As I will be writing my MotoGP travel guides in the same order as the calendar, I will start it in the same place that MotoGP kicks off every year: in Qatar. Why does it start in the middle of the desert so very far away from the vast bulk of MotoGP fans? The answer is simple: money. Qatar pays a lot of money to be the first race of the MotoGP season (and the last race of the WorldSBK season). So if you want to see the MotoGP season opener, you have to travel out to a sandy peninsula in the Persian Gulf.
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Where is it?
The Losail International Circuit is located some 30 kilometers north of the center of Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is situated just off the Al Khor Coastal Road. It is clearly visible from the plane when you fly into Doha, and visible as you drive to the track because of the floodlight system, which appears after the bulbous blue-and-white Lusail Multipurpose Hall, a sports facility.
With the first MotoGP test in Sepang less than two weeks away, the factories are preparing by launching their bikes and introducing their liveries. So far, only two factories - Ducati and Yamaha - have announced dates, but more should follow soon.
First up is Ducati, who are launching their 2018 MotoGP campaign in the factory headquarters in Bologna, as they have done for the past five years. The launch starts at 10:30am CET on Monday, 15th January. It will be streamed live via internet, and you can find a link to the presentation on Ducati's Youtube channel. The link will also allow you to set a reminder.
Andrew Irwin will jump from the British Supersport championship to the world stage in 2018. It's a step into the unknown for the Northern Irishman, but he's latest in a long line of talent
“There's something in the water over there” was said a lot about Northern Ireland in 2017. Jonathan Rea headlined that success by romping to his third consecutive WorldSBK title, but with riders such as Keith Farmer, Andrew Irwin, and Alastair Seeley dominating British Supersport, there's a lot of depth. Irwin will be stepping onto the world stage this year and joining his compatriots Rea and Eugene Laverty in the WorldSBK paddock.
“I'm really excited about going into World Supersport. It's a complete unknown for me and it's a massive change coming from the British championship, where I've been racing for the past four years. I know the circuits and the paddock in Britain and now I'll be going to somewhere that it's all new. I'm going to be on the Honda with an established team [Simon Buckmaster's CIA Landlord Insurance – DE] that's shown they can do the job in World Supersport. Hopefully I can go and do the bike and the team justice.
After the departure of both Shuhei Nakamoto and Livio Suppo from HRC and the Repsol Honda team, Honda have announced that they will be making Alberto Puig Team Manager of the Repsol Honda team.
The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda. Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more. He went on to become Dani Pedrosa's personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.
But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces. Suppo approached the role of team management very much from a marketing perspective. Puig is much more of an ex-racer, and is much closer to the Japanese engineers than to the marketing and media side of the operation.
The 2018 season sees the start of airbags being made compulsory for all three MotoGP classes. All riders with a permanent entry in MotoGP, Moto2, or Moto3 will have to use an airbag in their leathers from the coming season onwards.
As someone who covers MotoGP, I get asked a lot of questions by fans. Most of those questions are about the racing itself, about why a particular rider did either well or poorly at a particular race, or why one manufacturer is performing better than another at a particular circuit, or any of a thousand other questions about riders, bikes, teams, and the series itself. I can answer most of the questions I am asked, some with more confidence than others, and usually find time to write about the questions I have been asked.
There is one class of question I don't get around to writing about, though. Again and again, I, like many other MotoGP regulars, am asked about which is the best race to attend, where to stay for a particular race, how to get to the track for a specific circuit, etc etc. Those are the kind of questions I don't get a chance to write about on the website, though I answer them on Twitter or Facebook regularly on an ad hoc basis.
So it's about time I rectified this situation. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on each race track currently on the MotoGP calendar. These articles will cover just about any question you may have about a particular track, and put you in a position to answer for yourself the question, "Which race should I go to?" I won't be telling you which race you should go to – tastes and preferences are different for everyone, and one person's Casey Stoner is another man's Valentino Rossi – but I hope that once you have read the articles, you will be able to decide for yourself which race you really want to go to, given the choice.
Suzuki’s MotoGP effort seemed to go backwards last year, so what must the factory do to close the gap to the front-runners?
Suzuki has a lot to do in 2018, mostly to erase the memory of a gloomy 2017. Any factory team fighting back from difficult times is under a lot of pressure; but probably none more so than Suzuki, where the factory management has never seemed that dedicated to Grand Prix racing. Unlike Honda and Yamaha, Suzuki has drifted in and out of the premier-class over the past few decades, so this year Andrea Iannone and Álex Rins need some good results to keep the Suzuki Motor Corporation signing off budgets.
Suzuki returned to MotoGP in 2015 after a three-year absence and scored its first-ever dry-weather MotoGP victory in 2016. The all-new GSX-RR was a superb motorcycle: rider-friendly, fine-handling; all it needed was more grunt and fully sorted electronics.
Valentino Rossi's Peter Pan-like ability to remain competitive through his late thirties leaves fans and paddock insiders alike wondering if and when the nine-time world champion will retire. The subject comes up every two years or so, when Rossi's contract (and that of others) comes up.
Though it looks for now as if Rossi will continue, who to replace him with is an interesting question. Should Yamaha go for a veteran to partner Maverick Viñales? Or should they pick young talent for the second seat, and allow them to develop?
Last year, I spoke to three different factory bosses about how they viewed the issue, and how they go about developing talent for their own factories. The interview with Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti was published last summer, but at the beginning of 2017, I spoke to Livio Suppo, then Repsol Honda team principal, about how his experiences of bringing on young talent, and the problem of finding a replacement for Valentino Rossi.
Having claimed an unprecedented third title in a row WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea looks back on an action packed year
Jonathan Rea wrapped up a third world title in 2017 and on the final day of winter testing the Northern Irishman sat down with the us to reveal all.
Having become the first rider in history to win three consecutive WorldSBK titles Rea was honored by the Queen mid-season and made an MBE. Receiving his award in London from Prince William would be the start of a whirlwind tour for the champion. From Jerez to London to Andorra for the FIM Gala, to Japan for Kawasaki duties, the off-season is busier than the WorldSBK season but Rea is grateful for everything he receives.
“It's been incredible and honestly I don't have words to describe how I feel,” said Rea. “It's amazing to be able to go to London and receive my MBE. It's something that I can't believe has happened and it's only starting to sink in what we've been able to achieve together. I was looking back this week and it feels like it's only recently that I was a kid with a dream and wanting to be in the world championship. To have the success of the last three years has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
Though the world of motorcycle racing slowed to a crawl over the holiday season, that does not mean that nothing happened whatsoever. Racing news trickled out from around the globe, as riders, teams, and factories made decisions, and racing collided with the real world. So here's a round up of some of the news stories you may have missed while we were away over the past couple of weeks.
Rossi's Ranch wins in the courts
The year started off with good news for Valentino Rossi. Ever since it was built, some local residents have complained about the noise and nuisance caused by Rossi's dirt track ranch, situated just east of his home village of Tavullia. A group of locals lodged formal complaints against the ranch with the Tavullia council, alleging several violations of local rules, such as missing documents including an environmental impact assessment, as well as complaints about excess noise and noise outside of normal operating hours.
Those complaints were dealt with by a regional court earlier this week, the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR) of the Marche region, where Tavullia is located. The court rejected the complaints, dismissing a part as having no grounds to proceed, a part as being inadmissible, and rejecting the remainder.
A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses. That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.
2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance; there are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3, ready to push aside the old guard; and new rules in WorldSBK may help to address the disparity between the championship front runners and those who pursue them.
Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:
Valentino Rossi’s chief engineer Silvano Galbusera explains what went wrong last year and what needs to go right this MotoGP season
Yamaha has a lot of work to do: the factory needs to win back the MotoGP world title and (for the sake of Dorna and millions of fans) build a bike good enough to keep Valentino Rossi racing for another season or two.
Achieving both those goals will keep Yamaha busier than any of the other factories, because it’s got to dig Rossi and Movistar team-mate Maverick Viñales out of a big hole. Last year was one of Yamaha’s worst MotoGP seasons, with just four wins from 18 races. But it wasn’t only last year that was bad. Since the start of MotoGP’s new technical era – different tyres and electronics – Yamaha’s win rate has slumped by more than 50 per cent. Indeed the factory won fewer races in 2016 and 2017 combined than it did in 2015 alone.
Though 2018 has begun, the Paddock Pass Podcast is still catching up with the tail end of 2017. In the latest episode, Steve English and David Emmett chat about how testing went before the winter break kicked in on 1st December.
2017 has been a strange year in motorcycle racing. We have had one of the best ever seasons of racing in MotoGP, with close finishes and a surprise title challenger. We have seen one of the best ever WorldSBK riders stamp his authority on the series, though that has also seen the championship suffer partly as a result. We have seen young talent come through in the support classes, and older talent recognized and appreciated. There has been much to celebrate.
But there has also been much to mourn. 2017 saw two of the most iconic names in motorcycle racing lose their lives, ironically, both in traffic accidents and not on motorcycles. Nicky Hayden was killed while out training on his bicycle, hit by a car as he crossed a road at a treacherous crossroads. Angel Nieto suffered head injuries when he was hit by a car while out riding a quad bike on Ibiza.
Nicky Hayden – great rider, great human
Though Nicky Hayden is not a candidate for the greatest rider of all time from a results perspective, his impact on the sport is undeniable. He may only have had three Grand Prix victories to his name, but the way the American won the 2006 MotoGP championship etched him indelibly into the memories of racing fans for all time. The emotional highs and lows of that season, the dedication and consistency he put into it made him a popular champion, despite beating Valentino Rossi, something Rossi's fans tend to regard as unforgivable.