Photos

Tue, 2020-09-22 11:48
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Misano 2 was Pecco Bagnaia's race to lose. Something he promptly did. But he'll be back


A crash in FP1 was a sign of a tough weekend ahead for Alex Rins


Up and down in Misano for KTM. Misano 2 was definitely up, with Pol Espargaro ending up on the podium


Winner last week, but sick all weekend for Misano 2. Things didn't go to plan for Franco Morbidelli


The old man can still get it up


You wouldn't have put money on this happening after Misano 1


The Suzuki is one of the few bikes left without a holeshot device, the tail of the bike riding high


Compare and contrast with Jack Miller's Ducati, and how the rear squats on corner exit as he deploys the GP20's shapeshifter


Valentino Rossi prepares


Pol Espargaro put up a valiant battle to hold off Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo, but couldn't quite make it


It is no small miracle that the MotoGP field makes it through the first two turns at Misano mostly unharmed


Brad Binder watches and learns


Cornering technique, El Diablo style


Bradley Smith is doing what he can to secure a ride for next year. But he will need to get faster, and soon


The aftermath of Valentino Rossi's race crash: wings and fairings flapping about in the wind


At this point, it looked like game over. But Pecco Bagnaia couldn't stay upright, and Maverick Viñales profited as a result


Just imagine what the championship would look like if Joan Mir could qualify well


Viñales style


Best joke of the weekend. Andrea Dovizioso has Unemployed on his leathers because he lost a bet and is leading the championship


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Wed, 2020-09-16 22:09
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Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Franco Morbidelli made Misano his own


King of practice and qualifying, lost in the race. Maverick Viñales has questions to answer


Things didn't work out the way Andrea Dovizioso hoped at one of Ducati's two test tracks in Italy


Pecco Bagnaia came back with a bang after breaking his leg at Brno


Style and substance: Fabio Quartararo


Winner last time out, but Misano was not kind to Miguel Oliveira


Victory by proxy for Valentino Rossi, though he would have preferred to get a podium himself


Always good to get your ducks in a row


Don't look behind you, Joan Mir


Lights to flag. That's how good Morbidelli was. This was about as close as Valentino Rossi got.


It was a really tough weekend for both Espargaro brothers, not just Aleix. Their grandfather died, and they weren't competitive.


A hero in Brno, but Brad Binder was invisible in Misano


You don't do much braking in Misano, but when you do, you have to bury the front


Jack Miller plays peekaboo


The fans were back at Misano. In limited numbers, and with plenty of space between them, but it was a start


The Misano circuit is a streak of color, Aldo Drudi designing the paint which graces the runoff


Not for want of trying... Pol Espargaro gets some air


If you'd like to have very high-resolution (4K) versions of the 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. You can also see these photos and all our subscriber material on our Patreon page.

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Wed, 2020-09-16 00:16
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The Covid-compressed 2020 season has very little room for maneuver. To fit fourteen races into nineteen weeks means making a lot of sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is testing: of the original three one-day post-race tests planned, only one remains, at Misano, on Tuesday.

What is the point of a midweek test in the middle of a year where so much development has been frozen to cut costs? "I think it's just a lot a people getting bored during the week, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, so they're trying to keep each other busy, keep themselves busy," joked Jack Miller.

The Pramac Ducati rider may have said that in jest, but it is easy to believe he is right. Engine and aerodynamics development is frozen for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which already cuts down dramatically on the options for progress with a bike for this year and next. So surely the teams and factories wouldn't have much to test?

So it was something of a shock to see exactly how much the various factories had brought to the test. Above all Yamaha: a new frame, a new carbon swingarm, a new exhaust, and that was just the parts we could see. Suzuki had a new swingarm, KTM had a new frame, Ducati had a range of parts that were hard to distinguish, Honda had parts for both this year and next, and everybody was working on the electronics. So here is what the factories were working on:

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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, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.

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Mon, 2020-09-14 05:21
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It's 2020, and if there's one thing we know about 2020 is that it is utterly unpredictable. If at any point, a certain event, path of action, or result seems set in stone, 2020 finds a way to rip that up and throw it away. The Misano MotoGP race – Misano 1, that is, the round sponsored by the microstate San Marino, as opposed to next week's round, sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna region – was a case in point. The timesheets in free practice were clear: Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales would run away with this race, trailing the rest of the field, led by the Yamahas of Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi, in their wake.

It didn't quite work out that way. Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi led the field for a while, before they went their separate ways, and a couple of young upstarts started to interfere with their plans. The pre-race favorites suffered an ignominious fate, shaking up the championship along the way. While the winner tore away at the front, a fascinating and thrilling battle unfolded for the other podium places over the final few laps. We are left with a championship that is closer than ever, and even more unpredictable than ever.

How weird is the 2020 season? Franco Morbidelli's maiden MotoGP victory turned him into the fourth different first-time winner in the first six MotoGP races of the year. The last time that happened? 1949, the very first year of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. That is not even a fair comparison: after all, everything was a first in the first year of the officially organized FIM Grand Prix World Championship. Six races was the entirety of the 1949 championship, which started on June 17th, finished September 4th, and crammed a triple header in Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium in the middle.

In 2020, winning a race is no guarantee of sustained success, however. The winner of the previous five races were never in contention for the podium in Misano. Fabio Quartararo, who won the first two races at Jerez crashed out of the Misano race, twice. Brad Binder, who won in Brno finished twelfth. Andrea Dovizioso, who won the first race in Austria, crossed the line in seventh. Miguel Oliveira, who won the last time at the Red Bull Ring, finished just in front of Binder in eleventh. Dovizioso's seventh place finish was good enough to see him leading the championship. A championship which is wildly closer than before.

So there is much to talk about in these subscriber notes. Here's a rundown of the topics covered:

  • The crazy numbers behind the 2020 MotoGP championship
  • Franco Morbidelli's maiden victory – an overlooked talent?
  • Pecco Bagnaia stakes a claim to the second factory Ducati seat
  • Joan Mir snatches a podium from Valentino Rossi, but missed out on much more
  • Valentino Rossi wasn't on the podium, but his legacy is burned indelibly into MotoGP
  • Alex Rins comes up just short
  • The Yamahas that failed – where Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo went wrong
  • Why seventh place makes Andrea Dovizioso the championship favorite, even though he doesn't believe it himself

There is a lot to get through. So let's start off with a look at the bizarre numbers which define the state of the 2020 MotoGP championship.

To read the remaining 5337 words of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.


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, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.

If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.

Thu, 2020-09-10 01:00
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The opening laps of the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The 2020 MotoGP season is divided into two, uneven halves. The first five races were something of a warm up: a pair of races at Jerez, followed by a week off, then three races on consecutive weekends, one at Brno, two at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Those five races proved punishing for bikes, riders, teams.

Riders crashed and hurt themselves: Marc Márquez broke his right arm and put himself out of action and out of the championship; Alex Rins damaged ligaments in his shoulder and has been riding hurt since then; Cal Crutchlow and Johann Zarco broke scaphoids, and gritted their teeth to ride; Zarco and Franco Morbidelli had a horrifying high-speed crash which saw their bikes cross the track and come within centimeters of hitting the Monster Energy Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

Bikes suffered in the heat of Jerez: Viñales, Rossi, and Morbidelli all had engines that let go at the first two races, the fault eventually tracked down to a quality issue with valves. Pecco Bagnaia's Ducati GP20 followed suit, blowing out smoke and ending a strong race at the second Jerez round. The Yamahas suffered with braking at Austria, Viñales eventually running out of brakes in the second race at the Red Bull Ring, sending his bike into the wall at Turn 1, where it caught fire. Aprilia's brand new RS-GP had to have some revs capped to ensure it stayed intact at the horsepower-heavy tracks.

Grueling schedule

That was just a start, however. Now, the Grand Prix paddock faces three triple headers in the space of 11 weeks. Two rounds at Misano followed by a race at Barcelona on consecutive weekends. A weekend off, then a race at Le Mans and two at Aragon over three weekends. Another weekend off, then a double header at Valencia, before the season finale at Portimao on the Algarve coast in Portugal. If the racing can continue uninterrupted, that is, without further outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing an early end to the 2020 season.

So what did we learn from the first five races? And what does it mean for the remaining nine, or however many there will be before the season finishes? Are there any patterns that point to the outcome of the championship? Can we use them to predict what might happen at Misano?

If there is one thing we have learned from the 2020 MotoGP season so far, it is that it is unpredictable. Marc Márquez started the season as the hot favorite to win another title, but two mistakes during the first race – the first causing him to run wide and have to fight his way forward through almost the entire grid, the second ending with a broken right arm – and a third mistake in trying to rush back too early and stressing the plate holding his broken humerus together, requiring a second operation to fit a new plate, have ruled him out of the championship completely.

I understand that Marc Márquez is hoping to make his return at Aragon, though that is still an extremely optimistic timetable. Valencia, or perhaps even 2021 might be a more realistic option, given the views of some medical experts on the injury. The one thing that 2020 has proved is that Marc Márquez is human after all.

It's 2006 all over again

With Márquez out, that has opened up the field. MotoGP has seen four different winners in the first five races, a feat which last happened back in 2008. Yet 2020 feels more like 2006 than 2008: the four winners of the first five races in 2008 were Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi, the riders who won almost every MotoGP race bar a handful in the period between 2007 and 2012. In 2006, the first five races were won by Loris Capirossi on the factory Ducati, Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha, Marco Melandri on the satellite Gresini Honda, rookie Dani Pedrosa in his fourth race in MotoGP, for Repsol Honda, and Melandri again.

If anything, 2020 is even wilder than 2006. Two consecutive wins for Fabio Quartararo on the satellite Petronas Yamaha (though on a factory spec machine), a rookie win for Brad Binder in his first race, and the first for KTM, then Andrea Dovizioso extending Ducati's unbeaten streak at the Red Bull Ring, before Miguel Oliveira broke that streak by winning on a satellite KTM (though the Tech3 KTM RC16s are almost identical spec to the bikes in the factory team). Three races won by riders in satellite teams, and by riders in their second season. One victory by a rookie. Only one win by a veteran, and perennial championship front runner.

The break between Jerez and the triple header at Brno and Spielberg marked a change in fortunes for Yamaha. After the first two races in Andalusia, Yamaha riders looked to be favorites for the title. Petronas Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo had scored a perfect 50 points, factory rider Maverick Viñales had a brace of second places and 40 points, while Valentino Rossi had helped give Yamaha their first podium clean sweep since 2014.

First you must finish

There was plenty of room for doubt, however. Yamaha riders lost three engines in the space of two weekends, a fault eventually traced back to a quality control issue with valves. Yamaha first submitted a request to replace the valves on safety grounds, then withdrew it when the other factories started asking for more technical details to justify the change. They believe they can manage the engine situation, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MotoGP.com pit lane reporter Simon Crafar. There are credible reports that part of managing the engines involved dialing down the revs, by perhaps as much as 500 RPM, which is a lot for a bike which is already down on power.

Then there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas were overheating their brakes, due in part to sticking with the 2019-spec Brembo calipers, rather than switching to the 2020-spec calipers (or in Viñales' case, sticking with the low mass 2019 calipers, which proved to be woefully susceptible to overheating). Those issues saw Viñales crash and the other Yamahas struggle to finish anywhere near the podium, with Rossi the best of the Yamaha riders for both Austrian races, finishing fifth and ninth. Fabio Quartararo had scored 50 points in the first two races, but could add only 20 more points in the three which followed.

Are the Yamahas doomed to be swallowed up as the others catch up? That is a conclusion which is massively premature. Misano should be a much better track for all of the Yamaha riders: in 2019, the four Yamahas finished second through fifth behind Marc Márquez, with Quartararo coming within a couple of corners of winning the race. With Márquez out, the Yamahas should be firm favorites for the win at the Adriatic track.

Turning a corner?

There are plenty of reasons for optimism at Misano for Yamaha. The track suits the bike, as last year's results attest. It is not a high-speed track, or a track where horsepower reigns supreme, despite a couple of tight corners. There are plenty of places where corner speed can be exploited, and even the run onto the fastest section of the track, through the aptly-named Curvone (or Big, Serious Corner) is out of Tramonto, a corner which allows a sweeping line to maintain corner speed. A new surface means a lot more grip, which plays to the strength of the Yamahas, as was the case at Jerez.

The lack of heat should help keep the engine situation manageable, the nearby Adriatic helping keep temperatures inside a more bearable range. Maximum temperatures are expected to be around 27°C, which is warm but not excessive. The moisture in the sea air can help too. The fact that the bikes never get above 295 km/h means that the brakes are not too heavily taxed. Brembo rates the Misano circuit as the lightest for braking of the circuits raced on so far, categorizing it as a three out of five for braking intensity.

Put this all together and you get a chance for Fabio Quartararo to get his title challenge back on track. And with Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi only 22 and 25 points behind Quartararo respectively, a chance for them to get climb in the standings too. The championship could look very different after two rounds at Misano, which would make Barcelona a little easier to cope with, especially with Le Mans to follow, a track at which the Yamahas have excelled over the years.

Opportunity knocks for Dovi?

The main challenge to Yamaha's expected supremacy at Misano comes from Ducati. The Misano circuit is one of Ducati's two official test tracks, the other being Mugello, and test rider Michele Pirro has a couple of million laps around the track. Andrea Dovizioso won here in 2018, teammate Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of a podium position. In 2017, Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci put their Ducatis on the podium.

Dovizioso has been struggling with the new rear Michelin tire, though he has been making steady progress with it as the season has progressed. The issue has been corner entry, and getting that right is crucial at Misano, with a number of places where the riders are braking hard with the bike leaned over. Fortunately for Dovizioso, he has two shots at getting it right, and an opportunity to use the lessons of the first Misano weekend to set the bike up for the second.

Dovizioso is just three points behind championship leader Quartararo, and Misano is a good chance to challenge for the lead. After Misano comes Barcelona, where the Ducatis can use their horsepower advantage, and then Le Mans, where they have been on the podium for the last two years. That offers the Italian veteran a chance to build a solid foundation for the final third of the championship, especially if it is cut short by another coronavirus outbreak.

Dovizioso will not be the only Ducati looking for a result in Misano. Danilo Petrucci has a strong record at the track, and like Dovizioso, is highly motivated to show Ducati that he is a competitive rider (as well as next year's employer, KTM). Jack Miller is coming off two podiums in Austria, and is showing why he was promoted to the factory team for next year. Miller is third in the championship, and though he trails Quartararo by 16 points, he is once again back in the chase for the title.

The new kids on the block

Misano will be a proving ground for KTM as well. The Austrian factory has tested at the circuit this year, and so has an idea of how the new bike works at the circuit. They are coming off two victories in the last three races, as well as a podium for Pol Espargaro. If KTM are fighting for podiums and wins at Misano, then that could change the complexion of the championship. You can already make a case that the KTM RC16 is the best bike on the grid. Two or three KTM riders battling for the podium would boost that case, while a win would put it beyond dispute.

Brad Binder is the first KTM in the championship, trailing Fabio Quartararo by 21 points. Binder's speed is beyond question – he has been the surprise of the year so far, showing his speed in correcting mistakes at Jerez, then winning at Brno and finishing fourth in Austria. But his propensity to make rookie mistakes could cost him dearly, as he has yet to figure out qualifying, his best starting position seventh at Brno. Binder's potential is exceptional, but he still has flaws which need ironing out.

The biggest issue so far for the other KTM riders has been one of consistency. Miguel Oliveira has won a race, and Pol Espargaro has a pole position and a podium. But both riders also have two DNFs to their name, though they are not entirely to blame for the zeroes on their score sheets. Oliveira is maturing into an outstanding rider, while Espargaro's impetuous nature still trips him up. Yet you feel that both riders are still capable of winning, and with Misano, a track they have tested at, and Barcelona, a circuit which should suit the strengths of the KTM, there are still victories up for grabs. Even Iker Lecuona has started to fulfill some of the promise he showed in Moto2.

The Hamamatsu Hammer

The main objection to naming the KTM as the best bike on the grid is the existence of the Suzuki GSX-RR. The Suzuki seems to have some serious strengths without any obvious weaknesses: it has unrivaled agility, an astonishing ability to carry corner speed, and yet the bike is not down on top speed particularly, giving up just a few km/h to the Ducatis and Hondas. It accelerates, brakes, turns, and holds a line well.

If anything, Suzuki is suffering from a lack of a satellite squad. Alex Rins' injury at Jerez has not slowed him up as much as you might expect, but given how strong he has been at Brno and in Austria, it's clear he had the potential to be right in the middle of the championship fight. Joan Mir has finished second, fourth, and fifth, but also has two DNFs to his name. Mir has made a huge step forward this season, building on the success of the last couple of races in 2019, and is on equal terms with his teammate.

Rins' injury makes the case for a Suzuki satellite squad. With two more Suzukis on the grid, there would have been two more Suzukis up front and scoring points. The bike is competitive, and not especially difficult to get up to speed on. With only two riders on the grid, injuries hit Suzuki more badly than other manufacturers.

Suzuki have every reason to expect strong results in the next few races. The bike has the right mix of corner speed and acceleration to go well at Misano, and it should be able to hold its own at Barcelona, where Rins and Mir finished fourth and sixth last year. The GSX-RR is a better bike in 2020, and Joan Mir has made a step forward as a rider, while Alex Rins is managing his shoulder injury rather well. The Suzuki is gentle on tires, which is a strength at a newly resurfaced track, Rins and Mir able to exploit the available grip. Mir is 26 points behind Quartararo in the championship, and is still in the race for the title.

Tough times

What have we learned about Honda in 2020? We have learned that the 2019 bike is an easier package to ride than the 2020 bike, and probably a better bike. We have learned that the Honda RC213V is competitive, but only when ridden by Marc Márquez. As a result, we have also learned that without Marc Márquez, HRC are in deep, deep trouble. Honda are fifth out of sixth in the manufacturers championship, only Takaaki Nakagami's strong results on the 2019 bike saving their blushes, and the factory Repsol Honda squad is dead last in the team standings.

The hope for Honda lies with Nakagami, who is sixth in the championship and was arguably robbed of his first MotoGP podium when the last race in Austria was red flagged due to Maverick Viñales' crash. The LCR Honda rider has made good use of Marc Márquez' data from last year, and has changed his riding style accordingly. The 2019 bike seems to suffer less with the braking problems caused by the 2020 Michelin rear than this year's bike, and Nakagami is getting the best from it.

As for the other Honda riders, Cal Crutchlow has been suffering with arm pump and has just had surgery to address the issue, while Alex Márquez is making slow and steady progress getting to grips with the most difficult bike on the grid. The younger Márquez is bearing up rather well under the pressure of being in the Repsol Honda team, and has his head down to learn as fast as he can. But he is still struggling just to score points, which is not where a Repsol Honda rider is supposed to be. Filling in for Marc Márquez, Stefan Bradl is doing what might be expected from a test rider.

Finally, Aprilia. The 2020 RS-GP is a huge step forward compared to last year, but unfortunately for Aleix Espargaro, not quite enough of a step forward for it to be truly competitive. The bike still lacks power, and that has made his life difficult. Misano is a track where Aprilia has tested a lot, which should give him at least a shot at chasing the second group, the riders battling behind the podium. 2020 has shown that the Aprilia is a much better motorcycle, but it won't be fighting in the front group until 2021 at the earliest.

After the first five races, the 2020 MotoGP season is still wide open. Given the way that the season has gone so far, and how balanced the field is this year – especially without Marc Márquez – it is unlikely that the next three races will clarify the situation overly much. There are still too many competitive riders on too many competitive bikes for a clear leader to emerge. We may have to wait until Aragon to get a chance to judge who has a shot at taking the title.


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Tue, 2020-08-25 15:20
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Joan Mir felt he should have won the Styria Grand Prix. But he was foiled by a red flag


Turn 2 is tough, and Danilo Petrucci is the most spectacular of riders through there


Not bad looking for an old man


It's hard to capture just how steep Turn 1 is at the Red Bull Ring


Pole for Pol. Espargaro's pole position on Saturday lifted a major weight off his shoulders


6 days after a 300 km/h crash, 2 days after surgery to pin his scaphoid, and Johann Zarco was on the front row of the grid in Spielberg


Red, white, blue, and yellow


Race 1 belonged to Joan Mir. But race 1 didn't count


Thwarted


Yamaha vs Yamaha, but not for the positions that count


A 12-lap sprint race meant tight margins at the front


King of the Ring no longer - Andrea Dovizioso never found his magic at Spielberg


If you want to turn right, first point your wheel left. Jack Miller demonstrates proper technique


Last lap mayhem: The Red Bull Ring always delivers. Jack Miller stuffs it up the inside of Pol Espargaro for the lead ...


... that forces them both wide. Miguel Oliveira, meanwhile, has a perfect run on the inside line...


And is clear run to the line ...


... and into the history books, as Portugal's first ever premier class winner


Winning meant so much to the team. They have been close before, but here it was at last


It meant a lot to KTM too. Pit Beirer saw the end result of his project on the top step for the second time in three weeks


Losers? Pol Espargaro was devastated not to get the win, but still took his second KTM podium. Jack Miller came away with a second place with a painful shoulder. No losers here


If you'd like to have very high-resolution (4K) versions of the 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. You can also see these photos and all our subscriber material on our Patreon page.

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

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Mon, 2020-08-24 04:43
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It has been an exhilarating, fascinating, infuriating, enervating three weeks in Grand Prix racing. Three back-to-back rounds, one at Brno and two at the the Red Bull Ring in Austria, have thrown up more surprises than we could ever expect. Three different winner in three races, new manufacturers on the podium, a host of unusual and long-standing records broken. There really is a lot to talk about.

Red flag waved at the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring

One of the most surprising things is the fact that in the six races we have had in the space of the last eight days (disregarding the Red Bull Rookies for a moment) three, or fully half, have been red flagged, and a restart needed. The Red Bull Ring became the Red Flag Ring, as Twitter wits quickly dubbed it after a massive brake failure by Maverick Viñales saw his Yamaha M1 pierce the air fence at Turn 1 and cause the MotoGP race to be red flagged, for the second time in as many weekends.

Blame the track?

That raises the discussion once again of just how suited this circuit is to motorcycle racing. The first red flag, caused when Enea Bastianini highsided his Kalex on the exit of Turn 1 and it was struck by Hafizh Syahrin, cannot completely be put down to the track layout. The fact that a lot of Moto2 bikes seem to highside there, and when they do, the bikes sit in the middle of the track rather than sliding to one side is arguably down to the circuit. On the other hand, bikes highsiding is not uncommon at a lot of tracks, and the bikes do occasionally remain on track.

The second red flag, caused by the crash between Franco Morbidelli and Johann Zarco, is clearly an issue with the track. The Turn 2/Turn 3 combination is extraordinarily challenging, the riders hard on the brakes while heeled over hard left before entering the right hander, but when things go wrong, bikes can slide on through the gravel and cross the track again at Turn 3, still traveling at very high speed. The Red Bull Ring mitigated a lot of this problem by extending the wall on the inside of Turn 3.

The third red flag, caused by Maverick Viñales' Yamaha, is another tossup. Bikes can suffer brake failures at any track. And bikes can hit air fences at a number tracks – the Sachsenring springs immediately to mind. But the Red Bull Ring is the toughest track for braking on the calendar according to brake manufacturers Brembo, matched only by Barcelona. If there is a track you are likely to suffer a brake problem, it is the Red Bull Ring. And the speeds involved are so high that bikes inevitably end up destroying the air fence. So is this crash down to the track, or could it happen anywhere?

Whatever the explanation, the one thing which the Red Bull Ring does generate is exciting racing, and especially dramatic last-lap finishes. We saw that in all three classes, producing thrilling and sometimes controversial results. Add in the red flag in MotoGP, and there really is a lot of ground to cover in these subscriber notes.

Here is what you will find:

  • How the MotoGP race was won
  • Is the KTM the best bike on the grid?
  • KTM's concessions situation
  • Track limits – why some riders are punished, and others aren't
  • Whether the rules on track limits need changing
  • The red-flagged MotoGP race
  • How restarted races help some riders, punish others
  • Mir, Nakagami, Oliveira, Dovizioso – winners and losers from the restarted race
  • Yamaha's braking problems, and how they are dealing with it
  • Where we stand with the championship

All that to come, but we start with what turned out to be the highlight of the weekend: the last frenetic lap of the restarted 12-lap MotoGP race, which saw Miguel Oliveira make it two KTM victories in three weeks.

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Wed, 2020-08-19 07:50
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By Sunday afternoon, this place would almost be regarded as a crime scene


And this is how hard you have to work through there. Brad Binder wrestles the KTM braking from 300+ km/h leaned over hard left, ready to enter the Turn 3 right hander


Until Sunday afternoon, Andrea Dovizioso's decision to leave Ducati was the big talking point of the weekend. Dovi underlined his position with a win at Spielberg


Joan Mir's big breakthrough came this weekend, getting the podium which had eluded him until now


Franco Morbidelli had the best pace of the Yamahas again, but his weekend ended in disaster


In any other team, we would be saying that Alex Marquez has been making quiet progress this year


Fastest man of the weekend, up until he ran out of medium rears for the restarted race


Iker Lecuona finished a race at last. Starting to live up to his promise


Valentino Rossi would not be smiling as much on Sunday afternoon, after seeing Franco Morbidelli's M1 fly past just ahead of him


There wasn't much left of Johann Zarco's Ducati GP19 after the crash


Hopefully, it'll buff right out


The restarted race saw a gaggle of KTMs at the front and chasing Jack Miller


There were two places where Alex Rins could get past Andrea Dovizioso: Turn 6 and Turn 9. Turn 6 turned out to be a mistake


It would be Desmo Dovi's weekend


Brake problems put a big dent in Fabio Quartararo's title ambitions


Would have made quite a team


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Mon, 2020-08-17 04:52
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Johann Zarco's Avintia Ducati after his crash at the 2020 Austrian MotoGP round at the Red Bull Ring - photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

Motorsport can be dangerous, as it says on the passes handed out by Dorna for MotoGP. We got a harsh reminder of just how dangerous it can be at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. Both the Moto2 and MotoGP races had to be red-flagged after serious crashes left the track strewn with debris. There were some terrifying near misses, with not one but two riders having their helmets clipped by airborne motorcycles, and Valentino Rossi seeing first a Ducati GP19, and then his life flash before his eyes.

Fortunately, everyone escaped largely unharmed, except for some massive bruises and a few suspected minor fractures. All being well, everyone should line up on the grid again in seven days' time, to do it all over again. We may question the wisdom of that, but untrammeled ambition breeds courage, the will to win an appetite for risk. That is just the way motorcycle racers are wired.

In among the drama, motorcycle races were held. The crashes and disruption ended up having a significant effect on the races, and those races, in turn, had an important impact on the 2020 championship. New faces on the podium once again underlined that we are in a new era in MotoGP, as did the strength of the KTM once again.

In these subscriber notes:

  • The Zarco-Morbidelli incident dissected
  • Motorcycle racing is dangerous, but how much danger is too much?
  • The mental toughness of MotoGP riders
  • How the restarted race meant riders running out of tires
  • Andrea Dovizioso denies that this is getting his revenge
  • The strength of the Suzukis
  • KTM clean sweep on the cards?
  • Why Alex Rins tried and failed to pass Dovizioso
  • Brake overheating for some, but not all
  • The championship is wide open. Can we really rule Marc Márquez out?

There is much to talk about, but we start with the biggest unspoken philosophical question underlying MotoGP, and all forms of motorcycle racing: just how much danger is acceptable in a motorcycle race?

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If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.

Thu, 2020-08-13 13:37
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Every MotoGP round has a lot going on, too much to capture on a Sunday night. But the Brno round of MotoGP was even worse than usual, with ten times the usual surprises, and a month's worth of stories and intrigue. On Sunday, I covered Brad Binder's win, KTM's journey, the state of the championship, Yamaha's engine situation, and Ducati's problems since the start of the season. Below is a round up of things I didn't get around to writing about.

It goes without saying that Brad Binder's victory was the biggest story to come out of the MotoGP race at Brno. A rookie winning in MotoGP in just his third race, and claiming the first victory in MotoGP for KTM – coincidentally, the first win for a manufacturer not from either Japan or Italy since Kim Newcombe won the Yugoslavia GP in 1973 on a König, something you can find out much more about in this highly recommended documentary series – is unquestionably a massive event.

The KTM factory team celebrate Brad Binder's first win for the manufacturer in the premier class

But it is easy to overlook the huge steps forward KTM have made in the past 18 months. Pol Espargaro's podium in Valencia 2018, in a wild and drenched final race of the year, was dramatic, but the weather conditions played a massive role in the outcome. Since the start of 2020, the KTM RC16 has been right at the front of testing and the races. There was one KTM in Q2 at the first MotoGP round at Jerez; three in Q2 a week later at the Andalusia round in Jerez; two more in Q2 at Brno. Pol Espargaro finished sixth and seventh at the races in Jerez. In Brno, Brad Binder won, Miguel Oliveira finished sixth, and Pol Espargaro was in position for a podium finish had it not been for the collision with Johann Zarco.

Fast now

The KTM is a competitive bike now. There is a caveat or two to be made about their success at Brno, without detracting in any way from Binder's victory on Sunday. As a factory with concessions, KTM has had a test at Brno – and at the Red Bull Ring, and at Misano as well – giving them some experience of the conditions there. Dani Pedrosa rode there, though what KTM might have learned ahead of the race weekend is mostly electronics settings. Given the terrible grip and bumps, that could have been valuable.

But electronics settings alone will not win you races. The switch to an oval section steel tubular frame, rather than the traditional steel trellis was one huge step in the right direction. The other was the poaching of one of Ohlins' main engineers for WP suspension, which helped them fill in a couple of key details they had been missing. Putting this all together has produced a competitive motorcycle.

Binder's win was also the first non-Ohlins win since Dani Pedrosa won last race of the 2009 season at Valencia in his last race using Showa suspension. Pedrosa switched to Ohlins at the start of the 2010 season, and in a small irony, left Ohlins and Honda behind at the end of 2018, when he went to KTM as a test rider, using WP suspension. Helping to lay the groundwork for Brad Binder's win at Brno.

Teamwork...

Pedrosa's important role in helping push KTM's MotoGP project forward has been discussed many times, but it was part of a much greater team effort. What Pedrosa brought to the project was the ability to take on a key role in the development process, from engineers through to race team. Engineers built new parts based on data from testing and racing. Mika Kallio did preliminary testing on whether parts were better or not, and whether they worked. Dani Pedrosa made a clear selection of the best parts, but more importantly, did the testing required to help assemble packages of parts which all worked together, which frame with which swingarm, which linkage with which shock, etc.

These packages would then be delivered to the factory riders for testing, and they would make the final decision on what they liked, and what they thought worked. In practice, almost all of that testing fell on the shoulders of Pol Espargaro. Last year, Johann Zarco made an early exit from the factory team, Miguel Oliveira sustained a shoulder injury at Silverstone, and Hafizh Syahrin struggled with the KTM in the Tech3 team.

That led to accusations that the KTM RC16 had been built around the demands of Pol Espargaro. In a long online press conference with the media, KTM's Motorsport Director Pit Beirer talked about the long process which had taken the Austrian factory from the start of its project to finally winning a race.

Not just for Pol

"That was the biggest complaint towards us until last year, that we could build only a machine where only Pol Espargaro is able to ride it, because he is risking his life for us," Beirer told us. "And partly this was true, and that's why I have such huge respect for Pol, that he went with us into this adventure, and he had difficult moments to perform on our bike, and he did that quite well. We knew that, but there's nothing you can change overnight in that class."

But Beirer was still surprised by how quickly KTM had managed to achieve success. "So it was not that long, because you build a bike out of nothing, you realize you are 3.5 seconds back to the leading guys per lap, and then you close the first two seconds quite easily. But then it starts to become harder and harder to bite down the next tenth." Making a bike which multiple riders could be competitive on was important. "This was the clear target from the beginning, to build a bike which is rideable not for one rider, but for more riders, because only that way you can succeed. That's easy to know, but it's not that easy to turn into a better bike. But if you look now, that process cannot even be faster."

Progress had been continuous, but gone in jumps and starts, Beirer said. "The bike was better last year too, but still a critical bike, and you need a brave rider to go fast. But we built a bike from nothing, we went racing, and in the first two years, at every race we brought new parts, so the riders had a consistent testing process."

One step back ...

At the end of the second year, KTM faced a painful choice. To make the next big step, they had to sacrifice 2019. "We had a plan to do that for two years, and then after two years, make kind of a cut, and say, OK we go into the third year on a better level than in the first two years, but it will not be the competitive level. And that was a painful decision, but we said that if the test team and the engineers don't start to focus on the bike for 2020, we will go again with the same stress into 2019 and 2020 and 2021."

This was a lesson learned from racing in MXGP, Supercross, and all the other disciplines in which KTM have won championships. "There is a moment in bike development, which we learned in other disciplines, that you must develop your race bike for next year during this year's season. And in November, when the riders are still fresh and fit and on good lap times, you need to bring them the new bike and confirm what the status was."

It had been a team effort, Beirer said, both in the test team and in the factory. "We did that, we did that bike together with Dani [Pedrosa] last year, Dani, Mika [Kallio], - Mika was a great guy in the whole process to bring the bike where we are today, but then Dani gave it a little different direction. But also the engineers, they just learned a lot in the last years, because we started with nothing."

KTM had deliberately chosen the hard way of building it all themselves, Beirer explained. "Of course I could get some stuff from other manufacturers, but at the end of the day, we have our own chassis, we have our own suspension, we have our own engine, so we could never copy other pieces or pictures or something, so we had to learn it the hard way. But that experience gets more and more and more. You pack it like a travel bag, and it's getting more and more complete, and that's why the bike, that this year's bike is different than the first three years."

Restarting the restart

The delay to the start of the season had frustrated KTM's ability to show right from the start the progress they had made. "It's completely logical, but still it's not proven that it's also better. It was testing, testing, testing, it was better. But then the damned corona came in for all of us, because I was sure we could already prove in Qatar in the beginning of the season that we had made that step."

That meant starting all over again. "We couldn't start racing, and I had to talk and motivate people again; our board of directors, the whole company, the partners, the riders: stay patient, the bike is better. But it was a tough time to even make it through that other gap, until we could race in Jerez."

At Brno, KTM demonstrated how much better their bike is. No longer just on paper, but also out on the track, where it counts. "So finally it's the new bike, and it's better, yes, it's better," Beirer said. "And I'm really really happy because even if it's a better lap time in testing, or in the data, or on the dyno, the reality you get on Sunday evening printed out on paper by Dorna, and when you have a bike there in the top three, then you know. And in dry conditions! We had that third place in the wet. But now to get it in dry conditions, to pass other riders on the way to being on the top, not really heavy crashes in front of us, so it was a clear status of where we are at the moment with the project."

It was no surprise that it took KTM so long to reach the point where they are winning races, Beirer repeated. "I think it's pretty logical that it couldn't be much faster on such a level, because we are fighting the best manufacturers in the world in their playground, on the highest level. So we didn't expect to do it faster."

Shattering preconceptions

From the start of KTM's project, there were doubts that they would ever succeed in MotoGP with a steel frame and WP suspension. The aluminum beam frame and Ohlins suspension were a key element of success, was the general consensus. I even had one very senior figure in a rival factory tell me that KTM would be forced to give up on a steel frame, and switch to aluminum like everyone else. That prediction has not played out.

"There were absolutely no doubts from my side," Pit Beirer told us, "because if you are leading a race department with so many people, and more than 100 people in the MotoGP project, and I would doubt the basics and open the door to if we think that maybe another material would be better, this would of course be crazy, and we could not succeed."

Steel is fundamental to KTM's philosophy, as they believe it has some key advantages. "This is the philosophy of our company, but not because it's a marketing story. We learned how to build motorcycles with this material, and we have the knowledge for this material. And we invented together with Pankl the printing process to print parts of the frame with the highest technology."

It's not what you've got, but how you use it

There are good reasons to build a MotoGP chassis using steel, Beirer explained. "Steel is three times harder than aluminum, it allows us to build the chassis three times smaller in dimensions than in aluminum. It's lighter than any other chassis out there." Understanding how a material behaves was more important than just the material itself. "So it's not about the material, it's more that you really have to understand what you have to do with it. And also, it's really important to give the rider the flex in the bike where he wants to have it. If I do it with aluminum or with steel, for the rider it doesn't matter. He wants it more in the front, or more in the back. He wants the traction and you have to find out how to do it."

This criticism of their choice of materials is something KTM have heard many times before. "The critics were there. Any sport we started - motocross, or I went in 2010 to see the first Supercross, in the Dakar – always the top riders and very strong people in the sport told us, OK, you're nice guys, you're a great company, but with a steel frame and WP suspension, you will not succeed in this class. It will work in motocross, but it will not work here."

They faced the same criticism in MotoGP. "We had that same headwind in MotoGP. But of course, now we had to prove it in the highest category of motorcycle racing in the world, so the pressure was there." Binder's win at Brno proved the critics wrong, Beirer told us. "People said, we're still not there because we are still not using aluminum and Ohlins suspension, but I'm sure we are only there already because of our tubular frame and WP suspension. Because we can do everything in house."

Freedom to innovate

That was more difficult, but it was also more rewarding for KTM, because it gave them more freedom. "That's the harder way, because we cannot copy something. But we build it together with our engineers, and we think that the new chassis must be a little bit different, and we have a drawing ready in the evening, we start to build that chassis the next morning, and at the end of the week, this chassis is on the racetrack. So we don't call a supplier and wait for somebody to make something or whatever, we do it here in house," Beirer said.

It had been a long road, but finally KTM have arrived, Beirer believes. "It was rough from the beginning, but now I feel very comfortable with that base that we know what we had to do to make the steps. It was not the easy way, and believe me, it's quite easy to talk today, but the win was not proven until Sunday. So of course we had to prove that it's working, but I think you don't win a MotoGP race for nothing, you never get a present in that class. If not everything is great on the bike, and the rider, and the team, and the complete package, if something is missing, and not correct, you go nowhere. So I think we have a platform now for the future."

Rins battles on

While Brad Binder had rightly claimed much of the attention over the weekend, what Alex Rins achieved should not be overlooked. Despite still suffering with damaged ligaments in his shoulder, Rins brought the Suzuki home to fourth, with a podium almost within reach. But after the race, the pain had come flooding back.

"Right now I'm so tired," Rins said. "I have more pain in the shoulder. But after an incredible effort, it's normal. I'm so happy, because I was able to control the race, control the tire life, the position also. I was with Valentino [Rossi] a lot of time, at 0.4, 0.6. But it was a good race. I'm happy for the result."

Having a target to try to catch had helped distract him from the pain once the painkillers started wearing off, Rins told us. "The pain in the shoulder was there during all the race. I had like a bad situation between lap five until lap twelve, because I was feeling a lot of pain there. But I tried to concentrate on riding and on trying to catch the rider in front. For sure if I had nobody in front of me during the race, for sure I would feel more pain. But my head was busy, thinking how can I be faster to catch the rider in front."

So very nearly

Being so close to the podium was frustrating, but Rins had never expected to be that competitive. "With Zarco, sincerely, it's a shame. With one more lap or half a lap, I think I was able to try to overtake him, because I arrived so fast the last two laps," the Suzuki rider told us. "But OK, fourth position is enough. I was in the motorhome after the race and I was thinking, if you would finish on the podium with all this effort, it would be incredible. But anyway, fourth position, it's enough for us."

Alex Rins on the Suzuki Ecstar at the 2020 Brno MotoGP round

The biggest difference his shoulder had made was in the ease with which he was able to pass other riders, Rins explained. "Usually, when I'm recovering positions, and I find a rider, I'm able to overtake him easily, in two or three corners. In this race, I was struggling more. I lost a lot of time with Aleix Espargaro, a lot of time with Quartararo, looking for where the ideal place to overtake is." If it hadn't been for his shoulder, more might have been possible.

The wisdom of Rins deciding to keep racing, rather than get the shoulder fixed, may be questionable, but getting this close to the podium leaves little room for argument. Things are not going to get much better, with so little time between races. "The problem with the shoulder will remain a lot of races, because as you say, next week Austria, the next week after that, Austria again," Rins told us. "If I have luck and I don't have any hard crashes, I will keep it like this and let's see in the end of the championship. I hope to reduce the pain day by day or week by week. Let's see how it goes."

Long way down

On the other side of the card sits Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider entered Brno as one of the two favorites for the championship, sitting 10 points behind Fabio Quartararo having finished second in the first two races. Brno should be a track which suited the Yamaha – Franco Morbidelli's second place suggested it was – but Viñales came up a long way short last Sunday. Last of the Yamahas, a long way behind teammate Valentino Rossi, who had a strong outing to finish fifth, and championship leader Quartararo who crossed the line in seventh.

It was a familiar story, of Viñales having a bike which was fine for the morning warm up, but failing to cope with the conditions in the afternoon: a hot, greasy track, and a surface covered in Dunlop rubber after the Moto2 race.

Viñales remained at a loss, however. "It’s very difficult to explain. Even us, we can't explain that. Even this morning in the warm up, I felt so good with the bike. Straight away I was doing 1'57.0. I could make many 1'57, even with fifteen laps on the tire, which was used. But then on the race since the first lap it was impossible. A lot of spin. Then lap by lap, it increased, increased, increased. Then at the end it was very unsafe even to ride the bike. I try to make my best always. So that was the best we could do."

P14 is not enough

The way the tires reacted at Brno and the lack of grip at the track had been a problem all weekend, Viñales said. "All the weekend we have been struggling with the tires. I don’t know. For me, it’s hard to say. It’s difficult to understand why in the warm up I could be second and so fast, and then in the race I was P14. It was a long time since I made P14 in my life, so it was a difficult result. Very hard to eat that result. The only thing we can do is to keep a positive mind. We need to work very hard. We understand that nothing is perfect in this life."

What did it mean for the championship? "I don’t even think about the championship, honestly. You can not fight for the championship doing P14. This is impossible," Viñales said. "The only positive point I can find is that Fabio made seventh, and Dovi was just two places in front of myself. So this is the only positive I can take of today. We have one Yamaha in the second place, and it’s the bike from last year. So we need to understand and to work and to see why in Jerez we were able to be so fast and consistent, and here, I don’t know. The race was very difficult."

MotoGP titles are won on your bad days. On your good days, you take the wins that you can, and run up the score as high as possible. But on the bad days, how you manage to limit the damage counts above all. Marc Márquez has won his titles in the past couple of years by making sure that the bad days were never disasters. Andrea Dovizioso has missed out on titles because his worst days were worse than Marc Márquez' worst days.

This seems to be Maverick Viñales' biggest hurdle to a championship. On his bad days, he loses too much ground, and can't find a way to salvage a result. Fabio Quartararo had a bad day, but still ended up finishing seventh, and scoring 9 more points to extend his lead over Viñales to 17 points. Andrea Dovizioso managed to close the gap to Viñales from 14 to 11 points. Viñales doesn't just need some good results to stand a chance of winning the title. He needs to ensure that his bad results aren't this bad.


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