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MotoGP Preview: ‘Everything exists in Jerez’




After 3 flyaway races to start the 2017 season, MotoGP has finally returned “home” for the start of the European races, with the Spanish jewel of Jerez de la Frontera up first.

The Circuito de Jerez track has a little bit of everything, with hard braking, fast flowing corners, changes of direction, slower sections and camber changes, combining with a narrower track with low grip levels to present a technical challenge for riders and teams.

But it’s characteristics and position as the first European race mark Jerez out as an important point in the season; the first 3 races share similarities with other venues on the calendar but they’re also very individual, while work done at Jerez normally carries through the next stage of the championship. KTM’s Tom Jojic phrased it perfectly “everything exists in Jerez, if you can make the bike work there, you can pretty much make it work anywhere.”

Last year was a bit of an anomaly due to high temperatures that left the low grip circuit lacking even more than usual. With Michelin still recovering from the issues they’d had in Argentina in 2016, rear spinning was mentioned so many times over the 3 days that it was enough to make you dizzy.

Thankfully that scenario shouldn’t repeat itself this year, Michelin know what they’re faced with and temperatures shouldn’t get too high. Tyres will be in the usual 3 compound choices of soft, medium and hard for the front and rear, while the medium rear will be asymmetrical with a harder right side. There is a chance of rain on Friday, so the wets (available in soft and medium) might prove useful.

Sticking with tyres, a key part of the setup for this weekend will be keeping the front one down, with wheelie a particular area of concern at Jerez. For the most part, teams will be tackling this with electronics since wings are no longer part of the MotoGP fabric, but aero-fairings might appear in a few more places. Suzuki have already used theirs a couple of times and KTM unveiled their non-wing wings in Austin (they’re wings, but just different enough to be legal). Ramon Forcada (Vinales’ crew chief) thinks the standard fairing should be ok, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Honda felt the need to try their aero additions out at some point.

Of course, in 2016 the King of Wings was Ducati but Jerez is a tricky circuit for them, with their last podium back in 2011 with Nicky Hayden. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo tested at Jerez last month (including running their “Hammerhead” fairing), but it remains to be seen how helpful that will prove, with Dovi saying “I don’t exactly know what to expect” but he knows it will be a tough weekend, especially as their top speed advantage isn’t going to prove particularly helpful.

For his team-mate Lorenzo (who turns 30 today) the Jerez track is one of his favourites. He’s won at the Andalucian circuit 3 times, with 7 podiums and 5 pole positions. Since he joined MotoGP Jorge Lorenzo has never qualified off the front row at Jerez but realistically that streak is unlikely to continue in 2017. Despite the Ducati’s difficulties, the Spaniard is ready to get back to work; “Jerez for Ducati is theoretically not the best track, but it is for me.. I’m going to try to compensate the difficulties.” How much of a difference Jorge is able to make remains to be seen but the familiarity of Jerez might be a welcome confidence booster as he continues to work on his new bike.

Of course, that confidence boost won’t just extend to Lorenzo. For championship leader Valentino Rossi, Jerez is a circuit he knows incredibly well and with 7 wins at the track (including an incredible performance across the 2016 weekend) the Italian will be trying to extend his small advantage in the standings as much as possible this weekend, especially over his team-mate.

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The Yamaha works well at Jerez, something that won’t just benefit Rossi and Vinales, but also the Tech 3 duo of Zarco and Folger. Both rookies have performed well so far in 2017, especially Zarco, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry that forward on European soil.

The hard braking areas of the circuit should keep Honda in touch with the Yamahas, with the 3 main overtaking zones of T1, T6 and T13 all needing that braking confidence to sneak up the inside of the rider in front, although the acceleration out of turn 13 in particular (along with turns 5 and 10) could be slightly problematic if they don’t make full use of their braking advantage. But expect both Marquez and Pedrosa to be fighting at the front in Jerez, and Dani, in particular, could be one to watch this weekend.

The start of the “European Tour” always feels exciting and Jerez certainly knows how to throw a party; with the Spanish sun shining down and the fans packed into every available space the atmosphere can take your breath away. Judging by the first three races of 2017, the racing on Sunday is likely to do so as well.

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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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