immediately, and switched tactics, dropping to the back of the group, which ebbed and flowed into two groups, then one, containing up to fifteen riders. The lead changed hands more times than there were fans in the stands, a new rider taking over every corner almost. Being Mugello, the front was replete with Italian riders. Romano Fenati, sporting a rather stunning special livery for his home round, Niccolo Antonelli, the youngsters Pecco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini, all had their sights set on the podium, and most especially the top step.

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2015 Le Mans MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Why The Honda Is The Third-Best Bike In MotoGP, And Wins vs Titles In Moto3

Something always happens at Le Mans. Something happens at every MotoGP race, of course, but Le Mans seems to always have more than its fair share of happenings. Unlikely events, weird crashes, high drama. Marco Simoncelli taking out Dani Pedrosa. Casey Stoner announcing his retirement. Things that nobody had seen coming emerge from the shadows. News that was half suspected is suddenly thrust into the limelight. Something always happens at Le Mans.

This year, it was the turn of Honda to make the headlines, not something you want to do at Le Mans. The weakness of the bike was finally exposed, with three factory Hondas all crashing out, and the fourth one looking likely to do the same at any moment. Dani Pedrosa and Scott Redding suffered identical crashes, losing the front early in the race. Cal Crutchlow's crash was different. He made a mistake when his foot slipped off the peg, grabbing the front brake harder than he meant to and locking the front as he turned in to La Chapelle, the long downhill right hander. But up until that moment, he had been struggling with exactly the same lack of front end grip on corner entry. Marc Márquez' spectacular and wild first few laps saw him running off the track just about everywhere, as he tried to brake hard and enter the corner, but ended up running wide.

At last there was confirmation of something which all of the Honda riders had been saying since last year. Cal Crutchlow's first reaction when he got off the RC213V was "I'll tell you what, it's a hard bike to ride." Scott Redding said much the same. "It's a difficult bike to ride, a lot more difficult than the Open Honda." Such statements were met with outright skepticism by most observers. After all, this was the same bike on which Marc Márquez had won the first ten races of the season, before going on to wrap up his second title in a row virtually unchallenged.

That was probably part of the problem. The Honda was nowhere near as good as Marc Márquez was making it look. "In my opinion, the talent of Marc hides some limits of the Honda," said Andrea Dovizioso in the post-race press conference. "He's the only one able to go fast, also last year, but especially this year. I believe Honda in this moment doesn't have a perfect balance."

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