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2018 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: MotoGP Emulating Moto3, Failed Mind Games, And Yamaha's Descent Continues

It is a common enough sight in Grand Prix racing: slower riders cruising around at the edge of the track, waiting for a faster rider to come by so they can get a tow. It is especially common at the Motorland Aragon circuit. With its massive back straight of nearly a kilometer in length, a decent slipstream can be worth an awful lot.

It is less common to see slower riders cruising for a tow in MotoGP. In Moto3, sure: with horsepower at a premium, cutting down on drag equates to free speed. In Moto2 as well, as the fact that the bikes all produce exactly the same horsepower means that riders have to find an advantage anywhere they can. But MotoGP? A lack of horsepower is not really a problem in the premier class. The bigger problem is usually transferring it to the tarmac to generate drive, and translate that power to speed.

But Aragon is different. Sure, tucking in behind another bike can give you extra speed using their draft, but above all, using another rider as a target makes you that little bit faster. "MotoGP is so close now that if you can follow someone, get a bit of a tow, that's obviously going to improve your time," Bradley Smith explained on Saturday afternoon. "We don't see it very often in MotoGP, to be honest, as much as it was today, but it shows how important it is here in Aragon."

Reference, not tow

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2018 Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: Test Benefits, Ducati Development, And The Yamaha's Fundamental Flaws

What is the value of a MotoGP test? About a morning, if Aragon is anything to go by. At the end of FP1, before any real rubber had built up on the track, four Ducatis topped the timesheets. When I asked Davide Tardozzi whether he was happy with the Ducatis looking so strong so early, he replied that this was just the benefit of testing. Watch and see what Marc Márquez does in the afternoon, Tardozzi said.

Sure enough, by FP2, Márquez had caught up and then passed the Ducatis. The Repsol Honda rider ended the day on top of the timesheets, a tenth ahead of the factory Ducati of Jorge Lorenzo, and half a second quicker than Andrea Dovizioso. Cal Crutchlow was just behind Dovizioso on the LCR Honda, while Andrea Iannone was a fraction over a half a second behind Márquez. The advantage was already gone.

For Yamaha, there wasn't any advantage at all. The Movistar Yamaha team had come to the track and found some gains, Maverick Viñales in particular taking confidence from the test, which he carried into the Misano weekend. That lasted all the way until Sunday, when the grip disappeared in the heat, and the Yamahas slid down the order. Friday at Aragon was more of the same: competitive in the morning, when there was some grip, but nowhere in the afternoon, when the grip went. Rossi and Viñales made it through to Q2 by the skin of their teeth, though with no illusions of a podium, or more. Yamaha are in deep trouble, with no end to their misery in sight, but more on that later.

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FIM Withdraws Romano Fenati's Race License For Rest Of 2018 Season

In an unprecedented move, the FIM has overruled the FIM Panel of Stewards' decision at Misano to ban Romano Fenati for two races. After meeting with Fenati and his representative at FIM headquarters in Switzerland, the FIM decided to withdraw his racing license for the remainder of the 2018 season.

Fenati will now have to reapply for a racing license according to the FIM procedures if he wishes to race in 2019. Whether he will or not is unknown: after he lost his 2018 ride with the Snipers team, and the 2019 ride with the MV Agusta Forward team, Fenati announced he would retire from racing altogether. He has already had his license issued by the Italian federation FMI suspended pending further notice.

The FIM press release appears below:


FIM withdraws Romano Fenati’s licence after discussions in Mies, Switzerland

Moto2 rider Romano Fenati attended a meeting at the FIM Headquarters in Mies on Tuesday 18 September following an incident in Misano during the Moto2 race on Sunday 9 September 2018.

Mr Fenati, accompanied by his legal representative, was received by FIM President Vito Ippolito and FIM Deputy CEO and Legal Director Mr Richard Perret.

Mr Fenati was asked to explain in person his act on the track in Misano, which has given rise to many extreme reactions in the traditional media and on social media platforms.

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2018 Aragon MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Eponymous Corner Carnage, No V4 For Yamaha, And The Fenati Lynch Mob

Naming a corner after a rider confers a particular honor on that rider, but it also puts enormous pressure on them. The last time it happened – Jerez in 2013, where the final corner was named after Jorge Lorenzo – things didn't quite work out the way the honoree had hoped. Dani Pedrosa went on to win the race comfortably, while Lorenzo was bumped aside in his eponymous corner by Marc Márquez, finishing the race in third, and clearly upset. That gave rise to an episode of "Handshakegate", a recurring paddock melodrama, where Jorge Lorenzo refused the proffered hand of Marc Márquez, wagging his finger in the younger Spaniard's face as a sign of disapproval.

So what does this mean for Turn 10 at the Motorland Aragon circuit? The long left hander which starts at the bottom of the "Sacacorchos", Aragon's very own version of Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, dips then rises round towards Turn 11, and the back half of the circuit. Today, after resisting for several years, Marc Márquez finally accepted the honor of having the corner named after him, in a ceremony featuring Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta, the circuit director Santiago Abad, and circuit President Marta Gaston.

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Further Fallout From Misano: On Romano Fenati, And Replacing Christophe Ponsson

Misano is still casting a long shadow over the Grand Prix paddock. Or at least parts of it. Most specifically, the aftermath of Romano Fenati's disqualification after touching Stefano Manzi's brake lever during the Moto2 race, and the decision by the Reale Avintia team to draft in Frenchman Christophe Ponsson to replace the injured Tito Rabat.

First, Fenati. The Italian had the suspension of his license confirmed by the Italian federation FMI on Friday, after a hearing held in Rome. Fenati is suspended from taking part in any sporting activities sanctioned by the FMI for at least two months, while the Italian federation conducts further investigations. They will decide on further action at the end of that period.

Even if Fenati's suspension had not been upheld, he would not have been eligible to race. Fenati is serving a two-race ban during Aragon and Thailand, and will not be eligible to race in Grand Prix again until Motegi. Fenati's future is still unclear, though he is due to appear at a hearing with the FIM in Switzerland today. He himself has said he has retired from racing altogether.

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2018 Misano MotoGP Race Round Up: Ducati's Speed, Yamaha's Lack of It, And The Championship

Apologies for the extreme tardiness of this report, dear readers. Travel delays, the Romano Fenati situation, and a minor mishap at home threw my work schedule into utter disarray, and I got a long way behind. Aragon will be better.

"I have my strategy," Andrea Dovizioso told us after qualifying on Saturday at Misano. "It's always better to have a clear strategy, but to have a strategy and be able to make your strategy is a different story. You have to adapt to the conditions."

Dovizioso had seemed quietly confident as he sat in Ducati's hospitality unit and told us about his day qualifying. The Italian often exudes a sense of calm, but in hindsight, this was calm built on a sense of confidence. Dovizioso believed he could win on Sunday. But first, he would have to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Viñales, both of whom had stamped their authority on practice with great ferocity. Then there was Marc Márquez, of course, who had spent practice concentrating on old tires, working for the latter stages of the race. Throw in a couple of wildcards – Jack Miller had impressed all weekend, while Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi were perennial threats – and winning in Misano was obviously a tough gig.

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CormacGP Shoots Misano - Racing Beauty On The Rimini Riviera

Another new feature on the site starting this week. After every round of MotoGP, the immensely talented Cormac Ryan Meenan of CormacGP will be supplying a selection of photographs from that weekend's event. If you'd like to see more of his work, you can follow him on Twitter or Instagram, or check out his website, cormacgp.com.


Flying on Friday and Saturday, but when the grip went, so did Maverick Viñales' chances of a podium


Miller Time

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Tom's Tech Treasures: Up Close With MotoGP Bikes At Misano

Thomas Morsellino is a French freelance journalist and photographer, with keen eye for the technical details of MotoGP bikes. You may have seen some of his work on Twitter, where he runs the @Off_Bikes account. After every race, MotoMatters.com will be publishing a selection of Tom's photos of MotoGP bikes, together with technical explanations of the details. MotoMatters.com subscribers will get access to the full resolution photos, which they can download and study in detail, while readers who do not support the site will be limited to the 800x600 resolution photos.


Thumb rear brake lever on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18


Aerodynamic (large version) fairing used at Misano on Andrea Iannone's Suzuki GSX-RR

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From Bad To Worse: Romano Fenati Loses Racing License, Summoned To FIM

Things are going poorly for Romano Fenati. His actions during Sunday's Moto2 race at Misano, when he reached over and squeezed Stefano Manzi's front brake, are having far-reaching repercussions. 

On Sunday, the FIM Panel of Stewards penalized Fenati with a two-race ban. On Monday morning, he was sacked from his current Moto2 ride by the Marinelli Snipers Racing Team. On Monday afternoon, he also lost his 2019 ride with the MV Agusta Forward Racing Team. 

More was to come on Tuesday. First, the Italian motorcycle federation FMI revoked Fenati's racing license for all sporting activities in Italy. This also renders him ineligible to compete in any international or world championship events, as international racing licenses are also issued by the national federation, which in Fenati's case is the FMI. He has been invited to a hearing on 14th September, at which he will have the right to representation by a lawyer.

Then, the FIM, the international motorcycling federation, summoned Fenati to the FIM headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to explain his actions. In a press release, shown below, FIM president Vito Ippolito summoned Fenati to the FIM to here his side of the story, before considering further action against the Italian.

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The Decline And Fall Of Romano Fenati

Romano Fenati burst onto the racing scene like a meteor, burning bright and lighting up Moto3. In his first race, at Qatar in 2012, he finished second behind Maverick Viñales. In his second, at Jerez, in difficult conditions, he won by a fearsome 36 seconds. Here was surely a rider to watch for the future.

His ascension to greatness did not run as smoothly as those early races promised. A couple more podiums in 2012 saw him finish sixth in the championship on the underpowered FTR Honda. After a tough 2013, he rediscovered his form when he was invited to become part of the VR46 Academy, and signed to ride a KTM with the Sky VR46 Racing Team the following year. The change did him good, winning four races and finishing fifth in the championship.

2015 saw less success, Fenati showing signs of frustration. During the warm up in Argentina, the Italian lashed out at Niklas Ajo inexplicably, first trying to kick him, then stopping next to the Finn for a practice start, and reaching over a flicking his kill switch.

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2018 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: When Even The Fearless Are Afraid

In an interview I did with him at Assen, I asked Marc Márquez if he was ever afraid. "At the moment, no," he replied. The one time when he had been scared was after his big crash at Mugello, when he had locked the front wheel over the crest of the hill, and bailed at around 270 km/h to avoid hitting a wall. After that, whenever he crested the hill at the end of the straight, he had subconsciously backed off the gas. He did not believe he was afraid, until his data engineer showed him the throttle trace, which showed him closing the gas.

We can add a second occasion when Márquez was afraid. As at Mugello, it came after a crash. This time, though, it was not as a result of his own riding, but the riding of the marshal who rushed him back to the pits in record time during Q2, giving him one more shot at pole.

It started with Márquez' second run during qualifying. The Repsol Honda rider had elected to go for a two-stop strategy, and so had left the pits early and laid down a marker on his first run. That marker was overtaken by Jorge Lorenzo a minute later, and so Márquez went out and pushed hard on his second run. A little too hard, as it turned out.

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2018 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Testing vs Track Conditions, Q2 Timing, Slow Riders, And GP16 vs GP17

Surely the teams who tested at Misano prior to Silverstone would have an advantage once MotoGP arrived at the Italian circuit? With a day to set up the bikes ahead of time, they would start the Misano weekend with a head start.

That is the theory, anyway. But when I spoke to one of Johann Zarco's mechanics, he dismissed the idea out of hand. "You have an advantage for about five laps," he said. The problem is the period of time between the test and the race. Conditions change too much. "What you find is a setup for the conditions on the day. When you get there for the race, the track is dirtier, the weather's different, the temperature's lower."

The track definitely changed a lot between the test and the race weekend, as those who were at the test pointed out. "When we came here for the test, the grip level of the track was higher," Valentino Rossi said. "But for some reason, also for the rain yesterday, the track even if it's a bit colder is more slippery."

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Bradley Smith To Become Aprilia MotoGP Test Rider

As the Silly Season for riders is almost complete, the test rider market is starting to take shape. The first official announcement came today, as Aprilia announced that Bradley Smith will be taking on a role as test rider for the MotoGP project for the Italian factory.

Smith had told the media yesterday that he felt like he still had work left to do in the MotoGP paddock. "At the end of the day I feel like I have a lot to offer," Smith said. "Also I’m not done. When you’re not done, the motivation is high. I’ve said before I want to be back inside this paddock full-time in 2020. The motivation is high to help the whole project and ride well myself and put myself in the shop window. As long as that’s managed in the right way in the team structure, it’s certainly not a negative thing to be [a test rider]. Having wildcards available is always a good incentive for the rider and also a good incentive for the project. Everyone pushes on and pushes forward." 

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2018 Misano MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Soaking Silverstone, Aprilia's Woes, And Rossi vs Marquez - Infinity War

The legacy of the Lost Grand Prix lingers on. Silverstone was on the minds of many at Misano, and there was still much to be said about the race. The conclusion remained nearly unanimous, with one dissenting opinion: it was way too dangerous to race at Silverstone, and the new surface was simply not draining correctly. Riders chimed in with their opinions of what had gone wrong with laying the asphalt, but those opinions should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. They may be intimately familiar with the feel and texture of asphalt, but the ability to ride a motorcycle almost inhumanly fast does not equate to understanding the underlying engineering and chemistry of large-scale civil engineering projects.

What riders do understand better than anyone, of course, is whether a race track is safe to race on, and all but Jack Miller felt the same way eleven days on from Silverstone. "The amount of rain was not enough to produce those conditions on the track," Marc Márquez told the press conference. "For me it was more about the asphalt, more than the weather conditions. And it was T2 and T3, that part was something that you cannot ride like this. Because there are many bumps, the water was there but inside the bump was even more water, and it was impossible to understand the track."

It had rained far more in 2015, when the race had been able to go ahead, than it had in 2018, when the race had been called off, Márquez said. "For example in 2015 it was raining much more, in Motegi last year it was raining much more. But for some reason, we already went out from the box and it was only light rain but the water was there. It was something strange."

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2018 Misano MotoGP Preview: Lorenzo vs The World

And so we leave England, and the debacle that was Silverstone, a race that was canceled due to rain in a land which is green and pleasant thanks to the generous application of precipitation all year round. It is said that the English language has as many words for rain as some Inuit languages have for snow, but I have been told that the number of words the Inuit have for snow is greatly exaggerated.

MotoGP heads south to Misano, for a late summer race on the Adriatic Riviera and the certainty of a race actually happening. The washout at Silverstone could never happen at Misano, could it? Those with longer memories will remember 2007, and the first race back at the Italian circuit since Wayne Rainey suffered his career-ending injury there. A sudden flash storm on Friday revealed a severe drainage problem, with water flooding into the garages causing teams to scramble to get everything up above floor level, and leaving circuit officials standing waist-deep in water at one part of the track looking for a blocked drain.

Fortunately, the circuit fixed the problems, and since then, rain has not stopped practice from happening. So if it rains this weekend – and the forecast is for showers both on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning – the event should be able to proceed as normal. But if the forecast is correct, then it will have an effect on Sunday's race. Any loss of practice time will benefit any rider who has tested here recently. And as it happens, a bunch of factories and teams have done just that.

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