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Dorna Propose "Miller Rule" - Ride Through For Changing Bikes Before Race Start

The tumultuous start to the Argentina round of MotoGP is to have consequences. As Jack Miller's brave decision to choose slicks on a drying track went unrewarded, the start procedure on the grid is to be changed, and ride through penalties served on any rider leaving the grid to switch from wet tires to slicks or vice versa. The new rules are to apply from the next race at Mugello, once approved by the Grand Prix Commission.

The new start procedure is aimed at simplifying and clarifying what happens when a rider decides to leave the grid and switch tires. If a rider leaves the grid after the sighting lap to switch bikes from a dry to a wet setup or vice versa, they will be allowed to start from their normal qualifying position, but they will have to serve a ride through penalty during the race.

Similarly, if a rider enters the pits at the end of the warm up lap to swap bikes, they will have to start from pit lane as before, but they will also have to serve a ride through penalty. Both of these penalties will only apply to riders who change between wet tires and slicks, however. Riders who come in to the pits with a technical problem and depart on the same tires they came in on will not be punished.

The change has been proposed because of the perceived disadvantage Jack Miller suffered at Termas De Rio Hondo. There, Miller decided to stick to slicks, while the other 23 riders left the grid to swap to their dry setup bikes. The mass confusion caused the start to be delayed and a new grid to be drawn up, with the riders who went to the grid being forced to start from the back of the grid, starting several rows behind Miller. But that advantage was too short-lived, and the resultant chaos caused a delay to the start.

If the new proposed rules were in place, then the grid would have formed as normal, but everyone but Jack Miller would have had to serve a ride through at some point in the first five laps. That would have given Miller a de facto 30+ second advantage, and been better reward for judging conditions correctly.

The new rules also more accurately reflect the reality of tire choice. In effect, the ride through is the equivalent to coming into the pits for a bike swap after starting on the wrong tires.

How the teams will handle this situation remains to be seen. Whether they will be more aggressive in their tire choice on a drying track, or play it safe and wait as long as possible before departing for the sighting lap, or perhaps go to the grid early and risk trying to change from a wet to a dry setup on the grid, will only become apparent once the MotoGP field faces the same conditions as in Argentina, a damp but drying track at the start of the race.

Below is the press release from Dorna with the proposed rules for the starting grid:

Proposal to the Grand Prix Commission

Sporting Regulations - Effective from the Italian GP

GRID PROCEDURES 2018

At the Argentina GP, when Pit Lane opened for the MotoGP™ race, the track was wet and slowly changing to dry conditions. Only one rider, Jack Miller, remained on the grid with the “Dry Bike” – meaning that 23 riders were on the grid with the “Wet Bike”.

At the end of the sighting lap, rider Franco Morbidelli entered Pit Lane to switch bikes. The penalty for this is clear in the rules: the rider will start the Warm Up Lap from Pit Lane and the race from the back of the grid. The riders who line up at the back of the grid do so in the order in which they qualified. Morbidelli was instructed by IRTA that he must start the race from 25th on the grid.

After several minutes, the rest of the riders, with the sole exception of Jack Miller, exited the grid to switch bikes and started to line up at the Pit Lane Exit. At that moment, the organisers were presented with 23 riders to line up at the back of the grid in new positions, without anyone to indicate the riders where to position themselves and no grid row marker panels. This was untenable, and for this reason the ‘Start Delayed’ board was shown.

Following instructions given last year after the Qatar GP, the organisers summoned a representative of each team to the front of the grid. It was agreed by all that since the penalty for the riders that had exited the grid was clear – “Back of the Grid Race Start” – this would be have to be upheld, but that the exact regulations would be altered to allow for an extra sighting lap (ie. a Quick Start procedure). This was for logistical reasons, with time to prepare a new grid needed – and mechanics also needed on the grid to signal to the riders where their new grid positions were.

The race demonstrated that the advantage afforded to the one rider who chose to stay on the grid with the correct bike choice was negligible. After the race, there were also complaints about the delays on the grid.

For the benefit of all and to make the start procedure safer and clearer to all teams, as well as to avoid delays due to operational problems and to give a fairer advantage to the riders making the correct choice, the following changes have been proposed – effective from the Italian GP:

Riders changing bikes before the Warm Up Lap:

If a rider doesn’t go to the grid or leaves the grid to the Pit Lane and changes tyre type (dry/wet):

The rider will start the Warm Up Lap from Pit Lane, start the Race from his Qualifying Grid Position, and serve a Ride Through penalty during the race.

This means the rider can still change bike (eg. for a technical problem), and exit on the same type of tyres and not get a Ride Through penalty. Only the current penalty would apply: Back of the Grid Start.

In this way it is not necessary to position many riders in new grid positions, thus avoiding a Start Delay.

Riders changing bikes after the Warm Up Lap:

If a rider enters the Pit Lane after the Warm Up Lap and changes type of tyres (dry/wet):

The rider will start the Race from Pit Lane and serve a Ride Through penalty during the race.

This means the rider can still change bike (eg. for a technical problem), and exit on the same type of tyres and not get a Ride Through penalty. Only the current penalty would apply: Race Start from Pit Lane.

Mass Pit Lane Start:

As agreed with the riders, it is not safe for more than 10 riders to start the race from Pit Lane.

In the case of more than 10 riders lining up at Pit Lane Exit for the Race Start, the race will be Red Flagged and a new start procedure will take place (Quick Start).

If less than 10 riders are starting the race from the Pit Lane, they will follow the procedure set out in the 'Pit Lane Exit Protocol'. In effect, this states that riders arriving at the pit lane exit will be directed to line up in single file in the order that they arrive, and may not overtake until the dotted line. Modifications will be made at circuits where the pit boxes are too close to the Pit Lane start light.

Currently, MotoGP riders can change bikes during the race in changing weather conditions, and such a change involves riding through pit lane. These regulation changes are designed to ensure the same disadvantage (ride through) to riders who leave their grid place to change tyres, compared to those riders who make this change during the race. In addition, grid positions stay the same and race starts from Pit Lane are largely avoided – increasing safety.

A rider still has the opportunity to switch bikes without any penalty after seeing the track conditions during the first Sighting Lap, because the Pit Lane is open for 5 minutes.

These regulations only impact very rare situations such as that of the Argentina GP, where there is a wet track which is drying. In the opposite scenario when a dry track is getting wet, Race Direction will invoke the 'Rain on Grid' Procedure, giving everyone time to change bikes and settings for safety reasons.

Modifications to the Rain On Grid Procedure:

The 'Rain on Grid' regulations have also been amended, requiring a Quick Restart procedure on all occasions (in the MotoGP class only). The 'Rain on Grid' regulations have also been amended so that the 'Start Delayed Board' will now be replaced by the 'Rain on Grid Procedure' board.

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Andrea Dovizioso To Stay With Ducati For Two More Years

It had long been expected, but it is finally confirmed. The official Ducati Motor Twitter account just confirmed that Ducati have signed a new contract with Andrea Dovizioso for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Dovizioso is to speak to the media about the contract at 5pm on Friday, after which point a press release will be released. Dovizioso becomes the thirteenth rider confirmed for next year.

The tweet announcing the signing is below:

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Aleix Espargaro Extends With Aprilia Through 2020

Aleix Espargaro is to remain with Aprilia for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Aprilia today announced they have extended Espargaro's contract for two more years. 

Espargaro's announcement is the second signing to come today, and brings the total of signed riders for next season and beyond up to eleven. For the full list, see the story on Alex Rins re-signing with Suzuki.

The Aprilia press release appears below:


ALEIX ESPARGARÓ WITH APRILIA IN THE NEXT TWO SEASONS
IMPORTANT CONFIRMATION FOR DEVELOPMENT OF THE APRILIA MOTOGP PROJECT
ALEIX: “MY MISSION IS TO TAKE THE RS-GP TO THE PODIUM”

On the eve of the GP of France in Le Mans, the most important news for Aprilia is actually a long-awaited confirmation: Aleix Espargaró will be astride the Aprilia RS-GP in the 2019 and 2020 seasons as well. This consolidates a technical and sport project in which Aleix has participated enthusiastically from the first tests on the Italian bike in November 2016.

Aleix's confirmation guarantees further continuity to the still young, but increasingly more solid Aprilia project in the premier motorcycle racing class, with the goal of capitalising on the hard work done since their return to MotoGP and achieving those results which, since the latter part of last season, have appeared to be close on several occasions. An expert, skilled and technically savvy rider, Espargaró is one of the fundamental components of a development path which goes beyond just the sport aspect for Aprilia and the entire Piaggio Group. This is a path that aims to create a range of innovative products on the cutting-edge of technology and performance, worthy of the history and tradition of a brand like Aprilia.

ALEIX ESPARGARO'

"I am very happy to stay with Aprilia for another two years. For the first time in my career, I am able to have stability and this is important to improve and grow together. I have a sole objective, an obsession and that is to take the RS-GP to the podium. I wish to thank Aprilia and my entire team. We will continue working at 100% through 2020."

ROMANO ALBESIANO - APRILIA RACING MANAGER

"This renewal is first and foremost acknowledgement of Aleix's qualities. He is a fast rider and an exemplary professional. From the time he arrived, he has brought passion and motivation to the garage with a positive effect on the entire team. His contribution to the growth of the RS-GP is undeniable and I am certain that the next two years will allow us to achieve important results and above all that they will bring us back to involving, thrilling and inspiring young people and the many fans that Aprilia has all over the world The signs are there, so giving the technical project continuity with a rider who knows the team and bike well lets us plan development in the best possible way with an eye to the future."

Aleix Espargarò - Spain - #41

Born in Granollers, Spain on 30 July, 1989. Spanish 125 champion in 2004, after a series of placements in the 125 and 250 classes, he made a name for himself in 2012 as the best rider astride a CRT (the ART developed by Aprilia Racing) in the Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing premier class, a result that he repeated the following year. Overall, in MotoGP, Aleix Espargarò has taken two pole positions and a podium finish, as well as seventh place in the rider standings as his best position at the end of the championship season.

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Alex Rins To Stay With Suzuki For Two More Seasons

Alex Rins has signed a new contract with the factory Suzuki Ecstar team for 2019 and 2020. The young Spaniard will stay with the team for two more seasons, as he continues to show the growth expected of him after a difficult rookie season marred by injury. Rins is now the twelfth rider to be confirmed for the 2019 season, and leaves one less factory seat to fill.

The re-signing of Rins had been widely expected. The Spaniard had spoken at Austin of positive progress being made, and the final details were hammered out at Jerez. Rins' first podium in MotoGP helped, taking third place in Argentina, but the fact that he has crashed out of the other three races held so far is a concern. Yet he has consistently shown he has the pace to compete at the front.

With Rins signed, Suzuki will now switch their attention to the second seat. It looks like a decision on who will ride the second Suzuki may yet take some time. Jorge Lorenzo is believed to be the prime contender for the seat, but the five time world champion wants to prove he can be competitive on the Ducati before making a decision. Andrea Iannone's improved form has also complicated matters, the Italian having made a big step forward in 2018. If Dani Pedrosa is available, as expected, then Pedrosa, too, could be an interesting prospect at Suzuki.

With Rins signed, there are now twelve riders with contracts for next year, though all of the factory contracts expire at the end of 2020, setting up another potentially explosive silly season:

  • Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales will stay at Yamaha through 2020;
  • Marc Marquez will remain at Repsol Honda through 2020;
  • Alex Rins will stay a Suzuki rider through 2020;
  • Johann Zarco has signed for KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, while Pol Espargaro has extended his contract for two more years;
  • Miguel Oliveira will join the Tech3 team, who are switching to KTM for 2019;
  • Pecco Bagnaia will move up to the Pramac Ducati for 2019 and 2020;
  • Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, and Xavier Simeon all have one more year on the current contracts, and will stay where they are for 2019.

Below is the press release from Suzuki announcing they have signed Rins to a new contract:


RINS TO RACE WITH TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR FOR TWO MORE YEARS

Team Suzuki Press Office – May 17, 10:00hrs CET

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR and Alex Rins are happy to announce an agreement which will see the young Spaniard race with the Suzuki GSX-RR for the 2019 and 2020 MotoGP seasons. This two-year extension comes as confirmation of the strong relationship between the rider and the team, as well as acknowledging the consistent improvement of the positive feeling between the rider and the machine.

Alex Rins arrived at Suzuki in 2017, marking his debut in the MotoGP class. Despite a tough start to the season, where he was severely affected by injury, he was able to properly begin his ‘MotoGP adventure’ around the mid-season mark. He demonstrated consistent improvements in his performances and reported an increasingly good feeling with the bike. The partnership then continued into 2018, with Alex showing fast pace and strong performances in the winter test, followed shortly by the success of his first podium in MotoGP; at the Argentina GP this year where he took 3rd place.

Shinichi Sahara – Project Leader

“The renewal of Alex’s contract is a source of great pride for us, especially as we always hoped it to be a project which would last for a long period of time. We started this adventure with him last year with the objective of not only seeing him grow as MotoGP rider, but also to grow and develop ourselves alongside him. I believe that the journey to success is a process that must be advanced step by step, taking the proper time, learning from the mistakes and taking advantage of the successes. Both Alex and his crew, together with all the Suzuki team, have made outstanding progress in this sense, and this is the reason why we’re very happy to have the chance to build up this project for two more years.”

Davide Brivio – Team Manager

“I’m very happy that we have been able to finalise the renewal of Alex’s contract for the 2019 and 2020 MotoGP seasons. Alex is growing and improving fast, and knowing that we will have a long time together allows everybody to concentrate and work even harder to achieve important results with him. I’m glad that Alex was happy to stay with us, and I want to thank Alex’s crew and everyone in the Team, as well as all the staff in Japan for creating a nice environment where he feels he can continue to work well and grow. Now let’s carry on doing a great job with this exciting project together."

Alex Rins

“I’m very happy about this contract renewal. Even when I was still in Moto2, and I was planning to move to MotoGP, it was always the Suzuki project which looked brightest and most interesting in my eyes. My debut last year was complicated; there was my back injury in the 2016 Valencia test, then the ankle injury while training, and finally the arm injury in Austin. So after only two races we had already been through a very tough time, but I always felt the affection and support of Suzuki and the whole Team. We were able to turn the situation around through being patient, working hard, and being consistent, and finally this year we got the first podium together with my third place in Argentina. But no matter the results, whether good or bad, the mood in the box has always been positive. The project that the Team have set up for me is fantastic, I can fully trust the capabilities of the Company and the Team when it comes to development and improvement, and I’m sure we can continue to aim for big results. Now we only have to keep on working hard to see just how far we can go…”

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Nicky Hayden Tribute Exhibition Opened At Imola

Mirco Lazzari unveiled an exhibition of 69 photographs to remember Nicky Hayden at the Imola WorldSBK round

Mirco Lazzari at the Nicky Hayden exhbition

An exhibition of Nicky Hayden photographs by the Italian photographer Mirco Lazzari opened during the Imola WorldSBK round, aptly named A Million Dollar Smile. With 69 photographs depicting the American's international career, it provided a reminder to fans of what made the Kentucky Kid so popular.

For Lazzari, the challenge of finding the correct pictures was a trying time, with weeks spent to ensure he struck the right chord as the first anniversary of Hayden's death approaches.

“I wanted to create an exhibition for Nicky, and it was very emotional because Nicky was a rider that gave all of us a lot of emotions,” said Lazzari. “He meant a lot to so many fans and to the sport, so I wanted to do this exhibition because he is missed by so many people. There are 69 pictures and it was very difficult to cut the list down to the chosen pictures! I had originally planned on having 25 or 30 pictures, but when it was said to do 69 it felt right. It's difficult to find so many pictures, but I had a lot of help to choose the correct ones and these 69 pictures are all very special to me. I started working in MotoGP in 2002, and was at almost every race of Nicky's MotoGP career – I only missed some races due to a motorcycle accident one year.”

The exhibition came about as a result of the close collaboration between Lazzari, Nikon Italia and the Imola circuit, and it will remain open until June 10th. For Lazzari, this was one of the most difficult exhibitions of his career due to the pressure that he felt, as he wanted to showcase Hayden's sense of humor as much as his racing prowess.

“Every exhibition is emotional for me because you have to work so hard, but this one was the most difficult for me. It's not just about finding nice photos for this exhibition, it's the emotion that you feel for a person like Nicky. As I went through the pictures, the moment of taking each one came to my mind. I hope that everyone can understand that this exhibition is about Nicky and not about me. I'm very lucky to have been able to do this, and the comments from the people means so much to me.”

The sense of responsibility wasn’t lost on Lazzari, the Italian has attended almost every MotoGP race for the last 16 years and has worked in motorsports for over two decades.

“I love motorsport and even though I worked in Formula 1 before this, I've always loved motorcycles because the photographs can be so special. The ambiance in MotoGP is more in line with my personality, and for this reason I have always loved to work in motorcycle paddocks - the bikes and riders are unbelievable for a photographer. In this exhibition the bike is important, but not as important as the person. I much prefer to take an artistic picture rather than just to shoot the race, the photograph should show the emotions that you have for the sport.”

This is just one of many tributes to a rider that meant so much to so many. The Nicky Hayden memorial garden in Misano is set to be opened on the anniversary of his passing, and Hayden's hometown of Owensboro will unveil a statue of its famous son on June 9th (6/9) and declare the day Nicky Hayden Day for the #69.

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Miguel Oliveira To Move Up To MotoGP In 2019 With Tech3

It has been a big weekend of news for KTM at Jerez. First, there was Pol Espargaro extending his contract. Then the factory KTM team announced they had signed Johann Zarco. And now, the first seat at the KTM Tech3 team has been filled, with Miguel Oliveira moving up to MotoGP for 2019.

The Portuguese rider had been widely expected to make the move. Oliveira has progressed all the way through the KTM Red Bull project, from Moto3 to Moto2 and now up to MotoGP. He has been a consistent challenger in both Moto3 and Moto2, and has led KTM's charge in the Moto2 class, winning three races on the bike last year and finishing on the podium for the past two races.

Who the second rider at Tech3 will be is yet to be determined. Bradley Smith is determined to earn a seat back at Tech3, but will need to have a very strong season if he is to earn a place in the team. Oliveira's Moto2 teammate Brad Binder is another option, but he is yet to make a decision on his future, and he has been outperformed by Oliveira so far. But current Tech3 rider Hafizh Syahrin is probably the favorite to keep the ride, the Malaysian rider enjoying strong support from the Sepang International Circuit.

The press release from KTM appears below:


Miguel Oliveira signs for 2019 MotoGP chance with KTM Tech3

MotoGP Announcement

Miguel Oliveira will be the first Grand Prix star to come through the entire Red Bull KTM MotoGP system after inking a contract to represent the brand in the premier class for the 2019 season. The Portuguese will ride for the Tech3 team after enjoying success in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, Moto3 and is currently fighting for spoils in the Moto2 division.

Miguel Oliveira: “It is very early in the season but I am really happy that KTM have seen enough from this year and the last to trust me and believe I deserve this opportunity in MotoGP. I’m really thankful for that. I’ve always dreamed of MotoGP. I had it as a goal and to be able to achieve that is something so positive. We still have a long Moto2 season ahead and the fact that this is already done allows me to relax and really focus on my riding. I have been through all the steps that Red Bull and KTM have together since the Rookies Cup; I believe I’m the first. I think that shows other riders can trust in KTM and their project. I think I have the skills and the will to be able to perform well on a MotoGP bike.”

Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsports Director): “This is an emotional step for us because it proves all what we have said about building a structure in this paddock and being able to come from the Red Bull Rookies Cup, go through the classes with us and end up in a MotoGP team. Together with Aki Ajo we created the Moto2 project to be the platform that develops riders for MotoGP and I have to thank Aki for this partnership because he is doing a great job with the riders; if they come out of his ‘school’ then they are ready for MotoGP and I’m happy we can give a chance to Miguel. At the same time I’m also pleased that he can trust us as the right partner to try and be a successful MotoGP rider. We already have a great line-up of talent and there is still one spot open. It feels great to know we can have Herve (Poncharal), Aki and Mike Leitner around the table to make our strategy in this paddock. Miguel has his goals for race wins, podiums and the title in Moto2 this year and he has our full support for that and then his MotoGP career will start in Valencia.”

23 year old Miguel Oliveira joined the Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto3 team in 2015 and clinched six wins and nine podium finishes. He immediately graduated to Moto2 and in 2017 again grasped nine trophies with three victories. He already has two rostrum appearances in 2018 on the KTM Moto2 machine in the intermediate category. Oliveira confirmed his MotoGP contract after the first day of the Gran Premio Red Bull de España at Jerez.

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Johann Zarco Signs Two-Year Deal With KTM

One of the biggest dominoes of the 2018 MotoGP Silly Season has just fallen into place. Today, KTM announced that they have signed Johann Zarco to a two-year contract for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

That Zarco would leave the Tech3 Yamaha squad had been widely anticipated, the only question being which factory team he would end up in. The Frenchman was an extremely hot property, after displaying blistering speed on the satellite Yamaha M1 in 2017. Zarco had offers from Suzuki, Repsol Honda, and KTM, though only Honda and KTM were in the frame for the Frenchman. Zarco and his management were still unhappy with the way Suzuki had treated the Frenchman after the Japanese factory failed to honor a pre-contract Zarco had signed ahead of the 2017 season, choosing Alex Rins instead.

That left Repsol Honda or KTM, and the choice between trying to beat Marc Marquez on a bike designed for Marc Marquez, or an opportunity to help develop the KTM into a weapon capable of beating the reigning champion. Zarco came down on the side of the challenge. This choice is a risk, of course. After making astonishing progress in its first year, the KTM RC16 has gotten stuck just outside the top ten. For Zarco to challenge, the bike will have  to make a further step before the end of the year.

Zarco will line up alongside Pol Espargaro, whose contract extension was announced on Wednesday. This leaves Bradley Smith out of a ride for the moment, and could have a negative effect on development. The incentive for Smith is now to go for results above everything, in an all out attempt to beat his teammate, as that is the way he will secure a ride for 2019. Previously, Smith has focused very keenly - too much, as far as management is concerned sometimes - on development, and improving the bike. Development will now switch to Mika Kallio and Pol Espargaro, while Smith will want to get on with racing.

The official press release appears below:


Johann Zarco joins Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 2019 with two year MotoGP agreement

MotoGP Announcement

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will welcome the very first Red Bull Rookies Cup winner and current MotoGP star, Johann Zarco, onto the works KTM RC16 for the 2019 and 2020 FIM World Championship seasons.

KTM’s READY TO RACE philosophy often means the creation of some special stories from the field of competition. The signature of 27 year old MotoGP sensation and double Moto2 World Champion (the most successful French rider in the history of Grand Prix racing) Johann Zarco for the next two years fills a standout narrative.

The Cannes-born athlete will return to KTM and the brand with which he made his first impression in the world of motorcycle racing when he claimed the 2007 Red Bull Rookies Cup; the KTM-supported series designed to filter the best young talent through to the world stage.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing is thrilled to be able to bring Johann back to Orange. He will partner Pol Espargaro on the KTM RC16 for the next two years.

Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsports Director): “There has always been a good contact with Johann and since the Red Bull Rookies Cup. We supported the Moto2 project through WP and our Moto3 Team Manager Aki Ajo is a good friend of him. We also have a nice connection with his manager Laurent Fellon. It was a group effort to get this done. We had to trust in our capability to build a winning bike and Johann would not come over if he did not see and feel that trust. We feel very responsible now to get that package strong enough so that he can continue on the level where he is. It is our big target."

“It is clear that we want to take another step in MotoGP. The first two years were about building up the project and to get everything running. You always want to get the best possible riders on board and it’s obvious with Johann beating the factory guys on satellite machinery and consistently qualifying on the front row means he is a strong fighter with a strong sprit. I’m convinced we can reach the next level with a rider like Johann with us.”

Zarco went on to win and grasp podium success in 125cc (now Moto3) Grands Prix and 15 victories in the Moto2 class where he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Red Bull KTM Ajo Team Manager Aki Ajo and WP Suspension technology on the way to his two world championships. Since coming into the MotoGP category in 2017 – where he gained the accolade of Best Rookie – Zarco has thrilled audiences with his speed, racecraft and attacking prowess. With 4 trophies and 3 Pole Positions his he has regularly upstaged rivals on factory machinery. His ability and potential marked his name as one of the most sought after for the coming seasons in MotoGP.

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Pol Espargaro Renews With KTM For 2 More Years - New Round Of Silly Season Signings Imminent?

With the MotoGP paddock back in Europe and heading to Jerez, the first round of contract announcements is upon us, with the second wave not far behind. First domino to fall for the moment is Pol Espargaro, who will be staying at KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Ahead of his first home Grand Prix of 2018, KTM today officially announced they will be retaining the services of the Spaniard for the next two years.

Espargaro's signing had been broadly expected. The Spaniard has outperformed his teammate Bradley Smith, and with the Austrian factory's MotoGP project moving from the development phase to the point where they need to start producing results, Espargaro has been favored over Smith. 

Espargaro's contract may not be the only rider signing to be announced in Jerez. It now seems certain that Johann Zarco will be joining Espargaro in the factory KTM team, and the announcement could come as early as this weekend. Zarco also had an offer from HRC to partner Marc Marquez in the Repsol Honda team, but the Frenchman is believed to have preferred to try to beat Marquez on different machinery, rather than face him on the bike developed around him. The logical place to announce Zarco's signing would be Le Mans, but it may not be possible to sit on the news for that long, as the MotoGP grapevine cannot keep secrets for that long.

Jerez is likely to be a very busy weekend for rider managers. UK publication MCN is reporting that the deal between Suzuki and Jorge Lorenzo is as good as done, despite the financial obstacles such a deal faced. As Lorenzo also faced a drop in salary at Ducati, if he had chosen to remain there, he may have decided to jump to a bike that suits his style better, and which he may believe he will be capable of winning on straight away, without having to work so hard to adjust his riding style to. 

Whether that deal gets done or not at Jerez, the Spanish circuit will be a busy weekend for Suzuki. The factory's top brass will be flying in to Jerez for talks with the Marc VDS team about becoming a Suzuki satellite team for the next three years. Marc VDS as Suzuki satellite squad would help, not just with development - it is likely that Suzuki would be providing bikes of almost identical spec to the factory bikes to the team - but also as a conduit for talent. Franco Morbidelli is a hot property in MotoGP, and having the young Italian on the Suzuki would offer the Japanese factory a way to deepen their talent pool. It would also allow Joan Mir to step up to MotoGP in 2019. A deal with Suzuki will have to be signed at Jerez, to allow Marc VDS to be able to prepare in time for next year.

Other contracts to be discussed at Jerez include Andrea Dovizioso, who is still in talks with Ducati and will sign with them again at some point, with only the details to be left out. With Lorenzo likely to leave Ducati, the second seat in the Italian factory is open. Nominally, Danilo Petrucci has an option for that seat should it become available, but the option for that lies with Ducati, rather than Petrucci. Ducati could choose to put Pecco Bagnaia straight into the factory squad alongside Dovizioso, rather than putting him into the Pramac team first. Or they could look at some of the displaced riders, such as Dani Pedrosa - who is certain to lose his Repsol Honda seat - or Andrea Iannone. Having Iannone back would be a stretch, however: the Italian was not a good fit with Dovizioso when the pair were racing together, and with Dovizioso performing as he is, Ducati may not want to risk ruining the atmosphere.

There is still a lot of ground to cover before all of the contracts are signed for 2019 and MotoGP's Silly Season is in the books. Yamaha have to find a team to run satellite Yamahas, and once again, MCN added an interesting wrinkle to this story, Simon Patterson reporting that the Sepang International Circuit is looking to collaborate with an existing team in MotoGP, to keep Malaysian rookie Hafizh Syahrin in the premier class. This tallies with what circuit boss Razlan Razali told Crash.net's Peter McLaren earlier this year, where he mentioned the possibility almost as a joke. The meeting rooms in team trucks will be fully occupied this weekend at Jerez.

The KTM press release announcing Pol Espargaro's contract extension appears below:


Pol Espargaro renews Red Bull KTM Factory Racing contract till 2020

MotoGP Announcement

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are delighted to confirm that Pol Espargaro has signed a two year extension to his current contract to remain part of the works team for the 2019 and 2020 MotoGP seasons.

Pol Espargaro was one of the first recruits for KTM’s comprehensive and dedicated effort to fight with the very best teams and factories at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. The new agreement will take the Spaniard into four years representing the Austrian brand as the company eyes considerable expansion in MotoGP from 2019 onwards.

Espargaro: “It has been really easy for me to make this decision; I did not think of another possibility for even a minute. I cannot hide how happy I am being involved in this amazing project, despite the challenges and the work we still have to go through. I love the KTM philosophy and I want to continue trying to reach our goals. I don’t know when we will be able to do it, but I’m sure that we will arrive. I have to thank my whole crew for how they push and how they support me, with the leadership of my crew chief Paul Trevathan, and for sure Mike Leitner and Pit Beirer for how they strive every day. And, of course, all the people that work at the races and back at Munderfing. We are a team with an ambitious aim. I’m enjoying my best moments in the MotoGP championship, and I’m really happy to know that I’m going to continue here at least until 2020”.

Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsports Director): “Pol has been such a strong part of our project and gave us a lot of trust and belief as well as the highlights so far with two ninth positions. I’m really happy we can continue together for another two years because we can build on the work we have already done and keep progressing with the bike; he should definitely be one of the people that should benefit from everything we have achieve and learned and how we will push on in the future.”

The 26 year old, born in Granollers and in the shadow of the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya, is negotiating his fifth term in the premier class since claiming the Moto2 title in 2013. #44 has been the strongest performer on the KTM RC16 with four top ten finishes in MotoGP despite the project clocking only 21 events as a full-time member of the Grand Prix grid in the run-up to this weekend’s Gran Premio Red Bull de España at Jerez.

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Two-Day Private WorldSBK Test Concludes At Brno

A few days after a couple of entertaining races at Assen, a part of the WorldSBK paddock was back in action, this time at a private two-day test at the Brno circuit, which is set to return to the World Superbike calendar after an absence of five years. The weather was not entirely cooperative - a warm Wednesday was followed by a much cooler and overcast Thursday - but the teams present all managed to get important work done. 

At the test were the factory Aruba.it Ducati team, along with Barni Racing's Xavi Fores. The official Yamaha WorldSBK and WorldSSP teams were there, as was Randy Krummenacher on the Bardahl Even Bros Yamaha R6. The official KRT Kawasakis were also present, as was Triple M Racing's PJ Jacobsen on the Honda CBR1000RR. The Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team were not in Brno, having already had two days of private testing in Assen before the Aragon round.

While finding the right setup for the upcoming race was important, there was real work to do on testing bike geometry and finding the right base setup. The biggest issue for the Aruba.it Ducati team was finding some stability in the bike, especially for Marco Melandri, whose Ducati Panigale has had a horrific case of the headshakes all season. In a press release after the test, Melandri pronounced himself very happy with the test, the Italian saying that they had taken big steps forward to eliminating the stability they had suffered. That had been helped in part by the use of a swingarm being raced in the BSB championship by Shane Byrne and by Michael Ruben Rinaldi at the Assen WorldSBK round, according to Greg Haines writing for MCN

The Pata Yamaha riders worked on finding a base setup for the Yamaha R1, with Alex Lowes being especially happy with a new fork setting which helped him in trail braking. The KRT Kawasaki riders worked on geometry and bike balance, looking for a better base setting for the Kawasaki ZX-10R. No times were released, either officially or unofficially after the test. 

The WorldSBK riders have now all headed home to prepare for the next round of the series at Imola in Italy in two weeks' time. They will return to Brno for the Czech round of WorldSBK on the weekend of the 10th June.

Below are the press releases from the WorldSBK teams after the test:


Strong Two-Day Test Wraps Up Busy Period for Pata Yamaha

Fresh from Round 4 of the 2018 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship, the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team completed a successful two-day private test at Brno ahead of the race weekend at the track in June. Both Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes were in action on Wednesday and Thursday, as they focused on finding a good setup with their Pata Yamaha R1s around the 5.403km Brno Circuit, completing 346 laps between them.

The Pata Yamaha team brought the weather with them from Assen, as the first day of the test was conducted in sunny and hot conditions. Day two saw much colder temperatures and some light rain at points but the cooler conditions led to an improvement in lap times around Brno as grip levels increased.

Van der Mark wowed the fans at his home round in Assen with a double podium, finishing second in Race 1 and then crossing the line third in Race 2. The 36 points he collected saw him jump up to fourth in the WorldSBK Championship standings with 103 points and the 25-year-old Dutch rider is keen to continue the form that has seen him on the podium three times at the last three rounds. With this in mind, he used the two-day private test to find a good base setup with his Pata Yamaha R1 and work on his feeling with the electronics around the Brno circuit, that will feature on the WorldSBK Calendar for the first time since 2012. Completing 95 laps on Wednesday the 2014 WorldSSP Champion managed to get through 80 on Thursday to make it a total of 175 laps over the two days, and he now heads to Imola full of confidence.

Lowes wanted to bounce back from a tough weekend in Assen and the Brno test gave him a chance to do just that. Determined to be back fighting for the podium in Imola, the 27-year-old British rider worked hard with his team over the two-days to find a good chassis setting with his Pata Yamaha R1 in an effort to improve his grip levels. He managed 88 laps on Wednesday and a further 83 on Thursday to get through a workload of 171 laps in total, as he, like his teammate, worked on his setup for the Brno race weekend and assessed some new suspension components. Lowes was happy with the work done and is now looking forward to putting it into practice at the next round in Imola.

After back-to-back races and this private test, the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team return to action at Round 5 of the 2018 WorldSBK Championship in Imola on the 11th-13th of May.

Michael van der Mark - Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team

'It has been a really positive test! On the first day, the temperature was really high and so we gathered some really good data about the grip levels in those conditions. We also had a chance to get used to the track and find a good base setup with my Yamaha R1, including the gearing for the bike, so I was quite happy with day one. Day two was a lot colder and it was good to get to test in those conditions as when the track was cooler we had a lot more grip. Today we tested many things with the electronics and chassis and it all seemed to work, so I am happy with what we have done at this test. The team have been working really hard for the last three weeks, so they deserve some rest and we will be ready for Imola!"

Alex Lowes - Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team

"It was a good test! The second day was really good, we made some steps with the bike, especially with the front forks. It gave me a lot more confidence when trail braking into a corner. The conditions were a bit colder, so the lap times were a bit better anyway, but we made quite a big chunk. We did another race simulation today and it felt good, so it is all positive. We still need to work a little bit on mid-corner feel and corner exit but overall, it was quite a good test. The weather was a bit hit and miss with the wind and rain but we still managed to get quite a bit done, so we are happy!"


Mid-Season Test Success For KRT

KRT’s WorldSBK riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes completed a two-day test at Brno in the Czech Republic, from 25th to 26th April, just a few days after each had earned a race win apiece at the fourth round of the championship in the Netherlands.

Both Ninja ZX-10RR riders and the entire official Kawasaki effort arrived in Brno in confident mood after their recent successes at Assen. Rea extended his championship lead last weekend and Sykes climbed up the championship table to fifth after eight individual points scoring races completed so far.

This Brno test, run alongside some of their main championship rivals, was important for several reasons, including the fact that Brno has not been used as an FIM Superbike World Championship venue since 2012. It was also the culmination of a busy period for KRT, with race meetings in Spain and the Netherlands on consecutive weekends, and now another full-on test at a returning WorldSBK venue.

Rea and his crew used their two days at Brno to match his optimum riding style even more closely to a machine that has already delivered three race wins to him in 2018.

Sykes, who won his first race of the year in the second race at Assen, tried some more fundamental set-up options than most and found another positive path to follow for the rest of the season.

The Brno WorldSBK weekend is expected to be held in even warmer conditions than this test enjoyed, as race days will take place on 9th and 10th of June.

After the completion of two days on track at Brno, Kawasaki’s official team will return to competitive action at Imola, in Italy, with racedays on 12th and 13th of May.

Jonathan Rea, stated: “It’s been really positive to test in Brno especially because we haven’t raced here since 2012. It’s one of my favourite circuits so it was easy to keep my motivation high after these busy few weeks. The weather has been quite different on both days so it was good to understand how the bike behaves in both hot and cool conditions. Without the pressure of the race weekend we were able to work calmly each day and explore some different setup and chassis balance ideas. Each time we changed the bike we had some positive and some less positive feelings, so we will keep working on that side of things. I want to thank all the Kawasaki Racing staff and Hospitality crew who have been working full gas these past three weeks. Also a special shout out to my mechanics, because I kept them really busy making a lot of changes.”

Tom Sykes, stated: “Overall, a good test. Lots of laps and plenty of small tweaks to the bike, so we found out a lot of good information. I left with a good feeling overall with the feedback from the bike. With it being a proper test we had some key things to try and never got down to the nitty-gritty of finding pure set-up for this racetrack. It was more about fine tuning the bike’s characteristics. The last round at Assen was fantastic and I felt really comfortable, so hopefully we have found some things in small areas that can help me in each race from now on. We found a happy medium between two or three set-up changes, so these helped me in the area I needed improve and we did not lose too much in the areas where we were already good.”

Pere Riba, Crew Chief for Jonathan Rea, stated: “We had warmer weather on day one as today the test conditions were cooler. This was useful for us, as it was important to see how the tyres and bike work in different conditions. We tried to work for the best set-up and preparation for the June race here in Brno, after many years not racing at this circuit and also improve the general feeling from the bike. Jonathan has requested a smooth-feeling bike, with no aggressive reactions, so we worked on parts that would affect the balance. It has been a positive test and we are still making steps forward. We left here with a starting point for the race at Brno and also trying to improve some of the weak points from the first three or four races. Jonathan was first and then second in Assen recently but we are always looking to improve the bike and the feeling of the rider with the bike.”

Marcel Duinker, Crew Chief for Tom Sykes stated: “We had a nice test and after Assen I was very optimistic. Of course, we had found a good base setting already this season. We are very happy about the bike settings and our performance here. The target of this test was to familiarise ourselves with this track layout again, and to test some new items in the suspension set-up, which were very promising, and some other small items. We did not do so much work just for this track as our bike set-up works well at each track we have been to. So we worked in the areas we needed to make a general improvement in and Tom is happy.”


The Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team concludes a two-day private test at Brno

After two consecutive rounds with the WorldSBK Championship, at Aragon (Spain) and Assen (Netherlands) respectively, the Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team paid a visit to the Brno Circuit (Czech Republic) for a two-day private test. With some chassis and electronics upgrades, Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri took advantage of the time on track, interrupted by some rain showers, to prepare the June race on the Czech track (which returns to the WorldSBK calendar after a five-year absence) as well as the upcoming "home round" of Imola.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi also had a first chance to get acquainted with the Brno track on the Panigale R of the Aruba.it Racing - Junior Team. The Aruba.it Racing - Ducati team and the Aruba.it Racing - Junior Team will resume action at Imola for the fifth round of the WorldSBK Championship, scheduled for May 11-13.

Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati #7)

"It's been a steady test. We leave Brno with some room for improvement but, then again, racing is always a different game compared to testing. It's always nice to ride there, even though it's been windy and with a lot of pollen in the air so the track wasn't in fantastic conditions. We worked hard for two days, gathering solid answers even though we still need to clear a few question marks. Now it's time to recharge ahead of Imola."

Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati #33)

"It was a really important test. The goal, more even than to prepare the race here, was to improve stability on the straight. We took a decisive turn and the situation has improved significantly. We ran several back-to-back checks to better understand the nature of the problem, and I think we achieved our goal. Perhaps not 100 percent, but we took a big step forward. Now we head to Imola: I'm confident and sure I'll be able to fight, with even more determination."

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing - Junior Team #21)

"We're pretty satisfied in general with the outcome of this test. In terms of performance, I've been quite close to the factory riders and we found a good base both in terms of pure speed and consistency. The track is fascinating and not too demanding physically. It's really fun to ride it with a Superbike".


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Dani Pedrosa Set For Surgery On Right Wrist

Dani Pedrosa has suffered a fractured wrist in his lap one crash at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina on Sunday. Although there has not yet been official confirmation from Honda, well-informed Spanish media are reporting that Pedrosa is to undergo surgery today in Barcelona to fix the fracture in his right radius.

Pedrosa's crash was the subject of some controversy. The Repsol Honda rider crashed after being forced wide at Turn 13 by Johann Zarco, who had taken the inside line. Pedrosa was pushed out through a damp line onto a dirty section of track. When Pedrosa touched the gas, he highsided off the bike, falling heavily on his arm. Race Direction ruled it a racing incident, taking no action against Zarco for his involvement. 

Initially, it looked as if Pedrosa had escaped the crash unharmed, though he complained of pain in his right wrist. Further examinations have now revealed a fracture to the right radius bone.

At this moment, it is unclear how long Pedrosa's recovery will take, and how many races he will be forced to miss, if any. Honda currently has two former Grand Prix riders lined up as test riders, Hiroshi Aoyama and Stefan Bradl. If Pedrosa has to miss one or more races, either of those two could be drafted in to take his place.

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