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2017 Jerez MotoGP Thursday Notes: Aprilia's New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, KTM's Big Bang

A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus. This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the "real" start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds. At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.

The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages. "Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain," Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.

Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. "We have many days of tests," the Spaniard told us. "Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn't sleep, I was super tired." Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. "I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona... We have many tests."

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2017 Jerez MotoGP Preview: Getting Down To Business In Andalusia

And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers. MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.

That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location. Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.

Think of it like Texas hold 'em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together. Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.

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WorldSBK: Clock Is Ticking As Hayden And Honda Search For Solutions

Assen had been earmarked as a key round for Honda in their search for competitiveness in WorldSBK. It passed with more confirmation that the team's struggles will continue

Nine points were all that Nicky Hayden had to show for himself at the end of a trying weekend at the TT Circuit of Assen. The Honda rider was able to show some signs of improved competitiveness at times during the weekend but overall the same flaws of the Honda Fireblade have been exposed once again.

Reliability and inability to bring competitive upgrades to the table cost Hayden dearly at Assen. The week before the Dutch round the team tested a new engine specification in Portimao and the American came away disappointed with a lack of progress.

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2017 Assen WorldSBK Race 2 Notes: Illness Takes Its Toll

Race 2 at Assen didn't have the fireworks of Saturday but rather than the pressure cooker environment of a championship battle flaring up it was a slowly boiled intra-team scrap that was settled on Sunday.

In three years at Kawasaki Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes have had their differences and tension but overall their relationship has been mostly positive. There was the potential for fall-out in The Netherlands however when Sykes closed dramatically on Rea in the second half of the race.

The 2013 world champion has battled illness in recent weeks, a bacterial infection has forced him to into hospital and laid him up since Thailand, but in the thick of battle he sensed a weakened rival.

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The Rise and Fall of Danny Kent

"Danny is probably the most talented rider I have ever worked with," Peter Bom, Danny Kent's former crew chief at Kiefer told me several times last year. Bom has seen plenty of talent in his time: he also worked with Stefan Bradl at Kiefer, Chris Vermeulen in World Supersport and World Superbikes, Cal Crutchlow in World Supersport. World champions all, and to this tally he added Danny Kent.

Less than a year after helping him win the Moto3 world championship, Danny Kent asked the Kiefer team for a new crew chief, abandoning his collaboration with Peter Bom. Kent felt that Bom had been slow to pick up on the changes in the Moto2 class during Bom's three years in Moto3. Stefan Kiefer obliged, and Kent started the season with a new crew chief and a Suter Moto2 chassis.

Three races into the new season, Kent has left the team. He competed in two races for them, scoring three points in the first, crashing out of the second. At Austin, after a miserable few practice sessions, Kent refused to race. The team could have seen the decision coming, perhaps: Kent had finished 29th in morning warm up, 2.5 seconds off the pace of fastest man Taka Nakagami.

Later that afternoon, in a series of tweets, Kent explained his decision was because of "irreconcilable differences", which had prevented him from reaching his potential. He said he was still hungry, and believed he could be competitive in Moto2. Team boss Stefan Kiefer told Dutch Eurosport, "personally, I do not think this is correct, but that's what he decided." In a press release later that day, Kiefer stated that the decision was "difficult to understand from the team's point of view."

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2017 Assen WorldSBK Saturday Notes: Trouble Boils Over

The tension that has been building between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies finally spilled over at Assen. Three years of competing with one another for race wins and championships has strained their relationship, and on Saturday at Assen it reached breaking point.

On the final laps of Superpole, Davies was on a flying lap and came across Rea through turn seven. Being forced to sit up and avoid the touring Kawasaki, emotions got the better of Davies and at the end of the session he hit out at Rea in Parc Ferme.

“You stayed on three quarters of the track,” stated Davies after qualifying third. “I don’t know how tight a line you can pull out of that left but I’m three quarters of the track out there. You were in the way mid-way through the corner and then on the exit I had to pick it up because you were three quarters across the track, if I didn’t I’d have cleaned you out! Next time I’ll smash you from the inside and we’ll see what happens.”

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Wayne Rainey: The Renaissance Man for MotoAmerica

The MotoAmerica project is in its third year but what is the current state of Road Racing in the United States? At the opening round of the 2017 season we sought out the opinion of some of the biggest names in the paddock

The third year of the MotoAmerica championship has seen it continue to grow but how close is the series to prospering?

Within the paddock there is plenty of optimism that the series is on the verge of a true breakthrough as it seeks a return to the golden era of road racing in the United States. Three years ago, Wayne Rainey talked about looking to provide a stable platform for the championship and one that could offer growth potential. With a strong TV deal in place and manufacturer interest returning to the series - Suzuki and Honda have increased their involvement for 2017 - Rainey has now set his sights on a higher goal: making the US a destination for top riders around the world. Last year saw former Moto2 world champion Toni Elias move to America in search of another challenge and an opportunity to win races.

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2017 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Leaders Crashing, and Rossi vs Zarco

When riders get off to a blinding start in the first couple of races, it is easy to get carried away and start penciling their name onto the championship trophy. Doing that after just two races is plainly ridiculous. Doing it after three races is hardly any better. Yet the temptation to do so remains strong: when a narrative presents itself, it is hard to resist following it.

That has been the case so far this year. In Moto3, Joan Mir has looked untouchable winning the first two races from tough fights. In Moto2, Franco Morbidelli had dominated, controlling races from start to finish. And coming into Austin, Maverick Viñales had won the first two races of the season quite comfortably, nobody anywhere close to being able to match him.

During practice, a new narrative presented itself in MotoGP. Marc Márquez has dominated the racing at the Circuit of The Americas since it first joined the calendar, winning all four races held there before this year. Maverick Viñales has dominated the opening two races of the year, and came to Austin looking capable of ending Márquez' winning streak.

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2017 Austin MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Explaining Crashes, And New Rivalries

There is a move afoot among MotoGP riders to have qualifying changed. Or rather, to have the way the selection is done for Q1 and Q2. A lot of riders have complained about the current system of prequalifying using combined times from FP1 through FP3. The riders complain that they lose too much time to trying to set a fast lap in each session, just in case conditions change. The current counter proposal from the riders is to use just the FP3 times to select which riders go through to Q2 directly, and allow the teams to spend Friday focusing on setup.

Saturday morning exposed the weakness of such an idea. A combination of cold tires, strong wind, a bumpy track, poor tire selection on Friday night, and the narrow temperature working range of the Michelins saw eight riders crash a total of ten times in FP3. Alex Rins crashed so heavily he broke both the radius and ulna in his left arm, and put himself out of action for Austin and Jerez, and possibly for Le Mans as well. The rest escaped relatively unscathed, but with many a temper blazing.

Basing passage into Q2 solely on FP3 results was not without risks of its own, Valentino Rossi told the Italian media. "Today, that would have been a stupid idea, because we would have had to take a lot of risks in difficult conditions," Rossi said. If there had been a total of ten crashes in a session in which most riders hadn't pushed to improve their time, how many would have fallen if they had all been pushing to get through to Q2?

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2017 Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Honda's Real Weakness, And Much More

It looks like we have been wrong all along. As usual. All this time, we thought it was the engine which was the problem for Honda. This would be a major issue, as engine designs are sealed and fixed for an entire season in MotoGP, at least for factories which have gathered sufficient podium credits to qualify as competitive under the rules. With nine wins last year, and a MotoGP title, Honda definitely does that.

Maybe the problem isn't the engine after all, however. Honda riders are starting to express the apparently unpopular opinion inside HRC that maybe the solution isn't to rejig the engine again by playing around with firing orders, crankshaft counterweights, and other internal moving parts now set in aspic until the season ends at Valencia. Perhaps, they suggest, Honda could take a look at its chassis, and try finding solutions there.

Cal Crutchlow was the most vociferous, though that is an extremely relative term when speaking of rider statements about the Japanese manufacturer they ride for. "I think we need to start working with the chassis a bit more," Crutchlow told us after another hard day at a very physical track. "That's not a comment against my manufacturer, against my team, it's just a comment that we've looked at the engine for the last two years, and I believe that a lot will come from the chassis. Sure, some electronics, but I think it's chassis. I've ridden other bikes, so I know what the chassis is doing. And I believe that's where we could improve a lot. Because the engine is sealed, that's done, it's done and dusted."

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