Latest MotoGP News
Motorcycle racing championships are like a pendulum, flowing back and forth between one rider and another, between one manufacturer and another. One year, Yamaha is on top, the next, it's Honda. One year, Yamaha manages to exploit the rules best, the next year it's Honda.
On the evidence of the first two days of testing – scant evidence indeed, but all we have to go on at the moment – conditions appear to favor Honda. With a liter less fuel to play with, and the new tires being introduced by Bridgestone, it looks like the tide is flowing Honda's way, while Yamaha is set to suffer. For the Factory Option entries at least; in the Open category, the tide is flowing very firmly in the other direction, with Aleix Espargaro and the NGM Forward Yamaha blowing Honda's production racer out of the water.
That the fuel reduction would favor the Honda was expected, but the advantage might be bigger than Yamaha would like to admit. After a tough first day of testing, Jorge Lorenzo spent all of Wednesday trying to recover his confidence in the bike, as his crew searched for a set up that would smooth power delivery and give him the precise throttle control his high-lean-angle – and high risk – strategy demands. They were successful, at least in renewing Lorenzo's confidence in the bike, he told the press.
It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.
Marc Marquez was fastest – it goes almost without saying – the 2013 world champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage. Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.
Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.
The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.
The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement. All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle. That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.
It's not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU. The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year's CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia's ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.
The debate on the future of MotoGP continues in full force. On the one side of the argument, those who believe that the factories' freedom to develop electronics should not be constrained, and on the other side, those who say that technology has to be reined in to control costs, and increase the spectacle. On one side of the argument stand the manufacturers, led by Honda; on the other side stand the teams, with Dorna at the helm.
Or at least, that's the way it seems from the outside. The reality behind the politics of MotoGP is far more labyrinthine than it appears. The impending decision of Ducati to switch to being an Open class entry (officially, to be taken only after tests at Sepang, but well-informed sources suggest the decision has been all but taken) has cracked the lid on some of the politics, offering a glimpse of the power structures which underly the rule-making process. With Ducati poised to break ranks with the other manufacturers, the MotoGP series could be set to take an entirely different direction.
Yesterday, leading US magazine Cycle World published one of the best analyses of the situation I have read for years. Veteran technical journalist and eminence grise in the world of motorcycle racing Kevin Cameron lays out with incisive clarity how the current status quo came about, and how Ducati's decision to go Open could upset the delicate balance of power. For anyone interested in why MotoGP is the way it is today, it should be compulsory reading.
It looks like Movistar is on the verge of a return to MotoGP. Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that the Spanish telecoms giant is close to signing a deal with Yamaha to sponsor the Japanese factory's MotoGP team of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. According to the report, the sponsorship deal is set to be announced at the first Sepang test, at a press conference to be held there.
Just how accurate this report is remains to be seen, but there are many indications that the deal could happen. Movistar was a major supporter of motorcycle racing in the past, having backed teams at many levels of racing. Movistar sponsored the junior cup competition in Spain run by Alberto Puig, which unearthed the talents of Casey Stoner, Chaz Davies, Leon Camier, Joan Lascorz and many more. Through Puig, they also backed Dani Pedrosa through his years in the 125 and 250 classes. Movistar was also active in the MotoGP class, backing the Suzuki team of Kenny Roberts Jr, and the Gresini Honda squad of Sete Gibernau at the start of the century.
Though widely expected, it appears that the Brazil round of MotoGP is on the verge of being canceled. Reports in Italy, on both Motosprint and InfoMotoGP, suggest that the company granted the contract to organize the Brazilian GP has not been able to secure the funding to renovate the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet circuit in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital (not to be confused with the circuit of the same name in Jacarepagua, near Rio de Janeiro).
It was known when the contracts were signed that the circuit in Brasilia would need a lot of work done, both in terms of safety improvements and to bring the facilities up to Grand Prix level. According to the reports from Italy, no work has been done on the circuit, and the company involved is on the verge of bankruptcy. Motosprint reports that there are proposals from Brazil to relocate the race to the Autódromo Internacional Ayrton Senna in Goiania, but those proposals face the same difficulties: not enough money to carry out the necessary updates.
With the 2014 MotoGP season about to get underway, at least one team is likely to miss the first test of the year at Sepang, from 4-6 February. Speaking to the official MotoGP.com website, new signing Leon Camier said that the plan was to skip the first Sepang test and only attend the second test, taking place at the end of the month.
The reason for the delay is simple. The IODA Racing team is yet to sign a contract with Aprilia to supply them with bikes, despite the season being close to starting. According to the Italian magazine Motosprint, IODA are still haggling over the price with Aprilia, though an agreement is likely to be reached. Both Aprilia and IODA have an interest in reaching an agreement: IODA, as they do not really want to spend another season on the Suter BMW, undeveloped almost since its introduction two years ago; and Aprilia, as the IODA team is the only team willing to take the ART machines, with PBM having only signed up to use Aprilia's engines.
Yamaha today launched their 2014 MotoGP livery in Jakarta Indonesia. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were present at the launch, along with Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis and the MotoGP group leader Kouichi Tsuji.
The new livery resembles both the 2013 and 2012 color schemes very closely, with this year's color scheme featuring a lot more white. Conspicuous by their absence were any new sponsor names, though Lin Jarvis assured Indonesian motorcycling blog TMCBlog that more sponsors would be announced before the season started. Earlier reports that a deal with Adidas was close appear not to have had much truth in them.
MotoGP silly season this year is expected to be pretty frenetic, with just about all of the riders either out of contract or with escape clauses written into their contracts allowing them to leave at the end of 2014. But even by those standards, the first shot in the battle sounds like madness. According to a report on the Spanish radio station Onda Cero, Ducati have tempted Jorge Lorenzo into agreeing to a precontract to race for the Italian factory from 2015 onwards.
According to the report, Ducati Corse's new boss Gigi Dall'Igna phoned Jorge Lorenzo personally to persuade him to sign for the Italian factory. The contract on offer is reported to be tempting: Onda Cero claim that Ducati offered Lorenzo 15 million euros a season to race for them. Lorenzo is reported to be racing for 9 million a year with Yamaha, plus a 2 million euro bonus if he wins the championship. Both Honda and Yamaha are also chasing Lorenzo's signature for 2015, both claimed to have offered him 12 million euros a year.
The FIM released an updated entry list for the three Grand Prix classes yesterday. Though the list was not much changed from the previous version published in November, there were one or two notable changes. In the MotoGP class, Leon Camier was listed as the second rider at the IODA Racing team; in Moto2, Franco Morbidelli and Roman Ramos filled the last two vacant slots at Italtrans and QMMF respectively; and in Moto3, the winter signings of Ana Carrasco, Isaac Viñales, Scott Deroue and Enea Bastianini were added to the list.
It was a move which had been rumored since the middle of last year, but today, Ducati finally confirmed that Davide Tardozzi will return to the Italian factory to manage the MotoGP team. Tardozzi has a long and successful career with Ducati in World Superbikes, before leaving to run the BMW World Superbike program. After BMW pulled its factory program, Tardozzi was left sitting at home, leading to widespread speculation of a Ducati return.
Tardozzi's signing reunites several key players from the most successful period in Ducati's past, with Tardozzi working alongside Paolo Ciabatti. Tardozzi will be taking over the role vacated by Vitto Guareschi, who left to run the Team Sky VR46 Moto3 squad.
Below is the official press release from Ducati:
Davide Tardozzi returns to Ducati to coordinate Ducati Team organization and logistics in MotoGP
- Tardozzi to be in charge of organization and logistics and will report to Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse Sporting Director and MotoGP Programme Director
- Former racer returns to Ducati after success as team manager in Superbike
Ducati Corse wishes to announce that it has reached an agreement with Davide Tardozzi, who returns to work again with the Borgo Panigale, Italy based manufacturer after a period of four years.
Normally, motorcycle racing fans face a long and empty wait between the last tests in November and the first tests in late January and early February. Fortunately, this year, it's different, thanks to the revival of the Superprestigio brand by Jaime Alguersuari, father of the Formula One driver of the same name, and founder of Spanish magazine Solomoto. Alguersuari has pulled off a massive coup by getting 2013 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez involved, and getting him to front the race. On Saturday, 11th January, some of the best riders in the world will race on an indoor dirt track oval at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona's Olympic Park.
After a year of evolution in MotoGP which brought them few rewards, Ducati looks set for a radical shake up for next season. Respected Italian website GPOne.com is reporting that Ducati is considering racing in MotoGP as an Open entry, instead of under the Factory option. In practice, Ducati would be free of the engine freeze in place for Factory Option teams in 2014, have 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, and twelve engines per season instead of just five. In addition, they have more freedom to test with factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. In exchange, they will have to forego the freedom to develop their own software, and will run the spec Dorna-supplied software instead.
GPOne's source is impeccable, quoting Ducati factory rider Andrea Dovizioso. The two bikes - the GP13 in factory configuration, and in the Open configuration with more fuel and the spec software - have already been tested back-to-back, at the test in Jerez in November. However, those bikes were ridden by test riders, and not by Ducati factory men Dovizioso and Crutchlow. 'The real test will come when we test the bike,' Dovizioso told GPOne.com. That test is set to happen at Sepang, at the first test of the 2014 season from 4th to 6th February. One of the things which was said to be improved was the engine response when running with more fuel. An aggressive throttle response is something which Ducati riders have all complained of in the past, and having more fuel available could alleviate.
Second in flight: Andrea Dovizioso gets airborne through Turn 1