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2017 Jerez MotoGP Thursday Notes: Aprilia's New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, KTM's Big Bang

A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus. This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the "real" start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds. At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.

The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages. "Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain," Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.

Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. "We have many days of tests," the Spaniard told us. "Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn't sleep, I was super tired." Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. "I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona... We have many tests."

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2017 Jerez MotoGP Preview: Getting Down To Business In Andalusia

And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers. MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.

That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location. Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.

Think of it like Texas hold 'em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together. Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.

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The Rise and Fall of Danny Kent

"Danny is probably the most talented rider I have ever worked with," Peter Bom, Danny Kent's former crew chief at Kiefer told me several times last year. Bom has seen plenty of talent in his time: he also worked with Stefan Bradl at Kiefer, Chris Vermeulen in World Supersport and World Superbikes, Cal Crutchlow in World Supersport. World champions all, and to this tally he added Danny Kent.

Less than a year after helping him win the Moto3 world championship, Danny Kent asked the Kiefer team for a new crew chief, abandoning his collaboration with Peter Bom. Kent felt that Bom had been slow to pick up on the changes in the Moto2 class during Bom's three years in Moto3. Stefan Kiefer obliged, and Kent started the season with a new crew chief and a Suter Moto2 chassis.

Three races into the new season, Kent has left the team. He competed in two races for them, scoring three points in the first, crashing out of the second. At Austin, after a miserable few practice sessions, Kent refused to race. The team could have seen the decision coming, perhaps: Kent had finished 29th in morning warm up, 2.5 seconds off the pace of fastest man Taka Nakagami.

Later that afternoon, in a series of tweets, Kent explained his decision was because of "irreconcilable differences", which had prevented him from reaching his potential. He said he was still hungry, and believed he could be competitive in Moto2. Team boss Stefan Kiefer told Dutch Eurosport, "personally, I do not think this is correct, but that's what he decided." In a press release later that day, Kiefer stated that the decision was "difficult to understand from the team's point of view."

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Alex Rins' Surgery Successful, Out For Six Weeks

Alex Rins has had two titanium plates fitted to fix the left wrist he broke in practice in Austin. The Suzuki rider will be out for the next six to eight weeks, meaning he will miss at least Jerez, and most likely Le Mans and Mugello as well. Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda, who was scheduled to be in Jerez for the official test on the Monday after the race, will replace Rins for the Spanish test, and most probably for the remaining races.

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2017 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Leaders Crashing, and Rossi vs Zarco

When riders get off to a blinding start in the first couple of races, it is easy to get carried away and start penciling their name onto the championship trophy. Doing that after just two races is plainly ridiculous. Doing it after three races is hardly any better. Yet the temptation to do so remains strong: when a narrative presents itself, it is hard to resist following it.

That has been the case so far this year. In Moto3, Joan Mir has looked untouchable winning the first two races from tough fights. In Moto2, Franco Morbidelli had dominated, controlling races from start to finish. And coming into Austin, Maverick Viñales had won the first two races of the season quite comfortably, nobody anywhere close to being able to match him.

During practice, a new narrative presented itself in MotoGP. Marc Márquez has dominated the racing at the Circuit of The Americas since it first joined the calendar, winning all four races held there before this year. Maverick Viñales has dominated the opening two races of the year, and came to Austin looking capable of ending Márquez' winning streak.

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2017 Austin MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Explaining Crashes, And New Rivalries

There is a move afoot among MotoGP riders to have qualifying changed. Or rather, to have the way the selection is done for Q1 and Q2. A lot of riders have complained about the current system of prequalifying using combined times from FP1 through FP3. The riders complain that they lose too much time to trying to set a fast lap in each session, just in case conditions change. The current counter proposal from the riders is to use just the FP3 times to select which riders go through to Q2 directly, and allow the teams to spend Friday focusing on setup.

Saturday morning exposed the weakness of such an idea. A combination of cold tires, strong wind, a bumpy track, poor tire selection on Friday night, and the narrow temperature working range of the Michelins saw eight riders crash a total of ten times in FP3. Alex Rins crashed so heavily he broke both the radius and ulna in his left arm, and put himself out of action for Austin and Jerez, and possibly for Le Mans as well. The rest escaped relatively unscathed, but with many a temper blazing.

Basing passage into Q2 solely on FP3 results was not without risks of its own, Valentino Rossi told the Italian media. "Today, that would have been a stupid idea, because we would have had to take a lot of risks in difficult conditions," Rossi said. If there had been a total of ten crashes in a session in which most riders hadn't pushed to improve their time, how many would have fallen if they had all been pushing to get through to Q2?

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2017 Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Honda's Real Weakness, And Much More

It looks like we have been wrong all along. As usual. All this time, we thought it was the engine which was the problem for Honda. This would be a major issue, as engine designs are sealed and fixed for an entire season in MotoGP, at least for factories which have gathered sufficient podium credits to qualify as competitive under the rules. With nine wins last year, and a MotoGP title, Honda definitely does that.

Maybe the problem isn't the engine after all, however. Honda riders are starting to express the apparently unpopular opinion inside HRC that maybe the solution isn't to rejig the engine again by playing around with firing orders, crankshaft counterweights, and other internal moving parts now set in aspic until the season ends at Valencia. Perhaps, they suggest, Honda could take a look at its chassis, and try finding solutions there.

Cal Crutchlow was the most vociferous, though that is an extremely relative term when speaking of rider statements about the Japanese manufacturer they ride for. "I think we need to start working with the chassis a bit more," Crutchlow told us after another hard day at a very physical track. "That's not a comment against my manufacturer, against my team, it's just a comment that we've looked at the engine for the last two years, and I believe that a lot will come from the chassis. Sure, some electronics, but I think it's chassis. I've ridden other bikes, so I know what the chassis is doing. And I believe that's where we could improve a lot. Because the engine is sealed, that's done, it's done and dusted."

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2017 Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: The Bad New Days, And Talk Of Tires

If you wanted proof that MotoGP fans are smarter and more engaged than most people think (and arguably smarter, more engaged, and better informed than half the journalists in the paddock), then look no further than the section added to the press conference by Dorna featuring questions submitted by fans via Social Media. The questions submitted so far have been funny, interesting, and thoughtful (though of course, it helps that the hardworking Dorna Social Media staff carefully separate the wheat from the chaff beforehand).

They have managed to be revealing, coming at riders from unsuspecting angles and forcing them to let slip things without realizing it. Or sometimes, just gets them talking in a broader context, which helps provide a greater insight into the way the sport has changed, and the direction it is heading. And sometimes, they have just made us all laugh.

The question to Valentino Rossi, asking which of his rivalries should be made into a movie to match Rush, the dramatization of the rivalry between James Hunt Niki Lauda. There is no obvious answer to that question – Rossi's rivalries have been many, fierce, and bitter, with Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Sete Gibernau – but Rossi settled on his rivalry with Max Biaggi. "It was funny, because we also had a lot of funny stories out of the track," Rossi quipped.

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2017 Austin MotoGP Preview: Keeping Austin Weird - Can Maverick Beat Marc?

The most remarkable statistic about the Grand Prix of The Americas is surely this: Since his ascent to the MotoGP class, Marc Márquez has won every single race he has competed in at a circuit in the United States of America. He won both US races during his two years in Moto2 as well. In fact, you have to go back to 2010, and Márquez' final year in 125s to find the reigning world champion's last defeat on US soil. America agrees with Marc Márquez, though that does not automatically include all Americans as well.

So after a decidedly mediocre start to his defense of the 2016 MotoGP title, the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas is the right place to get his season back on track. He comes to COTA knowing he can win, and knowing he can win on an uncompetitive machine. That knowledge alone will be worth a tenth or two in Austin, perhaps enough to give him the edge over the all-conquering hero of the hour Maverick Viñales.

Why does COTA suit Márquez so well? It is really hard to say. Perhaps because it offers so many opportunities to make up time on the brakes. First, there's the uphill monster of Turn 1, perhaps the weirdest first corner of the season (fittingly keeping Austin weird). Then there's Turn 11, the hard, sharp hairpin before the long back straight, at the end of which there is Turn 12, another spot requiring hard braking. And at the end of the lap, the two final corners, Turn 19 and Turn 20, which are shorter, but just as fierce.

Perhaps it's not so much the braking, but more the strange section of combination corners stretching between Turn 2 and Turn 10. They are the kind of corners that reward the ability to turn on a dime, and the all-front-end, all-the-time Honda deals well with those. Or perhaps the corners through the Stadium Section, and around the Grand Plaza.

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2017 Argentina Post-Race Round Up, Part 2: Moto2 & Moto3, of Patience and Temper Tantrums

If the two MotoGP races so far this year have had the kind of internal logic more commonly associated with a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, the Moto2 and Moto3 classes have been rational seas of serenity. Which, come to think of it, also makes them more than a little like the more pious parts of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. These are topsy turvy times indeed.

When Moto2 first started, it brought the most harrowing and raucous parts of Bosch' work to mind, voracious insanity unleashed on two wheels, which sensible people feared to look at. (Fortunately, motorcycle racing fans are anything but sensible. It is one of their better traits.) But those days are now long gone, and the intermediate class has become processional, races decided almost before they are begun.

A nostalgia for the madness of the past keeps us watching, hoping to see a revival of the old ways. From time to time, the series livens up again, and we start to dream that our prayers have been answered, though such thoughts are usually dashed as soon as they arise. The Moto2 race in Argentina was very much a case in point. It started out processional, then grew tense, then the tension frayed, then renewed, only to end with bang. Literally, in the case of Alex Márquez, who ended a long way up in the air before coming down to earth with a solid thump.

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Subscriber Feature: What Does A Rider Coach Do? Wilco Zeelenberg Explains

The news that Michele Pirro is to serve as a track analyst to Jorge Lorenzo during his time at Ducati was greeted with interest at Sepang. It was unexpected, but looking back at it, a logical and highly sensible decision.

With a total of five Grand Prix titles to his name, why would Jorge Lorenzo want or need a track analyst? Come to mention it, why would Valentino Rossi, with nine Grand Prix titles and 114 victories to his name, employ a rider coach in Luca Cadalora?

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Brad Binder Has Broken Arm Replated In Barcelona

Brad Binder has had surgery to fit a new plate to his broken left arm. The original plate, which had been fitted over the winter after he had broken the radius in his left arm, had worked loose, and was not holding the bone together properly. Binder has now had that issue corrected in Barcelona.

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