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MotoGP Preview: And so it comes down to Valencia




After 17 races, 15 countries, 9 months and 5 different race winners, there are just two riders left fighting for the MotoGP crown and only one race left to decide which one of them it will go to.

The Ricardo Tormo circuit has hosted the season finale for the last 16 years and will see a premier class championship decided for only the 4th time, with the last being in 2015. In the history of Grand Prix racing the final race has been the decider just 17 times before, but only 3 of those have been won by the rider in second with a points deficit: Wayne Rainey in 1992 who was 2 points behind, Nicky Hayden in 2006 who had the largest gap to overturn with 8 points and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015 who had 7 points between himself and the championship leader.

This year the battle comes down to the current World Champion Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, with an almost insurmountable gap of 21 points between them. But this is MotoGP, and in one of it’s most unpredictable seasons ever, anything can still happen.

The calculations are fairly simple. For Dovi to have any chance of being champion on Sunday he has to win, that’s it. He can’t control what Marc does and for him it’s irrelevant, only 25 points will do.

For Marc, it’s slightly easier, he needs to finish in the top 11 to be the champion, even if Dovi wins. Considering he’s only finished outside of the top 11 (not including DNFs) just 3 times before in MotoGP, it seems unlikely that he’d falter at such a vital point. Of course, DNFs are possible, either through crashes or mechanical issues, but both of those scenarios would be a great shame for the championship and both are unlikely.

If Marc finds himself in 12th and Dovi wins then Dovizioso would be champion on countback, as he’d have 7 wins to Marquez’s 6. Anything 13th or below with a Dovi win and Dovizioso would be champion. But if Dovizioso doesn’t win, then Marquez will lift his 4th MotoGP Championship trophy regardless of where he finishes.

But of course, there aren’t just two riders out on track in Valencia.. there’ll be 26 and they’ll all be attempting to find the quickest way around the tight, twisty and technical Valencia circuit.

In terms of braking, there are only a couple of hard braking points; with the Aspar turn 1 being the most demanding, followed immediately by turn 2 of Doohan’s. The track itself is one of the shortest, with only Sachsenring being shorter, and it has one of the lowest average speeds of the year due to the large number of low gear corners.

The circuit is in a natural amphitheatre, allowing fans to see every corner, but that also makes the track very compact, with it getting gradually tighter from turn 2 until it opens up again after turn 12 as riders sweep around the long, tyre punishing left-hander of turn 13.

For setup, that means turning is key, especially with the multiple changes of direction already putting a physical strain on the riders. Stability both under acceleration and as riders brake and lean in at the same time will be a spot where time can be either lost or gained around Valencia and managing the left-side of the tyre to stop it overheating will be the usual challenge.

Turns 4 and 5 are critical points for the opposite reason as they are the first right-handers after almost half a lap on the left, which is why Michelin have brought most of their tyre allocation in an asymmetric configuration, to keep the left side from overheating, while maintaining temperature on the right. For the slick compounds, only the medium front will be symmetric, while for the wets they will all be symmetric, except for the extra-soft rear… although if the weather forecast is to be believed, we hopefully should have a fully dry weekend for once!

On paper, this weekend doesn’t necessarily hold much promise for Andrea Dovizioso as he hunts down Marc Marquez in the standings. The Italian has only two podiums at the circuit, with one being in 125cc and the other a 3rd from 2011. His best result on the Ducati was 4th in 2014 and the bike hasn’t always suited the Ricardo Tormo track. But there are also reasons to be optimistic; the bike is much better than it has been, Iannone took the GP16 to a podium finish last year and Dovizioso is riding better than he has ever done before, he now knows that he can win. He also has nothing to lose, he can’t throw away a championship because winning the race is his only option.

For his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, Valencia holds good memories. He’s the most successful MotoGP rider at the track with 4 wins and it’s where he took his last win with Yamaha 12 months ago. Could Lorenzo win this weekend? Absolutely. Will he be “allowed” to? Well, that’s something different and will depend entirely on where Dovi is. Speaking ahead of the weekend Jorge said that if he’s in the position to win then he’ll keep his eyes on his pitboard and dash to check the situation. The truth is that if there’s any chance of Dovi winning then he’ll be expected to help him do so, just in case something happens to Marquez’s race. But either way, it should be a strong race for Jorge this weekend.

As already detailed, this weekend is slightly easier for Marc Marquez, simply because he has a 21 point advantage. That gives him some breathing space and room to not have to panic or put it all on the line on Sunday. He certainly won’t go out just to achieve a top 11, but he won’t be taking too many risks either. He’s been in this position before; back in his rookie year and he handled it perfectly, there’s no reason to expect anything different from him this year and realistically he has one hand firmly on the Championship trophy.

On the other side of the Repsol garage is Dani Pedrosa, the only rider to have won at Valencia in all 3 classes with 6 wins. It’s a circuit Dani likes, especially with the atmosphere the closeness of the fans brings and after making a good step with the dry setup in Malaysia he comes into this weekend optimistic. In some ways, the best thing for the Honda team is for Dani to win on Sunday and that’s definitely possible, so don’t rule him out.

Then there’s Yamaha. In recent years they’ve been the bike to beat at Valencia, although that was with Jorge Lorenzo onboard. Valentino Rossi hasn’t won at the Ricardo Tormo circuit since 2004, but was 4th for the last two years, following a pole position and 2nd place in 2014. For the Italian, this marks the end of a difficult season that really went downhill after his crash on the last lap in Le Mans, with the exception of his win in Assen, of course. He’s been in hospital twice due to training accidents and the Yamaha just hasn’t been able to stay in the sweet spot in which it works.

For both him and team-mate Maverick Vinales, this race and the test that follows will mean vital data for the development of the 2018 M1, with the chassis singled out as the area in need of the most work. But keeping our eyes on 2017 for just a little longer, both should have decent weekends with the potential for podiums if they’re able to work well in practice.

At Aprilia, Aleix Espargaro returns from injury after having surgery following his crash in Australia and despite still being in some pain he’s more than ready to get back on his bike. Sam Lowes will ride the RS-GP for the final time this weekend as he makes a, hopefully temporary, return to Moto2 next year. Both riders will be running a return of the special RED livery, to raise awareness for the organisation and its work against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

For Suzuki, it’s a good chance for both Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins to see how far they’ve come compared to the test and measure their progress. They’ve both made some big steps forward in recent races so a strong end to the season is well within their reach on Sunday. The same can also be said of KTM, who will have 3 riders as Mika Kallio joins Ducati’s Michele Pirro as a wildcard this weekend.

For the satellite teams, there’ll be some moving around on Monday as Marc VDS see both Jack Miller and Tito Rabat move to Pramac and Avinita respectively, and both are looking to end their time with the team well. Pramac’s Scott Redding will be moving to Aprilia to replace Sam Lowes, while both Loris Baz and Hector Barbera will be leaving Avintia, with Baz heading back to WSBK and Barbera moving to Moto2.

At Tech 3, Johann Zarco will no doubt make his presence known once again this weekend as he continues to impress and build his confidence. His team-mate at Valencia will once again be Michael van der Mark, who stands in for the still unwell Jonas Folger.

The team have released an update on Jonas’ condition, stating that he has been diagnosed with Gilbert Syndrome, which affects the way the liver processes toxins, and that he’s undergoing a full detoxification before switching to a special diet to help manage the condition. It was also discovered that he’d suffered nerve damage to his vocal chords in his nasty crash back in Aragon, which has affected his voice and it could take some time before it returns to normal. Hopefully, we’ll see Jonas back fully fit soon.

At this stage of the season there’s a strange mix of emotions; confusion as to how it’s the last race when Qatar feels as though it was just weeks ago, sadness that such a great season is ending, relief that everyone gets a break soon and anticipation of a great, championship deciding race.

Regardless of who stands on the top step on Sunday, or who puts their name onto the Championship trophy that evening, this has been an incredible season of racing and the two riders left fighting it out have been the very best.

There’s now just 4 practice sessions, two qualifying shootouts and one race before the chequered flag falls on 2017 and there’s still everything to play for.

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World SBK Assen: Rea holds off home hero van der Mark for race one victory




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 – Racing Ducati +1.282
  4. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team +1.413
  5. Xavi Fores – Barni Racing Team +8.625
  6. Marco Melandri – 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?




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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