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Subscriber Only Feature: Which Direction For WorldSBK?

After Laguna Seca the future of WorldSBK was once again questioned. Asking the right question may be more important than finding the right answer immediately

“I've said it before and I'll say it again, democracy simply doesn't work,” so said this intrepid reporter when faced with reports that Bart's Comet would bring destruction to Springfield. It was a time of uncertainty and peril for America's greatest city but one from which it recovered by maintaining the status-quo.

While the WorldSBK paddock isn't standing on Mount Springfield singing Que Sera Sera and waiting for the comet to hit, it is facing a moment of truth about where the series is heading. It's always easier to swim with the tide but for WorldSBK patience and thoroughness are more important than being swift and decisive in making the wrong decision.

Since Imola the paddock WorldSBK has been filled with rumor and counter rumor about the direction that the series will take. Will there be a spec ECU? Will there be concessions for different manufacturers? Will there be testing restrictions placed on the successful teams? The list of possibilities has been the talk of the paddock with Dorna's Carmelo Ezpeleta even suggesting making the series into a Stock class, but what is actually best for WorldSBK?

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Interview: Aspar's Gino Borsoi On Creating A Pathway To MotoGP For Young Talent

The world of motorcycle racing is undergoing a major change behind the scenes. Increasingly, teams are working on creating a path for bringing on young and talented riders. Where once individual teams would merely scour the classes below the one they competed in for talent, and engage in bidding wars for the most promising riders, now, they take a very different tack. Talent scouting starts at the very lowest level, and a path created all the way from Pre-Moto3 to MotoGP.

One of the first examples of teams creating such a pathway came about when Marc VDS teamed up with Monlau for the 2015 season. Monlau had an existing racing structure in Spain, reaching down to regional championships, as well as a technical academy for budding race engineers. Marc VDS had a successful Moto2 team which could take over from the Monlau operation, and a newly created MotoGP operation. Suddenly, the team had a complete package they could offer riders, with sponsorship and consistent support starting in Pre-Moto3 and carrying on through the FIM CEV, Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. All with the backing of Spanish beer giant Estrella Galicia.

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World Superbike Track Guide: Laguna Seca

There are not many circuits in the world like the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Californian circuit offers a unique challenge in WorldSBK.

Led Zeppelin sang about Going to California and said, “I'll meet you up there where the path runs high. Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams, telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.” Unfortunately for the riders in WorldSBK when you stand at the top of the mountain at Laguna Seca the challenge facing riders who dream of a win truly is as hard as it seems. This highly technical race track demands precision, consistency, imagination and above all else experience.

Coming across the line riders will take a variety of lines and gears that are defined by their bike setup. In WorldSBK gear ratios are fixed for the season and as a result we see a lot of variety at Laguna Seca. Some riders will be forced to use six gears, whereas others will use only five around the 3.6km track. With the track snaking it's way throughout the Monterey hills around a lake, it offers a little bit of everything.

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2017 Sachsenring MotoGP Round: Notes On What I Missed

Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don't have time to write about. Here's what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:

About those chassis

Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the "new" chassis and one of the "old" chassis. (The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year's chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The "old" chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.)

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2017 Sachsenring MotoGP Round Up: On Unpredictable Predictability, Compromising Setup, And Yamaha's Satellite Team

If the 2017 MotoGP season has been anything, it has been entirely unpredictable. After two races, we were declaring the season over, and penciling Maverick Viñales' name on the trophy. A race later, and we were conceding that Valentino Rossi had taken over the lead of the championship, and that meant that whoever won the title would be riding a Yamaha. After four races the top four were within ten points, and we gave up on there being a favorite, only to change our minds again after Le Mans, where Valentino Rossi crashed out trying to beat his teammate, and Viñales took a 17-point lead again.

After Mugello, when Andrea Dovizioso won his first dry MotoGP race, Viñales led by 26 points, and was ahead of reigning champion Marc Márquez by 37 points. We had our favorite once again. Three races and two changes in the championship lead later, and we have given up again. The top four are back within ten points of each other again, and making predictions is looking increasingly foolish.

There was one certainty we could cling to, and would not allow ourselves to let go: At the Sachsenring, Marc Márquez takes pole, and then goes on to win the race. It has happened the last seven years Márquez has raced at the Sachsenring, from 125s to Moto2 to MotoGP. Surely he would repeat that again? Surely, Marc Márquez would break the unpredictability of MotoGP in 2017?

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2017 Sachsenring MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Death, Taxes, and Marquez

There are few certainties in life. Death, sure, at some point all of us will die. Taxes, well try as you might (and the number of riders, teams, and managers based in tiny principalities and sovereign island nations known primarily for their tax codes is surprisingly large), the tax man always gets a cut, if not through direct taxation, then at the very least through indirect taxes based on sales. Oh, and Marc Márquez taking pole at the Sachsenring. That also seems to happen with a sense of inevitability.

For the past seven years, Marc Márquez has taken pole at the Sachsenring. He did it in the 125 class, in 2010. He did it in both his years in Moto2. And he has done it in MotoGP for the past four seasons, all of his time in the premier class. Bearing in mind Márquez is only 24 years of age, and took his first pole at the German circuit at the tender age of 17, that is a truly remarkable achievement.

But 2017 is different. The winds of change are blowing through MotoGP. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the winds of unpredictability are blowing, with already five different winners from eight races, as well as nine different riders with a podium finish. The championship, too, has been up and down: three races ago, Marc Márquez trailed the then championship leader Maverick Viñales by 37 points. Going into Sunday's race in Germany, Márquez trails the new championship leader Andrea Dovizioso by just 11 points. In 2017, nothing is a given.

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2017 Sachsenring MotoGP Friday Round Up: More Grip, Treacherous Turn 11, And Not Being Just A Honda Track Any Longer

Well, we knew the weather was going to be a factor at the Sachsenring, and we weren't disappointed. (Or perhaps we were, depending on your point of view.) The MotoGP riders started off on a bone dry track in the morning, spent an extended 55 minutes on slick tires, then suffered through a couple of full on rain showers in the afternoon. They had time on a dry track, and time on a wet track, and time on a track with a dry line forming. It was the perfect preparation for what promises to be a weekend of mixed weather. The chances of making it all the way to the race on Sunday without another wet session are very small. But they are also not zero.

Riding in both weather conditions gave the riders a chance to assess the grip of the new surface. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Aleix Espargaro summed up the general impressions, and entirely in character, he also summed it up with the most enthusiasm. "It's unbelievable," the Aprilia rider said. "They did a super job, a fantastic job. The tarmac has zero bumps, nowhere. The grip is super high. Actually, I think we finished five seconds from the dry times, which is very very very fast. So, German style, they did a great job!"

The grip was generally judged to be good in the dry, but absolutely phenomenal in the wet. "Honestly, in the wet you can’t believe it," Cal Crutchlow told us. "I left the pit lane. I was late because we were messing around in the garage. Marc had done three laps. I saw the blue flags, sit up and I looked down and Marc’s got his elbow on the floor! When I see someone’s got their elbow on the floor it means you’ve got to push."

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2017 Sachsenring MotoGP Thursday Round Up: On Freak Weather, Massive Tire Testing, and Honda's Dominance

From Assen to Sachsenring, 700 kilometers in 7 days. One of the shorter hauls between back-to-back races, but a tight schedule nonetheless. Sachsenring's weird split paddock was full of tired looking faces on Thursday, as truck drivers and hospitality staff rushed to tear the entire paddock down in Drenthe, then build it all up again in Saxony.

It is hard to think of a greater contrast in circuits, too. Assen is flat, fast, and sweeping, the Sachsenring tight, slow, and with massive changes in elevation. There are similarities too: the bikes spend a lot of time on the edge of the tire at both tracks. At Assen, it's especially the right side of the tire, as riders sweep through the succession of right handers from Mandeveen all the way to the Ramshoek. At the Sachsenring, it's all left-hand side of the tire which takes the punishment, as the bikes come out of the Omegakurve, pitch into Turn 4, then hustle their way all the way down and then up and over the hill before Turn 11.

Turn 11 is a vicious beast, laying in wait for the unwary, its voracious gravel trap waiting to claim anyone who flicks the bike just a little too enthusiastically right after spending so much time on the left-hand side of the tire. The opposite right-hand side has had 40 seconds to cool off, while the right-hand side of the tire takes all the punishment. The transition from left to right, from scorching hot to cool rubber, from one of the hardest tire compounds of the year to one of the softest, is tricky. Switching between two very different feeling rubbers catches plenty of riders out, in both MotoGP and Moto2.

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