Features

2017 Austria MotoGP Preview: Speed And Safety, Ducati vs The World, And The Rider Market Stirs

The riders will have been off the bikes for about 80 hours before they take to the track again at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Back-to-back races are always tough, but doing back-to-backs with a test in between can be pretty brutal. At least everyone will be sharp when practice starts on Friday.

The Red Bull Ring is a unique track, though how you interpret the word "unique" is very much up to you. In one respect, the Spielberg circuit is just a few straights connected by sharp corners, with a replica of the Sachsenring's Omega curve thrown in for good measure.

On paper, it looks pretty dull, yet it is surprisingly popular among the riders. This is in part because of the stunning setting, and elevation changes that add charm to the circuit. But mostly, it's because it's a very, very fast circuit. And there is nothing that a motorcycle racer likes more than going very, very fast on a motorcycle. Oddly enough.

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2017 Brno MotoGP Monday Test Notes: A New Winner Among The Fresh Fairings

Monday was the next episode in a busy ten days for MotoGP. After the Czech Grand Prix, Brno played host to the traditional post-race test, with all the MotoGP paddock bar the satellite Ducatis taking part. After a mixed weekend of weather, conditions were absolutely perfect, with warm (but not hot) temperatures, clear skies, and a track that got better and better as the day went on and bikes laid down more rubber.

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2017 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: The Logistics Of Flag-to-Flag, and Exploiting Opportunity

Flag-to-flag races. You either love them or hate them. For some, flag-to-flag racing adds an extra dimension to MotoGP, rewarding teams and riders who are smart with their strategy selection, bringing much greater rewards for those who are prepared to take calculated risks, while also carrying a much greater punishment if you risk too much. It is not enough to get the setup right for the conditions, teams also have to assess how conditions might change, and riders have to judge the optimum time to come in and swap bikes. It places a greater emphasis on teamwork, rather than just the rider.

For others, however, flag-to-flag races are just a lottery, the outcome decided largely by chance. Victory goes not necessarily to the fastest rider on the track, but to the one who gambles correctly on the right tire, the right time to pit, on how the weather develops. The team has too much influence on the outcome, relegating the rider to a secondary role. It isn't the fastest rider who wins the race, it is the luckiest rider.

Unsurprisingly, there is often a correlation between how you feel about flag-to-flag racing and how your favorite rider performs in those conditions. My favorite rider is a master strategist, backed by a canny team. Your favorite rider is a lucky devil who fell face first into a bucket full of horseshoes, and wouldn't have won if it hadn't been for the team doing all the hard work and telling them exactly what to do and when to do it.

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2017 Brno MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Crash Bonanza, Ducati's Fairing, And The Value Of Testing

If the weather has been the bane of MotoGP this year, then Saturday at Brno made up for an awful lot. The day started out with clear blue skies, and stayed that way just about all day. It was still bone dry and warm when we left the track as darkness began to fall, though the occasional cloud could be spotted here and there. It was a great day for racing motorcycles.

It was apparently also a great day for crashing motorcycles. In the first session of the day, 40 minutes of free practice for the Moto3 class, 15 riders crashed, all going down like skittles. Next up it was FP3 for MotoGP, and a further 7 riders hit the deck. Moto2 followed, and 6 more went down. By the end of the day, there had been a grand total of 48 falls.

To put that number into perspective: on Friday, in much dicier conditions, there were only 9 crashes. Over all three days of the 2014 event at Brno, there were 46 crashers. If there are three more crashes on Sunday – and it's race day, when risks offer better rewards – then the Automotodrom Brno will seen more crashes than in the previous seven years. They really were going down like flies.

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2017 Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Stretching The Rules With Freaky Fairings

MotoGP is back, and so naturally, so is the rain. The weather continues to plague Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the weekend starting off in the pouring rain making for a wet FP1. Despite the heat, Brno is slow to dry, and so the MotoGP bikes started FP2 on a damp track with a dry line, the track ending the session almost completely dry. Hardly an ideal start to the weekend, if you are focused on finding the best setup possible for the race on Sunday.

Not everyone sees it that way, however. For Johann Zarco, it was nice to ease himself gently back up to speed. "Restarting the season in wet conditions was good for me," the Frenchman said. "This way we start the season slowly, and that's good for the feeling." It also reduced the advantage of the big teams who can eke out an advantage in stable conditions. "Also because we didn't do a test here, maybe it was better, because if we have a dry track for all the weekend, there are many teams which can work, work, work and be so strong at the end of the weekend. And for our situation as a rookie, it's good to have this tough weather."

The wet weather also made it a little easier on bodies which had not ridden a MotoGP bike for four weeks. "Especially it's difficult about physical condition," Valentino Rossi said on Friday. "Because it's one month without the bike, in the beginning you have some pain in the hands, in the legs. But it was not so hard to arrive to a good level, especially in the wet." The training he had been doing for the past couple of weeks – including running a VR46 Master Camp for Yamaha's riders in the WorldSSP 300 class – had helped him prepare. "It's a long break, but in the last weeks I train a lot on the bike, and sincerely, in the last ten days you always think about FP1. So you watch video, try to understand, try to remember the way to ride."

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2017 Brno MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Summer Break, Ducati's New Fairing, And Choices Ahead For Miller

After four weeks, MotoGP is back. That four-week break is a big deal. A much bigger deal than you might expect. Having a big break in the middle of the summer made the season much more manageable. "The problem is the pressure we have," Aleix Espargaro explained. "MotoGP looks like it's a lot of fun on the TV, and it is very fun, but we have a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, so to be able to disconnect and do nothing, it's always good."

That comment came in response to a question about the addition of the KymiRing in Finland to the calendar in 2019, which will expand the schedule to 20 races, after the inclusion of the Chang circuit in Thailand next year. The general feeling among riders was that 20 races was manageable, though with the caveat that Dorna ensure there is a large summer break.

Aleix Espargaro again: "For me the most important thing is to have a good break in the summer, like one month, because then you can disconnect. Really, I don't care if we do four races in a row, I don't care. I would like to do it if possible, four races in a row or three times three races in a row, but it's important in the middle to have a break, to just reset your mind, charge batteries. Because when you race a lot of consecutive races, it's very very hard for the body, for the head, for everything. But if we still have the summer break, one race more is no big problem."

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2017 MotoGP Season Review: The First Nine Races, A Wild Ride

Can part two of the (melo)drama which is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started. Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between a point behind Viñales. If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture. At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers. In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016. But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next. Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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The Suzuka 8 Hour Yamaha R1 and the art of compromise: speed vs stamina over 220 laps

The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed their third consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. We take a look at the Yamaha Factory Racing Team's YZF-R1.

It's often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motor sport. Whether it was Audi's decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, it's clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

At this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team fielded arguably the most advanced YZF-R1 on the planet. With open regulations for electronics, a tire war and plenty of scope for innovation in the rulebook, the machine raced by Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark is very different to their regular WorldSBK mount.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Race Round Up: Triple top for Yamaha as they sweep to Suzuka success

Smooth day at Suzuka for Yamaha as they wrap up a third consecutive 8 Hours success

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man's finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.”

The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8 Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the Number 21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren't exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, this was the final moment of their 2017 Suzuka.

Sitting in their paddock office the trio of riders were relaxed but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold. For Van der Mark it was the realization that for a third time he had stood on the top step of the podium. It was a case of “job done” for Lowes, whose trio of stints were a superb display of speed, consistency, and maturity. Nakasuga joins Van der Mark as a three-time winner, and his status as the King of Suzuka is retained. Indeed, it was his opening stint that laid the foundations of their success.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Saturday Round Up: Yamaha lay the foundations with pole position

Yamaha claimed a third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there's still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8 Hours

There are no team sports quite like motorsports. Fans focus their attentions on the rider on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance. At the Suzuka 8 Hours teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.

For the last two years the faces in the Number 21 Yamaha crew have changed. Katsuyuki Nakasuga has been a constant in their run of success and the Japanese rider helped claim pole position once again for the team. Nakasuga will turn 36 next week, and with Alex Lowes having also shown a great turn of speed on his lap the team are well placed for the race.

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