While Steve English, Neil Morrison and David Emmett were in Barcelona to cover the Superprestigio indoor dirt track race, the three Paddock Pass Podcast regulars seized the opportunity to sit down for a look back at the 2016 MotoGP season. Sat in the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, we ran through our highs, lows and surprises of 2016.
Though the date has already clicked over to 2017, the world of motorcycle racing is still wreathed in silence. Riders train, factories develop, teams prepare. All of that is done in relative silence, little news of any significance emerging from workshops or factories.
To fill the void until the first of the team launches, when the season starts to ramp up in earnest, we have time to take a look back at 2016, and cast an eye over how the riders fared last season. So it is time to rate the riders' performance in 2016, and award them points out of ten for how they did last year.
We are in the midst of MotoGP’s winter testing ban but work never stops in race departments across the globe. This is what the big six have planned for 2017
The 2016 MotoGP championship was a season of technical transformation. There will be no big rules shake-up in 2017 but the factories are still hard at work getting to grips with last season’s changes.
Most factories describe their 2017 priorities thus: better turning and better corner-exit performance. In other words they are still getting their heads around the Michelins. In the Bridgestone era, the way to make a race-winning lap time was on corner entry; now the place to make a lap time is from mid-corner to the exit.
The New Year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing. Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017. That also leaves them free to post about the new season on social media again. Aleix Espargaro was so keen to do so that he posted right on the stroke of midnight.
If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.
1. Six factories
For the first time since 2004, MotoGP has six different manufacturers* competing again. Unlike 2004, however, the level at which those manufacturers are competing is much more equal. In 2004, only Yamaha and Honda won races, though Ducati were regular visitors to the podium, and would win more consistently in 2005 and 2006. In 2016, four different manufacturers won races in the dry – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati – and all four were consistent podium threats.
With the holiday season upon us, the world of motorcycle racing has entered its annual period of hibernation. There is very little going on in terms of MotoGP or WorldSBK, riders, teams, and factories all spending time with their families.
Top ten lists are by their very nature subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. From the moment the season started in Australia until the very end there was a great scrap for the title, with the fight going down to the wire in Qatar. But who was the best rider of 2016? This is the MotoMatters.com top ten riders of the 2016 WorldSBK season.
Reading motorsports websites all over Europe today, you would think it was Doomsday for motorcycle racing, and all forms of motorized sports. Even in as august a publication as The Times (of London, that is), the headlines warned of impending disaster:. "EU insurance rule ‘will destroy British motor sport’". Is the end nigh for motorsport in Britain?
The short answer is "No, but it's complicated". So where did these warnings that the sky is falling come from? On Wednesday, the MCIA (the Motorcycle Industry Association, the body representing the British bike industry), the ACU, and the AMCA (both representing motorcycle racing, on road and off road) issued a joint press release, warning that motorsport in the UK could come to an end due to a ruling by the European Court in Luxembourg.
The ruling stems from a judgment in the case of Vnuk v Triglav, case C-162/13 before the European Court of Justice, and known as the Vnuk judgment. The case involved a Slovenian farm worker, Damijan Vnuk, who was injured when he was knocked off a ladder by a tractor reversing with a trailer. Vnuk was working on a farm at the time, and sued for compensation from the motor vehicle insurance policy of the tractor. The lower Slovenian courts rejected his claims, but the Slovenian Supreme Court referred the case to the ECJ.
The second of our in-depth look at MotoGP rider aids explains how anti-wheelie works – a handy gadget when you’ve got 260 horsepower on tap
Why were winglets such a big deal during the 2016 MotoGP season? Because the anti-wheelie program in Dorna’s unified software is the weakest of all the rider aids, so the downforce created by the wings helped keep down the front wheel during acceleration.
The Grand Prix Commission has made a couple of minor changes to the MotoGP regulations for the 2017 season, and unlike many rule changes, at least one of them will be met with outright joy by most MotoGP fans.
The Superprestigio is supposed to be a bit of fun, a way to release a last burst of energy before the holidays start in earnest. They are not meant to be taken seriously, and the title of Superprestigio winner conveys little or nothing: no prize money, no FIM status, nothing more than a little bit of December glory in the depths of winter.
But of course, these are motorcycle racers we are dealing with here. There is no such thing as "racing for fun". Every opportunity to compete is grasped with both hands, their will to win battling with their fear of losing, pushing them to give their all at whatever they turn their hand to. The late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly summed up every professional athlete's attitude perfectly: "Football is not a matter of life and death... it's much more important than that." For football, substitute racing. Or cycling. Or even a game of Monopoly.
So it was no surprise to see the dejected look on Brad Baker's face after losing the Superfinal to Marc Márquez. It was an echo of the anger Márquez had felt at losing the first edition to Baker, though the Spaniard was a little better at hiding it, raging privately and out of sight of the press. Or most of them, anyway.
With most of the Paddock Pass Podcast crew gathered in Barcelona for the Superprestigio dirt track race, we used the opportunity to record a couple of shows. The first show covers the reason we were all in Barcelona in the first place: the fourth edition of the Barcelona Superprestigio, which featured another clash between MotoGP champion Marc Marquez and former AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National champion Brad Baker. This time, it was Marquez who came out on top, tying the series 2-2, and setting up a sequel for next year.
Marc Marquez has taken revenge at the event he helped to create, winning the 2016 edition of the Superprestigio in dominant style. The 2016 MotoGP champion had dominated the qualifying heats, and chose the inside gate to start from. Though he dropped behind the excellent French Supermoto champion Tom Chareyre off the line, he entered the first corner in good position, with AMA star Brad Baker tight on his tail. The pair quickly slid through to take the lead.
Qualifying for the Superprestigio at Barcelona saw Marc Marquez top the timesheets, both in the Superprestigio class and overall. The Spaniard posted a time 12.054 seconds on the 180 meter track. Former Moto2 champion and current MotoAmerica Yoshimura Suzuki rider Toni Elias was second fastest, just under a tenth of a second slower than Marquez, while Tech 3 rider Xavi Vierge was third quickest.
The final line up for Saturday night's Superprestigio indoor dirt track event, to be held at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, has been announced. As always, the big names at the event are reigning MotoGP champion Marc Marquez and former AMA Flat Track champion Brad Baker, with the event likely to see another run off in the Superfinal between the two.
Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success. Ajo explained how he goes about identifying talent in the first part of this two-part interview. In the second part, he gives more insight into the process of building a winning team.
Ajo talks about how he nearly ended up working with Romano Fenati in 2017, and some of the factors which prevented it. Ajo also explains why he believes Moto2 is the toughest category in motorcycle racing, and the daunting challenge stepping up to the intermediate category can be. The Finnish team manager also dives more deeply into the importance of a team, and surrounding a rider with the right pieces to help him get the best out of himself.
Q: You don't have a background in psychology, this is all just learning from experience?
AA: No, no, this is racing. My life is racing. Always. It's basically just the school of life. I was riding myself, and at that moment, it was already a big school. When you are riding yourself, you have big pressure, I had to find money, I was the tuning guy, I was everything. This was the big school for me. Maybe I was not good in anything, but touching on everything a little bit and learning a lot.