After a dismal season so far, the Movistar Yamaha team got the Thai round of MotoGP off to a strong start by topping the timesheets, with Maverick Viñales leading Valentino Rossi by over a quarter of a second. With Monster Tech3 Yamaha's Johann Zarco taking sixth, it may seem like something of a turnaround for Yamaha, but the three Yamaha riders all used a soft tire to set their fast times at the end of the session, while the others around them stuck with the medium rears.
The next four MotoGP races are a glimpse of the sport's future. The first and last of the foursome, in Thailand and Malaysia, are truly in the heart of all MotoGP's tomorrows. The growth of the sport of motorcycle racing is explosive in Southeast Asia, and the expected crowds – already talk of crowds of up to 150,000 on Sunday – speak for themselves. If Indonesia ever manages to overcome the political instability and endemic corruption which plagues the country, and finally completes a circuit or two, we could be complaining of having four races in Indonesia, rather than Spain.
But the addition of a round at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand highlights the issues with the current MotoGP schedule. The first five races of 2018 were spaced over 9 weeks. The last five races are crammed into just 6 weeks. By the time the MotoGP riders jump on their 2019 bikes, on the Tuesday after Valencia, they are exhausted, physically and emotionally, and ready for a break.
The timing of the Pacific flyaways is unfortunate in other ways too. The Thai round in Buriram takes place in early October, at the tail end of the rainy season. The Sepang round in Malaysia, in early November, takes place in Sepang's eastern monsoon season, with October and November being the wettest months in that part of Malaysia.
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of the Thai round of MotoGP at Buriram:
Previews of the Thai round of Moto2 and Moto3 from some of the teams:
THE SKY RACING TEAM VR46 TO DISCOVER THE CHANG CIRCUIT
How Jorge Lorenzo changed his race strategy and riding technique by 180 degrees, learning to steer the Ducati “like a boat”
Let’s pretend that Jorge Lorenzo didn’t get flicked to the moon at Aragón. Instead let’s pretend that he ran wide at the first corner, lost a few places, then fought back to fight for the win with Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso. On the last lap he out-brakes Dovizioso into the first corner, drafts past Márquez on the back straight and uses the Ducati’s stellar drive out of the final corner to cross the finish line three-hundredths of a second in front.
Okay, so Lorenzo didn’t win at Aragón, but this a good time nonetheless to examine how the three-time MotoGP king has transformed himself since he walked out of the Yamaha garage and into the Ducati garage in November 2016.
Jonathan Rea claimed another WorldSBK double, his fourth in a row to remain unbeaten since the end of June, at the French round of the championship. With his Saturday success Rea was able to wrap up a historic fourth consecutive title and now his attention has shifted to loftier goals.
An assault on the record book
Rea's latest success has put him in a position to break the record for most points in a season, and also most wins in a year. The points record, which Rea holds from last year's campaign, is 556 points, and as a result he now needs 87 points to break that record. With 100 points available from the final two rounds of the year, including a visit to an all new circuit, it's definitely a big ask of Rea, but not one that is out of reach.
Rea is the man to beat and until his run of eight consecutive victories comes to a close, he will control his own points destiny. In addition to that he is also chasing Doug Polen's record for wins in a single season. The American's total of 17 wins in 1991 has stood the test of time, but is now seriously under threat. With Rea sitting on 14 wins thus far in 2018 he will need to win the final four races of the year to break the record. If he does, the points record is also his.
Carrasco makes history
History was made at Magny-Cours this weekend. Strictly speaking, history is made every time motorcycles go racing, but Magny-Cours will feature prominently in the history books. Jonathan Rea confirmed his status as arguably the best World Superbike rider of all time, taking his fourth title in succession with a win in Race 1 on Saturday, and matching Carl Fogarty's tally of four WorldSBK titles.
Impressive as Rea's achievement is – and it should not be underestimated, despite those who say that Fogarty faced tougher competition – what Magny-Cours will be remembered for above all is Ana Carrasco becoming the first woman rider to win an FIM-sanctioned world championship. For the first time ever, we have what the Spanish call a "campeona", rather than a "campeon".
It was a fitting end to the 2018 WorldSSP300 championship, and illustrative of just how fierce the series can be. Carrasco came into the final round of WorldSSP300 with a 10 point advantage, and hot favorite to lift the title. But two tough sessions of practice meant she missed out on Q2, and ended up starting from 25th on the grid.
Close, tense, tough
Carrasco fought her way through the field in the race, taking her Kawasaki Ninja 400 to within 2.5 seconds of the eventual winner, Dani Valle. But so close is the WorldSSP300 class that 2.5 seconds meant that she crossed the line in 13th position.
Bradley Smith is one of the most analytical and thoughtful riders in the paddock. So when we got the chance to spend the best part of forty minutes with the Red Bull KTM rider, we dived straight into the details. In part 1 of our interview with Smith, he talked about riders adapting to bike, and to the conditions, about learning to use the back brake as part of his riding, and about why he believes there are no Aliens in MotoGP.
In part 2 of our conversation, we got into how the series has changed since the switch to Michelin tires. Smith explains the differences between the Michelins and the Bridgestones, and how both the front and the rear behave differently. He gives his theory that the behavior of the Michelin rear is one of the reasons we are seeing more and more carbon fiber swingarms in MotoGP, and explains what effect the Michelin front and rear is having on rider body and arm position.
Smith also takes a hard look at his own attitude on a satellite bike, and how the closeness of the racing has now changed attitudes throughout the paddock. But we started off talking about throttle control, and managing rear spin.
Q: Everyone in this paddock has good throttle control. Is that sort of throttle control or that ability? You were talking earlier about flat track and the ability to manage the rear with the throttle. Is that something you don't really want to be doing? You want the bike to be doing, but if you can do it you can go faster?
Ten years ago today, on the 1st October 2008, I left the safe confines of employment to strike out on my own. MotoMatters.com went from being something I did in my spare time, to being my main endeavor. It has been quite a ride.
I suppose I could have expected something of a rough ride. I had handed in my notice in August, as the site I started two years previously went from strength to strength, the audience growing monthly. Then, on 15th September 2008, the financial services giant Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global financial crisis and taking the economy of much of the world down with it.
It was too late. I had made my bed, now I had to lie in it. I chose the path of pursuing a dream, of trying to make a living from writing, and writing about motorcycle racing. Giving up immediately after I started might have been the financially more sensible solution, but sensible has never really been my strong suit.
Press releases from the series organizer and some of the teams after the championship-defining races on Sunday at Magny-Cours:
WorldSBK standings after race 2 at Magny-Cours:
WorldSSP standings after the French round at Magny-Cours:
World Superbike's last race in Europe before heading off to a new circuit was contested by twenty one riders on a fairly warm day.