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2020 MotoGP Calendar Updated Again - Austin Postponed To November, Valencia Moved A Week

The ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has forced yet another change to the MotoGP calendar for 2020. Due to the restrictions on movement imposed in Italy, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the US round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has been postponed until November.

The MotoGP paddock will gather in Austin on November 15th, instead of April 5th. November 15th was originally the date planned for the final round of MotoGP in Valencia, but to make way for Austin, Valencia has been pushed back a week, and will now be held on the weekend of November 22nd.

That means that as of today, March 10th, the MotoGP class will kick off their season at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina on April 19th, with the paddock returning to Europe two weeks later for Jerez.

However, even that is far from certain. Argentina has had its first cases of novel coronavirus, and based on experiences in every other country with the virus, those numbers will quickly grow. The restrictions in Italy are due to remain in place until April 3rd, but there is no guarantee that they will be lifted after that period.

Furthermore, restrictions are being put in place on events in Spain, with all soccer matches to be played behind closed doors for the time being, and no certainty that the authorities will not place further bans on travel. The Jerez round of WorldSBK, due to take place on the weekend of March 29th, also looks all but certain to be canceled.

The new calendar makes for packed end of season. Of the eleven rounds to be held after the summer break, only two - Silverstone and Misano - are standalone events, with a free weekend either side. The Brno round is followed by Austria, then Aragon and Thailand back to back (a major logistical challenge in itself), then the traditional triple header of Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang, and finally Austin and Valencia. And to cap it all off, a test in Jerez three days after the final round in Valencia.

That is a punishing schedule by any stretch of the imagination. There is no more room to fit extra events in, without resorting to radical measures, such as 'racing on Christmas Day', as Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta put it in the press conference in Qatar. He was not entirely serious, but it is looking less and less of a joke.

The updated calendar issued by Dorna is the second change in six days. The speed of those changes reflects the speed at which the situation is developing. On Saturday, sources told me that they expected to make a decision on Austin by the end of the week. By Sunday, before the season opener in Qatar, with Moto2 and Moto3 in the starring roles, that had changed to today, Tuesday 10th March.

The likelihood that this is the last change to the calendar is slim. As Ezpeleta made clear at Qatar, they are determined to put on as many races as possible this year. Radical solutions could be on the table, such as racing into December, and shifting early races which they have to postpone to the end of the year. The outbreak of the virus is still in its early stages, but in six months time, the situation should at least be more predictable, and perhaps more manageable. More changes are likely.

The press release and updated calendar appear below:


FIM Grand Prix World Championship
2020 Calendar, 10 March

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Americas GP has been postponed

The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the postponement of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, which was set to take place from the 3rd to the 5th of April 2020. Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the event has been rescheduled for later in the season and will now take place from the 13th to the 15th of November.

The Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana will therefore be held from the 20th to 22nd of November 2020.

 

Date Grand prix Circuit
08 March Qatar* Losail International Circuit
19 April Republica Argentina Termas de Rio Hondo
03 May Spain Circuito de Jerez – Ángel Nieto
17 May France Le Mans
31 May Italy Autodromo del Mugello
07 June Catalunya Barcelona - Catalunya
21 June Germany Sachsenring
28 June Netherlands TT Circuit Assen
12 July Finland** KymiRing
09 August Czech Republic Automotodrom Brno
16 August Austria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
30 August Great Britain Silverstone
13 September San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
27 September Aragón MotorLand Aragón
04 October Thailand Chang International Circuit
18 October Japan Twin Ring Motegi
25 October Australia Philip Island
01 November Malaysia Sepang International Circuit
15 November Americas Circuit of the Americas
22 November Comunitat Valenciana Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo

* Evening - Moto2 and Moto3 only
** Subject to FIM Homologation

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2020 MotoGP Calendar Updated - Aragon 27th September, Thailand 4th October

The FIM have issued a new provisional calendar for the 2020 season. As had been expected, the Thailand round of MotoGP has been moved back to October, creating a similar set of flyaways to 2019. The Buriram round will now take place on October 4th, with a two-week break between Thailand and the rest of the Australiasian triple header.

To make space for Buriram, Aragon has been moved a week earlier, to the 27th September. The MotoGP paddock will face a frantic evening of packing to get everything ready to ship to Thailand, if it is to arrive at Buriram in time.

Those are the only change to the calendar at the moment. The Austin and Argentina rounds are still on the calendar, though still subject to change if the authorities in the US or Argentina decide to impose travel restrictions. The spread of the corona virus is still making planning for the series extremely unpredictable.

To that end, the bikes and equipment for the teams will remain in Qatar, and be shipped from there to the Circuit of the Americas once it becomes clear that Austin will definitely be happening. Waiting is a better policy than trying to second guess what the authorities might decide in such a fast-developing situation.

The new calendar appears below:


FIM Grand Prix World Championship
2020 Calendar, 5 March

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the OR Thailand Grand Prix was recently postponed.
The FIM, IRTA and Dorna have evaluated alternative dates for the event later this season and can now announce that the Thai GP has been rescheduled for the 2 nd to 4th of October.

The Aragon Grand Prix will now be held a week earlier, from the 25th to 27th September.

Date Grand prix Circuit
08 March Qatar* Losail International Circuit
05 April Americas Circuit of the Americas
19 April Republica Argentina Termas de Rio Hondo
03 May Spain Circuito de Jerez – Ángel Nieto
17 May France Le Mans
31 May Italy Autodromo del Mugello
07 June Catalunya Barcelona - Catalunya
21 June Germany Sachsenring
28 June Netherlands TT Circuit Assen
12 July Finland** KymiRing
09 August Czech Republic Automotodrom Brno
16 August Austria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
30 August Great Britain Silverstone
13 September San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
27 September Aragón MotorLand Aragón
04 October Thailand Chang International Circuit
18 October Japan Twin Ring Motegi
25 October Australia Philip Island
01 November Malaysia Sepang International Circuit
15 November Comunitat Valenciana Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo

* Evening - Moto2 and Moto3 only
** Subject to FIM Homologation

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2020 Qatar Moto2 And Moto3 Round Schedule - Time Plan Without MotoGP

With the MotoGP class absent from the first round of the MotoGP series, Dorna were forced to draw up a new schedule for Moto2 and Moto3 to fill up the space vacated by the premier class. The changes come down to Moto2 moving up to take over the slot originally scheduled for MotoGP, with Moto3 moving up to take the place of Moto2.

What it means in practice is that both classes will practice in daylight, but for the Moto3 class, FP2, and qualifying will be held at 5:05pm, shortly before sunset, while the race starts at 4:20pm. Moto2 holds FP2, qualifying, and the race at 6pm, after the sun goes down and under the floodlights. The Asia Talent Cup is also holding its opening round of the season at Qatar, with two races.

The press conference is going to be the most intriguing part of the weekend. Dorna are changing the format in an attempt to get more interaction between riders and journalists, and in doing so, they are throwing the Moto3 and Moto2 riders into the deep end. Neither Moto2 nor Moto3 riders are used to being in the full glare of the media spotlights, and at Qatar, they will get their first taste of the big time.

The schedule for the weekend appears below. All times local time in Doha, Qatar (Arabia Standard Time):

Thursday    
17:00 Press Conference Moto2:Jorge Navarro, Jorge Martin, Remy Gardner
Moto3: Filip Salac, Ai Ogura, Tony Arbolino
     
Friday    
12:30-13:10 Asia Talent Cup FP1
13:25-14:05 Moto3 FP1
14:20-15:00 Moto2 FP1
16:10-16:50 Asia Talent Cup FP2
17:05-17:45 Moto3 FP2
18:00-18:40 Moto2 FP2
     
Saturday    
12:00-12:40 Asia Talent Cup Qualifying
12:55-13:35 Moto3 FP3
13:50-14:30 Moto2 FP3
16:10 Asia Talent Cup Race 1 (14 laps)
17:05-17:20 Moto3 Q1
17:30-17:45 Moto3 Q2
18:00-18:15 Moto2 Q1
18:25-18:40 Moto2 Q2
19:30 Qualifying Press
Conference
 
     
Sunday    
13:10-13:30 Moto3 Warm up
13:40-14:00 Moto2 Warm up
15:00 Asia Talent Cup Race 2 (14 laps)
16:20 Moto3 Race (18 laps)
18:00 Moto2 Race (20 laps)

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Qatar WorldSBK Round Postponed - To Be Rescheduled

After Qatar blocked the entry of Italian and Japanese passport holders into the country, causing the MotoGP race (but not the round) to be rescheduled), it was inevitable that the WorldSBK round would follow suit. Today, Dorna and the FIM announced that they had to postpone the Qatar round of WorldSBK, pending further rescheduling.

If the situation was difficult for MotoGP, it was even worse for WorldSBK. Not only is Ducati competing in WorldSBK, but Pirelli, the official tire supplier, is Italian, and staffed entirely by Italians. The Pirelli tire fitters and engineers had all headed home to Italy after the opening round of WorldSBK at Phillip Island, with no possiblity to enter Qatar. Without tires, nobody can race.

The round is now due to be rescheduled, with a suggestion that the most likely time for the races to be held being the end of the year.

The press release from Dorna announcing the postponement of the Qatar round appears below:


Lauretana Water Qatar Round to be rescheduled

External travel restrictions force postponement of Round 2 of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship

The FIM and Dorna WSBK Organization regret to announce that the Lauretana Water Qatar Round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is to be postponed until further notice.

As the global coronavirus outbreak continues, travel restrictions to Qatar have been enforced, primarily affecting passengers from Italy, amongst others. People arriving directly from the country or who have been in Italy in the past two weeks will be taken directly to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

Italian participation in WorldSBK – both on track and off – is vital, thus the decision has been taken to postpone the Lauretana Water Qatar Round until further notice.

Further updates will be published in due course.

Source: 

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Buriram MotoGP Round Postponed Due To Corona Virus

The start of the 2020 MotoGP season has been delayed even further, with Dorna, the FIM, and IRT forced to postpone the Thailand round of MotoGP in Buriram. The decision was imposed on Dorna and the FIM by the Thai government, who took the decision to cancel the event due to be held on March 22nd.

The announcement did not come as a surprise. Reports that Thailand would be canceled emerged after the cancellation of the MotoGP race at Qatar last night. The difference with Qatar, however, is that no racing will take place at Buriram in three weeks' time, whereas in Qatar, Moto2 and Moto3 are still due to race this weekend, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams and riders already present at the track for the test held last weekend.

There is also a question over what happens to the Qatar round of WorldSBK which is scheduled to be held on March 15th, the weekend after the Qatar MotoGP round. With a large number of the WorldSBK paddock having headed home to Italy, there will be an issue for them to enter Qatar for the WorldSBK round. As yet, no decision has been made on that event.

The hope is that the Buriram MotoGP round can be rescheduled at some point later in the season. The only possible openings in the calendar would be in the three-week break between Misano and Aragon, some time during the summer break between Finland and Brno, or if Finland were to be canceled due to the track not being ready in time, in the slot currently held by Finland. All of those options would be tricky, however, as it would place significant strain on logistics, and racing at Buriram in the summer would mean very hot weather with a very high chance of rain.

The chance that there are further impacts on the 2020 MotoGP season is high, given that this is a very fast-changing situation, with governments imposing travel restrictions and bans on public events around the world. But because the situation is developing so quickly, there is absolutely no way of predicting exactly what will happen. MotoGP and the bodies which run it - Dorna, IRTA, the FIM - can only react once governments make their decisions.

The FIM press release on the postponement of the Thai round at Buriram appears below:


OR Thailand Grand Prix postponed

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the decision has been taken to postpone the Thai GP.

As the global outbreak of coronavirus continues to develop, the Thai government has communicated that it won’t be possible to hold the OR Thailand Grand Prix on its original date. The FIM, IRTA and Dorna therefore regret to announce that the event, due to be held on the 22nd of March in Buriram, has been postponed.

The FIM, IRTA and Dorna are currently evaluating if an alternative date is possible for the event later this season.

Further updates will be published as soon as available.

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Corona Virus: MotoGP Class Canceled At Qatar, Moto2 And Moto3 To Go Ahead As Normal

The COVID-19 outbreak, or corono virus as it is more commonly known, has finally had an impact on MotoGP. Today, the FIM and Dorna announced that the MotoGP race at Qatar has been canceled, while the Moto2 and Moto3 races are due to go ahead. The cancellation is due to restrictions imposed by Qatar on travelers coming from Italy and Japan. With so many members of the paddock - riders, engineers, mechanics, journalists, and other team staff - from those two countries, it would have been almost impossible for MotoGP to race there.

At first sight, this seems an odd decision. Why would only the MotoGP race be canceled, instead of all three classes? The reason is simple: the Moto2 and Moto3 classes are already in Qatar for their final preseason test, which completed today. The issue with Qatar is not fear of contagion, but restrictions on travel from Italy and Japan. Almost the entire Moto2 and Moto3 grid, plus most team members, are already in Qatar, and nobody was planning to return to Europe between the test and the race. There are no insurmountable obstacles to holding the Moto2 and Moto3 races at the Losail International Circuit.

But this is likely to be just a foretaste of what is to come. If Qatar is canceled, then the next race, at Buriram in Thailand, could pose a problem. There are currently no travel restrictions in place entering Thailand, but this could change quickly. There is also the small matter of packing up the MotoGP bikes, which are all currently sitting ready to race in Qatar, and shipping them to Thailand. Several Japanese and Italian engineers stayed on between the test and the race, as there was some fear that travel restrictions could be imposed, but there could be teams with no one to pack their stuff up for them.

Dorna could choose to postpone Thailand until September - there are already reports that this is likely - which would mean the season starts for MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on April 5th.

Even this could be problematic: the US has just raised the travel warning level for Italy, advising against all but non-essential travel. It is not unthinkable that the US government decides to impose similar travel restrictions on visitors from Italy and Japan.

Underlying all of these assumptions is the basic problem that the extent of the epidemic is still unknown, nor how far it will spread. The fate of MotoGP, and indeed, all sporting and mass-entertainment events, will be dictated by the spread of the disease, and decisions by governments and international authorities on how to handle it. Until then, we wait.

The official announcement appears below, and below that, a press release from Suzuki:


MotoGP™ Class cancelled at the Grand Prix of Qatar

Due to Qatar travel restrictions brought into force affecting passengers from Italy (amongst other countries), the premier class will not race at Losail

Sunday, 01 March 2020

FIM, IRTA and Dorna regret to announce the cancellation of all MotoGP™ class sessions at the Grand Prix of Qatar, including the race.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has resulted in Qatar travel restrictions being brought into force that affect passengers from Italy, amongst other countries. As of today, all passengers arriving at Doha on direct flights from Italy, or having been in Italy in the past 2 weeks, will be taken straight to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. Italy clearly plays a vital role in the Championship and in the MotoGP™ class - both on track and off - and therefore the decision has been taken to cancel premier class competition.

As the teams and riders of the Moto2™ and Moto3™ classes were already in Qatar for the three-day official test at Losail International Circuit earlier this week, the races of both categories will be possible. The lightweight and intermediate classes will therefore compete in their season opener from the 6th to 8th March. The same will apply to the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup, which will have two races during the Qatar Grand Prix as originally planned. Stay tuned for a revised schedule.


QATAR GP CALLED OFF AMID CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Team Suzuki Press Office – March 1.

The FIM, IRTA, and Dorna Sports have this evening announced that the 2020 Qatar Grand Prix will not be held for the MotoGP class due to growing concerns and strict travel restrictions enforced due to the Coronavirus Covid-19.

The Moto2 and Moto3 classes will race as the riders are already present in Qatar following testing at Losail International Circuit.

Team Suzuki Ecstar are naturally disappointed not to race but agree with the decision which was not taken lightly by the officials.

Davide Brivio - Team Manager:

“Obviously It’s a big shame to have to cancel this first race of the season, as we were all really ready to start, and so were the MotoGP fans. Some of our team staff stayed in Qatar following the test days, as we were aware of the seriousness of the outbreak. But at this time the most important thing is the safety of the people, and we have to respect the decision made by the local authorities and by the MotoGP officials. It’s a delicate and strange time for everyone around the world and we need to take things race-by-race at the moment and see what develops in the coming weeks. I’d like to wish good luck to those riding in Moto2 and Moto3 next weekend, and I hope we can be back on the track soon.”

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Thailand MotoGP Round Will Go Ahead As Planned

The Grand Prix of Thailand is to go ahead at the Buriram circuit as planned. Today, the FIM, IRTA, and Dorna issued a press release announcing that the Sports Authority of Thailand, the authority overseeing all sporting events in the Southeast Asian country, confirmed that the COVID-19 virus will not be a problem for the race, and it was safe to travel to Thailand.

The confirmation is good news for Thailand, but raises an issue with entry to the US for the race at the Circuit of The Americas. There have been reports that US Border Patrol has been refusing entry to travelers who have visited Thailand recently. However, unless the US Government issues official advice concerning travel from Southeast Asian countries, preparations will continue as normal.

The official press release appears below:


OR Grand Prix of Thailand will go ahead

The Sports Authority of Thailand confirms that the event, set for mid-March, can safely take place

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Following communication from the Thai government, the FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports can confirm that the OR Thailand Grand Prix will go ahead next month. With the outbreak of coronavirus affecting a number of locations and events worldwide, the decision required official consideration as the situation in Thailand was monitored.

After consulting with the Ministry of Public Health's Department of Disease Control, the Sports Authority of Thailand has officially communicated, on behalf of the Royal Thai government, that there is no major risk, with the country having infected patients under care and strict preventive measures in place - resulting in the highest rate of fully recovered patients worldwide.

The FIM, IRTA and Dorna therefore confirm that MotoGP™ will be back at Buriram from the 20th to 22nd March for another spectacular Thai GP.

Source: 

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Marc Marquez Signs Monster Contract Extension, Stays With Honda Through 2024

Marc Marquez has signed an almost unprecedented new contract extension with HRC, which will see him remain in the factory Honda team for four more years after his current contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. That means Marquez will be a factory Honda rider until the end of 2024.

Marquez' contract renewal had been widely anticipated, although the length of it is unexpected. It is a sign of the commitment of Marquez and Honda to each other, and a clear indication of the reigning world champion's objectives and intentions. Marquez races to win, individual races, but especially titles. He clearly sees Honda as his best bet for achieving that.

There are good reasons for Marquez to stay at Honda. The Spaniard drives and controls the development of the Honda RC213V, demanding a bike that will do the things he needs to win. The control he has is unprecedented, Honda breaking their normal cycle of rotating engineers in and out of HRC on a regular basis. Marquez has been able to ask for engineers to stay inside HRC beyond their normal period.

It is also a sign that HRC are all in on Marc Marquez. Their strategy for success is simply to give Marquez what he asks for, and trust him to deliver. It is a strategy history has proven to be correct: since his arrival in 2013, Marquez has won the title for Honda in six of his seven seasons. He starts the 2020 season as strong favorite, despite coming off his second shoulder surgery in two years.

Marquez' signing also closes a door for other factories, most notably Ducati. The shortcut to championships - signing Marc Marquez - is no longer available, and so the other factories must look for the Next Big Thing, the young rider who might be able to take the fight to the champion. Yamaha have already shown the way in this with their signing of Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo to the factory team in 2021. Expect other factories to follow similar paths.

Marquez' deal is unique for its length. Whereas most contracts for MotoGP riders are two years at most, none have been publicly announced as being for four seasons.

That does not mean that riders have not signed what are effectively four-year deals before: paddock rumor had it that Brad Binder had signed a contract with KTM which was effectively two-plus-two, two years in Moto2, followed by two years in MotoGP. But these deals are surrounded by various conditions: in the end, Binder spent three years in Moto2, only moving up to MotoGP this year.

After the loss of Maverick Viñales, Suzuki are also believed to be signing contracts which more closely resemble four-year deals. Joan Mir ostensibly signed a two-year contract with Suzuki, but it is rumored that the contracts contains clauses which allow Suzuki to extend the contract, making it harder for Mir to simply leave at the end of his two-year deal.

The Honda press release appears below:


HRC renew with Marc Marquez through to the end of 2024

Honda Racing Corporation are delighted to announce six-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez has signed a four-year extension of his contract and will continue to race with the factory team until at least December 2024. So far, Marc Marquez has claimed 56 victories, 95 podiums and 62 pole positions with his RC213V in the premier class. These results have established him as the most dominant Honda rider in the premier class.

Yoshishige Nomura
HRC President

“We are happy to announce that, after the end of the current season, Marc will stay in the Honda family for four more years. We started talking a few months ago, as both parties wanted to stay together and continue winning. Marc started his career in the premier class in 2013 and with him we have won six of the last seven MotoGP titles. As a unique champion, he deserves a unique deal. I am very confident in this partnership and I wish everyone involved continued success."

Marc Marquez 93
Rider – MotoGP

“I am very proud to announce my renewal with Honda Racing Corporation for the next four years. Honda gave me the opportunity to arrive in the MotoGP class with a factory bike in 2013. Since the first year we have achieved success together and I am very happy to continue being part of the Honda family. HRC gives me the confidence to extend this partnership to obtain our common goal and continue our story of success.”

Source: 

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Thailand MotoGP News: No News

There was a flurry excitement in the MotoGP media after the Chinese round of the F1 series in Shanghai was postponed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, as the corona virus has been officially named. The excitement concerned the MotoGP race in Thailand, at the Buriram circuit, due to take place on 22nd March. Would the second race of the season be able to go ahead?

The answer to that question is the same now as it was nearly a month ago: yes, the Thai GP in Buriram will go ahead as planned, unless the situation changes, and governments issue official warnings against traveling to Thailand.

Ahead of the Sepang MotoGP test, which took place last week, I contacted IRTA for an official statement on whether the Sepang test and the opening rounds at Qatar and Thailand would be going ahead. IRTA secretary Mike Trimby gave the following statement: "Neither IRTA or Dorna are competent to issue advice on this matter. We are advising the teams and other companies to respect any advice issued by their respective governments. Obviously, we will react to any new developments but currently there are no changes of plan for the first events of the season."

The chances of the Thai round of MotoGP being canceled look very slim at the moment. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 33 cases of the COVID-19 virus recorded in Thailand, as of 13th February 2020, with no fatalities so far.  That compares to 29 in Japan, 18 in Malaysia (where the Sepang test was just held), 14 in the United States, 16 in Germany, 3 in Italy, and 2 in Spain. In China, by contrast, there have been 46,550 recorded cases, 1,820 of which were new on 13th February.

So the Buriram round of MotoGP is due to go ahead, unless there is a serious outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand, the Thai government bans entry to foreign visitors, or governments in Europe (where most of the riders and team members are based) advise against traveling to Thailand.

Source: 

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Bradley Smith: New Aprilia RS-GP 'Worth The Wait'

2019 was a long, hard year for Aprilia. The hiring of new Aprilia Race CEO Massimo Rivola signaled a year of rebuilding for the Italian factory, as Rivola took over the organizational side of the MotoGP project, freeing up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new RS-GP from the ground up, and providing Albesiano with the resources to do so. That project forced Aprilia riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to battle on through the 2019 season with a bike which was struggling to be competitive.

The wait came to an end at the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang, where Aprilia rolled out the new RS-GP, in the hands of test rider Bradley Smith. "Those six or seven months of waiting were worth it," was Smith's verdict after the first full day of testing on the 2020 prototype.

"We had two or three big areas where we struggled," Smith told MotoMatters.com on Monday, "But the great thing is that the engineers managed to touch everything on the bike. They looked at every area¸and improved all the areas we were complaining about." Aprilia's engineers had not just addressed its main weaknesses, but had made steps forward in every part of the bike.

The change was badly needed, Smith said. "This was built in 2017, so it's a three year old bike," the Englishman said of the RS-GP campaigned last year. "Things have moved on since then, especially the Michelin tires, which have changed quite a bit. MotoGP sort of moved away from us. And if you look at Yamaha, they were struggling in 2017 and doing better now, things of sort of moved more in their direction."

Smith was very positive about the times set on the new bike. The Aprilia rider ended up just a tenth behind Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli, the Frenchman riding a GSX-RR which proved capable of winning races in 2019. And Smith had been keeping a little bit in reserve. "The bike is so new that we only have two 2020 machines and a limited number of spares. When I was doing my time attack, there were a couple of places I was holding back a bit. The last thing I wanted was to hand the bike back in a box."

With just two bikes and limited spares, Smith was sharing his time between the old bike and the 2020 RS-GP. The Englishman was working on electronics with the old bike, to save mileage on the new machine. But it was on the 2020 RS-GP that Smith set his quickest time.

Having just two bikes available means Smith won't be riding on the last day of the shakedown test on Tuesday. He hands both machines over to Aleix Espargaro, who has not ridden so far during the shakedown test. Espargaro will be able to test both the old and the new bike together, as well as run back-to-back tests with the new bike to start working on base setup for the machine. Espargaro will be joined by Lorenzo Savadori, who is at Sepang learning to ride the MotoGP bike, and being evaluated as a possible future test rider.

Smith will be back in action at the official test, which starts on the 7th February.


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