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2014 Valencia Friday MotoGP Round Up: New Bikes, New Collaborations, And A Well-Structured Talent Pipeline
Valencia is always an incredibly busy weekend. The last race of the year means a chance to look back at the season which almost past, and the last chance before the winter break to present projects for next season in front of a large audience, or at least, a large press group. As a journalist, you can end up running around the paddock like a headless chicken, sprinting from event to event with no clear idea of what you are doing and with each new event wiping the memory of the last from your mind.
A selection of the events this weekend: A press conference organized by Dorna featuring the principals from the three factories in MotoGP, to look back over the season and review the future of the sport and how it is promoted (interesting, but long-winded). The presentation of Tech 3's new Tech 3 Classics project, which will see Tech 3 engineers restoring classic racing motorcycles for the general public (mercifully brief, but with some stunning old machinery on display). The presentation of the CIP Moto3 team for next year, with Remy Gardner, son of former 500cc world champion Wayne, to contest his first full Grand Prix season. A farewell to Colin Edwards, organized by the Forward Racing team. The introduction of the collaboration project between Monlau, Marc VDS Racing and Estrella Galicia which will see them racing in all three Grand Prix categories, the Spanish CEV championship and the Pre-GP class in Spain (revolutionary, poetic, and in three languages).
It is enough to make you forget about the fact that there are bikes out on track preparing for the last races of the season on Sunday. That is, after all, the actual raison d'etre of the Grand Prix paddock, and the reason we are gathered here in the first place. Even there, new projects were on track distracting the focus from Sunday, offering a glimpse of the bikes which will feature next year. Suzuki is at Valencia for a wildcard appearance, the first time the new GSX-RR has raced ahead of the factory's return to MotoGP. And Hiroshi Aoyama has been handed the Honda RC213V-RS, Honda's new Open class bike for 2015, much to the chagrin of Scott Redding, who is battling with Aoyama for the top Open Honda slot this season.
The last race of the season is always a little bit special. They are even more special when riders are still scrapping over the spoils, battling for titles, for positions, for honor. There is much at stake at Valencia: a Moto3 title, second place in the MotoGP and Moto2 championships, and the team championship in MotoGP. Above all, though, there is victory, the glory of joining the elite band of Grand Prix winners. At the end of the day, that is what motivates motorcycle racers most on any given Sunday.
Top billing at Valencia is the race which is first, but with the most at stake. On Sunday, Jack Miller and Alex Marquez will slug it out for the 2014 Moto3 World Championship. The race at Sepang set up a fantastic season finale, with Miller riding an intimidating race to cut Marquez' championship lead. Just 11 points separate the two men, putting Marquez easily within reach of the Australian. But Miller will need help: it is not enough for him to win, he also needs to put a few riders between himself and the Estrella Galicia Honda of Marquez. As Miller found out at Sepang, that risks letting someone else slip ahead of him, making his quest even more difficult.
The math is relatively simple. Those 11 points would be enough for Miller to take the title, the Australian already having more wins than the younger Marquez. That means finishing ahead of the Estrella Galicia Honda, but above all, keeping him off the podium. A 3rd place finish would be enough for Marquez to lift the title, even if Miller were to win the race. Things get more difficult if Miller doesn't win: if he finishes second, then 6th will do for Marquez; if Miller ends in 3rd, then 11th will be sufficient for the Spaniard. If Miller doesn't get a top five finish, then his title ambitions are gone.
Hiroshi Aoyama is to become a test rider for Honda in 2015. The future of the Japanese rider was uncertain after Eugene Laverty was signed to race with the Aspar team for next year, and Aoyama's options in the MotoGP paddock were limited. As a rider who has spent almost his entire career with Honda, including winning the last ever 250cc championship in 2009, Aoyama was the logical choice to take on a role as test rider.
Aoyama's work will commence on Friday at Valencia. Honda have brought the RC213V-RS to Valencia, the bike which is to replace the RCV1000R Open class Honda in 2015. Aoyama is to race the new bike, which features pneumatic valves and a more powerful engine, though it still does not have the seamless gearbox of the factory bikes. Aoyama's performance on the bike this weekend should give an idea of how much more competitive the Open class honda will be next year.
Aoyama will most likely not be Honda's only test rider. HRC are expected to reach an agreement with Casey Stoner to act as test rider for the factory. Aoyama is likely to take the place of one of Honda's other Japanese riders, Shinichi Itoh or Kousuke Akiyoshi.
The press release from Honda announcing Aoyama as a test rider appears below:
HRC announce Aoyama as test rider for 2015
What is the biggest problem in motorcycle racing today? Is it the predominant role electronics is playing, ruining the racing? Is it the ever more restrictive rules imposed, killing bike development and the spirit of Grand Prix racing? Is it the lack of competitive machinery, making it impossible for anyone but a factory rider to win a race? Or is it the dominance of the two top manufacturers, driving costs up and discouraging wider manufacturer participation?
You can point to all of those and more as being an issue, but they pale in comparison to the real problem the sport of motorcycle racing faces at the moment: Money. Specifically, the lack of it, and the inability of almost everyone involved in the sport to find ways of raising any. All of the ills of both MotoGP and World Superbikes can be traced back to this single failure.
The root of racing's problem is well-known. Once upon a time, when advertising tobacco products on TV and radio was banned, the cigarette companies needed some way of reaching potential customers. Spotting the loophole in the law, they immediately leaped on sports sponsorship as a means to promote their product. They went for sports which were glamorous, exciting, and had an edge of danger, exactly the image they want to project, and came up with motorsports.
Governments around the world saw the loophole they created, and started to close it down. After some clever negotiating by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, motorsports were given an exemption until 2006, at which time all visible promotion of tobacco products in the sport's major markets was completely banned. The good times were over.
Yonny Hernandez is to remain with the Pramac Ducati squad for the 2015 season, and will race a Factory Option Desmosedici GP14.2 alongside Danilo Petrucci. Though the news had long been known, Ducati today issued a press release officially announcing Hernandez as the second rider at Pramac.
The deal will see Hernandez race with Pramac in 2015, with an option to extend the contract to 2016, though the statement does not make it clear who can exercise the option. Hernandez and Petrucci will race the GP14.2, the bike currently being contested by Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, running Ducati's factory software and using the Ducati performance concessions. This means they will retain the softer tire, 24 liters of fuel, and extra engines and testing for the 2015 season.
The press release from Ducati appears below:
Yonny Hernandez contracts with Ducati to continue with the Pramac Racing Team in 2015 MotoGP World Championship
Ducati Corse is pleased to announce that it has signed an agreement with Yonny Hernandez that will tie the Colombian rider to Ducati for 2015, with an option for 2016.
Casey Stoner has made a temporary return to MotoGP, completing two days of testing for Honda at Motegi. Over the two days of testing, Stoner focused on the 2015 version of Honda's RC213V, the Australian comparing the settings used by Repsol Honda's current riders, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, to see how they work with the new bike. Stoner also worked on preparing the 2015 further ahead of its debut at the Valencia test after the final race of the season. Finally, he also spent some time on the development versions of Michelin's MotoGP tires, as the French manufacturer prepares to take over as spec tire supplier from 2016 onwards. As is their custom with all testing, Honda did not release any lap times.
Stoner volunteered to do the test as compensation for the tests he was scheduled to do in 2013. Those tests were largely rained off due to poor weather in Japan, and Stoner felt he still owed HRC some testing. With better weather conditions at Motegi for this test, the Australian was able to make good on his debt to Honda. According to MCN's Matt Birt, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto is keen to retain Stoner as a test rider, but agreement is yet to be reached.
2014 Sepang Sunday Round Up: Beating Doohan, Rabat's Reward For Hard Work, And Miller Mastering Marquez In Moto3
How big a deal is MotoGP in Asia, and especially in Malaysia? There were officially 81,896 spectators at the Sepang International Circuit on Sunday for the races. That is a lot. To put it in perspective, it is the seventh highest attendance of the year, more than either of the US rounds of MotoGP, more than Silverstone, more than either of the Italian rounds. There were 4,400 more spectators at Sepang than at Mugello. That is quite a turnaround: in 2000, the second year MotoGP was held at the circuit, only 32,375 people attended the race, spread over all three days. The three-day total is now close to 131,000.
It is testament to both the growing wealth of the region and the growing popularity of the sport. In the podium press conference, Valentino Rossi reflected on the change. "For a long period, we have no people on Sunday," he said. Little by little attendance had grown, until now, it is a race with an atmosphere all of its own. "Now it is full, the atmosphere on the main straight is like Barcelona or Mugello. The guys are crazy for MotoGP." It was a great victory for the sport, he said. Given that those 82,000 people are mostly sitting outside, in tropical temperatures of 36°C and humidity of over 50%, those guys (and gals) must indeed be 'crazy for MotoGP'.
Their efforts were amply rewarded on Sunday, with three superb races. They saw records equaled in MotoGP, a richly-deserved title tied up in Moto2, and an exhilarating and incident-packed battle in Moto3, which sets up a grand finale for the Moto3 title at Valencia. Reason enough to come back again in force in 2015, with the added benefit of seeing the circuit fielding its own team in Moto3 next year.
2014 Sepang Saturday Round Up: Pole Records, The Secret Of Marquez' Speed, And Ridiculous Scenes In Moto3
Fancy a challenge? Try finding a MotoGP fan who is surprised that Marc Marquez claimed pole position at Sepang on Saturday. It was the Repsol Honda man's thirteenth pole of the season, setting a new record for the most poles in a season. It was a blistering lap, making him the first rider to set an officially timed lap under the two-minute mark, the clock finally stopping at 1'59.791. That time has been bettered only a couple of times during the winter tests at Sepang, when cooler temperatures make for a faster track. But to do it now, when ground temperatures got close to 60°C, making the already slippery surface of Sepang even more greasy, is astonishing. Those kinds of track temperatures are almost, but not quite, enough to cook an egg1.
Marquez' record thirteenth pole also offers an insight into exactly what the secret of his success is. He not only holds the record for the most poles in a season, he is also the current leader in pole position frequency. Marquez has secured 50 poles from 113 qualifying session, giving him a strike rate of just over 44%. The only rider to get near to his domination of qualifying was Mick Doohan, who started from pole from 42.3% of his Grand Prix races. The nearest of Marquez' current rivals is Jorge Lorenzo, who has been on pole for 26.4% of his career in Grand Prix.
Why the emphasis on pole position? This is what Marquez does best: find the absolute limit of the performance envelope of his Honda RC213V, and balance right on the edge of it. Because he can do that for one lap, he perhaps has a better understanding of just where the limit lies over the distance of a race, and how much he has to risk when making a pass. This, perhaps, holds the key to why he currently has the best win rate in all classes of all of the current riders in MotoGP, just edging out Valentino Rossi by 38.4% to 34.8%. Then again, Rossi was racing before Marquez even started riding a motorcycle, and so has had more time to strike a run of bad luck. And of course, there were those two seasons at Ducati as well...
If you wanted a demonstration of just why the weather at Sepang can play such a decisive factor, you need look no further than MotoGP FP2. Fifteen minutes before the MotoGP bikes were set to take to the track, the Moto3 machines were finishing their second free practice session in sunshine and sweltering heat. But a couple of minutes before MotoGP FP2 was meant to start, the heavens opened, producing a deluge that had first-time visitors to Malaysia hunting around for gopher wood with which to build a boat.
The downpour covered the track in several centimeters of standing water, making it impossible to ride. The session was delayed for twenty five minutes, starting after the rain had nearly eased up completely. Once the session got underway, the weather cleared up completely, the last ten minutes taking place in glorious sunshine once again.
The changes in the weather had a dramatic effect on the state of the track. It went from being fully wet, with water everywhere, to having just a thin layer of rainwater on it at the halfway mark, to being dry at most of the corners around the track once the session ended. Full wets were essential at the start of the session, but forty five minutes later, slicks were starting to become a viable option.
2014 Sepang MotoGP Preview: The End Of MotoGP's Asian Peregrinations Beckon In The Sweltering Sepang Heat
Another week, another 8 hour flight, another race track. Sepang comes as the last of three grueling weekends chasing around the Pacific Ocean to race in Japan, Australia, and now Malaysia. Even from the comfort of my European home (I lack the funds and, to a lesser extent, the inclination to pursue the paddock halfway around the world), it has been a tough schedule, and the riders and team members I have spoken to about it are all just about ready to come home. Nearly a month away from home, sharing flights, hire cars and hotel rooms can be grating even for the best of friends. Add in the stresses and tensions of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and a lot of people are gritting their teeth and doing their best not to punch the people they work with. Some will even make it home without doing so.
The final leg of MotoGP's odyssey sees the circus travel from Phillip Island, nearly halfway to the South Pole, to Sepang, not far north of the equator. Yet though they are a quarter of a world away, the two have one thing in common: weather. The actual conditions may be different, the cold, changeable climate of Phillip Island a far cry from the sweltering heat of Malaysia, but at both tracks, the weather plays a much greater role in the proceedings than at other tracks. Judging conditions, and preparing for them, is crucial.
If anything, putting Sepang at the end of the trio of flyaways is a difficult decision. The heat and intense humidity at the track makes it the most physically demanding of the three races. Severe dehydration lies waiting for the unwary or the out of shape, if they do not drink enough to recover the fluids lost through sweat and exertion. This is a race which richly deserves its reputation as the most punishing of the year.
Along with the Moto3 and Moto2 entry lists, the FIM announced the provisional entry list for MotoGP for the 2015 season. The list contains no surprises, all the signings already announced.
It does, however, contain two question marks, one large, one small. The large one is whether Marco Melandri will be joining Alvaro Bautista in the Gresini Aprilia squad next season, or whether he will stay on in World Superbikes for another year. Melandri is believed to be wary of the Aprilia MotoGP project, given the lack of competitiveness of the bike. For 2016, a new and greatly revised bike is expected, built specifically for MotoGP, rather than the modified RSV4 which they are currently racing. Melandri may be holding out for a year to assess the competitiveness of a new bike. However, if Aprilia do not back any teams in WSBK next year, then Melandri may find that his hand is being forced. No doubt that situation will finally be resolved next week, at the last round of World Superbikes at Qatar.
The FIM today released the provisional entry list for the 2015 Moto2 class, consisting of 31 entries for next season. Most of the championship contenders remain, with only Maverick Viñales making the move up to MotoGP. They are joined by the two top contenders from Moto3, Alex Rins and Alex Marquez, withMarquez going to the Marc VDS team, and Rins taking the place of Viñales at the Pons HP40 team.
The biggest change in Moto2 is the continuing transformation into an almost completely spec class. A collective fear of risk and innate conservatism sees the vast majority of Suter teams abandon the Swiss chassis builder in favor of Kalex, leaving just a single Suter on the grid, the German rookie Florian Alt at the cash-strapped IODA Racing team. The migration from Suter is odd, as the Swiss chassis builder has two wins, three 2nd places, and six 3rd place finishes, which would suggest that the chassis is extremely competitive.
The mass flight to Kalex means that 23 riders will be on the German chassis. All of the 2014 teams will receive 2015 material, while the newcomers will race the 2014 chassis. In addition to Kalex and Suter, there will be three Tech
The full list of entries for Moto2 appears below. It is still provisional, and so changes may still occur up until the start of the season.