Latest MotoGP News
With Ducati refining the already competitive GP15 into the Desmo16, and Suzuki bringing a seamless gearbox and new, more powerful engine for the GSX-RR, the battle among the manufacturers in MotoGP is getting closer. The one exception so far has been Aprilia, who soldiered on through 2015 with an uprated version of the ART machine, which was still based on the RSV4 production bike, while they worked on a brand new prototype.
That prototype has at last made its debut at the track. On Wednesday, Aprilia test rider Mike Di Meglio took the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP out for its first official spin. Di Meglio was performing a basic shakedown test, making sure that everything worked and there were no unexpected problems with the bike, giving Aprilia time to address them before factory Aprilia riders Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl get their first chance to ride the bike at a private test at Qatar, two weeks before the official IRTA test at the circuit.
The FIM have today at last finalized the 2016 MotoGP calendar. The two circuits which were still subject to contract, Brno and Jerez, have now had their contracts confirmed. The calendar is unchanged from the provisional calendar published between Sepang and Valencia last year.
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
2016 Calendar, 10 February
The FIM and Dorna are pleased to confirm that the FIM Grand Prix World Championship calendar published as provisional on November 2 is now final.
It is no secret that Dorna and the manufacturers active in MotoGP are keen to stage a race in Indonesia. The sport enjoys unrivaled popularity in the Southeast Asian country, and as one of the biggest markets for scooters and small capacity motorcycles in the world, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki are desperate to race there. The burgeoning middle class in Indonesia also make it a key target market for European manufacturers such as Ducati, who have seen their sales explode in the region, albeit from a very small base.
Throughout 2015, Dorna officials met with senior figures in Indonesia, including the Minister for Youth and Sports, Imam Nahrawi, and the CEO of the Sentul Circuit Tinton Soeprapto, in an attempt to hammer out an agreement. So far, Dorna have a letter of intent signed by the Minister, and a preliminary deal which would see the race staged in Indonesia for three years, starting in 2017.
The Circuit of Wales is edging ever closer to becoming a reality. BBC Wales is reporting that UK insurance giant Aviva will be backing the Circuit of Wales project, and providing funds to allow building work on the track near Ebbw Vale in South Wales to start. Construction will take some time, however, and Silverstone will continue to host the British round of MotoGP for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the race only moving to the Circuit of Wales from 2018 onwards.
The news that Aviva is to provide financial backing for the Circuit of Wales still leaves many questions unanswered. It is not clear from the reports by BBC Wales exactly how much money Aviva will be putting into the track. The circuit needs £300 million in private investment, on top of roughly £30 million in public funding in the form of loans. Whether Aviva will be providing the full £300 million for the Circuit of Wales, or sufficient seed money for building work to start is unclear.
As we reported back in January, Marc Marquez has ended his agreement with Valentino Rossi's VR46 Racing Apparel company to produce and sell merchandising for the Spaniard and his younger brother. Today, official confirmation came in the form of a press release from his management company, Alzamora Communications. The agreement with VR46 RAcing Apparel has been officially terminated.
The ending of the contract is part of the fallout from the incident between Marquez and Rossi at Sepang, in October last year. That episode effectively destroyed any relationship that existed between the two riders, though it had been gradually deteriorating throughout the 2015 season. Rossi's accusations, both after Sepang and especially after Valencia, caused Marquez to lose any faith he may have had in Rossi, and made him decide to sever all business ties with Rossi and those linked to him. In addition to the merchandising deal, Marquez will also be ending his association with GP Rooms, the room rental business run by the Nieto family, after Marquez felt that they had taken sides against him.
The press release from Marquez' management company is below:
Barcelona, 8th February 2016
As we reported on Tuesday, changes are to be made to Race Direction. At a meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the Grand Prix Commission decided to change the way disciplinary matters are handled by Race Direction. For this season, a separate body is to be set up to handle all incidents on track requiring disciplinary action. These issues have been handled by Race Direction until now, but the incident at Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez led to calls for such decisions to be taken away from Race Direction, to allow quicker decisions to be made.
From the start of the 2016 season, all disciplinary matters will be dealt with by a separate panel, consisting of three people. One of those will be Mike Webb, who as MotoGP Race Director is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the MotoGP race. Mike Webb will be joined by two stewards appointed by the FIM. Those stewards have yet to be appointed, and the press release issued by the FIM does not make clear whether the stewards will be appointed permanently, for a full season, or for each race individually. In the case of an incident which needs to be investigated by the panel of stewards, Mike Webb will hand over his duties as Race Director to a newly appointed deputy, Graham Webber.
The return of Casey Stoner to Ducati as a test rider has raised more questions than it answered. Fans and media alike are in a state of confusion about his intentions, especially given the times he was setting on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. What was he doing? Will he race again? When will he test again? To try to put this test and Stoner's role into perspective, here is what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't.
What was Stoner riding?
Casey Stoner spent all three days on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. He did not test the GP16.
If he's a test rider, why didn't he test the GP16?
A lot of reasons. The GP16 is a brand new bike, and there aren't that many of them yet, so Ducati can't afford to have a test rider destroy one if they crash. The GP16 is not that different to the GP15, so there was plenty for Stoner to test which is transferable to the GP16. Stoner hadn't ridden a MotoGP bike in a year, and hadn't ridden a Ducati since 2010. He hadn't ridden Michelins since 2006, and MotoGP is now using a spec software. For this test, Stoner's aim was to get up to speed, learn and understand the Ducati and a 1000cc era MotoGP bike, complete with Michelins and spec software, and prepare himself for the next test, so that he can provide better input at the next test.
What did we learn from the first proper MotoGP test of the new era of Michelin tires and spec electronics? More than we hoped, yet less than we think. A quick run down on the state of play after Sepang, with more to come over the following days.
The riders approached the Sepang test with some trepidation, fearing that Michelin had not fixed its wayward front that caused so many crashes at Valencia and Jerez. Their fears were unfounded, the new front tires which Michelin brought – a total of five different types, of varying construction and compound – were all a massive step forward. They were not as stable as the Bridgestones they replaced, but they had gained a lot of predictability and feedback. There were very few crashes which the riders said they had not seen coming.
That does not mean that all of the problems have been solved. A couple of people went down at Turn five on Tuesday, in crashes they described as strange. Casey Stoner (more on him later) had a typically concise and thoughtful analysis. "There's a little point after probably 45°, that [the tire profile] goes down just a little bit more, that it doesn't seem to match with the rear with some of the profiles that we've tested," Stoner explained. "That gives everybody a little bit a nervous feeling, and essentially why people are struggling into Turn 5, a big fast open corner, going in, when the bike goes light, it doesn't like that feeling. It makes the bike a little nervous, and I think that's when the front wants to break away."
If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so. Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role which offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing. It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend. It also sees your logo plastered all over just about every photo which appears in magazines and newspapers about MotoGP, as well as filling thousands of column inches on websites and in magazines. If you had to pay for the same exposure – a concept known as equivalent advertising value – it would cost you many, many times the €25 million Bridgestone were rumored to have paid for the contract.
There is a downside, of course. It is extremely uncommon to hear riders heap praise upon your tires spontaneously. Bridgestone had to announce they were pulling out of the role of official supplier to receive the praise they deserved, riders immediately paying tribute to just how good their racing tires actually are. By contrast, criticism from riders about the spec tire is both instantaneous and highly vocal. Allow a rider to speak about your tires, and they will expound in great detail on all of the failings, real and perceived of the product you have so lovingly produced. Should you suffer some form of catastrophic failure, or get something horribly wrong, then you face a barrage of coverage, all of it negative. As a tire manufacturer, you leave your PR people fighting fires for weeks, and sometimes months to come.
That is precisely the situation which Michelin finds themselves in this evening. At 10:40 on Tuesday morning, Loris Baz accelerated down the front straight at Sepang, and around two thirds of the way along, the rear tire of his Avintia Ducati GP14.2 exploded. As Dorna only has a couple of cameras at the Sepang Test, the video coverage is mainly from the HD CCTV cameras around the circuit, one of which is permanently trained down the main straight.
Race Direction is to be altered in the wake of the clash in Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. A proposal to split the responsibilities of Race Direction is to be adopted at the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission to be held on Thursday.
The proposal will see the responsibility for disciplinary matters removed from the current four members of Race Direction, and placed in the hands of a separate panel of stewards. Race Direction will continue to be in charge of all aspects of running the race, including marshalling and safety, but incidents between riders will be investigated by the new panel. They will be charged with judging all incidents of unfair play, and especially of violations of rule 1.21.2, which mandates responsible behavior by the riders on track.
Exactly who will be in the panel is unclear at the moment, but the aim is not to have any Dorna staff in it. The fact that Javier Alonso, a senior executive of Dorna and one of the inner circle at the heart of the company, sits in Race Direction has occasionally been a concern from some of the manufacturers, with accusations of bias surfacing on occasion.
What did we learn from the first day of testing at Sepang? Exactly what we expected to learn. Some riders have adapted quickly, others less quickly. The Michelins have made a big step forward, and the teams have started to understand the Michelin tires better. The spec electronics still need plenty of work, but are pretty usable in their current form (and well liked by the riders). Yamaha and Ducati have adapted well, Honda not very well at all, with the possible exception of Dani Pedrosa.
Above all, we learned that it is too early to be making any judgment calls, and that everyone still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of room for improvement. Today's outcome is interesting, but not definitive. In other words, if your favorite rider is near the top of the timesheets, you can feel optimistic that they will do well in 2016. If your favorite rider is nearer the bottom, you can console yourself with the fact that there is hope, and that testing will solve the worst of the issues.
Testing at Sepang started where the 2015 championship left off: with a Yamaha 1-2. Unlike 2015, however, the first day of testing at Sepang was not even close. Jorge Lorenzo set the fastest time, well over a second faster than his Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi. But it was not just the time which was impressive – just over 0.4 seconds off the fastest time set by Marc Márquez on the first day of the 2015 test – but the outright speed which backed it.
KTM have surprised the Grand Prix world by announcing that they have built a complete Moto2 bike, together with their partners WP. The Austrian manufacturer is to give the bike its first rollout at Almeria this week, and announced the existence of the bike on Sunday.
The existence of KTM's Moto2 project had been kept a closely guarded secret, and came as a surprise to many. The fact that Moto2 uses a spec Honda CBR600RR engine has been a huge obstacle to manufacturers wanting to get involved in the class. Aprilia had originally planned to enter Moto2, but decided against it for this very reason.
KTM have decided to view Moto2 as part of a wider strategy in Grand Prix. After the success of their Moto3 project, and with their MotoGP project due to make its debut in 2017, having a representative in the intermediate class would provide a path for KTM to bring young talent through the ranks. That strategy is already being played out in part the Ajo team, who run the factory Red Bull KTM project in Moto3, and run 2015 world champion Johann Zarco in Moto2. The Ajo team are the logical partners for KTM when they enter MotoGP next season.
Having a Moto2 bike would complete KTM's line up. The Austrian manufacturer appears to have accepted that to enter Moto2, they will have to build a bike to house an engine not manufactured by them.
The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture. Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables. Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.
It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing. There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.
Since Valencia, there have been a couple more tests. At Jerez in November, Ducati, Honda and Aprilia continued the work they had left off at Valencia. At Sepang, Maverick Viñales took Suzuki's new seamless gearbox out for the first time, Aleix Espargaro forced to miss the test through injury. Michele Pirro for Ducati and Mike Di Meglio for Aprilia have continued their solid work as test riders, testing new parts, working on the spec electronics, getting data from the Michelin tires.
Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon. Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self.
Jack Miller is to miss the Sepang MotoGP test, due to start on Monday, 1st February. The Australian broke bones in his right leg during a motocross training accident two weeks ago, and will not be fit in time for the opening three-day test of the 2016 MotoGP season. Miller is continuing his recovery, and already back in training, working on his fitness with the aim of being ready to participate in the second MotoGP test, at Phillip Island in his native Australia, on 17th February.
Miller's absence means that Tito Rabat will be the sole representative of the Marc VDS team. The MotoGP rookie and former Moto2 champion will be focusing on his adaptation to the premier class, working methodically to understand the Michelin tires and spec electronics which are to be used for the 2016 season. Rabat has swapped his Kalex Moto2 machine for a Honda CBR1000RR, and has spent the off season preparing by riding around Almeria's new layout on the Fireblade.
Below is the press release from the Marc VDS Racing Team announcing Miller's absence:
Rabat ready to get the season underway in Sepang
Gosselies, Belgium – 28 January 2016: Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS head to Malaysia this weekend, to get their 2016 MotoGP campaign underway with a three-day test at the Sepang International Circuit.