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The MotoGP championship is to get an American rider once again. Joe Roberts, currently racing with the AGR team in the FIM CEV Moto2 championship, is to replace Yonny Hernandez for the next five rounds of the Moto2 World Championship. Roberts will ride the AGR Team's Kalex Moto2 machine.
Roberts starts from a strong position to replace Hernandez. The American is already familiar with most of the tracks the series will visit, having raced at them during his stint as a Red Bull Rookie. He is already familiar with the bike, having ridden it in the FIM CEV championship. That leaves only the fiercely competitive nature of the World Championship to get used to, something which has caught out other riders in the past.
Roberts is currently slated to race at the next five rounds of the Moto2 championship, doing it concurrently with the FIM CEV. That will take the team up to the flyaways, leaving speculation open as to who might race in Japan, Australia and Malaysia.
The choice of Joe Roberts is no real surprise. The youngster has long been seen as the candidate most likely to make the jump to the MotoGP paddock. Apart from his background, Roberts has shown the talent to succeed. Roberts won the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 title in 2015, and has already had two podiums in the FIM CEV Moto2 championship. For a fuller profile of Roberts, see this interview with the American by Andrea Wilson over on Sport Rider.
The press release from the AGR Team appears below:
Joe Roberts: The rider from California will replace Yonny Hernández
The Moto2 Argiñano & Ginés Racing Team has news for the second half of the World Championship season. The Team Management decided to replace Colombian Yonny Hernández as the official rider in Moto2 with one of our FIMCEV Repsol riders, Joe Roberts.
The American rider (Los Angeles, 16/6/1997) made his debut this year with our team in the European Championship and quickly got to grips with the Kalex and the class. Former 600cc Champion in his home country, he has achieved two podiums at the FIMCEV, and only some physical problems prevented him from getting even better results (he is 5th overall).
In a World Championship with no USA riders, Joe Roberts also arrives to cover that position and, for now, he will have 5 weekends to learn new circuits and the pace of the best in the world. It will not be an easy second half of the year for Roberts, as he will combine both Championships. Thinking about it, it might be a way to gather experience.
The AGR team thanks Yonny Hernández for all his efforts during his return to Moto2. His professionalism will be remembered.
Joe Roberts: “I was surprised to get this opportunity so soon. It’s been my dream, ever since I was a little kid to race in the World Championship and I was hoping for next year to get an opportunity so for me to get it this year is amazing. My expectations are basically to keep learning as much as possible and hopefully make some big steps riding with these amazing riders, some of the best riders in the world. If I can come in and learn some more and keep improving with my riding, that would be amazing. From the start of this year till now I’ve learnt so much about this bike and the team seems quite happy with the way I’m progressing. The best thing is to keep that going and we’ll see what happens. Thank you to everyone in the team for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s a dream come true.”
Iker Burutxaga, Team Manager: “We’re very happy to have Joe Roberts with us for this second half of the World Championship. After his performances in the first few races of the FIMCEV Repsol, we considered that he was knocking on the Championship’s door. We think he’s a rider that has a high enough level to be among the best and that the earlier he takes that step, will be better for all. We are looking forward to seeing him compete with the best riders in the class. He will obviously need an adaptation period, and he’ll need to work very hard at the beginning, but we trust his talent and we believe he’ll be able to give us some good results. Of course, we want to thank Yonny Hernández for the job he has done during the first half of the year and we wish him the best of luck in his future projects”.
With one or two contracts signed over the past couple of weeks, it's time to update what we know of the 2018 MotoGP rider line up. A single question mark behind the name of a rider indicates a very strong rumor. Three question marks indicates a complete unknown.
|Valentino Rossi||Yamaha M1||2018|
|Maverick Viñales||Yamaha M1||2018|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda RC213V||2018|
|Marc Márquez||Honda RC213V||2018|
|Andrea Iannone1||Suzuki GSX-RR||2018|
|Alex Rins||Suzuki GSX-RR||2018|
|Sam Lowes2||Aprilia RS-GP||2018|
|Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia RS-GP||2018|
|Bradley Smith||KTM RC16||2018|
|Pol Espargaro||KTM RC16||2018|
|Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati GP18||2018|
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati GP18||2018|
|Danilo Petrucci||Ducati GP18||2018|
|Jack Miller?||Ducati GP17||???|
|Cal Crutchlow||Honda RC213V||2019|
|Taka Nakagami/Tom Luthi?||Honda RC213V||???|
|Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Jonas Folger||Yamaha M1||2018|
|Johann Zarco||Yamaha M1||2018|
|Marc VDS Honda|
|Franco Morbidelli||Honda RC213V||2019|
|Alvaro Bautista||Ducati GP17||2018|
1. Suzuki looks likely to keep Andrea Iannone for 2018, despite reports of a poor atmosphere in the team
2. Aprilia will probably keep Sam Lowes, despite disappointment with his results. Some in management want to give him a chance to prove himself, and wait until 2019, when a lot of riders, including all of the top riders, will be out of contract.
3. Both Avintia and Aspar will have at least one Ducati GP17 at their disposal, with the option of a second one, if they can sign a competitive enough rider.
Another piece in the 2018 rider puzzle has fallen into place. On Monday, the Aspar Team announced that Alvaro Bautista has extended his contract to stay on with the team for another season, and will be riding for them in 2018.
The announcement was hardly a surprise. Despite the fact that the Spaniard had been approached by Aprilia to return to the fold, Bautista was keen to stay with Aspar. His return to the team with which he won the 125 title in 2006 and was runner up in 250s has been a remarkable success. Bautista has consistently made Q2, and finished fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, and been among the best of what has been an outstanding year for satellite riders.
Bautista will likely be riding a Ducati GP17 in 2018, though that is yet to be confirmed. Who Bautista's teammate will be is still an open question, though Karel Abraham has probably done enough to earn the right to stay.
The press release announcing Bautista's contract extension appears below:
Aspar Team and Álvaro Bautista sticking together for 2018
The Spaniard has already scored four top seven finishes in 2017 on board the Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati
The Aspar Team and Álvaro Bautisa will contest the 2018 MotoGP World Championship together, building on the Spanish rider's first season on board a Ducati with the team in 2017. The foundations of this successful relationship between the two parties was established between 2006 and 2009, which culminated in a 125cc World Championship title and the runner-up position in 250cc.
During the first of the current season Bautista has scored top-seven finishes in four races, including a fourth place in Argentina, a fifth in Italy, a seventh in Catalunya and a sixth at the recent German Grand Prix. As soon as he rode the Ducati GP16 the 32-year-old set top-five finishes as his target for this season and his confidence in the package has already been borne out.
Jorge Martínez, Aspar Team General Manager:“It is good news for the Pull&Bear Aspar Team that we have reached this agreement with Álvaro Bautista: we believe in him and we are enjoying a very strong season. We also have a lot of faith in Ducati, we get great support from the factory and through extending this relationship, together we can improve even more. I hope this year still holds many more high points like the ones we have enjoyed already, and that next season holds even more still.”
Álvaro Bautista: “I am happy to be spending another season as part of the Pull&Bear Aspar Team family. It is a union that can help both the team and myself to grow. We are having a strong season, I have a good relationship with the team and I feel very comfortable on the Ducati and with the support from the factory. I think we can continue to improve and achieve good results.”
Of the nine MotoGP races held so far, the teams and riders were clear about the two with the worst levels of grip. At both Jerez and Barcelona, the riders and teams complained bitterly about the lack of grip at the circuit. At Barcelona, those complaints also encompassed excessive tire wear caused by the old asphalt, which extensive use by cars had rendered extremely abrasive to motorcycle tires.
The MotoGP Safety Commission, the informal body in which riders talk to Dorna and the FIM about safety issues, made it very clear: unless the two Spanish tracks were resurfaced, it would not be possible to return there for 2018. In the case of Barcelona, there was also the question of the new chicane which replaced Turn 12, the corner where Luis Salom tragically lost his life in 2016.
It now looks like both circuits will make a reappearance on the MotoGP calendar in 2018 and beyond. Both Jerez and Barcelona are to be resurfaced ahead of next year, which should mean they will be ready to host MotoGP in the coming season.
Jerez made their decision relatively early. They assured Dorna that the track would be resurfaced, and the work has now been contracted out to two local construction firms. Work on resurfacing is set to be carried out during the summer, before activity at the track starts again in earnest in September. This means that the WorldSBK series will be the first world championship to sample the new surface when they head there for the Spanish round in October.
The situation was much more difficult for the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, outside Barcelona. The circuit had set aside funds for resurfacing and an upgrade to be carried out in the winter of 2018/2019. However, the insistence of the Safety Commission that the track be resurfaced before returning forced the track into a decision.
At a press conference held on Thursday, the president of the circuit, Vicenç Aguilera told the press that they had decided to go ahead with resurfacing the track this year. Losing the MotoGP race was not an option, Aguilera said, leaving them no option but to move their plans forward a year.
The track will now be resurfaced over the winter, and as part of the resurfacing, the trajectory of Turn 12 will be modified. The plan is for the original layout is to be restored, and extra runoff created at the corner. Creating the runoff will mean moving the grandstand which currently sits at the corner, placing it further along and before the final corner onto the start and finish straight.
Before the work is done, however, the plans will be presented to Dorna, who will pass it on to the Safety Commission for assessment, before handing over to the FIM Safety Officer Franco Uncini for homologation. Given the desire of the riders to see the original layout restored, creating more runoff at Turn 12 should solve most of their complaints.
Having both Jerez and Barcelona resurfaced could create several headaches for Dorna and for IRTA. First and foremost, complying with the request of the riders to have the tracks resurfaced leaves Dorna little choice but to continue to hold races at the circuits. That means continuing to have four MotoGP rounds in Spain, something which Dorna and IRTA sources have repeatedly commented privately are really too many. However, with well-attended races and circuits willing to pay Dorna the sanctioning fee, there is little reason not to go.
After both tracks are resurfaced, there will have to be tests at the track, for Michelin to assess the tire stress and degradation at the circuit. Both tracks are used extensively by the teams as test tracks, so that should not be an issue, the question will be one of timing. Tests are likely at Jerez sometime later this year, while there could be a test at Barcelona shortly after MotoGP returns to Europe after the early flyaway races. This is exactly what happened this year, and so it is likely to happen again.
With both Jerez and Barcelona resurfaced, that means that the 2018 MotoGP calendar will be expanded to 19 rounds. Thailand is almost certain to be included next season - though MotoMatters.com understands that a few details remain to be hammered out with the Chang International Circuit - which would mean an extra race next year.
While few details of the calendar are currently available, what is known is that the MotoGP season will start on 18th March in Qatar. The calendar will follow roughly the contours of the 2017 season, though with the season starting a week earlier, the Barcelona and Mugello races will probably not be on consecutive weekends.
The bigger change will come at the end of the season. The Thailand race will be added to the three flyaway races, and the flyaways will be split into two back-to-back weekends, with a week off in between. Sepang will be the last of the flyaways, before MotoGP flies back to Europe for the season finale at Valencia, and will likely be paired with Phillip Island. Thailand and Motegi will probably be paired before them, with a free weekend between the two pairs of races.
The accession of Thailand to the MotoGP ranks also means a slight change to the testing schedule. Bringing the season up to 19 races means that one preseason test will be dropped. That may not happen in 2018, though, as the teams will have to head to the Chang circuit for testing in February. Most likely, the Phillip Island MotoGP test will be dropped to make room for the test at Chang. For 2019, then the number of preseason tests will be reduced to just two. If the season expands to 20 races, then the number of preseason tests could even be cut down to just one, at Sepang.
Another domino has fallen in the MotoGP satellite team Silly Season. Danilo Petrucci has signed on to remain with the Pramac Ducati squad for the 2018 season. Petrucci had been courted by Aprilia, but Petrucci has elected to stay with the team and the factory with which he has scored his most recent successes.
Petrucci has been key to the early progress made with the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. The Italian won the right to use the sole GP17 in the Pramac garage after outscoring his teammate at the end of the 2016 season. At the start of the season, that had more downsides than he had realized, as Ducati were using Petrucci to test parts and setup for the new bike, and then filtering that data back to the factory squad.
Since Jerez, however, Petrucci has been left to get on with the job of finding a setup which works for him, and that has been reflected in his results. He has scored two podiums so far this year, and second on the grid at the Sachsenring is his third front-row start in a row.
With Petrucci out of the running, Alvaro Bautista becomes the prime target to replace Sam Lowes at Aprilia, if the Italian factory decides to let him go. But Bautista is leaning towards remaining with the Aspar Ducati team, depending on the level of machinery available to him. Andrea Iannone has also been linked to the ride, but Iannone's slump in form is not making him a particularly attractive prospect.
Below is the current state of play for the 2018 seasons, with riders signed, expected riders, and open seats.
Below is the press release from the Pramac team announcing the contract renewal with Petrucci:
Danilo Petrucci and Octo Pramac Racing together again in 2018 with the Ducati Desmosedici GP
Octo Pramac Racing is pleased to announce the renewal of the contract of Danilo Petrucci. The Ducati contracted rider from Terni will defend the colours of the Italian team also in the 2018 MotoGP season, again on a Ducati Desmosedici GP.
I am very happy to stay with Octo Pramac Racing, I am glad to remain in the team I consider my home. I am also proud to be the longest-serving rider in the history of such an important team. I would like to thank Paolo Campinoti who welcomed me into the Pramac family and Francesco Guidotti who believed in me. A special thanks also to Gigi Dall’Igna, Paolo Ciabatti, and Claudio Domenicali for the support of Ducati, and for providing me with a factory bike that gives me the possibility to obtain great results.
We are glad to have reached the agreement with Danilo Petrucci to continue a project that is giving us great satisfaction. We have great confidence in the rider’s skills, and we are proud to have a fantastic person in our team. However, we are still not content. We will pretend always more and more from him. This is in Pramac’s DNA.
Two years ago we believed in Danilo. A bet that we feel we have won. The technical project involving Petrux and Ducati is in continuous growth and we are confident that we will obtain great results together, thanks to the work of the technicians and of the whole Octo Pramac Racing Team.
On the eve of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule making body has allowed a system which was first mooted at the same race last year. In Assen, the GPC gathered to discuss various minor tweaks to the MotoGP rules, but among them was a major upgrade: permitting the use of dashboard messages by the teams from 2018.
The ability to send messages is piggybacking off the system put in place to aid Race Direction. With spec ECUs and spec dashboards in Moto3 and MotoGP, Race Direction had long wanted the ability to send messages to the bikes on track. They can already send a signal warning the riders that the race has been red-flagged, or to tell a particular rider that he has been black-flagged, but they had wanted to expand on that ability. The spec ECU and dashboard used in both Moto3 and MotoGP is capable of operating in full duplex mode, both sending and receiving messages via the timing loops around the track. That allows Race Direction both to send a message to one or more riders, and to be certain that they have actually received the message (though seeing/reading/comprehending it is a different kettle of fish altogether).
At the Sachsenring MotoGP race last year, a debate unfolded over whether teams should be use that system to send their own messages. The desire to be able to do so came from the fact that multiple riders missed their pit boards, and did not come in on time, thereby throwing away any chance of winning the race. Afterwards, several riders expressed a desire to be able to receive messages from the team, to help them decide when was the best time to swap bikes from wet tires to slicks.
Their wish has now been granted. From 2018, when the dashboard message system is adopted in MotoGP and Moto3 (Moto2 is to follow, when the engines are switched to Triumph and the electronics to Magneti Marelli), the teams will also be able to send their riders messages, without any limitation or restriction.
The official press release from the FIM appears below:
FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decisions of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Paul Duparc (FIM), Herve Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA), in the presence of Carlos Ezpeleta (Dorna), Mike Trimby (IRTA, Secretary of the meeting) and Corrado Cecchinelli (Director of Technology), in a meeting held in Assen on 24 June 2017, made the following decisions:
Detailed changes concerning tank capacity, including tubing, and non-return valves were approved.
Chassis Construction Materials
During the GPC meeting in Losail new regulations were approved concerning materials that may be used in the construction of Moto3 and Moto2 class chassis. With slight modifications, primarily concerning the material used for swinging arm and wheel spindles, the regulations will now apply to chassis in all classes.
Updated, detailed specifications for Moto2 electronics and ancillaries were confirmed.
Insurance for Wild Card Riders
Wild card riders will henceforth be included in the accidental injury insurance provided by IRTA and will no longer need to obtain insurance from their National Federation for that event. This will give them the same level of cover as the permanently contracted riders.
Participation in Different Championships at the Same Event
At some events there are races for the same category of machine in different Championships. It will no longer be permitted for a rider to compete in more than one Championship during the same event.
Dashboard Displays and Messages
It has already been confirmed that machines in the Moto3 and MotoGP class must have the dashboard facility to display text messages, linked to the current warning lights, with effect from 2018. This will also apply to the Moto2 class from 2019. The GPC have now confirmed the precise list of messages that will be sent with the warning lights by Race Direction.
Some teams already have the facility on their machine dashboards to receive text messages and, following approval from the Safety Commission, the GPC confirmed that such teams may already use this facility as a “virtual pit board”. This does not require any amendments to existing regulations.
Appointments of Official Suppliers
The GPC confirmed the appointment of the following official suppliers to the Championship:
- Triumph as supplier of engines for the Moto2 class with effect from 2019.
- Dell’Orto as supplier of the ECU for the Moto3 class from 2018 to 2020
Request from HRC
The GPC approved a request from HRC to, in the interests of safety, replace the inlet valves on a number of their Moto3 class engines due to a manufacturing flaw leading to incidences of cracking. The changes will be made under the supervision of Technical Direction staff and engines so affected will be limited to a total usage of 2,200 km.
A regularly updated version of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations which contains the detailed text of the regulation changes may be viewed shortly on:
Michelin are to bring an additional choice of front and rear tire specifications for the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring. The expanded allocation is Michelin's way of dealing with the extra grip they expect the track surface to have. To cover as many situations and conditions as possible, Michelin will offer a choice of four different front tires, and four different rear tires.
The reason Michelin has opted for this approach is because they were unable to test at the Sachsenring. The circuit's location, nestled up against the town of Hohenstein-Ernstthal, means noise restrictions placed on the track made testing impossible. The circuit only has a limited number of days on which it can run vehicles as loud as a MotoGP bike, and there was no way to expand that to add additional days to allow MotoGP to test for Michelin. Given the horsepower and lean angles MotoGP bikes are capable of generating, using Superbikes or standard road bikes to test tires would not have generated the same stresses in the Michelins.
"We tried everything to have a test," Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert said. "At the end it was not possible because of the noise regulations and so on. We agreed with Dorna that we could have one more specification of tire. One more front and one more rear to cover a wider range of situations. So that’s a way to cover wider conditions."
The step taken by Michelin is an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2013 race at Phillip Island, after the Australian track was resurfaced. Bridgestone, official tire supplier at the time, had not tested at the circuit, and during practice, they found the extra heat generated by the additional grip was causing blistering in some rear tires. As a precaution, the race was shortened from 27 to 19 laps, and a compulsory pit stop added.
Michelin believe bringing four different tires should be sufficient to cover the conditions they will encounter at the Sachsenring, which like Phillip Island, is a track where the bikes spend a lot of time on the side of the tire. "Usually when a track is resurfaced the grip level is higher. So tire temperature is higher. It does not affect so much the wear. We took that information and built some tires but it’s an educated guess," Goubert explained. He pointed to the experience of Bridgestone in Australia in 2013 for the lessons they face. "They had trouble with tire temperature. Not with wear."
The choice of tires Michelin have brought is more complicated than on a normal weekend. The riders will have a choice of a soft and hard front tire, as well as two different specs of medium front. They will also have a soft and a medium rear tire, as well as two different specs of hard rear tire. The differences between the two medium fronts and two hard rears is unclear. The designation given to the tires is because the two medium front compounds and two hard rear compounds are closer to each other than the others selected.
The additional choices will not make selecting tires any easier for the riders. Already, riders are complaining that they have too many choices to get through on a weekend before arriving at the race, leaving little time for actual set up work. Add in losing the last five or ten minutes to the need to chase a fast time to ensure direct passage into Q2, and that leaves precious little time to concentrate on the race.
"I think a lot of riders are not happy about the regulation, the fact that they have to choose from three specs at the front and three specs at the rear," Nicolas Goubert said at Assen. "A lot of them would have been a lot happier to have only two to choose from. But, at the same time, they're very happy when they find something suitable for them. So, for me, you cannot have it both ways. And anyway, that's the rule which has been decided, so we have to cope with it."
Adding a fourth spec of tire will make things even more complicated for the riders, as will juggling the quantities of tires involved. The current system, which allows riders to have 10 front and 12 rear tires, may have to be revised for the Sachsenring, to ensure that everyone has sufficient tires for the race. Having more tires to test may has also lead Dorna to decide to extend practice times, adding 10 minutes more to FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Both sessions will start 5 minutes earlier, and last 5 minutes longer. FP1 will now take place from 9:50 to 10:45am, while FP2 will run from 2pm to 2:55pm.
The Michelin press release previewing the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring appears below:
MICHELIN READY FOR THE NEW CHALLENGE OF SACHSENRING
Michelin is heading to Sachsenring in Germany for the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland an event which signals the half-way point in the 2017 MotoGP™ calendar and another new challenge for the French tyre firm.
The 3,671m Sachsenring is the shortest circuit on the calendar and its layout with 10-left-hand turns covering the majority of the configuration already makes it one of the most challenging tracks of the season. This year’s event will also have the added difficulty of a new surface for Michelin and the teams to contend with after the track was resurfaced earlier this year. Unfortunately, due to noise restrictions at the circuit, it has not been possible to conduct a test there with MotoGP machinery, so the paddock is heading to Germany with little information as to what the asphalt is like. The technical layout with fast and long left turns means a particular tyre is required to get the most from this demanding track. Michelin will bring front and rear asymmetric slick tyres in soft, medium and hard compounds to Sachsenring, which will feature a harder left-hand-side to cope with the stresses and attrition that side of the tyre goes through, whilst the right will be a softer compound to heat up quickly and give optimum performance through the track’s three right-hand turns.
Situated in Hohenstein-Ernstthal near Chemnitz in Saxony, Germany, the circuit staged its first road race in 1927. This was on a layout on public roads including the village of Hohenstein-Ernstthal and in 1937 the event was named ‘Sachsenring’. Racing continued on the public roads – despite stoppages for world conflicts and cancellations due to safety issues – until the early 1990’s when the last road-race was held. The latest incarnation of the Sachsenring circuit is a purpose-built racetrack that held its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 1998 and has staged the German round since then, making this the 20th running at the track. Weekend crowds of more than 200,000 people regularly head to this event and although it will never have figures from its prime in 1950 when 480,000 spectators turned up on race-day, it is still one of the most attended races of the year and a unique experience that is not matched anywhere else.
Last year’s event was a mixed affair with the race starting in wet conditions, but drying out as the race continued forcing riders to make a calculated decision when to change bikes from wet tyres to slicks to give them the best windows of performance. In the eventuality of inclement weather again, MICHELIN Power Rain tyres will be available in soft and medium compounds.
Preparation for Sunday’s 30-lap race will begin with two free practice sessions on the Friday, followed by another two free sessions on Saturday, before the qualifying takes place for the main event. The Sachsenring race is scheduled to get underway at 14.00hrs CEST (13.00hrs BST, 12.00hrs GMT/UTC) and will be the culmination of the first half of the season and a busy schedule which has seen four races in five weekends.
Piero Taramasso – Michelin Motorsport Two-Wheel Manager:
“Sachsenring is always a demanding circuit due to its unusual layout, and this year’s race will have the added challenge of a completely new surface. We have no data regarding the asphalt as it hasn’t been possible to test there due to the restrictions, so we are going a bit blind. We are sure we have the tyres to work well on the new layer and have prepared the compounds to the information we do have. The slick tyres will be asymmetric for the front and rear with a harder left-hand-side – as they were last year – this is to cope with the design of the track. The bikes spend a lot of time on the left on this track and Sachsenring needs a very special tyre, with a right that heats up quickly, to make sure the riders get good traction throughout the whole lap. It’s also a venue that can have some unsettled weather, as last year’s race showed where we had a wet start and then a drying track, so there were many types of tyres used in that race to get the best performance.”
The Circuit of Wales, the track which was to be built near Ebbw Vale in South Wales, has been dealt what will likely be a fatal blow. Today, the Welsh Government rejected the request of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company to underwrite the debts incurred for the construction of the circuit.
The HOTDVC, the company which had been set up to build and run the project, had originally requested that the Welsh Government underwrite the full £280 million cost the project had been expected to cost. After years of negotiation, the estimated costs had risen to £433 million, and the Welsh Government refused the HOTVDC proposal to underwrite half that debt.
The Welsh Government had demanded that the HOTVDC find external investors, and the firm had brought in outside money from UK investment firm Aviva, but Aviva had only agreed to become involved if the Welsh Government had promised to underwrite the project. With the Welsh Government refusing to underwrite the debt, Aviva's commitment now looks to be at an end.
The reason given for rejecting the proposal to build the Circuit of Wales is because the Welsh Government did not believe the projections for the number of permanent jobs. The HOTVDC had suggested that the circuit and its associated technology park would generate 6,000 full time jobs. The Welsh Economy Secretary, Ken Skates, said the project would only create 100 direct jobs and 500 indirect jobs, with a further 500 temporary jobs while the circuit was being built.
Without the backing of either Aviva or the Welsh Government, the Circuit of Wales looks to be doomed. Attempts to raise the necessary funding through private investment only have so far fallen flat. Instead, the Welsh Government will build a technology park on the site.
What this means for the future of the British round of MotoGP is uncertain. Dorna signed a five-year contract with the Circuit of Wales to host the race from 2015. The contract allowed the Circuit of Wales to host the British MotoGP at an alternative circuit. For 2015 and 2016, the race was held at Silverstone, and it is scheduled to be held there in August of this year as well.
With three years (or rather, three races) left on the contract with the Circuit of Wales, the future of the British MotoGP round is clouded in doubt. The race in Silverstone in 2017 is almost certain to go ahead, as the plans are already too far advanced to do anything about it. However, where it will be held for the following years is unknown. If the Circuit of Wales is abandoned, then the contract with Dorna will also end.
This situation does put Silverstone in a very strong position with respect to Dorna. Dorna are committed to holding a race in the UK as part of their contract with BT Sport, who broadcast MotoGP in Britain. Currently, only Silverstone is up to the task of hosting a round of MotoGP.
The recent purchase of Donington Park by MSV, the organization which owns several other circuits in the UK and organizes BSB, could lead to the track being made suitable to host MotoGP, but significant challenges would remain. The facilities at the track are currently not capable of hosting a MotoGP round, as there is simply not enough space in the paddock to house all of the race trucks, let alone the hospitality. Should MSV commit to upgrade the facilities, then a return to the calendar could be possible. Until then, the contract is Silverstone's to lose.
As had been widely trailed, Franco Morbidelli has signed a two-year with the Marc VDS squad to move up to MotoGP. The deal will see the Italian take the place of Tito Rabat inside the Marc VDS team for the next two years, with an option to sign on for a third.
Morbidelli had also been under consideration for a ride with Ducati, but the relationship the Italian had built up with the team proved decisive.
With Morbidelli signed, the focus will now switch to the second seat in the Marc VDS squad. Jack Miller is still the favorite for that seat, the Australian currently in talks with the team. Miller's priority is to secure the best package available, however. The outcome of those talks will depend on what Honda can offer Marc VDS in that regard.
Below is the press release from the Marc VDS team:
Morbidelli to step up to MotoGP with Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS
Franco Morbidelli will step up to the premier MotoGP category in 2018, after agreeing a contract extension with Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS in Assen today.
Morbidelli, who leads the Moto2 World Championship, will remain with Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS for a further two years. The agreement reached today also includes an option for a third year, should the Italian wish to continue with the team for the 2020 MotoGP season.
Morbidelli made his debut for Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS in 2016, securing eight podium finishes on his way to fourth place in the Moto2 World Championship.
While a first World Championship win proved elusive in 2016, Morbidelli started the 2017 season with victory in Qatar, which he then backed up with further race wins in Argentina, Austin and Le Mans.
Morbidelli currently leads the Moto2 World Championship by seven points from Thomas Lüthi after seven of 18 races.
"Firstly I want to thank Marc van der Straten and Michael Bartholemy for having faith in me and giving me this opportunity. Thanks to my management team for arranging everything, leaving me free to focus on the racing and also to the Riders Academy. It's good to have everything sorted so early in the season, as I can now concentrate fully on what I have to do this year in Moto2. I'm excited by the thought of MotoGP and I'm happy to be making the step up to the premier class with the team, and with people I know and have worked alongside already. It's a big challenge, but it's definitely one that I'm looking forward to. But for now my focus is on this year, so thinking about MotoGP will have to wait until after the final Moto2 race of the season in Valencia."
Marc van der Straten: President, Marc VDS Racing Team
"I am delighted that we have secured Franco Morbidelli on a long term contract to represent the team in MotoGP from 2018 onwards. Franco was something of an unknown quantity when he came to us at the beginning of 2016, but we took a chance on him because we could see his potential. It was a good decision on our part, because he's not only realised this potential, his progress has actually far exceeded our expectations. He's leading the championship after dominating from the opening race and I am confident that he will adapt quickly to MotoGP once he makes the move at the end of this season. For now, though, he has other priorities, namely winning his first, and the team's second, World Championship title."