Valentino Rossi

2016 Sepang MotoGP Preview - A Year Is A Long Time In Motorcycle Racing

Two down, one to go. The last of the flyaways is always the hardest, in many ways. Three races on three consecutive weekends means that riders never have time to heal from even the small injuries they receive each weekend, from minor falls, or the blisters on their hands. Spending many hours cloistered in aircraft flying long distance makes catching colds or flu or other respiratory diseases inevitable. Team members being cooped up together for nearly four weeks means relationships are at best strained, at worst verging on violent.

Then there's the contrast in climate. Even at its best, Phillip Island can be chilly, so traveling from there to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia is a physical shock. To step on a plane in the freezing cold, then step off it to be drenched in sweat is tough for people already drained from so much travel and racing. Then to race for 45 minutes in punishing heat and humidity, at a track which is physically very challenging, because of the heavy braking zones around the track. The stress, mental and physical, is enormous.

Perhaps it was that stress that caused the MotoGP series to explode at Sepang last year. Smarting from being beaten into fourth place at Phillip Island by Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Iannone, Valentino Rossi seized upon the theory apparently put forward by his friend and business partner Alessio 'Uccio' Salucci, that Márquez had decided to conspire against Rossi to hand Jorge Lorenzo the 2015 MotoGP title. Márquez had attempted to accomplish this by beating Lorenzo in Australia. And in the press conference at Sepang, he launched his accusations against the Repsol Honda rider.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Preview Press Releases

Press releases previewing this weekend's Malaysian MotoGP round from the teams and Michelin:

The Repsol Honda Team heads to Sepang for 2016’s penultimate race

After enjoying the enthusiastic embrace of the Repsol Honda Team’s Indonesian fans during a visit to Jakarta on Tuesday, 2016 World Champion Marc Marquez has flown to Sepang for the Malaysia GP, the last race of the triple-header and the penultimate round of the season.

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Cal joins the Pommie pantheon

Cal Crutchlow dominated at the greatest MotoGP track of them all. What a shame that some fans spoiled a great day by cheering Marquez’s crash

Cal Crutchlow’s second MotoGP victory was even better than his first, mainly because every rider knows a dry win counts for more than a wet win. He now stands alongside Leslie Graham, Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Barry Sheene as the only Britons to have scored two premier-class victories in one season. In other words, he’s in the Pommie pantheon.

Once again Crutchlow showed aggression and intelligence – he was one of the few to choose Michelin’s hard-option front slick and understood that whenever the sun disappeared behind the clouds the track temperature dropped, so he had to push harder (but not too hard) to keep the tyre hot enough to grip the track.

Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro chose the same front and both fell, proving the tyre had riders walking the narrowest of lines. Managing tyre temperature is a big part of MotoGP and Crutchlow did it perfectly. He beat the best in the world by over four seconds, which is proper domination during an era of close finishes. Even nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi couldn’t match the winner’s pace during his inspired comeback from 15th on the grid.

2016 Phillip Island Sunday Round Up: What is an Alien, Anyway? And Who Is One?

Is there such a thing as an Alien? The provenance of the term is uncertain, though most people believe that it was coined by Colin Edwards in 2009, after he kept finishing in fifth place behind Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa. Whatever he tried, he could not stay with them. "They are riding out of this world," he said.

The term has stuck. Since then, the term Alien has been applied to the top four riders, the only difference being that Marc Márquez has been swapped for Casey Stoner now that the Australian has retired. The reality is that since Jorge Lorenzo entered the class until the start of the 2016 season, the five MotoGP Aliens had accounted for all but two of the 143 MotoGP races held. The two non-Alien wins were by Andrea Dovizioso (Donington 2009) and Ben Spies (Assen 2011). Both of those races came in unusual conditions. The five Aliens dominated the podiums throughout that period as well.

2016 looks like becoming the year the Alien died. Or perhaps more realistically (and less dramatically) the year we had to readjust the concept of a MotoGP Alien. The season was going very much to plan up until Assen, when Jack Miller won an interrupted race in the driving rain. Then in Austria, Andrea Iannone finally did what everyone has been waiting for, won a race with a Ducati. Cal Crutchlow used a drying surface to his advantage to win at Brno, and then Maverick Viñales won at a dry but cold Silverstone. Questions were asked whether Maverick Viñales was the next Alien.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Hondas Thrive and Yamahas Struggle in the Cold

There are plenty of ways of explaining the results of qualifying at Phillip Island. Lack of set up time in consistent conditions make the qualifying order a bit of a lottery. Rain and wind coming in off the Bass Strait and the weather changing every minute or so meant getting your timing and strategy right was crucial. Changing track conditions and unpredictable weather meant that some teams gambled right on whether to have their bikes in a wet set up, on intermediates, or on slicks. Or even on the correct mixture of tires front and rear.

In reality, though, the main factor in determining the qualifying order was this: the temperature in the front tire. Riders who could generate it had confidence in the front and could push hard in the sketchy and cold conditions. Riders who couldn't, languished well down the order, unable to feel the front and unable to lap with any confidence or feedback from the tires.

That explains why Marc Márquez and Cal Crutchlow are on the front row of the grid at Phillip Island, while the factory Yamahas languish back in twelfth and fifteenth place (or "on the fourth and fifth row of the grid" as it is known in press release speak). The Hondas have a tendency to overheat the tires due to the way they brake and their geometry. The Yamahas lean heavily on the front tire to generate corner speed, and on the edge of the rear tire to maintain it. At Phillip Island, it was too cold and too windy to do either.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up - Rossi's Tire Troubles, Lorenzo's Woes in the Rain

Though I am not one to blow my own trumpet, my Phillip Island preview turned out to be prophetic. (Of course, it helped that my prediction was written just a few hours before the start of practice in Australia.) The Southern Ocean imposed its will on the Australian Grand Prix, and heavy rain and strong winds hampered morning practice, then caused the afternoon practice to be called off.

All three classes used their sessions in the morning, and the Moto3 class set off boldly for FP2, despite worsening conditions. They battled through to an increasingly damp finish, but the rain intensified, postponing MotoGP FP2 for some 40 minutes. Eventually, the session was given the green light, but only a few riders went out to attempt a few laps. After thirteen minutes, Race Direction decided it was too dangerous. FP2 was red-flagged, and all action canceled for the rest of the day.

The poor weather made most of the day's action meaningless, but it also had an upside. Hector Barbera finished the red-flagged FP2 session as fastest, while Mike Jones, his replacement in the Avintia team ending in second. Whatever the circumstances of the session, that goes down in the record books forever. Just as Josh Hayes timed his fast lap in morning warm up at Valencia in 2011 to perfection, and ended up quickest, Mike Jones can say he was second fastest in a MotoGP practice.


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