2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Another Chapter In Silly Season, And Yamaha's (Un)surprising Speed

The Qatar MotoGP test may be the moment of truth for the factories and riders, but the most important things we learned from the first day of the test were unrelated to the action on track, or perhaps even the 2018 season. The biggest news of the day came when Valentino Rossi spoke to the press, telling Italian media that he is close to signing on with the Movistar Yamaha team for another two years, meaning he will race in 2019 and 2020.

Rossi's revelation came in response to a question about whether the Sky VR46 team would be taking over the satellite Yamahas to be vacated by Tech3 from 2019. "Firstly, I didn't expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha," Rossi said. "So we considered possibly having a team in MotoGP. It would have been great opportunity, but we won't do it. For the next two years we won't do it, also because it's very likely I'll be racing. I see it as a possibility for the future, once I've stopped but not in 2019 or 2020."

Those are a remarkably information-dense couple of sentences. Firstly, Rossi acknowledges that he is close to signing a contract extension with Yamaha for two more seasons. This is hardly news – he was half expected to sign a new deal at the Sepang test, but it looks likely that any new deal will be done before the season starts. Secondly, he admits that the Sky VR46 Racing Team is interested in having a team in MotoGP. Again, this is hardly earth-shattering news.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday Press Releases

Press releases from the teams after the first day of the MotoGP test at Qatar:

Movistar Yamaha Get Testing Underway in Qatar

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP's Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi completed the first day of pre-season testing at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar this evening, finishing in first and seventh place respectively.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday Final Times: Viñales Leads Tight Field

Maverick Viñales has topped the first day of the final MotoGP test at Qatar, ending Thursday just a tenth of a second off the race lap record set in 2016. The Movistar Yamaha rider spent a lot of time on track, racking up a grand total of 64 laps to lead the field. Andrea Dovizioso ended the day in second on the Factory Ducati, just five hundredths of a second behind Viñales, and three thousandths of a second quicker than his former teammate Andrea Iannone, Iannone now riding the Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday 7:30pm Times: Viñales Ahead Of Lorenzo And Rossi

The Movistar Yamahas are getting up to speed in Qatar, with Maverick Viñales currently leading the pack at 7:30pm, and 90 minutes of the test left. With the race due to start at 7pm, this is a key part of the test.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday 6pm Times: Lorenzo Leads, Iannone Tied With Viñales

Five hours into the first day of the Qatar MotoGP test it is Jorge Lorenzo leading the way, though the factory Ducati rider's advantage is minimal indeed. Suzuki's Andrea Iannone is tied with Movistar Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales for second fastest, both men six hundredths of a second slower than Lorenzo. The Repsol Honda riders follow in fourth and fifth, Marc Marquez ahead of Dani Pedrosa, though there is just a hundredth of a second between the two of them.

Testing will continue for three more hours, the test finishing at 9pm local time.

Times at 6pm local time:

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday 4pm Times: Dovizioso Leads Marquez After Slow Start

The Qatar MotoGP test got off to a slow start at the Losail International Circuit, with riders letting the first (and hottest) hour of the day go by without taking to the track. It is not a time they will be on track during the race weekend, so they chose to skip it.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Preview: One Last Chance To Get It Right

The last test of the preseason is something of a moment of truth for the MotoGP factories. From the tropical heat of Malaysia and Thailand, the paddock heads to the Arabian peninsula, and cool desert evenings of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. Air temperatures start in the mid 20s°C rather than the mid 30s°C, and drop into the high teens heading into the evening. That temperature difference means that air density is a couple of percent higher at Qatar. That in turn means more oxygen going into the engine, and better combustion efficiency.

Translating all that from vague engineering platitudes into real-world racing, colder air means more power all the way through the rev range. Engines run better, pick up more aggressively, and pull harder flat out in the cool Qatari evenings than in Sepang's punishing tropical heat. An engine that seemed docile in Sepang suddenly feels aggressive at Losail. An engine which was just about manageable in Thailand is a barely controllable beast in Qatar. And with just two weeks to go before the start of the 2018 MotoGP season, it's too late to fix the problem. Riders are left wrestling a wild bull for the rest of the year.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Honda's past couple of seasons. Engines which seemed OK at Sepang suddenly turned out to be much tougher to handle at Qatar, and as a consequence, the tighter European tracks, racing on days when air temperatures struggled to get out of the teens. It was the story of Suzuki last year, who woefully misjudged their engine at the beginning of the season, a decision made more difficult by have two new riders on the bike.

Will it happen again? The Qatar test should at least provide a pointer or two to just where each of the factories stand with their engines. Though riders may try to be noncommittal about their engines, not wanting to tip their hands ahead of the upcoming seasons, there may perhaps be clues in their words, or perhaps the consistency of the different riders on the same bike. Testing isn't racing, of course, and the proof of the pudding only comes on Sundays in MotoGP. But we might get a hint.

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2018 Phillip Island WorldSBK: What we saw in Australia - A recap of Phillip Island

The opening round of the 2018 WorldSBK season is in the books and certainly provided us with plenty of excitement and plenty to talk about.

New schedule:

The 2018 season will see three free practice sessions on Fridays, and from the outset we saw the benefit of this schedule. In the past, if a rider crashed or had a technical problem on Friday it severely hampered their weekend. Any time lost was magnified because you could easily lose 60 minutes of track time. The new schedule sees three 40 minute session, to ensure the riders have the same amount track time. A crash on his out lap in FP2 saw Alex Lowes miss the entire session and while the loss of track time hampered the Englishman, getting out in FP3 allowed him to set a time good enough for entry into Superpole 2. The schedule will also allow riders to use Friday afternoon for a race simulation, whereas in the past this was harder to achieve.

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Kalex Rolls Out First Triumph-Engined Moto2 Prototype At Valencia

At the private Valencia Moto2 test held on Monday and Tuesday, Kalex rolled out the first version of its chassis to be used with the Triumph 765 engine in Moto2 in 2019. Swiss rider Jesko Raffin is currently working as test rider for Kalex. The German engineering firm issued the following press release after the test:


Kalex Moto2 bike with a Triumph engine at Valencia, with the Kalex engineering firm

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How ominous is Márquez's preseason pace?

Honda had a poor preseason in 2015, 2016 and 2017, but this time it looks like Marquez, Pedrosa and Crutchlow are in seriously good shape

During the last few seasons Honda has struggled through preseason testing and launched into the new season with distinctly unimpressive results at the season-opening race. And yet last year and the year before Marc Márquez turned things around to win the championship.

So far, this year is very different: Honda was the dominant force at the first two tests, showing super-fast race pace and taking two of the top three positions at Sepang and three of the top four positions at Chang in Thailand.

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