MotoGP testing is to be further restricted from next season. At the meeting in Motegi of the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, the teams, factories, FIM, and Dorna agreed to limit the amount of testing which can be done next year and in 2019.
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Broc Parkes is to step in to replace the still ill Jonas Folger in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team at Phillip Island. The Australian veteran is already part of the Yamaha family, riding for the manufacturer-backed YART World Endurance team.
Parkes is an obvious choice, being both Australian and having previous MotoGP experience. Parkes previously rode for the PBM team in 2014, when he was teammates with Michael Laverty aboard Aprilia-based ART machines.
Motegi was tempestuous, in every sense of the word. It was as if the elements were conspiring to become a metaphor for the 2017 MotoGP season. The weather is always a factor in an outdoor sport such as motorcycle racing, and in Japan, the elements threw almost everything they had at MotoGP, the cold and the rain leaving standing water all around the track, throwing yet another spanner into the works.
The teams had seen almost every variation of wet conditions during practice, from soaking wet to a dry line forming, so they at least had an idea of what to expect. What they feared was that each rider, each team had their own Goldilocks zone, the precise amount of water on the track in which their bike worked best. For one rider, too little water meant they would eat up their tires, whereas for another, a track that was merely damp was just right. For one rider, too much water meant not being able to get enough heat into the tires to get them to work and provide grip. For another, a lot of water meant they could keep the temperature in their tires just right, and really harness the available traction.
One man seemed immune to this Goldilocks trap. Whatever the weather, however much water there was on the track, Marc Márquez was there or thereabouts. He was quick in the wet, he was quick in the merely damp. So confident was he at Motegi that he even gambled on slicks for his second run in qualifying, which meant he missed out on pole and had to start from third. But would it make any difference? Would anyone be able to stop Marc Márquez from taking another step towards the championship?
Dominique Aegerter has been stripped of his victory in the Misano Moto2 race for use of illegal engine oil. The oil was sent for testing directly after the Misano race, and found to be in contravention of the rules, which mandate the use of oil from the official supplier to Moto2, LIQUI MOLY.
If anyone needed an argument that MotoGP's current system of qualifying is arguably the best available, Saturday at Motegi was proof positive. There are plenty of arguments that can be made against it: there are fairer systems imaginable, and there are simpler systems imaginable, but in the end, the element of chance the current system injects opens up opportunities for riders to seize. And it can either reward or punish those willing to gamble.
The weather at Motegi provided ample evidence of the spoils on offer, and the risks involved. A wet morning practice, a damp FP4, and a track which was starting to lose water from the surface. As Q1 progressed, the faintest hint of a dry line started to appear. Still too wet for slicks, but perhaps the ten minutes between Q1 and Q2 would be just long enough for the dry line to consolidate itself. Would anyone be brave enough to go out on slicks?
Valentino Rossi would be, and so would Marc Márquez. They both went out to test the waters, or lack of it, on slicks, hoping a high-stakes gamble would pay off. Rossi tried it early, Márquez tried it late, but both met with the same result. Yet one of the two will start from the front row, while the other finished dead last in Q2, and will start from twelfth. Timing proved to be everything, and the time was never really quite right. Only once Moto2 got underway did the track start to dry out sufficiently for slicks to be a viable option.
The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes which don't, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.
The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. "Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble," Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. "We don't understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange."
The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. "We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip," Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate. "We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive."
The three Pacific flyaways are all tough, but each is tough in its own particular way. At Sepang, the brutal combination of heat and humidity punishes the body and the mind. At Phillip Island, the fickle weather, which can change in the blink of an eye, always manages to catch out the unwary. And Motegi is tough because of the physical demands of the circuit, featuring the hardest braking sections on the calendar, combined with often cold and wet weather.
Motegi can really take its toll, on machinery, but especially on the riders. Braking is so tough at the circuit that the MotoGP rules specifically state that 340mm carbon discs must be used there. There are plenty of riders who paid the price of trying to run the smaller 320mm discs, their brakes overheating on the run into Turn 1 and then never really getting a chance to cool off properly as they approach the next hard braking section after crossing the finish line.
Those braking sections are illustrative of the stop-and-go nature of the Japanese track. Like Le Mans, the circuit has a bunch of straights which loop back toward each other, with tight corners in between. Once the riders exit Turn 5 and head under the bridge, they enter a more flowing and natural section. 130R is a fast right hander, which is followed by one of the better overtaking points on the circuit, the left of Turn 7, then the right-handed S Curve of Turn 8.
Jonas Folger has been forced to pull out of the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, and may be absent for the remainder of the overseas triple header as well. The German has been taken ill with what could potentially be a recurrence of Epstein Bar, which he suffered from previously. Japanese test rider Kohta Nozane is to replace him in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team for the Motegi round at least.
In many ways, the MotoGP season is structured like a Hollywood action blockbuster. There is preseason testing, the opening sequence in which we are introduced to the main cast of characters. After the opening credits, we start off by flying across continents to a range of exotic and colorful locations, where the first threads of plot are laid out, some of which will turn out to be red herrings later in the season. There then follows a regular sequence of dramatic action sequences, the narrative of the season taking dramatic twists and turns along the way.
If MotoGP is a Hollywood blockbuster, then the Pacific triple header of flyaway races is the frantic last 10 minutes, where the protagonists face off again and again leaving the audience barely a moment to catch their breath. It is where the battle for MotoGP reaches its crescendo, the drama of the season raised to another level and compressed into the briefest of windows. The flyaways are intense.
If the fans feel the triple header takes its toll on them, just imagine what it's like for the riders. Back-to-back races within Europe are usually manageable, as the riders are only a few hours away from their homes, and spend the weekends in their motorhomes, which are a home away from home. For the flyaways, the riders spend four weeks on the road, moving from hotel to hotel. They kick off the trip with a 15-hour flight to Japan, follow it up with an 11-hour flight from Japan to Melbourne, then another 9-hour flight to Malaysia.
After months of speculation of an impending rider change at KTM, the Austrian factory has issued a press release clarifying its 2018 line up in MotoGP. The KTM factory team will continue with both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as their contracted race riders, while Mika Kallio remains contracted as a test rider.
The move will be welcomed inside the team, restoring stability and removing the uncertainty which had surrounded Bradley Smith and his future as a factory rider. The Englishman had struggled badly to be competitive in the first part of the season, while his teammate Espargaro seemed to go from strength to strength. Smith's position was made even more tenuous when test rider Mika Kallio easily outperformed him during the Finn's wildcard appearances, especially at the team's home race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
In the week in which MotoGP marks ten years since the remarkable Norick Abe tragically died in a traffic accident (an occasion which MotoGP.com is marking by posting videoes of some of Abe's career highlights on their Facebook page), news comes of extra Japanese presence at the Motegi round of MotoGP. There will be at least two Japanese riders on the grid for the start of the race on Sunday, 15th October.
When they come to write the history of the 2017 MotoGP season, one of the largest chapters is going to bear the title "Weather". The weather continues to play an inordinately large role in the 2017 championship. Not always on race day, perhaps, but the amount of time wasted during practice because conditions were so utterly different to Sunday has made a significant difference to the course of the championship.
Aragon was a case in point. Wet conditions on Friday meant one less day of practice for the teams. For some, that meant never finding a solution to problems which would come to plague them on race day. For others, their first guesses at setup were pretty much spot on, the benefit of years of experience allowing for an educated guess. For the race winner, failing to find a decent setup leading to a lack of feeling was no obstacle to success. Sometimes, the will to win can overcome remarkable odds.
This lack of setup time may be the bane of the teams' lives, but it is a boon for fans. It adds an element of unpredictability, helping to shake up the field and make the races and the championship more interesting. The championship ain't over till it's over: there has been too much weirdness this year to take anything on trust.
Due to the long delay of morning warm ups due to fog, Dorna has had to rejig the race schedule for Sunday's Aragon MotoGP round. Moto3 and Moto3 races will start later than normal, and the Moto3 race has been cut from 20 to 13 laps. Below is the race schedule:
11:40 Moto3 Race (13 laps)
12:40 Moto2 Race (21 laps)
14:00 MotoGP Race (23 laps)
A fog has descended on the Motorland Aragon circuit, and brought on-track proceedings to a halt. A combination of cool nights and moisture in the air causes frequent morning fogs here, but a near absence of wind means it is failing to blow away so far.
So far, the Moto3 warm up session remains red flagged, but the most likely scenario (as of 10am) is that all morning warm up will be canceled, and the riders given extra sighting laps to check their bikes before each race.
When you lose the first day of a MotoGP weekend to rain, the remainder of practice becomes incredibly hectic. FP3, especially, becomes insane. Teams and riders are trying to force 90 minutes of practice into half an hour, and then throw soft tires at the last 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid Q1.
Unfortunately, the constraints of temporal physics make it impossible to put the best part of race distance on the different compounds of tires, try different bike balance and electronics settings to measure their effectiveness, try to follow a rival or two to figure out where you are stronger and weaker than they are, and finally throw a couple of soft tires at a quick lap, all in just a single session of free practice. Sure, there's another 30 minutes of FP4 to try to figure things out, but usually, that is where you are trying to nail down the fine details, not evaluate radically different bike setups.
So on Saturday evening, when riders are asked what their strategy is and which tire they will be racing, there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders. Andrea Dovizioso was a case in point at Aragon. "Still we don’t know," he said. "Still there is a lot of work to do about setup and also the decision of the tires, because we didn’t really have time to work on them. The temperature was so cold in FP3, and in the afternoon the temperature change a lot. In the morning you can’t work on the tires. We have only 30 minutes in the afternoon to try and understand something. I think for everybody, the decision is not clear. Still we have to study a lot of data and take a decision about the tires and the set-up. Maybe all three are an option but I don’t know."