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Fri, 2020-04-03 18:02
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Since the announcement on Wednesday that Andrea Iannone's suspension for violating the FIM doping code had been reduced to 18 months, there have been questions surrounding the verdict. In interviews and press releases, Iannone himself, his lawyer, and Aprilia had all contended that he had been found innocent of intentionally ingesting drostanolone, a banned exogenous anabolic androgenic steroid. The International Disciplinary court of the FIM, the CDI, had accepted Iannone's claim that he had accidentally ingested the substance by eating contaminated meat, Iannone and his entourage told the media.

Whether this was an accurate reflection of the verdict or just spin by Iannone's legal and PR team was impossible to know. The FIM had only issued a press release stating the verdict of the court: that drostanolone had been found in a urine sample taken after the race in Sepang, that a hearing had been held, and submissions made to the court, and that the verdict of the court was that Iannone was suspended for 18 months, from 17th December 2019 to 16th June 2021.

After the verdict was published, there were calls for the reasoning behind the verdict to be published, but the FIM has refrained from comment. There is a good reason for that: Iannone has 21 days from the verdict to lodge an appeal with the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and until that time, the issue is still technically sub judice, and the FIM cannot say anything for fear of prejudicing any appeal that might happen.

But the FIM will provide much more openness on the Iannone case once the legal process has run its course, FIM president Jorge Viegas told Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali. In the course of a long interview, conducted remotely while Viegas was at his home in Portugal and to be published on MotoMatters.com later this month, Viegas promised transparency.

"At this moment, the FIM will not comment at all on the punishment of Mr. Andrea Iannone," Viegas told Gorali. "We have a commission of judges which is totally independent from the executive power of the FIM. The FIM is one of the parts in this, and in the whole anti-doping process."

"We have our lawyer that was involved in the process, and they have their lawyer. They went before the three judges from the commission. The judges asked for additional documents and evidence, and then they decided based on that. And now, in this moment, what happened is that we are in the time period during which the FIM, Mr. Iannone, or WADA can file an appeal with the CAS in Lausanne. So until this period ends, which is roughly a month, a bit less, nobody in the FIM is allowed to comment on the matter."

Despite not wanting to comment on the case, Viegas was at pains to point out that the FIM took doping very seriously, and that the CDI did not reach its verdict lightly. And the FIM president promised more transparency once the process was complete.

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Mon, 2020-03-30 15:51
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It has been 22 days since a mad mass of Moto3 riders all barreled into Turn 1 at Qatar at the same time


Sun sets, speed goes up - Dennis Foggia chasing a time as darkness falls


A new hero emerges? Joe Roberts came into his own at Qatar, converting previously shown promise into results


Darryn Binder practices his 1000-yard stare before the Moto3 race


The Moto2 race turned into almost as much of a thriller as the MotoGP race


Stefan Manzi on the MV Agusta. Who also make middleweight triples


Deniz Öncü - can he do better than his brother Can, who is now off in WorldSSP?


Tony Arbolino brings the bling on the Snipers Honda Moto3 machine


KTM waited until the Qatar race weekend to introduce their new engine. It made a big, big difference, bagging win #100 for them, and #4 for Albert Arenas


A Japanese rider winning in the desert - emotional times for Tetsuta Nagashima, after winning the Moto2 race and dedicating victory To Shoya Tomizawa


His teammate may have won, but Jorge Martin got his tire choice wrong and went backwards, like several other favorites


The perennial Moto3 problem: how to read your pit board


This is a big year for John McPhee, but a second place in the first race is a good start.


All hail the red, white, and blue


Fast moving - when we first started going to Qatar, not even a long lens would pick up Doha in the distance


Jorge Martin, shadow play


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Fri, 2020-03-20 16:14
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Jack Miller, Ducati, Misano 2019 MotoGP round

If you eavesdrop on a rider and his team debriefing in a garage during a session you’ll invariably hear a comment about chatter. It’s the oldest enemy for a rider because it robs confidence. With the bike moving underneath them they can’t open the throttle and the problem exaggerates the longer it continues.

But what exactly is chatter? It’s a harmonic imbalance created by vibrations and frequencies on a motorcycle. Man and machine need to be in perfect harmony to go racing but sometimes it’s the imperfect harmony of frequencies can upset everything for them.

"The word chatter gets used a lot, but a lot of the time, it's not strictly accurate," says former Moto2 crew chief and technical expert Peter Bom. "It's applied to everything which shakes and vibrates, but in the original sense, chatter was caused by the front or rear tyre (or both). Improved tyre construction has eliminated a lot of what used to be called chatter."

"There seem to be a wider variety of types of chatter now. The newer forms of chatter are at a lower frequency, and can sometimes be an old-fashioned bouncing movement. The video of Pol Espargaro from Thailand is a good example, where he had horrible chatter and had to hold the bike up on his elbow."

Bad vibes

With a rider hanging on for dear life they are doing all they can to ensure that while they are on track, they’re extracting every last ounce of performance from their bike. The only problem is that their bike is a box of vibrations that houses a 15,000rpm engine running on a bumpy circuit with a 70kg rider bouncing from one side to another.

The rider is pushing as hard as they can, trying to go fast. But that takes them deep into oscillation territory. "The harder you push a tyre, the more it slides instead of just rolling through the corner," Peter Bom explains. "Even a smooth slide is actually a continuous sequence of slipping and gripping again, slipping and gripping."

"This slip-grip sequence creates a vibration at a frequency which travels from the tyre into the motorcycle, and usually gets damped there by the frequencies of the other components of the bike, especially the suspension damping and springs. If you're unlucky, this frequency coincides with the inherent frequency of the motorcycle (the sum of many individual frequencies for each component of the bike) and these two will start to resonate in sympathy and amplify one another."

These vibrations and movements all have an effect on performance and if they’re not dealt with correctly they can wreck a weekend or indeed a season. Racing is all about compromises. Bikes need to be stiff but supple. They need to be forgiving yet also razor sharp.

Resonant frequency

Chatter is the enemy of this condition but something that needs to be constantly thought about. Every object in the world has a frequency when struck but musical instruments give us the best example of how these can affect a racing motorcycle. If you pluck a guitar string it releases a musical note. The guitar can release frequencies over a huge range, approx 1300 hertz, and this makes as powerful a weapon as a MotoGP bike is on track.

If you were to play a guitar and randomly select notes across the fretboard you can hear the differences between one and the next. You can feel it too because the vibrations cause the pitch of the note. Beethoven was deaf but could still “feel” the music from these vibrations.

A motorcycle is the same as an instrument the vibrations caused by the engine or the environment all creating their own notes. The key for a manufacturer is avoiding the frequencies that cause a dangerous resonance. This is the natural effect of harmonics with their frequency amplified.

"It's a bit like when you wet your finger and glide it around the edge of a wine glass," explains Peter Bom. "The glass will start to vibrate, and that creates an audible high tone. In our motorcycle, the rider can feel a high-frequency vibration in his backside or in his hands, while the bike takes a wider radius through the corner, in other words, it runs wide."

Every object has natural resonance frequencies that can cause them to amplify the frequency. Bridges and buildings have collapsed due to this phenomena - it’s why armies will walk out of step across a bridge for instance - and the destructive power of this has the same effect on a motorcycle. It causes it to vibrate and move underneath the rider.

"It starts in the tyre as a vibration, and this has to resonate with the other frequencies in the bike to create chatter," Peter Bom says. "The reason that not everybody suffers from chatter with the same tyres is because they are all riding different bikes."

Keeping everything taut

"This chatter happens when there is relatively little 'tension' in the bike. It often starts just after the rider releases the last bit of brake pressure, and disappears as soon as they open the throttle again. So especially during the rolling phase. It costs lap time, but it doesn't make you crash."

The easiest cure for this on a bike? Change the frequency by winding on the throttle or adding a touch of brake. "Riders can influence it themselves," Peter Bom explains. "Keeping tension in the bike for longer or using a different line can make a big difference. Remember the photos of Rossi, where you can see him still holding the front brake on while he is already starting to open the throttle? A rider like Lorenzo would have more issues than someone like Stoner."

Like playing a guitar and moving up through the fretboard you are increasing the tension on the string and changing the frequency. The goal on a race bike is to tighten the string by accelerating and forcing the centre of gravity to the rear of the bike. Easier said than done though for a rider with the bike bucking underneath them due to the forces of chatter, and pushing them off line.

Opening the throttle could make things even worse, though, and lead to a crash. The cure can be worse than the disease... Sometimes, just riding out the chatter and sucking up the loss of time is the better option.

Ten thousand piece puzzle

In the current era of aerodynamics in MotoGP and WorldSBK the key can come from the fairings of bikes. The ultra light carbon fibre shrouds are crucial to performance but depending on how the wind hits the fairing it can have a big effect on what happens with the bike. Is that air moving cleanly over the bike or is it causing a downstream effect to another part?

How can you reduce the effects of chatter? There’s lots of ways around it ranging from riding style and body positioning on the bike to teams adding weights to different parts of the bikes to ensure that the frequencies from certain parts can be eliminated. This equates to adjusting your style on the guitar. Instead of a harsh strum, you can reduce the force and suddenly the notes are the same but they come out cleaner.

There are no guarantees, however. "In terms of solutions, I have seen every suggestion under the sun," Peter Bom says. "You wouldn't believe it. The trouble is that one solution might work today but not tomorrow. You want to reduce the chance of resonance starting, but there are hundreds of components involved."

"Lead-filled axles, kilos of wheel-balancing lead stuck on all over the bike, extreme damping settings, you name it. If you had the choice, you would struggle on and then use a different tyre and try to get the best out of that. Sometimes you didn't have that luxury, though. A tyre that was sensitive to chatter would always start chattering more as it wore, a new one was OK for a little while."

A crew chief is in a constant battle to try and make the notes sing from their instrument. Sometimes it means harsh words with the rider but in most cases it’s about finding a compromise.


This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with RacingLowdown.com, run by MotoMatters.com contributor Steve English.

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Tue, 2020-03-17 09:40
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Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Sepang MotoGP test

The announcement that the Petronas Yamaha SRT team had signed Fabio Quartararo for the 2019 MotoGP season was met with some skepticism. Why, the critics said, would you sign a rider with just a single victory to his name after four seasons in Grand Prix, and with two other podiums, both of which had come in his first year in Moto3?

Quartararo soon proved the critics wrong. The Frenchman impressed by qualifying in fifth place for his first race, and then again by setting the fastest lap of that first race after starting from pit lane due to stalling on the grid. Four races later, he put his signing beyond doubt, qualifying on pole and battling for the podium until a broken quickshifter took him out of contention.

Since then, Quartararo has gone from strength to strength. The Petronas Yamaha rider ended the 2019 season in fifth place, with six poles and seven podiums, two of which came as thrilling battles to the line with world champion Marc Márquez. He starts 2020 as one of Marc Márquez' main challengers.

Behind every great motorcycle racer is a smart crew chief, and Quartararo is no exception. The Frenchman has Diego Gubellini at his side, an engineer with over 20 years of experience in the Grand Prix paddock, including seven seasons as crew chief with the Gresini, Aprilia, and Marc VDS teams. In 2019, he joined the Petronas Yamaha SRT team to work with Fabio Quartararo.

I spoke to Gubellini at the Jerez MotoGP test in November of last year about working with Quartararo. He spoke candidly about how the collaboration came about, how he started the year with the Frenchman, and his approach to working with a rookie rider. We covered subjects from what impressed Gubellini most about Quartararo, finding the limit of the bike, and why Quartararo ended up topping so many sessions in search of a qualifying setup.

Q: What did you know of Fabio before you worked with him?

Diego Gubellini: Basically like everybody more or less. I started to hear about him when he arrived in the paddock because everybody was saying that he will be the next Márquez. Then of course I followed him a little bit. To be honest, not much, but a bit the first races he did in Moto3. Then in the second season, I didn’t follow him at all, to be honest. Then I really started to check what he was doing in Moto2, but his second season basically.

When he won the race in Catalunya, he actually surprised me. Then I started to check every race, not because I knew that he was my rider, but just because I was curious, to be honest. Basically, after the second season in Moto3 was not so good, then the first season in Moto2 was also not great, but then he won. Then he started to be more or less in the top ten. Basically for that reason. Then of course, when I knew that he would join us the Petronas team, of course. But not really very much. I never worked with him before.

Q: How did you prepare to work with him? Because the relationship between crew chief and rider is the most important relationship maybe in the entire paddock. Can you prepare before the season, before you meet him? Or do you have to go in with a completely open mind and just see what you get?

DG: Basically, from my point of view, I try to have a global picture of his career. What I noticed is that because everybody was talking about him like the new Márquez, I think he felt a lot of pressure and he made bad results for that reason. Then after that I said, okay, we make it simple, we try to not put pressure on him. Try to be positive and simple, because he’s a really young guy. This was the base of the 2019 season. This is how we prepared this season.

Then working with him, he doesn’t need so many special things, because he’s a quite easy guy, easy to work with. Nothing really complicated for me. I don’t know if it is because we match really good from the beginning, or because in general it’s quite easy to work with him.

Q: When you say keeping things simple, that would be not giving him too many choices, giving him the bike and saying, we think this will work for you? Does it mean limiting him?

DG: We didn’t put any limitations on him, but in general my style is to keep it simple, as simple as possible. For example, I don’t like to play a lot with the setup of the bike. I like to test the tires, let the rider make laps, adapt himself to the bike instead of changing the bike too much.

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Mon, 2020-03-02 12:31
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Marc Marquez' 2020 Honda RC213V at the Sepang test, with the aero package he rejected at the Qatar test

The cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP race and the Thai round of MotoGP in Buriram throws MotoGP's regular schedule into a bit of disarray. The deadlines under which the MotoGP manufacturers were working have suddenly been opened up again. Factories without concessions – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati – were due to homologate their engines this week, ahead of the first race, and all six manufacturers were due to submit their aerodynamics packages for homologation, although aerodynamics packages can vary per rider.

Similarly, teams were due to submit their gearbox ratios ahead of the first race, with a maximum of 24 different gearbox ratios and 4 different final drive ratios allowed during the season.

So now that Qatar and Thailand have been canceled or postponed, what happens next?

The FIM rule book is clear in that regard. Both engines and aerodynamics packages have to be homologated before the first event. This happens at Technical Control, or scrutineering, which happens on the Thursday before every event.

The rules for engines are covered in section 2.4.3.1.4.a of the FIM MotoGP rule book:

An approved MotoGP engine is one which has all parts included within the seals (Art. 2.4.3.3.2) identical in every respect to the parts included within the seals of a sample engine delivered to the MotoGP Technical Director no later than close of Technical Control of the first event (...)

The rules for aerodynamics are set out in section 2.4.4.7.10.ii.a:

The Aero Body is approved and samples or detailed drawings (to the satisfaction of the Technical Director) must be delivered to the Technical Director prior to the close of technical control at the first event of the season.

And the rules on gearbox ratios can be found in section 2.4.3.9.1.b:

Teams will be required to declare all the gearbox ratios chosen for each gearbox speed before the first race of the season, and only these declared ratios may be used during the entire season. Any ratios not declared before the first race of the season may not be used during that season.

First event

The key wording here is "the first event of the season". Despite Moto2 and Moto3 taking place in Qatar, the first event for the MotoGP class will, at the moment, be Austin. MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge confirmed this to us in an email. "All technical control requirements for MotoGP including, engine design, aero body approval, gearbox, etc, will now need to be declared in Austin," Aldridge wrote. That will continue to be the case unless Austin is also canceled or postponed.

The cancellation of Qatar also causes some confusion for Michelin. The French tire manufacturer has already submitted the list of all tire compounds and constructions to be used at each round of the 2020 season, a rule which had been demanded by the factories and the teams. Whether that list will change is unclear at the moment, although the only real reason to change the list would be to cope with rescheduled rounds.

More time for development?

With the first race of the season now postponed until April 5th at the earliest, the factories now have more time to work on their engines and aerodynamics. In theory, they could change engines or aero packages ahead of the first race.

The problem, of course, is that there are no more tests allowed for contracted riders (that is, riders with a permanent start in MotoGP for 2020) before the start of the season. The next test is due to be held after the Jerez round of MotoGP. Before that, the factories can only rely on their test riders.

The risk of relying on test riders to decide something as fundamentally important as an engine means that engine updates for anything other than reliability improvements are extremely unlikely to happen. Aerodynamics, on the other hand, is something which the factories could put in the hands of their test riders.

HRC's aerodynamics hole

This could turn out to be something of a blessing for Honda. With four more weeks, HRC could try to find an improvement to their failed aero package which was rejected by Marc Márquez at Qatar. It would give them more time to try to find a modified version of the 2019 package which had none of the downsides of the rejected 2020 package.

That, too, would be a risk, of course. If HRC test rider Stefan Bradl approves an aero package which turns out not to be an improvement, then Honda would be stuck with it, or have to revert to last year's aero, and forfeit their right to one updated aero package during the season.

At the very least, Honda, and the other factories, have more time to confirm their findings from the Sepang and Qatar test ahead of the start of the 2020 MotoGP season. For the moment, that is at Austin. But with the COVID-19 outbreak developing so quickly, everything is very much up in the air.


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Thu, 2020-02-27 17:30
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Honda in crisis! Honda no longer in crisis! Marc Marquez found a solution to his woes at the very last minute at Qatar


With a year's experience under his belt Franco Morbidelli, is getting impressively quick on the Petronas Yamaha


Photographers love Qatar, because it gives them an opportunity to take pictures like this...


And this


King of testing once again. But can Maverick Viñales convert that into being king of Qatar?


Full compression: you can't get much harder on the brakes than this


KTM look to have made another step forward. But a few incidents on the last day mean Pol Espargaro was outshone by his teammate, Brad Binder


Johann Zarco made steady progress on the Avintia Ducati. Where can he end up?


Front-end tuck. The Aprilia RS-GP is much improved, but Aleix Espargaro just pushes it further


Andrea Dovizioso has always been something of a closed book when it comes to talking about testing. But he's won the last two races at Qatar...


Valentino Rossi was the only Yamaha rider to complain of tire wear at Qatar. Prescient, or a sign of age?


One to watch: Joan Mir is matching his Suzuki teammate now. Next step is to beat him on a regular basis


Alex Marquez has made a solid start to his MotoGP career. But it's tough being a rookie on a Honda


Danilo Petrucci faces a battle to keep his seat. He started well, with an impressive race run on the last day of the test


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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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Wed, 2020-02-26 19:55
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Will Jonathan Rea have the #1 plate again at the start of next year? Would you bet against it?


Scott Redding: Does the new boy spell trouble for the established order?


Where the suck starts in suck-squeeze-bang-blow


New bike, new colors, new challenge for Alvaro Bautista. Can he win on the RR-R?


From Moto3 to WorldSSP - Can Öncü is following in mentor Kenan Sofuoglu's footsteps


Working view: what the mechanics look at when they warm up the BMW S1000RR. This changes for the rider


Clutch, exhaust, brake pedal: a lot of bike crammed into a small space on the Ducati Panigale V4R


But it is all beautifully packaged


Face seems familiar? Oli Bayliss, son of Troy, is a wildcard in World Supersport this weekend


But it's hard to get used to the idea of a Bayliss on a Yamaha


Another change of outfit: Toprak Razgatlioglu is racing the Pata Yamaha this season. He's been quick throughout testing


Alex Lowes has joined Kawasaki, to try to take on Rea with the same tools


Eugene Laverty switches again, this time to the SMR BMW squad


The Jolly Blue Giant - Loris Baz and Ten Kate are both showing the field that it is dangerous to underestimate them


MV Agusta, racing in the intermediate class in both World Championship paddocks


Big, bad Brembos don't get much of a workout at Phillip Island


Saying no to wheelies: the wings on the Ducati Panigale V4R


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Tue, 2020-02-25 23:23
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So testing is done and dusted – at Qatar, quite literally, once the wind picks up – and the pile of parts each factory brought has been sifted through, approved, or discarded. The factories are as ready as they are ever going to be for the first race in Qatar, at which point the real work starts. Testing will only tell you so much; it is only in the race that the last, most crucial bits of data are revealed: how bikes behave in the slipstream; how aggressive racing lines treat tires in comparison to fast qualifying and testing lines; whether all those fancy new holeshot devices will help anyone to get into the Turn 1 ahead of the pack. Only during the race do factories and riders find out whether the strategy they have chosen to pursue will actually work.

Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test

So after three days of the Qatar test, what have we learned? In these notes:

Honda, from catastrophe to optimism courtesy of old bodywork

  • How Honda made a better bike that is still worse
  • Yamaha's fearsome race pace
  • A race pace comparison
  • What if they can't enter Turn 1 in the lead?
  • Is it the bike, or is it Valentino Rossi?
  • What is enough top speed?
  • Suzuki's growing teammate rivalry
  • Ducati teammates working on tire life
  • Reality bites at Aprilia
  • Brad Binder's brilliant lap
  • Is the KTM finally competitive?

We start off with Honda. The last day of the test was something of a roller coaster for HRC. By the middle of the last day, the internet was awash with HONDA IN CRISIS! headlines. A few hours later, once the dust had settled and the test was over, the tone was very different. Honda appear to have found something. So what happened?

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Sun, 2020-02-23 01:21
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If there is one thing that we learned from the Sepang test, it is that the field is even closer this year. In Malaysia, 18 riders finished within a second of one another. That pattern has continued at Qatar, Pol Espargaro in fourteenth just 0.987 second behind the fastest man, Alex Rins. As comparison, the KTM rider was the last rider within a second of the fastest man after the first day of this test in 2019, but then, there were just eight riders ahead of him, rather than thirteen. And there was a gap of nearly four tenths of a second between the riders in second and third last year. Not so in 2020.

But if the single lap times were close, the race pace was a lot less so. Maverick Viñales towered over the rest in terms of consistent pace, with only the Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir getting anywhere near the pace of the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. Viñales laid down a real benchmark, with ten of his 47 laps in the 1'54s, which is under the race lap record. That included a run of ten laps, seven of which were 1'54s, five of which were consecutive. That is a rather terrifying race pace for the Spaniard to lay down, just two weeks ahead of the first race.

Viñales has a reputation for being the winter testing champion, frequently topping the timesheets, yet never quite able to convert that into a consistent championship challenge once the season gets underway. But there is reason to think things are a little different this time: not only is the Yamaha M1 a good bit faster than it was last year, but Viñales himself has a different attitude.

Different mindset

How different? He wasn't fastest overall on Saturday, unlike in previous years. He was calmer, more focused, more concerned with preparing for the race than anything else. "I'm much more calm, and without pressure," the Spaniard said. "In previous years, like in Malaysia, I was very angry, but this year I feel OK. I think we got the job done, which was the most important thing, try the bikes and clarify everything. And today, we also clarified many things, especially for the race."

Knowing that the Yamaha was more competitive than in 2019 wasn't the reason for his calmness, Viñales explained. "I should have been calm in those other years as well," he said. "It doesn't matter how it goes. It's important to be calm and to be clever. Because sometimes when you get nervous, you are not clever. So we need to be calm and clever, that's the most important."

The competition

Viñales finished behind the two Suzukis, which is also a sign of the progress Suzuki have made for their weakest point, a single fast lap. "I'm quite happy for this also, because in the last minutes, I was able to do the best lap time with low humidity and low temperature," Alex Rins said of his time attack at the end of the day. "So let's see in qualifying!"

Joan Mir hadn't been able to put together a mistake-free lap, but he was happier with this race pace. He was much further ahead than he had been expecting, he told reporters. "I'm surprised," Mir said. "I expected to feel good here, but not like this. Really consistent, all the laps really good, we are one of the top two or three strongest in the lap pace. So I'm happy about that. I think that we have to continue working, I think we have to work a little bit on the fast lap, because we have to adjust the bike a little bit more, I didn't make a perfect lap. But anyway, I wasn't really trying, and at the end it's only the first day. A lot of people still have margin to improve, and we also have margin. And we have to continue working to be stronger in these three days."

It is only day one, of course, and there is still much work to do. A lot can change over the course of a test, but so far, Viñales seems to be in a commanding position. And perhaps of more concern, in a very good place mentally: comfortable with the bike, and happy and comfortable inside his team. He approaches testing very differently: now, the only thing that counts is the race, and finding a way to get the maximum possible out of the bike. That looks to be the right attitude to start a season.

Viñales may not have been testing very much – he spent all day working on race setups, comparing the setups tested at Sepang with the way the bike responded at Qatar, a very different track – but there was still plenty being tested up and down pit lane.

Holeshots are the new black

Holeshot devices seem to be the flavor of the month in MotoGP right now, with Yamaha and Suzuki following the lead of Ducati and Aprilia. Yamaha's device has now appeared on Fabio Quartararo's bike, after Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales tried it out in Sepang. The device took some getting used to, Quartararo said. "It feels really strange because it was not usual, to turn something to go down. It's not a natural position, but its funny and I hope it works, because at the end, I made only 2 starts and I was feeling really good."

The Suzuki riders were a little more reticent about discussing their device, telling reporters they hadn't tried it yet. "At the moment I don't have it, but I have to ask," Joan Mir.

If the Suzuki riders were a little shy about their holeshot device, the Ducati riders were in full denial mode about the new evolution of the holeshot device which they have been using to lower the rear while riding. "I don't remember, I don't know," Danilo Petrucci laughed when asked about it. "I cannot say anything." The Ducati riders have clearly been given strict instructions not to talk about it at all.

A clearer view

What is it and what does it do? Journalist Simon Patterson, now working for online motorsports publication The Race, posted the best view of the new buttons operating the system, which squats the rear on corner exit to allow better acceleration. It is clear from Simon's photos that the buttons operate some kind of cable, which heads toward the rear of the bike to lower it.

The device has been hiding in plain sight for some time. Technical photographer Thomas Morsellino captured it for us last year, though it wasn't then clear what it was. The button system appeared on a Ducati at the Valencia test last year, and it appears to have been used since at least Sepang 2019.

The levers operating Ducati's squatting device, spotted at the Valencia MotoGP test in November 2019

Pushbutton magic

The button system is very similar to a mountain bike gear shift system, with small levers operating a cable and moving the rear up and down. But what precisely is being operated on? Clearly, the same mechanism being used by Ducati for the holeshot device at the start of the race. Attached to the lower suspension linkage is a small canister, looking a lot like a small hydraulic piston. That appears to be the active part of the holeshot device, with a cable operating on this canister / piston, which changes the position of the bike.

So the squatting system is really just an extension of Ducati's existing holeshot device. But by giving the rider a lever to operate it while riding, they can lower the back of the bike as they stand it up and start the hard part of acceleration. The mechanism should disengage automatically once the rider applies the brakes, but the fact that there are now two buttons on the left handlebar suggests that it can be both engaged and disengaged. That would come in handy as the bike gets up to speed along the front straight, but it would also mean it could be operated at places like Silverstone, where the run to the corner is too short and braking too gentle for the release mechanism to operate automatically.

Will it help? Ducati wouldn't have spent so much money on developing the system if they didn't think it would work. It is not going to take half a second off their lap times, but Ducati's strength is their drive out of corners. If this helps acceleration, then it will give them more of an advantage coming onto the straights, which in turn means they will get up to speed earlier, and give themselves a chance of pulling away, even from a more powerful Honda.

What are they hiding?

Is it legal? The rules specifically ban electronically operated suspension systems. But this is operated manually, by cables multiplied by hydraulic force. Completely legal, and incredibly clever. And a typical Ducati touch of trickery by reading the rules to see what the rulemakers had wanted to ban, and find the loophole which they hadn't thought practical.

Given that this is Ducati, however, led by the wily Gigi Dall'Igna, it makes you even more suspicious. If this is what everyone is talking about when it comes to Ducati, then it makes you wonder what Dall'Igna is up to elsewhere on the bike, while everyone is focused on the squatting device. It would be a typical sleight of hand for Ducati to secretly be concentrating on something we haven't even noticed, as we have been too busy looking for the buttons which operated the squatting device.

New bike, new track

Over at the other Italian factory, things are not going quite as well as they did in Sepang. The 2020 RS-GP performed exceptionally well in Malaysia, but the bike didn't fare quite as well once the temperatures dropped. "I would say that the first part of the day was similar to Malaysia," Aleix Espargaro told reporters. "I was competitive, I felt good. But then when the sun goes down and the temperature decreases, I struggle more than I expected."

That was not really a surprise, give just how new the bike is, Espargaro said. "I want to think that it's quite normal, because it's the first time I have ridden the RS-GP '20 in cold temperatures. In Malaysia we were close to 50° track temperature, in the first part of today, we were close to 50°. So when you ride at 20° you have to change the bike, you have to understand something. So let's say that it's the first day, and it's normal."

But the performance of the Aprilia was overshadowed by comments made by the factory riders. Yesterday, at the launch of the Aprilia Gresini team, Andrea Iannone made some comments taking credit for the development of the bike, claiming it had been built based on his feedback.

Happy families

Those statements did not sit well with Aleix Espargaro, who has been on the bike for a very long time. "Super disrespectful!" was how the Spaniard saw Iannone's remarks. "I had many teammates in Aprilia, I never had any problems with anybody in Aprilia, I feel I am good friends with all my teammates, also with Andrea. But with what he said yesterday, for me, that's the end of our good relationship."

Espargaro objected to Iannone taking credit for not just his hard work, but the hard work of the team around Espargaro. "What he said is a big disrespect for my engineers, my mechanics, for Bradley, for me, because it's not true," Espargaro said. "He knows perfectly well it's not true, what he said. I've been in Aprilia for four years, asking for these changes, pushing the engineers, and finally this arrived. But what he said is not true, and he was using my setting all season, and in 90% of the sessions he was behind me. So it's not fair what he said, for all the people around me, for all the people in Aprilia. But we know how Andrea is. I will continue living my life, my style of life, he can continue doing his, and the future will decide."

Aprilia are in an awkward spot with Andrea Iannone. The Italian is still suspended after testing positive for the banned substance drostanolone at Sepang last year, and his appeal to the FIM International Disciplinary Court (CDI) is awaiting judgment. That is not likely to come before the start of the season, meaning Aprilia could start the season without Iannone.

Even if the CDI finds against Iannone, he still has recourse to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the CAS), the highest international court for sporting affairs. An appeal there could take a few months, and if Iannone won there, he could return at some point during the season. If he doesn't win at either the CDI or the CAS, then he would be banned for a long time.

To travel with hope

Iannone's situation puts Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith in a difficult position. In principle, Smith is in line to take over the place of Iannone, if the Italian can't ride. But Smith can't afford to get his hopes up too much of a permanent seat, as until the appeals processed is completed, Iannone is still formally Aprilia's second rider.

"It's difficult, right?" Bradley Smith told reporters at Qatar. "Because I think it would be a dream come true to be back racing full-time. Those type of emotions are something you need to keep in check as well cause there absolutely no reason to think that it is going to happen and then be heartbroken and disappointed."

Smith was relatively happy with his combination of testing and racing in MotoE in 2019. "I think I am in a job that I enjoy," he said. "Last year with the wild cards, with the test riding with the MotoE, it was something I really enjoyed. So it would be a fantastic promotion, but it's not all or nothing, and I think that's a nice place to be. I'm certainly not putting my hopes on it because we do believe that things are looking more positive than negative for Andrea from what I hear from everybody. Patience is clearly key at the moment, and as a team, the main objective is to have him back as a full-time rider. So I am still a test rider until I am a full-time rider and that's my mental process at the minute."


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Fri, 2020-02-21 21:50
Body:

The 2019 MotoGP season was a long, hard road for Aprilia. The hiring of Massimo Rivola as CEO of Aprilia meant that the development of the RS-GP came to a standstill while he first straightened out Aprilia's organization, and allowing Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new machine, with a 90° V4 engine, from the ground up.

The 2020 prototype of the Aprilia RS-GP, at the Sepang MotoGP test

It was a major gamble. Aprilia was throwing away four years of development in MotoGP, and starting almost from scratch again. The Noale factory had a lot of new data to go on, but they had to make the right choices in so many areas that it would be easy to find themselves chasing down a blind alley.

The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith were wildly enthusiastic about the new RS-GP. "I didn't really expect that with a bike as new as this, that I would be as competitive as I am," Espargaro said. "Even with 20 laps on the tires, I can do 1'59s, it's unbelievable how fast I was. I think that with this RS-GP, the bike is a lot more close to the podium."

Bradley Smith was equally positive. "The new bike was much awaited," the Aprilia test rider said at Sepang. "It was delayed from what we originally expected, but it was worth the wait, it was worth the time and extra engineering hours to get all the info we had last year. The guys understood and managed to implement in a lot of areas all the improvement we needed. In a MotoGP bike there is so much you can do and so many variables, and they were able to refine a lot of things."

To find out more about the new Aprilia, and the development process, I spoke to Aprilia Racing Technical Director Romano Albesiano at the Sepang test. Albesiano, and Massimo Rivola, Aprilia Racing CEO, explained why they had changed the engine angle of the Aprilia, how that had affected the power delivery, and their main aim with the RS-GP. We also discussed the pros and cons of a satellite team, and how data from racing makes its way back into production.

Q: You have to be pleased with how the bike is reacting, and also the way that the riders are reacting because Aleix is always either here or here but right now I don’t think I’ve ever seen him…

Romano Albesiano: Yeah, we are really pleased to notice that the new bike is definitely a step from the previous one, in many areas: Stability, turning, engine response, stopping performance. It’s definitely what we were looking for, even maybe more than what we were expecting. Then we don’t know where we are in the ranking because everybody has improved. We’ll see. Anyway, we are in the field.

Q: One of the big changes was the change of the engine angle. You opened it up a little bit. How important was that? Why did you make that choice?

RA: We made this in order to be more free to play with firing orders without having to struggle with balance issues. Also to play more with the exhaust valve. Some places we are lacking engine brake level, so with the exhaust valve it will increase it. It was not possible with the previous layout and now it’s possible. We have not yet started using it, so I hope there will be another step.

Q: It’s such a new bike that it’s really difficult to tell where the journey ends. You can see this is much better, but how far along in the development process do you think you are?

RA: The development process has just started here. We have a lot of stuff that we are designing, many things engine-wise and chassis-wise. I think it’s very important now that we have found this good balance, and we mustn't lose it. But we have many components. We have a new cylinder head we hope to implement by mid-season. We have a new, different solution of frames. We are developing a new carbon fiber swingarm. So a lot of new ideas are in the pipeline.

Q: You started from a clean sheet of paper, from basically nothing, just the lessons learned over the years and then starting from nothing again. Where did you start when you were designing the bike? What areas?

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