Photos

Fri, 2020-01-24 08:01
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The 2020 Mission Winnow Ducati livery: white and red accents replaced by black


The Audi Sport (Ducati is owned by Audi) stripe and the section under the seat are now black. They were red last year


The bike chosen to display the livery is a late model Ducati GP19, using the second iteration of the aero package homologated last year


Dovizioso's number is now italicized at a rakish angle. He has a new patch on his leathers, the rear slogan changed from Desmo Dovi to Undaunted


Danilo Petrucci's problem, in a nutshell. Note black Mission Winnow logo, which will not be used at all races


The 'fat' tail marks this out as a late 2019 bike - inside the tail is a mass damper


Danilo Petrucci using the larger tank lips to give more grip


The office: Note neutral lever on the right-hand bar, and lack of holeshot device on top clamp


Full rear aero package on display, with spoiler and wheel cover. What will Dall'Igna come up with this year? He wouldn't tell us at the launch


Note bottom of the side winglets, the double wing is visible


The smaller front wheel covers are fitted. These got bigger at the end of the year


Akrapovic brings the noise


Growing tail leaves less space for the exhaust coming from the rear cylinder bank


Slightly different setup on Dovizioso's bike: tail is higher, fork angle is steeper


Petrucci's bike is lower at the rear, squatter, more raked out. Does it mean anything? Hard to tell in show photos


Just visible: the teardrop fork covers

 

 

 


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Fri, 2020-01-17 10:32
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Joan Mir in the garage at Phillip Island, 2019

In part one of Akira Nishimura's interview with Joan Mir, the Ecstar Suzuki rider spoke about adapting to MotoGP, what he learned from his teammate Alex Rins, and where they need to improve for 2020. In the second half of the interview, Mir goes on to talk about his path into MotoGP, how much easier or harder it is to be a rookie on a Suzuki, compared to a Ducati or a Yamaha, and how long he will need to adapt.

Q: Looking back at your racing career, it is just your fourth year in the world championship. So, when you started your world championship career in 2016, did you imagine you would be a MotoGP rider in four years?

Joan Mir: In four years, no. This is impossible. I think that this is a record or something. We have to find this, because it’s so, so fast. One year in Moto3. Win first race in Moto3, podiums. Then second year in Moto3 world champion. Then first year in Moto2 podiums. Then first year in MotoGP. It’s unbelievable. It’s so fast, but in all my career, I was always competitive, always. Also in MotoGP. So, I’m happy to be here.

Obviously, I would like to do one year more in Moto2 and fight for the title, because it’s something that we were able to do, to have a title in Moto2. I didn’t have it, but because everything came like this, everything fell into place so I had the contract with Suzuki. Otherwise I needed to wait two more years if I wanted to go up to MotoGP. I said, the moment is now. I went up. At the end I’m happy to be here.

Q: It was the best opportunity and you took the best opportunity to move up to MotoGP?

JM: Yeah. I had a couple of options. I had a lot in that moment, but I chose Suzuki because when my heart spoke, in that moment I listened to my heart. The other opportunities were really good, I have to say. But I said, I want - you know Kevin Schwantz, obviously - I want to be one day like this guy. With one brand of his life, more or less, ambassador of Suzuki. So, it’s more or less my reference for what I want to do. That’s it. When I have won some titles with Suzuki, then we will talk. Then we will say, maybe now I need different things. But my compromise now is to fight for the title next year or another year with Suzuki.

Q: When you started racing in 2016, Marc Marquez was already a superstar. Jorge Lorenzo was the champion then, and Valentino was already a legend. Now you are racing with them. What came to your mind when the first race with them in Qatar?

JM: It was so good. It’s nice because you see the colors that you see in the TV of Valentino yellow, the red of Marc and everything. I was there and I was seeing everything, and I was super happy in that moment. Also being there, touching his wheel. It was nice.

Q: Did you get nervous?

JM: No. In the race, no. Before? A lot. In the first race in Qatar, I was so, so nervous. Then when you are riding, I never have it. Never. But before, a lot. I think it was the moment when I was most nervous in my life.

Q: You said you didn’t believe four years ago you would be a MotoGP rider, so can you imagine what will happen four years from now? Maybe you will be a world champion?

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Thu, 2020-01-16 10:23
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Joan Mir on the Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR at Sepang 2019

It was hard being a MotoGP rookie in 2019. It was probably the strongest rookie class we have seen in many years: Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, two world champions; Miguel Oliveira, who has runner up in both Moto2 and Moto3; and Fabio Quartararo, the young man they changed the Moto3 entry rules for. Yet even these exceptionally talented youngsters faced probably the most talented MotoGP field in history.

Quartararo's meteoric success dominated the headlines, but it overshadowed some strong debuts by the other three. Ecstar Suzuki's Joan Mir, for example, crossed the line in eighth in his first ever MotoGP race, and went on to become a regular top eight rider. By the end of the season, he was challenging his more experienced teammate Alex Rins, and scoring his best result of the season at Phillip Island, finishing fifth in the group battling for the podium.

Before the Japanese round of MotoGP at Motegi, top Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura talked to Joan Mir about his first thirteen races – Mir was forced to miss two races due to the lung injury he suffered in the huge crash at the Brno test. The Suzuki rider spoke at length about his rookie season, about his rapid progression through the Grand Prix ranks, and about what he learned. He also talked to Nishimura-san about racing against his teammate, and how making your debut on a Suzuki compares to the Ducati and the Yamaha.

It was an insightful and long conversation, and so it has been split into two parts. Part two will be published tomorrow, but here is part one:

Q: We have completed fifteen races and four races to go, including here. I think you have started this season very well, especially in the first race in Qatar. But after that, there were some ups and down. How do you evaluate yourself in general in this season?

Joan Mir: I evaluate myself really as a rookie. This one word. I will say rookie, because in a lot of races if you look on paper, I was really fast to fight, to be in the top seven, top six in all the races, but we made some mistakes. I crashed. We had some bad laps sometimes. In Argentina with the rear tire, with a bad rear tire this can happen. Then I had the injury in Brno after the race. A lot of things happened. Rookie year, I have to say.

But what is important is that where we were fighting in Barcelona, in Sachsenring, even before, for top six positions, top seven, fighting with Ducatis also for top five positions at the end. Then I had the injury in Brno, and then I was out for two races. Again in Misano, I was in eighth position. So this is important to be in eighth position. Then in Aragon, I had a problem the first laps. I went wide. I came back and I recovered time. You see lap times, again on the top five I would be on the lap times. So, everything good. In Thailand, seventh.

We are quite constant, but for some reasons that happen, we are not able sometimes to show our potential. This is what we miss. We miss a bit of time, of luck, to be fighting for the podium because FP, free practice, qualifying, we are there with them. We miss a bit of time, and a bit of luck, and to work more to be with them at the end this year. Our goal for next year is to be fighting for top positions.

Q: So, in terms of the results you get so far this season, is it just as expected?

JM: Better than my expectations. At the end of the first year I thought top fifteen, to be fighting for top fifteen, at the end of the season top ten. Next year, another step and top five. This was the goal. In the first race I was in the top eight fighting for a top position. So, better than what I expected by far, but I want more always.

Q: The more you get a good result, the more you need.

JM: Yeah.

Q: You have quite a lot of things to learn in MotoGP because you are a rookie. You have to learn how to save the tire and how to use it and how to manage it. The characteristics of the bike are completely different from Moto2 and Moto3, so there are many things you have to learn. Session format is completely different from your Moto2 days. How much did you get used to the MotoGP in the premier class?

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Thu, 2020-01-09 12:58
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2020 sees the start of a new decade (convention has it that decades are zero-based, going from 0-9, so please, numerical pedants, just play along here), and if there is one thing we have learned from the period between 2010 and 2019, it is that a lot can change. Not just politically and socially, but in racing too. So now seems a good time to take a look back at the start of the previous decade, and ponder what lessons might be learned for the decade to come.

It is hard to remember just how tough a place MotoGP was in 2010. The world was still reeling from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis caused when the banking system collapsed at the end of 2008. That led to a shrinking grid, with Kawasaki pulling out at the end of 2008 (though the Japanese factory was forced to continue for one more season under the Hayate banner, with one rider, Marco Melandri), and emergency measures aimed at cutting costs.

The bikes entered in the 2010 MotoGP season

That meant that in 2010, MotoGP had only 17 permanent riders on the grid, from four different manufacturers. Hondas filled the grid, supplying six of the riders with RC212Vs, while Ducati were providing five riders, including one to the newly joined Aspar team. Yamaha supplied four bikes then, as now, though the Tech3 Yamaha team received satellite bikes, rather than the factory spec M1s the Petronas team has now. And Suzuki still had two bikes on the grid, though 2010 was the last year that happened. A year later, they were down to a single bike, and in 2012, they were gone.

All change

Compare that with the 2020 season. This year, there will be 22 bikes on the grid, six manufacturers supplying bikes to teams. Now it is Ducati carrying the biggest load, supplying three teams with six bikes in total, while Yamaha, Honda, and KTM will have four bikes each on the grid, and Suzuki and Aprilia two bikes each. In 2010, Suzuki was close to pulling out of MotoGP. Coming off two wins in 2019, Suzuki is actively considering expanding its presence.

Of the 17 riders on the grid in 2010, only three are left in 2020: Andrea Dovizioso was entering his third MotoGP season in 2010, and Aleix Espargaro was entering his first full season after replacing Niccolo Canepa and Mika Kallio on the Pramac Ducati in 2009. In retrospect, perhaps the most surprising name still on the grid from 2010 is Valentino Rossi. We have talked about Rossi retiring from MotoGP for many years now: at the end of 2005, when he was looking at a switch to F1. In the first couple of seasons after his return to Yamaha from his misadventure with Ducati. Now, in 2020, Rossi really looks like entering his final year, or at most, couple of years, in the premier class.

The 2010 MotoGP riders

Who was on the grid in 2010? Andrea Dovizioso partnered Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda, while Jorge Lorenzo was proving to be a real thorn in Fiat Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi's side. Nicky Hayden was starting his second season with the factory Ducati team, while Casey Stoner was returning from figuring out his lactose intolerance, and coming back for what would turn out to be his last year with the squad. Alvaro Bautista joined veteran Loris Capirossi in the Rizla Suzuki team.

The Ben Spies Rule

Bautista's arrival at Suzuki was controversial, in part because a new rule had been instituted to prevent rookies from joining factory teams. The rule was dubbed 'The Ben Spies Rule', as it was widely reported that the point of it was to prevent the American from going straight to the factory Yamaha squad fresh from his triumphant rookie year in World Superbikes, in which he won the title at his first attempt. With Suzuki not having a satellite team, they were able to sign rookie Bautista directly. Yamaha had Tech3, and so a satellite squad for the American to spend his rookie season.

Ben Spies and crew chief Tom Houseworth

Ben Spies joined veteran Colin Edwards in the Tech3 Yamaha squad, while Marco Melandri had another sensational rookie, Marco Simoncelli, join him in the Gresini Honda team. The last ever 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama moved up to MotoGP with the Interwetten Honda team. Randy de Puniet was the sole rider in the LCR Honda squad. Aleix Espargaro joined Mika Kallio in Pramac Ducati, while Hector Barbera joined the Aspar Ducati team.

What marked the class of 2010 as special was the influx of rookies. Two reigning champions – Spies in World Superbikes and Aoyama in 250s – and the three riders who finished second through fourth in 250s in 2009. What's more, both Simoncelli and Bautista were world champions in their own right, Simoncelli in 250s in 2008, Bautista in 125s in 2006.

Marco Simoncelli

The demise of the Rookie Rule

2020's rookie class is not as large, but is almost as illustrious. Iker Lecuona is the least decorated of the trio, joining the Tech3 KTM squad. Reigning Moto2 champion Alex Márquez joins brother Marc in the Repsol Honda team, while Moto2 runner up and former Moto3 champion Brad Binder joins the factory KTM team. The restrictions on rookies joining MotoGP were dropped in 2012, to allow Marc Márquez to enter the Repsol Honda team.

The reasoning behind the rookie rule was ostensibly to help satellite teams attract riders of the quality of Ben Spies, riders who would previously have entered factory teams straight away. The thinking was that by having big-name riders enter satellite teams, that would help those teams to raise sponsorship. There was certainly an element of truth in that, but it was obviously not a rule which would hold when a generational talent entered the class. When Marc Márquez moved up to MotoGP, it was obvious he would be heading to a factory team, and so the pretense was dropped.

You could argue that the world had changed when the rule was dropped for the 2013 season. The global economy was starting to recover from the 2008 crash, and sponsorship was starting to appear once again. More importantly, the rule changes which started in 2010 were starting to pay off. By 2013, the grid had grown to 24 riders, as the so-called CRT bikes swelled the numbers on the grid. The switch to 1000cc bore-limited four cylinders, and a vicious mixture of bargaining and blackmail had helped change the face of MotoGP. By 2013, the series was on the upward trend which would bring it to where it is today.

MotoGP reimagined

The decade dawned with major shakeups already in the air. The 2008 financial crash had compounded a weakness which MotoGP had already shown. The capacity reduction from 990cc to 800cc, combined with a reduction in the fuel allowance, had placed a premium on horsepower, electronics, and corner speed. The spec Bridgestone tires just made that worse: the front had almost endless grip, but the rear was too hard, and had little feel. With just two compounds to choose from – and the hard rear often way too hard to be used in the race – everyone ended up with virtually identical tire choices.

The combination of tires and electronics led to processional racing. Qualifying was not only crucial, it was pretty much predictive of the race. Once past the melee of the opening laps, the finishing order was set. To win, you needed to get a good start, and ride as precisely as possible. The bikes lacked the torque to compensate for a missed pass, so overtaking became a rarity.

In 2009, Dorna realized something had to change. The problem was that the agreement between the factories and Dorna meant that the factories had control of the technical regulations. And the factories, led by Honda, showed no inclination to want to change. They liked the restrictions on fuel and open electronics, as it allowed them to work on fuel management strategies which taught engineers about running as efficiently as possible, while getting the best possible throttle response at partial throttle openings.

The rear exhaust of the Ducati Desmosedici GP10

But the factories could also see that they were losing marketing value from a series which lacked excitement. A group inside Dorna devised the outlines of a plan, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, head of the company which runs MotoGP, put it into effect. At the start of the next five-year contract period, which was to start in 2012, something would have to change.

The end of the perfect motorcycle

Dorna had already learned from the end of the 250cc class. In many ways, the 250cc two-stroke twin was a perfect racing motorcycle: 100+ hp in a 100kg package made for a bike which was fast and yet manageable, while still rewarding rider skill. But with only Aprilia taking the championship seriously, they had a near monopoly on the 250cc championship. If you wanted to win 250cc title, you needed an Aprilia RSA, which produced 110hp, rather than the cheaper RSW which kicked out around 103hp. And to get your hands on an Aprilia RSA, you needed to pay Aprilia €1 million.

To prevent that, MotoGP introduced the Moto2 class from 2010, featuring a spec 600cc Honda engine in a prototype chassis. From the start, the series was a roaring success, the first grid containing 40 riders and producing close, thrilling racing. It was affordable too: it proved impossible to buy success purely by having a faster machine. The rich teams still won, but that was mainly because they could afford the best riders, the best crew chiefs, and to go testing whenever they wanted. But all ten of the closest top 15 finishes in the intermediate class were during the Moto2 era: podiums were no longer a given.

Claudio Corti leads a close group in the 2010 Silverstone Moto2 race

But the basic idea behind Moto2 was that it would be a solid training ground for young riders, to prepare them for MotoGP. That appears to have been a success. All 10 Moto2 champions have moved up to MotoGP (though the first one, Toni Elias, had previously already been in the premier class), and Stefan Bradl, Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, and Johann Zarco have all scored podiums, and Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia have both shown signs of real promise, Morbidelli making multiple front row starts. There have been plenty of other talented riders to come through Moto2 as well: Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Andrea Iannone, Miguel Oliveira, and many more.

Making MotoGP sustainable

Dorna took the process that went into creating the Moto2 class and applied some of the same ideas to MotoGP. What Dorna really wanted was a series that was economically sustainable, with technology reined in to cut costs. The ultimate aim was a rev limit and spec electronics (both hardware and software), to bring the racing closer and more affordable. That would prove unattainable, but they ended up getting very close.

In the second half of 2009, they presented a basic concept for the future of MotoGP, starting in 2012: 1000cc four strokes, with a maximum of four cylinders. In December of that year, the Grand Prix Commission announced that cylinder bores would be limited to 81mm. It was not a rev limit, but it was the most the united forces of Dorna, teams association IRTA, and the FIM could drag out of the manufacturers. It gave the engineers a challenge to pursue, to see how many revs they could coax out of a cylinder with a set maximum bore size. But it also restricted the marginal gains available as they pushed the limits of physics. Where the 800s were revving to nearly 21,000 RPM, the ceiling for the current crop of 1000cc bikes is around 18,500 RPM.

A bore limit had two other important effects. The first was that a fixed bore meant a longer stroke, and therefore an engine with more torque and a more rideable character. That also reduced the need for electronics to control the engine character.

Growing the grid

In 2010, the second important effect of a bore limit became apparent: it meant that engines based on production bikes were a slightly more viable prospect in MotoGP. In February, the Grand Prix Commission agreed to create a new subclass within MotoGP: the CRT machines. The CRT, or Claiming Rule Teams, would be allowed to claim engines from other CRT teams for a fixed price of €20,000. The idea was to fill the grid with affordable bikes, production-based engines in a prototype chassis.

Aspar's Aprilia RSV4--based CRT bike at the Jerez test in 2012

It worked. By the time the 2012 season came along, the MotoGP grid had grown to 21 bikes. The following year, in 2013, there were 24 MotoGP bikes on the grid, and more teams lining up to join.

Aleix Espargaro on the Aspar ART bike, a CRT machine, at Jerez in 2012

The CRT bikes were never competitive with the factory prototypes, but they proved a point. They showed the factories that MotoGP would continue, even if the manufacturers did decide to pull out in protest at rule changes. That concentrated the minds of the manufacturers, and brought them back to the negotiating table. Dorna wanted MotoGP to be affordable, and to have full grids. If the factories weren't willing to supply teams with bikes at a reasonable price, then Dorna would find a way to do it themselves.

The art of persuasion

Dorna's objective was still to introduce spec electronics, and the CRT adventure had greatly strengthened their hand. For the 2014 season, the MSMA, the association of manufacturers, agreed to part of Dorna's demands. They agreed to the use of a spec ECU, though the factories would still be allowed to write their own software for the Magneti Marelli hardware. They also agreed to supply cheap machinery.

The CRT class was dropped, and replaced by the Open Class, bikes which had more fuel, but had to use spec ECU software and hardware. Importantly, the factories also agreed to an engine homologation procedure, which meant that engine designs would be frozen at the start of the year, and no updates allowed. This was yet another measure aimed at cutting costs.

The Open Class rules, in combination with the factory engine freeze, proved to be the catalyst that would see Dorna finally achieve its goal of spec electronics. Gigi Dall'Igna, who joined Ducati at the end of 2013, had arrived after overseeing Aprilia's World Superbike program, and crucially, also turned Aprilia's CRT into a bike that was capable of regular top tens, and beating some of the factory prototype machines. Dall'Igna had been hired to help Ducati win races and MotoGP titles, after three years in the wilderness since Casey Stoner had left the Italian factory, exposing just how bad the bike really was.

Gigi Dall'Igna speaking at the Valencia test in 2013, after joining Ducati

Dall'Igna knew that the Ducati would need constant development if it needed to progress. The chance to change the engine through the season, offered far more opportunities than Ducati would lose by running the spec ECU hardware and software. Ducati had plenty of experience with Magneti Marelli ECUs, and believed they could make the system work. Dall'Igna announced that the factory Ducati team would be entering in the Open Class, instead of the factory prototypes.

Revolution is nigh

That announcement precipitated a host of changes. A system of concessions was introduced, to allow factories which had not had wins or podiums in recent years to ignore the engine freeze and continue to develop during the season. That system of concessions would be tweaked further in the intervening years, allowing factories more testing, after testing was also limited.

At that point, the writing was on the wall for the factories' proprietary software. Ducati had broken the solidarity within the MSMA, something which the organization has never really recovered. The MSMA held a monopoly over the technical rules for as long as they were unanimous. Once Ducati signaled they were not opposed to spec software, Dorna was able to force Honda and Yamaha to accept it. Fully spec electronics, where both the ECU hardware and software were supplied by Magneti Marelli (albeit with input from the factories) was introduced in the 2016 season, the same year that Michelin took over from Bridgestone as spec tire supplier in MotoGP.

There was plenty of carrot to go with the stick, however. The MSMA agreed to supply bikes to the satellite teams at a maximum price of €2.2 million starting in 2017, with Dorna paying the teams €2 million per rider. That was money which would effectively find its way back to the factories, while helping satellite teams to survive.

Brave new world

This process, the move away from a series based around the demands of the factories to a series based around the desire of the teams to go racing, has truly changed the face of MotoGP. Spec electronics made the racing closer, but it also made it much more affordable, and lowered the barrier to entry for new factories by a considerable amount. In 2010, there were two factories with bikes capable of winning, and one factory with Casey Stoner. In 2019, there were four factories with bikes capable of winning (or arguably, three factories capable of winning, and one factory which ought to be capable of winning, but has Marc Márquez to save them), and two factories making rapid progress toward being successful.

Alex Rins on the podium after winning the 2019 Americas Grand Prix at COTA in Austin

Without the spec electronics, and without the concessions that allowed them to test and develop during the season, Suzuki would never have caught Honda and Yamaha and beaten them. Ducati would have struggled to turn the Desmosedici into a bike which has finished second in the championship for the past three seasons. Aprilia would have long ago abandoned any hope of competing with the financial might of Honda and Yamaha. And KTM would have had to spend twice as much money to catch the others half as slowly.

Measuring progress

The fear when the change to a more restricted series, with spec electronics, tight limits on R&D, and a single tire supplier, would halt progress. MotoGP would stagnate, lap times stuck in a rut as technical developments stalled.

The nice thing about motorcycle racing is that it produces measurable results. Has performance stagnated as technical developments were restricted? Although we will never know what performance the 800s might have reached without the technical limits currently in place, we can certainly measure what difference the changes have made. MotoGP is still racing at 15 of the 18 tracks that were included on the 2010 calendar. Comparing race and outright lap records gives us an idea of how much faster the bikes have become over the past decade.

Not all lap records standing in 2010 were set in that year, nor were all of the records standing in 2019 set this season either. But at all 15 circuits, times have improved. At some, of course, resurfacing has helped, and in the case of Aragon and Silverstone, 2010 was the first year that MotoGP raced at the circuit, and the layout at Silverstone has been slightly tweaked in the intervening period. Barcelona's layout was changed, adding the tight hairpin at Turn 10 instead of the long, sweeping left, making comparisons invalid, though the race record is now over 2.3 seconds faster than in 2010.

Taking just the results from the other 12 remaining circuits – Qatar, Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, Brno, Misano, Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia – the bikes are lapping just under 1.5 seconds faster, both in qualifying and in the race. That is an improvement of 1.5% (a consequence of the average race and pole records being 1:40.059 and 1:38.733 respectively, or around 100 seconds) in ten years.

No pattern in improvement

It is hard to see a pattern in where the biggest gains have come. The circuit with the smallest improvement is Qatar, where the pole record is just 0.5% faster, and the race record only 0.2% faster. Assen and Mugello have the biggest improvement in pole time, with 2.6% and 2.4% respectively. But the race record at Assen has improved by only 1%, well under the average. The biggest race record improvement was 2.2%, at Misano and Phillip Island.

Andrea Dovizioso and Michele Pirro at Mugello 2019

Race lap records have improved by more than average 1.5% at Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Misano, Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia. Pole records are more than 1.5% faster at Le Mans, Mugello, Assen, Misano, Motegi, Sepang, and Valencia.

Tracks where both pole and race lap records have improved by less than the average are Qatar, Sachsenring, and Brno.

Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, and Nicky Hayden at Qatar 2010

How this improvement compares with previous decades is hard to say. The changes to the series over the years make comparisons hard. In the year 2000, the premier class bikes were 500cc two-strokes, by 2009, they were 800cc four-strokes. In 1990, Grand Prix were still being held at terrifyingly dangerous circuits like the Salzburgring in Austria, Rijeka in what is now Croatia, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Anderstorp in Sweden. Go back another 10 years and racing was organized completely differently. The 1980 Grand Prix season consisted of just 8 rounds. It is a reminder of just how much can change in a decade.

Calendar stability

Looking back, it is remarkable how little the calendar has changed in the last decade. The 2019 championship featured 19 races compared with 18 in 2010, 15 of which were held at the same circuits. Three tracks have been dropped over the decade, and four have joined, and the changes are instructive as to the direction the championship is heading in.

MotoGP has lost two US tracks, but gained two American circuits. Laguna Seca was dropped after the 2013 season, the circuit unable to afford the cost of hosting MotoGP, nor the changes necessary to make the track safe for Grand Prix racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was dropped from the calendar for cost reasons as well after 2015, the spectacular facility unable to find a sponsor willing to cover the sanctioning fee. The viability of having three, or even two races in the US proved to be suspect, as the crowds which attended the three rounds tended to be largely the same hard core of US race fans.

Stefan Bradl, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez at Laguna Seca, 2013

In its place came the Circuit of the Americas, a brand-new purpose-built facility just outside of Austin, Texas. COTA may have its faults (being built on land liable to subsidence is definitely a downside), but it has established itself as a regular fixture on the calendar.

A hint of the future

The other American circuit which joined the calendar is in South America, Argentina to be precise. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is a spectacular layout, marred by being in a remote location and not getting much use. But South America is a crucial market for the manufacturers and Dorna, and Termas is on the calendar until a better alternative can be found.

Buriram in Thailand is on the current calendar for similar reasons. The addition of both Argentina and Thailand are signs of how the motorcycling market is changing. The European and US motorcycle markets are mature, while South and Central America and Southeast Asia are expanding markets for motorcycles, as economic growth brings the prosperity to afford motorized transport. They are also target markets for Dorna, seen as media markets which should prove very lucrative in the future for the sport.

Marc Marquez in front of packed grandstands at Buriram, Thailand

Estoril was the other track to disappear from the calendar, the Portuguese track unable to sustain the cost of a Grand Prix in the aftermath of the economic crisis. The fact that it was the fifth race to be held on the Iberian peninsula did not help, no matter how popular the sport is in Spain and Portugal.

So instead we go to Austria, rather than Portugal. The race in Spielberg is emblematic of the current state of MotoGP: the Red Bull Ring, owned and named after the biggest name in energy drinks, the industry which has become the financial backbone of the sport, taking the place of the now banned tobacco sponsorship. Red Bull not only own the circuit, they also sponsor KTM's MotoGP effort, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer being friendly with Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz. KTM and Red Bull wanted a Grand Prix in their home country, and so they got one.

Red Bull athlete Marc Marquez in front of a sea of orange KTM fans at Spielberg in Austria, 2019

A safer sport

The calendar changes, or lack of them, in the last decade reflect another change in the sport of motorcycle racing. Safety has become an ever more important part of racing, as it has become in wider society. This has meant that standards for race tracks have become ever more stringent, with tracks required to create more runoff, more air fencing, and more hard standing to allow riders to recover from mistakes rather than crash.

Racing is indubitably safer, despite the fact that the decade from 2010 to 2019 saw three Grand Prix riders die. Of those, Luis Salom's tragic accident in 2016 at Barcelona was the only one in which track safety was an issue. A combination of an unusual crash, and a lack of air fence, meant that Salom hit unprotected fencing, rather than air fence, which contributed to his death.

The deaths of Shoya Tomizawa and Marco Simoncelli were reminders that racing is an inherently dangerous sport. Both were struck by other bikes after losing control of their machines and falling onto the track, Tomizawa at Misano in 2010, Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011. Collisions with other riders remain a risk, and can still cause serious and even fatal. We have yet to find a way to prevent such collisions from happening.

Shoya Tomizawa, after winning the inaugural Moto2 race at Qatar in 2010

Protection gets personal

But there have been huge steps made here too. While circuits have worked to make tracks safer by adding runoff and air fence, the gear riders wear has seen some real revolutions over the past decade. Airbags were a novelty back in 2010, Dainese having introduced its first system in 2007, Alpinestars in 2009.

Originally aimed at reducing shoulder injuries, and especially collarbone fractures, they have expanded and improved enormously. The first airbags protected the shoulders, collarbones, and upper back; current systems expand to protect upper arms, lower back, hips, and ribs. This is a major advance in safety for racers which has now also made its way onto the street. Ordinary riders can now also get the same protection as top-level racers.

Airbags are now so ubiquitous that they have been mandatory, with everyone on the Grand Prix grid in all classes forced to use one. Chest protectors have also been added, another form of protection which was once rare. It is here, in personal, wearable protection that the biggest safety steps have been made. And arguably, it is the field most open for improvement.

It is also an area where motorcycle racing is helping to give back to the community. The advances made in racing are now finding their way into other areas of life. Not just sports – skiing, horse riding, and similar high-speed sports are also using airbags – but for example in other forms of transport, and even to help prevent hip injuries in the elderly, cushioning their falls.

A new decade

Are there any clues in the decade just gone that will give us an idea of what is to come in the next one? Given how much has changed between 2010 and 2019, you could say that the only thing we know for sure is that things are unlikely to turn out as we expect. Any predictions you make for 2020 and beyond are likely to be destroyed by events.

Take the 2010 MotoGP season as an example. Valentino Rossi started 2010 as the clear favorite to defend his title, and win his eight MotoGP crown and tenth Grand Prix championship overall. He had won the 2009 crown convincingly, clinching the title at Sepang with a race in hand. He went on to dominate preseason testing, and showed every sign of keeping his young Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo at bay again.

Then, in the enforced long break caused by the rescheduling of the Motegi round of MotoGP due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which disrupted flights in Europe, Rossi crashed while riding an MX bike, and damaged his shoulder. That injury, combined with a more competitive Lorenzo, caused him to crash at Mugello and break his leg, effectively ending his chances in the championship.

When he came back from injury, he started negotiating a move to Ducati, to take the place of Casey Stoner, who was moving to the Repsol Honda team. Rossi had a dismal time at Ducati, scoring a mere three podiums in two seasons, and only really seriously challenged for a title again in 2015, though he finished runner up to Marc Márquez in both 2014 and 2016. He never dominated MotoGP again in the way he had done in his first decade in the premier class.

Rhyming, not repeating

History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Marc Márquez enters the 2020 season after wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title, and his eighth overall. He has been quick in the first couple of tests at Valencia and Jerez, and is odds-on favorite to win the championship again this season. If anything, he is even more of a firm favorite than Valentino Rossi was in 2010: In 2009, Rossi won six races, in 2019, Márquez took twice that, a total of twelve victories.

Like Rossi in 2010, Márquez has a bum shoulder to deal with. But unlike Rossi, he has the luxury of having had surgery to fix it back in November, with plenty of time to recover. And given the way he dominated in 2019, the season after similar surgery on the other, left shoulder, which was in much worse condition, it is hard to see it slowing him down much.

But the lesson of 2010 is that nothing is set in stone. There is plenty that can happen once Márquez returns to training, or turns up for the first test in Sepang in a month's time. The 2020 Honda may have taken a wrong turn in development. Ducati could finally have a cure for its turning problems, putting Andrea Dovizioso in a position to win the title. Yamaha may dig up another 10 horsepower for the M1, making Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo, or even Valentino Rossi the riders to beat.

Maybe the Suzuki becomes the bike to beat, with Joan Mir pushing Alex Rins to new heights and fighting for the championship. Maybe everything clicks for Jack Miller, as all of the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place for him. Maybe Alex Márquez becomes a distraction for his brother Marc, or Cal Crutchlow throws everything at the title in a final last gasp.

The future is not set in stone. "That's why we line up on Sunday," as the great Nicky Hayden used to say. "You never know what's gonna happen."

The long term

If 2020 is hard to predict, the long-term future of the sport is even more shrouded in mystery. The last two decades have seen almost continuous churn in the technical regulations, so why would the period from 2020 to 2029 be any different? The current contract with the MSMA runs out at the end of 2021, with a new set of regulations possible for the next five-year period from 2022 to 2026.

Yet there is reason to believe that MotoGP is entering a period of stability. Dorna's Director of Technology, Corrado Cecchinello, told Peter McLaren last year that no shakeup of the rules planned for the coming period. "There's an agreement to aim for technical rule stability over the term of the current contract, which expires in 2021," Cecchinello said. "But it is also our intention not to change anything significant at the beginning of the next term, starting from 2022."

And why would they change? The racing is close, the bikes are exciting, and even though Marc Márquez is dominating the championship, he is not winning by runaway margins. In 2010, the average gap between first and second was 3.975 seconds. In 2019, it had been cut to 2.686 seconds. What's more, in 2010, only three races finished with a gap of less than a second between the winner and the runner up. In 2019, that number was eight races, and in three of them, the margin of victory was less than five hundredths of a second. Only two races ended with a gap of over five seconds behind the winner in 2019, compared to six races in 2010.

The situation in Moto2 and Moto3 is broadly similar. Moto2 has just switched to Triumph engines, and Triumph has given no indication of wanting out any time soon. The Moto3 class, which replaced the 125s in 2012, is a similar success, the formula largely unchanged over its first eight seasons. Grids are full, and the Selection Committee, who choose which teams get to join the Grand Prix circus, are never short of applications to join. Weaker teams are being weeded out, stronger teams encouraged to expand their operations. And financial support for the teams in all three classes is set to expand as Dorna earns more money from the expansion of the calendar to 22 races, from both sanctioning fees and from TV rights.

Look East

There are a couple of trends we can already identify. MotoGP is drifting steadily eastwards, as manufacturers focus on growing markets in Asia. And it's not just the scooter market which is growing: sales for Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are increasing rapidly in places like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia as incomes rise.

The ranks of Asian riders are swelling too. MotoGP has already had a Malaysian rider, with Hafizh Syahrin. The Asia Talent Cup is starting to deliver a steady stream of talented Asian riders into Moto3, who will gradually make their way through the ranks and into the premier class.

Hafizh Syahrin at his home Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia, 2019

All this means more races in Asia, and fewer in the heartlands of Europe. This will not happen overnight – tracks take time to build, and much of Southeast Asia has problems such as corruption and political unrest to overcome. But ten years is a long time, and a lot can happen in the intervening period.

Electricity

The big question mark in MotoGP's future surrounds electric motorcycles. 2020 looks like being a transformational year for electric vehicles, as a number of car makers have announced they will be offering most of their range in electric-powered versions. History suggests that should stimulate battery technology even further, and lodge the idea of electric-powered vehicles firmly in the public consciousness.

The current state of battery technology means that electric bikes won't replace the current crop of four-stroke internal combustion engines any time soon. And given the pace at which technology advances, even 2027 would be an excessively ambitious target. The guiding principle behind MotoGP is that it is a prototype series where the manufacturers can play with technologies which they want to use in their production bikes. It is a place where the factories can race what they build.

At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the manufacturers are building and selling normally-aspirated four-stroke machines. But they are experimenting: supercharging is starting to turn up on bikes again, as a way of increasing efficiency and getting more power from smaller engines. The MotoGP factories are starting to toy with electric bikes, though at the moment, only KTM is doing any serious work on them, with its Freeride E-XC off-road machine.

And Dorna is preparing the way with the MotoE series. At the moment, the series is a Cup, rather than a Championship, with the riders all competing on identical Energica Ego Corsa machines. The series is aimed at getting the fans used to the idea of electric bike racing, and the MotoE series has proved more popular than some of its critics predicted. As a proof of concept, MotoE has worked, though with the usual teething problems. But it is not ready to storm the premier class just yet.

The Energica Ergo Corsa MotoE bike at the Jerez test in 2018

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

So what of the future? In the short term, the future of MotoGP looks bright, better than it was at the start of the last decade. The series looks to be in good health for the longer term too, but a decade is a long time.

In 2010, the smartphone was a rarity, the iPhone still a long way from destroying Blackberry's dominance of the mobile phone market. Twitter was only just starting to take off, Instagram was about to be launched, and Snapchat and Tiktok were not even a twinkle in their creator's eyes. Retail shopping in physical stores was still a thing, and internet connectivity was still something which usually came through a phone line, rather than a fiber-optic cable.

The world has changed so much in a decade, and so has MotoGP. Predicting what happens in the coming ten years is next to impossible. But the talent is deeper through the field than it has ever been, and the racing is thrilling. Whatever the future holds, it's going to be fun getting there.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

Sun, 2019-12-22 13:59
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This was the last ever Valencia test, for a lot of reasons. Riders and teams hate it. Photographers love it, for the light. Here's Dani Pedrosa in the setting sun


Valentino Rossi with a shiny new frame on his M1. Yamaha have changed the way they work, and the progress is starting to show


New kid Brad Binder tries to get his head around the best part of 300 bhp at Turn 13


Some pre-exit rituals are more attractive than others. But all serve a function


New engine and new frame for Suzuki and Alex Rins. Question is, will it help in qualifying?


Fabio Quartararo rocked 2019. What will he do on a fully 2020-spec Yamaha M1?


Big year coming up for Jack Miller in 2020. He tested the GP20 chassis, and liked it. Next year could be his breakout season


That light...


Danilo Petrucci running the lab bike, with laser sensors on the end of the swingarm to precisely track the motion of the rear wheel.


Pol Espargaro on KTM's prototype chassis. This the MKI chassis, painted orange. A big step forward


Bradley Smith's test work could pay off for both Aprilia and Smith in 2020


KTM's luxury test rider Dani Pedrosa on the MKI 'beam' chassis.


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Fri, 2019-12-06 15:12
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Logo Mandalika International Street Circuit

It has been 22 years since the last time Indonesia held a motorcycle racing Grand Prix. The dream of watching riders in action burst again in 2015. Unfortunately, the meeting between Dorna Sports SL, the Government of Indonesia and Sentul Circuit ended in failure.

A year later, Alex Noerdin – at that time was South Sumatra Governor – visited Sepang during the Malaysian MotoGP to meet with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. The two sides discussed about using the Jakabaring in Palembang, on South Sumatra, as the location of the race. However, that failed too.

Now, the country’s dream to host the prestigious racing event seems closer to reality. The Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) is currently building new circuit – it has apparently been in preparation since 2017 – in the Mandalika special economic zone, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

The ITDC is a state-owned enterprise that specializes in the development and management of integrated tourism complexes. The ITDC is fully owned by the Republic of Indonesia, represented by the Government of the Republic of Indonesia/Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises (BUMN), in which the Republic of Indonesia becomes the final parent entity.

ITDC's efforts to bring MotoGP back are no joke. The Master Land Utilization and Development Agreement (LUDA) contract signed with Vinci Construction Grands Projets (VCGP) – bringing an investment of US$ 1 billion – will be used for land use and development covering 131 hectares, including Mandalika street circuit.

MotoGP and WorldSBK

After signing the Promoters’ Contracts at Dorna’s office in Madrid, Spain on 28th January 2019 – the agreement confirms that Indonesia will welcome MotoGP and World Superbike in 2021 to the island of Lombok, more specifically within Mandalika, which is a large scale integrated tourism estate – ITDC then appointed Mrk1 Consulting, along with RoadGrip Motorsport, to plan, implement, and run a new circuit.

In order to prove the seriousness and commitment to hosting a MotoGP race, ITDC launched the Mandalika Grand Prix Association (MGPA) during the event in Sudirman Central Business District (SCBD), Jakarta last month. The organizer also showed off a race simulation of the Mandalika Circuit, which will be 4.31 kilometers layout featuring 17 corners.

Key persons attending the event included State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama, Dorna Sporting Director Carlos Ezpeleta and MotoGP legend Mick Doohan.

MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Abdulbar M Mansoer President Director of ITDC, Dorna Sports Sporting Director Carlos Ezpeleta and MGPA CEO Ricky Baheramsjah
MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Abdulbar M Mansoer President Director of ITDC, Dorna Sports Sporting Director Carlos Ezpeleta and MGPA CEO Ricky Baheramsjah

MGPA, a business unit of state-owned ITDC, will be responsible for managing and operating the Mandalika International Street Circuit through organizing world-class motor racing and entertainment events. “ITDC handed over the mandate to manage the 2021 Indonesian MotoGP to MGPA,” said Abdulbar M Mansoer, President Director of ITDC.

“It’s a five year-contract, from 2021 until 2025. We indeed chose like this (street circuit). When there is no race, we will use it for public roads.

“We will host the World Superbike and MotoGP rounds back-to-back. Why? Because we are a street race. Grandstands would also be more efficient if we hosted (two races) at a time, but that depends on Dorna. Surely we will try to have World Superbike and MotoGP back-to-back in order to become more efficient," he explained.

Homologation

Given the responsibility of running the Indonesian MotoGP round by ITDC, MGPA is optimistic that fans will fill the grandstands. MGPA CEO Ricky Baheramsjah said that his side will continue to discuss finalizing the circuit homologation with the Indonesian Motor Association (IMI) and the FIM. MGPA will also work with IMI to conduct training for around 300 residents of the West Nusa Tenggara region, who will later serve as marshals during the event.

Aside from being an open circuit and presenting beautiful scenery, Baheramsjah said that Mandalika had another exceptional factor, namely the level of accessibility. The Mandalika International Street Circuit is only 30 minutes from Lombok International Airport. Fans can also reach Lombok via Bali, either by air or land and sea.

How about the circuit progress? Construction started in September 2019 and is now entering the groundwork phase. The work on laying the asphalt will begin in January 2020 and be carried out by PT Waskita Karya (Persero) Tbk, and will be finished by the end of next year. MGPA assures that the development process is still on track.

“The earthwork is already 30% done and it should be finished by June next year. But before we finish on the earthwork, we can already start the track itself (asphalting) around January time,” Baheramsjah told MotoMatters.com.

“We will work in parallel together so that by the end of next year, in 2020, the track will be done and we will be ready for the pre-season test that Dorna has allocated for us (February 2021).

“We’ve been working very, very closely with Dorna and the FIM to make sure that the track we’ve been designing and that we are building is according to the safety standards as well,” he stressed.

A different type of street circuit

The concept of a street circuit might be somewhat misleading. Moreover, the track is used for normal traffic when there are no races. Although there is concern about the condition of the asphalt, MGPA guarantees that the Mandalika International Street Circuit is a track created specifically based on FIM's standards and regulations.

Baheramsjah also revealed that MGPA has a special standard operating procedure (SOP). There will be limited access of vehicles when entering and leaving the Mandalika area in order to limit the wear to the asphalt and maintain it in good condition, so it will stay smooth and undamaged when used for the MotoGP race.

“We have a special SOP. The one thing that we cannot have on the (track) surface is large truck and construction vehicles, but small vehicles, like cars, bikes and things like that is very open. Keep in mind that we are applying very high quality standards. So to have pedestrian people walking (around) or cars like small vehicles, as well as bikes is not a problem for the circuit,” he said.

“The good thing about this is because we designed the circuit from the beginning. We are able to build underpasses. We are able to build alternative roads to take you around The Mandalika. So there is minimum disturbance of the circuit itself,” he continued.

Medical facilities

However, one vital factor for a MotoGP race is the hospital. In this case, it can be supported by medevac. FIM Standards for Circuits regulations state: “The designated hospital should normally be within 20 minutes by air and 45 minutes by road. If the hospital is not within a reasonable distance of the event and transfer by helicopter is not possible, consideration should be given to stopping the event. To ensure the availability of a helicopter at all times during the event, it is recommended that 2 helicopters be available.”

Responding to this, Baheramsjah answered that some medical facilities are already available in Lombok. The MGPA even conducted a survey there too. "With regards to applying this survey quickly, we also provide medevac which is very usual for MotoGP race. We are also developing temporary medical facilities on site in the first season in 2021, in order to meet the FIM's regulations and safety standards as well," he said.

“The nearest hospital is in Mataram but in the future Mandalika needs to have a hospital like in Nusa Dua. Right now there's BIMC International Hospital in Nusa Dua. In the future Mandalika will have its own hospital and it will be designed and built for motorsport races, where you need trauma units, burns units. That's the most important thing really.

“After that we can make decision about what kind of hospital are we going to build in the long-term future, whether it is sufficient or whether we need to evacuate to the different hospital. It’s very similar to Sepang. They have medevac and they fly directly to hospital in Kuala Lumpur,” he added.

Owning the land

In the midst of the tumult of welcoming an Indonesian MotoGP in 2021, land acquisition problems are arising. German media, Speedweek, recently reported about a land owner named Gema Lazzuardi who refused to leave their land before the owner of the circuit paid compensation.

Regarding this matter, Corporate Secretary of ITDC Miranti Redranti asserted that her side was not worried at all. She made sure the problem would not interfere with the circuit construction, while ensuring the MotoGP project in Mandalika would continue to run according to schedule.

“The land that has not been acquired has already been registered as an enclave. At the moment the process is land acquisition with compensation based on appraisal,” she explained.

“Whereas for land owners who feel unpaid and not included on the enclave land list, they are welcome to submit legal certainty to the relevant agencies accompanied by legal proof of ownership," she continued.

Ticket sales

Despite the issue of land acquisition, as well as unfinished circuit construction, MGPA made the bold move of offering 20,000 tickets through a prebooking system, starting from January 20 until August 2020 via themandalikagp.com. These tickets will go on sale later on the motogp.com website.

Countdown to prebooking ticket sales for the Mandalika GP

By prebooking tickets, fans will have the opportunity to choose seats either in the grandstands or General Admission. And those who prebooked would be prioritized for ticket purchase once the 2021 calendar is released. They would also receive benefits, including the ability to choose their seating category as well as supporting services, such as parking zone during the race.

“Nevertheless, we have not decided the ticket price because we’re still discussing it with Dorna. The ticket price will depend on the race day and seating category,” said Redranti.

“The plan is tickets will be sold start at Rp295,000 (around US$ 21). This is for General Admission, for the first day, Friday, practice day. Spectators can enter the circuit, can walk around the Mandalika area, but don’t have a seat allocation,” she added.

It’s worth waiting for the construction of the Mandalika International Street Circuit, because it’s no secret anymore that Dorna desperately want a MotoGP race in Indonesia, which is also the biggest market for manufacturers. Only time will tell when this country’s dream comes true.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

Mon, 2019-12-02 14:43
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Second again, his fifth of the season. Fabio Quartararo has had an astonishing rookie season


Johann Zarco proved he still had speed on the LCR Honda. He gets another chance next year on the Avintia Ducati, once he's finished with the paperwork


Iker Lecuona - the first ever MotoGP rider born this Century. Making everyone feel old


Special livery for Aprilia at Valencia, raising awareness of AIDS. A stunning color scheme


Farewell to a legend


Jack Miller has matured like a fine Aussie wine this year. Looking good for 2020


The job of a rider coach includes picking riders up when they are donw. Torleif Hartelman gives Franco Morbidelli a lift back to the pits


A race in the middle of November means the light is magical


Danilo Petrucci did his best to help Ducati win the teams title, but fell off trying. It was a tough second half of the year for the Italian


The fact that Valentino Rossi is still competitive at the age of 40 is amazing...


But Maverick Viñales has beaten him twice in the past three seasons. Who do Yamaha follow?


Cal Crutchlow was the only other rider in 2019 who could ride the Honda RC213V. Will Honda build a better bike in 2020?


Pol Espargaro has carried KTM in 2019. Johann Zarco was too slow and unhappy to provide input, Dani Pedrosa only became useful as a test rider once he was fit again. Espargaro was doing double duty as test rider and results chaser


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Sun, 2019-11-24 23:52
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On Saturday night, Karel Abraham told a meeting of his fans that he would not be back in MotoGP. The Czech rider found out on Friday that the Avintia team wanted to end their relationship, when he received an email from a notary representing the team stating in Spanish that the team would be terminating his contract.

The move came as a massive shock to Abraham. It had been completely unexpected, as he had been told at Valencia that he would be back with the team in 2020, and to turn up for the test at Jerez. Only on Saturday was he told not to travel to Jerez.

Abraham had already made arrangements, however. He also needed to recover his leathers and various other belongings which had been sitting in the Avintia truck when it was driven to Jerez for the test. While he was at the Jerez circuit picking up his belongings, Israeli TV commentator Tammy Gorali, present in Jerez to report on the test, grabbed him and spoke to him for MotoMatters.com. That gave Abraham a chance to give his side of the story.

Surprise

"As much as many people were surprised, I was very surprised, because I absolutely didn't expect it," the Czech rider told Tammy Gorali. "Well, you could say I could have expected it, the season was not great. Yes, I agree, that's true, but OK, we had a two years deal."

Abraham's contract with Avintia ran through 2019 and 2020, and talks had already taken place about improving the performance of Abraham and the team next season, the Czech rider said, and even prospects beyond that. "In the middle of the season I came to the team and said hey, look, we need to talk, do you want me to stay? And they were 'yeah everything is going in line and everything is perfect and great'. But since we had this meeting, we also were talking about 2021, because Tito also signed a 2-year contract."

Things in the team had taken a turn for the worse after that, Abraham told Gorali. "Since then things were not working really great," he said. "When we came to Malaysia the guy from Ohlins was not in our team. Our Ohlins guy was in Malaysia, but he was not allowed to work with us, because there were some issues." Abraham would not be drawn on what those issues were, though he hinted at what they might be. "If you try to find out, it's quite simple."

Looking for solutions

Those problems had been cause for Abraham to sit down with the team to try to work out a solution for next year. "We said, OK, look, everything is more or less alright, but there are a couple of things which we are not happy about and want to talk about. And we wanted to have a meeting in Sepang, which we did, we wanted to have a meeting again in Valencia, which we also did."

When rumors that Avintia was looking at putting Johann Zarco in the team in place of Abraham, the Czech rider spoke to Ruben Xaus, who handles team management together with Raul Romero. Xaus told Abraham he did not need to be concerned, Abraham told Gorali. "So we talked in Valencia again, and after the rumors with Zarco I went to Ruben again, multiple times actually, and asked what is going on, is it happening or not happening? And on Tuesday – he missed the last day of testing on Wednesday – he confirmed and said don't worry, you have your contract, everything is as it should be. I asked if they were talking to Zarco and he said 'No, we are absolutely not talking to Zarco, this is just some rumors, it's not true'. "

That reassured Abraham. "So I said OK,I did one day of testing, which was not bad, then I went back home. We texted a couple of times with Ruben, but he did not answer but I did not take it seriously."

Fired by email

It was only on Friday that Abraham received an email for the lawyers handling legal affairs for the team. "Late Friday evening, I opened my email and I received an email from a notary," Abraham told Gorali. "I opened it and it was in full Spanish, not English or Czech, saying 'Hello Mr Abraham, I am the notary of Esponsorama [the organization behind the Avintia team - DE], these are the documents and paperwork that this is the official notary'."

Because everything was in Spanish, Abraham could only get the broad lines of what the email was saying. Professional translation services were shut, it being Friday night, so Abraham had to use an online service to get a rough sense of the contents of the email. "When we put it into a translator, it was quiet clear that it was the termination of our contract. So we texted Ruben again, with 'Hey, what is this?' No answer."

Abraham tried texting repeatedly, to no avail. "We texted him multiple times, but we didn't receive any answer from him," he said. "But on the next day, Saturday, I texted him again saying 'Hey, Ruben look, you sent me this Spanish email, I have no idea what is in it and tomorrow I am leaving to Jerez, should I go to Jerez or not?' Only then I received a message saying, 'Correct, it's the termination of the contract, don't come to Jerez, and stop communication with me'."

Poor form

The way that Xaus had handled that had come as a real blow to Abraham, he told Gorali. "I am disappointed because he was always this kind of friendly guy, he borrowed a car from me, he went with me to the hotel, or in Australia we spent a lot of time together, very friendly. And then he says 'don't talk to me anymore'. So I was like, "Are you serious? You are basically kicking me in the ass after the season is done and while we have a contract, and not even talking to me?'"

Abraham had expected someone in the team to at least have the decency to phone him to explain, he told Gorali. "OK, Raul doesn't speak English, but Ruben or somebody else, I don't care who, they could pick up the phone and say 'Hey Karel, this is the situation'. But they said nothing. I am also here in Jerez because as you can see I did not expect this, because they assured me it's not happening and I have all my stuff in the track, so I just came to pick it up and then I am gone. But it was a big surprise for me too."

Abraham had been given the ride in the Avintia team on the understanding that he would bring sponsorship to the team. The Czech rider insisted that he and his sponsors had paid the agreed sum for 2019 in full, but acknowledged that early payments for 2020 had been put on hold, because he wanted to get assurances about changes in the team for next season.

Leverage

"What you hear is half way true," Abraham told Tammy Gorali. "This is what they used to kick me out, but honestly, all of 2019 is paid for, there was no doubt. 2019 was completely paid for. There were some payments we were supposed to make for the 2020 season, but we did not pay them and postponed them, not for months, we are talking days. We postponed them because we had some doubts about things happening in the team."

The postponed payments were part of the negotiations for 2020, especially in light of losing an Ohlins technician in Malaysia, Abraham explained. "First of all, we postponed the payments because we did not get what we agreed in the contract, for example the Ohlins guy was missing and many other things happening. So we said hey, we want to talk about the next season before we fully commit. And they said, OK, we will talk in Malaysia, which we did, but there were new issues coming, so we said we will talk one more time in Valencia, and then we will proceed. In Valencia we agreed, we still wanted to do some adjustments so we sent some proposals, but we received no answer but the termination of the contract."

The postponed payments were used as the reason to terminate the contract, according to Abraham. "This is why they said they are kicking us out. Because we didn't pay in time, because we broke the contract," the Czech rider said. "But really, it's not true, because we agreed to have those meetings, and postponed the payments."

Why Zarco?

Though Abraham repeatedly said he had nothing against Johann Zarco, he was at a loss to explain why the Frenchman had been given his job. "I was talking to Ducati at Valencia during the test, not to Gigi but somebody else, and they told me they are not supporting Zarco," Abraham told Gorali. "They are not against him, but they are not supporting him, so they are not giving him better material, they are not giving him a discount on the bike. They told me that Avintia has one contract, and it doesn't matter which rider is on the bike, this is the bike they get at this price. This is what Ducati told me. If it's going to be like this, I don't know."

Abraham said that he had no knowledge of the situation beyond Avintia wanting to break the contract. "I know what is happening on my side, but I don't know what is happening on Avintia and Zarco," he said. "Honestly, I'm not even 100% sure it's Zarco. It's quite obvious but not confirmed. So I think it will be Zarco who is replacing me, but I didn't see the contract, I didn't see the official announcement or anything. It's just one guy, and everybody is talking about him, so it looks like it's going to be him."

He was surprised that Zarco was still being linked to Avintia after the Frenchman's cutting comments about the team over the Valencia race weekend. Zarco had said he would rather not ride for Avintia, as Avintia was not 'a top team'. "I'm not the one to judge Zarco’s moves," Abraham said. "It’s his choice. But he was in a factory team. I know he didn’t like the bike that much, but he was in a factory team. He got a very good salary and everything was set. Next year, the rumors say that quite a few riders will leave factory teams, so good opportunities, everything."

"Anyway, Zarco left this team. He didn’t talk very well about them," Abraham said. "After he didn’t even talk very well about Avintia. Then he fights for it, for Ducati Avintia team. He fights after going out of factory team, after saying bad things about Avintia. This is something that I don’t really understand, but this is the business of Zarco, not mine anymore."

Uncertain future

The whole situation was so fresh that Abraham had not yet decided on a course of action, he said. "Because it just happened on Friday night, so it is one day and one night away. We didn’t even make official translation yet, which we will do during the week. Then we will proceed to take the actions, but what are the actions we are not sure yet. We really don’t know. We don’t know what is in the letters that we received. We have to take the package together and think about it."

The overriding feeling for Abraham was anger mixed with disappointment, he told Tammy Gorali. "I am sad that I’m not racing, but mostly now I’m angry and disappointed, especially disappointed because to do this is really strange. They know that they received all the money from us, so they knew that they are going to receive all the money. In the paddock you can ask. There is nobody that we didn’t pay. In the past every time when we were supposed to do something, it happened. We don’t have a history of something bad."

The whole situation had left Abraham uncertain of his next move. "For the moment, it’s very fresh, but I’m not planning to stay in a racing environment," he said. "Apart from the Brno circuit, obviously, which we are running. But MotoGP, world championship, I’m not planning for the moment to stay."

Abraham was aware that he was only giving his side of the story, but he also believed that his history, and the history of the Avintia team, would bear him out. "Obviously everybody can say that there are two sides that you have to look at. I think you should look into my history. Not professional riding, but professional acting in the paddock, what I did, how was our history, how was the history of Avintia, how is the history of the people involved. Listen to both stories and take whatever you want out of it. I’m telling you how I feel it. I think I’m telling you the facts. That what it is," he told Gorali.

Racing life

Although he is a trained lawyer, racing is the only life he has known since he was very young, Abraham said. "When I was fifteen, I started," he said. "So it’s been fifteen years that I was around, living between the tracks in motorhomes, traveling all the time in a car and planes and everything. So it’s kind of the life that I’m used to. So we will see what will be happening. Now I honestly have no idea. The speed, adrenaline… I need adrenaline. So the speed and adrenaline, people around, I’m sure I’m going to miss it. Maybe not in the first week. That’s more disappointment and anger, but you get hungry. That’s the time you will see. I don’t know yet."

What made Abraham most angry was the way the whole situation had been handled. Having his contract torn up at the end of the year, with no opportunity to go anywhere else, had been a body blow. "I understand that Johann Zarco might be a good guy to ride a bike," he said. "I understand that. But this is not how you treat a person. This is not how you do business either. If we have a contract and the contract is there and everything is ready and the season is over, and right now they know if they kick me out, which they did, I have no chance of finding a place now. Basically no chance in Moto2. MotoGP, absolutely not. Superbike also, not a good place, at least. So basically what they did, they just screwed me. It’s just, I’m done."

If the Avintia team had told him earlier, he might have been able to find something else, Abraham said. "If they told me in the middle of season, we could have done something. Or, they could also approach me in Valencia and say, 'Karel, look. We’ve got Zarco. This is the deal. He will bring a lot more money than you,' or whatever is the deal. I don’t know. 'What are we going to do about it?' Then I can say, okay, it’s bad, but maybe I was not so happy this year. Let’s talk about it and let’s do it the normal way. That’s how you do it. But you cannot have the contract and basically after Valencia it’s called the beginning of next season, right? So I was already testing 2019 bikes, and then they say, 'Okay, stay home.'"

Fired crew chief

Abraham was not the only victim of this approach, he told Tammy Gorali. "Basically two weeks before they did it to me, they did it to my crew chief. I didn’t know about it. Ducati didn’t know about it. Nobody knew about it. He came to Malaysia and they told him, 'Next year you’re not working here.' He said, 'Are you serious? Because now all the crew chiefs in Moto2, MotoGP, and Moto3 are taken. So I need to stay home next year.' They cut him off. When you leave for one year, it’s really difficult to come back."

Abraham could not see a future for himself in any of the other classes, he told Gorali. "Don’t take me wrong - Moto2 and Superbikes are amazing races. It’s great. But I have gone through it. I went to MotoGP. I left MotoGP. I desperately wanted to make some good results. I already said it before. I don’t want to make a step back."

He did not want to disparage either Moto2 or World Superbikes, Abraham insisted. "I don’t say it’s a step back like it’s bad. No. It’s great racing. But I already was there, and I would be coming back. This is something that I don’t want to do. It’s absolutely clear for me. I said there is only one condition under which I will do it, because I’m thirty years old. It’s not old, but for racing it’s not young. So going Moto2 or Superbikes, I would go if they gave me a really fast bike, and if they give me a good salary."

So Karel Abraham is to sit along the sidelines at Jerez, while the Reale Avintia team tests. Tito Rabat will be on one bike, while the Avintia squad's MotoE rider Eric Granado will be on the second bike for the Jerez test, as a reward for winning races in MotoE for the team.

The ball is now in Johann Zarco's court. If the Frenchman says the word, there is a seat in the Avintia squad for him. But so far, he has yet to make his mind up.


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Fri, 2019-11-22 15:58
Body:


There is a corner of every racetrack around the world that is forever Lorenzo's Land. Farewell to one of the all-time greats


Fire in the hole. Ducati got the Valencia Grand Prix off to a bad start, Michele Pirro's GP19 catching fire, and two other bikes throwing out smoke


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Alex Rins chased, but Andrea Dovizioso stayed ahead


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Thu, 2019-11-07 21:47
Body:


Valentino Rossi has an extra supply of mojo at Sepang. But it wasn't quite enough to get him past Andrea Dovizioso and onto the podium


On the grid, eyes ahead, and plan for Turn 1


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Andrea Iannone does the walk of shame after crashing


Valentino Rossi got past Andrea Dovizioso from time to time, but never for long enough to stay ahead of him.


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Rookie style check, part 1: Joan Mir


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Franco Morbidelli finished ahead of Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas Yamaha SRT team's home race. That mattered


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If you would like to buy a copy of one of these photos, you can email Cormac Ryan Meenan

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