Photos

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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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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If you'd like a print of one of Andrew Gosling's shots, then send Andrew an email and he'll be happy to help.

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
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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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This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion. Though most content on MotoMatters.com remains free to read, a select amount of uniquely interesting content will be made available solely to those who have supported the website financially by taking out a subscription.

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Mon, 2020-02-17 17:55
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Second year in the premier class. Is 2020 the year of Fabio Quartararo?


Jack Miller on the Desmosedici GP20. A few riders commented at how the rear seemed to stay low under acceleration, as if Ducati have found a way to keep the holeshot device activated out of corners


Brad Binder, learning that a MotoGP machine needs to be subdued to be ridden


Alex Marquez: shaking off the 'brother of' label and performing becoming a rider in his own right


When you own the title sponsor, you are free to do what you want with the livery. Joan Mir on the stunning Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR


Valentino Rossi was a lot less inclined to think about retirement on Sunday night than he had been on the Thursday before the test started


KTM's other test rider, Mika Kallio. Still plenty fast


But not fast enough to finish third on day 2, as Dani Pedrosa did. Pedrosa is worth his weight in gold to KTM


Another surprise returnee: Jorge Lorenzo now on testing duties for Yamaha, and mildly miffed not to be riding the 2020 bike


Egret (foreground) and Rins (background)


His fourth bike in sixteen months: Johann Zarco aiming to be good enough on the GP19 to earn a factory ride in 2021


Bum shoulder, new aero, but still plenty quick. Marc Marquez has his eyes on title number nine


Two years ago, Ducati test rider Michele Pirro was helping Jorge Lorenzo go faster on the Ducati. Now they wear different shirts, and both are test riders


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Wed, 2020-02-05 10:16
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Thomas Morsellino is a French freelance journalist and photographer, with keen eye for the technical details of MotoGP bikes. You may have seen some of his work on Twitter, where he runs the @Off_Bikes account. Peter Bom is a world championship winning former crew chief, with a deep and abiding knowledge of every aspect of motorcycle racing. Peter has worked with such riders as Cal Crutchlow, Danny Kent, and Stefan Bradl. After every race, MotoMatters.com will be publishing a selection of Tom's photos of MotoGP bikes, together with extensive technical explanations of the details by Peter Bom. MotoMatters.com subscribers will get access to the full resolution photos, which they can download and study in detail, and all of Peter's technical explanations of the photos. Readers who do not support the site will be limited to the 800x600 resolution photos, and an explanation of two photos.


Honda RC213V 2020 prototype (Marc Marquez)
David Emmett: You can tell this bike belongs to Marc Márquez by looking at the rear brake disc. The ventilated disc is a sign that it gets heavy use, and needs a lot of cooling.
This was one of the prototypes used by Márquez at Valencia, but the chassis is a tell that this was just being used to test the new engine. The frame still has the engine mount spar above the clutch (the section the fairing is attached to, by the bolt just behind the R of Repsol). At Valencia and Jerez, Márquez tested a chassis without that bolt, giving the frame a little more flex.


Suzuki GSX-RR engine and frame
Peter Bom/David Emmett: The serial number on the frame is a giveaway: This is a 2019 bike. Though it is also a sticker, and stickers are easy to remove and attach. A few things worth looking at here: the water pump below the swingarm pivot, tucked neatly out of the way, helps keep the engine narrower. Suzuki has its own version of the torductor, or torque sensor, on the output shaft: the yellow cable coming out of the black cap on the sprocket. You can also see a movement sensor on the rear shock, measuring how much it compresses and extends. If you look at the exhaust pipes, the front has insulation padding to protect the fairing. Always a sign that there is very little space between the fairing and the exhaust.


Honda RC213V 2020 smaller carbon cover (upper frame) To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Air duct on the Honda RC213V 2020 (close up) To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Engine of the 2020 Honda RC213V To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Yamaha M1 vented rear mudguard (used since 2018) To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


An unusual item on the underside of the fuel tank of the Aprilia RS-GP, which appeared in the second half of the 2019 season To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Swingarm attachment on the Suzuki GSX-RR, note the tape on the leading edge! To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


The left handlebar on the Ducati To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Two inspection windows = new engine on the Suzuki To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


Steering damper on the 2020 KTM RC16 To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


The tail of the 2020 Honda RC213V To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


New Yamaha M1 frame for 2020 To see the technical explanation for this photo, sign up to be a site supporter.


If you would like access to the full-size versions of these technical photos and all of Peter Bom's explanations, as well as desktop-size versions of the other fantastic photos which appear on the site, you can become a site supporter and take out a subscription. A subscription will also give you access to the many in-depth and exclusive articles we produce for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The more readers who join our growing band of site supporters, the better we can make MotoMatters.com, and the more readers will get out of the website. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

If you would like to buy a copy of one of these photos, you can email Thomas Morsellino

Tue, 2020-02-04 16:01
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In part two of our exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, address the aerodynamic innovations introduced by Ducati at the Qatar MotoGP race in 2019, and the possible effects that can have. They also talked about the challenges of balancing the performance of Marc Márquez with trying to help Jorge Lorenzo to succeed. The HRC bosses also discussed the input Lorenzo had on the development process, and how it was affected by his decision to retire. That leads on to a discussion of what to expect for 2020, for Alex Márquez, alongside brother Marc in the Repsol Honda squad, and for Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda team.

Q: At the season opener in Qatar, Ducati introduced a swingarm attachment, the so-called “spoon” or swingarm spoiler, and it caused controversy among the manufacturers. Anyway, the fact is that they are very smart in finding loopholes in the regulations. Does HRC read the rule book meticulously like them in order to find something which hasn't been specifically prohibited?

Kuwata: Maybe you can take an approach to check if your good idea infringes on the regulations. And you can also take another approach from the opposite direction, but it makes no sense if you don’t have any objective with that loophole. If you have ten ideas and read the rule book carefully to check how many of them are legal, it will be a persuasive approach. I am guessing maybe Ducati is taking this type of approach. Probably, loopholes don’t come first, but I don’t know.

Q: Does the attachment have an aerodynamic effect?

Kuwata: I guess so, that’s why everyone uses it.

Q: The reason for attaching a “spoon” on the swingarm was said to be limiting the rise of rear tire temperatures. Does your data prove it?

Kuwata: It is a very difficult area to confirm because you cannot compare tire temperatures completely in identical conditions with and without the attachment. If the difference was 5°C or 10°C, you can say the attachment has a cooling effect, however if it was just 1°C or something, it’s very difficult to find such subtle differences. In any case, you can see airflow so that you can presume there would be some effect. Maybe you can do a simulation for this on your computer, too. However, I think it is difficult to measure the effect.

Q: Probably, the most important thing is whether the attachment has positive effects on a rider's feel and lap time.

Kuwata: You know, even a very small change can make a big difference in the end. Therefore, if there is a possibility to improve your lap time, you will use it unless it has an obvious negative effect.

Fabio Quartararo leads Marc Marquez at the 2019 Misano round of MotoGP

Q: Let’s move on to questions about your riders. Marc Márquez won the 2019 championship with a surprisingly outstanding performance. In fact, he said it was the best season in his racing career, even better than the 2014 season. Do you agree with him?

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Mon, 2020-02-03 16:23
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The 2019 season was a good one for Honda. Marc Márquez won twelve times and finished second six times out of nineteen races. He clinched his sixth title in the premier class and eighth overall in his world championship career. Honda also won the team and manufacturers title, which saw them celebrate their third successive triple crown.

The Honda RC213V is an invincible weapon, helping to achieve such an overwhelming victory. During the technical debrief for the 2019 spec RC213V for the Japanese media that HRC held at the end of December, they said they have made a “normal improvement” with the engine. However, in terms of chassis, HRC faced quite a “big challenge” for modification of the air intake system. The airflow that comes from the front air duct used to be split into the left and right side to take it into the airbox. Now the air intake literally goes straight from the front of the bike through the headstock and into the airbox.

In this exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, we started asking firstly about their “normal improvement” and “big challenge”, then moved on to the review of the 2019 season and the prospect for the forthcoming 2020 season.

Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Takeo Yokoyama of HRC, with Marc Marquez, after winning the 2019 MotoGP title at Buriram

Q: You made a “normal improvement” with the engine while trying a “big challenge” with chassis side. Does this mean you modified chassis stiffness quite a lot from 2018 to 2019?

Kuwata: Not very much. Because if we did that, the characteristics of the bike would have changed. So, we kept our strong points from the 2018 season. Now we are trying to improve the design flexibility while maintaining the strong points of our engine and chassis, so, we didn’t change the good balance of the stiffness very much

Q: What did you get by trying to improve “the design flexibility”?

Kuwata: If we have made a huge step forward, maybe we could’ve done better races. Actually, it was not realistic, and throughout the season, we were always testing things, by trial and error. After the 2019 season has started, we also tried to find the direction for 2020.

Q: So, will the characteristics of the bike before 2018 and after 2019 be different?

Wakabayashi: I wouldn’t say they are exactly the same. From 2018 to 2019, the configuration was slightly different. For 2020, we will try to evolve our bike, while keeping a good balance from the previous year.

Kuwata: It will be after the 2020 season that our new challenge of “improving the design flexibility” has some answers. In 2019, we built a foundation and took advantage where we could use it. After 2020, I expect we will make a further step forward. For example, although we said “normal improvement” for the engine development, when we try to increase the engine power, we always find some room to modify and options for further development, which improves the total performance. The same goes for chassis. We tried this and that, but there was no big change for the 2019 base chassis.

Q: By gaining “the design flexibility,” what kind of improvement do you expect?

Kuwata: When you take air from the side of the bike, you have to open the hole in that part of the frame. Then, you have to design the stiffness of the frame. In other words, the fact that there is a hole in a specific place makes it difficult to modify the stiffness, but if you don’t need to make a hole there, you can change it more freely. It means that holes are restrictions on design, because you cannot touch the stiffness around the hole in order not to upset the balance. But if there is no hole, you can design that area more freely. By doing that, now you can try shapes that you couldn't do before and reconsider the whole balance of stiffness.

Q: With that new challenge, will you be able to improve agility, something you used to struggle with, and acceleration from corner exit that Kuwata-san said you have to improve?

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Sat, 2020-02-01 11:01
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In the 2019 season, Team SUZUKI ECSTAR made a huge step forward. Alex Rins won two races, at COTA and Silverstone, and concluded the season fourth in the championship. Meanwhile, their rookie rider Joan Mir finished in the top ten on nine occasions and finished twelfth in the riders’ standings, despite an injury and an absence of two races over the summer.

At the end of December, we drove four hours from Tokyo to Suzuki’s hometown Hamamatsu to conduct an exclusive interview with Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project leader Shinichi Sahara and the technical manager Ken Kawauchi.

Alex Rins at Silverstone in 2019

Q: The 2019 GSX-RR doesn’t seem to have a big difference from the previous year’s spec, especially in terms of the chassis …

Kawauchi: Although there was a very subtle difference here and there, the main frame with carbon wrapping is almost the same as the 2018 final version.

Q: Does the ‘spoon’ (the spoiler attachment underneath the swingarm) have some aerodynamic effect?

Kawauchi: There is no big difference, to be honest. Maybe it is just a bit better if you have it on your bike. It is such a very small difference.

Q: Do you improve your lap time with this material?

Sahara: I’d love to believe that it has some positive effect for the lap time….

Kawauchi: We had an interesting thing this season. In the warm-up session when Joan didn’t have it on his bike, he couldn’t set a good lap time. So, we put it back on his bike in the race. It is very hard to say that this material made a difference because you cannot measure the difference under the same conditions. Anyway, data shows it has some good effect, at the same time, it is difficult to say it definitely improves lap time.

Sahara: Like Ducati said, this material seems to have more or less good effect on cooling down tire temperatures, although it is just a bit.

Q: So, does the spoon improve rider’s feeling to get a good traction?

Sahara: It is very difficult to judge because you cannot compare with or without spoon under the identical conditions. When you have the spoon, maybe the tire temperatures would be just a bit lower. Literally, just a bit.

Q: Like this ‘spoon’, Ducati is always very clever at finding regulation loopholes. Does Suzuki try to do the similar thing?

Kawauchi: To be honest, we read the rule book very carefully, but couldn’t find anything!

Q: In the 2019 season, some riders tried to use the rear brake lever on their handlebar. Did your riders do it, too?

Sahara: Not yet. Our riders are very good at using the foot brake. So, we don’t necessarily have to introduce the handlebar rear brake. Maybe we will try it in the future.

Q: Many manufacturers use carbon swingarms, and Yamaha also started using it during the 2019 season. Do you have a plan to follow this trend?

Kawauchi: We have to keep on researching, but for the time being, we still haven't found a clear reason to use carbon fiber for the swingarm.

Q: It makes the weight lighter, doesn’t it?

Kawauchi: It depends. With some designs and structures, carbon material could be heavier than an aluminum alloy one.

Q: And its rigidity should be different from alloy…?

Kawauchi: Characteristics will be different between carbon and alloy. Therefore, feeling from them could be different, too. We will consider developing carbon swingarm. However, it is not in the top of our list of priorities.

Q: When you were developing the GSV-R, you were always trying to reduce the chassis stiffness. Now, the direction of your chassis development is the opposite from those days. With the GSX-RR, you are always trying to make the chassis stiffer, such as with carbon wrapping.

Kawauchi: Exactly. When we came back with this bike, our frame was quite soft. Now we are trying to make it stiffer little by little.

Q: As you said, there is no big difference between the 2018 and 2019 frames. Does that mean now you have found a good balance in terms of chassis?

Kawauchi: We are trying many things, but the new chassis doesn’t overwhelm the current one, which maybe means that we have reached a good balance, more or less.

Q: So, what was your target for developing the 2019 bike?

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