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The Brains Behind The Bikes, Part 3: Andrea Zugna On The Rider vs The Bike, The Need For Narrative, And Boats vs Bikes

Marc Marquez at Silverstone in 2017, photo by Tony Goldsmith

In the first two parts of our interview with Andrea Zugna, the Italian engineer who contributed to the success of both Yamaha's and Honda's factory teams talked about how he got into MotoGP, his history in the sport, how data has changed motorcycle racing, as well as talking about some of the great riders he worked with, such as Valentino Rossi, Marc Márquez, Casey Stoner, and Dani Pedrosa.

In the final part of the interview. Zugna talks about how he sees MotoGP developing, and the generational change from which MotoGP is not immune. And he goes into some of the reasons for switching disciplines completely, leaving MotoGP to work at the highest levels of sailing, helping to developing the control systems for Italy's America's Cup challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.

First, though, we talked about Marc Márquez' 2019 season, and how it stacked up historically. Was this the best performance Zugna had seen from Márquez during his time at Honda? "I don’t know, honestly," Zugna replied. "It’s different. I prefer to judge how much effort the rider had to put in order to overcome the limitations of the bike. If you look at the numbers he had in 2019, probably, or 2014, maybe now he is more mature, so fewer errors."

Rider, not bike

Perhaps Márquez' success when competing when the Honda RC213V was clearly slower than other bikes should be rated higher, Zugna suggested. "On the other hand, the biggest achievements for Marc were when he was with less power, for example. Then he could beat Dovi in Ducati with more power."

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Why Repsol Honda Signing Pol Espargaro Could Cause Marc Marquez To Leave

The rumors had been doing the rounds for some time, but last night, things came to a head. Multiple media outlets were reporting that Pol Espargaro has signed a deal to ride for Repsol Honda in 2021. The most interesting facet of this was that several outlets had independent sourcing, making this look highly credible. Information I have seen also confirms this.

Though an agreement seems to have been reached, there are still some hoops to jump through. Speaking to Spanish daily AS.com, Espargaro's manager Homer Bosch said negotiations with Honda, KTM, and Ducati were still going on. "It's not true that Pol has a verbal agreement to go and race for the Repsol Honda team next year," he told AS.

Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig issued a similar statement denying an agreement had been reached. "HRC is always thinking about the present and the future of its structure, from the lower categories to MotoGP. Due to the circumstances that we are in, this season is not developing through the usual channels, but that does not mean that Honda stops continuing to plan the best possible future for all their riders. We do not have any contracts signed with anyone that have not already been announced," he said.

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The Brains Behind The Bikes, Part 1: Andrea Zugna On Furusawa, His Path Into Engineering, And Good Rules

Developing a racing motorcycle is a complex process. Information flows continuously from rider to engineers to factory and back again, along with a steady stream of parts, some of which improve the bike, some of which don't.

There are a few key people in this design process. The head engineer in the racing department, who oversees the entire process. The crew chief, who interprets what the rider says, and combines it with data to turn it into information the engineers can use. The rider, who not only has to ride the bike to the limit of its performance, but also explain where that limit is and why it is stopping them from going faster to crew chiefs and engineers.

As journalists, we are in the privileged position of being able to talk to most of these people, and try to learn about the process from what they are willing to tell us. Given what is at stake, that is far from the complete picture, the factories jealously guarding information to prevent other manufacturers from figuring out what they are working on, and losing any advantage they might have.

There are some people we don't get to talk to, however. Many of the key engineers involved in leading the development of the bike are kept away from the media. These are the people doing the hands on – and brains on – work of finding ways to make the bike better, to improve its strengths and negate its weaknesses.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why inline-four MotoGP bikes handle better than V4 MotoGP bikes

V4 MotoGP bikes make more power, inline-fours handle better. That’s why Johann Zarco, Jorge Lorenzo and others struggle when they switch from inline-fours to V4s

Speak to most MotoGP engineers and they will tell you that the two most important words in race-bike engineering are balance and compromise.

Pretty much whatever you do to improve one area of performance impairs another: you make the bike turn quicker and it becomes less stable, you increase peak power and you lose midrange and so on.

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From Conflict To Collaboration: How The COVID-19 Crisis Reconciled The MSMA

Once upon a time, the manufacturers reigned supreme in MotoGP. The MSMA – the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association – determined the shape of the premier class. In the early years after Dorna secured the rights to promote Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the MSMA negotiated a monopoly over the technical regulations in MotoGP.

The rules in MotoGP are made in committee, the Grand Prix Commission, containing representatives of the four parties with an interest in the sport: Dorna as promoter, the FIM as sanctioning body, IRTA representing the teams, and the MSMA on behalf of the manufacturers. While the sporting and other rules are voted on by majority, the MSMA controlled the technical rules.

In the early years of the MotoGP era Rule changes proposed unanimously by the MSMA were adopted automatically, and the MSMA retained a veto over rules put forward by the other members of the GPC. It was the MSMA who asked for the switch from two strokes to four strokes, and the MSMA who insisted on reducing the capacity from 990cc to 800cc in 2007, when concerns were raised over the speeds of the bigger bikes.

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Engine And Aerodynamics Homologation Backdated To Qatar

As we reported yesterday, based on reports by Italian website GPOne.com, engine and aerodynamics development is to be frozen. But it appears that the story was wrong in at least one respect: engine homologation will not be taken from this week, but be backdated to Qatar.

What this means in practice is that the factories will have to submit engine designs for homologation as they were intending to use them at Qatar. Honda had already done this, having submitted engines for homologation at the season opener at Qatar, at which the MotoGP class was not present. But the bikes and engines were, as were a few key staff. The other factories did not submit their engines at Qatar, but have now sent sample engines to Dorna for homologation.

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GPSpirit Video: Niki Kovács Interviews Rider Manager Simone Battistella On Handling The Coronavirus

Hungarian journalist, photographer, and ex-racer Niki Kovács is conducting a series of interviews with people involved in motorcycle racing on how they are dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak. In the first of these (English-language) videos, Kovacs talks to Simone Battistella, manager of Andrea Dovizioso, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Alvaro Bautista, on how he is helping his riders through this period of enforced idleness.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Márquez rules MotoGP’s Triple M era

The master of riding by the seat of your pants: Marc Márquez's special advantage in MotoGP

Since MotoGP’s Triple M Era began in March 2016, Marc Márquez has won all four world championships and 32 of the 73 races. This is not by chance.

The 27-year-old dominates for various reasons. Mostly because his talent (part nature, part nurture) is the strongest on the grid, so he gets the absolute maximum, and more, from his Honda RC213V.

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What Does The Delayed Start To The 2020 MotoGP Season Mean To The Factories?

On Sunday, at 6pm, the desert night will erupt in a cacophony of sound, as Grand Prix motorcycle racing gets underway for the start of the 2020 season. But it won't be the vicious bellow of MotoGP machines which will shatter the desert silence; instead, the more modest howl (118 dB compared to 130 dB of the MotoGP bikes) of the Triumph triple-engined Moto2 machines will scream away from the lights and around the floodlit track.

It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. The Moto2 machines were supposed to race an hour and forty minutes earlier, their original start time planned for 4:20pm local time. Now, it will be the Moto3 riders starting their race at that time, and not the 3pm slot originally scheduled. The MotoGP machines will be sitting in packing crates, waiting to be shipped to the next race.

As I write this, it is not entirely clear where that will be. It might be Austin, Texas, unless the US authorities impose further restrictions. It might be Termas De Rio Honda, in Argentina, unless the Argentinian government changes its mind about allowing entry from Italy, or Japan, or anywhere else. It might even be Jerez, if international air travel is subject to sudden and extreme restrictions.

Evolution

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