Features

2018 Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Handling Shenanigans

The announcement that the official MotoGP.com website were to stream the Thursday media debriefs of Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi live raised some hackles in the paddock. The objections to the move differed with the interests of those complaining. The print media complained that there was no point in flying half the way around the world to cover the series if everything was going to be streamed live anyway. Rival factories complained that the media debriefs of their riders were not being streamed live. Some fans and journalists complained that by showing the debriefs, Dorna were merely fanning the flames, where they should be trying to calm the situation down.

In the end, there wasn't much of a situation to calm down. Sure, the media debriefs of Márquez and Rossi were streamed live. But both men went out of their way not to say anything of interest. The feud lives on, but we didn't notice because we lost interest in what the protagonists were saying about halfway through. There is much to be said for trite media speak.

To an extent, this is probably a good thing. Aleix Espargaro, whose media debrief really should have been streamed live, as it was a great deal more entertaining than all the other rider press conferences put together, pointed out the irony of the situation. "Everybody is talking about the Argentina clash and nobody is talking about the tarmac of America, which is more important!" the factory Aprilia rider complained.

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A Lap Of Assen With Alex Lowes

Assen is a circuit unlike any other. The rich history of the Assen TT Circuit goes back almost 100 years and with over 50 WorldSBK to its name only Phillip Island has seen more Superbike track action although arguably no circuit has seen more exciting action than Assen.

Whether it's Carl Fogarty or Jonathan Rea, the heroes of WorldSBK love Assen to a rider. It's fast and flowing and is a circuit that can be ridden any number of ways. There is no ideal way to lap the 4.542km circuit but there are some secrets to unlocking the speed. Pata Yamaha's Alex Lowes sat down with MotoMatters.com to offer his insight.

“You come across the start finish straight in fifth gear and as you approach Turn 1 it's tighter than you'd think,” explained Lowes. “The apex is slightly blind because the track drops away ever so slightly so you aim for a point and with experience you learn that it's that little bit tighter than expected. You're in second gear through the first corner so you'll short shift into third for Turn 2, but this is a section where the bike is always sliding and if you're not careful at the start of the race to manage this you'll pay for it at the end of the race with tire degradation.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Preview: Breaking Marquez' American Win Streak

Normally, the Grand Prix of the Americas, as the MotoGP round at COTA in Austin is known, is a straightforward affair. 24 MotoGP riders line up on the grid, and 23 of them stage a fierce battle over who is going to come second behind Marc Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider has won every single one of the five editions staged at the Circuit of the Americas. In fact, the Spaniard has never been beaten in any of the nine MotoGP races he has contested on American soil, at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, or in Austin.

Will someone finally break Márquez' winning streak in the US? On the evidence of the 2018 season so far, the only person capable of beating Márquez at one of his strongest tracks is Marc Márquez himself. In Argentina, the Repsol Honda rider managed to thoroughly sabotage his own race. First by stalling his bike on the starting grid – a grid already thrown out of kilter by the changing weather. Then by trying to make up for the time he lost serving a ride through penalty for a multitude of infractions at the start by charging through the field like a wrecking ball, slamming into one rider after another, taking out his arch nemesis Valentino Rossi, before being hit by another penalty, this time adding 30 seconds to his race time and demoting him out of the points.After the race and in the intervening days since, Rossi has gone on the attack, calling Márquez a dangerous rider who is a threat to everyone on the track with him. He doesn't feel safe on the track with Márquez, Rossi said. Rossi's remarks, while understandable, should be seen within the wider context of his vendetta with Márquez, after he lost the 2015 championship, which Rossi blames entirely on deliberate interference by Márquez. Further stoking the fire, Rossi was pictured in a social media post with a framed picture of the Argentina incident lying on a sofa at his dirt track ranch.

Whatever the root of Rossi's remarks, there can be no doubt that they are a distraction, both for Márquez and for Rossi himself. When the pair arrive at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, they will face questioning on one subject only. And that won't be Márquez' chances of winning on Sunday.

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2018 Aragon WorldSBK Recap: What We Saw In Aragon

Six races into a new era of WorldSBK and it seems as though we've seen a lot has changed without anything changing. Ducati and Kawasaki are still doing the winning with Yamaha the only manufacturer to upset the podium hegemony enjoyed by the leading manufacturers.

Everyone's a winner

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Joining The Dots – A Lap Of Aragon With Chaz Davies

Chaz Davies has dominated Aragon in recent years and he explains to Motomatters.com the keys to a fast lap of the Spanish circuit

At one point the Kingdom of Aragon was one of the Europe's most powerful in Europe. It was a central hub of the Mediterranean and one that controlled shipping in Spain, France and Italy. That power ebbed and flowed until eventually it fell. It's been 400 years since anyone ruled in Aragon but if there is a modern day King it would certainly be Chaz Davies.

The Welshman has won four of the last five races run at the 5km circuit, including delivering the first WorldSBK victory for the Ducati Panigale, and he sat down with MotoMatters.com to explain the nuances of a fast lap at this complicated circuit.

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2018 Argentina MotoGP Race Round Up, Part 3: Marquez vs Rossi, Marquez vs The Rules

On Friday, the Hondas were looking pretty strong at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Dani Pedrosa led FP1, with Cal Crutchlow just behind him. In FP2, Marc Márquez opened a big lead over Crutchlow, with the rest some distance behind.

On Saturday, Marc Márquez looked just about unbeatable, despite his slip up in qualifying. Six tenths quicker than Johann Zarco, and effortlessly quick in a wet FP3. Over a second quicker than his teammate Pedrosa in FP4, an advantage that was almost embarrassing. The portents were clear on Saturday night: this was Marc Márquez' race to lose.

And that is exactly what he did, before the lights had even gone out. A combination of ignorance of the rules and panic meant he blew his chance of winning the race as soon as he jumped off his bike to try to restart it on the grid. From there, he piled error upon error to make the situation worse. By the end of Sunday, he had managed to throw away any chance of salvaging points from the Argentina round, and run up a 15-point deficit to Andrea Dovizioso. He had also managed to create a public relations disaster, though to be fair, he had more than a little help doing that.

Ignorance is no excuse

But it all starts with ignorance of the rules. When he arrived back at the grid, the engine of his Honda RC213V stalled as he pulled up at his grid slot. His immediate reaction was the right one: to raise his hand in the air. That lasted a little more than one second (approximately 1.26 seconds, averaging multiple timings), before he jumped off his bike and tried to push start it. That set in motion a chain of events that would generate an unstoppable tidal wave of controversy.

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2018 Argentina MotoGP Race Round Up, Part 2: Rising New Stars, And Zarco vs Pedrosa

Every MotoGP weekend throws up dozens of talking points, notes and points of interest that can help an interested observer better understand what remains the greatest sport on earth. Some weekends have more to offer than others. And then there are weekends like Argentina. Already by qualifying, the Grand Prix at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit had produced more wildness and weirdness than you get at most rounds. And then Sunday came along.

Yesterday, I wrote a little about the peculiar and unique set of circumstances which caused the start of the race to be delayed, and about how Cal Crutchlow came to win what would be a fantastic race riddled with controversy. Before I move on to the most controversial part of the weekend – Marc Márquez' frantic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ride through the field which eventually saw him penalized out of the points – a few more notes on the race itself, and the result as it ended up in the books.

First up, Cal Crutchlow, who took a convincing win in Argentina. What was impressive about Crutchlow's victory was not just the result, but the way he achieved it. It was a victory taken with patience, as Spanish journalist Borja Gonzalez astutely observed. It was a patience born of confidence, the knowledge that a good result was possible. "I knew this weekend that I could win or finish second at this Grand Prix, wet or dry," he told the press conference. "I had the pace over the last years. I had the pace in Qatar to be fast."

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2018 Argentina MotoGP Sunday Round Up, Part 1: From Chaos Comes Victory

On Saturday after qualifying, I wrote about how one of motorcycle racing's defining characteristics is its unpredictability. That was written in response to a thrilling qualifying session which saw Jack Miller take pole by rolling the dice on slicks on a drying track, and outperforming everyone else. The rest of the grid had been pretty unpredictable too: Tito Rabat in fourth on the Reale Avintia Ducati GP17. Marc Márquez, the man who had been fastest by a country mile all weekend, only starting in sixth. Three first-time pole sitters in the three Grand Prix classes. Saturday at Argentina defied expectations.

Sunday at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit made Saturday look positively straight-laced. Wild doesn't even begin to cover the events on race day. There were Moto3 riders gambling on slicks on a track with just a very narrow dry line. There were new names and fresh faces at the front of the Moto2 race, a thriller which went down to the wire. But when MotoGP came around, even those events were made to look positively mundane. So much happened that it will take several days to digest, let alone do justice to in writing. There were so many facets to this race that I will need more than one report to deconstruct it all. For now, we will start at the beginning, and work our way forwards from there.

It all begins with the weather. Heavy rain all night, followed by the track drying out through the course of the Moto3 and Moto2 races left the track in a difficult condition. The Moto2 bikes and their fat Dunlop rubber had at least cleared out a dry line around most of the track, but it was not very wide in places, and there was water crossing the track. Then a light rain started to fall as the riders prepared to leave pit lane, making them choose wets instead of slicks. All except Jack Miller, that is, who rolled the dice on slicks once again, determined to seize an advantage wherever he could find it.

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2018 Argentina Saturday Round Up: A Gambler's Wild Ride Rewarded

Motorcycle racing is many things, but above all, it is unpredictable. Just when you think a racing series has settled in to a pattern, either during a season or over the course of a race weekend, along comes some unexpected factor or other to throw a spanner into the works and turn it all on its head. Suddenly, the script has gone out of the window and the protagonists are all ad-libbing their way to a completely new and unimagined story.

This is why so many riders sport symbols of gambling on their leathers, helmets, or bikes. Look around the MotoGP grid, and you see dice, cards, and poker chips everywhere. With so many random elements which can affect the outcome, from mechanical misfortune to errors of judgment to choosing the wrong tires to the fickleness of the weather, there is always the hope that things can break your way. It's always worth rolling the dice, because from time to time, a gamble will pay off handsomely.

That is how we ended up with the polesitters in the three classes at Argentina all taking pole for the first time in their careers. And it wasn't just the riders on pole: in MotoGP, three of the top four riders in qualifying were on satellite bikes. In Moto2, two of the top three hadn't finished anywhere near the podium in the first race in Qatar. And the same in Moto3, the favorites qualified down the order, with fresh faces at the top of the timesheets.

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2018 Argentina Friday Round Up: Marquez' Slides, Ducati's Difficulties, Sensationalizing A Trailer, And The Canet Incident

We expected practice at Termas De Rio Hondo to be dominated by the weather, and we were right, though not in the way we expected. Rain had been forecast for all of Friday, but it largely held off except for the odd wayward shower which caused more of a nuisance than any real disruption. But a combination of a dirty track and strong and gusty winds made conditions difficult at the Argentinian round of MotoGP. It turned the field on its head: Andrea Dovizioso, the man who had won the previous race at Qatar, finished FP2 as 24th and last on Friday in Argentina.

The track played a big part in making life difficult for the riders (or more accurately, everyone not called Marc Márquez). The resurfacing had been a major improvement, removing the worst of the bumps, but the new surface didn't really have any extra grip, the riders said. "It's positive about the bumps," Andrea Dovizioso said. "Apart from Turn 4 all the other corners are much better, almost perfect. The grip is not good like the old one, maybe it's worse, maybe it's too new, I don't know when they did."

Valentino Rossi agreed. "The new surface is a bit better because we have less bumps," the Italian said. "I think Michelin was a bit worried about the level of grip because they bring more tires. At the end the level of grip of the new asphalt is the same as the level of grip with the old asphalt." The real problem was the track still being dirty, and not being rubbered in, Marc Márquez explained. "It's good. In terms of grip, very very similar the new and old, you cannot feel the difference, because there is no rubber, it's just dirty. But it's so good about the bumps. Last year it was at the limit, quite dangerous with big bumps, but this year it's completely flat," the Spaniard told reporters.

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