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2016 Barcelona MotoGP Preview: Great Tracks, Great Cities, and Teammates Reunited

If there is an axis around which every MotoGP season revolves, it has to be the sparkling jewels in the crown at Mugello and Barcelona. From the glory of the Tuscan circuit, all high speed and rolling hills set just an hour down the road from the heart of Italian sports motorcycles, the circuits heads to the magnificent track at Montmeló, just outside Barcelona. A stone's throw away from the cradle of Spanish motorcycling, and with a third or so of the grid (and the paddock regulars) having been born within an hour's drive, Barcelona is MotoGP's true home race.

Like Mugello, it is a track worthy of MotoGP, where the big bikes can properly stretch their legs. A massive front straight, exhaust noise booming between the great wall of a grandstand, with a tricky right-left chicane at the end of it. Lots of long fast corners, allowing differing lines and offering up chances to try to pass. A couple of hard braking sections with more opportunities to pass.

After the chicane at Turn 1 and 2, the next favorite passing spot is into Turn 5, a tight left hander. If you're feeling cheeky, you can have a sniff at Turn 7, though that can leave you open at Turn 9. Turn 10 is prime passing territory, a fast approach with a long downhill braking section, before you flick it left round a long, wide corner. Care is needed, though, as it is easy to lose the front on the greasy off-camber corner, or run wide when passing. That allows the rider you just passed to come back underneath. If the pass does not stick there, all is not quite lost, but it will require every gram of skill and bravery you can muster. Passes are possible at the final corner, as Valentino Rossi so stunningly demonstrated in 2009, but they are far from easy.

MotoGP Silly Season Update: Filling Factory Seats, and Satellite Speculation

In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP's Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year. Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away. Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.

So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha. Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would "definitely continue with this bike." He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a "perfect" contract.

Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes' seat at Aprilia was settled already two years' ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018. Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.

World Superbikes: On Donington, and American Success

Donington Park has become the personal playground of 2013 WorldSBK champion Tom Sykes. Sykes has now claimed an incredible eight wins in a row at his home circuit, and after Sunday's races he explained how much it meant and also what it means going forward. Marcel Duinker offers his insight into whether Sykes has an advantage at Donington Park due to his riding style.

For the majority of last year PJ Jacobsen was the sole American riding in the WorldSBK paddock but last weekend the numbers swelled to three with Cameron Beaubier joining series rookie Nicky Hayden on the Superbike starting grid. The MotoAmerica champion aquitted himself well and we will assess what it means for the domestic championship.

Opinion: Can Cameron Beaubier Revive the Stature of US Racing?

When opportunity comes knocking, it is a fool who does not open the door. That is especially true when the opportunity is as unique as the chance to race at a World Championship level event. Given the chance to shine on the world stage, you have to take that shot. So when Cameron Beaubier was asked to replace the injured Sylvain Guintoli inside the Pata Yamaha team for the Donington round of World Superbikes, I cannot imagine that he hesitated for very long before jumping at the chance.

As commendable as Beaubier's choice is, it comes with some considerable risk. Not just to the reputation of Beaubier himself, but also to the standing of American motorcycle racing in the world. As arguably the best motorcycle racer in MotoAmerica, the US domestic championship, his performance will be weighed on a silver scale, and used as a yardstick for the standard of racing in the US. The hopes and dreams of many a young American racer may lie fallow if Beaubier falls short.

The Mugello Moto2 Mix Up: Who is to Blame?

The Moto2 class has not had a lot of luck with their starts in 2016. First there was Qatar, where a mass jump start saw some riders called in for a ride through, some issued with a time penalty, and few people very happy about the way it was handled. That situation was all down to a problem with some of the high-speed starting grid cameras which check for false starts.

In Mugello there was more starting grid misery. This time, though, the problem was not with jump starts, but with restarts. An interrupted race and a quick start procedure ended up causing chaos, the first running of that procedure catching a lot of teams out, which in turn caused problems for Race Direction. As is their wont, unforeseen circumstances managed to catch everyone out, causing the first quick start procedure to be abandoned, and a regular restart instituted.

2016 Mugello MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Engines, Disappointment, and Blistering Battles

The 2016 Italian Grand Prix at Mugello was many things, but above all, it was memorable. It's not just that the three races ended up with incredibly close finishes – the margin of victory in Moto3 was just 0.038, and that was the largest winning margin of the three races – but how they were won, and what happened along the way that will leave them indelibly imprinted on the memories of race fans. There was drama, a bucketful of heartbreak, and plenty of chaos and confusion thrown into the mix. If there was a script for Sunday, it was torn up and rewritten a dozen times or more before the day was over.

The drama started during morning warm up. As the final seconds of the MotoGP session ticked away, Jorge Lorenzo suddenly pulled over and white smoke started pouring out of the exhaust of his Movistar Yamaha. His engine had suffered a catastrophic failure. This was a worry, as it was a relatively new engine, first introduced at Jerez, with twelve sessions of practice and two races on it. The other two engines Lorenzo had already used had 21 and 23 sessions of practice on them, and had also been used for two races each (including the flag-to-flag race at Argentina).

Though the engine allocation has been increased from five to seven engines for 2016, losing engine #3 at just the sixth race of the season could end up cutting things rather fine by the time we reach Valencia. Losing an engine so soon before a race seemed like a stroke of incredibly bad luck for Lorenzo. In fact, it would prove to be exactly the opposite.

2016 Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Improbable Alliances, and Saving Italian Racing

Every year at Mugello, Valentino Rossi and Italian designer Aldo Drudi come up with a special helmet design for Rossi's helmet. They vary in originality and ingenuity: my own personal favorite by far was the helmet from 2008, which featured Rossi's face on the top, wide-eyed with the terror he felt braking for the first corner at San Donato, one of the highest speed approaches on the calendar. Others have varied from the obscure and personal, to the entertaining or passionate. Most people have their own personal favorite, a few curmudgeons find the whole idea rather pointless.

Rossi's helmet for this year features a simple design, based on a pun in Italian. His AGV Pista GP helmet is yellow, featuring an outline of the Mugello circuit, and the word "MUGIALLO" around the front. "Mugiallo" is a play on the words Mugello, the name of the circuit, and "giallo", the Italian word for yellow. Rossi's tribal color is yellow, his fans call themselves "Il popolo giallo", or The Yellow People. The press release from Dainese described it as a tribute to the circuit, and to Rossi's fans.

Is that what it means to Rossi himself, though? On Saturday, Rossi made his helmet look more like an act of appropriation than a tribute. Rossi's searing qualifying lap laid bare his intentions: Valentino Rossi laid claim to the Mugello circuit. He came here to win.

2016 Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Intermediates, Seizing Opportunities, and Permanent Pain

"This morning was not Mugello weather," joked Pramac Ducati team manager Francesco Guidotti when we went to speak to him on Friday evening. It was cold, wet, and overcast, with a track still damp from the overnight rain. The Tuscan sun stayed hidden behind the clouds, lending no hand in burning off any water on the track. It was that horrible half-and-half weather that teams and riders fear so much, a completely lost session in terms of preparing for the race.

It was also precisely the kind of conditions that had prompted the return of intermediate tires. Fearing empty tracks – and consequently, dead TV time – Dorna had asked Michelin to produce tires that might tempt riders out on track, give TV viewers something to watch, and TV commentators something to talk about.

It didn't really work. At the start of MotoGP FP1, a group of riders went out on the hard wet tires, switching to intermediates as the track started to dry out a little. But it was still only about half the field, the rest preferring to remain safely ensconced in the pits, only venturing out at the end of the session to do a test start or two. Why, fans and journalists alike asked, did the riders not make use of the tools they had been given?

2016 Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Of Cockroaches and Contracts

For sheer, stunning beauty, it is hard to beat Mugello. 'Nestling in the Tuscan hills' is an overused cliché precisely because it is so very true. The Mugello circuit runs along both sides of a beautiful Tuscan valley, swooping up and down the hillsides as it flows along the natural contours of the land. Like Phillip Island, and like Assen once was, it is a truly natural circuit. It does not feel designed, it feels as if it was left there by the raw overwhelming natural forces which hewed the landscape from the limestone mountains, discovered by a man with a passion for speed, who then proceeded to lay asphalt where the hand of nature dictated.

It is fast, flowing and challenging. It demands every ounce of speed from a bike, and courage from a rider. It lacks any really tight corners, keeping hard acceleration in low gears to a minimum. Corners flow together in a natural progression, with a long series of left-right and right-left combination corners. The riders call them chicanes, which they are only in the very strictest sense of the word. In reality, they are way, way too fast to be what fans call chicanes, more like high-speed changes of direction. What they do is allow riders to line up a pass through one part of a turn, and the rider being passed to counter attack through the second part of the corner. That makes for great racing.

Silly Season Updates: Pedrosa to Honda, Viñales to Yamaha, and Who Else?

After the drama and speculation at Le Mans, it will be Maverick Viñales who will join Valentino Rossi in the Movistar Yamaha team in 2017. The reports pegging Dani Pedrosa for the seat alongside Rossi turn out to have been wrong, despite coming from highly credible sources. On Friday, Spanish magazine website Solomoto reported that Viñales flew to Milan to sign the contract at Yamaha Motor Racing headquarters in Gerno di Lesmo, a stone's throw from the Monza circuit.

Solomoto's report was followed by a deluge of other Spanish news sites reporting the same facts, though citing different sources. This makes it more likely that the news really is true this time, and that Viñales has indeed signed with Yamaha. The deal will see Viñales sign for two years alongside Rossi, with the announcement to be made on Thursday at Mugello.

The fact that Viñales is to be in Thursday's pre-event press conference at Mugello could have tipped us off to the news, but the Suzuki rider's podium at Le Mans – his first in MotoGP, and the first for a Suzuki since 2009 – was a legitimate reason to have Viñales in the room. Dorna's rule of thumb for putting together the press conference line up is to have the championship leader, the winner of the previous race, a rider relevant to the event (e.g. a local rider, or someone with ties to the event through their team, etc.), and other riders who are in the news for one reason or another. Getting a first podium in MotoGP is a good reason to be invited onto the press conference panel. Then again, so is signing a factory contract.

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