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MotoGP COTA: Marquez had to actually fight for this one!




Under bright blue Texan skies, the Grand Prix of the Americas turned out to be exactly what we’ve come to expect from COTA.

Marc Marquez won his 5th consecutive MotoGP race at Austin, his 11th in the United States across all three classes. It wasn’t the usual tearaway performance of previous years, he had to actually fight for this one and perhaps, that makes it all the more important for the World Champion.

After Maverick Vinales won the first two races of the year and with the pair evenly matched during practice and qualifying, the race had the potential to be the beginning of a brilliant battle between them. But Vinales crashed out of the race at turn 18 on lap 2; losing the front without any obvious reason.

“I’m going to try to forget this crash and come to Jerez even faster” – Vinales

Maverick said that he was unsure why he had fallen as he doesn’t think he did anything different compared to the rest of the weekend (backed up by the data from the bike), although he didn’t have the best feeling from the front tyre at the start, so it’s likely that’s where the cause lies.

But despite Vinales’ obvious disappointment with the result, he knows that he showed good strength and speed this weekend at a track that hasn’t always been kind to Yamaha and he’s got his eyes firmly set on Jerez “We can be strong again, so I’m going to try to forget this crash and come to Jerez even faster, stronger and more consistent than I was here.” (That’s a warning shot if you’ve ever heard one…)

For Marquez, Vinales’ crash didn’t really change anything for him because he was already too busy chasing down his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa; who got a fantastic start, sweeping around the outside at turn 1 to take the lead and keeping it until lap 8, when Marquez made his first move on his fellow Spaniard. But Pedrosa had the superior drive out of turn 11 and Marc found himself back in second almost immediately. One lap later and Marquez was back in front, this time making the move stick.

Pedrosa wasn’t willing to give up without a fight though and a couple of laps later, he outbraked Marquez into turn 12 (not an easy thing to do!) to get back in front, before then outbraking himself and giving his team-mate the chance to take the lead again. At that point, Marc started to pull away and two laps later he put in the first 2’04 lap of the race and was leading by over 1 second from Dani, back in his dominant rhythm that is such a familiar sight at COTA.

While ultimately Pedrosa wasn’t able to stick with Marquez in the last few laps due to front tyre wear, the fact that he not only made a brilliant pass at the start, then led for so long and then actually stuck on Marquez’s rear, not to mention that he was able to fight with him briefly, is a very good sign for Dani. He’s been slightly under the radar so far in 2017, but he took more of a fight to Marquez at Austin than anyone else has in the 4 races at COTA before.

Speaking in the post-race press conference Marc said that “every year is difficult, every year we do our 100% but it’s true that this year everything’s a little bit more tight.. in the race I feel really good but of course, it’s the most important victory because I come from Argentina where I made a mistake.” He also pointed out the importance of the win in terms of the championship, with the 25 points moving him from 8th to 3rd, behind Vinales.

But it was Valentino Rossi’s championship hopes that took the biggest boost in Austin. His second place combined with Vinales’ crash mean he moves to the top of the standings for the first time since Sepang 2015, leading his team-mate by 6 points and Marquez by 18. The Italian has had a consistent start to the season with his 3 podiums and Austin certainly saw a better performance from The Doctor, especially in terms of qualifying. Ahead of the return to Europe and the tracks he loves, he’ll be happy with his best career result at COTA and despite the bike still needing work, they’ve made an important step forward.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Rossi on Sunday though, with controversy never too far behind him. On lap 7 while chasing down Marquez in third, he found himself getting up close and personal with Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco at turn 3. The Moto2 World Champion saw a gap and went for it, but with both Zarco and Rossi going for the same bit of asphalt, Rossi was forced to run off track, cutting the next corner out entirely. Race Direction deemed that he gained an advantage and added a 0.3-second penalty to his race time at the end. A decision that has proved “slightly” controversial…

“For me, the penalty wasn’t right.” – Rossi

The rule I agree with, you can’t have riders gaining advantages by running off track, but the exercising of that rule in this instance is where I object. While Rossi did gain time and move closer to Marquez, it was irrelevant; he didn’t gain any positions and he was never able to make a move on Marquez. It’s also important to note that he didn’t have much of a choice, there was nowhere else for Valentino to go. If he went straight on, the chances of both he and Johann ending up on the floor were high. Head of Race Direction Mike Webb made the point that Rossi could’ve taken the advantage away himself by closing the throttle to ease off slightly.. sure he could but on lap 7 of a race? Realistically that’s not going to happen.

Ultimately the penalty was meaningless as Rossi finished over 2 seconds clear of Pedrosa, but opinion remains divided over whether or not it should’ve been applied in the first place. I’m firmly on the side that it shouldn’t. Penalising a rider for being forced off track when they didn’t gain any positions from it? Seems a bit unfair to me.

Speaking about the decision after the race, Valentino Rossi said “For me, the penalty wasn’t right. The problem is we either do it like this, or we crash together at a very dangerous point. But for me, though accepting Race Direction’s decision, the mistake was made by Zarco.” He also made a few comments about the way that Zarco is overtaking in MotoGP, suggesting he might try another way as “this is not Moto2 and if you want to overtake you have to overtake in another way. He always arrives too much in the line and for me, he has to stay more quiet.”

In his defense, Johann Zarco made it clear that he hadn’t intended to cause any problems for his fellow Yamaha rider, he just saw a chance and went for it, saying “I really didn’t want to cause a problem for Vale and I know I can learn a lot from him so luckily we both recovered.”

That overtake aside, it was another good race from the rookie, finishing in a solid 5th place. He got a great start and battled well with various other riders throughout the 21 laps. Overall, he’s adapted to MotoGP incredibly well in such a short time and the European races could see even more to come from him.

Other good results were had by Cal Crutchlow in 4th, Andrea Iannone in 7th who finally got some good feeling from his new Suzuki and Tito Rabat who finished well in 13th.

Someone who did not have a good weekend in Austin, was Aleix Espargaro. On Saturday he crashed 3 times and broke an engine and Sunday didn’t prove any better for the Spaniard. He had a bad feeling with his front tyre from the start, ultimately leaving him no choice but to come into the pits and change it. “Making a pit stop is always the last thought.. it seems like a lack of respect for the work my team has done, but today I had no choice.”

KTM also had a tricky weekend at a track they knew they would struggle at, with Pol Espargaro retiring with a clutch problem that left his belly pan full of oil and Bradley Smith finishing 16th after grip issues with the hard tyre.

One team I had expected better from was Ducati, their top speed should’ve helped them, particularly on the back straight but Andrea Dovizioso finished 6th saying that “we never had the pace that we had hoped for” while his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo initially moved up to 4th battling with Maverick Vinales, before slipping back to 7th where he remained for much of the race before front graining issues left him unable to stick with the riders around him, eventually finishing 9th.

After 21 laps, it was Marc Marquez on the top step gripping the bull-horned trophy, as is usually the case at COTA, but this year Dani Pedrosa took the fight to him and it’s Valentino Rossi leading the championship.

The first 3 flyaways are done and now it’s time to head back to Europe, with Jerez in two weeks time (although Honda and KTM have a test at Le Mans this week, with Aprilia heading to Mugello). Can Rossi get his first win of 2017 and extend his lead or will Vinales come back as strong as he threatens? Will familiar territory prove helpful for Honda and will Ducati make a step forward? The next 12 races are where the work really gets done and everyone will be happy to be heading home. Ready for the next race? You bet.

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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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