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MotoGP: Lorenzo leaves Yamaha in style after cruising to Valencia victory!

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Starting from pole for the 4th time this season, Jorge Lorenzo was determined to end 2016, and his time with Yamaha, in the best possible way… he wanted to win!

After a trademark perfect start, he went unchallenged for the entire 30 laps, setting two new race lap records and taking his 4th win of the year.

The man starting from second on the grid was the new MotoGP World Champion, Marc Marquez, but after a disastrous start due to a clutch spin issue, he dropped back as low as 7th, leaving him battling with his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, who unfortunately crashed on lap 7. Someone who got a fantastic start, however, was Ducati’s Andrea Iannone who stormed up to second thanks to the sheer speed of the Ducati, with Maverick Vinales slipping into third.

Iannone initially was able to stick with Lorenzo but by the second lap, the 2015 Champion had already pulled a gap of 0.6 as he did what everyone had feared and simply cleared off at the front.

His now-former Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi had quite a battle on his hands in fourth. The first move came on lap 5 at turn 4, as he slipped past Maverick Vinales, with Marc Marquez following him through not long after. For Rossi, his attention then turned to his compatriot Iannone in what turned out to be a fantastic battle between the two Italians. The pair swapped positions fighting first for second, then later in the race for third, with Iannone’s amazing top speed allowing him to simply blast past the Yamaha on the front straight.

With 20 laps still remaining Rossi was eventually able to get himself some breathing space in front of Iannone, partly thanks to Marquez providing a buffer as he had also temporarily passed the Italian for third. For a few laps, the race settled down slightly, matching the calmness of Lorenzo out front, but on lap 17 Rossi and Iannone were back in battle, while further back Crutchlow had crashed out at the last corner.

lorenzo-win-valencia

Iannone eventually got the better of Rossi, although not permanently, which pushed the Yamaha rider back into the clutches of Marc Marquez who’s harder front tyre was coming into its own and providing him with an advantage as the performance of the rubber around him started to drop.

On lap 19 Marquez slipped up the inside of Rossi at turn 2, before passing Iannone on the next lap, only for the Ducati to blast straight back past him. Marquez was not easily dissuaded (obviously) and took the second place back from the Italian in a multi-faceted move at turns 2 and 3. Now he had Iannone firmly behind him, Marquez was able to start closing in on Lorenzo, and he almost made it, dropping the gap to under 2 seconds by the flag, but the Spaniard admitted he’d have needed another 2 or 3 laps to catch and pass the Yamaha.

With 7 laps left, Rossi again tried to get the better of Iannone, but was unable to match the speed of the Ducati rider and bike, before a last ditch attempt on the second to last lap with the two Italians leaning on each other at turn 11 as they battled for position, with Iannone ultimately coming out on top. While he was fighting with Rossi however, his team-mate and Sepang winner Andrea Dovizioso was desperately trying to hold off the Espargaro brothers further back in the top 10.

On paper, and indeed on asphalt, it seems like a fairly straightforward win for Jorge Lorenzo in Valencia as he had a very quiet 30 laps. But he did have issues to overcome as his front tyre started to grain, although he said he was actually having more issues with his rear when Marquez was closing him in.

Nonetheless, the Spaniard was thrilled to wrap up his 9 years with Yamaha in the perfect way, saying that now he’d achieved his objective he could finally relax and tonight (after a party of course) have a good sleep. It was an emotional day for the triple MotoGP champion as he says goodbye to all but 1 member of his team at the same time that Yamaha won the 2016 Team Championship, but he won’t reflect on that for too long because on Tuesday he gets his first taste of the Ducati.

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For Marc Marquez, he ultimately suffered from a bad start and wasn’t able to catch Lorenzo soon enough, but he was able to celebrate an incredible title-winning year in style with his team, as they brought out all the celebrations that had originally been planned for Australia as they were also celebrating Honda’s 22nd Constructors Championship.

Third-place finisher Andrea Iannone had the hardest race of them all, as the Italian is still not fit after fracturing his vertebrae back in Misano and missing 4 races. He was in a lot of pain and was really struggling to get the energy to continue; speaking after the race he admitted that when he saw his pitboard saying 16 laps left he didn’t think he’d make it to the chequered flag. But he battled through the pain, assisted by the speed of his Desmo, to take his fourth podium of the season as he now says goodbye to Ducati and moves to Suzuki.

For the new kids on the grid, KTM, it wasn’t the ideal debut with Mika Kallio having to retire from the race on lap 20 due to an electronic issue that caused the ECU to lose the signal of the speed sensor. But despite that and grip issues earlier in the weekend, I think they can be satisfied with their performance. They’ll have gathered vital data and race experience, and are now ready for further improvements in the test next week.

2016 is now over. MotoGP has seen 9 different winners but was ultimately dominated by Marc Marquez as he learnt a new mentality that in turn brought consistency. The weather and tyres played starring roles over the 18 race drama, but the riders themselves have to be the true stars of the show. While this season is finished, the good news is that 2017 starts on Tuesday with a 2-day test at the Valencia circuit.

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World SBK Assen: Rea holds off home hero van der Mark for race one victory

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At the historic and iconic Cathedral of Speed, Alex Lowes started off strong taking his first ever World Superbike pole position.

Unfortunately for the Brit his good fortune didn’t carry through to the race, as he continuously fell back through the pack and into 12th due to a mistake with tyre fitting; his R1 was fitted with a ‘C’ compound tyre, when it should’ve been fitted with a ‘B’.

While Lowes fought furiously with his Yamaha, his fellow countrymen were fighting up the sharp end.

Jonathan Rea took an early lead, but home hero Michael van der Mark was on his tail, eventually taking the lead on lap eight. We all know that Rea isn’t one to lay down and take it though, and he regained the lead on lap ten to control the race pace and bring home his 12th win at the Dutch track.

However, van der Mark managed to stay with the reigning champion, and also managed to stay within a second of him over the line to finish second.

Towards the end of the race Chaz Davies began to pile on the pressure but dropped off towards the end to settle for third.

And now for some breaking news – Tom Sykes actually passed someone. Actually passed several people. Yes, you did read that right.

He muscled his way past Xavi Fores, who has so far impressed, and Marco Melandri, who is usually difficult to pass. Sykes even tried to pass Davies for third, but had to settle for fourth and pole position for race two.

There’s still a lot of talk around the new rules, and it’s clear that they are starting to make a difference. By regulating the entire field, there is no one bike that has an outstanding advantage as Kawasaki did last year. If anything, Kawasaki are suffering compared to Ducati, who seem to be making the most of the new rules. Although it’s great to see Kawasaki, Ducati (both factory and independent) and Yamaha fighting at the top, something still needs to even the field more for the other teams who are so desperately fighting to catch up.

World Superbike race one:

  1. Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team – 33:40.360
  2. Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team +0.981
  3. Chaz Davies – Aruba.it Racing Ducati +1.282
  4. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team +1.413
  5. Xavi Fores – Barni Racing Team +8.625
  6. Marco Melandri – Aruba.it Racing Ducati +14.903
  7. Loris Baz – Gulf Althea BMW Racing Team +17.301
  8. Leandro Mercado – Orelac Racing VerdNatura +21.482
  9. Jordi Torres – MV Agusta Reparto Corse +21.938
  10. Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki Puccetti Racing +24.939

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MotoGP COTA Preview: Is Marquez still the lone star in Texas?

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For round 3 of the 2018 MotoGP season, the riders and their trusty steeds have touched down in Texas, where the Circuit of The Americas is hosting the “horsepower rodeo” for the 6th year.

The city of Austin proudly proclaims to keep it weird and the track itself is certainly unique, mainly because it isn’t. When Herman Tilke designed COTA he deliberately took some of the best aspects from circuits worldwide to combine them into 5.5km of long sweeps, sharp hairpins, one of the longest straights, hard braking, both low and high-speed sections, quick changes of direction and an elevation change of 41 metres.

COTA is hard, both physically and technically, and it’s fast. It pushes both rider and bike to their limit in one of the most demanding stops on the calendar.

There is one possible upside this year though. The bumps that have plagued Austin thanks to cars that also call it home have been ground down in many areas. The surface should now be smoother, but what that will actually mean, especially for tyres, remains to be seen.

The track starts demanding absolute commitment from the riders at turn 1, which sits atop the hill at the end of the start-finish straight. With riders braking uphill it pushes suspension to its limit, but there’s not much they can do about that without seriously affecting their performance in the rest of the circuit. Making the corner itself can prove tricky; turn too soon and you hit the kerb, turn too late and you can find yourself pushed wide (you’ll see the runoff here get plenty of use this weekend).

From there the circuit starts to wind it’s way back down through a mix of fast changes of direction before they hit the hairpin of turn 11 that leads onto the fast back straight. They then hit the hardest braking zone on the circuit at turn 12, which will see riders enter at 339km/h before braking over 322 metres in 6.3 seconds to reach a final entry speed of just 67km/h.

It’s then briefly back to changing direction again, before a longer sweep through turns 16, 17 and 18, before the two final left-handers take you onto the front straight for an uphill climb to the line.

Another change this year is the race distance being reduced by 1 lap. It might not sound like much but with fuel consumption already on the limit for some teams, every little helps, and it could make tyre life a little less critical as well.

Since Austin arrived on the calendar Marc Marquez has been its lone star

With the surface being a bit of an unknown ahead of this weekend, how the tyres will perform is uncertain but slicks will be in the usual soft, medium and hard compounds, with the rears being asymmetric with a harder right side. Hopefully, we’ll avoid any rain after Argentina (although Saturday looks a bit iffy), but wets will be in soft and medium, with the rears again being asymmetric.

Texas is known as the Lone Star state and one thing is certain; since Austin arrived on the calendar Marc Marquez has been its lone star. On paper it looks similar to the weekend in Argentina.. if anyone is going to beat Marc Marquez, it’ll probably be Marc Marquez. Of course, we all know how that ended.

Marc has won the last 9 MotoGP races in the USA, plus the two races he won in Moto2 before that. At COTA he has always been on pole, with the only US pole position missing from his collection coming at Laguna Seca in 2013, which was taken by Stefan Bradl.

Ahead of this weekend, he obviously feels confident in his abilities and carries forward a good feeling with the bike from Termas 2 weeks ago. The closest rival he’s had at COTA was his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, last year, but this time out it’s pretty unlikely that will be repeated.

Dani broke his right wrist after crashing on a wet patch during the last race and underwent surgery back in Barcelona where he had a screw fitted in his radius. Since then he’s undergone some physio and he’s decided it’s worth his time to travel to Texas and see what he can do. There aren’t really any tracks that are ideal for coming back less than 2 weeks after breaking your wrist, but if there were, Austin wouldn’t be one of them. How he’ll feel on the bike will only be discovered on Friday morning, but it’s going to be a tough weekend for Dani stateside.

In Argentina, it was Cal Crutchlow that took Honda to the top step and there’s every reason to expect him to be just as strong this time out. Last year saw the British rider cross the line in 4th and with him leading the championship he’s going to have all the motivation he needs to secure another strong result. As he said in Parc Ferme, don’t doubt him.

Also on the podium in Termas was Johann Zarco, who will be hoping to repeat the feat and if possible, take that first MotoGP win, which is surely just around the corner for the Frenchman and his Yamaha M1. Alex Rins rounded out the top 3 for Suzuki, and COTA is one of his favourite tracks, although last year didn’t go so well, with Alex crashing out and injuring himself, which then ruled him out for a large part of the season. This year he’s fully fit and with both him and the bike performing better, it should be another good weekend for him. Of course, the Hamamatsu factory will be hoping that their other rider Andrea Iannone will also start to find his feet this weekend.

When it comes to finding a good footing, no-one needs that more than Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati. It has not been a good start to the season for the Spaniard, who has taken just 1 point from the first two races. He has taken two podiums at COTA in the past, but right now his focus needs to be on finding a way to make the GP18 work for him.

All the riders face a challenge in Austin

On the other side of the Ducati garage is Andrea Dovizioso who summed Austin up simply as “a really nice track but rather a difficult one”. Marquez’s issues in Argentina helped Dovi in terms of points but this weekend he’ll be hoping to be far more comfortable and get his pace back. I fully expect him to do so and Dovi should be right at the front again in Texas.

In Argentina, Ducati was mostly represented by Jack Miller who took an extraordinary pole position before being abandoned on the grid, leading numerous laps and finally finishing 4th. His team-mate Danilo Petrucci struggled but both Pramac riders will be looking for good form at COTA.

Then there’s the factory Yamahas. Vinales salvaged 5th in Termas but this season is the first time since 2014 that there’s been no Yamaha win in the first two races. Maverick likes the layout of COTA and after crashing out of the race last year, he wants to start turning the season around, “we can’t afford mistakes. We need to fight for the victory with all our strength”. A win could be a lot to ask, especially if Marquez is firing on all cylinders on Sunday, but a podium would be a very good way to end the first flyaways of the year.

Valentino Rossi secures his first front row start since 2016

For Valentino Rossi, Argentina never really saw him threaten the front group but while he acknowledges the difficulties of Austin he enjoys being Stateside. Valentino has his focus on the setup of his bike and working towards improvements with his team. While he may not have won on US soil since 2008, he has taken 2 podiums finishes at COTA, which he’ll fight to repeat on Sunday.

All the riders face a challenge in Austin. Setup will require a compromise between agility and stability. Aero could be back as a concern. How the surface will perform is unknown, so tyre life is uncertain. Riders will be pushed physically just as much as their teams and bikes will be technically.

We’re 2 races into 2018 and already we’ve had 6 different podium finishers. Crutchlow leads the championship with 38 points, which is the lowest total for the leader after 2 races since the current points system was introduced. The top 15 is covered by just 33 points, again the lowest with this points system. And only 10 riders have scored points in both of the previous races.

MotoGP is on top form and in Austin this weekend, we’ll see some more incredible racing before finding out who will head to Europe as top gun.

I feel the need, the need for speed.

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