Features

2018 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: New Tires Make Times Look Closer Than They Are

On paper, things are close at Jerez. At the end of the first day, the top eight riders are all within half a second of each other. The first fourteen are within a second. You would normally see the kind of tightly bunched times on a Moto2 result sheet, not MotoGP, as former Moto3 and Moto2 crew chief, and now Eurosport commentator Peter Bom put it. It has all the makings of a very tight race.

Or it does if you judge it only by the headline times. Dig a little deeper and a different picture appears. Scrap the riders who put in a new soft tire and chased a fast lap, and focus only on race pace on used tires, and it Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez looks like being fought out between The Hondas Repsol and LCR, Ecstar Suzuki rider Andrea Iannone, and just maybe, Johann Zarco on the Monster Tech3 Yamaha. Sure, a bunch of people did some 1'38s and low 1'39s, but Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Cal Crutchlow were banging out that kind of pace consistently, on tires which have more than half race distance on them.

Is it going to be a Honda whitewash? "It is still too early to say," Cal Crutchlow told reporters, trying to dampen expectations after finishing the day as fastest. "A lot of the other bikes take one day and overnight they are there. If they are sliding a lot then they try to fix it for day two. If we’re sliding then that's our natural bike and we don't make the same improvement overnight. I don't think we’ll suddenly have another second but other people might find another half a second."

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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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Same Crime, Stricter Penalties? The Dilemma Facing MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb

After Marc Márquez' wild ride in Argentina, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta promised the riders present in the Safety Commission in Austin on Friday night that in the future, the FIM Stewards Panel would hand out harsher penalties for infringements of the rules. That new policy saw action the very next day, with Marc Márquez and Pol Espargaro being punished three grid places for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in the way of other riders.

Not everyone was happy, however. Towards the end of the race on Sunday, Jack Miller dived up the inside of Jorge Lorenzo, after the factory Ducati rider left the door wide open at Turn 1. Lorenzo, going for a very late apex, found Miller on his line, and was forced to stand the bike up. "Things didn't change so much, no?" the Spaniard grumbled after the race. "If I don't pick up the bike, I crash. So if the rider doesn't impact you or you don't crash, they don't do nothing."

On Sunday night, I went to speak to Mike Webb to hear how he, as Race Director and chair of the FIM Stewards Panel, viewed the new instructions issued by the Grand Prix Permanent Bureau. He explained both what instructions had been given, and how he and the FIM Stewards had interpreted them.

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Suzuki Or Yamaha: The Dilemma Of The Marc VDS Team

The Tech3 team's decision to switch from Yamaha to KTM is having major consequences. With the Yamaha satellite bikes available, and with Suzuki ready to step up and supply a satellite team with bikes, teams are having to make choices they have never considered before. This luxury is indicative of the current health of the MotoGP grid: once upon a time, a satellite Yamaha or Honda team would never even consider switching to another manufacturer. Now, there are four competitive satellite bike suppliers to choose from.

So who will end up with the satellite Yamahas for 2019 and beyond, and where does that leave Suzuki? Speaking to some of the protagonists involved in the situation, it seems that although nothing is settled as of this moment, a decision is likely to be taken soon. Meetings are planned for Jerez which will play a crucial role in sorting out the satellite bike shuffle for next season.

The key player in all of this is the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The Belgian team has the financial resources, the staff, and the riders which allow them to pick and choose their partners. They have made no secret of their intention to leave Honda, after disappointment over the level of support they have received. But they have been caught between Yamaha and Suzuki now for the past couple of months.

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2018 Assen WorldSBK Recap: It's All Double Dutch In WorldSBK

Making predictions for races in WorldSBK 2018 can be a fool's errand. The form book has been thrown out the window on a couple of occasions and that was certainly the case once again at the Assen TT Circuit.

The Magic is still there

Michael van der Mark may no longer go by the moniker of Magic Michael but there was definitely magic in the air at Assen. The Dutch star claimed a double podium at his home round and showed once again that he is a force to be reckoned with. Pressuring Jonathan Rea and beating Chaz Davies in a straight up fight in Race 1 was impressive, but his Race 2 performance shouldn't be underestimated. The pressure was on the 25 year old. A bumper crowd of over 62,000 turned up to cheer him on and VDM didn't disappoint.

His third place finish on Sunday was another example of being able to keep a cool head. Tom Sykes was clear from the field and for Van der Mark the goal became to stand on the rostrum. That meant beating the Ducatis of Xavi Fores and Chaz Davies. The Yamaha rider duly delivered and moved into fourth in the championship standings. Mission accomplished.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A Great Track, Processional Racing, And A Hero In Texas

There is a lot to love about the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As an event, it is fantastic: the facilities at the track are great, the city of Austin is a wonderful place to visit, with a lively party atmosphere downtown, and a million other things to do. The landscape the track sits on is great for spectators, and the surrounding countryside is charming.

It is a race the riders love, and they have grown to love the track. "I like this track very much, it's very good," Valentino Rossi says of the Circuit of the Americas. "It's good to ride because it's very difficult, you have emotional corners, so it's good." The bumps around the track have made it much tougher to ride, but the layout is still a favorite among many of the MotoGP paddock. It is highly technical and has a bit of everything: hard braking, hard acceleration, fast corners, slow corners, flowing combinations of corners which reward precision.

As great at the track is, it still produces rather lackluster races. The average margin of victory over all six editions has been 3.458 seconds, and that is discounting the time lost to the inevitable easing off to celebrate in the certain knowledge that victory is in the bag. The gap has never been under 1.5 seconds, and there has never been a closely fought battle for victory, or even the podium spots, in the history of racing at the track. The result of the MotoGP race in Austin is usually set in stone before the halfway mark.

Even the normally mental Moto3 races are decided by seconds rather than hundredths. Only two of the six Moto3 races run so far were won by a margin of less than a second. In Moto2, the winning margin has only once been under two seconds. That was in 2015, when Sam Lowes beat Johann Zarco by 1.999 seconds. The result in Moto2 has never been close.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Saturday Round Up: More Penalties Asked, More Penalties Given

At the core of every great sport is great storytelling. Mighty heroes take one another on, and overcome insurmountable obstacles in pursuit of glory. The leather patches, helmet designs, and in in the current fashion conscious age, tattoos in motorcycle racing bear this out: everywhere you look are nothing to loses, against all odds', and never give ups. Motorcycle racing has so many truly great story lines that it doesn't need any artificial plot twists or turns to hold the viewer's interest.

Sometimes, though, it feels like the script writer for MotoGP gets a bit lazy. The hero whose efforts went unrewarded at one race goes on to win the next race. The villain of the piece one weekend immediately gets his comeuppance the following week. The plot lines are so self-evident and obvious that it they become more cheap made-for-TV melodrama than a grand sweeping blockbuster the sport deserves. It's all just a little bit too obvious.

So it was on Saturday in Austin. The story of the day had been telegraphed two weeks ago in Argentina: the reigning world champion Marc Márquez made a stupid mistake on the grid before the start of the race, then turned into a one-man crime spree trying to make up for the ground he had lost, culminating in a collision with his arch rival Valentino Rossi, reigniting the slumbering war which has existed between the two since the 2015 season.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Bumps And Dirt, Marquez' Superiority, And New Rules Incoming

There was good news and bad news for the MotoGP paddock after the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas. The good news is that the work done to the track to try to remove the bumps had not made the track much more abrasive, as some had feared. Tires are wearing normally, so pit stops or worse will not be needed.

The bad news is that the work done to try to remove the bumps has not done anything to remove the bumps. It has moved them about a little, improved them in some places, made them worse in others, but the net effect has been zero, or worse than zero. What's worse, the process used has generated a huge amount of dust, bikes coming down the back straight billowing clouds of dust in their wake.

"It's worse than Qatar," Jack Miller said. "I said to the guys, 'I hope you've got the air filter in from Qatar, because you're going to need it'." At the first race of the season, the teams have to run a special air filter to prevent the desert dust from entering the engine and causing excessive wear. "The dust is far worse than Qatar, it's that crappy concrete dust," Miller explained.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Thursday 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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