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MotoGP Austria Preview: Will Ducati reign supreme at the Red Bull Ring?




From the forests of Brno to the rolling green mountainous hills of Spielberg, MotoGP has arrived at stop number 11 on the 2017 calendar, the Austrian Grand Prix.

Much like Brno, the Red Bull Ring is home to elevation changes, with an altitude difference of 65 metres from the highest point to the lowest. Over just 10 corners riders will reach the highest average speed on the calendar, as well as some of the hardest braking zones and strongest acceleration points, giving the Austrian circuit the highest average deacceleration per lap in the season of 1.3G.

It’s stop-and-go nature means the engine performance and top speed hold special importance along with stability under braking. Turn 1 of Castrol Edge is the hardest braking point, followed by turn 2, which sees the slowest final speed after braking of 64 km/h and turn 3 where riders brake for the longest distance, 251 metres.

The track is hard on tyres and Michelin have come prepared with asymmetric rear slicks, harder on the right shoulder for extra durability, in soft, medium and hard, with the same for the front slicks only they are symmetric. In case it rains, and it looks like it might on a couple of occasions over the weekend, the wets will also be asymmetric like the rear slicks.

But no matter what the weather does there is one manufacturer that, on paper, looks perfect for the Red Bull Ring and they won there last year. Ducati holds the crown in top speed and acceleration and in 2016 they dominated, although some of that can be attributed to a summer test they conducted, giving them a setup before the weekend started. This year things could be a bit closer, especially with teams having an extra day at Brno this week where many of them focussed on acceleration and braking in preparation for Austria.

There’s also the issue of wings. Reducing wheelie is important for the hard acceleration zones but comes with the negative of affecting top speed. In the Brno test Andrea Dovizioso tried the new Ducati aero-fairing and while not as enthusiastic about it as team-mate Jorge Lorenzo who has had his front-end confidence boosted, he was happy enough and said: “It could give us a good advantage in Austria”.

Honda struggled in 2016 but as pointed out by Marc Marquez, the same could be said of Brno, where he won last Sunday, although undoubtedly aided by a test and the track conditions. They should be closer to Ducati this year but how much closer remains to be seen.

At Yamaha, they were the only non-Ducati on the podium last year with Jorge Lorenzo finishing 3rd. In the Brno test, both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales tested their aero-fairing and both were fairly happy, although Vinales says he won’t be running it this weekend as they want to test it more, while Rossi thinks they’ll give it a go at some point. Like Honda, Ducati shouldn’t be running away from them in Austria but the margin is uncertain, although the two Yamaha factory riders could be helped by the carbon forks they tested in Brno.

Suzuki is now home to 2016 race winner Andrea Iannone but it’s pretty unlikely he’ll be on the top step this year. They could struggle slightly in Austria with the acceleration requirements but a return to a happy hunting ground could be a welcome confidence boost for Iannone. Aprilia meanwhile showed good pace in Brno with their engine improvements and Aleix Espargaro is fairly confident of a decent result, although team-mate Sam Lowes will have to continue working on his braking issues to really show his potential in Austria.

Of course, the Red Bull Ring is home to one factory MotoGP team with KTM returning to Austria for the first time since they joined the premier class. They will have 3 riders on the grid with Mika Kallio joining Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. After getting their first top 10 in Brno, they can continue improving this weekend and I think they could have another positive performance.

With the factory Ducati team the favourites on paper, the satellite Ducati teams should also be making their presence known at the Red Bull Ring. Turning can be an issue for the older Desmos but that won’t be an issue in Austria and their engine power could be moving them into the top 10 and for Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci who is on a GP17, it could be another strong weekend.

The top 5 in the championship is still the closest we’ve ever seen with the current scoring system, with 31 points now covering them and Marc Marquez leading by 14 points from Maverick Vinales. Maverick expressed the state of things for all the top 5 when he said “we know that we have to be on the podium at the next races”, unfortunately, there are only 3 places up for grabs so every point counts and mistakes could prove incredibly costly.

Will Ducati reign supreme at the Red Bull Ring again this year? On paper, it certainly looks that way and Dovi has already won twice this year, plus Jorge Lorenzo has renewed confidence and is ready to fight. But Honda, Yamaha and the satellite Ducatis will all be right there, and it probably won’t be as easy as 2016. There are few certainties in MotoGP this year and a Ducati win isn’t necessarily one of them.

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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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