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This is truly a golden age of motorcycle racing. The Silverstone race was proof of that. A stunning contest, with positions fiercely fought over. A new winner added to MotoGP's pantheon. Five riders doing battle over second place, including some of the greatest riders of their respective generations. Bikes from four different factories in the top six.
And Silverstone is hardly unique this season. 2016 has seen two different satellite riders win races. It has seen seven different winners this season, and the last seven races each won by a different rider. It has seen relative newcomers win, and seasoned veterans win. 2016 is the culmination of a long period of rich results, with four riders all capable of winning on any given day over the past four or five years. Margins of victory have never been tighter, nor has the gap between the front and the back of the grid.
This cornucopia is not just in the premier class. Racing is returning to Moto2, after a drought of processional contests. Moto3 is overflowing with young talent, with rookies quickly challenging the older guard, who are in turn off to fatten the field in Moto2 next year. At Silverstone, the Moto2 race was hard fought between a small group of riders, with incidents that had serious long-term effects on the championship. The Moto3 class produced a customary thriller, Silverstone's long straights and high winds making escape impossible, but making staying out of trouble imperative.
The year of weird weather continues. After a fine Friday, and a foggy but dry start to Saturday, the rain moved in during practice for Moto2, and increased in intensity for qualifying, varying on and off during MotoGP FP4 and then the two qualifying sessions. Tomorrow will most likely be dry, though there are threats of a very light rain at various points throughout the day.
Then again, we are at Silverstone in September. It can hot and sunny, or cold, wet, and windy, sometimes all on the same day. But add a wet qualifying to the rain in Assen, the Sachsenring, and Brno, and the weather is having a serious effect on the championship. Saturday was no exception.
With FP4 wet, the MotoGP grid lost their main practice session, where the teams work solely on the race without worrying about whether they would get through to Q2 or not. But the session was useful nonetheless. Michelin had brought three different front wet tires, and a couple of wet compounds for the rear.
"It's just Friday, and is early." Valentino Rossi repeated his weekly mantra when asked about the speed of Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales at Silverstone. It is a point he makes every race weekend: a lot can happen between the end of practice on Friday and 2pm on Sunday (or in the case of Silverstone, 3:30pm BST on Sunday, two and a half hours later than normal, so as not to clash with F1 at Monza). The times set by the grid on Friday were, if not entirely meaningless, at best a very distorted image of the true balance of power on the MotoGP grid.
With seven races to go, and three to be held over the next four weekends, the MotoGP championship is entering a crucial phase. Marc Márquez' 53 point lead over Valentino Rossi means finishing on the podium for the rest of the races would be sufficient for him to clinch his third MotoGP title. The two caveats being that Valentino Rossi must win the remaining seven races, and Márquez must finish second on at least three occasions.
Márquez also has a lead of 59 points over Jorge Lorenzo. Just two second places among seven podium finishes would be enough to ensure he beat Lorenzo to the championship. Though once again, Lorenzo would have to win all seven remaining races.
A likely scenario? Not really. The chances of either Lorenzo or Rossi winning seven races in a row are very close to zero. The remaining seven races could conceivably all be won by a Movistar Yamaha rider, but the most likely scenario in that case would be both Rossi and Lorenzo swapping victories each week. An even more likely chain of events would be Rossi, Lorenzo, and Márquez taking it in turns on the top step. And if Márquez finishes ahead of either Rossi or Lorenzo, that swings the pendulum in further in his direction.
At the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, at the Austrian round of MotoGP, KTM finally officially presented its MotoGP project, the KTM RC16. There had been months of testing, with press releases and photos issued. There had been KTM's participation in the private MotoGP test at the Red Bull Ring in July, alongside the rest of the MotoGP teams. But at the Austrian GP, the fans and media got their first chance to see the bike close up.
What are we to make of it? First, we should ask what we know about the bike. On their corporate blog, KTM list some specs for the bike. There are few surprises: 1000cc V4 engine, using pneumatic valves, housed in a tubular steel trellis frame and an aluminum swing arm. Suspension is by WP, while brakes are by Brembo, and exhaust by Akrapovic. Electronics are the spec MotoGP Magneti Marelli ECU.
What is slightly more interesting are the numbers for maximum engine revs and horsepower. Like all official numbers on values such as torque, horsepower, and revs, they are not to be trusted, but these both seem highly inaccurate. KTM claims the RC16 makes 250hp. It certainly makes that, and probably 10% more, given that most MotoGP engines are believed to make somewhere between 260 and 275 horsepower.
A week after getting his first taste of a MotoGP bike, Alex Lowes has learned he will spend two full weekends on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha machine, replacing Bradley Smith.
Smith injured himself when he crashed heavily during practice for the final round of the FIM Endurance World Championship. The Englishman had been drafted in to boister the YART Yamaha team, in response to a request by friend and former World Supersport racer Broc Parkes.
The final piece of the MotoGP puzzle has finally dropped. Eugene Laverty has decided that he will be switching back to WorldSBK, where he will ride a factory-backed Aprilia RSV4-RF with the Milwaukee Racing SMR squad. The departure of Laverty means that Yonny Hernandez will get to keep his place in the Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team, filling the final empty slot on the MotoGP grid.
It may seem strange for Laverty to abandon MotoGP, just as his star has been rising in the class. Since Aspar switched from Honda's RC213V-RS Open Class machine to the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2, the older Ducati working very well with the Michelin tires, more rear grip helping to reduce the understeer the GP14.2 suffers from. He is currently eleventh in the championship, and has a fourth and a sixth as best finishes, Laverty being annoyed that early traffic cost him the chance of a podium at Brno. It took the factory Ducatis on their brand new GP16s six races to get ahead of the Irishman in the championship standings.
So why has Laverty decided to abandon MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK? There are a number of reasons, but all of them boil down to a single issue: Eugene Laverty is a winner, and he likes to win. On two-year-old machinery, in a private team (though with good factory support, unlike other satellite set ups), Laverty's only chance to win in MotoGP would come when the weather acts as the great neutralizer.
After a tough race on Sunday, managing tires on a drying track, around half of the MotoGP grid headed back to the track on Monday for a day of testing. Not everyone was enthusiastic about that. "Usually we hate Mondays, and this is a Monday that we hate," Danilo Petrucci told us with a wry grin on his face. He pinpointed why testing made a lot less sense for satellite riders than for factory teams. Satellite teams only really have set up changes to test, and the occasional tire, if the single tire supplier has something new. There was a real downside to working on set up at a track you have just raced at, Petrucci said. "If you are angry because you didn't get the best set up on Sunday, you getting more angry if you find it on Monday."
There were a lot of firsts at Brno on Sunday. Perhaps the most consequential was the fact that we saw the first wet race in the MotoGP/500 class ever to be held at the Masarykring, the modern purpose-built circuit which replaced the old road circuit at Brno. That had a lot of knock on effects: we saw a surprise winner in the premier class, a shift in the championship, and a long race of strategy, where some riders got it spot on, and others got it horribly wrong. All this without the race even having to be restarted, or riders having to pass through the pits. Though of course, some did...
The MotoGP race was both fascinating and entertaining, and an object lesson in how changing weather can make morning warm up lead riders down the wrong path. On a sodden track, with the rain still falling heavily in the morning, there were serious concerns among some riders that the softest compound wet tire which Michelin had brought was not going to be soft enough to provide enough grip. "This morning with the extra soft the tire was completely new after nine laps," Andrea Dovizioso said.
It rained throughout the Moto3 race – which provided enormous entertainment, a first-time winner and another first-time podium visitor – and kept raining during Moto2 – a less exciting affair, but one which still managed to shake up the championship. The rain eased off on the final laps of Moto2, then just about stopped in the break between the end of the Moto2 race and the start of MotoGP. It was a welcome development for us hacks: chasing through the paddock to talk to Moto3 riders after the race, we had endured a soaking. The same run down to the other end of the paddock in search of Moto2 riders was a far more pleasant affair. The need to scurry from garage to garage under the shelter of balconies was gone.
The Grand Prix Commission has introduced a range of measures at their meeting in Brno. Among the most important are the switch from selling Moto3 engines to leasing them, and changing the flag-to-flag procedure, in an attempt to improve safety in pit lane.
Starting from next year, the flag-to-flag procedure has been revised. The number of mechanics assisting has been reduced, with only four allowed to assist in the bike swap. Those mechanics must now wear approved helmets, which will also make them easier to identify.
After he and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo had looked well in control of proceedings after the first day of practice at Brno, Valentino Rossi warned the media against drawing premature conclusions. "I think it's just Friday, it's a long way to Sunday," he said. We in the media ignored his warnings, of course, and painted a technicolor picture of a race where the Movistar Yamaha riders took back a hefty bunch of points from Marc Márquez, reigniting the championship.
Then Saturday happened, and Valentino Rossi turned out to be right again (and not for the first time, I might add). Friday had been just Friday. It was indeed still a long way to Sunday. Saturday, a stepping stone on the way to Sunday, helped turn a lot of things around. Jorge Lorenzo is still fast. So is Valentino Rossi, though not quite as fast as he had hoped. Andrea Iannone is a genuine threat for the podium, or even his second win in a row. Maverick Viñales could still get up front and complicate things, though he has a hill to climb after a problem with the brakes saw him qualify on the third row of the grid.
But any illusions the Movistar Yamaha men had of clawing back points from Marc Márquez will have to be shelved. Not only will the Repsol Honda rider start from pole on Sunday, but he also has the race pace which was missing on Friday. All thanks to a breathtaking lap of Brno, and a large set of wings which helped cure some of the worst problems with the Honda RC213V.