Opinion

Opinion: History Repeating - With Energy Drinks, Motorcycle Racing Faces Another Tobacco Disaster

At the Barcelona round of MotoGP – or to give it its full title, the 'Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya' – title sponsors Monster Energy are to unveil a new flavor of their product, called 'The Doctor', marketed around Valentino Rossi. This is not a particularly unusual event at a MotoGP weekend. Almost every race there is a presentation for one product or another, linking in with a team, or a race, or a factory. If anything, the presentation of the Monster Energy drink is even more typical than most, featuring motorcycle racing's marketing dynamite Valentino Rossi promoting an energy drink, the financial backbone of the sport.

It is also a sign of the deep trouble in which motorcycle racing finds itself. Energy drinks are slowly taking over the role which tobacco once played, funding teams, riders and races, and acting as the foundation on which much of the sport is built. Red Bull funds three MotoGP rounds, a Moto3 team and backs a handful of riders in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Monster Energy sponsors two MotoGP rounds, is the title sponsor of the Tech 3 MotoGP squad, a major backer of the factory Yamaha squad and has a squadron of other riders which it supports in both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks. Then there's the armada of other brands: Gresini's Go & Fun (a peculiar name if ever there was one), Drive M7 backing Aspar, Rockstar backing Spanish riders, Relentless, Burn, and far too many more to mention.

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Opinion: How Dani Pedrosa's 8 Million Euro Suzuki Demand Is Like Brown M&Ms

With Marc Marquez already signed up for 2015 and 2016, and Valentino Rossi on the verge of penning a new deal with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Will Lorenzo want to stay with Yamaha or switch to Honda? Will Pedrosa be prepared to take a pay cut or head off to a different factory? All these are thing we will learn over the coming weeks.

Pedrosa's case is particularly interesting. Some well-informed sources are starting to report on his options for the future. According to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Dani Pedrosa has been offered a substantial pay cut by Honda, with base salary cut from something in the region of 6 million euros a season to 1.5 million euros, with a very generous bonus scheme for winning races and the championship.

But Suzuki have also shown in interest in Pedrosa. The Japanese factory needs a winning rider to help make their new bike fully competitive, times set by Randy de Puniet so far lagging a second or more behind the factory Hondas and Yamahas. Right now, only four riders look capable of winning – in fact, since 2008, only six riders have won, with Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have taken multiple wins, Ben Spies being the anomaly with a single victory at Assen. If Suzuki want a rider with a proven track record, then Dani Pedrosa is almost their only option.

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Opinion: The Factory 2 Farce - How Poor Communication Made It Seem Much Worse Than It Probably Is

So, who is to blame for the three-class farce? When the 'Factory 2' regulations were first announced, fans and followers were quick to point the finger of blame at Honda. With good reason: HRC has made a series of comments about the way everyone except HRC have interpreted the Open class regulations. Honda thought it was their duty to build a production racer, so that is what they did. The fact that it is hopelessly uncompetitive against the Forward Yamahas – 2013-spec satellite Yamaha M1s running the 2013-spec Open software – led to suggestions from Honda that what Yamaha was doing was unfair. When Ducati announced that they would also be switching to the Open category, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo was quick to denounce the move, saying it would drive costs up for the Open class teams. It was easy to put two and two together, and come up with HRC putting pressure on Dorna to impose a penalty on Ducati, for fear of them exploiting the benefits of the Open class.

Those putting two and two together appear to have come up with a number which is not as close to four as they thought, however. The proposal for the new 'Factory 2' category did indeed come in response to pressure, but the pressure was not so much from Honda, as it was from the other Open class and satellite teams. They objected to Ducati coming in to the Open class at the same time as the new, radically updated and expanded version of the spec Magneti Marelli software was introduced. This version has vastly more capabilities than last year's version, as well as the mildly updated version used at the Sepang 1 test. The 2014 software was created by Magneti Marelli based in part on the input from Ducati, offered at the request of Dorna. Honda and Yamaha were also asked to contribute, but apparently refused.

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2014 World Superbike Season Preview - It's EVO time

As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.

One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.

A new weekend schedule has been brought in, along with new qualifying rules, details are available here, with the new qualifying bringing World Superbike qualifying into line with the system used in MotoGP, for better or worse, and the Sunday races are timed to allow World Superbike not to clash with other motorsports events, with a view to increasing the audience. Along with the schedule change, Dorna has introduced a video streaming package for those without access to a broadcast of the events.

Kawasaki Racing Team returns with both Tom Sykes (1) and Loris Baz (76). World Champion Sykes will be wearing the number one plate on his bike, and he was characteristically quick in testing, with the Kawasaki looking like one of the strongest packages. The green bike is also a popular choice with EVO entries and the team fields a third rider on an EVO-spec ZX-10R.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Factories: Honda, Yamaha, And Ducati

In the final part of our look back at 2013, we review the performance of the factories. How did Honda, Yamaha and Ducati stack up last season? What were their strong points, and how did they go about tackling their weaknesses? Above all, what does this mean for 2014? Here's our rating of MotoGP's manufacturers.

Honda
Manufacturer's Championship Standing: 1st
Score: 10/10

It seemed as if every technical rule change and tire decision swung against Honda in 2012. First, they found themselves outfoxed over the minimum weight by Ducati, after the MSMA first told the Grand Prix Commission that they had unanimously rejected a proposal to raise it from 153kg to 160kg. It turned out that only Honda and Yamaha had rejected it, with Ducati voting in favor, which meant the rule should have been adopted and not rejected. As a concession to the manufacturers, the weight was raised in two stages, to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg in 2013. Then, after being tested at Jerez, the riders voted to adopt the new, softer construction front tires, despite complaints from the Repsol Honda riders.

Honda struggled for much of 2012, first working out where to place an extra 4kg (a problem the other factories did not have, as they had struggled to get anywhere near the previous minimum of 153kg), and then running through chassis and suspension options in search of the braking stability they had lost with the introduction of the softer front tire. After the test at the Mugello round, they had most of the problems solved, and Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to win eight of the last nine rounds.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Rest: Ben Spies

In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies' season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here's a review of his year.

Ben Spies Ignite Pramac Ducati
Championship position 21st
Score Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10

Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies' career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square. He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn't seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.

After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac. After surgery to fix the damaged tendons in his shoulder, Spies turned up at Sepang in February 2013 only to find the going tougher than expected. He skipped one day of testing, then tried to make a return three weeks later, but found himself struggling once again.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Rest: Edwards And Petrucci

After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Here is a view of Colin Edwards and Danilo Petrucci, two riders who both exceeded expectations in 2013.

Colin Edwards NGM Mobile Forward Racing
Championship Position 14th
Score 7/10

Colin Edwards was thirty-nine years of age when he lined up on the grid for the first race of 2013, and facing questions over his ability to keep competing. His performance had been slipping since losing his spot in the factory Yamaha team, reaching a low point in his first year with the NGM Forward team on the Suter BMW. Was he perhaps too old? Did he really have the motivation to compete at this level?

The former question is still open, but the switch to the FTR Kawasaki gave Edwards the chance to show that he still cared enough to keep racing. Much better handling and above all, being freed from the shackles of the BMW's electronics made the FTR Kawasaki a much easier package to ride. Edwards looked much more at home on the bike, regularly making it into Q2 in the second half of the season. The Kawasaki CRT bike was still lacking too much power to take the fight to the factory prototypes, but Edwards was the only rider to challenge the outright dominance of Aleix Espargaro among the CRT riders.

With the arrival of the leased Yamaha package at NGM Forward, Edwards found another motivational boost. After the test at Valencia, Edwards was positively chirpy, sure to be much closer in 2014 than he has been for a long while. There is life in the old dog yet.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Rest: Espargaro And Iannone

After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Below is a look at the seasons of Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, in the news in 2013 for very different reasons.

Aleix Espargaro Power Electronics Aspar
Championship position 11th
Score 8/10

Aleix Espargaro became the poster boy for the CRT class in 2012, beating out his teammate Randy De Puniet. The two Aspar riders showed that even with less than a year of development, a slightly modified Superbike could compete with the slower of the satellite prototypes. 2013 saw the Aprilia ART take another step forward, but it was a step only Espargaro could follow, De Puniet complaining of a lack of feeling all year, his performance plummeting.

Espargaro shone in 2013, regularly making it into Q2 under the new two-part qualification system, and even starting from the second row at the Sachsenring and Misano. The race was always a different matter, the underpowered Aprilia no match for the prototypes, and even after the great start he got in German, running in the top three in the first few laps, Espargaro dropped back through the field as the race progressed. Despite his disadvantages, he still bagged a bunch of top tens, consistently finishing ahead of the Ducatis. Espargaro demonstrated that the rider is still a key part of the equation in motorcycle racing.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Riders: 10th, Bradley Smith, 8/10

In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here's a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautistapart 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.

Bradley Smith Monster Tech 3 Yamaha
Championship position: 10th
Score: 8/10

Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.

But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt. Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.

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Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Riders: 9th, Nicky Hayden, 6/10

In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautistapart 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.

Nicky Hayden Ducati Factory
Championship position: 9th
Score: 6/10

It's been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.

This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes. In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.

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