Features

Changing The Qatar Race Start Time: No Good Answers To An Intractable Problem

The Qatar round of MotoGP is problematic for all sorts of reasons. Even setting aside the human rights issues, there are challenges from every direction in staging the race at the Losail International Circuit, just north of Qatari capital. Those challenges are due to the choices being made, and the choices are being made because of money.

The biggest problem is that the choices being made are all slightly at odds with one another. Qatar wants to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and pays a large premium for the privilege. Enough to cover air freight for the series for all of the flyaway races during the season. That need not of itself be a problem, but to make the race look more spectacular, the circuit wants to hold the race at night, under the incredible set of floodlights which light up the track. And of course, because it is the first race of the season, Dorna want to hold it at a time when it will receive maximum media attention. The right time slot for the race in key European markets is important.

Back to top

2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Round Up: Wizard of Oz? Definitely. Wizard of WorldSBK? Not Yet

MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.

He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.

You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.

Back to top

2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Sunday Notes: Rins Rocks It, Quartararo Surprises, Yamaha's Dilemma, And The End Of Testing Is Nigh

The Qatar MotoGP test is turning out to be more intriguing than we dared hope. The track in the desert is a very different beast to the tropical Sepang, and throws up different challenges. That produces different winners and different losers. And that leaves us, the neutral observers, with much to chew on.

Some of the names at the top of the timesheets are the same: Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have been fast all preseason, and the second day at Qatar was no exception. But seeing Fabio Quartararo in third is quite a surprise; at Sepang, the Petronas SRT Yamaha rider was way down in sixteenth, 1.2 seconds off the pace at the front.

Quartararo's secret? "Today has been the first time that when I put the new tire in, I disconnected my brain to say, OK, now it's time to make a time attack," he joked. So disconnected was his brain that he didn't even realize just how fast he was going. "The first lap time I made was a 1'55.0, and I didn't realize it was a 1'55.0. I thought it was a 1'56.0, and I said, 'I need to be faster!' The next lap, I made a 1'54, so the lap before was a 1'55!" He was happy that it was three quick laps in a row, proving that it wasn't just luck.

It is interesting to compare the fortunes of Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia. At Sepang, Bagnaia was the rookie making all the waves, while Quartararo languished down the field. At Qatar, the roles are reversed, with Quartararo third, and Bagnaia down in fifteenth, over a second back.

Back to top

2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Notes: Half A Test, New Parts, And New Penalties

The Qatar MotoGP test is really only half a test. Taking place just two weeks before the first race of 2019 at this very same track, factories are caught between testing and reevaluating new parts and looking for the right setup for the race. And with the test running from 4pm local time until 10pm, the first two hours, the track is too warm, heated by the setting sun, and too cold and potentially damp in the final hour, as temperatures drop perilously close to the dew point. Of the six hours the track is open, only three actually approach the conditions during the race and qualifying.

That means it's imperative that the factories get most of their work done at Sepang, bringing parts to Qatar more to verify the findings at Sepang, rather than actually run through a major testing program. There is one major exception to this rule: aerodynamics. With just under two weeks to go to the race, Qatar is the place where aerodynamics have to be finalized. No factory can risk bringing brand new aero to the first race, when they have to homologate a fairing.

There was some new aero on display on the first day of the Qatar test. Aprilia unveiled their 2019 livery – good news, it looks like an Aprilia, and is consequently gorgeous – and also a new set of wings, looking for all the world like Ducati's most recent effort.

Scoop!

Back to top

2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Test Round Up: Is The Ducati As Fast As It Looks?

Alvaro Bautista wrapped up testing in Phillip Island by dominating the time sheets in all four sessions. The Ducati rider has it all signed and sealed ahead of his WorldSBK debut this weekend. The top speed of the Ducati Panigale V4R is such that he’ll blow past everyone on the straight. Single-lap speed and top speed will make it an unbeatable package. After four years of Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki, dominance we’ve traded one era for another.

So goes the logic from some quarters of the WorldSBK paddock, but don’t run to the bookies to put the mortgage on Bautista. He’ll definitely start this weekend’s races as the favorite, and rightly so after his testing performances, but that’s the thing... that was testing. Racing is a very different beast and while the headlines from testing belong to the Spaniard, the Prosecco and the trophy might land somewhere else.

Phillip Island is a track tailor made for Bautista. Carrying corner speed and big lean angles mean that the long radius corners of the final sector are his ideal type of turn. Add to this the middle sector of the lap where you sweep from one side of the track to the other, and his accurate style always works well here; there’s a reason he was a contender for the MotoGP win last year.

Old dog, new tricks

Back to top

2019 Sepang MotoGP Test Friday Notes: Quick Takes On All Six Factories At The Test

It was 7:30 in the evening, and we were standing on the porch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT hospitality chalet, talking to Fabio Quartararo about how his day had gone when the rain came. It was a brief, intense shower filling the air with the sweet scent that comes when rain falls after a period of intense heat. It seemed a somehow fitting end to one of the most intriguing MotoGP tests in years.

The weather had played a major role in the test, though this time, for all the right reasons. Normally, test days at Sepang are disrupted in the late afternoon by a heavy rainfall, leaving teams trying to cram as much work as possible into the mornings, and hoping that the track dries out in the afternoon. Every shower brings dust and dirt to the track, washing away some of the rubber laid down on the track, slowing the track down.

But not this time. There was a brief thunderstorm on Monday night, but that was the last rain to fall at the circuit until Friday night. Three full days of a dry track, the pace increasing as more and more rubber got laid down. It should hardly be surprising that Jorge Lorenzo's fastest ever lap of the circuit, set last year, should be broken. But that it should be broken by nearly six tenths of a second, and by six riders, is a sign both of just how good the track conditions were, and just how competitive the field is currently in MotoGP.

Back to top

2019 Sepang MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Ducati's Trick Parts, Yamaha's Revival, Suzuki's Speed, And KTM On The Right Road?

For fans of technological innovation, the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test had been something of a disappointment. There were very few clearly visible upgrades to the bikes on display on Wednesday, teams using the first day to get themselves accustomed, and focus on checking the engine choices made back at the November tests. There were one or two things going on, but they weren't obviously visible to casual fans.

Thursday was a much better day for MotoGP tech nerds. New parts started to appear, as factories started working their way through the list of parts they have prepared for the 2019 season. Suzuki debuted a new fairing, with a more Yamaha-like aero package, with wider wing surfaces and a slimmer side section.

Alex Rins was positive about the new fairing. "It gave me more support on the front, less wheelie, which is important for the speed. We are faster on the straight because of the fairing – it’s more aerodynamic. The front wheel is more on the floor." That was borne out by his lap times, the Spaniard finishing with the second fastest time of the day, and the second highest number of laps in 1'59, including a run of four in a row. This was pace, rather than just a single quick lap.

Hitting the holeshot

All eyes were on Ducati, however, as a mystery lever appeared on the top of the Desmosedici GP19's (and only the GP19) top triple clamp:

Back to top

2019 Sepang MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: Honda's Speed, Injured Riders, And Hope For Yamaha Yet

The first day of the Sepang MotoGP test is always met with some trepidation. For the factories, have they responded to the feedback from before the winter break correctly, and developed the bikes in the right direction? For the riders, has their winter training program been enough to prepare them for riding a MotoGP bike, and will they hold up under the battering which nearly 300hp and carbon brakes will inflict upon them? And for injured riders, is their recovery going to plan, or are they ahead or behind on schedule?

With all these questions on their minds, the MotoGP paddock tends to ease in to the first day of the test. Especially if, as looks likely, the weather will hold and they will not lose much track time to the tropical rains which can fall in the afternoon. The first day is used for verifying the data from the Valencia and Jerez tests, checking engine configurations once again, and getting the riders' minds accustomed to the sensation of over 320 km/h again. It is a day of gentle evolution, rather than radical revolution.

Visible and invisible

As a consequence, a stroll down pit lane on Wednesday morning did not reveal a great deal of technical novelty. The Ducati GP19s looked very similar to the GP18s, with the exception of the newer aero package from the second half of the year. The teardrop fork upper covers were back to assist with cooling in the heat – and with clear skies, the sun is brutal, and air temperatures are high.

Back to top

2019 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview - Six Factories Prepare For The New Season

Though bikes have been circulating at the Sepang circuit already, the MotoGP season only really gets underway once the full field of full-time contracted riders takes to the Malaysian track on Wednesday. After the long winter break, we finally get to see where everyone stands as the 2019 season approaches.

Well, almost everyone: injuries always play a smaller or larger role, as riders recover from surgery, or suffer new injuries while training for the coming season. Injuries have hit Honda hard so far this year, with Jorge Lorenzo absent after breaking his left scaphoid just three weeks before the test, Marc Márquez still recovering from major surgery to fix a shoulder with a tendency to dislocate, and Cal Crutchlow coming back from a massive crash at Phillip Island which shattered his ankle.

The Sepang test will be a little different this year, as a result of the tweaking of the testing rules. With two official tests in November, at Valencia and Jerez, rather than the official Valencia test and a private test elsewhere, all of the factories have followed the same preparation in late 2018. What's more, with them all having ridden at Valencia and Jerez, they have a clearer idea of how their engines will react on tighter circuits in colder conditions, where more horsepower is more difficult to contain. November has become engine preparation month, with Sepang now being used as a verification.

Back to top

2019 Sepang MotoGP Shakedown Day 3 Notes

After a day of prevarication, Yamaha (with the blessing of the other factories) finally cracked down on the media presence at Sepang, locking the gates to pit lane as well as the side of the track. Anyone who wasn't a member of a team wasn't getting in, and the factories could work in peace. All except Honda, who had packed up on Saturday, giving Stefan Bradl an extra day's rest ahead of the official test starting on Wednesday.

Aleix Espargaro joined the action, riding the Aprilia RS-GP alongside test rider Bradley Smith, though Andrea Iannone sat out the day with what was reported to be a minor health issue with his teeth. Jonas Folger also took to the track for Yamaha, but as he and Yamaha's other test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, swapped between the two test bikes, it was hard to tell who was setting which times. Both riders looked pretty fast, and Nakasuga was doing so with the benefit of an extra day's experience. Jonas Folger had a crash in the middle of the day, causing a red flag, though Folger continued testing after the flag appeared.

Back to top

Pages