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The Choice is Made: Ducati to Keep Andrea Dovizioso for Two More Seasons

MotoGP's rider market has moved into overdrive this week. Over the weekend, reports came in from the Spanish media that Maverick Viñales had signed with Yamaha, with that deal to be announced at Mugello on Thursday. Confirmation that Viñales will be leaving Suzuki came from our friends over at Asphalt & Rubber on Monday. Later that day, Repsol Honda announced they had extended Dani Pedrosa's contract for a further two years, leaving another of the top seats filled.

The deluge of announcements continued today, with Ducati announcing that they have chosen one of the two Andreas to remain in Ducati and partner Jorge Lorenzo for the next two seasons. Unsurprisingly, Ducati have gone with Dovizioso to stay in the team, selecting the Italian's long experience of developing the bike over Iannone's raw, and sometimes uncontrolled, talent.

The announcement follows something of a reversal of fortune for Andrea Iannone, the Italian who will be losing his seat at Ducati. Iannone had been the early favorite to stay, with the framework of an agreement reached after Qatar, which was due to be announced at the Austin round in April. However, Iannone's ill-judged pass on his teammate in the penultimate corner, which took both him and Dovizioso out of a certain double Ducati podium, caused the Bologna factory to have a drastic rethink.

A podium at Austin won Iannone back some of the credit he had lost in Argentina, but the tide had turned. His crash at Le Mans appears to have been the last straw in the making of the decision, Ducati choosing to stick with the rider they can trust to bring the bike home.

It should not be underestimated just how big a role Dovizioso's experience over the past four years also played a role in the decision. The Italian has helped bring the bike from the badly understeering Desmosedici GP13 on to what is basically a very strong bike with excellent handling in the 2016 version of the machine. Though Dovizioso is said to run a very peculiar set up - a lot of weight on the front of the bike - his feedback is very precise, and he is capable of describing in great detail what is happening with the bike. Having a solid asset like that alongside the undoubted speed of Jorge Lorenzo should help Ducati turn the 2017 version of the Desmosedici into a bike which is capable of challenging for the championship.

Though Andrea Iannone is out of Ducati, he is still in high demand. Talks have been ongoing for sometime with Suzuki, and with Viñales now gone, Suzuki will be taking a long hard look at the Italian. But Iannone is also believed to have a very big money offer on the table to race for Aprilia. Iannone has strong links with the factory through his time in Moto2 with Speed Up, who had raced 250s with Aprilia before the switch to Moto2. But the Aprilia RS-GP is still very much a work in progress, and rumors so far suggest Iannone is less interested in taking that risk.

The Ducati announcement now leaves both Movistar Yamaha seats filled, and both factory Ducati seats. Dani Pedrosa will take one Repsol Honda seat, while Marc Marquez is almost certain to take the second seat. With Sam Lowes already having a contract with Aprilia next year, and Bradley Smith taking one seat at KTM, that leaves both Suzuki seats, and an open seat at both KTM and Aprilia left to fill of the factory seats.

The Ducati press release announcing Dovizioso's signing appears below:

Andrea Dovizioso confirmed in Ducati Team for 2017 and 2018

Ducati wishes to announce that it has reached an agreement with Andrea Dovizioso for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP seasons. The Romagna-born rider, who has been with Ducati since 2013, will team up with Jorge Lorenzo for the next two seasons aboard the Ducati Team’s Desmosedici GP bike.

Andrea Dovizioso: “I am very satisfied to have reached this agreement with Ducati and to be able to continue the adventure begun back with them in 2013. In the last few years we have worked with a lot of commitment and we have succeeded in taking the Desmosedici GP to an excellent competitive level, and so I am convinced that soon we will obtain the satisfaction that we deserve.”

The 2016 championship will therefore be Andrea Iannone’s final season with the Ducati Team. The Abruzzo-born rider, after two years in the “factory-supported” Pramac Racing outfit, moved to the factory team in 2015, immediately showing his great talent and pace, and he will undoubtedly give his utmost in the remaining rounds of the season in order to conclude his experience in Ducati in the best possible way.

Andrea Iannone: “Obviously I am sorry that my time with Ducati will draw to a close at the end of this season, but I am grateful to the Bologna manufacturer for the opportunity it has given me in the last few years. I made my MotoGP debut with Ducati and I have grown up with them, always succeeding in improving my level of performance. In the remaining races I will give my all, as I always do, because I am convinced that thanks to the competitiveness of the Desmosedici GP we can achieve some great results.”

Luigi Dall’Igna: “It’s never easy to take a decision like this one, especially when you have two great riders like the two Andreas in your team. We are very happy that Dovizioso has agreed to stay with us for the next two years, and together with him we can continue the successful work we began four years ago in order to reach the ambitious aims we have set for ourselves. We are sorry for Andrea Iannone, who at the end of the season will no longer be a part of the team. Andrea has carried out an important job in these years and has made a significant contribution to the development of the Ducati Desmosedici GP. For this reason we would like to thank him and we will provide him with our maximum commitment in the next rounds of the championship, in order to obtain the prestigious results that are for sure within his reach.”


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Jonathan Rea To Stay With Kawasaki For Two More Seasons

As the world of motorcycle racing has gone made with speculation over who is to replace Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha, and by extension, either Maverick Viñales at Suzuki or Dani Pedrosa at Honda, focus has also turned on the World Superbike paddock. There has been much talk of which riders could make the transition to MotoGP, and in turn, which MotoGP riders could try the switch to World Superbikes.

The one name that was consistently raised was reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea. Given Rea's previous experience standing in for an injured Casey Stoner in 2012, there had been much speculation that Rea had both the ability and the interest in making the switch to MotoGP. 

Today, Rea put an end to any such speculation. The man from Larne extended his contract with Kawasaki to remain in World Superbikes for another two years. Rea will now be racing for Kawasaki until at least the end of 2018.

That Rea should choose to stay in World Superbikes should come as no surprise. Rea made the decision to commit to a future in WorldSBK as part of the decision process to jump from Honda to Kawasaki. Kawasaki have repeatedly stated that they have no intention to return to MotoGP, after their costly experiment between 2002 and 2009. Kawasaki offered no path to MotoGP for Rea, and Rea has dedicated himself to winning races and championships in WorldSBK instead, taking his first world championship at the first attempt with Kawasaki.

Rea has also become a keen supporter and promoter of the series, believing that the level of racing and talent is woefully underrated. Changes made to the series appear to have helped start the process of turning the series around.

Rea's contract extension with Kawasaki could be the signal for a shake up in the WorldSBK paddock. The friction between Rea and teammate Tom Sykes has increased measurably this year, both men taking potshots at each other over the direction the bike is being developed. Sykes is believed to want out, his name being linked with the second seat at Ducati, alongside Chaz Davies, where Davide Giugliano's days are rumored to be numbered.

Suzuki is also expected to make a return to WorldSBK in 2017, with the Milwaukee SMR team the current favorite to take on that role. While Josh Brookes is certain to keep one of those seats, the second seat in the team could be an attractive option, as the brand new GSX-R1000 is expected to be the kind of quantum leap forward that the new Yamaha R1 was. Honda are also expected to be bringing a new bike, with much attention falling on Michael van der Mark and his future. Honda have been promising to bring out a much more competitive Superbike for several years now - their failure to do so was a big factor in Jonathan Rea's decision to head to Kawasaki after many years with Honda - but if they fail to do so for 2017, Van der Mark could decide to explore what options the interest he has generated in the MotoGP paddock.

Below is the press release from Kawasaki, announcing Rea's re-signing:

Jonathan Rea And Kawasaki Together For Two More Years

Reigning FIM Superbike World Champion Jonathan Rea has re-signed with Kawasaki’s official KRT effort to compete for two more years on the class-leading latest model Ninja ZX-10R.

Committing to extend their mutually beneficial partnership into the future, both Rea and Kawasaki aim to continue the kind of success that delivered Rea the championship in his first KRT season last year.

Jonathan leads the current WorldSBK championship standings by 35 points after five rounds of the 2016 season have been completed.

Jonathan Rea stated: “I am so happy to extend this partnership with the Kawasaki Racing Team and continue the great relationship I have with all the Kawasaki engineers and fans. It is clear that our objectives and way of working are very well matched so it makes perfect sense to extend this for two more seasons. With all the incredible memories we have made so far and are now creating, I am 100% confident that we will enjoy working together and develop the Ninja ZX-10R into the future. I would like to thank Kawasaki and all the KRT staff for their full support and belief in my potential. With this in mind I am now even more focused than ever to win the World SBK Championship in 2016 to make it back to back wins.”

Steve Guttridge, Racing Manager Kawasaki Europe, stated: “The successes Kawasaki have enjoyed with Jonathan and his relationship with our Kawasaki Racing Team over a relatively short time has been phenomenal to witness. Finding that complete chemistry in racing is very difficult. Team, bike and rider all need to be in harmony together and for sure with JR we have found that magic mix, so it's only logical to continue the great relationship. Jonathan is a racer who understands well the importance of the entire team around him; the full package. With Johnny wanting to stay for two more years inside our team and riding the new Ninja ZX-10R, we have a full package.”

Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “We have now two great riders in KRT. Two World Champions and the goal is to keep them for the next two years. Rea is an experienced rider with a young spirit and big motivation, open to learning and improving race-by-race. This gives us even greater potential to have an even better rider in two years’ time. His big credit in this KRT project is to give us the pressure to give the best to him. I know clearly that the mechanics, crew, technicians, team staff and all KHI engineers will do our best to cover his expectations.”

Ichiro Yoda, KRT Senior Engineer, stated: “The KRT project is based on development and information for KHI engineers to improve their knowledge and improve the development of future machines, working closely with the R&D department. We have re-signed a rider with commitment and skill who can push the limits of the bike to explain to the engineers his feelings. Jonathan has a good talent and speed, and we are very happy to use this energy to understand how the Ninja ZX-10R works at on-the-limit conditions. I’m sure in 2016, 2017 & 2018 we will have a strong package with him.”

The final word goes to Kenji Tomida, President of Kawasaki’s Motorcycle and Engineering Company.

“We were delighted to host the recent visit to KHI for 2015 WorldSBK Champion, Jonathan Rea. Our Ninja brand has been further enriched with the launch of the new Ninja ZX-10R on which Jonathan has already had much success this year. The whole Kawasaki family are understandably delighted that he has extended his relationship with the Kawasaki Racing Team and we wish him success both now and in the future.”


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Jonas Folger Joins Tech 3 In MotoGP For 2017

The next piece of the 2017 MotoGP Silly Season puzzle has fallen into place. Today, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team announced that they have signed the German youngster Jonas Folger for the 2017 season, with an option to keep him for a second year into 2018.

That Tech 3 should sign Folger is no real surprise. Hervé Poncharal made no secret of his opinion of Folger, mentioning the German in every conversation about finding riders for Tech 3. Poncharal had tried to sign Folger previously in 2014, hoping to get him into MotoGP in 2015, but the German was in the middle of a two-year deal, and unable to get out of it. Two year's later, Poncharal has his man.

Folger had also been a target for KTM. As a German speaker, Folger would have been a good fit with the Austrian manufacturer, and give them the young Moto2 rider they are looking for to slot in alongside Bradley Smith. The lure of a proven bike at Tech 3 may have been the deciding factor for Folger, though.

The question of who will join Folger at Tech 3 is still wide open. Bradley Smith is already headed to KTM, and Pol Espargaro's recent criticism of Yamaha have made it clear he has lost patience with the Japanese factory, and is looking for a change of manufacturers. As Espargaro is on a Yamaha factory contract - Yamaha have the right to place a rider with Tech 3, should they wish to - it has been widely assumed that Alex Rins will be the rider to fill Espargaro's seat. But Rins is still holding out for a seat in a factory team, and has so far turned down Yamaha's attempts to get him into the Tech 3 seat.

If Rins isn't placed in Tech 3, then the second rider could also come from Moto2. Poncharal has also spoken highly of Johann Zarco, and though Suzuki has an option on the Frenchman, he could find a home at Tech 3. Yamaha World Superbike rider Alex Lowes has also been linked to the seat, but Lowes has another year on his contract with the Pata Yamaha WSBK team, and Tech 3 could not afford to buy him out of that option. If none of these options work out, then keeping Pol Espargaro could be an option for the French MotoGP team.

Below is the press release from Tech 3 announcing the Folger signing:

Tech3 to join forces with German star Jonas Folger

The Tech3 team is excited to announce the signing of Moto2 front-runner and bright prospect, Jonas Folger for the future. The 22-year old has been competing in World Championship races since 2008 and he has since battled to 16 podiums and four race victories across all fields. The young Bavarian from Mūhldorf, who comes off the back of a second place finish at the previous GP in Jerez, will get his first taste of the Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike at the post season-finale Valencia test in November. The Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team is delighted to announce the new signing for the 2017 season, which includes the option for an additional year for the promising youngster.

Jonas Folger :

“I am super excited about the news and I still can’t believe this is happening. I have been racing for years in the motorcycling World Championship and to make the move up to the premier class is a dream come true plus I'd like to thank all my sponsors that have stuck by me all these years. Furthermore, it’s an honour to make this step with Yamaha, Hervé Poncharal and Tech3 team who have such a long and deep history in the paddock. I will try my absolute best to repay the faith the team has put in me, and I’m really looking forward to the new adventure. However, I will remain completely focused for the rest of the year in the intermediate class but I can’t wait for Valencia where I will sample the Yamaha YZR-M1 for the first time.”

Hervé Poncharal - Team manager :

“It’s always a very important and tough decision to make when it’s time for us to choose a young rider to start his career in the MotoGP class. We have been thinking a lot about who has the best profile to replace Brad, who has done a great job with Tech3 for four years and is now ready to move to a full factory team. Having thoroughly checked all the names and details of the young riders in various championships, the name Jonas Folger came out on top. He’s a nice person, very fast and he is going to have a strong season in Moto2 this year, where he hopefully will win the title which would be the dream situation. I am really pleased to announce that Jonas will join us before our home GP in Le Mans. It may be difficult to predict what will happen, as some riders adapt instantly whilst others need some time, but I am certain that he will be fast, have fun and become a strong Monster Yamaha Tech3 rider. I’d like to welcome him and I want to assure Jonas that the whole team and Yamaha Factory Racing are very happy that he will join us and for sure, everyone will do their best to assist him in moving forward in the top class.”

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24th Grid Slot for 2017 Withdrawn Due to Lack of Manufacturer Support

There will be only 23 bikes on the MotoGP grid in 2017. The FIM today officially announced that the 24th grid slot has been officially withdrawn, after manufacturers could not pledge to supply additional equipment.

There was plenty of interest in the grid slot. Five teams expressed an interest, and three teams submitted an official application for the 24th grid slot. Those teams are believed to have included Pons, LCR, and Ajo, all of whom had previously admitted publicly that they were keen to move up to MotoGP.

One of the main requirements put forward by the Selection Committee (comprising representatives of IRTA, Dorna and the FIM) was having a sound financial basis. Though Dorna will be offering €2.4 million in support for each grid slot, actually fielding a rider in MotoGP would cost at a very minimum €4 million a year, and most likely more. 

It was not the financial situation of the teams that was the problem, however. In the end, the decision to withdraw the 24th grid slot came down to a lack of competitive machinery. The manufacturers were not willing to supply extra bikes to a team to fill that slot. 

For Ducati, Honda and Yamaha, that is entirely understandable. Ducati have eight bikes on the grid, a veritable cornucopia of clearly competitive machinery. Yamaha are supplying four bikes, as they have done almost since the dawn of the four-stroke era. Honda are supplying five bikes, and though they could have added a sixth, the price cap to be introduced would have had an impact on that decision. Prices are capped at €2.2 million, but HRC are believed to be charging over €3.5 million for the RC213V, so a sixth Honda would have been a costly exercise for HRC.

That would leave Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia. 2017 will be KTM's first year in MotoGP, and will have their hands full developing the bike. A KTM would be a massive gamble for a satellite squad. Aprilia's RS-GP is clearly a much better package in 2016 than it was in 2015, but it is still some way off the pace. Here too, satellite squads would be wary of gambling on the bike. 

Suzuki's GSX-RR is a much more attractive prospect, but Suzuki have long been wary of supplying satellite teams. When asked about it in Austin, Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio told "we have no experience with satellite teams", expressing fears they would not be able to support a satellite team properly.

This goes against an agreement made between the factories and Dorna in 2015, however. In exchange for the change in financing, the factories committed to supplying bikes to satellite teams with bikes. Though it is unknown at this time whether any satellite team actually requested a bike from Suzuki, the rumors that Johann Zarco has been signed by Suzuki for 2017 suggest that they had. What impact that will have on Zarco's future remains to be seen.

Though the 24th slot has been withdrawn for 2017, this does not mean that the grid will not expand in the future. The FIM press release states that the grid slot could be offered again in the future, when factories may be more willing to supply competitive bikes.

Below is the FIM press release making the announcement:

MotoGP class entries from 2017

On the 21st of March it was announced that applications from existing MotoGP Championship teams to provide a 24th entry in the MotoGP class from 2017 would be invited. The deadline for applications was the 29th of April, on which date the Selection Committee, comprising delegates of FIM, IRTA and Dorna would consider the applications.

Expressions of interest were received from five teams who were then provided with more comprehensive details of the requirements and the financial conditions.

Three teams subsequently submitted official applications for consideration.

The Selection Committee considered the applications and concluded that all three had merit and each, in slightly different ways, had elements that could enhance the MotoGP class.

However, alongside the application process, discussions were also conducted with the Manufacturers to establish the likely availability of competitive machinery for the extra entry. The conclusion from these discussions was that there was reluctance amongst the existing Manufacturers to commit to making additional equipment available, at least for 2017.

It has therefore reluctantly been decided to postpone a decision on the allocation of the additional entry to a later season.

FIM, IRTA and Dorna wish to thank the teams who complied with the application process and apologise that the offer has had to be withdrawn.


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WSBK Calendar: No Replacement for Monza, Series Now 13 Rounds

The 2016 World Superbike calendar will have just thirteen rounds. Attempts at finding a replacement for the canceled Monza round have failed, causing the calendar to definitively lose a round.

Dorna had been in talks with several other circuits to replace the races at Monza, with the Estoril circuit being the most popular candidate. However, no agreement could be reached with any of the replacement candidates, and Dorna had no choice but to cancel. 

All hope is not lost for Monza, however. Work continues at the iconic Italian track, including efforts to make it suitable for motorcycle racing. The circuit could yet make a return, but not this year.

The cancellation of Monza does leave a gaping hole in the WSBK calendar. There is a gap of ten weeks between the US round of WSBK at Laguna Seca and the German races at the Lausitzring. That hiatus presents a serious problem for Dorna in maintaining interest in what is turning out to be a very good year for WorldSBK. It will need to be addressed for the 2017 calendar.

Updated 2016 World Superbike calendar

26-28 February Australia Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit X X  
11-13 March Thailand Chang International Circuit X X  
1-3 April Spain MotorLand Aragón X X X
15-17 April Netherlands TT Circuit Assen X X X
29-1 May Italy Autodromo Int. Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola X X X
13 -15 May Malaysia Sepang International Circuit X X  
27-29 May United Kingdom Donington Park X X X
17-19 June Italy Misano World Circuit ‘Marco Simoncelli’ X X X
8-10 July USA Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca X    
16-18 September Germany Lausitzring X X X
30-2 October France Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours X X X
16-18 October Spain Circuito de Jerez X X X
28-30 October Qatar Losail International Circuit X X  



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LCR Honda in Running For Final 2017 MotoGP Grid Slot

The MotoGP grid is set to expand to 24 riders once again in 2017. The current teams are expected to retain the 21 grid slots already allotted, while KTM's factory team will take two more when the Austrian manufacturer enters MotoGP next year. This will take the grand total up to 23 seats, leaving one more grid slot to be filled.

Who will fill that final grid slot has been the subject of much speculation. Rumors that the Sky VR46 team were to take the slot were immediately quashed by team manager Pablo Nieto, saying they were only interested in Moto3 and Moto2. Sources indicate that there are two firm candidates, with three more having expressed an interest. The two candidates include one MotoGP team, and one Moto2 team.

The MotoGP team interested in expanding is LCR. The Monaco-based team ran two bikes in 2015, but sponsorship woes had forced them to cut back to just a single bike for the 2016 season. When asked if he was interested the final grid slot, team boss Lucio Cecchinello acknowledged that he was, and that he was working towards securing sufficient budget to meet the submission deadline on 29th April. "Honestly speaking, at the moment we do not have the budget, but we are talking with our existing sponsors and with some new potential sponsors," Cecchinello told "Realistically, it's very hard that I will be able to put it all together. But until the last day and the last hour, I will not give up."

The lessons of last year, when LCR was left with unpaid bills by scandal-hit financial services company CWM, had been well learned, Cecchinello saying that he was taking a slightly different approach to sponsorship for 2017. "Let's say that the companies that we are talking with are multinational companies, not private companies," Cecchinello said. "When you work with private companies, most of the time, everything is going well. We had some small accidents... But when you talk with a multinational company, it is very, very rare that they are not going to pay you."

Expanding to two bikes would probably require LCR to reexamine its current sponsorship model, where different sponsors each serve as title sponsors at different races. Cecchinello was talking to companies about taking on a role as a single title sponsor for the entire team, though that was far from settled. It was also possible that some form of hybrid arrangement could be reached, with one bike continuing with the current model, and a second carrying a single title sponsor for a full season.

"At this moment, we are still considering both options, because at this moment, what we do and the set up we have in place is something, it doesn't really give me a lot of company risk, because we spread the risk over many companies," Cecchinello said. "But realistically, it's not the best scenario, because you have to put a lot of effort into changing all the time. A lot more work, you cannot imagine."

"On the other side, to give all the team in the hands of a unique title sponsor is quite risky. So I'm still considering both options. Or rather, three options: First option is to continue like we are, with one rider. Second option is to continue like this with one rider, and having a title sponsor dedicated on a second machine. And the third option is to have the title sponsor dedicated on both machines, and to eventually reduce the collaboration with the existing sponsors. Which they would not be very happy with, to be pushed out, but I will find a way, and I will take the decision together with them, because at the very end, we want absolutely to respect the companies and the people and every single individual that made a lot of effort through the years with us."

As for the question of who he would like to put on the bike, Cecchinello was clear. "This is something that we do have our own ideas about some good riders coming from Moto2, and I'm sure that Dorna or Honda or any sponsor would support the program to have a good rider coming from Moto2." Cecchinello did not name names, but he did reject the idea of signing a second MotoGP rider alongside Cal Crutchlow. "Realistically, to have an experienced MotoGP rider as a second rider in my team, I am afraid I would not be able to pay his salary. "

In 2017, the financial basis for the teams is also set to change, with bikes supplied by factories subject to a price cap, and Dorna increasing the funding for all of the teams. Would this make a difference to Cecchinello's plans? The Italian was skeptical. "What is not clear at the moment is the kind of package that will be provided from Honda. Because at the very end, the new rules or the price cap, it is not clear what kind of bike level you will get with this price cap, what will be included. So I am still waiting information from HRC, but they are still considering several options. It would be nice to have the factory bike like we have now for a price cap, for 30% less than this year. Honestly, I don't believe it will happen, because since I have been working with Honda, every year there was a little increase..."

LCR would not be looking elsewhere for bikes, however. "Honestly, we have a very good relationship with Honda, and we want to continue with Honda," Cecchinello said. "We are not really interested in changing manufacturers. We have a very good connection, and a lot of experience. And I know that eventually if you have a good program with a competitive rider, they are more keen to give you some help."

Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful 2016 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.


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Suzuki Private Test: On Progress with the 2016 Chassis, and Examining Viñales' Contract Situation

On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out. When they did start, the times were poor – around 2'08, rather than the 2'05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.

After two race on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015. Aleix Espargaro was not entirely convinced, saying the frame was stiffer, but it was also less agile. That meant balancing braking stability against cornering ability. For Espargaro, the time lost in the corners would not be made up on the brakes, certainly not in qualifying.

Maverick Viñales was a good deal more positive, saying the 2016 chassis was a big improvement for him over the chassis from last year. After the test, he regretted not using it in the race. "We’ve been comparing the old chassis with the new one and we are quite surprised because here looks like the new one was a bit better. So I want to kill myself!" Viñales joked. The bike stops better, and he can turn the bike better while on the brakes, he said.

Viñales was so convinced of the 2016 chassis that he said he will be trying it at the next race at Jerez, which features a number of hard braking zones entering corners. But the 2015 chassis was still better in agility, and he felt he could switch between chassis at different tracks. At stop-and-go tracks like Le Mans and Motegi, the 2016 chassis may be the better option, while at more flowing tracks such as Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, he could use the 2015 frame to take advantage of the faster changes of direction.

There was still work to be done, both riders said. The Suzuki GSX-RR still lacked rear grip, they both told us, which was a big factor in their lack of acceleration. Viñales pinpointed stability under braking as the bike's biggest weakness still. "I feel so strong in fast corners like Sector 1, but then when it is hard braking like Sectors 3 or 4 I have problems," he said. It had been a focus point for the test, and both Espargaro and Viñales said they felt they had made progress in that area.

The test was also a chance to get more data on the Michelin tires. Espargaro said he was able to use the medium front for the first time, and get some feedback from it. When he had used it during the race weekend, he had always ended up crashing, so understanding how that front tire worked was a big step forward.

Viñales splits with manager, may not secure Yamaha contract

After the test, news emerged which could affect the future of Maverick Viñales. The Spanish youngster had split with his former manager Aki Ajo, and switched to Paco Sanchez, who used to handle Pol Espargaro. It could be a relatively expensive affair: sources suggest that Viñales will have to pay a penalty of 25% of his agent's fee to Ajo for breaking the contract.

The news that Viñales was splitting from his manager saw a line of rider managers hovering around the Suzuki garage. In the end, Viñales elected to have Sanchez handle the legal side of his contracts, while keeping the contract negotiations in his own hands. Given the pressure of racing in MotoGP, that may not be the best possible solution.

Viñales' new manager may not be able to get him much in the way of a new ride, however. Though reports on suggest that Viñales currently only has an offer on the table from Suzuki, he may not have much choice in the matter. According to Speedweek – a German-language website with close ties to Aki Ajo – the contract Viñales has with Suzuki has a stipulation that Suzuki can extend the contract for another year if Viñales gets on the podium in 2016. Given Viñales' strong form so far this year, that seems increasingly likely.

That would leave Yamaha with a problem. The Movistar Yamaha team are pushing to sign Viñales to replace the departing Jorge Lorenzo, but if Viñales scores a podium, they would not have the option of the Spaniard. Suggestions that Viñales would deliberately miss out on a podium to secure a Yamaha ride are frankly laughable, wildly underestimating the ambition and hunger for success which all young riders have.

If Yamaha cannot secure the services of Viñales, then they may offer another rider a one-year contract, as a stop-gap for when Viñales does become available. Valentino Rossi suggested that either Andrea Iannone or Dani Pedrosa could take the place of Lorenzo, though how willing Yamaha would be to allow Rossi to choose Lorenzo's successor remains to be seen. Yamaha are reportedly unwilling to place Alex Rins directly into the factory team, instead wanting him to serve time in the Tech 3 satellite squad. Rins is unwilling to sign for a non-factory team, and consequently it looks like he is headed to the Repsol Honda team instead.

At the moment, the only certain move is that Lorenzo will be signing for Ducati, with an announcement expected in the run up to Jerez. That announcement will trigger a further round of intense speculation and horse trading between the rest of the riders on the grid.

Below is the press release from Suzuki, issued after the test.


Team Suzuki Press Office – April 12.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR’s Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró stayed in Austin for one more day after the GP of The Americas to test updates for the factory GSX-RR machines and to review the data from the first three races.

The first three 2016 MotoGP events provided plenty of feedback to the Suzuki factory race department in Japan, resulting in some updates in terms of set-up and electronics. The main focus has been on the new 2016 chassis, exploring different options in set-up, plus further developments in the electronics package.

Light rain in the morning restricted track time, but both Viñales and Espargaró were able to take advantage of the exclusive Team SUZUKI ECSTAR test session and both riders reported positive progress at the end of the day.

After three races it was important to re-evaluate the progress to date in a non-race, low-pressure environment and although the riders’ impressions and feedback differed in some respects, they agreed on the future direction to provide the most rapid improvements.

For Suzuki, the Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project is an important investment and the continued improvements are testimony of the company’s trust and emotional involvement in the ongoing MotoGP project.

Maverick Viñales:

“Today we tried some more configurations with the 2016 chassis to compare with the one we tested in pre-season and the one I’ve been using in the first three races and we are happy to have discovered that, on this track, these new configurations could have seen a more positive result in the race. After this test, I maybe now have a little regret at my initial choice, but this is normal - all aspects have positives and negatives and you need time to go in depth with the investigations. Sometimes it takes more time, so it’s good that we made this test because we could go really in depth of these two sides of the same coin and now know better the potential of both the chassis’. This gives us a double option and I don’t exclude that we might decide to adopt one or the other according to the specificity of the different tracks. Basically what we are looking for is some more traction and also more effective hard braking, which again has to do with the rear grip. The modifications in set-up we have done here proved to be effective, as my lap times were pretty good, and this is something that makes me very happy. We also made some steps forward with the electronics - it’s another thing that could help us, and it’s good to see that we are continuously improving. Testing here was very important - it’s good to review the situation after three races and to see where we are, so that now we can have a clearer idea which direction to take.”

Aleix Espargaró:

“It’s good that we had this opportunity to test here because we were missing some information and now we have a clearer idea of where we are. We focused mainly on the chassis, where we had some new set-ups to be tested on the 2016 version so we could compare with the configurations that we tested in the winter and also on the 2015 chassis we have been using since the Qatar race. We started from the set-up we used in Qatar qualifying and moved on from there. The differences between the 2015 chassis and the new configurations of the 2016 are not that big, but their strong points are different and this gives us more options to exploit when it comes to better adapt from one track to another. Today my confidence improved, as well as my lap times, and this makes me happy after the tough three races so far. I’m still working on my riding style to make it more suitable to the Michelin tyres, and also for this we tried some little variations in my position on the bike. The electronics have been another area that we tested - we still need to go deeper to understand it better and any change is good for us to learn more. It’s good that we did this test - it helped me to re-evaluate my ideas and to re-focus on our path.”

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Phillip Island Secures MotoGP and World Superbikes for Long Term

The long-term future of MotoGP and World Superbikes in Australia has been secured. Earlier this week, Dorna signed an agreement with the Victorian government and the Phillip Island circuit which will see both world championship motorcycle racing series remain at the circuit for the next ten years, until 2027.

The agreement is great news for motorcycle racing fans and riders, as the Phillip Island circuit is almost universally regarded as one of the best two or three circuits in the world. Riders praise its fast, flowing layout - it is the fastest track on the calendar, with an average speed of well over 181 km/h - and its location, perched atop a cliff overlooking the Bass Strait which separates mainland Australia from Tasmania, makes for a spectacular setting and dramatic TV images. The flowing layout always provides fantastic racing, as the 2015 MotoGP race proved.

There have been concerns that the event could be in trouble. Despite its location - or perhaps because of it - attendance at the circuit is poor. Since the retirement of Casey Stoner at the end of 2012, crowds have dropped to around 35,000 on race day, which is the worst of every race except for Qatar. There were fears that the round may not be financially viable, and reports that the race could be switched to another venue.

Although several venues were mentioned, the new motorsports venue being built at Tailem Bend, near Adelaide, 750km north west of Phillip Island, appeared to pose the biggest threat. FIM Safety Officer Franco Uncini went to inspect the construction site earlier this year, and praised the project. But the building of Tailem Bend could mean a second MotoGP race being held in Australia, rather than a switch from Phillip Island.

With both Phillip Island and Assen now secured for the next ten years, some of the key and most iconic circuits on the calendar look set to remain. The MotoGP calendar is due for a shake up, with several new circuits set to be added over the next couple of years. Races will be added in Indonesia, at Sentul, in 2017, with the race moving to a new circuit to be built on South Sumatra from 2018 onwards. The Chang circuit in Thailand could also host a MotoGP round from next year, and talks are currently underway to hold a round of MotoGP in Kazakhstan. Given the dependence of Kazakhstan's economy on oil and mining, and the decline of prices of those commodities over recent years, it is questionable whether such an event is either sustainable or desirable.

Below is the press release announcing the contract extension with Phillip Island:

Dorna Sports ensures racing at Phillip Island for next ten years

The beautiful Phillip Island Circuit will remain on the MotoGP™ World Championship calendar until 2026 and on the FIM Superbike World Championship calendar until 2027. Fans and riders alike rate the circuit as one of their favourites, the incredible sweeping corners made even more majestic by the Bass Strait backdrop.

Dorna, the Phillip Island Circuit and the local Victorian Government all came to the agreement in light of the great historic success of the event. An estimated 85,000 spectators converged on Phillip Island for the 2015 Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, while more than 42,000 turned out for the 2016 WorldSBK race.

The Minister for Tourism and Major Events, John Eren, has said: “Our motorsports events at Phillip Island are flagship dates on our calendar, and they’re going nowhere. Phillip Island will remain at the centre of world motorsport for many years to come. These events create a unique buzz around Phillip Island, attract visitors to Victoria from all over the globe, and show the world we have the best of everything.”

The Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing, pointed out: “Thousands of motorsports fans from around the world flock to Phillip Island every year, and for good reason. It’s a great track, and competition is fierce. It’s fantastic that the excitement and adrenalin of these major events will be on show, with Gippsland’s beauty front and centre – inspiring many people to travel here and see the Island for themselves.”

DORNA CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, declared: “The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and the FIM Superbike World Championship have a strong history at Phillip Island, and have become part of the Island’s fabric. I am delighted the Victorian Government has decided to continue this longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship.”


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Scott Jones In Austin: Race Day

Marc Marquez did not quite lead from start to finish. Here's the only part where he was behind

Clutch issues meant Rossi had to push too hard, something the Michelin front would not accept readily

Blue bikes rising. Aleix headed Maverick, until Maverick finally struck

The riders refer to the section from Turn 3 to Turn 10 "The Flip Flops"

It was a tough weekend for Cal Crutchlow. He tucked the front pushing too hard in the race, then his van was stolen from his Italian home

Turn 1: One of COTA's great glories

When Romano Fenati is on it, he's unbeatable

28 into Turn 1 does go. Just

The King of America returns after win number 10

Sam Lowes kept Alex Rins honest, but couldn't find a way to beat him

A familiar sight: asking too much of the front end makes it wash out. Loris Baz was not the only rider to suffer

After a disaster in Argentina, Jorge Lorenzo got back into the game with a podium in Austin

The only other time Marquez did not lead the race: briefly on the brakes, going into Turn 1

Jorge Navarro did not get his first ever win this weekend. But it's clearly just a matter of time

Philipp Oettl is finally starting to make good some of the promise he showed in the Red Bull Rookies


If you'd like to have desktop-sized versions of Scott's fantastic photos, you can become a site supporter and take out a subscription. If you'd like a print of one of the shots you see on the site, then send Scott an email and he'll be happy to help.


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Scott Jones in Austin: Saturday Shots

Still gunning for glory

Everything's bigger in Texas. Including the views

Cal Crutchlow has been quick so far, quick enough to make it into the "Peasants' Podium" as he calls it

Dovi, in a battle with his teammate for the second seat at Ducati

Too tall? Tell that to Loris Baz

Big air

#99, Smooth as butter

Bradley Smith radically altered the set up on his Tech 3 Yamaha. He needed to, and it paid off

Maniac Joe, in a battle with his teammate for the second seat at Ducati. He may be faster, but he's got to finish

The next big thing

Gray skies mean clear visors, which means Aleix Espargaro's intense stare shows

Pol Espargaro has had the best of the Tech 3 battle so far

If you want to win, you have to beat him

If you'd like to have desktop-sized versions of Scott's fantastic photos, you can become a site supporter and take out a subscription. If you'd like a print of one of the shots you see on the site, then send Scott an email and he'll be happy to help.


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