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MotoGP Silverstone: “Dovi! Dovi! Dovi!”

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When do we reach the point of not being surprised at a Dovi win? Perhaps when they stop surprising the man himself.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was held under bright sunshine, but it was the Italians that shined.

Lining up on the grid, it was still Marc Marquez that seemed the favourite to come out on top over the next 20 laps. But when the lights went out it was Valentino Rossi that led into turn 1 and there he stayed, with the 9-time World Champion holding the lead for 17 long laps.

It was in the group chasing Rossi where the action really took place, with Maverick Vinales making his way to third on lap 1, before then passing Marquez for 2nd on lap 3. Andrea Dovizioso was also moving up, passing Crutchlow to move into 4th, while Rossi’s lead was over a second as the Italian broke the lap record, which in turn was broken by Vinales one lap later.

Dovi continued to move forward when he passed Marquez into turn 7, using the Ducati’s acceleration along the Hangar Straight; where his top speed was 10km/h more than his rival’s Honda. As the riders reached the halfway point of lap 10 Marquez briefly passed Dovizioso at turn 17, but Dovi was back in front by the next corner. Marquez’s burst of speed was still enough for him to break the lap record with a time of 2’01.560. As the pack continued to chase him, Rossi’s gap came down to under 0.5 for the first time but he still looked incredibly comfortable out front.

Dovizioso had now turned his attention to Vinales and 2nd place. The pair battled it out for a few corners before Dovi made it stick at turn 1 of lap 12, and while the brief fight had boosted Rossi’s gap, Dovi quickly started closing it back down.

Then came lap 14 and a potentially championship changing moment. As Marc Marquez came down the Hangar Straight into turn 7 following Dovizioso and leading Maverick Vinales, there was a sudden, and quite spectacular, blast of smoke as the Spaniard’s Honda engine simply decided it had gone far enough thank you very much. There’s no coming back from a blown engine and while Marquez consoled himself and Vinales regained his composure after being smoke bombed, Dovizioso took over the championship lead as he continued to chase down Rossi.

4 laps later and Dovi passed Rossi, with turn 7 again the stage for the show. It was the first lead change in the race with Rossi having led impeccably from the start and he wasn’t giving it up easily, brake testing Dovi until the very last split second. But Rossi’s tyres were tired and wouldn’t allow him to fight and at turn 14 he was then also passed by team-mate Vinales.

Dovi pulled out a gap with ease and while Vinales was able to take the chase right down to the last corner and got pretty close, it was the man dubbed “The Professor” by his team that took the win, the 4th of the season for Ducati.

So why is Dovi winning still a surprise? Of the last 7 races, he’s won 4 of them and is riding better than ever before. He’s still the same Andrea; calm, modest and funny but on track, he seems to have an extra edge this year, the Ducati is letting him fight without compromising on his smooth style.

His first win in Mugello? He was ill, he came from behind, took the lead without a plan and completed the Italian dream; an Italian rider, on an Italian bike, in an Italian team winning at Mugello. No-one expected it. Win number two came one week later in Barcelona, again he unexpectedly took the lead with ease and won. The third came in Austria, slightly less of a surprise but it wasn’t a certainty and he had to fight for it. Not many beat Marc Marquez in a last corner battle, but Dovi did. And now number four. In his own words “I don’t know why but for me England is good luck”. Again he came from behind, having not shown the best pace over practice and qualifying, took the lead and then just eased away.

The connecting link? How Dovi manages his tyres. The Ducati’s speed allows him to stay with the group at the start of the race without having to push too hard. He keeps the pace but saves the tyre at the same time, giving him just a little bit extra grip at the key point of the race. Andrea said himself, he wasn’t faster in the race, he was just able to put his bike in the right place at the right time.

On the opposite side, it was tyre management that lost Valentino Rossi the race. Rear tyre wear is Yamaha’s biggest issue and while the test in Misano after Austria brought some relief, and undoubtedly meant Rossi was able to lead so well for so long, with 4/5 laps to go the rear was again too worn to keep him in the fight. Maverick Vinales suffered slightly less with tyre wear at Silverstone, and despite choosing a soft rear tyre for the race he was able to make it last. It was a tyre he did a lot of work on over the weekend and while it took him some time to get the right feel with the hard front, the soft rear worked well.

The differences between the hard rear run by Rossi and the soft run by Vinales are minimal. These aren’t the Bridgestone tyres where only one is a race option, Michelin has a much bigger overlap between the compound options. At Silverstone, the main difference is that the hard keeps its shape slightly better going over the bumps and provides more stability, but all options were raceable. The choice really comes down to each rider and their preference, with Rossi suggesting Vinales’ shorter height could mean he stresses the tyre less. Of course, there is the risk that if you already think you can’t run a tyre and then don’t give it a full evaluation you won’t know if you can run it or not..

Overall, Silverstone was a good weekend for Yamaha. They made a step forward and the evidence is there in the fact that Valentino led for 17 laps and that there was a double podium at the end of it. Rossi hadn’t been on the podium since Assen, and he showed he’d missed it with an affectionate pat as he stepped onto the rostrum (amazing statistic: Silverstone was Rossi’s 300th Premier Class race and his 3rd place was his 190th Premier Class podium). Vinales hadn’t been on the podium since Mugello and the last time both of them were on the podium was Argentina. With Misano next, it’ll be interesting to see how big the step is and if it can turn around their season at this critical point, especially as it’s a home race for Valentino.

Obviously, it’s Ducati that leave England the happiest; t’s their first win at Silverstone and 8 years after Dovi’s first MotoGP win at Donington Park he took his 6th. He now leads the World Championship again and Parc Ferme is definitely getting used to hearing the chant of “Dovi Dovi Dovi”. But good news also comes from Jorge Lorenzo’s side of the garage. He had a strong race, finishing 5th and just over 3 seconds from Dovi. He was the only Ducati rider to run the aero at Silverstone because despite it straining his arms more and reducing top speed it continues to give him the front confidence he was looking for. With Misano up next, both riders have a chance of another good weekend.

And if Ducati leaves happiest, Honda are undoubtedly the opposite. Can you remember the last time a factory Honda had an engine blow? It’s ok, I’ll wait… It just doesn’t happen. The engine wasn’t an old one and wouldn’t have really been under any extra strain at Silverstone, and yet it literally went up in smoke. Unfortunately for Marc Marquez that is just part of racing and while he was obviously disappointed, he still took the positives from the weekend. He’d been strongest since Friday, his pace and speed were excellent and he felt good with his bike setup. Bad luck hit in Britain but he’ll be back in Misano.

For team-mate Dani Pedrosa, the positives are slightly less although at least he finished the race. Pedrosa struggled all weekend, with the bumps making finding a setup for stability and grip hard to find. Dani wasn’t comfortable and while he was able to improve his pace in the race compared to practice, it was a difficult Grand Prix. But again, Misano is next. In 2016 he stunned everyone with brilliant tyre management helping him secure a win and he’ll be back fighting there this year.

Looking at the other factory teams, Aprilia had the worst of it. Aleix Espargaro battled bravely all weekend with pinched ligaments in his ribs making it hard to breathe and suffered cruel misfortune when on lap 19 his bike put up a warning light and switched off the engine. Aleix showed good pace on Saturday despite his injury so if he can get back to full fitness for the next race, he should be able to continue the progress. For Sam Lowes, it was a home race to forget as he crashed out on lap 6 when he made a mistake at turn 5.

At Suzuki it was a little bit more mixed. Alex Rins had a brilliant weekend, he showed great pace across practice and qualifying and took a real step forward to finish 9th. Rear tyre wear limited him towards the end but he felt comfortable and rode really well. A good performance from the rookie! Then there’s Andrea Iannone. I had hoped for more this weekend but after starting reasonably well on Friday, rear grip held him back in qualifying. In the race, he felt instantly uncomfortable and lacked rear traction and confidence. With just 3 laps to go, he crashed at turn 11, taking Danilo Petrucci out with him. Aside from the race, it wasn’t a disaster weekend for Iannone, but he still needs to take that last step forward with the setup.

KTM’s Pol Espargaro had a good weekend and showed decent pace, especially on Friday. He struggled a little bit with the higher temperatures for the race and lost some rear grip at the halfway point but 11th is still a decent result. Unfortunately for Pol, the rear locked on him as he started the cooldown lap which resulted in Pol being flicked in a nasty highside. Luckily the Spaniard is ok, but KTM will be hoping to quickly find the cause. Bradley Smith had a tricky home race finishing 17th, he admitted that the tyre choice might not have been the best for him and like Pol he lost grip at the midpoint. That then limited him for the rest of the race and stopped any chance of progress, leaving him saying “it was heartbreaking to finish a British Grand Prix like that”.

Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco had another good result in 6th, despite a difficult start. He made some good setup changes over the weekend and despite struggling with the rear tyre sliding towards the end it was a strong race. For him he says his next step is finding a way to keep a more consistent pace from the start to the finish, but it continues to be a positive first season.

His team-mate Jonas Folger will be glad to put the British Grand Prix behind him though. Folger came into the weekend unwell and really struggled on Friday because of it. Saturday was slightly better and he hoped for a decent race, but Jonas suffered a horrendous crash in the warm-up that left his bike on top of the air-fence at turn 7. Thankfully nothing was broken for the German rider and he’s relatively ok, but after feeling dizzy he was taken to hospital for a CT scan and ruled unfit.

Tito Rabat had quite a good race, he made up 5 positions on lap 1 alone before finishing 12th from 22nd on the grid, and showed positive signs throughout the weekend, while Jack Miller struggled with rear grip on Sunday. Fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow had a strong British Grand Prix, showing good pace throughout the weekend, but his race was affected by tyres with the front tyre again a bit too soft for him which in turn affected the rear.

The satellite Ducati’s had a mixed time at Silverstone. Hector Barbera almost jumped the start and then lost time trying to stop himself from doing so, while Loris Baz had a lot of sliding at the end of the race with the soft rear. Alvaro Bautista also struggled with tyres as the medium front moved a lot, but team-mate Karel Abraham felt his race went quite well despite battling shaking on the straights which affected braking.

At Pramac, while Danilo Petrucci was taken out by Iannone, Scott Redding had a good home race after showing decent pace and working well on setup with his team.

Silverstone always had the potential to be a landmark in the 2017 championship fight but while the lead took a dramatic swing from Marquez to Dovizioso, the gap covering the top 4 went from 33 points to just 26. With 6 races remaining there are still plenty of points to race for and Dani Pedrosa is still in the fight in 5th, with 9 points separating him from Rossi. If you’ll excuse the pun, Marquez’s engine giving up has blown the championship even more open than it was before.

After the race, Valentino Rossi joked that he wanted the championship top 5 to arrive in Valencia equal on points and for it to then rain on Sunday. That’s unlikely to happen, but one thing is certain… this championship fight isn’t going to be over anytime soon.

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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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