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The first domino has fallen in the 2018 Silly Season (or perhaps Silly Preseason). Maverick Viñales announced during the presentation of the Movistar Yamaha team in Madrid that he has signed a new two-year deal with Yamaha. At the launch, he said he felt very happy inside the team, and felt they shared his objectives.
"I will be two more years in Yamaha," Viñales told the presenters, Izaskun Ruiz and Dylan Gray. "I'm very happy. I feel really good in the team, I feel the competitiveness, and especially I felt the desire to win. It's something I like, it's something I want, and we arrived at a really good compromise, and for both, it's been really special and good. So thanks to Yamaha, because as always, they made my dreams come true. Let's see if this year we can do another one."
Viñales said he felt part of the family at Yamaha. "You share the objectives, you share the passion, all the competition, so for me it's like being in a family that shares the same feelings that I have, so it's really important. And then I have a really good feeling inside Yamaha, with all the staff, all the people, all the bosses. So I feel great here. As I said, it's also a pleasure to be fast and trying to be on the maximum level, and trying to achieve the objective we couldn't do last year. "
Viñales is the first factory rider to announce he has signed a contract, though at the Ducati launch last week, the Ducati bosses announced they hoped to sign both their riders before the start of the season. Last time around, Yamaha sent out contract offers to both of its riders at the same time. Valentino Rossi has consistently said he wants to wait until the first few races are complete before making a decision about his future, and as a consequence, he had no announcement to make at the launch in Madrid.
The press release from Yamaha appears below:
Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is delighted to announce that it has extended its Rider Agreement with Maverick Viñales by another two years.
MADRID (SPAIN), 24TH JANUARY 2018
It is with great pleasure that Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. announce the re-signing of Maverick Viñales with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team for two further years. The news was made official today, during the 2018 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team presentation, held in Casa Del Lector, Matadero (Madrid, Spain).
Viñales finished his first year with Movistar Yamaha MotoGP in third place in the MotoGP Championship standings. With three brilliant race wins and a total of seven strong podium finishes in 2017, Yamaha is confident in their partnership with the 23-year-old Spaniard and looks forward to being a serious title contender in 2018 and the following two seasons.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING
I’m very happy we have reached an agreement for Maverick to continue as a factory rider for Yamaha. The announcement that he will be staying with the team for two further years after 2018 is a fantastic way to start the new season: it shows clear commitment by both parties and affirms a reciprocal confidence that together we can achieve our mutual goal of becoming MotoGP World Champions.
Maverick has been a real asset to the team as soon as he came in. He’s full of motivation and never loses sight of his goals. The 2017 season wasn’t easy, yet he has already delivered Yamaha three race wins and secured the manufacturer its 500th Grand Prix win in his first year with us. Furthermore, he took third in the championship standings after switching manufacturers, which is also an impressive achievement.
Maverick is still very young, so we see a great future for him in Grand Prix racing, and we are very excited to challenge alongside with him during the upcoming three seasons of MotoGP.
MOVISTAR YAMAHA MOTOGP RIDER
I’m really happy that Yamaha and I have extended our contract by two more years. It’s great for me and the team that we were able to make this announcement this early on, because it gives us a sense of calm: we know that I will continue riding my M1 for the coming three seasons, so now we can just focus on the actual racing. I’m very satisfied with this decision. I have a lot of belief in the team and in Yamaha and I’m happy that they feel the same way. I want to thank Yamaha for their vote of confidence, and also the fans, who are always supporting us. We will continue to work hard. We will be pushing to the maximum at all the Grands Prix and I look forward to three more incredible seasons together!
With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks. Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test. The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations - new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November. Rea was seemingly unaffected by the new rule changes, saying less top end merely made the bike easier for him to ride. Teammate Tom Sykes will be hoping to match Rea's pace, and adapt to the new character of the bike.
Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri will be hoping that Ducati found some more drive and top end from the Panigale. The V-twin was hardest hit by the new rev limits at the Jerez test in November, and the test was further complicated by Davies suffering a major crash on his first day at the test, and missing out on track time.
Tuesday will also be the first time that the Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team will be out on track together. Leon Camier was at Jerez in November, but he will be joined on Tuesday by American Jake Gagne, who got the seat after a couple of solid outings at the end of 2017. The Honda WorldSBK team have been working on a switch to Magneti Marelli electronics over the winter, and Camier and Gagne will be hoping that the change will improve the throttle connection on the Honda CBR1000RR.
Others present will be the Pata Yamaha squad of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, who will take a break from denying they will be racing for Tech 3 in 2018 to test the Yamaha R1 again. Though both riders have a contract for this season, there has been much speculation over whether one of them could replace Jonas Folger in the Tech 3 MotoGP team, but both have ruled it out. Lowes and Van der Mark were both quick during testing, and should be able to build on that progress.
The Milwaukee Aprilia squad of Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori will also be present at Jerez, as will the Althea Ducati team with Loris Baz, the MV Agusta squad with Jordi Torres, Puccetti Kawasaki with Toprak Razatlioglu, Orelac Kawasaki with Leandro Mercado, Yonny Hernandez with Pedercini Kawasaki, and Guandalini Yamaha with Ondrej Jezek. Former Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese will also be present for a private test on a Yamaha R6.
Live timing for the test will be available via the excellent Jerez Live Timing website.
On Wednesday, the Movistar Yamaha team is to present their 2018 livery, at a presentation in Madrid. The presentation will be streamed live online via Youtube, as always. Whether anything earth shattering will be announced at the launch is unlikely, though it will be interesting to see if Yamaha follow Ducati's suit and announce that they hope to sign their riders before the season starts.
The bikes on display in Madrid will not be 2018 Yamaha M1s, though. Those bikes are due on track early on Wednesday morning at Sepang, where the full factory line up will be present to prepare the official MotoGP test which starts on Sunday. All six MotoGP factories will be riding during the private test, with an all-star cast of test riders.
For Ducati, Casey Stoner will be joining Michele Pirro to give the latest updates of the Desmosedici a shakedown, though whether the expected chassis and fairing upgrades will be present is as yet unknown. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna said they might have to wait until the second test in Thailand for those to be ready.
Yamaha will be there with Japanese Superbike riders Kohta Nozane, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, as well as three of Yamaha's test riders. KTM will have test rider Mika Kallio in Sepang, while Honda will have Takumi Takahashi and Hiroshi Aoyama, as well as former LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl. Aprilia will have Matteo Baiocco at the test, and Suzuki will have Sylvain Guintoli.
Guintoli will not be the only rider on the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike at Sepang. Suzuki has decided to reward three of its top national riders from around the world with a go on the GSX-RR. For Australia, Josh Waters will be on the bike. Former MotoGP rider and current MotoAmerica champion Toni Elias will also get a go, while 2017 Senior TT racer Michael Dunlop will also have his first ride on the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP machine.
Finally, on Sunday 28th January, the official MotoGP test will start at Sepang, with an almost full field of riders. Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi will get to see what Yamaha have done over the winter, and get an idea of whether the engineers have fixed the shortcomings of the M1. Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa will have a chance to see if the 2018 Honda RC213V is as good as they thought it was at Valencia. Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins get to see just how competitive the Suzuki GSX-RR can be this year.
Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding get a chance to sample some of the upgrades Aprilia will have brought. Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso will be hoping that Ducati have improved the turning of the bike. And Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro will get their hands on the upgraded parts Mika Kallio has been testing over the winter.
For MotoGP rookies Franco Morbidelli, Takaaki Nakagami, and Xavier Simeon, they will have chance to continue their adaptation to the MotoGP class, while Tom Luthi will get his chance to throw his leg over a MotoGP bike at last, as he is recovered from his injury.
The one question is whether the Tech 3 team will be present with one or with two bikes, now that Jonas Folger has announced he will not be racing in 2018. A lot of websites are reporting that Yonny Hernandez will be present in Sepang, making a one off appearance on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha machine. But so far, Tech 3 have declined to confirm this.
There is much to look forward to. Racing is getting closer.
The 2018 season starts off with a nasty surprise for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team. Today, the team announced that Jonas Folger will not be racing in 2018, leaving them without a second rider for the coming season.
The reason Folger gave for pulling out of racing is to focus on recovery from the health issues he suffered at the end of 2017. The German was forced to pull out of the three Asian flyaways, after health problems later diagnosed as Gilbert's Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the liver which causes chronic fatigue. Folger still does not feel at 100% fitness, and decided to take a year out of racing to focus fully on his recovery.
Folger's decision leaves the Tech 3 team in a very difficult position. The terms of the team's contract with Dorna, and their contracts with sponsors, state that they must field two riders for 2018. But with just 11 days until the start of the Sepang test, the first official test of the 2018 season, just about every candidate worth considering is already tied up with contracts for the coming year. Finding a replacement will involve either buying a rider out of his existing contract, or trying to find a rider without a contract who is still fast enough to compete.
Normally, the first avenue Tech 3 would explore would be their ties with Yamaha. That would involve talking to Yamaha about the availability of riders already under contract to the Japanese factory. The first port of call might be the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK team, but with the start of the 2018 WorldSBK season so close, losing either Alex Lowes or Michael van der Mark to the Tech 3 team would be a major blow for the Pata Yamaha squad. Enquiries indicate that there is no talk currently of either rider making the move.
Another alternative might be one of the riders currently racing for Yamaha in the All Japan Superbike championship, as both Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane are under contract to Yamaha, and have experience racing the Yamaha MotoGP bike. Nakasuga would almost certainly rule out a move to MotoGP, if offered the chance, as the 36-year-old has no desire to leave his young family to travel around the world. Nozane is a more likely candidate, as the 22-year-old has already subbed for Folger at Motegi.
The more likely replacement for Folger will come from experienced riders who are currently only testing. The most obvious name would be Sylvain Guintoli, though his contract with Suzuki as a MotoGP test rider could cause an issue. Guintoli raced the Suzuki GSX-RR as a replacement for Alex Rins in 2017, and has a history with Tech 3, having ridden for them in 2007.
Former MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl is also without a contract to race for 2018, though he has signed up to be a test rider for Honda. Bradl's long history with Honda may be an objection, though the German also has brief experience with Yamaha, having ridden the Forward Yamaha CRT bike for the first half of the 2015 season, before replacing Marco Melandri at Aprilia.
If neither a Yamaha rider nor a rider out of contract can be found, Poncharal and Tech 3 could be left to try and buy an existing rider out of their contract. For a competitive rider, that could be an expensive affair, especially if they are signed up with other factories. Tech 3 could look to Moto2 for a replacement, but that too is fraught with complications. A rider such as Pecco Bagnaia could be brought up into MotoGP early, as Bagnaia's strong ties to the VR46 Riders Academy would make him a natural fit for Yamaha, and keep him in the family. Alternatively, Tech 3 could decided to move Remy Gardner up to MotoGP, a cheap option, as finding a replacement in Moto2 is a much easier exercise than finding a MotoGP rider. If Xavi Vierge had not left the team at the end of this year, this would have been a solid bet, as Poncharal was very impressed with the performance of the Spaniard.
At the moment, though, it is absolutely not clear who will replace Folger. Even Hervé Poncharal won't know yet, as it is so hard to find a replacement so quickly.
What the future holds for Folger after this year is similarly unclear. The German may have burned his bridges at Tech 3, despite the confidence Poncharal had in him - Tech 3 had tried to sign Folger for two years previously, before finally getting him to sign in MotoGP. The tone of Poncharal's statement in the press release is one of suppressed anger, reading between the lines. Given the enormous problems Folger has lumped Poncharal with, that is hardly surprising.
The press release from Tech 3 appears below:
Jonas Folger will not race in 2018
One week before the start of the first Official MotoGP test this year, Jonas Folger has decided not to race in the 2018 MotoGP season with Monster Yamaha Tech3 team, as he doesn’t feel completely ready, physically and mentally, at the moment. However, to be honest with himself and his Monster Yamaha Tech3 team, he made the hard decision to skip the 2018 racing season in order to finally be able to fully recover with less pressure.
“I’m incredibly sad to be saying this, but I will not be racing MotoGP in 2018. I wasn’t able to make the improvements I was hoping for, and at this stage I don’t feel able to ride a MotoGP machine at 100 percent. I’d like to thank everyone involved, but especially the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team, Yamaha Factory Japan, Monster Energy, HJC, IXON, Forma Boots and Rudy Project. I hope to be back one day and want to thank you all for your ongoing support.”
“Last night (Tuesday) I received a call from Bob Moore, Jonas Folger’s personal manager. I couldn’t believe what Bob was telling me on the phone, that Jonas Folger has decided not to race the 2018 MotoGP season, because he doesn’t feel 100 percent mentally and physically recovered. It is still very difficult for me to believe, that he’s not going to race with us in 2018, especially because he has been somebody I had lot of faith in and I was sure we would reach top level together this year. I completely respect his decision, although it’s hard to swallow. Yet, I will try to find a solution for a replacement rider, which is a very difficult mission, as all of the fast riders are already contracted. But as always in racing we need to be proactive, inventive and hopefully we can make someone very happy. We will keep all of you informed about the evolution of the situation.”
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With the first MotoGP test in Sepang less than two weeks away, the factories are preparing by launching their bikes and introducing their liveries. So far, only two factories - Ducati and Yamaha - have announced dates, but more should follow soon.
First up is Ducati, who are launching their 2018 MotoGP campaign in the factory headquarters in Bologna, as they have done for the past five years. The launch starts at 10:30am CET on Monday, 15th January. It will be streamed live via internet, and you can find a link to the presentation on Ducati's Youtube channel. The link will also allow you to set a reminder.
The Movistar Yamaha team is to follow suit, on Wednesday, 24th January, immediately before flying out to Sepang for the start of the first test. The Yamaha launch is to be held in Madrid, at the Matadero Madrid center for contemporaneous arts. That presentation starts at 11am CET, though no details of live streaming have been announced yet.
After the departure of both Shuhei Nakamoto and Livio Suppo from HRC and the Repsol Honda team, Honda have announced that they will be making Alberto Puig Team Manager of the Repsol Honda team.
The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda. Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more. He went on to become Dani Pedrosa's personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.
But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces. Suppo approached the role of team management very much from a marketing perspective. Puig is much more of an ex-racer, and is much closer to the Japanese engineers than to the marketing and media side of the operation.
Though Puig's ability to manage a team is beyond question, he faces some unique and severe challenges in managing this specific team, the Repsol Honda team. Puig is a no-nonsense character who can be abrasive, and he already has a problematic relationship with the two riders in the Repsol Honda team.
Though he was Dani Pedrosa's manager for a long time, he spent last season criticizing the Spaniard in his role as an expert commentator for Spanish broadcaster Movistar. Puig criticized Pedrosa's approach and attitude, and may have a few fences to mend on that side of the garage.
But Puig's relationship with Marc Marquez' side of the garage is even more troubled. Puig has long regarded Marquez' personal manager Emilio Alzamora as a rival, and having the two in the same garage when Puig still managed Dani Pedrosa was a major challenge for HRC. Both Puig and Alzamora were more concerned with preventing the other side of the garage from seeing their respective riders' data than with cooperating towards a common goal.
Tensions came to a head after the Australian Grand Prix in 2013, when Marc Marquez was disqualified for not making a compulsory pit stop. That failure was an indirect result of the lack of communication within the Repsol Honda team, with Alzamora wanting to keep Puig away from Marquez, and Alzamora also distrusting Livio Suppo and then chief mechanic Cristian Gabarrini, all of whom he regarded as holdovers from the Casey Stoner era forced on them by Honda and Suppo.
Alzamora won that particular battle. The following year, the remnants of Stoner's crew were forced out of the Repsol Honda team, and Marquez was reunited with his full former Moto2 team. Alberto Puig had stopped managing Dani Pedrosa, and moved on to other projects with Honda, but the tension between the two remained, as Alzamora was also managing the Estrella Galicia Moto3 team, and excluded Puig from involvement.
Puig has also had his moments in the past with the Repsol Honda team. As Dani Pedrosa's manager, he was severely critical of Nicky Hayden when the American was Pedrosa's Repsol Honda teammate. There were frictions during Hayden's 2006 championship year, but they came to a head in 2008, shortly before Hayden left, with Puig claiming Hayden "could not set up a bike", while Hayden hit back in typically polite and measured style, asserting that Puig "basically runs our team, he runs HRC".
With that history behind him, Puig is being thrown straight into the deep end. His first order of business as Repsol Honda team manager will be to negotiate new contracts with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. The long-standing enmity between Puig and Alzamora will complicate negotiations with Marc Marquez, though Marquez has repeatedly stated he is very happy with Honda, and has no intention of leaving.
Whether Puig will be keen to keep Pedrosa on after spending so much of 2017 criticizing is also open to question. But finding a replacement for Pedrosa could be tricky, as Marquez is perfectly happy with Pedrosa as a teammate, and he - and especially Alzamora - could view any replacement as a potential threat, especially given Puig's stellar reputation for nurturing new talent.
With the appointment of Puig, HRC have brought in a superbly competent and proven manager. But they have also set themselves some interesting challenges along the way.
Below is the press release from HRC announcing Alberto Puig as Repsol Honda Team Manager.
Honda Racing Corporation announce Alberto Puig as Team Manager of the Repsol Honda Team
Honda Racing Corporation is pleased to announce that Alberto Puig has been appointed as the new Team Manager at the Repsol Honda Team, beginning with the first MotoGP test of the year, at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit, 28-30 January.
Following a racing career that included a 500cc race win and a lengthy stint aboard Hondas, Puig established himself as one of the most respected managers in the motorcycling field. As HRC Advisor, his most recent role has been as Director of the Asia Talent Cup and British Talent Cup.
In his new position as Team Manager for the Repsol Honda Team, Puig will report directly to HRC Director-General Manager Race Operations, Management Division Tetsuhiro Kuwata. He and Technical Manager Takeo Yokoyama will be responsible for racing operations.
HRC Director - General Manager Race Operations Management Division
“We are happy for Alberto to assume a new role as Team Manager for the Repsol Honda Team. Alberto has already been a part of the HRC family for many years, first as a rider and then as an Advisor, ultimately managing the Asia Talent Cup, where he helped promising young riders to develop into the sport. We believe his skills and great expertise at the highest levels of international motorcycle racing, together with his long and successful relationship with HRC, will give a precious contribution to the Company and the Team, which is aiming to once again fight at the top of the MotoGP Championship. We give Alberto a warm ‘welcome aboard’ and wish him good luck in his work!”
Repsol Honda Team - Team Manager
“I’m very grateful to HRC for this opportunity they have given me with the Repsol Honda Team. I’ve been with Honda for the last 25 years of my professional career, first as a rider, then as a team manager in the smaller classes, and lately as a coach for many of the Asian riders Honda have around the world. To have the chance to be in this position in one of the most successful teams in the MotoGP championship is a very big honour for me, so I can only focus on giving my best back to Honda and on trying to help them to achieve their goals. I’m sure our riders will be ready when the time comes, and we as a team will also be ready to once again fight for the title, with humility but also with great determination.”
The 2018 season sees the start of airbags being made compulsory for all three MotoGP classes. All riders with a permanent entry in MotoGP, Moto2, or Moto3 will have to use an airbag in their leathers from the coming season onwards.
This is part of a long-term push by Dorna, the FIM, and IRTA to improve safety for riders in racing. While the three MotoGP partners continue their work on improving the safety of circuits, the next frontier is improving the protection provided by the gear riders use. Airbags are just one facet of this safety drive: the FIM is becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of rider safety. Their most recent focus has been on improving the safety of helmets, including doing work on so-called oblique impacts, or how helmets absorb impacts when struck at an angle.
Airbags have played an increasing role in racer safety since they were first introduced to racing ten years ago. The original airbags focused mainly on protecting the neck and shoulders, their biggest objective being reducing the severity of the impact on shoulder joints and protecting collarbones, still one of the most common injuries among racers. As time has gone on, that protection has increased, offering protection to the rider's back, chest and ribs as well.
These advances have mainly come in two areas: increased computing power and a better understanding of airflow. Airbag systems have first to understand whether a rider is actually crashing or not (for example, is the rider just getting a little kick from the rear as the rear tire slides then grips again, or are they being thrown out of the saddle?). Gains here have come through better and cheaper processing power, but also more data analysis. Each airbag is fitted with a data recorder, which logs the data through the accelerometers and gyroscopes it uses to detect crashes. As the airbag makers have more data to analyze, they have been able to refine their algoritms more and more.
The other advance is in the pneumatics of airbags. Compressed air has to pass from the reservoir (in the rider hump) into the airbags around the body to inflate them within a few hundredths of a second. That requires moving a lot of gas in a short period of time, and that has required working out the fastest and most efficient way of distributing it from the air capsules to the airbag.
The advances have come in part as a result of the arms race between Dainese and Alpinestars, he two Italian racing leathers companies which have pioneered the technology. As each company improved their product - Dainese's D-Air, and Alpinestars' Tech-Air - the other was forced to keep up.
Dorna had wanted to make airbags compulsory earlier, but the complications of technology made that impossible. It would have restricted riders to specific suit makers, cutting down on their ability to find sponsorship. A compromise was found when Alpinestars and Dainese agreed to offer airbags which could be inserted inside the leathers of other protective clothing manufacturers. Alpinestars and Dainese offered the specifications of the airbags, without revealing the underlying technology, allowing other brands to produce suits to accommodate them.
As an example, here is a photo of British Moto3 rider John McPhee taken at Aragon last year. McPhee is wearing a D-Air undervest using an airbag. This fits under the suit from his personal leathers sponsor, Macna.
The push for airbags has also had positive effects for sports and activities outside of motorcycle racing. The technology has been passed on from motorcycling to skiing and horseriding, and Dainese is working on applications outside of sports altogether, including in public transport (buses), and even for the elderly, protecting older people with osteoporosis from fractures suffered in domestic falls.
Below is the press release from Dorna with more details of the compulsory airbags:
Airbags: compulsory from 2018
New regulations designed to increase rider safety set to come into force for the new season
From 2018, it will be compulsory across all classes within the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship for riders’ race suits to be fitted with airbag systems. These must be worn in every session by every permanent rider, and must be functional when on track. Wildcard riders are the only exceptions, and replacement riders are exempt from the rule for their first two events only. Thereafter, replacement riders’ suits are subject to the same requirements and specifications as those of permanent entrants.
The airbag should cover and protect at least the shoulders and the collarbone. Full or central back protection is optional. However, if a manufacturer chooses to have back protection, it must cover the whole spine. Small variations according to the specifics of each system are allowed, as are variations to accommodate the different morphology of each rider, but the same key areas and guidelines are in place for every manufacturer.
Each airbag system must pass a series of tests to prove it fully complies with the regulations. Requirements range from the battery and electronics to deployment and inflation times, with accidental deployment also an important factor. An accidental deployment of the airbag must not risk causing a rider to crash or impede a rider from controlling their motorcycle. In addition, airbag systems must not require any parts to be added to the motorcycle, and must be triggered without the rider being tethered to the bike.
Each manufacturer must self-certify on the official documentation for the suit that their system fully complies with the regulations and reaches these standards. They must also declare the reliability of their system based on internal testing.
These regulations mark yet another step towards increased rider safety, with the FIM, IRTA and Dorna all committed to making sure MotoGP™ is as safe as possible - and always evolving.
Though the world of motorcycle racing slowed to a crawl over the holiday season, that does not mean that nothing happened whatsoever. Racing news trickled out from around the globe, as riders, teams, and factories made decisions, and racing collided with the real world. So here's a round up of some of the news stories you may have missed while we were away over the past couple of weeks.
Rossi's Ranch wins in the courts
The year started off with good news for Valentino Rossi. Ever since it was built, some local residents have complained about the noise and nuisance caused by Rossi's dirt track ranch, situated just east of his home village of Tavullia. A group of locals lodged formal complaints against the ranch with the Tavullia council, alleging several violations of local rules, such as missing documents including an environmental impact assessment, as well as complaints about excess noise and noise outside of normal operating hours.
Those complaints were dealt with by a regional court earlier this week, the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR) of the Marche region, where Tavullia is located. The court rejected the complaints, dismissing a part as having no grounds to proceed, a part as being inadmissible, and rejecting the remainder.
The court laid out their reasoning in a 19-page document. The environmental impact had been approved by the Province, according to the court. Approval had been given because the major economic and PR benefits to the town of having Rossi's ranch at the location. And complaints about noise were rejected because bikes were on track and producing noise during normal daylight hours, not times which violated the normal expectations of rest and relaxation. Moreover, the court ruled, the locals would have had no grounds to complain if the facility had been used for non-noise-based sports, such as mountain biking or athletics.
The ruling does not mark the end of the case, however. The complainants can still appeal to a higher court, the Council of State, Italy's highest body overseeing administrative law.
For fuller details (in Italian), see the original report from the regional Il Resto Di Carlino website, or a more concise and clear summary on the GPOne.com website.
Why do young riders retire?
Surprising news came from Spain and Italy, with two young riders announcing their retirements. Mugello Moto3 podium man Juanfran Guevara announced his retirement in an official statement just after Christmas, while Misano Superstock 1000 winner Marc Faccani announced on Instagram that he would be hanging up his helmet as well.
The retirement of the two riders is indicative of the difficulty racers face nowadays. The 23-year-old Faccani announced he would be switching careers and starting his own design studio, though his target audience will still be racing paddocks and racing companies. But the reasons given by the 22-year-old Juanfran Guevara are more illustrative of the trials and tribulations of a modern racer.
Guevara explained his motivations in a revealing interview with the Spanish magazine Motociclismo. As with all human decisions, his motivations were complex: he wanted to spend more time with friends and family, he wanted to focus more on his business studies, which he had been pursuing alongside his racing, and he was finding it hard to continue financially, despite the backing of his sponsors.
Above all, though, Guevara had taken the decision once he realized the physical impact of the stress he was under. Some three weeks previously, he told Motociclismo, he had been walking home from university when his vision became blurred, and he had been forced to stop and rest. His doctor had diagnosed him with symptoms of severe stress, and that had set him thinking. 22 years of age was too young to be suffering from stress, Guevara decided.
"For a rider who only has to ride, this life is the best one imaginable," Guevara told Motociclismo. "But for a rider like myself, who when he gets home has to look for sponsors, study for a degree, finish up projects and train, all these thousands of things never stop." The decision to stop was a luxury, he realized. "The problem we have, especially in Moto3, is that of the 33 riders, probably 29 of them don't know how to do anything other than race a motorcycle," Guevara said.
Guevara had stopped to take stock of his life, and whether the sacrifices were worth it. "I thought, my God! After all I have lost, my family and everything, is it worth it just to be here?" he asked himself. For Guevara, the answer was no.
Will more riders follow suit? Just to get into the bottom step of a world championship – Moto3, Supersport, or Supersport 300 – takes enormous dedication and commitment, and normally, those lacking the motivation have already fallen by the wayside. But the downside of starting racing at the incredibly early age that most modern racers do is that they reach a crucial stage of their career just as they are changing from boys and girls to men and women, leaving adolescence for adulthood. Priorities change, and some youngsters realize there is more to life than motorcycle racing.
In this, perhaps Casey Stoner has acted as an example, given permission to young riders to make a life change and give up racing if they feel it is costing them too much. That may in very limited terms be bad for racing, but it is vastly better for them as humans.
If you read Spanish, or can use Google / Bing translate, it is well worth reading the full interview with Juanfran Guevara. A fascinating insight into the life of a racer, and the choices they must make.
Stoner and Bradl to join pre-Sepang private test
Though the start of the MotoGP season is still some way away, things are warming up for testing. The official IRTA test takes place from 28th-30th January, but there will be a three-day private test beforehand, from 24th to the 26th.
The line up for that pre-test is actually pretty impressive of its own accord. For Ducati, Casey Stoner and Michele Pirro will be taking to the track, with Stoner expected to give the Desmosedici GP18 a proper workout before factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo put it through its paces. There will, according to Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti in Italian paper Corriere dello Sport, be only one version of the GP18 chassis, which will be an evolution of the GP17 used last season.
For Honda, Stefan Bradl joins Japanese test riders Takumi Takahashi and Hiroshi Aoyama. Aoyama and Takahashi have already spent time on track over the winter, working on the 2018 version of the RC213V at Jerez in December. Bradl, still at a loose end for 2018 after a dismal year in WorldSBK, has been brought in to add more recent experience and pace to the Japanese line up.
KTM will of course have Mika Kallio at the pre-test, and the Finnish test rider will also be staying on for the official IRTA test a few days later. Aprilia have Italian rider Matteo Baiocco, while Suzuki will be fielding Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli at the test. Guintoli proved his worth in the middle of last year, when he substituted for the injured Alex Rins and provided valuable development input which helped move the project along.
Yamaha will be out in full force at the test, fielding a grand total of five riders at Sepang. Testing and All-Japan SBK riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane will be present at both the private test and the IRTA test two days later, while test riders Keisuke Madea, Takuya Fujita, and Masahiko Itawa will be at the private test. This means that Yamaha will have five riders at the private test, then four at the IRTA test, where Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales will join the fray.
Yamaha's large test contingent is a sign of just how seriously the Iwata factory is taking the disappointment of their 2017 season. Yet the fact remains that they have so far refused to take on a European test rider, or at least a rider with recent MotoGP experience. Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis explained the factory's position at Valencia last year. "Yamaha’s position is that we primarily have our test riders and team in Japan, as does Honda in fact. If you start a new testing team in Europe, it requires considerable extra expense," he said. If 2018 is as tough for Yamaha as 2017 was, it will be interesting to see if they hold to that position.
If you are in search of some good reading over the weekend, here are some links worth exploring:
- Bikesport News' Robin Miller talks about the ins and outs of BT Sport's likely contract renewal to broadcast MotoGP in the UK, and how platform sharing with Sky may help the sport reach a bigger audience.
- Paddock Pass Podcaster and outstanding journalist Neil Morrison has a fascinating interview with Hervé Poncharal on Crash.net, talking not about one of his current riders, but about a former rider of his, Andrea Dovizioso. The interview is revealing of Poncharal's relationship with the riders, but also of Tech 3's relationship with Yamaha.
- Neil Morrison also has a worthy interview with Moto3 champion Joan Mir, in which the Spaniard goes into his racing background, and how he passed on the opportunity to get into skateboarding.
- And finally, read Team Aspar's announcement that they will be renaming their team after Ángel Nieto, the legendary Spanish rider who died last year.
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This Saturday sees the staging of the fifth edition of the Superprestigio indoor flat track race in Barcelona. For US fans who can't make it to the Palau San Jordi, on Barcelona's Montjuic hill, the event is to be live streamed on FansChoice.tv. The FansChoice website will have full coverage of the races, with commentary from AMA Flat Track legend Chris Carr. Coverage starts at 12 ET, with the racing starting half an hour later.
The press release with more details on how to watch the race appears below:
Superprestigio Flat Track Spectacular to be Live Streamed on FansChoice.tv
AFT racers Briar Bauman and JD Beach to compete; Chris Carr to color commentate
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 13, 2017) – U.S. fans looking to experience this year’s Superprestigio flat track extravaganza in real time from Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday, December 16, 2017 are in luck, as the entire afternoon and evening’s festivities will be live streamed on FansChoice.tv.
The racing begins with a riders’ presentation at 12:00 p.m. ET (9:00 a.m. PT), with heat races beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET (9:30 a.m. PT), last chance qualifiers beginning at 1:20 p.m. ET (10:20 a.m. PT), and the first of three final events (in three different classes) beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. PT). Please note that the Superprestigio live stream is only available to viewers in the U.S.
American Flat Frack fans will have a lot to cheer for, too, with U.S. riders Briar Bauman and J.D. Beach taking on some of the best flat track racers on earth, including seven world champions. Seven-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr will be the color commentator for the live stream, and flat track fans can follow American Flat Track’s website (www.americanflattrack.com) and Facebook page for updates all weekend long.
Coverage can be seen at http://www.fanschoice.tv/watch-live/superprestigio, and more information about the 2017 Superprestigio is available at http://www.dtxbarcelona.com.
Next up for the stars of American Flat Track is the Bigger, Faster and Better DAYTONA TT on March 15, 2018, at Daytona International Speedway. Tickets start at just $29, and are on sale now via Daytona International Speedway’s website at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/Events/2018/DAYTONA-TT/DAYTONA-TT.aspx or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
About American Flat Track:
American Flat Track is the world's premier dirt track motorcycle racing series and one of the longest-running championships in the history of motorsports. Sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing in Daytona Beach, Fla., the series is highly regarded as the most competitive form of dirt track motorcycle racing on the globe. For more information on American Flat Track, please visit http://www.americanflattrack.com, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check us out on Instagram, live stream the events at FansChoice.tv and catch all the American Flat Track racing action on NBCSN.