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MotoGP Misano Preview: With Rossi out, do Ducati & Dovi dare to dream?

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Round 13 of the 2017 season sees the MotoGP paddock head to Misano, for the San Marino Grand Prix (although it’s not in San Marino, but that’s not the point).

Misano is one of the tighter and twistier tracks, and will definitely seem smaller compared to the wide open spaces of Silverstone. There are a couple of places for the riders to open the gas but they never make it above 300km/h as they wind their way around the 16 corners. There are four main overtaking sections with the double apex of turns 4 and 5 giving the chance for a cutback, while turn 8 is a test of brakes into the left hairpin, followed by turns 9 and 10 which are a long sweep. The wide corner entry of turn 14 is another good spot for a pass before riders head into the last two corners.

In terms of bike setup, the track’s characteristics mean that agility is at the top of the list this weekend, with front feel equally important. A lot of the braking sections around Misano are when the bike is at a large lean angle, so stability and grip need to be constant. The acceleration out of slower corners also means that aero could help; Aprilia are expecting to have an update ready for this race and Jonas Folger will probably give the aero another try on his Tech3 Yamaha.

The kings of aero over at Ducati did a lot of analysis on their fairing at Misano before Silverstone and confirmed both the positives and negatives for Andrea Dovizioso, who isn’t entirely sure whether he’ll run it or not, so expect more testing from him. For his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, the gains in front-end confidence more than make up for what he loses in speed.

Speaking of testing, Suzuki was the only factory team not to spend some time at Misano after Austria. That could hold them back in terms of finding a base setup on Friday morning, and it will be interesting to see how the other factories compare considering they all have a testing advantage, which removes the advantage…

For Ducati this is an important weekend, it’s home race number 2 and Dovi leads the championship. He’s the first Italian on an Italian bike to lead the championship coming into an Italian race since 1974. Misano hasn’t always been the best circuit for Ducati, who have only one win at the track, back in 2007 (the first year MotoGP returned to Rimini) and it’s one of only two tracks on the current calendar where Dovi hasn’t stood on the podium, along with Jerez. But if 2017 has taught us one thing, it’s that Dovi will win when you least expect it, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do so again this weekend.

For Lorenzo, Misano is a firm favourite for the Spaniard. Aside from 2015 when he crashed, he’s never finished a MotoGP race off the podium, including 3 wins in a row. Silverstone was another step forward for Lorenzo as he finished the closest to the winner that he has done so far this year and Misano should be another decent race for him.

If anyone is coming into this race weekend with a point to prove it’s the Repsol Honda team

On paper, the team to beat is Yamaha who have 6 wins, despite being beaten by the Hondas for the last two years. Unfortunately for the team, they’ll be a one-man-band this weekend with Maverick Vinales flying solo. While only having one set of data coming in isn’t ideal, they had a positive test and with Maverick saying that he’s starting to get back the same feelings he had at the start of the year, I expect him to be strong and a positive result for Yamaha will lessen some of the disappointment of missing Valentino.

But if anyone is coming into this race weekend with a point to prove it’s the Repsol Honda team. Silverstone played host to a rare sight in MotoGP when Marc Marquez’s Honda engine went bang and he hopes to put that behind him in Misano; “we’ll look to be as strong as possible, not with victory as the only target but ready to fight for it if we have the opportunity to do so.” For Dani Pedrosa, he’s still in the championship fight but if he wants to keep that hope alive he needs to emulate his brilliant ride in 2016 when he blitzed past everyone thanks to his excellent tyre management. Both had a good test and with them having won 2015 and 2016 respectively, both riders should be right in the fight on Sunday.

There will, of course, be one thing missing in Misano.. the home hero himself, Valentino Rossi.

For the satellite teams, Tech 3 should again be in good form, with their bike well suited to the track and Jonas Folger is back fit after missing Silverstone. While the Ducatis could struggle slightly more, especially without aero assistance, the Aspars, Avinitias, and Pramacs all have the chance of a good weekend, despite Loris Baz recently recovering from the flu.

There will, of course, be one thing missing in Misano.. the home hero himself, Valentino Rossi. The Italian suffered a double leg break a week ago due to an Enduro accident. It’s the first race Valentino will miss after 130 successive starts and only the 5th absence since his Grand Prix debut in 1996. The doctor (the actual one) estimated a recovery time of 30-40 days for Rossi and he’s already started some light physio with things going well so far. While his fans will be disappointed not to see him race at home, he’ll be back soon and the racing will still be brilliant while he’s gone.

Yamaha, Ducati, and Honda all come into this weekend with strong potential to win on Sunday and while weather could play a part with the chance of thunderstorms across the 3 days, it promises to be another MotoGP weekend not to miss.

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Is the Manx Missile Cavendish about to trade cycling lycra for motorcycle racing leathers?

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Could the Manx Missile hang up his lycra and pedals for something a little more petrol propelled?

Mark Cavendish has been the fastest thing on two (pedal-powered) wheels for a while now, but in recent interviews, the Isle of Man native and good friend of Cal Crutchlow has expressed an interest in two-wheeled vehicles of a motorcycling kind.

Speaking in an interview with Esquire Magazine from when he was in Abu Dhabi for the Formula One last year, Cavendish shared his love of fast cars and bikes, telling the interviewer that he’d ‘always loved anything to do with motors, or machines… Vehicles really. Just love them’. Before being asked if he’d ever considered being an F1 driver?

‘Nah. I don’t think I’m good enough. Everybody thinks that it’s like driving a car down the promenade, it’s totally not the same. To be honest, I prefer motorbikes more; I would like to race them instead.’

Ok, so it’s not a huge admission or a massive surprise – it’s something we’ve all probably dreamed of and one time or another, but when pressed on the issue he does seem to have considered the possibilities more than just in passing.

When asked if motorcycling racing might actually be next for him he replied with an emphatic, ‘In all seriousness, I think so’.

Adding fuel to the fire have been comments from him earlier this month made during press conferences in support of the Dubai Tour.

When asked explicitly if he’d consider hanging up his cycling blocks for motorcycle leathers, he certainly didn’t dismiss the idea, ‘Anything is possible, you know… I will just look at my options for the short term and the long term and see what I do with my future’.

So that’s definitely not a no.

For cycling fans fearful that he might be closer than expected to making the jump, there’s probably not any immediate cause for panic. In the very same Esquire feature he also explicitly stated that he had a ‘fair few years‘ left in his professional career.

Could a cycling pro move over to motorcycles with any expectation of success? Multi-discipline racers aren’t unheard of. Rossi loves his car racing and Lewis Hamilton has always expressed an interest in a taking turn in MotoGP.

But that’s from a motor vehicle on short track racing onto another motor vehicle on a similar track. We’d imagine that the speeds and skills involved from pedal cycle to internal combustion engine are a little less transferable for any moral human.

But then Mark Cavendish isn’t your average human being and reports suggest that the times that he has spent on track have been pretty impressive.

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SHOCK SWITCH: John McGuinness will ride for Norton at the Isle of Man TT

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Sensational coup for British manufacturer Norton as the King of the Mountain, John McGuinness is announced as a rider for the Isle of Man TT.

The sound and fury of the silver SG-prefixed Norton V4s have become a welcome fixture of the Isle of Man TT since Stuart Garner and his team reintroduced the brand to the Island with the SG1 back in 2012.

With a noise that Asphalt & Rubber referred to at the time as being “somewhere between “Four Horseman (sic) of the Apocalypse” and “Queen of the Harpies” — as heard from several miles out”, the presence of the machines across the mountain course has been beloved by the crowds and even recognised officially by the Isle of Man race organisers from a technical perspective.

Now those excitement and achievement levels are expected to increase tenfold as the legend that is John McGuinness has been confirmed as an official rider of the Norton V4 race-bike for this year’s Isle of Man TT races in May & June 2018.

We thought we’d seen the road racing worlds’ collective brains explode after the announcement of McGuinness riding with Guy Martin for Honda last year, but with the near-mythical alignment of the brands McGuinness and Norton for this year’s event, we’re certain that the level of anticipation will be off the charts when the King of the Mountain first swings his leg over the shiny, chrome Norton V4 during practice week!

Speaking about the announcement, McGuinness seems at his normal, self-effacing best with his tweet of the announcement finished with the hashtag #bitofunfinishedbusiness.

And naturally, CEO of Norton Motorcycles, Stuart Garner is optimistically upbeat.

But the best part of it all? We called it weeks ago!*

*But then even a stopped clock is right twice a day!

And if you were in any doubt as to how happy the McGuinness family are with the switch, the latest tweet by John’s wife Becky should set your mind at rest…

How McGuinness and Honda parted ways.

There’s no doubting that all was not well within the Honda road racing camp last year, but it wasn’t always that way. With the new CBR1000RR being introduced and with John McGuinness and Guy Martin being announced as the new ‘dream team’ for the Honda team, the start of the 2017 road racing season was met with excitement and rampant expectation. But then the accidents started to happen.

With the horrendous crash of McGuinness at the NW200LATEST: John McGuinness has leg operation but in good spirits and subsequent issues with the new Fireblade causing problems and a crisis of confidence for Guy Martin, the dream of 2017 dominance quickly transformed into something closer to a nightmare.

And then, weeks later and buried beneath problematical news about a prospective Guy Martin retirement that he quickly debunked came the admittance and confirmation from Honda that it was an issue with the bike that had caused the 23 time Isle of Man TT winner to fall and break his leg. Issues that had plagued other riders during the remainder of the season and issues that McGuinness had surely fed back to the team after his accident.

Weeks later, and as the rest of the world led with the news of Ian Hutchinson joining the 2018 Honda road racing team, the lack of a future for John McGuinness at Honda seemed certain to even the most casual of observer; despite the headlines of the press seemingly ignoring the obvious.

This was a narrative helped along with a few timely tweets from the TT legend himself over the holiday period.

https://twitter.com/jm130tt/status/940262163771310080

Couple all of that with the now infamous snap of him on a Norton TT bike from race organiser Paul Phillips, and you can see what set the tongues at Motofire HQ wagging. Sometimes a lot of speculation and a modicum of thought can go a long way!

With John McGuinness getting himself into shape for his visit to the Island and Norton genuinely attacking podium places at this year’s TT, we can’t think about anything else now, other than seeing – and hearing – McGuinness on that glorious, chromed-out V4, tearing down Bray Hill.

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