Opinion

Opinion: 2017 – A Year Of Change, A Year Of Farewells

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.

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Opinion: Why Valentino Rossi Will Try To Ride At Aragon

20 days ago today, Valentino Rossi fell off an enduro bike at slow speed, breaking his tibia and fibula in the crash. That night, he had pins fitted to fix the bones, and went home the next day to recover. It looked like his championship was over. He would have to miss both Misano and Aragon, and that would put him too far behind to ever catch up.

20 days later, and Rossi has already ridden a motorcycle on track. Twice. On Monday and Tuesday, he rode a Yamaha R1M around a damp Misano. A few laps on Monday, a total of 20 laps on Tuesday. The press release Yamaha issued said that he finished the second day "with an improved feeling and a more positive impression compared to yesterday." Translation? He's going to try to ride at Aragon.

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Editor's View: The Danger Of Expanding The Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. (I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict.)

This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world. From India, through Southeast Asia, motorcycle racing in general and MotoGP in particular has a huge following. But the only country in the region which has a race is Malaysia, hosting its Grand Prix at Sepang.

So expanding the calendar to include Thailand is a welcome addition for fans in the region. If the financial and logistical problems with organizing a race in Indonesia ever get sorted, then there might even be a third race in the region, at the Palembang circuit in South Sumatra. Given the massive interest in MotoGP from that country, it is a racing certainty that any race there will be a complete sell out.

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2017 World Superbike Riders

The new season is upon us and, as the riders go against the clock in anger for the first time this year, let’s catch up with who is riding what bike and on which team, and just because nothing challenges the fates like scrying the future, we will make some bold and inaccurate predictions. There are twenty riders, ten of whom have won a world title while three of the rest have a national title under their belt.

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Opinion: Can Cameron Beaubier Revive the Stature of US Racing?

When opportunity comes knocking, it is a fool who does not open the door. That is especially true when the opportunity is as unique as the chance to race at a World Championship level event. Given the chance to shine on the world stage, you have to take that shot. So when Cameron Beaubier was asked to replace the injured Sylvain Guintoli inside the Pata Yamaha team for the Donington round of World Superbikes, I cannot imagine that he hesitated for very long before jumping at the chance.

As commendable as Beaubier's choice is, it comes with some considerable risk. Not just to the reputation of Beaubier himself, but also to the standing of American motorcycle racing in the world. As arguably the best motorcycle racer in MotoAmerica, the US domestic championship, his performance will be weighed on a silver scale, and used as a yardstick for the standard of racing in the US. The hopes and dreams of many a young American racer may lie fallow if Beaubier falls short.

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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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