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MotoGP Preview: All change in Sepang for penultimate race of the season




This weekend the flyaways finally come close to an end as MotoGP heads to Malaysia for the penultimate round of 2016 at the Sepang International Circuit.

Sepang means high temperatures, heavy humidity and a lot of rain. The climate and the track itself, which is one of the longest in the calendar, mean that the Malaysian Grand Prix is incredibly demanding on the riders. Staying rested and most importantly, hydrated will be key for them this weekend and as Valentino Rossi pointed out “it is always very hot and you must always be very careful with what you eat and drink.”


While the extra heat can cause issues for the riders themselves, it will be a welcome relief for Jorge Lorenzo, who really struggled in Australia due to the lack of temperature in his tyres. He’s expecting to have no such issues in Sepang, so should be pushing at the front, despite never winning at the Malaysian circuit in MotoGP before.

The track itself is one that riders and teams know very well, simply because they spend so much time testing there in the pre-season, but this year there’s a small spanner in the works… the track has changed. After they tested at Sepang in February, it’s had a bit of a revamp with alterations and a completely new surface, so it’ll be interesting to see how much of their test data will remain relevant.

Because so much has changed, Friday will see everyone fully focussed on their setup; working out how the tyres are affected and their own mechanical settings. Braking will be very important thanks to the heavy braking areas, especially turn 15, while stability is top of the agenda thanks to the new camber in many of the corners. Handling and corner exit speed out of the tighter turns and the sweep of turn three are other areas that Sepang will demand the teams focus on.

“I’m very curious about the track, to see how much smoother the surface is now and how much faster it will allow us to lap.” – Marquez

Weight balance needs will vary between the teams, with Yamaha’s Ramon Forcada saying that stressing the front will be an issue for them, while at Suzuki Maverick Vinales is more concerned about stressing the rear tyres in the high temperatures.


In terms of tyres, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Michelin have prepared for this race. Obviously, much of February’s test data became almost immediately irrelevant, which considering Loris Baz’s rear tyre exploded is probably a good thing, but they did test a couple of months ago with Cal Crutchlow and a few factory test riders. The grip level is expected to be much better this year thanks to the new surface and everyone will be very happy about that. Michelin has brought front slicks in soft, medium and hard, to be paired with asymmetric rears in medium and hard. Because it’s going to rain at some point, wets in soft and medium are available to riders, while intermediates are also an option for them.

Because the surface is smoother and grippier lap times will be affected. When Formula 1 visited they apparently found quite a big change, while World Superbikes also beat previous times when they raced in May. Once the riders have scouted out the changes and made the relevant adjustments, times for MotoGP will likely drop with the new World Champion Marc Marquez saying “I’m very curious about the track, to see how much smoother the surface is now and how much faster it will allow us to lap.”

Another aspect of Sepang are the long straights that run either side of the main grandstand. To maximise their performance here, Aprilia are bringing a new engine specification, so it will interesting to see if this proves a step forward as the season comes to an end.

In terms of who we can expect to see at the top, it would normally be Dani Pedrosa who is always in good form in Malaysia, but sadly the Spaniard is still sidelined with his injuries from Japan and will be replaced by Hiroshi Aoyama, who has actually won at Sepang twice before in the 250cc class.

With Pedrosa, not an option, Yamaha will be hoping to finally get back on the top step after being without a win since Barcelona, and the warmer temperatures should help them, as should the track changes that will create an even smoother line for them to follow. Rossi has the most wins at the track, with 5 in MotoGP and he classes it as one of his favourites, so expect him to be in top form, along with his team-mate Lorenzo.

Honda’s Marquez is, as always, impossible to rule out. He’ll want to come back after his first DNF of the year in Australia, while the race winner Cal Crutchlow will have a triple-boost as not only is he now a double race winner; but his family will be joining him in Malaysia and it’s his birthday this weekend. Can the British rider make it three in 2016, I’d say that’s unlikely as the other factories should be performing better this weekend, but a top five is a possibility.

The Ducatis will have both Andrea’s back on board again, as Iannone returns for the first time since he injured himself in Misano, and the Italian team will be looking forward to blasting past their rivals on the straights.


Suzuki showed real promise in the pre-season and they’ve improved massively since then, so they could be fighting for podium places again this weekend.

With the track changes, new surface and Malaysian weather, Sepang is always a tricky one to predict. The main hotspots for track action should still be turns 1 and 2 after the front straight, the 90-degree turn 4 which is perfect for outbraking, turn 9 and of course, the all-important turn 15. It’s this last turn where you’ll really want to pay attention; riders will be trying new lines thanks to its new profile and there are more options available to them, so while some will get it right, others will likely get it wrong.

The winner of Sunday’s race could be decided at the last corner, rain will play its part and the tyres will again be key, along with how well the riders adapt themselves and their bikes to the changes.

Who will win? I don’t know, sorry. But it should be fun to watch, as long as we don’t get any of 2015’s funny business!

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MotoGP 2018 Preview: Marquez is the rider to beat! But don’t bet against Dovizioso!




It’s finally time.

Winter is over (unless you live in the Southern hemisphere, then summer is nearly over for you… sorry about that), testing is finished and it’s time to go racing in 2018.

Three pre-season tests saw three different riders at the top of the combined timesheets, with Jorge Lorenzo ruling the roost in Sepang before Dani Pedrosa rose to the top in Thailand and Johann Zarco brought testing to a close in Qatar as the number one.

But testing only tells us so much. Yes, it can give a basic idea of what the pace is like and how competitive the grid will be, but with each team and rider running their own schedules and battling their own issues, it’s not until we get down to racing that we really know what this season has in store for us.

2017 was an incredible year that taught us to forget almost everything we thought we knew. It followed a season with 9 different winners that we all thought would be hard to beat in terms of a spectacle. But over 18 races we saw some of the greatest battles in Grand Prix history, last lap and last corner challenges that left us wondering what the hell had just happened, saves that should never have been possible (yes Señor Marquez, I’m talking about you), team orders that had us questioning the strategies we thought we knew and a championship fight that went down to the final race.

2016 was supposed to be hard to beat, then 2017 took our breath away. What does 2018 have in store? Undoubtedly more of the same and probably more than a few surprises that will leave us all stunned. The bikes are new, there’s some new rubber, a new track, even new riders with 5 rookies joining the grid. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be fierce, and it’s going to be 19 weekends of glorious racing.

There really is no point in making predictions, they’ll probably be wrong and even if I could say with certainty what would happen where would the fun be in that?

Marc Marquez is the rider to beat, of that there’s no doubt. He has a big target on his back, as he has done since he arrived in the class. If you want to win in MotoGP then you have to beat the man who has dominated and revolutionised it first. I do hope he falls off less this season though; his saves are spectacular but a bit less gravel bouncing would probably be a good idea.

Last year it was Andrea Dovizioso that pushed Marquez to Valencia and I fully expect him to be putting in a repeat performance in 2018. Last season was a big milestone in terms of his own development as a rider and a person, he might’ve have turned to the “dark horse” mentality in 2017, but he’s firmly in the spotlight as a title contender this year.

Marquez’s team-mate Dani Pedrosa is almost certain to return to the top step in 2018, and if he can get the tyres to work well for him across more tracks he’ll still be right in the mix once again.

For Dovizioso’s garage companion Jorge Lorenzo, 2017 was a longer learning curve than he had expected and pre-season testing had a few tricky moments as well. But I do believe he will win a race this year and once he finds that winning space everyone else should probably watch out.

At Yamaha, last year started so well for Maverick Vinales, who joined the team and dominated testing before winning 3 of the first 5 races, but then it all burned up with the M1’s rear tyre. Both Vinales and Valentino Rossi have already renewed their contracts with Yamaha for another 2 years and testing has seen a few sparks of optimism. But they do still have issues to work on, particularly with electronics and in certain conditions. If they can find a consistency then both riders have every chance of fighting at the front throughout the year and challenging for the championship.

Their fellow Yamaha rider Johann Zarco was the surprise of 2017, starting when he led a few golden laps at the season opener before crashing. He secured pole positions, swapped paint on more than one occasion (not everyone was pleased) and stood on the podium. Could we see him win this year? Absolutely. Could he potentially be fighting for the title? It’s possible; if any independent rider can do it, then it’s Johann because that Frenchman is fearless.

Joining Zarco at Tech 3 this year will be the first Malaysian in MotoGP, Hafizh Syahrin, who comes in to replace Jonas Folger due to illness. Syahrin wouldn’t necessarily have been the first choice of riders to move into MotoGP based on his Moto2 performances, but in a difficult situation, he’s already proven that he’s a good choice after performing strongly in testing and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops over the year.

The other rookies to keep your eyes on in 2018 are Takaaki Nakagami at LCR, Franco Morbidelli and Tom Luthi at Marc VDS and Xavier Simeon at Avintia. Through testing, they’ve all been focussed on just finding their way in the premier class, so as the season progresses they should all make very visible steps forward and put in some good results.

Across the rest of the grid there’s Cal Crutchlow who again takes on the role of the third factory Honda rider, Danilo Petrucci who’s hunting for a factory ride for 2019, Jack Miller who joins Petrucci at Pramac and already looks so much more comfortable on the Ducati, Tito Rabat at Avintia who like Miller seems to prefer being on Italian machinery and Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham both return at the renamed Angel Nieto team.

At the other factories, Aleix Espargaro has a new team-mate at Aprilia as he’s joined by Scott Redding who seems to have adapted quite well as the Italian team continue to develop their package. Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro line-up together again at KTM, with the Spaniard still recovering from a hernia operation but feeling much better than at the last pre-season test. Suzuki is once again made up of Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins with both riders showing good promise in testing. Rins, in particular, could bring out a few surprises in 2018 and if Iannone can keep his level of motivation high hopefully we’ll see The Maniac back in full force (just without the crashes and seagull murder please).

The track is fast, particularly once you’ve reached the more open areas of sectors two and three, before tearing onto the front straight. Turn 1 is one of the most challenging on the calendar as riders brake from 350km/h down to 99km/h over 289 metres in 5.1 seconds. Only Jerez sees riders use the brakes more times over race distance. It brings close, fast racing despite overtaking being tricky with only four main areas; turn 1 at the end of the straight, the tight left of turn 6, turn 12 and turn 16 onto the back straight, but watch out for the slipstream!

When the riders hit the track for the first time on Friday afternoon we’ll start to get some idea of who could be standing on the top step come Sunday, but we won’t really know until they’re racing under the floodlights.

The Losail International Circuit in Doha has played host to the season opener of MotoGP since 2007 and as the city has grown around it, the racing it hosts has itself been evolving.

This year will actually bring something a little different with Moto3 racing in daylight, Moto2 at sunset (which should look amazing) and MotoGP getting underway once it’s dark.

But one thing that’ll remain the same is that we are guaranteed three amazing races for the next 19 races, and personally, I can’t wait to get started.

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WSBK Phillip Island: Double Ducati delight for Melandri in drag race finish




After the addition of a flag-to-flag format caused by rapidly declining tyre issues, yesterday we ended with an intense hope for something interesting to happen in race two.

Well, today did not disappoint, because Race two threw up several intense, race long battles and an incredible  photo finish.

Continuing the form shown in qualifying, it was Eugene Laverty who had an incredible start off the line to pull a considerate lead over his rivals. sadly, it wasn’t meant to be for the Irishman whoever, who crashed out on lap three; re-joining at the back of the field.

As anticipated, it was to be the pit-lane changes that were to be the root of most of the action and first into the pits came Xavi Fores, Jonathan Rea and Michael van der Mark on lap ten – with Fores the quickest out the blocks.

One lap later, and Chaz Davies, Marco Melandri, Ales Lowes, Tom Sykes and Leon Camier all came in, with Camier winning the coming out race.

However, all riders held back on the pit exit in order to avoid a ride through penalty for leaving pit lane before the mandatory one minute and three second time, so it was Davies who led the pack back onto the track; only to see him crash on lap 13 and to hand the lead to Fores.

And from there it was close. Nobody could create a gap, and the lead tossed between Fores and Rea.

Just as it looked as if Rea would taste victory for the first time this season, Race One winner Melandri passed Fores and by the last lap, he was all over the back of Rea.

Melandri leapt almost immediately for the lead, but Rea fought straight back, with the two now locked into an intense last lap battle.

It was a drag race out of the final corner to the line, but Melandri it was who was declared victorious from the photo finish.

Say what you like about the rest of the bike, but that Ducati has some serious straight line speed.

Xavi Fores bought it home in third as the top independent rider. After a seriously impressive race where he was constantly fighting in the top five, it was well deserved for the Spaniard, who has only ever had one podium in the Superbike class.

A personal standout for me was Leon Camier on the Honda SP2, a bike that so desperately struggled during the last season. The Brit was always up there, fighting with the Yamaha’s and never losing time which cements the fact that last season, he was the driving force for the MV Agusta’s success.

World Superbike next heads to Buriram, Thailand in a month’s time. So there is a long wait until the next battle.

So, a long delay, but long may this close racing continue.

World Superbike race two:
1. Marco Melandri – Racing Ducati – 34.42.633
2. Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 0.021
3. Xavi Fores – BARNI Racing Team + 0.304 (top independent)
4. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 1.488
5. Alex Lowes – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 2.474
6. Leon Camier – Red Bull Honda WorldSBK Team + 2.745
7. Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 3.098
8. Jordi Torres – MV Agusta Reparto Corse + 14.301
9. Loris Baz – Gulf Althea BMW Racing Team + 14.361
10. Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki Puccetti Racing + 19.785

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