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2016 Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP Machine Not Ready for Sepang

Aprilia's MotoGP project has suffered a setback. The 2016 version of their RS-GP MotoGP machine will not be ready in time for the first official IRTA test at Sepang, according to a report by Crash.net's Neil Morrison. Instead, it will make its debut in a private test at Qatar, ahead of the third preseason test of 2016, with its first public outing coming in that third and final test, two weeks before the start of the 2016 season.

The delay is a sign that the project is at least a couple of weeks behind schedule. At Valencia, Aprilia spokespersons said that the original plan was to hold a shakedown test at a private Italian racetrack, with the bike making its public debut in Sepang. Designing a radically new bike is taking longer than expected, however: the 2016 machine will be a brand new prototype, designed from the ground up, at least 10kg lighter than the current RS-GP, and is rumored to have a different angle between the cylinders. That is an incredibly complex and time-consuming process, so delays are not entirely unexpected.

Aprilia's test plan has now been altered. Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl will travel to Sepang for the first test, where they will work on the Michelin tires and spec electronics using last year's RS-GP machine, still based on the RSV4 World Superbike engine. The pair will then skip the Phillip Island test from 17th to 19th February, and have a private test in Qatar, ahead of the final test before the start of the season.

Skipping Phillip Island had always been part of the plan anyway, according to the German language website Speedweek. Originally, Bradl and Bautista were to test the bike at the first Sepang test, then return there a couple of weeks later for a private test. However, the resurfacing which is to take place at Sepang made that impossible. Instead, Aprilia will visit Qatar twice, achieving the same objective, allowing better comparison of the changes made between the tests.

Marc Marquez Severs Ties To Valentino Rossi, Ends Merchandising Contract

The feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez shows no signs of abating. It emerged today that Marquez has severed a number of links which tied him to the Italian, including ending prematurely a contract for merchandise with Rossi's VR46 Racing Apparel company, and ending his lease of accommodation in the GP Rooms portable hotel run by the Nieto family.

The news, broken by Speedweek and confirmed to MotoMatters.com by sources with knowledge of the situation, is a reversal of reports from Valencia last year. Then, Spanish websites were reporting that Valentino Rossi had decided to terminate the contract, at the end of the second year of its three year term. Those reports were denied, but now it appears that it is Marquez who has decided he does not want Rossi's VR46 business selling his merchandise. Marquez' management and VR46 are currently in negotiations to terminate the contract, with the VR46 company wanting financial compensation for Marquez' decision to terminate the contract prematurely. Marquez will want the situation to be resolved quickly, and certainly before the first European round in Jerez, where he can expect to sell a large amount of merchandise to Spanish fans.

The reasons for Marquez wanting to end his association with the VR46 Racing Apparel are easy to guess. The aftermath of the Sepang situation has shaken Marquez' faith in the agreement, and the Spaniard does not now believe he can trust his dealings with Rossi. Though the VR46 Racing Apparel is an entirely separate company, which Rossi has little to do with directly, it is run by senior members of Valentino Rossi's official fan club. Marquez may fear that some of the emotions generated during the 2015 championship will spill over into the merchandising business and negatively affect it.

Marquez' management has engaged the services of the GP Racing Apparel company, run by the Gruppo Pritelli. The Italian company, based in Cattolica, near the Misano circuit, also handles merchandise for several other major MotoGP stars, including Jorge Lorenzo, Nicky Hayden, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Andrea Iannone, and, in a mild irony, Rossi's late friend Marco Simoncelli. 

It is not just the merchandising business which is affected by the antipathy between Rossi and Marquez. As reported by the Spanish website Motocuatro.com, Marquez has also decided that he will no longer rent a room in the GP Rooms mobile hotels run by the Nieto family. The GP Rooms mobile hotels offer minimal space (little more than a bed and a closet) with the convenience of being located in the MotoGP paddock. Previously, that was all Marquez needed, as the Spaniard spent all of his time at the track with his team, either in the garage, or in the race truck. In this respect, Marquez is very different to nearly all other riders, who tend to spend most of their time in their motorhomes. Marquez has always needed to feel part of a team, and so spends all of his time with his mechanics and crew chief.

However, relations with the Nieto family have become extremely strained since Sepang. Pablo Nieto is team manager of the VR46 Sky Moto3 team, putting him firmly in the wrong camp, as far as Marquez is concerned. Thirteen-time world champion Angel Nieto had been very ambiguous in his judgment of the incident during the Sepang race in his capacity as TV expert with Telecinco, which had not gone down well with Marquez. But worst of all, Fonsi Nieto - personal friend of Valentino Rossi, with whom he spends time on the island of Ibiza during the summer, where Fonsi is a renowned DJ  - had taken sides very clearly with Rossi after Sepang, offering an interpretation of events which backed Rossi's version completely on Spanish TV. With both Marquez brothers using the GP Rooms mobile hotel, costing approximately €25,000 per rider for a season, Marc Marquez felt he did not want to spend his money with the Nieto family any longer.

Instead, the two Marquez brothers will share a motorhome at MotoGP events for the 2016 season. They are currently in the process of sourcing and having a motorhome prepared for the upcoming season. Though neither rider will spend much time in the motorhome, the advantage of having one is having a space where the riders can hold meetings with sponsors and others in private.

Why has Marquez been so vigorously severing business ties to everyone associated with Valentino Rossi? Clearly there is an issue of trust, especially with the VR46 Racing Apparel company, which is so closely associated with Rossi's official fan club. But there is also a matter of pride. Marquez was deeply hurt by the accusations made by Rossi during the Thursday press conference before Sepang, and the Italian has made the situation worse by keeping up a stream of accusations and insinuations ever since. He renewed his attacks at the Movistar Yamaha team launch in Barcelona, rubbing salt further into the wounds. As Marquez' reaction at Sepang demonstrated, the Spaniard does not respond well to what he regards as provocations, and his pride, and his ego, will not allow him to stay in business with people he believes are not on his side.

The continuing enmity does not bode well for peace being made between Rossi and Marquez any time soon. The two will run into each other at Sepang, for the first time since Valencia, and most likely, the pair will both be staying in the same hotel, sharing the breakfast room in the morning, the restaurant in the evening, as well as the gym. They may run across each other on track, an encounter which will be watched closely, and with much interest. Two more tests will follow, before they finally go head to head in earnest at the first race in Qatar. The atmosphere between the two will not be convivial, their former jocular demeanor gone. There are more likely to be fireworks than peace breaking out. Though Dorna will no doubt exploit the situation for maximum publicity value, it will remain a highly explosive situation. The media in both Italy and Spain are invested in trying to ignite the powder keg whenever possible, having both clearly taken sides in the dispute. 2016 has all the makings of a classic season, but it looks like it will also get very ugly from time to time. It will need careful management, but to be frank, nobody involved looks to be capable of providing that.

Jack Miller Breaks Leg In Training Incident - Doubtful For Sepang

Jack Miller has broken his right leg in a motocross training incident. The Australian was riding at the Bellpuig motocross track in Spain on Sunday, when he landed heavily, fracturing both the fibula and tibia down near the ankle joint. In a post on Instagram, Miller explained that he had been forced to shut off the throttle when another rider lost control on the up ramp of a triple jump. He had not crashed, but the impact of the landing had caused the damage to his ankle.

Miller was taken to the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona, where he was examined by Dr. Mir, and then had both the bones in his leg plated with screws. Examination after the surgery confirmed that it had been successful.

The injury to Miller does mean that his participation at the first test of the year at Sepang is in doubt. In a press release issued by the team (shown below), Marc VDS team manager Michael Bartholemy stressed the importance of waiting until the Australian was fit enough to ride. Miller himself was more bullish about the chances of riding, posting on Twitter that the "right foot to ride is way overrated" and joking that he uses too much rear brake anyway. The issue for Miller would be risking further injury, and whether he can put enough weight on the leg to help push on the pegs through the turns.

Normally, missing the first test of the year would be a major setback, but missing Sepang this year may be less of a problem for Miller. At the moment, it is unclear exactly what spec bikes the Honda satellite riders will have at the test, and the engineers will have their hands full just trying to get to grip with the new electronics. There is a lot of base set up work that needs doing, which the Marc VDS team will be able to do with Tito Rabat. The situation should be a lot clearer by the following test, at Phillip Island on 17th-19th February, giving Miller a better chance of being fit, and riding a Honda RC213V which is much closer to the final race spec for 2016.

The Marc VDS Racing press release on Miller's crash is shown below:


Jack Miller injured in training accident

Gosselies, Belgium – 19 January 2015: Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider, Jack Miller, was injured in a training accident at the Bellpuig motocross track on Sunday.

Following a detailed examination and x-rays at the Hospital University Quirón Dexeus in Barcelona, Doctor Xavier Mir confirmed that Miller had sustained fractures to both the tibia and fibula in his right leg in the accident.

The 21-year-old Australian had surgery this morning to stabilise the two fractures with compression plates and screws. Doctor Eugenio Gimeno carried out the procedure and the postoperative x-rays confirmed that the surgery had been successful.

Miller will remain under observation in the Hospital University Quirón Dexeus for the next 48 hours as he recovers from the surgery.

A decision as to whether Miller will participate in the first MotoGP test in Malaysia will be taken nearer the time, in conjunction with the rider and his medical team.

Michael Bartholemy: Team Principal

“Jack was unfortunate to sustain an injury so close to the start of pre-season testing, but riders need to train and there is always some risk when you train on the MX bike. The good news is that the injury is not quite as severe as we first thought and that the surgery was successful. For a normal person the recovery period after such an injury would be long, but racers aren’t normal people and I’m sure Jack is keen to get back on a bike as soon as possible. What is important now is that we monitor his recovery and that he rides again only when he is fit enough to do so, even if that means him missing the first of the MotoGP pre-season tests in Sepang.”

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Livery Photos


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Brno Contract Secured Through 2020 - Association Will Pay €4.1 Million Per Race

The future of the Brno round of MotoGP has been secured for the foreseeable future. On Monday, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta signed a contract with the "Spolek pro GP ČR v Brno", an association set up to promote the Czech Grand Prix, to host the race at the Masarykring in Brno from 2016 until 2020.

MotoGP at Brno has been shrouded in doubt for the past few years. An ongoing dispute between the Masarykring circuit, or Automotodrom Brno, and regional authorities left the circuit in debt to Dorna after failing to pay the sanctioning fee demanded. The circuit owner Karel Abraham Sr. and Ivana Ulmanova, the circuit manager, were caught in a power struggle with the city council of Brno and Michal Hašek, the president of the South Moravia region. Dorna had threatened to take the race off the calendar unless all of the monies owed to the circuit were paid, and a long-term solution was found to prevent further problems.

A compromise has now been found to settle the dispute. The promotion of the event has been put in the hands of a special association, the "Spolek pro GP ČR v Brno", or Czech Grand Prix Association, which will organize the race and run it at the Brno circuit. Funding for the race will come from the South Moravia region (CZK 20 million, or about €740,000) and the Brno city council (CZK 10 million, or about €370,000), while the rest of the sanctioning fee (around €2.5 million in the first year) is to be raised from ticket sales. The Czech Grand Prix Association will pay the circuit CZK 28 million, or just over €1 million, for the use of the circuit. 

That deal, and the paying off of all previous debts to Dorna, convinced the Spanish firm organizing MotoGP to extend the contract for the immensely popular race. Brno is usually the MotoGP race with the biggest crowds, with fans coming from all over Europe to attend the race. It is also an extremely affordable race to attend for most fans, with food, beer and accommodation reasonably priced, for the most part. It is also a race with a very long history, the first Grand Prix being hosted on public roads which surround the circuit from 1965 onwards. Racing at the venue stopped in 1982, resuming again once the new, purpose-built Masarykring circuit was completed in 1987. Since then, it has been a staple on both the Grand Prix and World Superbike calendars.

With the deal completed, there is also hope that World Superbikes could make a return to the circuit. According to German-language website Speedweek, the circuit owners are interested in hosting an event again, especially given the fact that Karel Abraham Jr, son of circuit owner Karel Sr., will be racing in World Superbikes in 2016 for the Milwaukee BMW team. However, that event would also need to be financially viable, as there is also a sanctioning fee to pay to Dorna. That fee is much lower for WSBK though - around €200,000, rather than €4.1 million.

The announcement of the deal, and especially the stories on the Speedweek website and the Czech website Silničnímotorky.cz, also provide a fascinating insight into the cost of hosting a MotoGP round. Normally, the sanctioning fee charged by Dorna is confidential information, as part of a commercial agreement. However, because there is so much public money involved, the information has been provided in full. A rising scale of fees has been agreed, with the Czech GP Association paying €3.65 million in 2016, increasing to €4.6 million in 2020. This is broadly in line with what other European tracks are reported to pay, with most of them on deals worth between €4 million and €5 million a year. That seems like a lot compared to the €200,000 charged for World Superbikes, but is about a fifth of what Bernie Ecclestone charges for an F1 race, said to be around €25 million per race.

Below is a table showing the amount to be paid to Dorna for each year. The average, over a five year period, is €4.1 million.

Year Sanctioning Fee
2016 € 3,650,000
2017 € 3,860,000
2018 € 4,100,000
2019 € 4,350,000
2020 € 4,600,000

 

Lorenzo Switches Helmet Brands, Signs Three-Year Contract With Shark

Jorge Lorenzo's helmet issues through the 2015 season have finally caused him to switch brands. The Spaniard today announced he has signed a contract for the next three seasons with the French helmet maker Shark. Shark have a long history in MotoGP and World Superbikes, having supplied many top riders such as Olivier Jacque, Carl Fogarty, Randy De Puniet, and Troy Corser. They currently support Aleix Espargaro, Johann Zarco, the Lowes twins Alex and Sam, Tom Sykes, Sylvain Guintoli, Scott Redding and Miguel Oliveira, among others. As such, Shark is an established name in motorcycle racing and a known quantity.

Lorenzo had the chance to extend his contract with HJC, the Korean helmet manufacturer he had been with for the past three years. But Lorenzo suffered a number of issues with his HJC during the 2015 season which caused him to reconsider. At Qatar, he dropped from the leading group after a helmet liner came loose and obscured his vision. At Silverstone, he failed to fit the breath deflector, and suffered severe fogging during a very wet race. This was not the first time he had suffered fogging in the wet, though the issue was made much worse through his own decision not to use the breath deflector. 

In the press release issued, Jorge Lorenzo thanked HJC, and in particular, the Hong family, for their support over the past three years. He said that he had been attracted by the path set out by Shark for the next three years, and to be involved in a new project. The full text (in Spanish) of the press release pronouncements by Lorenzo and Shark CEO Patrick Francois is available on the Motociclismo website, with an English version on the Crash.net website.

Taking a Break: MotoMatters.com on Hiatus for the Holidays

With the year nearly at an end, it is time for MotoMatters.com to also take a break for the holidays, to recharge our batteries and prepare for another exciting season of world championship motorcycle racing. As a consequence, do not expect too many updates between now and 2nd January, 2016. There will not be too much news anyway, as riders, teams and organization all spend time away from racing. The final parts of our 2015 Season Review are still to come, and then, we shall be reposting some the highlights of the 2015 season between Christmas and New Year.

If you have enjoyed our coverage of motorcycle racing throughout the year, you can help us keep MotoMatters.com running by supporting us in several ways. The best way, of course, is by taking out a subscription. That keeps us going, and also allows you special privileges, such as commenting on articles directly, without waiting for your comment to be moderated, access to desktop-sized versions of Scott Jones' stunning photography, and a much nicer layout for the site. As a die-hard racing fan, you will of course be wanting to buy the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2016 racing calendar, to keep track of all of the races for next year's MotoGP and World Superbike series. Best buy an extra copy or two for your friends as well. 

You can also help by sending us money, either by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. Anything you can spare will allow us to make our 2016 coverage even better than you enjoyed in 2015.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever the reason for the season you choose to celebrate, and we wish you all a happy, healthy and enjoyable 2016, filled with great motorcycle racing!

 

MotoGP News Round Up: Brno vs Indy, Stoner at Ducati, Valencia Fallout, and Some Holiday Entertainment

With Christmas nearly upon us, and very little happening in the world of motorcycle racing, time for a round up of recent news. Here's what's been going on in recent weeks, as well as some recommended reading and listening for over the holiday period.

Brno vs Indy - On or Off?

The news that the Indianapolis round of MotoGP had been dropped came as a huge disappointment to a lot of US fans. Though few people were fans of the track layout – despite recent improvements which took the worst edges off the layout – the event as a whole was well liked, and, for a US MotoGP round, fairly well attended.

In recent weeks, rumors have been circulating that the event could make a return. Though just speculation at the moment, Indianapolis could be being groomed as a possible replacement for the Czech round of MotoGP at Brno. Given the troubled recent history of the Brno round, and the excellent organization behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is a chance that behind the smoke, there is a fire powering the rumors.

The main issue is with the new organization set up to promote the Brno round of MotoGP. After the bitter feuding which saw financial uncertainty clouding the last two Czech MotoGP rounds, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta issued the Brno circuit an ultimatum: they would have to pay up the money owed for past rounds, and put something in place to ensure the future funding of the event, or the race would be scrapped. The South Moravia regional government responded by setting up a new organization, Spolek pro Grand Prix ČR Brno, charged with running the race. That organization would lease the circuit from AMD, the company set up by Karel Abraham Sr, which owns the track, and sell tickets and run the race themselves.

So far, however, there has been no sign of tickets going on sale, nor of progress in setting up the organization to run the race. According to the German-language website Speedweek, there are still disagreements between Abraham's AMD and the Spolek pro Grand Prix ČR Brno, set up by the regional politicians with whom the AMD organization has been feuding over funding for the past couple of years. Cooperating to organize the race is proving exceptionally difficult, and with Dorna still owed money for the 2015 edition of the race, the Spanish-based company are rumored to be losing patience with the whole event.

Could MotoGP really return to Indianapolis? The stumbling block over the contract renewal for 2016 was money. Dorna wanted to increase the amount it charged IMS to organize the race, largely to cover the cost of shipping the many tons of equipment to and from the US in the middle of the summer. When there were still two races in the US back-to-back, with Indy following Laguna, those costs could be covered, as is the case for the Argentina and Austin rounds, but a solitary race in the US meant Dorna was losing money on the Indianapolis round.

If Brno is unable or unwilling to pay the money it owes to Dorna for the Czech round, then that changes the financial equation. The losses for transport to Indy may well turn out to be less than the potential losses if Brno fails to pay, and so Dorna may feel there is more benefit in going to the US than in going to Brno. With an Austrian round of MotoGP added to the calendar, there was already pressure on the Czech Grand Prix, as the Red Bull Ring is just a couple of hundred kilometers to the south of Brno, and the Sachsenring a couple of hundred kilometers to the north. And with Karel Abraham Jr. having switched from MotoGP to World Superbikes, Abraham Sr. may be less inclined to support a MotoGP round at his own track.

This could all just be a ploy to put pressure on Brno, and the organization trying to run the event. Given the rather Machiavellian nature of MotoGP negotiations, that is entirely plausible. The Brno round remains subject to contract, but realistically, if there has been no news before the 2016 season starts in Qatar, on 20th March, then it will be safe to assume that Brno will continue on the calendar. Losing Indy was bad, but losing Brno would be much, much worse. It is an iconic circuit, and one of the few places where the potential of a MotoGP bike can be used to its fullest.

VR46 and Márquez merchandising – making money off your enemies

After the thrilling (or farcical, depending on your perspective and which rider you support) end to the 2015 MotoGP season, there were reports – including in some respected Italian newspapers – that Valentino Rossi was so incensed at the behavior of Marc Márquez that he had ordered his VR46 merchandise company to terminate its contract with Márquez and his manager for the sale of t-shirts and caps for the Repsol Honda rider.

At the Superprestigio in Barcelona, I spoke to a source inside Márquez' marketing organization, and they assured me that this was not the case. The story, I was told, was concocted by a Spanish website notorious for fabricating stories in pursuit of internet traffic. My source had spoken with the journalist behind the story, they said, and the journalist had admitted that the story was fabricated. The source assured me that the contract was still in place, and that the VR46 company will continue to manufacture and sell Márquez merchandise for the foreseeable future.

It would not have made any sense for VR46 to stop selling Márquez merchandise. Marc Márquez merchandise is (still) the second biggest seller behind Rossi-branded kit. Valentino Rossi has done exceptionally well financially, both out of racing and out of his business interests, but he has not done so by making poor business decisions. Turning down a large source of income over a petty feud would make no business sense. And viewed from another perspective, making money out of Marc Márquez may perhaps be the best way of extracting his revenge.

Stoner sends Ducatisti hearts soaring

The imminent return of Casey Stoner is setting the hearts aflutter of every Ducati fan around the globe. Despite the Australian returning solely in a testing role and as a brand ambassador, Ducatisti are already dreaming of seeing Stoner racing as a wild card in 2016, with hopes of a full-time return in 2017.

Unfortunately, those are only idle hopes. In a recent interview with British publication Motorcycle News, Stoner said he would "definitely not" be racing again full-time. Racing meant taking so much risk all the time, something which made sense when he was on the inside, competing for championships, but looking back from the outside, his priorities had changed. "There is more to life with my family," he told MCN. He was still very happy with his decision, he said.

Even wild cards are questionable. Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali spoke to the Gazzetta dello Sport, and their partner publication Motosprint, and said that a wild card was not part of their plans. "It is not in our plans, nor in his plans. He is calm and relaxed, a long way from the idea of putting himself in the front lines again." Stoner's aim was to help improve the Ducati as much as possible, to allow the two Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, to start to win races, Domenicali said.

Winning a race was now the goal. At the presentation of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, Gigi Dall'Igna had said that he objective was to win one race in 2015. They had got close, but it had not happened, which was disappointing. Ducati have set their goals higher for 2016, Domenicali said. The objective for the coming year was to win at least two races. The problem for Ducati remains the same as it was in 2015: the Desmosedici is now a competitive motorcycle, but the level of the championship is now so high that it is hard to make the final step. Ducati hope that Stoner will bring them that final step.

Lorenzo and Sector watches – a divorce of convenience

The fallout from the final races of the 2015 MotoGP championship continues. The good thing, however, is that as time passes, more of the truth starts to emerge. In the week after the controversy-ridden race at Sepang, and before the last race of the year at Valencia, the Italian watch brand Sector put out a press release announcing they were terminating their association with Jorge Lorenzo. The reasons given by Sector were for Lorenzo's "unsporting behavior" in his appearance on the podium at Sepang, and because they did not want to be associated with what they claimed was the alliance between Lorenzo and Marc Márquez in trying to keep Valentino Rossi from winning the title.

On Monday, Jorge Lorenzo's PR staff put out a press release decrying the announcement by Sector as a piece of populist exploitation. The truth, the statement said, was that Lorenzo's management had already reached agreement with Sector to terminate the contract after an association of three years. Lorenzo had a better offer from Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Zopo, and Sector had decided they could not match the offer. My friend and colleague Tammy Gorali, who besides being MotoGP commentator for Israeli TV, also has a long history in the fashion industry, remarked at the time that Sector had not made effective use of the partnership.

Lorenzo's management went on to accuse Sector of bandwagon jumping, and trying to exploit the situation to gain attention and sympathy in Italy, where the brand is based. Given the widespread reporting of Sector's press release in Italian media, it certainly succeeded as a piece of guerrilla marketing, whatever the ethics of the situation. Lorenzo and his management had behaved impeccably, his management explained, abiding by the letter of their agreement, and not announcing the new alliance with Zopo until after the season had ended. All is fair in love and marketing, it appears.

The full press release, along with some background, appears on the Spanish website Motocuatro.com.

Something for the weekend?

With Christmas nearly upon us, some of you are likely to find yourselves in airports, cars, buses, trains, and other forms of transport, with a lot of spare time on your hands. To help pass the time, a couple of articles and interviews which make for interesting reading.

First up is Neil Morrison's (who many of you will know from the Paddock Pass Podcast) fascinating interview with Bradley Smith, over on Crash.net. It is a long and excellent read, in which Smith reveals exactly how he changed his approach for 2015, and explains the success it brought him. MotoMatters.com regulars will already be aware of just how good Smith is at explaining the details of motorcycle racing, and so this is not to be missed.

The second article is also on Crash.net, this time by Peter McLaren. McLaren spoke to Wilco Zeelenberg at Valencia, about how the close battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had affected Yamaha's development program throughout 2015. With both Movistar Yamaha riders focused on winning the championship, there had understandably been little willingness to focus on 2016. Zeelenberg gives his view of how that will affect next year, and how the MotoGP field is adapting to the Michelin tires.

Finally, for those wanting something to listen to on long drives from A to B over the holiday period, some recommended listening.

  • Firstly, of course, there is the Paddock Pass Podcast, which features me (David Emmett of MotoMatters.com) alongside Neil Morrison, Tony Goldsmith, Steve English, and occasionally Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber. We talk about motorcycle racing, and give some of its background.
  • For Jensen Beeler fans (and they are legion), you can also catch him on the Two Enthusiasts Podcast, in which he and Quentin Wilson (no, not that one) discuss the ins and outs of motorcycling in the broadest sense of the word. Show 11, on Yamaha's recall of the R1, is particularly worth listening to if you want a full understanding of the entire process behind product recalls.
  • For those in a more British frame of mind, you can also check out the Front End Chatter podcast, in which UK journalists Simon Hargreaves and Martin Fitz-Gibbons discuss all aspects of motorcycling, from their vast experience as writers for magazines and newspapers.
  • And finally, the Motopod podcast, perhaps the longest-running fan podcast on motorcycle racing. An ever-rotating cast of presenters talk about racing, and interview many prominent figures in the various championships around the world.

That should be enough to keep you occupied for quite a while...


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MotoGP Rules Update: Tire Allocation Expanded, Open Class Killed Off

The Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, met last week to make a few minor updates to the rules for MotoGP in 2016. The two biggest changes to the rules relate to the two biggest changes to the series for next year: the change of tire suppliers and the switch to spec electronics.

The change that will most please the fans will be the official end of the Open class. All references to both the Open and Factory classes are to be removed from the regulations, as the switch to spec electronics, all teams running both the standard Magneti Marelli hardware and official Dorna unified software, mean there is only one class in MotoGP again. This does not mean that all factories are equal, however. Special concessions remain for factories which have not won a race and have not yet accrued six concession points (based on podium positions). Manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to use nine engines for a season instead of seven engines, they will be allowed unlimited testing with factory riders instead of test riders, and engine development will not be frozen. 

Those concessions are likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future. The aim of the concessions is to slow the rate of progress of the successful factories to give newcomers and less successful factories a chance to keep up. The progress Ducati have made in 2015 has confirmed to the series organizers that this is a successful policy, and will be continued.

The one thing which manufacturers with concessions will lose is access to the soft tire. From 2016, Michelin will supply the same two rear tire compounds to all teams at every race. The extra soft tire was originally intended to help the CRT teams, racing bikes with much less horsepower than the full factory machines. Now that the CRT class has gone, along with the Open class, there is no need of the softer tire.

The tire allocation is to be changed in other ways as well. Teams are to get more tires for every type of conditions. The number of slicks is to be raised from 21 to 22, with teams getting an extra rear tire (now 12). This should benefit the riders at tracks where only one of the tire choices is working well, giving them an extra tire to run. It should also help riders who have to go through Q1 to get to Q2, giving them an extra rear tire for qualifying.

Riders will also get more rain tires, a total of seven fronts and seven rears. This should give them at least one set of wet tires for every session of the weekend, should it rain all weekend. Each rider will also receive three sets of intermediate tires, for when conditions are neither wet nor dry.

Other changes were also agreed, some more significant than others. One item with a possible long-term effect is the approval of new regulations for safety equipment, such as helmets, leathers, gloves and boots. With the advances made by Dainese with their D-Air system, and Alpinestars with their Tech Air system, it is clear that rider equipment is the next area where safety gains will come from. Imposing standards on rider equipment is a simple, effective way of improving the safety of the sport.

The last change worth touching upon is the change to homologated engines. With Ducati supplying three satellite teams as well as their own factory team, the maximum number of three different homologated engine specifications was more difficult to manage. This has been altered, to allow each factory to supply a maximum of five different homologated engine specifications, depending on the number of satellite teams being supplied. 

Though relatively insignificant in itself, it may possibly be a pointer to more changes in the future. Before 2015, there was a general agreement that each factory would supply two factory riders, plus a maximum of four satellite riders. The change to engine allocations implies that this limit is to be dropped, and that manufacturers will be allowed to supply more satellite teams. Dorna has long wanted factories such as Suzuki to supply satellite teams as well as their factory teams, hence the stipulation being added that each factory must agree to supply at least two satellite riders as well as the factory riders. If Ducati continues to supply eight bikes, then the need for Suzuki to supply bikes to a satellite team would disappear. However, if the 2016 Suzuki GSX-RR is as big a step forward as many hope, then it may yet be an attractive option. With factories currently required to supply satellite bikes at a maximum cost of €2.2 million per rider from 2017 onwards, that situation is one to keep an eye on for the future.

Below is the press release from the FIM with the complete list of rule changes:


FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission

The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Ignacio Verneda (FIM CEO), Herve Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA) in the presence of Javier Alonso (Dorna) and Mike Trimby (IRTA, Secretary of the meeting), in a meeting held on 10th of December 2015 in Madrid, made the following decisions:

Sporting Regulations

Effective Immediately

Re-Starting Interrupted Races

In order to minimise the time taken to restart an interrupted race a new procedure has been approved for all classes. This will involve a shorter time spent in the pit lane before the new sighting lap and a significantly shorter countdown on the grid prior to the warm up lap. (Engines will not be stopped and only one mechanic per rider will be permitted onto the grid).

In the Moto3 and Moto2 classes when there is more than one race interruption the length of the restarted race will always be 2/3 of the previous race, with a minimum of five laps. So, for example, if the first restarted race was 2/3 of the original race distance then the distance of the second restarted race would be 2/3 of that distance – always with a minimum of five laps. In situations where a restarted race has been interrupted after less than five laps then the distance for the next race will be determined by Race Direction with a minimum of five laps.

Track Familiarisation

For all classes the regulations have been amended to ensure that when a rider uses a machine of the same capacity as the relevant MotoGP class, this can only be a standard production road homologated machine.

Penalties for Using Engines over Allocation

In the Moto3 and MotoGP classes, where more than one extra engine is taken at a single event then penalties for the second and any subsequent extra engines will be carried forward to the next event(s).

Technical Regulations

Effective Immediately

Rider’s Safety Equipment

Following consultation with all major suppliers of helmets, leathers, boots, etc., new regulations have been approved covering the specifications of equipment used by riders. Procedures for control and testing were also approved.

MotoGP Class Tyres

In line with the appointment of Michelin as the Official Tyre Supplier, the allocations of slick tyres have been modified. Riders will now be permitted to use a maximum of 22 tyres (10 front and 12 rear).

For wet tyres the allocation is a maximum of 7 front and 7 rear.

Riders will now also have the option of an intermediate tyre with a maximum allocation of 3 front and 3 rear.

Engine Allocations – MotoGP Class

It has already been agreed that manufacturers can homologate three different engine specifications which may be used by different riders during the season. It has now been agreed that manufacturers who lose “concessions” may homologate additional engine specifications for the first season after losing those concessions. However, the maximum number of different specifications is related to the number of Satellite teams being supplied. The formula to be used to calculate this number is:

  • One Factory team + 2 Satellite teams = 3 different specifications
  • One Factory team + 3 Satellite teams = 4 different specifications
  • One Factory team + 4 Satellite teams = 5 different specifications

MotoGP Class – Effective Immediately

Previous regulations made frequent reference to “Open” and “Factory” classes and machine types. All such references will now be removed.

Moto2 Class Regulations

Teams will be able to refer to the FIM website to check a list of approved dataloggers and sensors.

The regulation concerning throttle control has been clarified to specify that the control valve must be exclusively controlled by mechanical means, i.e. twistgrip and cable.

Moto3 Class Regulations

Regulations already exist which define which certain chassis parts are “performance parts” and need homologation. The regulations have been modified to state that only homologated parts can be used at events.

Only the oil provided by the official supplier may be used in all parts of the engine including crankcase, gearbox and clutch.

Official Fuel Supplier for Moto3 and Moto2

The appointment of the Total/Elf company as the official, exclusive supplier of fuel was approved.

Grand Prix Medical Code

Effective Immediately

An updated and revised Medical Code, produced by the FIM in consultation with other MotoGP medical staff, was approved.

A regularly updated version of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations which contains the detailed text of the regulation changes may be viewed shortly on:

http://www.fim-live.com/en/sport/regulations-and-documents/grand-prix/

World Superbike Races Split Over Saturday And Sunday, Homologation Numbers Reduced

The World Superbike championship is to undergo a radical shake up. Today, the Superbike Commission, WSBK's rule-making body, announced two major changes aimed at improving the health of the series.

The first change is the most noticeable. As predicted when the 2016 WSBK Calendar was published, World Superbike races are to be held on both Saturdays and Sundays, with Race 1 being held on Saturday, Race 2 on Sunday. This means that Superpole has now been moved to Saturday morning, rather than the afternoon. 

The move, the Superbike Commission says, is to provide a fuller experience for fans at a WSBK weekend. The move has been made after consultation with the teams, TV broadcasters and with circuit owners, which produced positive feedback. How fans will react remains to be seen: the AMA ran races on Saturday and Sunday during the DMG era, which met with a mixed reception, but that era in the US was so tainted by the DMG it is hard to know whether the issue was with the format or much wider. 

New for the schedule is a change to World Supersport qualifying. No longer will the support class use a single session of qualifying, but WSS will now also adopt the two-stage Superpole format used by World Superbikes, and taken over from MotoGP. Places in Superpole will now be decided on times set during Free Practice on Friday, for both World Supersport and World Superbike.

Much less visible, but potentially with a much bigger impact, are the changes being made to the homologation procedures. After a period during which homologation numbers were increased, causing problems for smaller manufacturers, the numbers are to be reduced again. From 2016, the minimum quantity of homologated units to be sold is now 500, down from 1000 for 2015.

This change is possibly designed to reflect the changing market conditions for sportsbikes. Sales have been consistently falling, though a thriving market for more expensive, highly specialized machines continues to exist. Yamaha have produced a special racing version of their R1, the R1M, and Honda are said to be working on two different bikes for 2017, an uprated CBR1000RR for road use, and a more extreme V4 bike for racing purposes. Production runs of 500 make much more sense in that context, rather than factories having to gamble on selling enough of a homologated machine. This will also help factories such as Ducati and Aprilia, which have struggled to be competitive on their bikes for mass production. Now, Ducati and Aprilia can produce more highly tuned versions of their Superbikes, and still expect to sell enough to make the homologation numbers. 

To ensure that costs do not spiral out of control once again, engine modifications remain limited, and the price cap for the bikes remains in place. The maximum retail price for a bike homologated for World Superbikes remains €40,000. 

A further concession has been made to manufacturers, allowing them to stagger their production schedules. It will now be possible to homologate new motorcycles mid-season, instead of having to wait until the end of one season and the beginning of the next. Suzuki is likely to be the first manufacturer to benefit from this change, the Japanese factory expecting to launch a brand new and radically revised GSX-R1000 in the middle of 2016. Though no one will be racing Suzukis in the World Superbike class next year, the bike could be homologated and developed in the Superstock 1000 class during 2016, ready for Suzuki's expected return to WSBK in 2017.

Below is the press release containing the changes and the revised schedule from the FIM:


Motul FIM Superbike & Supersport World Championships and FIM Superstock 1000 Cup
Changes to Regulations for 2016 (and beyond)

The Superbike Commission composed of Messrs Javier Alonso (DWO Executive Director), Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA Representative), Rezsö Bulcsu (FIM CCR Director) met at Madrid, at the Dorna HQ, on 10 December 2015 in the presence of of MM Corrado Cecchinelli, Gregorio Lavilla, (Dorna), Ignacio Verneda (FIM CEO), Charles Hennekam, Scott Smart and Paul Duparc (FIM Representatives).

The following changes have been decided in the 2015 FIM Superbike & Supersport World Championships and Superstock 1000 Cup Regulations:

New time schedule and Introduction of a Superpole in the Supersport category.

For 2016, the FIM and Dorna WorldSBK Organization (DWO) are proud to unveil a new era for the well-awaited Motul FIM Superbike World Championship Race Schedule, marking a turning point in WorldSBK history.

After positive feedback and input from the WorldSBK Series Promotors, Circuits, Manufacturers, Sponsors, and TV Broadcasters, DWO has worked tirelessly to bring forward a new, revamped WorldSBK race weekend schedule. Traditionally held on Sunday morning, Race 1 will now take place on Saturday afternoons, with definitive timetable changes aimed at creating a flexible time schedule for fan experiences to enjoy a more complete and exciting WorldSBK experience from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon

In this new format, Saturday is aimed at offering increased fan attendance and especially the chance to feel the adrenaline of WorldSBK racing during the 3 day event. In addition, Organisers and Sponsors will be able to offer an even bigger selection of special events and shows, allowing fans to enjoy both on and off track action in a way never previously possible. These fundamental timetable changes will prove pivotal in getting WorldSBK fans closer to the action, both those in the grandstands and the millions watching live TV around the world. With more flexibility afforded to the schedule, the new time slots will ensure that each and every fan is able to enjoy the best of the WorldSBK paddock, either at the track or at home. Athletes and Teams will be more available with less timing constraints, whilst the new time slots will give more flexibility to Organizers to actively design and dedicate activities within each and every event, ensuring the proximity and engagement of Fans attending.

Free practice sessions and those timed for qualifying will now take place on Friday, an addition for 2016 will see also the FIM Supersport World Championship adopting the Superpole sessions format as like WorldSBK, which will take place on Saturday mornings, before the lights go out for the first WorldSBK Race 1 in the afternoon. Sunday morning will be dedicated to Warm Up sessions before WorldSSP and WorldSBK kick off the racing action for the second time over the weekend giving fans a further opportunity to experience one of the most exciting and exhilarating motorcycle racing championships in the world.

FRIDAY
TIMING DURATION CATEGORY PROGRAMME
08:45 10:15 1:30 WorldSBK Technical/Sporting Checks
09:15 10:00 0:45 STK1000 Free Practice 1
10:15 11:15 1:00 WorldSBK Free Practice 1 Timed for Qualifying
11:30 12:30 1:00 WorldSSP Free Practice 1 Timed for Qualifying
BREAK
13:30 14:30 1:00 WorldSBK Free Practice 2 Timed for Qualifying
14:45 15:45 1:00 WorldSSP Free Practice 2 Timed for Qualifying
16:00 16:45 0:45 STK1000 Free Practice 2
17:00 17:30 0:30 European Jr Cup Free Practice
SATURDAY
TIMING DURATION CATEGORY PROGRAMME
08:45 09:00 0:15 WorldSBK Free Practice 3 Not Timed for Qualifying
09:15 09:30 0:15 WorldSSP Free Practice 3 Not Timed for Qualifying
09:45 10:15 0:30 European Jr Cup Qualifying 1
10:30 10:45 0:15 WorldSBK Superpole 1
10:55 11:10 0:15 WorldSBK Superpole 2
11:30 11:45 0:15 WorldSSP Superpole 1
11:55 12:10 0:15 WorldSSP Superpole 2
BREAK
13:00   WorldSBK RACE 1
14:15 14:45 0:30 STK1000 Qualifying
15:00 15:30 0:30 European Jr Cup Qualifying 2
15.45     Pit Walk - Spectator activities
SUNDAY
TIMING DURATION CATEGORY PROGRAMME
09:00 09:15 0:15 WorldSSP Warm Up
09:25 09:40 0:15 WorldSBK Warm Up
09:50 10:05 0:15 STK1000 Warm Up
10:15 11:00 0:45 MKT  Alfa Romeo Laps Experience
10:15 11:00 0:45 Pit Walk Pit Walk
11:20   WorldSSP RACE
BREAK
13:00   WorldSBK RACE 2
14:20   STK1000 RACE
15:15   European Jr Cup RACE
16.00     Spectator activities

Additional Sporting, Technical and Medical Regulations

Slight changes to the Regulations have been decided:

  • Clarification of practice restrictions: the principle being to give to the teams/riders a lumpsum of testing days for events other than at the WorldSBK. A waiver will be granted by the WorldSBK Race Direction if the teams/riders participate really to the other events with the machine conforming to the technical requirements of this distinct Championship.
  • SBK Class: race distance and new parameters for restarted have been reviewed.
  • The homologation rules have been updated to allow for the homologation of new motorcycle models, part way through the season and to allow these to compete during the same season. The minimum production requirement has been reduced to 500 machines (units).
  • Revised Medical Regulations were adopted.

The 2016 sporting, technical, disciplinary and medical regulations will be available on the FIM website shortly.

http://www.fim-live.com/en/sport/regulations-and-documents/superbike/

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