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KTM Complete 2020 MotoGP Line Up: Brad Binder To Factory Team, Iker Lecuona To Tech3

KTM have finally found a solution to their rider line up problem for 2020. Today, the Austrian factory announced that they will be taking Brad Binder directly into the factory Red Bull KTM team, to race alongside Pol Espargaro, while they have signed Iker Lecuona to race in the Red Bull KTM Tech3 satellite squad opposite Miguel Oliveira.

This is something of a shake up to KTM's original plans, caused by the early departure of Johann Zarco. The Frenchman's decision to leave the Austrian factory at the end of 2019 (accelerated to after Misano by KTM's decision to drop him from Aragon onward) left them with a puzzle to solve.

With almost everyone with MotoGP experience tied up for 2020, and most Moto2 riders holding on for 2021, when the entire MotoGP grid is out of contract, finding a replacement for Zarco was almost impossible. They had already signed Brad Binder to the Tech3 satellite team, and had few options to choose from. 

They ended up doing something of an internal reshuffle. Binder has been promoted from the Tech3 team to the factory squad, while Lecuona will be moving up to to the Tech3 MotoGP team, instead of riding in Moto2 with the Ajo squad, as he was signed to do.

These moves are all part of a delicate balancing act. After Zarco announced he would be leaving at the end of 2019, KTM promised Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal that they wouldn't poach Miguel Oliveira from him. Taking Binder instead of Oliveira is a way around that dilemma, and putting the 19-year-old Lecuona in the Tech3 team gives Poncharal another young and exciting rookie. 

There was the minor obstacle of Lecuona already having signed a contract for 2020, but fortune had it that the Spaniard had signed for the Ajo team, currently racing with KTM in Moto2, and still affiliated with KTM despite the Austrian manufacturer's decision to withdraw from Moto2 in 2020. Moving Lecuona up means that Ajo will have to find a replacement for Moto2, but they are recruiting internally. 

There had been a number of names linked to the KTM factory MotoGP ride, with former KTM rider and current Aprilia tester Bradley Smith a prominent candidate. But KTM have decided to gamble on youth over experience, turning down Smith, along with other rumored contacts with veterans such as Alvaro Bautista. 

There are two reasons to go for young riders over experienced riders. The first is that younger riders are less set in their ways, and fewer ingrained habits or expectations to unlearn. In theory, that should allow them to adapt to the rough-and-ready KTM RC16, a bike that needs a very physical style to ride. 

The second is that they are hoping to capture lightning in a bottle in the same way that the Petronas team have with Fabio Quartararo. The MotoGP paddock and team managers are just as susceptible to fads and fashions as everyone else, and with the current feeling that a generation is passing, to be replaced by a younger generation coming into MotoGP, it can sway the decision toward youth over experience.

Binder in the factory team and Oliveira in Tech3 sets up a fascinating battle for the factory seats in 2021. So far, Pol Espargaro has ruled the KTM roost, the RC16 suiting the Spaniard's physical style down to the ground. But Oliveira has shown flashes of real speed on the KTM, and promises to be competitive on the bike once he recovers from the shoulder injury he picked up at Silverstone, where he was taken out in a crash by Johann Zarco. 

Espargaro will be 29 at the beginning of the 2021 season, and if Oliveira improves as much as KTM hope, they may decided to keep the Portuguese rider over the Spaniard. Alternatively, they could throw more factory resources at Oliveira in the Tech3 team, and strenghten his challenge. Oliveira's RC16 is already very close in spec to the factory bikes of Pol Espargaro and (now) Mika Kallio, and as KTM are picking up a large part of Tech3's tab, they could easily increase the support they give the Portuguese rider.

KTM will probably have to do that for 2020 anyway. With Zarco gone, and two rookies among four riders, the development will rest largely on the shoulders of Pol Espargaro and Miguel Oliveira, as the only two riders with MotoGP experience. Dani Pedrosa will continue to bear the bulk of the test work, and define the direction of the bike, but Espargaro and Oliveira will be the final arbiters at the track. As Espargaro has a very specific, physical style, it is easy to see that Oliveira will have a key role to play in making the bike a little less tailored to Espargaro's riding style.

With the signing of Binder and Lecuona, the 2020 grid is now complete, in theory at least. Rumors persist over the position of Jorge Lorenzo at Repsol Honda, but the noises coming out of Japan from HRC top brass were that they will keep the five-time world champion for 2020, and make a decision about the future next year, when Silly Season kicks off in earnest, and when everyone is out of contract and available.

The press release from KTM appears below:


Red Bull KTM MotoGP line-up confirmed for 2020

MotoGP announcement

Red Bull KTM will field former world champion and class rookie Brad Binder alongside Pol Espargaro for 2020 MotoGP. The South African’s saddle, initially planned at Red Bull KTM Tech3, will be taken by Spaniard Iker Lecuona.

KTM have decided to invest and trust in the racing instincts of two MotoGP debutants for 2020 and for the next development phase of the factory RC16.

Brad Binder’s impressive progress through Moto3 and Moto2 divisions meant the 24-year old was well on the road to a premier class saddle for 2020 but with a slot opening in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team Binder has been placed next to Pol Espargaro for his first term.

Iker Lecuona, who has taken Moto2 podium honours in both 2018 and 2019, had been signed for a Moto2 ride in 2020. The 19-year old has now been promoted to the Red Bull KTM Tech3 MotoGP effort alongside Miguel Oliveira.

Four riders, three nationalities and three athletes below the age of 25 means KTM are now set for their fourth year of MotoGP participation.

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director: “It was clear that our plans for 2020 needed to change following our mid-season announcement. After some thought and talks we decided to move in this direction and let the young, hungry guys with good experience in the other categories of MotoGP show us what they can do. Brad is a rider that has made his way through the KTM structure and we have no doubt whatsoever that he can walk into the Red Bull KTM team and keep showing that same style and never-give-up attitude we have seen for a long time. Iker comes into the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team and we’re super-confident that Hervé and his guys will be able to help and develop another rookie like they have done so well with Miguel this year. We know we are making good and exciting steps with our MotoGP project and with next season now fixed we can really start building up to this new chapter.”

Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “I’m super-happy with the duo we have for 2020. We had a long discussion about it but finally I think it is a good decision that KTM made. In Pol we have a very strong rider who has made good results for us and we’ve seen in the other categories what Brad is capable of with our bikes. He is one of the young kids that has come through the rank. It will be a big challenge for him but I think he will have a great future in MotoGP.”

Hervé Poncharal, Red Bull KTM Tech3 Team Principal: “My feeling is that this is the strongest 2020 KTM line-up we could have hoped for. We want to have four riders with talent, passion, will and that they will stick to the project. Personally I am happy to work with a young and talented rookie like Iker. This is the way to go for the future and we have seen that the same approach has brought some success to other teams. Let’s start working on 2020: we have the technical support and we have the right people onboard. I believe we will take a big step next year with both Miguel in his second year and Iker keen to show us what he can do.”

Source: 

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Ramping Up For 2020 - Test Teams Get Busy In Europe

While the MotoGP paddock is away, the test teams will play. In the middle of the Asia-Pacific flyaways, back in Europe the test teams are preparing for the start of 2020. In the coming days, test teams for Aprilia, KTM, and Ducati will all take to the track, while Honda will be testing directly after Sepang.

Aprilia and Bradley Smith will kick off events at Aragon, with a three-day test at the Spanish circuit. Smith has plenty of work to do: there are preparations for the 2020 season, though the bike will not be ready until the Sepang test, in all likeliness. But after engine problems for both Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone in the race at Motegi, Smith will have plenty to work on in helping to isolate the problem.

Dani Pedrosa and KTM follow, from Thursday to Saturday. Pedrosa is focused entirely on the 2020 KTM RC16, continuing the search for more speed from the bike. Pedrosa's improvements have already made a big impact, the Spaniard helping to smooth and improve the electronics and settings. He has also helped streamline the testing program for KTM: Pedrosa is involved in finding the best package of new parts that work together, which KTM can then hand off to Pol Espargaro to test.

The Ducati test team will also be at work, though they will be testing at Valencia. Michele Pirro will be taking to the Spanish track from Wednesday to Friday, working mostly on his race setup, as the Italian will be racing as a wildcard at the final round of 2019.

On the Monday and Tuesday after the Sepang round, Stefan Bradl will be taking to the track at Jerez. The German will be working on the 2020 Honda RC213V, getting it ready ahead of the first test after the Valencia race.

HRC regard that work as crucial: though Marc Marquez won the 2019 MotoGP title with relative ease, the results of the other Honda riders make it clear just how difficult this year's bike has been to ride. Any work Bradl can do to steer the Honda engineers in the right direction is important.

That test was given such a high priority that Bradl was unavailable to take the place of Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda, while the Japanese rider was away having shoulder surgery. Bradl would have been available for Phillip Island and Valencia, but Lucio Cecchinello would have had to find another replacement for Sepang. 

Bradl's lack of availability made the choice to put Johann Zarco on Nakagami's bike even easier. LCR Honda get a replacement for the Japanese rider, and HRC get a chance to evaluate Zarco as a potential replacement for Jorge Lorenzo in 2020 (even though HRC's official line is that they have every intention of keeping Lorenzo for next year), or possibly even 2021, when all of the MotoGP seats are open.

Source: 

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Sylvain Guintoli Punished For Using 2020 Engine Spec At Motegi

Sylvain Guintoli has been disqualified for the FP1 and FP2 sessions of the Motegi MotoGP round, after having been found to have used an illegal spec of engine. As a result, all of his times set in FP1 and FP2 have been scrapped, and Guintoli listed as having set no time. Guintoli does still qualify for Q1, having set a time within 107% of the fastest rider in FP3.

The punishment came after Sylvain Guintoli used a prototype of the 2020 Suzuki GSX-RR during his third wildcard appearance. That is in contravention of the rules, specifically rule 2.4.6.2, which states that wildcards must abide by the engine specification rules which apply to all manufacturers. In the case of Suzuki, who are not a concessions team, and so are not allowed to change engine specifications during the season, this means that Guintoli is bound to use the same specification of engine for the whole 2019 season.

But there is some ambiguity in the rules, especially as they apply to wildcards. Each manufacturer is also allowed to run 3 different engine specifications in each season, to allow them to supply satellite teams with different engine specs to the factory squad. And wildcard riders are allowed to use three engines of the same specification at each race, effectively freeing them from the restrictions on the number of engine used by full-time riders in the season.

If this had happened last year, Guintoli would not have been punished. Suzuki was a so-called concessions team during the 2018 season, after failing to score a single podium through 2017. That allowed Guintoli as wildcard to use different engine specs throughout 2018. But after their successful season in 2018, where Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone scoring 9 podiums between them, Suzuki lost their concessions and were stuck with a single engine specification for the entire season for each rider.

The punishment for Suzuki is not because they used a 2020-spec engine, but because the engine spec differs from the one used by Guintoli earlier in the season. If the same thing had happened to Aprilia or KTM, for example, they would not have been punished, as they are allowed to change engine specs as concession teams.

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Takaaki Nakagami Confirmed With LCR Honda For 2020, To Miss Last Three Races For Shoulder Surgery

Takaaki Nakagami will be staying with the LCR Honda team for 2020, HRC and the LCR Honda team have officially confirmed.  After a long period of negotiation, Honda and Nakagami have finally reached terms which will see the Japanese rider staying in Lucio Cecchinello's team for another season.

The announcement had long been expected. Nakagami was one of a few riders without a confirmed contract for 2020, but as his place in the LCR Honda Idemitsu team came with direct support from Honda and Japanese oil brand Idemitsu, there seemed little doubt he would be back. 

The sticking point in the negotiations was which bike Nakagami would be riding. Throughout the summer, Nakagami insisted he wanted a 2020-spec Honda RC213V for next year. However, as the flyaways approached, it became increasingly clear that the Japanese rider was resigned to settling for a 2019-spec machine.

That was finally confirmed in the press release, LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello stating that Nakagami will be racing "the RCV Factory motorcycle that has just won the 2019 World Title with Marc Marquez". Given how difficult to ride the 2019 machine has proven to be for anyone other than Marquez, this could pose a serious challenge for Nakagami.

The press release also confirmed that Nakagami will miss the last three races of the 2019 season after his home race in Motegi. Nakagami is to undergo surgery on his right shoulder after Motegi, and faces a long rehabilitation period to be fit for the first test of 2020 at Sepang. He injured his shoulder in the crash with Valentino Rossi at Assen this year, and has suffered with a lack of strength since then.

Nakagami's absence opens the way for Johann Zarco to step in and take his place. Though this has not been announced yet, Zarco confirmed to leading French journalist Thomas Baujard that he would be replacing Nakagami for the remainder of 2019.

This opportunity is widely seen as a trial run for Zarco at Honda. There are credible rumors in the paddock that Repsol Honda are considering sacking Jorge Lorenzo at the end of the year, and replacing the Spaniard with Johann Zarco. There are of course concerns that Zarco may find the Honda just as hard to ride as he did the KTM, and giving Zarco a trial on the Honda for the remaining three races of 2019 gives HRC a chance to evaluate the Frenchman's ability to ride the RC213V.

Nakagami's contract wraps up the last-but-one seat on the 2020 MotoGP grid. The only seat left open is at KTM, to replace Zarco, who quit the team earlier this year. Zarco's seat is currently being filled by Mika Kallio, and the Finn remains an option for 2020. Meanwhile, KTM are looking round for a possible replacement.

The press releases from HRC and the LCR Honda team appear below:


Honda extend contract with Takaaki Nakagami in MotoGP

On the eve of his home MotoGP race in Japan, Honda Racing Corporation confirm the one-year extension of Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda IDEMITSU.

Now in his second year aboard the Honda RC213V run inside LCR Honda IDEMITSU, Takaaki Nakagami has demonstrated constant improvements in his riding and results in the MotoGP class. With nine top-ten finishes and a best result of fifth at the Italian Grand Prix in Mugello, the Japanese rider has already amassed more than double the points he scored in his rookie campaign.

Takaaki Nakagami arrives at his home race, the Japanese Grand Prix, with a new one-year contract with LCR Honda IDEMITSU. All involved are pleased to continue the relationship and look forward to more improvements from the 27-year old.

After the race in Motegi, Nakagami will undergo an operation on his shoulder to resolve an injury that has troubled him throughout the season. The nature of the operation warrants an extensive recovery period, forcing the Japanese rider to end his 2019 season early. By performing the operation now, Nakagami is aiming to be fully fit for the first test of the 2020 season in Sepang on February 07.

Takaaki Nakagami 30
Rider – MotoGP

“First of all I am delighted to stay with Honda and the LCR Team. I have been able to improve a lot this year and Honda have shown me great support and given me a very strong package. I am sure together we can continue this in 2020. About the injury, after the crash I had in Assen I found myself in some pain and lacking a bit of strength in my shoulder. I went to the doctor to fully understand the situation and while I have been able to ride with the injury, it has not been ideal so we made the difficult decision alongside Honda and the LCR Team to have this operation now.”

Tetsuhiro Kuwata
HRC Director - General Manager Race Operations Management Division

“We are proud to continue to support Takaaki Nakagami in the MotoGP class for the 2020 season. As a rider he has continued to develop and grow throughout all of 2019. He is someone who inspires many young talents in Japan and Asia with his hard work and focus. I wish him all the best in his recovery and look forward to the 2020 season.”


NAKAGAMI AND HRC EXTEND CONTRACT FOR 2020

PRESS RELEASE: 15 October 2019 - OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Takaaki Nakagami and HRC have agreed an extension to their contract for the 2020 MotoGP World Championship. It is confirmed this week that the Japanese talent has signed another one-year deal with the Japanese manufacturer, riding for Lucio Cecchinello’s outfit in the LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team.

Now in his second year aboard the RC213V Takaaki Nakagami has demonstrated consistent improvements in his riding and results in the premier class in 2019. With eight top-ten finishes and a best result of fifth at the Italian Grand Prix in Mugello so far, the Japanese rider has already amassed more than double the points he scored in his rookie campaign.

After his home race in Motegi, Nakagami will undergo an operation on his right shoulder to resolve an injury that has troubled him throughout the season. The nature of the operation warrants an extensive recovery period, forcing the Japanese rider to prematurely end his 2019 season. By performing the operation now, Nakagami is aiming to be fully fit for the first test of the 2020 season in Sepang on February 7th.

Lucio Cecchinello (LCR Honda Team Principal): “We are delighted to continue this project with Takaaki Nakagami, and hope to build even further on his impressive performance in 2019. Taka has demonstrated the ability to fight in the top ten of the MotoGP World Championship every race weekend and together with HRC we will set the goal of taking another step forward. In 2020, Taka will compete with the RCV Factory motorcycle that has just won the 2019 World Title with Marc Marquez. Next season will be particularly important so, although we are sorry about the early end to Taka’s season, we are convinced that the decision to undergo surgery after the Japanese GP is the correct one, so that he can return to the best physical condition by the time of the first test in Malaysia in February.”

Takaaki Nakagami

“First of all I am delighted to stay with Honda and the LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team. I have been able to improve a lot this year and Honda have shown me great support and given me a very strong package. I am sure together we can continue this in 2020. About the injury, after the crash I had in Assen during the race I found myself in some pain and lacking a bit of strength in my right shoulder. I went to visit Doctor Mir twice in Barcelona, and more recently I had an appointment with Doctor Hiroyuki Sugaya at Funabashi Orthopedic Surgical Hospital in Tokyo to fully understand the situation. While I have been able to ride with the injury, it has not been ideal, so we made the difficult decision alongside Honda and the LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team to have this operation in Japan straight after my home race”.

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Grand Prix Commission Confirms Testing To Be Limited As Calendar Expands

Today, the Grand Prix Commission officially announced further restrictions on testing for the MotoGP class. Those restrictions were published last month on MotoMatters.com, including the news that the Brno and Valencia tests are to be dropped in 2020, with further reductions in 2021.

The idea is that as the calendar expands from 20 races next year to 22 in 2022, testing is reduced to reduce the workload and stress on the riders and teams. In 2020, there will still be two tests in February, at Sepang and Qatar before the season starts, and Monday tests after the Jerez and Barcelona races. 

The Brno test will be dropped, however, as it made for a very short week between the Brno and Spielberg rounds of MotoGP, especially for the crews who have to tear down and build up the hospitalities and garages before and after each race. 

Instead, there will be a two-day private test at Misano in September, as there was in 2019. The private test will allow the factories a modicum of privacy, keeping journalists and photographers out of pit lane.

The new schedule starts in earnest at the end of 2020. The traditional post-season test at Valencia has been dropped, the riders getting three days off instead, before reconvening in Jerez for two days of testing. The Valencia test was widely disliked, by everyone except the fans. With just one day of after a punishing season, engineers felt that the feedback from the riders tended to be imprecise and woolly, and of very limited use.

A gap of three days looks like being a compromise. Three days away from bikes should give riders a chance to recover and recuperate a little, while also giving the teams a slightly longer winter break. 

In 2021, the test at Qatar will be dropped completely, with just the traditional Sepang test before the season kicks off. In-season testing will likely follow the same pattern as 2020, with two tests on a Monday, and a private two-day test.

The changes will be particularly welcomed by the satellite teams. The private teams receive financial support from Dorna to compete, but they only get that support for races, and not for tests. Going testing costs money, and any reduction in out of season testing saves them money. 

Though the new testing program has met with some resistance from factories, they were eventually willing to accept it. The reduction in testing in previous years has put an emphasis on the factory test teams, with factories taking their lead from Ducati, and hiring much faster riders to help develop the bikes. For the Japanese factories, especially, this has been a change, using ex-Grand Prix riders to test, rather than relying on the Japanese test riders who were often three or more seconds a lap slower than the factory riders.

The change does mean that the fans will have to wait to see the new riders on new bikes as they change teams. Instead of staying on in Valencia to see the test, they will have to wait until the Thursday and either keep an eye on the official MotoGP.com website or fly down to Jerez for a glimpse of the riders swapping bikes. With some major changes expected in 2021, flights to Jerez may well prove to be popular.

Below is the press release from the FIM on the new  testing restrictions.


FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decision 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 an electronic meeting held on 7 October 2019, made the following decision:

Sporting Regulations

MotoGP CLASS – TEST RESTRICTIONS

With the introduction of additional events in the Grand Prix calendar, the MotoGP class teams have been examining ways to offset the additional workload on riders and team staff by reducing the number of tests.

Agreement was reached between the teams to propose cancellation of the November 2020 test after the Valencia GP and the traditional March 2021 test prior to the Qatar GP.

The proposal was approved by the GPC and will become effective in the regulations from Season 2020, which starts the day after the 2019 Valencia GP.

Implementation of the new regulations will result in the following programme of MotoGP class tests:

SEASON 2020 (STARTING 18 NOVEMBER 2019)

Valencia 19-20 November Two-day official test.
Jerez 25-26 November Two-day joint private test
Sepang 02-04 February Three-day shakedown test.
Sepang 07-09 February Three-day official test.
Qatar 22-24 February Three-day official test
Jerez 04 May One-day official test after the GP
Barcelona 08 June One-day official test after the GP
Finland 15-16 June Two-day Michelin tyre test – test teams only
Misano 15-16 September Two-day joint private test

SEASON 2021 (STARTING 16 NOVEMBER 2020)

Jerez 19-20 November Two-day official test
Sepang 01-03 February (prov) Three-day shakedown test
Sepang 06-08 February (prov) Three-day official test

On dates to be confirmed when 2021 calendar is known:
Possible three-day, pre-season test at Lombok, Indonesia if circuit is in 2021 calendar.
Two of one-day official tests on Mondays after events. Circuits to be confirmed.
Two-day official test at a circuit to be confirmed – probably Misano.

Source: 

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Johann Zarco To Replace Takaaki Nakagami At LCR Honda For 3 Races - Prelude To 2020 Contract?

Johann Zarco is set to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the final three races of 2019, and race the 2018-spec Honda RC213V for the Idemitsu LCR Honda team. The news was first broken by Oriol Puigdemont of Motorsport.com, and though nobody contacted by MotoMatters.com would comment on the news, it was later confirmed by Zarco to Thomas Baujard of the French publication Moto Journal.

The reason for the switch, according to Motorsport.com, is that Nakagami has been struggling with shoulder problems similar to those suffered by Marc Márquez, whose shoulder kept dislocating. Nakagami is considering the same surgery as Márquez to rectify the problem, and based on the length of time Márquez took to recover from surgery, is looking at having surgery in October, rather than December, in the hope of getting a head start on rehabilitating the shoulder. As a result, Nakagami would ride only his home Grand Prix at Motegi in Japan, before having surgery done.

This would leave Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda team in need of a replacement rider. With Johann Zarco currently out of a job, after being released by KTM after Misano, Zarco would be the ideal replacement for the Japanese rider.

Hurdles to be taken

There are a couple of complications still to be cleared: first, KTM would have to formally grant permission for Zarco to ride the LCR Honda. That should not be an issue. At Aragon, KTM Sporting Director Pit Beirer told reporters, "He's under contract with us, we're going to pay him until the end of the season, but if he comes tomorrow and he wants to test any motorcycle or race any motorcycle, he can even race against us this Sunday, because I want the best for him. And if there is the smallest chance, he has to jump on it with my full support, and we will fix all the paperwork needed to get the release."

The bigger problem for Zarco is that he faces a choice. He currently has an offer on the table from Yamaha to work as a test rider for the MotoGP team in 2020. However, if he signs to race for LCR Honda, Yamaha may choose to seek elsewhere for a test rider. That would mean Zarco going all in on finding a race ride for 2020, rather than a testing role.

Unhappy marriage

There may yet be a seat for Zarco in MotoGP in 2020. The marriage between Repsol Honda and Jorge Lorenzo has been deeply unhappy, Lorenzo struggling with injury from the start of the season, then fracturing two vertebrae in a crash at Assen and missing three races as a result.

Since returning from that injury, he has been struggling even to score points, finishing 56 seconds behind the winner at Silverstone, 47 seconds behind at Misano, 46 seconds behind at Aragon, and 54 seconds back in Buriram. In those four races, he has amassed a total of 4 points, compared to the 95 points scored by his teammate Marc Márquez in the same races.

There have been other incidents as well. There was an ill-disguised flirtation with Ducati over the summer break, and a strong belief that Lorenzo has lost any motivation to try to get on with the 2019 Honda. The relationship between Lorenzo and HRC, especially team boss Alberto Puig, has been frosty.

Johann Zarco could be the key that breaks that deadlock. Honda get an unheard of opportunity to give a rider with MotoGP podiums a test ride on their bike before choosing to sign them for the factory squad. Zarco will be working with HRC engineers in the LCR Honda squad, and they will be able to give their feedback on how he works, while Honda will also get a look at his ability to ride the bike.

Frying pan to fire?

There are two question marks over that, of course. Firstly, the Honda is a very physical bike to ride, which needs to be pushed to get the best out of it. The character of the RC213V is very similar to the KTM RC16, which Zarco struggled to master, and developed a deep and abiding dislike of. Team bosses and engineers have compared Zarco's style with Jorge Lorenzo's, which suggests that Zarco might struggle with the bike much as Lorenzo has.

The saving grace for Zarco is that he would be riding the 2018 Honda RC213V. That bike is a more rider-friendly machine, giving the rider the feedback, feel, and confidence from the front end which the 2019 Honda lacks. Zarco relies on the front to carry corner speed and turn the bike, so the 2018 machine could suit his style. The fact that Jorge Lorenzo was competitive when he first tried the 2018 machine – finishing within a few tenths of his teammate in the tests at Valencia and Jerez in November last year – suggests that Zarco should find it easier to ride.

And Zarco might be able to avoid the foibles of the 2019 Honda RC213V altogether, if Repsol Honda decide to replace Jorge Lorenzo with the Frenchman. He will be riding the 2018 bike at Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia, and then jump on a 2020 prototype at the Valencia and Jerez tests. HRC Technical Manager Takeo Yokoyama told Crash.net's Peter McLaren and Neil Morrison that Honda's main priority was making the 2020 bike easier to ride. Whether Repsol Honda stick with Jorge Lorenzo or replace him with Johann Zarco, it will be imperative they succeed in that endeavor.

Taka safe

Zarco taking Takaaki Nakagami's place for the remainder of 2019 would not affect the 2020 season. Though Nakagami is yet to sign a contract for next season, he has repeatedly told reporters that he is very close to a deal, with just a few details to iron out.

The second seat in LCR Honda will be held for Nakagami, as it is funded by Japanese oil brand Idemitsu, and subsidized by Honda. Both of those companies want a Japanese rider in the premier class, and while there is some real talent on its way through from Moto3 and the Asia Talent Cup, it will be a few years before they are ready to tackle MotoGP.


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Brazil To Join MotoGP As Part Of Expanded Calendar From 2022

2022 promises to see a major shakeup of the MotoGP calendar. Today, one of the pieces which will make up MotoGP's calendar was announced, with the news that the Rio Motorpark has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to host the Brazilian round of MotoGP from 2022 to 2026.

The new venue will see MotoGP return to Brazil after an absence of 18 years. From 1995 to 2004, Grand Prix racing was held at the Nelson Piquet Circuit in Jacarepagua, to the southwest of Rio de Janeiro, and before that at Goiana in the north of Brazil  between 1987 and 1989, before moving to Interlagos near Sao Paulo for 1992.

Brazil, along with rest of South and Central America, is a key market for the manufacturers. Nearly a million powered two wheelers were sold in Brazil last year, with Honda taking the vast bulk of those, selling 775,000 units.

The Brazilian round of MotoGP is to be held at a new circuit to be built at Deodoro, in the northwest of Rio de Janeiro. That circuit will be part of the Rio Motorpark, to be built on land formerly owned by the Brazilian military

But the Rio Motorpark has a number of question marks hanging over the project. Earlier this year, there were questions raised over the legitimacy of the bidding process which went to awarding the contract to build and run the circuit. The contract had also been awarded without a proper environmental impact study, though this has now been completed. There are also questions over the opaque structure company running Rio Motorpark: its parent company is reportedly headquartered in Delaware, a US state which has a reputation for being a tax haven due to its low tax rates and laws on corporate privacy.

There is a political risk associated with the Grand Prix in Brazil as well. Far right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has thrown his backing behind the project, together with the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella. Some in Brazil believe that this backing is political, aimed at weakening the position of Interlagos in Sao Paulo, a stronghold of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the bitter rivals of Bolsonaro's Social Liberal Party.

There are more practical concerns as well. Safety is a major issue for F1 in Brazil, with teams and drivers being held up at gunpoint and having equipment stolen from them. Team members have been told not to wear team clothing until they arrive at the circuit, and only pick up rental cars at their hotels rather than the airport. At other car events, teams are provided with cars with armor, and the cars made as non-descript as possible.

Brazil is just one new venue expected to appear on the MotoGP calendar in the coming years. An Indonesian race at Mandalika on Lombok has already been announced, and is expected to be run in 2021 for the first time. Sources have indicated that a race in Vietnam is under serious consideration, at a new track to be built in the country. And talks continue about a race in Mexico, and about moving the Argentinian race from Termas de Rio Hondo to San Juan de Villicum, where the WorldSBK series has their round.

The Termas race faces multiple challenges: despite the universally beloved layout, the circuit is in the middle of the country and traveling there presents severe logistical challenges. Moving to San Juan de Villicum would not solve that, of course, and so a race in Brazil could potentially take the place of the race in Termas.

Dorna CEO has also told reporters that MotoGP wants to return to Portugal. But instead of this meaning that five races would be held on the Iberian peninsula, the total would be cut to three, with a rotation system put in place for Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese round could alternate between Portimao and Estoril, although Portimao needs resurfacing and Estoril would require significant upgrades to track and facilities.

Two Spanish rounds could then alternate between the four current tracks, with Jerez, Valencia, Barcelona, and Aragon taking it in turns to host MotoGP. That faces resistance particularly in Jerez: the race in the Andalusian city is regarded as the opening of the European part of the MotoGP calendar, and has a significant place in MotoGP culture.

The press release announcing the race in Brazil appears below:


MotoGP™ returns to Rio de Janeiro from 2022

The world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship will soon be back in Brazil, racing at the all-new Rio Motorpark

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Dorna Sports is delighted to announce that MotoGP™️ will be returning to Brazil from 2022, with a five-year contract with Rio Motorsports (RMS) securing the sport’s return to Rio de Janeiro until 2026. The all-new Rio Motorpark, set for construction in Deodoro, will host the Grand Prix, which is back in Rio after 15 years.

Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro, have already staged some incredible chapters in the history of the sport, most recently in 2004 at Jacarepaguá, which had hosted MotoGP™ since 1995. The development of a new venue to replace Jacarepaguá, which was repurposed as an Olympic Park, makes for an exciting prospect for both the sport and the city.

Rio Motorpark is forecast for completion in 2021 and features a 4.5km layout of seven left- and six right-handed corners, with an approximate MotoGP™ laptime of 1 minute 38 seconds.

Marcelo Crivella, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro: “The news that we already have a first competition for Rio's new racetrack, MotoGP, confirmed for 2022, represents a great advance for our city. The construction of the Deodoro racetrack is a spectacular project, with an extraordinary investment that will generate 7,000 jobs and make Rio regain the leading role in major competitions. We will take development to a region of the city with many needs, which is the West Zone, and stimulate tourism. All this without the City putting a penny into the project, since the whole investment will be the responsibility of the concessionaire.”

JR Pereira, CEO of Rio Motorsports: “Dorna was an extremely loyal partner in every conversation we had. Now that we have completed the local environmental impact studies and the commission that will look into the matter is in place, following the regulatory policies of INEA (Rio de Janeiro State Environment Agency), it has been possible to formalize an agreement that has been built for over two years. We are very grateful to Carmelo and his team that we can realize the dream of bringing MotoGP back to Rio.”

Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports: “I’m very proud to announce that MotoGP will be returning to race in Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s truly iconic cities and in such an amazing country. Brazil is an important market for motorcycles, motorcycle racing and motorsport, with a history to be proud of – and a future that I’m excited to see MotoGP play such a vital part as we return in 2022.”

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Valentino Rossi To Change Crew Chiefs Again – David Muñoz To Replace Silvano Galbusera

For the second time in his MotoGP career, Valentino Rossi is to change crew chiefs. At the end of the 2019 season, David Muñoz, currently crew chief for Nicolo Bulega in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 team, will replace Silvano Galbusera as crew chief for Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.

The news was first broken by Spanish daily AS.com early on Thursday, and confirmed by Rossi later in the pre-event press conference for the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram. "Yes, it's true," Rossi said in response to a question from Mela Chercoles, the journalist who broke the story. "Next year I will change my chief mechanic. It was good, because after the Misano race we spoke with Silvano, because we want to try to do something to be stronger."

Rossi explained that there were a number of factors involved. "It was different factors together, because also Silvano wanted to work for Yamaha but he wanted to try something with less stress and also with less days out of Italy. At the same time Yamaha wanted to try to make the test team stronger for next year to improve the work in Europe. I didn’t expect it at the beginning but speaking together we decided to change so Silvano will go to the test team next year."

From Moto2 to MotoGP

Rossi's new crew chief, David Muñoz, is currently in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 squad, where he is working with Nicolo Bulega. Rossi already knows quite a lot about Muñoz, as the Spaniard helped Pecco Bagnaia win the Moto2 title last year. "It is a new experience and he doesn’t have any experience with the MotoGP bike but he is very young and has good ideas," Rossi said.

What had impressed Rossi most about Muñoz was the way he had remained calm at the end of Bagnaia's title season, managing both his rider and the bike as the Italian came under pressure from title rival Miguel Oliveira. "I like the way he managed it at the end of the season, there was a lot of pressure and Pecco was a little bit nervous to lose the championship with Oliveira, I liked him. He is quiet and the way he managed the situation worked."

Yamaha's gain is of course the Sky VR46 team's loss. "I asked him and unfortunately it is something negative for our team as he is something very important for our team but we decided to try so we will see," Rossi said.

The future in his hands

Underlying Rossi's move to change crew chiefs is the pending decision on his future in racing, on whether he will seek a new contract for 2021 or retire at the end of 2020. He hinted at this in his responses in the press conference. "I have the contract for next year and for the future it depends very much on the results of next year." Rossi has previously said that he wants to see how he fares in the first six or seven races of 2020 before drawing any conclusions about whether he should retire or not.

Rossi expanded on this in his remarks to Italian journalists after the press conference was over. If there is the possibility of 2020 being his last season, then he didn't want to go out without having tried everything to make a success of it, the Italian said. "It would be worse if I didn't try it," Rossi said. "I would rather live without any regrets. Someone else in my position might have said, OK, maybe 2020 is my last season, maybe it's more comfortable leaving everything the same. I was thinking, let's try, dammit. We have to try our best. The worst thing can happen is that it doesn't work, but I will not have any regrets."

The biggest risk in the change is that David Muñoz has no experience working in MotoGP. But Rossi does not see that as a problem. "Maybe this change will need some time, but in MotoGP now, the chief mechanic doesn't work alone. There are at least three or four engineers who help with the electronics, with the balance of the bike. But we will see."

Coordinator in chief

As MotoGP machines have grown more complicated, the role of the crew chief has changed. Areas have become more specialized, with engineers working increasingly in specific niches. As a consequence, crew chiefs have taken on more of a supervisory role, listening to the feedback of their rider, coordinating the various people in the team and orchestrating their work.

This has made having knowledge of every specific part of the bike less important, and placed more of an emphasis on having a fundamental understanding of vehicle dynamics. For that reason, many current crew chiefs are former suspension technicians who have expanded their roles.

Rossi's split with Galbusera has at least been handled better than the previous split with Jeremy Burgess. The news of the switch to Muñoz came out after conversations with Galbusera. That had not been the case for Burgess, who found out after news that Rossi was considering a switch leaked in the Italian media. Burgess told the media he felt he had been 'blindsided' by Rossi's decision, whereas Galbusera had been at least been involved in the discussions previously.

Looking to the future

Will Rossi's decision make a difference to his results? One driving factor behind Rossi's decision is the difference in age. Muñoz is much younger than Galbusera, and Rossi will be hoping that the energy of youth will help his performance.

But in reality, Rossi's future lies more in the hands of the engineers in Japan, rather than the personnel at the track. There has already been more movement and development from Japan than in previous years, with Rossi and teammate Maverick Viñales able to test early prototypes of the 2020 Yamaha M1 at the Brno and Misano tests, and Yamaha bringing a carbon swingarm and updated exhaust to Misano, as well as electronics updates.

If Yamaha can continue with that pace of development, they have a chance to catch Ducati, Suzuki, and Honda. And in that case, Rossi will have a chance to understand his real potential against Marc Márquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, and more importantly, teammate Viñales and Petronas Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo. That is the basis on which he will eventually make a decision about continuing.


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What Marc Marquez Needs To Win The Title In Buriram

With five races to go, Marc Marquez leads Andrea Dovizioso in the MotoGP championship by 300 points to 202, a difference of 98 points. He is within a couple of points of wrapping up the title, and looks nearly certain to do so at either Buriram in Thailand or Motegi in Japan.

What does Marquez need to do to wrap up the title in Thailand? The Repsol Honda rider will become champion if he leads Andrea Dovizioso by 100 points after the Thai Grand Prix in Buriram. Though Dovizioso could still theoretically tie with Marquez for points, Marquez would win the championship in the case of a tie, as he currently has 8 victories this season, and Dovizioso only has 2 wins with 5 races left including Thailand.

There are two things which Marquez has to do to ensure he takes the title in Thailand. First, he needs to finish ahead of Dovizioso. And secondly, he needs to score 2 more points than Dovizioso.

If Marquez finishes in the top four, and ahead of Dovizioso, he will become champion.

If Marquez finishes between fifth and fourteenth, he has to finish two places ahead of Dovizioso to become champion.

If Marquez finishes fifteenth (1 point) or lower, it won't matter where Dovizioso finishes, he will not have enough points to wrap up the title in Thailand.

Most of these scenarios are entirely hypothetical. In 2019, Marc Marquez has either won or finished second, barring a single crash in Austin. It seems unlikely Marquez will finish off the podium, and if he does get on the rostrum, then he just has to make sure he is ahead of Dovizioso.

Last year, Marquez won the race ahead of Dovizioso, by a margin of just 0.115 in a thrilling battle. The odds of that intense battle being repeated are good.

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Alvaro Bautista Confirmed With Honda Factory WorldSBK Team For 2020

HRC have confirmed the signing of Alvaro Bautista for the 2020 WorldSBK season. The Spaniard will be leaving Ducati to join the new factory team run out of Barcelona for next year, to ride the brand new Honda CBR1000RR to be presented later this year.

The news had been widely anticipated. Contract negotiations with Ducati had stalled over money, and HRC was offering to double his current salary. Although the step might seem like a risk given the results of the Althea Moriwaki team this season, there were reasons to take the leap.

Firstly, there is the new team to be based in Barcelona alongside the Repsol Honda MotoGP team, and run under the same program. More direct involvement by HRC should translate to faster response and development. 

Secondly, Honda are to debut a new CBR1000RR Fireblade at the Tokyo Show this year, to replace the current model. The new bike is rumored to have a major step in horsepower, making it the most powerful inline four cylinder on the market. How close it will be to the Ducati Panigale V4R's 220 hp remains to be seen.

Below is the press release from HRC announcing Bautista's signing:


HRC Signs Alvaro Bautista for 2020 Official WSBK Team

Honda Racing Corporation announced it has signed on Spanish rider Alvaro Bautista, who will join the company’s official team beginning next season to compete in the FIM World Superbike Championship.

A former 125cc World Champion and a 15-time WorldSBK race winner so far in his debut season, Bautista is a highly skilled, fast rider who will contribute greatly to the development of the HRC project in the Superbike World Championship.

Yoshishige Nomura

HRC President

“We are very happy to welcome Alvaro Bautista to our WSBK racing project for next year. His arrival in the Honda racing family underlines our strong commitment to compete at full force in every motorsport category, fighting to achieve top sporting results and looking for the best technological innovations, in order to offer our fans and customers fun, joy and excellent products. Alvaro is a very fast, experienced rider who has already shown his strong racing attitude and competitiveness in his GP years and in his first season in the WSBK Championship. We are confident that he will make a significant contribution to the growth and development of our project in the exciting and challenging Superbike World Championship.”

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