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MotoGP Aragon Preview: Rossi returns, Marquez & Maverick battle on




From Misano to Motorland, MotoGP has traveled across the sea from Italy to Spain and onto the very different world of Aragon.

It’s not just the surroundings that separate this race from the last; Aragon is faster than Misano, with a top speed record almost 50km/h higher, Motorland also makes the most of its natural terrain, with the riders making their way uphill through the first part of the circuit, as the track gradually gets tighter before it opens back up again as they had back downhill towards the end. As the speed is higher, so too is the demand on the brakes, with Brembo rating Aragon a 4 out of 5 in terms of difficulty.

Few views on the calendar are more iconic than the Aragon wall, and the mini-corkscrew of turns 8 and 9 always demands attention from riders and fans alike. There are fast, flowing sweeps, blind crests, camber, tight and twisty turns and the back straight to contend with, but it’s a track most riders like.

In terms of bike setup, it again comes down to balance. There are a couple of areas where the bikes will be at a high lean angle while still carrying high speeds, making grip and stability key, while the changes of direction call for agility in handling. Aero could possibly prove helpful with front confidence and down the back straight, but as always tyres are the main focus. The full range of soft, medium and hard slicks is back for both front and rear, with the rear slicks being asymmetric to help them cope with the higher number of left corners. The mornings can be cool at Aragon, so riders will need to work carefully to get them up to temperature in the early practice sessions if that’s the case.

On paper, this weekend should be a strong one for Marc Marquez. It’s anti-clockwise, which means it goes left a lot and that’s always good for the Spaniard. He’s been on pole every year he’s raced at Aragon in MotoGP and he won the race last year. It’s also one of his favourite tracks and following his win in Misano, there’s every reason to expect another strong weekend from the championship leader.

Across the Repsol Honda garage is Dani Pedrosa, who like his team-mate enjoys the circuit. Pedrosa has gone well at Aragon in the past, with a win in 2012 and a great fight in 2015 against Valentino Rossi. His focus is on making the most of every lap in practice, especially after a difficult weekend in Misano where he struggled to get the tyres to work, but if the weather behaves he’s hopeful of fighting for a podium.

Of course, this time there’s not only one championship leader, with Andrea Dovizioso equal on points with Marc Marquez, their 199 points are the lowest total for a leader at this stage of the season since the current points system was introduced. Dovi hasn’t always had the best time at Aragon, with 3 DNFs, and 2016 result of 11th. But the Italian described the track as “really nice” and he’s aiming for a podium after showing the Ducati’s competitiveness so many times this year at tracks they’ve traditionally struggled at.

Ducati team-mate Jorge Lorenzo is again on friendly ground, with Aragon being “one of the circuits where I feel most at home”. After a great start in Misano before crashing, there’s a lot of potential for Lorenzo to build on this weekend and Aragon is as good of a place as any, with the Spaniard only missing out on the podium once in the past and having secured 2 wins.

Of course, those good performances for Lorenzo were on the Yamaha and this year it’s Maverick Vinales who will be looking to make the most out of the M1 around Motorland. It’s one of Vinales’ favourite circuits and he expects to be fast this weekend after a good step forward in Silverstone and Misano. His focus is still very much on the championship, with just 16 points separating him from the joint leaders which is the smallest gap between the top 3 after 13 races with the current points system. He had good performances at Aragon in the smaller classes and 2016 was positive with a result of 4th. Vinales should be right on form this weekend as he chases down Marquez and Dovizioso.

Making his return from injury (while still injured) on the other side of the Yamaha garage is Valentino Rossi. Just over 20 days since he broke his tibia and fibula in an Enduro crash, Rossi has been declared fit and will ride in FP1. He has already tested an R1 around Misano, and while there was some pain, particularly in changes of direction, it went well enough for him to travel to Spain. How he will feel on the M1 remains to be seen, but it’ll be good to see the Italian back on track. If he is able to race then he says that to “finish the race is a good target, maybe take some point also” but it’s still too early to say how this weekend will progress for Rossi. If he’s unable to ride then Michael van der Mark is on standby to make his MotoGP debut in his place.

Aprilia have been busy since Misano with a test in Valencia, that has given them some areas of setup to continue building on this weekend, while Suzuki’s Misano test was rained off. At KTM, Mika Kallio is making another wildcard appearance, which could have very important consequences for both his and Bradley Smith’s futures within the team. The satellite Ducatis all expect their Desmos of various ages to suit Aragon, with Jack Miller also expecting it to work well with his Honda RC213V. The Tech 3 duo will again be fighting it out for top rookie, while they’ll also be battling with the likes of Danilo Petrucci and Cal Crutchlow for top independent.

With just 5 races left, every point counts whether it’s in the rider, team or constructors championship. So far MotoGP has done nothing but surprise us week-in-week-out and there’s nothing to suggest that Aragon will be any different. Will the championship shift again? Will Rossi be able to ride? Will we see a different face on the top step?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

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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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