Opinion

Editor's Opinion: More Knee Jerk Rule Changes in Response to Sepang

Farewell, MotoGP penalty point system, we barely knew you. In a press release issued today (and rather bizarrely, leaked to a Spanish journalist two days ago) the FIM announced that the Grand Prix Commission had decided to modify the penalty point system. From now on, the only penalty to be imposed will happen once a rider accrues a total of ten points, at which point they will be disqualified for one race. The penalties for four (starting from the back of the grid) and seven points (starting from pit lane) have been dropped. At a stroke, the penalty point system has been emasculated.

In fact, it is worse than that. The penalty point system was introduced to try to clamp down on persistent offenders of relatively minor infractions, and especially of Moto3 riders waiting on the racing line for a tow. The idea was that putting those who had not learned their lessons after the first couple of warnings would start to feel the consequences of their actions if they were subject to a rising scale of punishments.

Get out of jail free card

That system is now gone, but the penalty points remain. In effect, the punishment for persistent offenders has been as good as removed. Riders can look for a tow, pick up a point here and a point there, and get away scot-free. Meanwhile, Race Direction and the newly appointed FIM MotoGP Panel of Stewards have not been given an alternative for punishing persistent offenders.

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2016 World Superbike preview

New rules, new bikes, new teams, new riders and a new weekend schedule, the World Superbike championship is very different for 2016.

With races on both Saturday and Sunday, adjusting to the new format could spring a few surprises. The 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden joins the Ten Kate Honda team and current British Superbike champion Josh Brookes brings his Milwaukee team to the world stage with stunning looking BMWs. Yamaha returns at the hands of Paul Denning’s squad, fielding Alex Lowes and Sylvain Guintoli.

The new schedule

There are a few minor changes in scheduling, but the most visible changes will be World Supersport gaining two Superpole sessions, the same as World Superbike qualifying, and the first Superbike race taking place last thing on Saturday. This change means riders get more time to rehydrate and relax between races and any crashed bikes get more time to get repaired.

Oh, and you might see champagne being drunk on the podium after both races for the first time since the championship started.

Teams and riders

Kawasaki Racing Team

Very little has changed here, with reigning world champion Jonathan Rea and former champion Tom Sykes returning on the ZX-10R. Still very green, still very fast. The only change is Rea’s bike no longer carries the number 65 as he’s wearing the number one plate this year.

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Opinion: Why the Rossi vs Marquez Controversy Isn't Going Away Any Time Soon

If the Movistar Yamaha launch at Barcelona made one thing clear, it is that the feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez will be just as bitter in 2016 as it was in 2015. In Barcelona, Rossi once again repeated the litany of charges he leveled against Marc Márquez at the end of last season. Márquez had decided early in the season he would try to stop Rossi from winning the title, had played with Rossi at Phillip Island, done far worse at Sepang, then stayed behind Lorenzo at Valencia to hand him the title. For Valentino Rossi, nothing has changed since Valencia 2015.

Is this a problem for MotoGP? Those in senior positions in the sport certainly think so. At the Movistar launch, Yamaha Racing boss Lin Jarvis spoke of the need for respect from all parties. On Friday, the FIM issued a press release containing an interview (shown below) with FIM President Vito Ippolito, in which he said the FIM had asked Honda not to release the data from Márquez' bike at Sepang, which Márquez claims shows evidence of a kick by Rossi, to prevent throwing more fuel on the fire.

Entirely predictably, neither strategy worked. When asked about Jarvis' comment on respect, Rossi retorted that neither Márquez nor Jorge Lorenzo had shown him any respect at the end of last year. Ippolito's statement that the FIM had asked Honda not to release the data led to a host of news stories in the media, and more outpourings of rage among fans on social media and forums. This was a conspiracy, to hide the facts from the fans, they said. The controversy was back, and strong as ever.

Why the data is irrelevant

Would it have made any difference if Honda had released the data, as they promised and so many people demanded? None whatsoever, for a number of reasons.

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Kicking Off 2016: Six Ridiculously Premature Predictions for the Racing Year to Come

A new year is upon us, and with it, a new season of motorcycle racing, full of hope, opportunity and optimism. What will 2016 hold for motorcycle racing fans? With testing still weeks away for World Superbikes, and a month away for MotoGP, it is far, far too early to be making any predictions. But why let common sense stand in the way? Here are some wildly inaccurate predictions for 2016.

1. Doubling down: Honda falls into the horsepower trap again

2015 was a tough year for Honda. Despite proclaiming at the end of 2014 that their goal for the coming year was to build a more user-friendly engine, HRC found it impossible to resist the siren call of more horsepower. They built an engine that was even more aggressive than their already-difficult 2014 machine, and all the Honda riders struggled. By the end of the season, they just about had the situation under control, but it was far from ideal.

Surely, after a season like 2015, Honda will have learned their lesson? Apparently not. The latest version of the engine Honda tested at both Valencia and Jerez was still way too aggressive, though the engine was now aggressive in a different way, with more power off the bottom.

Making things worse was Honda's inability to get to grips with the new unified software. HRC technicians were finding it hard to control the RC213V engine using the new software, or create a predictable and comprehensible throttle response. Given that neither Yamaha nor Ducati had suffered the same problems, the issue was not with the software, but the way it was being used.

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A Modest Proposal: Prevent Towing In Moto3 By Paying, Not Punishing Riders

The problem of waiting on the racing line for a tow in Moto3 is an intractable one. Race Direction have tried just about everything to stop them. First, they tried issuing warnings. Then they started handing out penalty points. When that made no difference, they brought everyone in for a stiff talk.

That had little impact, so they brought them in for another talk, and a new kind of penalty. Anyone guilty of going slowly (110% of their fastest sector time) through three consecutive sectors would be punished by dropping three places on the grid. The aim was to take away the benefit they gained from looking for a tow. In some cases, Race Direction also forced the Moto3 riders in question to sit out the first ten minutes of warm up on Sunday morning.

It didn't help. At Sepang, there were once again gaggles of Moto3 riders waiting on the racing line, looking for a two along the Malaysian circuit's two massive straights. At Valencia, it will be much the same, given the amount of time which can be gained down the front straight at the track.

Fans and pundits are left frustrated by the lack of effect the punishments imposed have had. So instead, they come up with their own ideas at solving the issue. Putting riders to the back of the grid. Banning them completely for one race. Splitting qualifying into two groups. Even, dumping the current qualifying format and using the old World Superbike one-rider-at-a-time Superpole system.

Unintended consequences

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The Editor's Opinion: How Heroes And Villains Can Help Save World Superbikes

Sunday was a pretty good day for British motorcycle racing fans. The first four finishers in both World Superbike races were British riders, and wildcard Kyle Ryde rode a thrilling and aggressive race to finish on the podium in his first ever World Supersport race. And yet less than 16,000 spectators turned up to Donington Park to watch the action. When you factor in the creative mathematics which goes into generating spectator numbers at sporting events (motorcycle racing is not alone in this), and then take a wild stab at the number of attendees on some form of freebie or other, then the actual quantity of punters who handed over cold, hard cash for a ticket is likely to be disappointingly low.

Once upon a time, British fans flocked to Brands Hatch to watch WSBK. Though the claims of 100,000 at the Kent track are almost certainly a wild exaggeration, there is no doubt that the circuit was packed. Fans thronged at every fence, filling every open patch of ground to watch their heroes in combat. So what went wrong?

If only World Superbikes were racing at Brands again, British fans say. Frankly, I think the fond memories of Brands were colored in large part by the fact that WSBK visited Brands in August, when the chances of a hot, sunny summer day are much better than the Midlands in the middle of May. Good weather is a proven draw for any outdoors sporting event, and motorcycle racing is no different.

But a spot of sunshine and a few degrees of temperature can't explain the massive drop in attendance over the past fifteen years. There has always been a very strong British presence in World Superbikes, and the Brit contingent is now stronger than ever. But still the crowds stay away. The racing is excellent: fans often compare the WSBK races favorably to MotoGP, in terms of close battles and unpredictable winners. So that can't be it either. The bikes are perhaps not as trick as they were ten years ago, the formula simplified in pursuit of cost-cutting. Justifiably so: this is supposed to be production racing, after all, and not prototypes in disguise. The balance is pretty good, though. Five of the series' eight manufacturers got on the podium last year, four of them racking up wins.

Great racing, great riders, home talent to cheer for, and yet the stands are only sparsely filled. BSB, the series where most of the current crop of World Superbike riders came from, races less sophisticated bikes, held its round back in April, when the weather is even less dependable, yet drew twice as many fans to the track as WSBK did. What is their secret? How come BSB is thriving while WSBK is in the doldrums?

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Kawasaki To Return To MotoGP? An Unlikely Tale ...

Rather perversely, a lot of the talk at the World Superbike test at Jerez has not been about World Superbikes at all. Which is a shame, as the 2015 World Superbike championship promises to be particularly fascinating, with testing times very close indeed.

Instead, there was a real kerfuffle about the slowest bike on the track, the one being ridden by Kenny Noyes and Dominique Aegerter. The cause of the fuss? The fact that it was a Kawasaki, a further development of the Open class bike raced by the Avintia Racing team in MotoGP last year, has generated a mountain of speculation that Team Green is preparing a comeback to MotoGP, bringing all four major Japanese factories back into the premier class.

The truth was a good deal more prosaic. As Gilles Bigot, the crew chief working on the project, told Spanish website Motocuatro, this was a private project of engine tuner Akira, who has been involved in engine preparation for Kawasaki's previous MotoGP effort and their World Superbike engines. The company were also behind the development of the Open class bikes used by the Avintia MotoGP team in 2014, and the engines for the FTR bikes which preceded them in 2013. Not wanting to allow two years' work to go to waste, Akira is continuing to develop the bike, looking to learn where there is room for development.

Is this just a front for an official MotoGP project to hide behind? As far as I have been able to discern, absolutely not. There is lots of evidence that Kawasaki are not involved in this project, for those who wish to see it. The biggest giveaway? The fact that there were no Japanese technicians at all in the garage, the crew consisting of Bigot and the engineers from the Swiss tuning company.

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Team Orders: Is Motorcycle Racing A Team Sport?

In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.

What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes. Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can't finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.

As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri's to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time. Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.

Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli. If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli's destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did. Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli's championship challenge?

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Rating The MotoGP Riders Mid-Season - Part 2: From Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio

Today, we continue our look at how the MotoGP riders stack up so far. Yesterday, we reviewed the top eight in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. Today, we pick up where we left off, reviewing the bottom half of the championship standings. We start with Stefan Bradl, and work our way down to Mike Di Meglio, yet to score a point in the series.

Pos.

Rider

Bike

Championship Points

Marks

9

Stefan Bradl

Honda RC213V

56

6/10

Since winning the Moto2 championship in 2011, hopes have been high for Stefan Bradl. The German started well, but never quite lived up to his promise in his first year in MotoGP. He showed improvement in 2013, scoring his first pole and podium, but again fell short, never returning to the podium after his second place at Laguna Seca. 2014 has been much of the same: flashes of real potential, but never really following through with results.

Bradl's best chance of success came at his home Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. Starting from the front row, Bradl's team gambled on staying on the grid and changing his bike from a wet to a dry set up. A dropped spacer meant they ran out of time to change fork springs, and Bradl's chances of a strong result at home collapsed along with his soggy front suspension.

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Rating The MotoGP Riders Mid-Season - Part 1: The Top 8, From Marc Marquez To Andrea Iannone

With MotoGP on its summer break, and the riders combining a bit of relaxation with a lot of training, there is time to review the first half of the season. Who has performed above expectations, and who has fallen short? Here's a rundown of how we rate the MotoGP riders over the first half of the season. Today, the top eight riders in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. The remainder, from Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio, will appear on Friday.

Pos.

Rider

Bike

Championship Points

Marks

1

Marc Marquez

Honda RC213V

225

10/10

Marc Marquez' 2014 campaign is pretty close to perfect. With nine wins from nine races, Giacomo Agostini's seemingly untouchable records are starting to come under serious assault. One more win and Marquez matches Mick Doohan's ten wins in a row, three more wins and he leaves Doohan and John Surtees behind, and matches Mike Hailwood. Betting against that happening looks about as wise as putting all your money in Cynk shares.

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