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MotoGP Jerez: No-one came close to Pedrosa’s dominance



After leading all put one of the practice sessions and securing a brilliant pole position, Dani Pedrosa was perfectly poised to take his first win of 2017.

When the lights went out in Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday afternoon, no-one came close to the Samurai’s dominance.

Pedrosa got a great start, leading into turn 1 and from there it was nothing but clear track ahead for the Spaniard, opening up a gap of 0.7 seconds on the first lap alone. Securing the “gentleman’s set” of pole position, the race fastest lap and the win might have looked relatively easy from the way he ran off at the front, but in reality he had to be pushing on every single lap; “it was easy to make a mistake, to lose the front, so it was a matter of staying on the limit without going over it”. Dani’s consistency over the 27 lap race was outstanding; setting the race fastest lap on lap 3 and staying firmly in the 1’40s, dropping to 1’41 only three times.

“I was able to push until the last two laps and then I say ok, second place” – Marc Marquez

Pedrosa’s closest rival in Jerez was his team-mate Marc Marquez who stayed in second for most of the race but was ultimately unable to match his compatriots’ pace. The gap to Pedrosa fluctuated throughout the race, dropping to 0.9 briefly but Marc deemed pushing to try to catch Dani just too much of a risk and eventually finished over 6 seconds behind; “I was able to push until the last two laps and then I say ok, second place” as he was being limited by the front tyre, with both Repsol riders stating it was too soft for them, despite being the hardest compound.

Making it an all-Spanish podium was Jorge Lorenzo, getting his first top 3 finish with Ducati at a track he adores, a perfect 30th birthday present! The Spaniard rode well and made good progress in the early stages. The familiarity of the circuit undoubtedly helped Jorge this weekend, which combined with more precious kilometres on the Desmo means he’s starting to ride in a more natural way. The use of the rear brake is still something he’s not used to but to get the Ducati to turn it’s necessary and with time it will become second nature.

And the more natural everything starts to feel for Jorge, the faster he will go; the change in the way he is riding compared to the start of the year is clear, with the trademark Lorenzo lean well and truly back. He impressed in a couple of the practice session in Jerez and while he was still over 14 seconds behind Pedrosa at the chequered flag, it’s a step in the right direction and with team-mate Andrea Dovizioso finishing 5th at a track he really struggles at, the signs for Ducati are positive.

Aside from the brilliant podium performances, the best of the rest has to be Johann Zarco and not just because he finished 4th. Are we sure he’s a rookie? His first four races have been nothing short of incredible; his confidence on the bike and around other riders makes it impossible to look away. I expected him to adapt to MotoGP well; his style is very similar to Lorenzo so the Yamaha M1 is a good fit, but the sheer determination he shows on track is brilliant to see from a rookie, even if it doesn’t always please those he passes.

In the second lap of the race he passed three riders; Vinales, Crutchlow and Iannone… none of them “easy passes” (as if there’s any such thing in MotoGP) but he cut past them as though he’d been in MotoGP for years. He didn’t stop there though, setting his sights on the World Champion Marc Marquez. It took a couple of attempts to make it work but once in second, he was able to hold Marc off for a couple of laps before he started to be limited by the medium front tyre. With the next race being at home in Le Mans there’ll be even more focus on the Tech 3 rookie but the start of 2017 has been brilliant from Johann and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

But while the Tech 3 Yamaha performed well, with Jonas Folger also put in a good ride to finish 8th (his main area of improvement needs to be trying to hold positions early on), it wasn’t the same story for the Factory Yamahas. On Saturday, both riders were having issues with the lack of grip, which in turn caused problems with corner speed, with wheelspin again proving a common concern at Jerez.

Despite a strong performance in the cooler morning warmup on Sunday for Vinales, when the temperatures rose Yamaha’s problems returned. Maverick struggled with the front saying “I felt like I was going to crash in nearly every corner”, while for Valentino the pre-season lack of front feedback returned combined with wheelspin and a lot of vibration in the latter stages. The Italian and his team had taken a gamble with their setup after a disappointing warmup, but unlike their familiar Sunday magic, in Jerez the risk wasn’t met with reward.

Conditions aside, Dani Pedrosa looks to be back to his best.

Jerez’s configuration normally makes it useful in terms of setup for the next stage of the season, it has a little bit of everything and usually, if you can make it work in Jerez it’s a good sign for the next races. But with unique track conditions, thanks to high temperatures and a surface that’s over 12 years old, while it’s still useful for data, having a “bad” race at the Andalucian circuit doesn’t signal further misfortune to come. For Honda, more time with this bike and learning its quirks is undoubtedly helping but Yamaha’s issues played a part in their dominance of the Spanish track. Lack of grip isn’t going to be a problem for the next race at Le Mans as it’s recently been resurfaced and the temperatures aren’t going to reach Jerez levels; knowing our luck it’ll probably rain.

But tricky conditions aside, Dani Pedrosa looks to be back to his best; Austin showed he was able to take the fight to his team-mate, while Jerez demonstrated the pace is there. There were some big changes for Dani at the start of 2017 with a new crew chief in Giacomo Guidotti and the inclusion of Sete Gibernau in the garage (who along with his obvious technical knowledge proving invaluable, appears to be bringing a lot of humour to that side of the box). But there’s also changes to Dani’s mentality with the triple World Champion saying that he’s now more conscious of the way he’s riding “you have to make it happen more (as you get older), it doesn’t come that easy, you have to work more on your conscious side.. it’s much more fun now when things are happening”.

The fact that it’s more enjoyable was clearly visible on the podium when the emotions proved overwhelming, bringing Dani to tears. And if there’s one image I’ll take away from this race, it’s that; the sheer joy of winning combined with the respect between what used to be the fiercest of rivals as Jorge pulled him into a hug.. that’s MotoGP.

The 3000th Grand Prix race was one plagued by low grip, with riders crashing out and Jack Miller taking out his frustrations on both Alvaro Bautista and Alvaro’s bike (leading to a 1000€ fine), it saw some brilliant overtakes and some very close saves. But it’s Dani Pedrosa who’ll go down as the winner of this landmark race; which is his 30th in MotoGP and with the top 4 in the championship separated by just 10 points, it’s anybody’s guess what the next 14 races have in store.

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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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