Latest MotoGP News
The difference between a handshake an an officially signed contract is just under four weeks, it seems. Late on Sunday night after the race at Misano, the Marc VDS Racing team put a message on Twitter announcing they would be moving up to MotoGP for the next two years, racing a factory-backed Honda RC213V with Scott Redding aboard. Honda, however, was far from pleased with the team's adoption of 21st Century technology to communicate with fans and media, and the Tweet was quickly taken down. Though agreement had been reached at Misano on all of the details - a three-year deal to lease a factory-spec Honda RC213V, and putting Scott Redding on the bike for the 2015 and 2016 seasons - HRC deemed that the deal was not yet ready to be announced. Though the contract was public knowledge, the team went silent on the deal.
Part of the Japanese round of MotoGP always seems to involve learning a new name for a natural phenomenon. In 2010, we heard of Eyjafjallajökull for the first time, the volcano which awoke from under its ice cap and halted air travel in large parts of Europe and Asia. We laughed as newsreaders and MotoGP commentators tried to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano and ice cap (for the inquisitive, Wikipedia has the correct pronunciation), and the race was moved from the start of the season to October.
A year later, in April 2011, it was Tōhoku which was the name on everyone's lips. The massive earthquake which shook Japan and triggered an enormous tsunami, killing nearly 16,000 people and badly damaging the Fukushima nuclear power station. Again the Motegi race was moved to October, by which time the incredible resilience and industriousness had the track ready to host the MotoGP circus. 2012 turned out to be a relatively quiet year, but 2013 saw the tail end of typhoon Francisco ravage the region, causing the first day and a half of practice to be lost to fog and rain.
So it comes as no surprise that the 2014 round of MotoGP at Motegi teaches us yet another new name. This time it is Vongfong, a category 5 super typhoon which threatens the race in Japan. The super typhoon has been described as "the most powerful storm of the year" with recorded sustained winds of 285 km/h, and gusts of up to 350 km/h. It is currently over open water southwest of Japan, but is heading northeast towards Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago.
The good news for Japan is that Vongfong is expected to weaken as it heads towards Japan, and arrives over much cooler water. Even better news for Motegi is that the typhoon looks unlikely to reach the region in time to affect the race. Vongfong is set to make landfall nearly 1200 km southwest of the Twin Ring circuit, and have weakened dramatically by the time it reaches the area by the middle of next week. 2014 looks like being another year in which Motegi was spared.
That will please Honda greatly. With Repsol Honda riders first and second in the championship, Honda within 10 points of the manufacturers' title, and the factory Repsol squad closing in on winning the team championship – though admittedly, both Movistar Yamahas would have to not score to achieve that at Motegi – Honda would really like to celebrate at home. The Motegi Twin Ring circuit is owned and operated by the Mobilityland Corporation, which is itself a 100% subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company, and so the stakes are high. Motegi is also the main test track used for developing the factory's MotoGP machines, the RC213V having racked up monster mileages around the circuit. The combination of hard braking zones, slow corners, long, fast straights and the occasional fast combo should suit HRC's Honda RC213V down to the ground.
Given Marc Marquez' dominance of the 2014 MotoGP championship, the question is not if, but when he will wrap up his second title in a row. His original aim had been to win the title in front of his home crowd at Aragon, but crashes at Misano and then Aragon put paid to that idea. With a massive lead in the championship, Marquez heads to the flyaway races with his primary aim shifted from winning at all costs, to making sure he returns to Spain and the final round of the series with the title already safely under his belt.
Motegi is the first opportunity for Marquez to take the title, and wrapping it up there would please his HRC bosses, as the circuit is owned by Honda and operated by a subsidiary. But it is not a simple question of turning up and finishing, the reigning champion will have to ensure his rivals do not gain too much back on him if he is to lift the crown there. He has a 75 point lead over his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, a 78 point advantage over Movistar Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, and a 90 point lead over the second factory Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo. So what does Marquez need to do to win the title?
With MotoGP's silly season for 2015 nearing its conclusion, we can draw up a list of contracts signed for next year and beyond. Below is who is going where for 2015, along with what they will be riding and how long their contracts are for:
Loris Baz has finally found his place in MotoGP. After being signed and then disposed of by the Aspar team, the Forward Racing team finally announced that they have signed the 21-year-old Frenchman for the 2015 season. Baz will line up alongside Stefan Bradl on board the Open class Forward Yamaha. The Forward Yamaha will be close to a 2014 spec satellite Yamaha M1, but using the Open software.
Baz' path into the premier class has not been easy. He was in talks with Aspar for several weeks, eventually signing a precontract which depended on Aspar not being able to sign Scott Redding. Once that deadline passed, Aspar the refused to honor the precontract, citing Baz' height - said to be 1.92m - as a reason to reject him.
When problems appeared with the Aspar deal, Baz turned to the Forward team, who were more willing to overlook his height. At a press conference at Aragon, where Forward and Yamaha presented their 2015 project, Yamaha boss told the press that he could not see Baz' height being a problem on the Yamaha.
Another piece of the MotoGP puzzle has been fixed into place. It was widely known that Eugene Laverty would be riding a production Honda for the Drive M7 Aspar team in MotoGP next year, but official confirmation of the fact only came today. Laverty is to line up alongside Nicky Hayden aboard the uprated production Honda, now called the RC213V-RS, taking the place of Hiroshi Aoyama.
Laverty's path into the Aspar team was far from straightforward. The Irishman had been in talks with Aspar, who at the time were also talking to replacement rider Leon Camier and Frenchman Loris Baz. Aspar then signed a precontract with both Baz and Laverty, subject to the condition that Aspar could not secure the services of Scott Redding. Once the deadline for Redding's signature passed, Aspar found themselves with two contracts on their hands. They quickly moved to break the contract with Baz, declaring that they had not known that the Frenchman was 1.92m, despite the fact that Baz' height is a matter of public knowledge. That left Laverty in line to take the seat at Aspar, despite having offers from Ducati to ride at Pramac, and having had talks with Forward Yamaha.
One of the last few pieces of the rider puzzle for 2015 has slotted into place. Today, Pramac Racing confirmed that they have reached agreement with Danilo Petrucci to race for them for the next two seasons. Petrucci will race the Desmosedici alongside Yonny Hernandez in 2015 and 2016.
The move had been widely expected, with Pramac keen to have at least one Italian rider in the team for the sake of their sponsors. Andrea Iannone had been a useful asset for the team, and they needed an Italian to replace him. The other riders linked to that ride - Loris Baz and Eugene Laverty - were less attractive to Pramac's Italian sponsors.
With the second seat at Pramac taken, that leaves just four seats unfilled. Eugene Laverty is believed to have signed to take the seat at Aspar Honda alongside Nicky Hayden, while Loris Baz is close to a deal with Forward Racing to race the Open Yamaha alongside Stefan Bradl. Only the second seat at Gresini Aprilia, and the second slot at Avintia, aboard the Open Ducati remain unfilled.
Suzuki have revealed yet another of MotoGP's worst-kept secrets (and the competition has been tough for that claim this year) at the Intermot motorcycle show in Cologne, Germany, officially confirming that they will be returning to MotoGP from next season, after an absence of three seasons. Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio unveiled the latest version of Suzuki's MotoGP bike - now dubbed GSX-RR - and announced that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales will race for the team. At the same time, Suzuki also confirmed that Randy De Puniet will race as a wildcard on the bike at the final MotoGP round of the season at Valencia.
The official announcement had been a long time coming, despite the riders and team being an open secret. The wait had been down to a request from Suzuki headquarters at Japan, who had wanted to combine the team launch with the launch of Suzuki's 2015 road bike line up at the Intermot show. The presence of senior Suzuki staff at the launch was seen by the team as a powerful display of support by the Japanese factory.
What a difference a day makes. "There is no way to fight with the factory Hondas," Valentino Rossi had said on Saturday. Within a few laps of the start, it turned out that it was not just possible to fight with the Hondas, but to get them in over their heads, and struggling to hold off the Yamaha onslaught. By the time the checkered flag dropped, the factory Hondas were gone, the first RC213V across the line the LCR of Stefan Bradl, nearly twelve seconds behind the winner, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory M1.
What changed? The weather. Cooler temperatures at the start of the race meant the Hondas struggled to get the hard rear tire to work. The hard rear was never an option for the Yamahas, but the softer rear was still working just fine. From the start, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and the surprising Pol Espargaro were pushing the factory Hondas hard. All of a sudden we had a race on our hands. When the rain came, the excitement stepped up another notch. In the end, strategy and the ability to keep a cool head prevailed. The factory Hondas came up short on both accounts at Aragon.
The forecast for Sunday had been unstable all weekend. But conditions on Sunday morning were far worse than anyone had predicted. Heavy rain soaked the track, then thick fog blanketed the track in a cloak of gray, severely limiting vision at key points on the track. More importantly, the fog kept the medical helicopters on the ground. Without medical helicopters, there's no racing. Should a rider be seriously injured, the helicopters need to be able to get them to a hospital within 20 minutes. When the fog descends, that becomes impossible.
2014 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fast Hondas, Yamaha's Defective Tires, Surprising Ducatis, And Unstable Weather
Is Marc Marquez's season going downhill? You might be tempted to say so, if you judged it by the last three races alone. After utterly dominating the first half of the season, Marquez has won only a single race in the last three outings, finishing a distant fourth in Brno, and crashing out of second place at Misano, before remounting to score a single solitary point. Look at practice and qualifying at Aragon, however, and Marquez appears to have seized the initiative once again. He had to suffer a Ducati ahead of him on Friday, but on Saturday, he was back to crushing the opposition. Fastest in both sessions of free practice, then smashing the pole record twice. This is a man on a mission. He may not be able to wrap up the title here, but he can at least win.
The way Marquez secured pole was majestic, supremely confident, capable and willing to hang it all out when he needed. He set a new pole record on his first run of the 15 minute session, waited in the garage until the last few minutes, then went out. He shook off Andrea Iannone, who was trying to get a tow, then when he saw Dani Pedrosa had taken over pole from him, went all out. Despite making a bit of a mess of the final sector, he still took nearly four tenths off his own best lap, demoting Pedrosa to second.
It wasn't just his pole time which was impressive. The race pace he showed in FP4 was fast, a string of high 1'48s and a couple of low 1'49s. The only rider to get anywhere near him was his teammate, Pedrosa knocking out a sequence of 1'49.0s, followed by a handful of high 1'48s. Pedrosa still has a score to settle, and though Marc Marquez is grabbing the headlines, he could find himself with quite a fight on his hands.
2014 Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up - Honda vs Yamaha Explained, The Slimmer GP14.2, And Hayden's First Day Back On The Bike
Is the Motorland Aragon circuit a Honda track or a Yamaha track? On the evidence of Friday, it is first and foremost a Marc Marquez track. The reigning world champion may not have topped the timesheets – the two de facto factory Ducati riders, Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone did that – but he set a scorching race pace that only his Repsol Honda teammate could get close to, though Dani Pedrosa was still a couple of tenths off the pace of Marquez.
"This is one of my favorite tracks," Marquez said afterwards, adding that he was happy with his rhythm and he had really enjoyed his day. The Spaniard may have lost any chance of wrapping up the title at Aragon with a win, but that didn't make him any less determined to take victory here. The crash at Misano made no difference to his attitude. Was he afraid of crashing? "No. You can't race and be afraid of crashing." Marquez was pushing to the limit once again, laying down a marker for others to follow.
If the mood in Marquez' garage was elated, things were different in the Yamaha camp. Though the gap to Marquez in terms of pace was not huge, it was still significant. Jorge Lorenzo was concerned. "We are slower than last year," he told the media, "we are slower than at the test [in June]." They had started the weekend using the set up which had worked well enough over the last four races for Lorenzo to finish second, but it simply was not working at Aragon. The plan was to revert to the set up used before Indianapolis, he said.
The first of the official announcements to be made over this weekend has arrived. Today, the FIM released the provisional version of the 2015 calendar for MotoGP.
The schedule is a virtual carbon copy of the 2014 calendar this year, with the order of the races the same as this year. A few minor tweaks have been applied to the calendar: the series kicks off in Qatar on 29th March, a week later than originally planned to avoid a TV clash with the soccer game between Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain. Two weeks later, the circus heads to Austin, and the following week to Argentina.
Having the two races in the Americas back-to-back will create a much easier schedule than this year, where the teams faced a very long journey back from Argentina to arrive on time for Jerez. With a year of experience under their belt, Dorna's logistics and TV crew are now certain they can get the Termas de Rio Hondo track ready within the few days they have after Austin.
2014 Aragon MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Marquez' Decline, Hayden's Return, The Ducati GP14.2, And Miller's MotoGP Move
Things look a little different as the MotoGP paddock arrives at the spectacular Motorland Aragon circuit. After two defeats in the last three races, Marc Marquez is looking almost vulnerable. At Brno, Marquez and his team never found the right set up, and the 21-year-old Spanish prodigy finished off the podium for the first time in his MotoGP career. Two races later, at Misano, Marquez tried to compensate for a similar lack of set up by pushing hard for the win, but crashed chasing Valentino Rossi, and remounted to score just a solitary point.
Marquez had hoped to wrap up the title at Aragon, he told the press conference on Thursday, but the crash at Misano put an end to any such aims. He would have needed a win at both Misano and Aragon, and took a risk trying to beat an unleashed Rossi at his home track. Victory at Misano proved impossible, especially against a Rossi determined to win at any cost.
So can Marquez get back to winning ways at Aragon? On paper, this should be his opportunity to reassert his authority. Of the four previous visits to the circuit, Marquez has won two, come second once, and been dumped into the gravel at the first corner once, an incident he is still less than happy about. The circuit suits the Honda, the bike having won three of the four premier class outings at the track. It was only the first year where the Honda came up short, Dani Pedrosa only managing to come second to Casey Stoner on the Ducati.
The upcoming MotoGP round at Aragon looks like being another busy week for official announcements. Press officers representing Dorna, the FIM and the teams will have their hands full managing the stream of news expected to come in Spain.
The two most eagerly awaited announcements are the MotoGP calendar, and the Moto2 and Moto3 rider line ups, in that order. The MotoGP calendar is almost certain to feature 19 races, and look very similar to the 2014 calendar, with the addition of Brazil, and the moving of the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to Donington. As usual, the season will kick off in Qatar, the Losail circuit paying a premium for the privilege.
The Qatar race had been expected to be run on 22nd March, that date coming a week after the F1 season opener in Australia, and a week before the second F1 race of the season at Sepang. However, it looks like MotoGP will be moved back a week to the 29th, as the 22nd of March sees the two biggest clubs in Spanish soccer face off, with Real Madrid set to meet Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium on that Sunday night. While MotoGP is massive in Spain, it is still dwarved by the interest in soccer, and TV audiences will suffer. Moving to the 29th would mean running on the same weekend as F1, but the late evening slot for the race means there would be no overlap between the races.
Nicky Hayden is to get back to action after four races away recovering from surgery. The American had an operation to remove a row of bones in his right hand after the Sachsenring round of MotoGP, to deal with a chronic problem of pain and arthritis in his wrist. That problem stemmed from an injury he picked up back in 2011 at Valencia, his wrist, and especially his scaphoid, never fully healing again afterwards. Hayden had the scaphoid and two other bones removed, to prevent them from causing further problems.
Such a drastic surgical procedure required a long recovery time, Hayden having been absent from the MotoGP paddock for over two months. But his recovery has been progressing well, with strength and motion returning. Hayden has spent a lot of time riding dirt track, to get back the feel of racing a motorcycle, and now feels fit enough to attempt to ride a MotoGP bike again. The differences between riding dirt track and a MotoGP bike are large, and will show whether Hayden's wrist is strong enough yet or not. The American's aim at the moment is just to get the feel of riding a MotoGP bike again, and test his wrist. With three races back-to-back coming up after Aragon, it is a sensible precaution to try his wrist first, with time for it to recover afterwards.