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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Mixed Conditions, Miller's Marquez-esque Trick, Risk And Reward, And KTM's Holeshot

"It was a very tricky day in Le Mans, like always," was the verdict of Fabio Quartararo on Friday evening, after a wet morning session and afternoon practice on a track which was rapidly drying, but never quite dry. He spoke for just about everyone, the track proving especially treacherous in the afternoon, ending FP2 almost completely dry with a few damp patches, enough to catch a few riders out, including Aprilia's Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro, Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, KTM rookie Brad Binder, and the LCR Honda of Takaaki Nakagami.

Most were just harmless falls, the front washing out on a damp patch, but Bradley Smith found himself propelled into the air when the traction control on his Aprilia RS-GP couldn't react quickly enough to the rear spinning up when he hit a damp patch on track. "I was feeling alright this afternoon, the wet patches were quite scary," he said. "I felt like I was managing the situation quite good but just got caught out by that one. TC didn’t catch me in time! And down I went."

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Le Mans MotoGP Preview: High Grip, Wet Weather, And A Wide Open Field

And so we enter the final stretch of the 2020 MotoGP season – and the fact that six Yamaha engineers are stuck in Andorra due to one of them contracting Covid-19 is a reminder that the end of the 2020 season might come sooner than expected. MotoGP heads to Le Mans, for the French Grand Prix, not in May, when the series usually heads there. That means cooler temperatures, not just in terms of air temperatures, but in solar intensity as well. Le Mans in early October gets 4 hours less sunshine than in mid May, and with the sun much lower in the sky, it doesn't heat the asphalt as much even when it is hidden by curtains of cloud, or drenched in rain.

But Le Mans has some saving graces. Firstly, the weather in October is pretty much as you might expect, something which proved problematic in Barcelona, where temperatures were about 10°C colder than expected. That means that the selection of compounds Michelin has brought to Le Mans are much more capable of dealing with the conditions likely to prevail. That, in turn, should mean that teams and riders have a wider choice of tires during the weekend, and aren't just stuck with the softest compounds available.

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News Round Up: Portimao MotoGP Test, A Frigid French Grand Prix, And Diggia's Future

The MotoGP schedule is already packed, the riders coming off a free weekend after completing one triple-header before embarking on the next, at Le Mans and Aragon twice. But about half the MotoGP grid has an appointment on the Algarve before they start a weekend of racing at Le Mans. On Wednesday and Thursday, thirteen full-time riders and seven test riders will take to the track at Portimao for a combined MotoGP test and track familiarization session.

The test serves several purposes: for the manufacturers to gather information about the track, and find a base setup and gearing to serve as a starting point for when MotoGP returns for the final round of the 2020 season; for Michelin, to get an idea of the kinds of tires needed at the circuit; and for the riders to assess the circuit in terms of safety and to understand the layout. The test riders will be riding MotoGP machines, while the contracted riders will be using production bikes to get to know the track.

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The 2021 MotoGP Rider Line Up Nearly Complete: Four Question Marks Remain

With the announcement of their line up for the Factory and Pramac teams, Ducati has brought the 2021 MotoGP silly season a big step nearer to its close. The two pairings of Jack Miller/Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco/Jorge Martin means that only four seats remain open, and of those, only two are truly uncertain.

The known unknowns, to steal a phrase, concern the LCR Honda seat and the Avintia Ducati seat vacated by Johann Zarco. Takaaki Nakagami is still in talks with HRC over his seat at LCR Honda, the only open question whether he will get an update to the 2021 Honda RC213V, or have to contend with the 2019 bike he is still racing (the engine and aerodynamics freeze mean that the 2021 spec bike will be the same as the 2020 machine currently being ridden by Cal Crutchlow, Alex Marquez, and Stefan Bradl as Marc Marquez' temporary replacement).

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Barcelona MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion Arises, A New Mr Consistency, Yamaha Speed, And Maverick's Misery

It turns out there is someone who wants to win the 2020 MotoGP championship after all. A couple of people in fact, and they are now starting to make an effort to actually win this thing. After last week at Misano, when the top four in the championship were separated by just 4 points, it was hard to discern a shape to the 2020 title chase. Unseasonably cold weather, a punishing track for tires, and the usual run of random racing incidents events shook up the championship at Montmelo. Now, a pattern seems to be emerging from the fog of racing war.

After Misano, just 4 points separated the top four. A week later, there are 24 points covering the first four places, and 8 points – twice what covered last week's top four – the gap from first to second place. The points spread between the top ten has nearly doubled, from 27 to 50 points.

At Misano, Takaaki Nakagami was highlighted as a rider still in with a shot of the championship, not least by Repsol Honda boss Albert Puig, in defense of the job Honda have done in 2020. The LCR Honda rider was seventh, but trailed the leader Andrea Dovizioso by 21 points. With 7 races still left to contest, Nakagami had a shot at the title which was anything but theoretical.

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Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Start Fast Or End Fast - Preparing For A War Of Attrition

What did we learn from qualifying for the Grand Prix of Catalonia on Saturday? We learned that qualifying is extremely deceptive. The front of the grid is a mixture of riders who are genuinely fast on race pace, and riders who are only quick over a single lap. But what we also learned is that the track at Montmelo, outside Barcelona, is so hard on tires that qualifying is only a very small part of the story. It is uncertain whether where you qualify will have any bearing on the outcome of the race.

The problem at Barcelona is that the track is punishing on tires. You do not get to the end of the race with tire to spare. Indeed, you may not make it to the end of the race at all. "The last laps of the race, we will struggle not to make a lap time, we will struggle to stay on the bike," warned Pol Espargaro. "Maybe by the end of the race, it's not going to be who can perform better, who can be faster, I think by the end of the race it's going to be who takes more risk, who cares less about crashing."

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The 2021 MotoGP Rider Line Up So Far: Waiting For Ducati

With Valentino Rossi finally confirmed at the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, the rider line up for 2021 is getting close to completion. The factory seats at Honda, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha are filled, as are the satellite seats at KTM and Yamaha.

The nominally vacant seat at LCR Honda is destined to be taken by Takaaki Nakagami once again, the Japanese rider still in talks with HRC management over whether he will get a 2021 spec RC213V or a 2020 bike. Nakagami's performance so far on the 2019 bike has shown him worthy of getting the latest spec, but those details will take a while to thrash out.

The next question to be answered will come some time next week, when Ducati announce their plans for 2021 and beyond. They are expected to move Pecco Bagnaia into the factory team and Johann Zarco up to the Pramac squad. Jorge Martin is likely to join Zarco in Pramac, while Enea Bastianini should head to Avintia.

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: Low Grip, Heavy Winds, Meaningless Times, And Coronavirus Concerns

"It's only Friday." Something you tend to hear from riders on, well, Fridays, when you ask them who they think is looking strong. Friday is the day that people are getting up to speed, evaluating different setup directions, making a preliminary assessment of tires, and putting in a banker lap when time and conditions allow. Drawing conclusions from either session of practice on Friday is fraught with difficulty.

Doubly so for Friday at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, near Barcelona. The track hosted three days of action for the WorldSBK series last weekend – now with double headers for the World Supersport and Supersport 300 classes due to the compressed 2020 schedule – and so received a layer of Pirelli rubber. There have been rainstorms during the week which have washed some of that rubber from the track, changing grip levels once again. And the wind on Friday was, in the words of Jack Miller, "pretty savage".

On the face of it, you might say that Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco, and Brad Binder are capable of quick times, Morbidelli and Zarco dropping under 1'40. On race pace, you might want to conclude that Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Alex Rins, and Maverick Viñales are all quick on used tires. But the results from Friday need to be read like you might read tea leaves. Sifted through in the hope of finding patterns; but fearful of leaping to conclusions which the future simply will not bear out.

Clean track, low grip

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Barcelona MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Injury Surprises, A Missing Announcement, And Managing Tires For Success

The 2020 MotoGP season motors relentlessly on, as we visit Montmelo for the last race of the current triple header. The seventh race in eleven weeks, Round 9 marks the numerical mid-point of the season. Sort of: it is race 8 of 14 for the MotoGP class, but race 9 of 15 for Moto2 and Moto3, who raced at Qatar*. And as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere and Covid-19 cases start to rise again in Europe, the chances of us making it all the way to Portimao in late November and completing the remaining 6 races after Barcelona are significantly less than 100%.

The relentless round of races is brutal for everyone except fans and riders, most preferring racing every weekend to sitting at home. Especially in a season as up and down as 2020, where the direction of the championship seems to change every week. "I enjoy that the racing is hard and fast," said Jack Miller, summing up the general feeling of the riders on the grid. "We can have a quick turnaround and things can change very quickly. I enjoy that you don’t have to sit there thinking about a bad race for two or three weeks. You can get back into it straight away which is nice."

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