Suzuki

2018 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: Crashes Shape The Championship, Yamaha's Woes, Ducati's Decision, And Moto3 Madness

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking. In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways. In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa's brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden's championship challenge was over. Valentino Rossi's heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time. Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia. The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship. And Sunday's drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn't finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

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2018 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Old Hards Vs. New Softs, Avoiding Electronics, And Dovi's New Deal

Andrea Dovizioso's manager arrived in Le Mans on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, the Italian had a new two-year contract with Ducati, provisional pole after FP2, and a new lap record. Not a bad start to the weekend, and a harbinger of good things to come, you might think. This is after all not particularly a Ducati track, yet here he was, on top of the timesheets.

Perhaps having his future settled helped, but Dovizioso has been an expert at excluding distractions from his race weekends. The simple fact is that the Ducati man was quick at Jerez, and is quick here, because he is in good form, and the bike is working really well. Dovizioso heads into qualifying feeling confident.

But there is a fly in the ointment, and it is Márquez-shaped, as always. Dovizioso had been pretty quick throughout the first part of FP2, just a couple of tenths behind the leader Márquez. Then in his final run, he fitted a new soft rear slick, dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. It was an impressive showing of blistering speed.

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Alex Rins To Stay With Suzuki For Two More Seasons

Alex Rins has signed a new contract with the factory Suzuki Ecstar team for 2019 and 2020. The young Spaniard will stay with the team for two more seasons, as he continues to show the growth expected of him after a difficult rookie season marred by injury. Rins is now the twelfth rider to be confirmed for the 2019 season, and leaves one less factory seat to fill.

The re-signing of Rins had been widely expected. The Spaniard had spoken at Austin of positive progress being made, and the final details were hammered out at Jerez. Rins' first podium in MotoGP helped, taking third place in Argentina, but the fact that he has crashed out of the other three races held so far is a concern. Yet he has consistently shown he has the pace to compete at the front.

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Subscriber Feature: The Importance Of Test Riders, Part 2: Davide Brivio On Japanese Test Riders vs European Ex-Racers

As the MotoGP field gets closer, the value of a good test rider goes up. The closer a rider can get to the limits of the bike, the more data they generate, and the more the factories learn. That means there is a premium now on genuinely fast riders, as the data gathered when a rider is within a few tenths of the MotoGP elite is exponentially more valuable than the data obtained by riders who are a second off the pace.

As a result, top racers who have missed the boat for one reason or another are in high demand among MotoGP's factories. In the second part of our series on the importance of test riders, we take a look at Suzuki. (You can read the first part, with KTM's Mike Leitner, here). I spoke to Suzuki Ecstar team boss Davide Brivio at the Jerez test last November, to ask about the importance of Sylvain Guintoli, the former MotoGP, WorldSBK, and BSB racer who Suzuki have been using to help push forward the development of the GSX-RR over the past year or so. With some success: so far, Suzuki have three podiums from four races, and are clearly competitive with Yamaha, Honda, and Ducati.

Given that a test rider needs to be able to clearly describe what they are feeling on the bike, as well as be fast enough to feel something useful, I started off asking Brivio what he more, a fast rider or an intelligent rider. "I would say it should be a good compromise, but probably an intelligent test rider is important as well. Let's say fast enough!" Brivio laughed. "It's always difficult to say whether a test rider can be 1 second slower or three seconds slower. But for me, we think it's very important that he understands whether something is better or not and he can describe properly why it's better or why it's worse. Then of course everything has to be confirmed by the factory riders. But it's very important that he's intelligent and also expert enough about what he is testing, he has enough experience with the electronics, with the tires, with the chassis."

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Crashes, Blame, And Championships

Racing produces drama. When you put 24 riders on an equal number of 270hp MotoGP machines, you can never be certain of the outcome. The tired and obvious story lines you had written in your head before the race have a tendency to go up in smoke once the flag drops. Racing produces a new reality, often surprising, rarely predictable.

But that doesn't stop us from drawing up a picture after practice of how the race is going to play out. At a tight track like Jerez, passing is difficult, and so the rider who can get the holeshot can try to open a gap and run away at the front. After qualifying, it was clear that the three factory-backed Hondas were strongest, the Repsols of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, together with the LCR Honda of Cal Crutchlow were all a cut above the rest. It would be an all-RC213V podium, with the other manufacturers left to fight over the scraps. The Ducatis would do battle with the Suzukis, and the Yamahas would find some pace at last, and get in among it at the front.

It didn't pan out that way, of course. Yes, a Honda dominated proceedings. Yes, a couple of Ducatis battled with a couple of Suzukis at different points during the race. And yes, the Yamahas found some pace, with Wilco Zeelenberg telling me shortly before the race that during warm up on Sunday morning they had found a little bit of the grip they had been missing. But the race resolutely failed to stick to the script we all had in our heads before the start.

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Question Of Strategy

"To get one tenth here is so difficult," Cal Crutchlow said after qualifying at Jerez. The timesheets bore witness in black and white to the wisdom of the LCR Honda rider's words. In FP3, there was less than four tenths between fourth place and thirteenth place. In FP4, there was less than half a second between second and ninth places. And in Q2, just 0.117 seconds separates second place from seventh place. The field is tight because the track is tight. And twisty.

Whether that makes for a close and exciting race is yet to be seen, however. There hasn't really been a close race for victory since 2010, when Jorge Lorenzo was so elated after beating Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi in a tight battle that he jumped into the artificial pond used to store water for firefighting, and nearly drowned when his leathers became waterlogged. Times are often very tight at Jerez, but if you lose a tenth to the rider in front of you, it becomes almost impossible to get it back.

So qualifying well is crucial. And qualifying well is a question of strategy. Choosing the right time to go out, choosing the right front tire to manage the stresses of a qualifying lap, choosing the right number of stops, getting a perfect lap in when the tire is at its best, all of this has to come together just right if you are to have any hope of a front row start.

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Preview: The Season Starts Here (Again)

It has been a strange and fascinating first three races of the 2018 MotoGP season, but as the paddock returns to Europe, we get the first chance to see how the series will look under conditions more usually understood as normal. The three flyaways which kick the season off all have their own peculiarities which tend to skew the results. Qatar happens at night, on a dusty track. Argentina and Austin are races on circuits which don't see enough action, which the teams have only visited a few times, making the track difficult to judge. And Marc Márquez always wins at Austin anyway.

That all changes at Jerez. The next six tracks – Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Sachsenring – have been on the calendar for a decade or more. The riders have lapped the circuits thousands of times at races and in testing, and the teams and factories have enough data from the tracks to fill a small country's worth of data centers. This is familiar ground, and so everything changes.

"Coming here and it's like the season starts again, you can breathe again," is how Pol Espargaro describes it. "I don't say that we are bad in those countries, but this is home, it's where I've been racing here for many many years." Exactly how many years? "My first race here was in the Catalan championship, when I was 13 years old, I'm 26? So 2005, 2006? Look how many years racing here! But the jet lag, the food, the timing when you eat, when you sleep, the people who come to the track, we have more fans here than in any other place in the world, and this makes you feel good. And also we have much more data here than at other tracks, so for us it's much easier to face this GP."

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2018 Jerez MotoGP Preview Press Releases

Press release previews from the MotoGP teams and Michelin:


MotoGP arrives at Jerez de la Frontera for the Spanish GP, the first European round of the 2018 season

Following on from the first three overseas rounds of the season, the Ducati Team has now arrived in Spain, where the fourth round of the MotoGP World Championship will be held on Sunday at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Andalusia.

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Pol Espargaro Renews With KTM For 2 More Years - New Round Of Silly Season Signings Imminent?

With the MotoGP paddock back in Europe and heading to Jerez, the first round of contract announcements is upon us, with the second wave not far behind. First domino to fall for the moment is Pol Espargaro, who will be staying at KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Ahead of his first home Grand Prix of 2018, KTM today officially announced they will be retaining the services of the Spaniard for the next two years.

Espargaro's signing had been broadly expected. The Spaniard has outperformed his teammate Bradley Smith, and with the Austrian factory's MotoGP project moving from the development phase to the point where they need to start producing results, Espargaro has been favored over Smith. 

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