MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Moving MotoGP’s goal posts
And here come the players, out of the tunnel and into the stadium; just 15 minutes to go before the opening game of the 2014 World Cup, and the noise and the tension in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium are almost unbearable…
Wait, hang on a moment. There’s something very strange going on at the end of the pitch to my left. There’s a group of FIFA officials and they’re digging up the goalposts! I can’t believe it: they’re moving the goalposts! And there’s more FIFA people doing the same thing at the other end of the pitch, moving those goalposts five metres to the right…
It wouldn’t happen, would it?
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and Dunlop at the end of the three-day tire test at Phillip Island:
It is finally official. Yamaha have today announced that they have signed a five-year deal with Spanish telecommunications company Movistar to act as title sponsor for the factory Yamaha team. The deal will see Movistar branding appear prominently on fairings, leathers, team uniform, team trucks, etc, and the team be called Movistar Yamaha MotoGP.
The deal had been rumored since the start of the year, and had been confirmed unofficially last week, when Movistar presented its TV schedules. But the formal announcement came only today, when the Spanish firm unveiled the price structure for its pay-per-view offering in Madrid. The contract had been a long time in the making, as a conflict over fairing space with sponsor Monster, who had signed a two-year deal with team at the beginning of last season. According to reports in Spanish magazine Solomoto, appearing on the US website Sport Rider, Yamaha Racing boss Lin Jarvis had flown to the US to help settle the deal with Monster. This was key, as Movistar is both offering much more money than Monster - the Sport Rider report claims it is twice as much - but the deal is also for a longer period, stretching for five years, while the Monster contract expires at the end of this year.
The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock. And social media. And bike racing forums. And biking bars around the world, I expect. Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.
The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers. Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb 'to disappoint' in various conjugations.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone at the conclusion of the final day of testing at Sepang:
2014 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 2 Round Up: The Old New Tire, Lorenzo's Lamentations, And Ducati's Open Future (Again)
A cleaner track made for better times at the second MotoGP test at Sepang on Thursday, but conditions remain far from ideal. The track was still greasy, and the added heat made the situation worse. That meant the track remained empty for large parts of the day, the riders waiting for temperatures to come down at the end of the day.
When the riders did go for their fast laps, the usual suspects raised their heads. Aleix Espargaro was quick, Alvaro Bautista was quick, but if anyone was in any doubt about where the real power lies on the MotoGP grid, Dani Pedrosa quickly disabused them of their misconceptions. The Repsol Honda man posted two scorching laps, faster than anyone else was capable of riding. At nearly three tenths of a second, the gap was convincing. When Dani Pedrosa decides to exert his authority, the world listens. Especially when his teammate is absent.
Pedrosa spent the day working on the front of the Repsol Honda, and deciding on which of the two chassis to use for the rest of the year. The quicker of the two options was also less forgiving under braking, meaning Pedrosa elected to pursue the slower of the two frames. Sacrificing a little bit of speed for more stability and less effort to ride seemed like a suitable trade off.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams on the second day of testing at Sepang:
2014 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 1 Round Up: The Tire Pendulum Swings Against Yamaha, And Ducati's Open Future
If the first Sepang test threw up a few surprises, the first day of the second test turned into a bit a shocker. Anyone putting money on Alvaro Bautista, Aleix Espargaro and his brother Pol being the top 3 at the end of the first day would very, very rich indeed. Though all three had good reason to be further up front – Bautista has a new rear shock from Showa which is a big step forward, Aleix has been fast throughout, and Pol has the new seamless gearbox from Yamaha – their speed should not be seen as presaging a revolution in MotoGP. A dirty track, and several riders not chasing times gave the trio a chance to shine, which they seized with both hands.
Things did not look promising at the start of the day. The track was in poor condition, still dirty after a recent Ferrari test. The Kuala Lumpur region has had no rain for months now, which usually helps to clean the track in between tests. The situation was so bad that the circuit offered to spray the track clean with water, an offer which turned out not to be necessary. Having 23 bikes circulating helped sweep the track fairly well as the day progressed. By Thursday, the track should be in much better shape.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of testing at Sepang:
MotoGP returns to the track at Sepang in just a few hours, and the second test at the Malaysian circuit offers just as much intrigue as the first did. Interest at Sepang 2 centers on notable absentees, Ducati's plans, and progress made so far. There is much to watch in Malaysia.
One thing we know for sure. Marc Marquez will not be the fastest man at the second Sepang test. The reigning world champion dominated the first test at the beginning of the month, but a training crash saw him fracture his right fibula. Even in adversity, Marquez' luck held, the injury being relatively quick to heal, the bone not being displaced. He will definitely be back in action at the first race of the year in Qatar, and he could possible attend the Bridgestone test at Phillip Island early next week, but he will be forced to miss Sepang 2.
With Marquez out, others will have a chance to shine, though the question of how any times set would hold up if the Repsol Honda man had been present will remain. Nobody had an answer to Marquez' pace at the first test – especially when you compare his race pace on long runs – and his rivals will have to drop well under the two-minute mark to make an impression.
Movistar is to sponsor Yamaha's MotoGP effort. At the presentation of Movistar's broadcast plans for the Grand Prix series in Spain last week, Luis Belo, Content Director for the Spanish telecommunications giant's digital TV channel Movistar TV, let slip that the company would also be backing the Yamaha Factory team in MotoGP, Spanish magazine Solomoto is reporting. The announcement confirms rumors of a deal between Movistar and Yamaha which have been doing the rounds since December. Yamaha have yet to officially confirm the deal, but that is only a matter of time.
The deal mirrors the situation in Italy, where new pay-per-view broadcaster Sky is backing the Moto3 team run in conjunction with Valentino Rossi's VR46 merchandising brand, fielding Romano Fenati and Francesco 'Pecco' Bagnaia. To help promote the pay-per-view channels which MotoGP is being broadcast on in Spain and Italy, Movistar and Sky are backing major teams in the championship. This is important for the two channels, as some of the races are also being broadcast on free-to-air channels in both Spain and Italy, in some cases on a tape delay basis. Having visible exposure on the bikes helps reinforce the message to audiences.
One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.
There is more to be learned from watching at track side than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible. Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.
At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.
That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable. As they braked and downshifted for the corner, the Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa sounded more like a big scooter with a constantly variable transmission than a racing four stroke with six separate gears. Engine revs decreased smoothly, downshifts barely perceptible. There was no popping or crackle of extra fuel burning off, just a smooth, booming descending tone.