Motorcycle News

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Christina Bulpet (illustration)Christina Bulpett is a multi-talented Motorcycle expert with over a decade inside the sport as an motorcycle insider.

Christina will get us the latest on MotoGP, WSBK and more throughout the 2018 season.

Follow Christina on Twitter @CB_edit

 

 

 

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April 10, 2018

Crutchlow conquers amid chaos and controversy in Argentina

Drama, debate and downpours were the order of the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina weekend even before the lights went out for Sunday’s MotoGP™️ race but the main event did not disappoint. A somewhat surprising yet scintillating mix of Suzuki, Tech 3 and LCR Honda shared the podium spoils as Britain’s Cal Crutchlow claimed a well-deserved victory in challenging conditions.

Jack Miller sat pretty on pole, and slicks, as the second battle of the 2018 season looked to get underway – after Saturday’s breathtaking gamble on his similarly shod Pramac Ducati saw him stun the paddock claiming a 1’47.153 in damp conditions to rapturous applause. As the changeable Argentinian weather continued to throw complications and another sharp downpour 30 minutes before race start left its mark, the majority of the pack opted for wet tyres but with the surface dying quickly a last minute scramble to the pits left the Australian a solitary figure at the start line. With 23 of the 24 bikes now in pitlane the organisers had little choice but to delay the start, choosing – after an intense period of discussion with team managers and officials – to line the field back on the grid from row six to allow Miller a 50m advantage as the only man to have judged conditions correctly ahead of time. Back on the grid and more controversy ensued, as Marc Marquez stalled returning from the sighing lap, choosing to bump start and manoeuvre his Repsol Honda back to position, delaying the start further – much to the astonishment of his competitors – rather than start from pitlane as is procedure.

Proceedings finally underway, Miller wasted no time in capitalising on his lead but with Marquez and Dani Pedrosa quickly joining him for company it was never going to be an easy ride. Johann Zarco soon joined the push for the podium as an unfortunate turn 13 tussle for position caused the second Repsol rider an early retirement after a nasty crash offline through the wet. Crossing the line after the opening lap, Miller held the lead from Marquez, Alex Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow, with Tito Rabat, last-race-winner Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Bradley Smith and Andrea Iannone rounding out an interesting second group fighting inside the top ten, with a lack-lustre Jorge Lorenzo struggling in last place.

Briefly taking the lead in the early laps, Marquez was eventually informed of a ride-through-penalty – for his misdemeanour at the start – leaving Miller to once again take charge of the race as the Spaniard rejoined down in 20th. While the reigning champion’s immediate fight back was never in question, his methods on this occasion were, gaining him a further two penalties for infringements against Aleix Espargaro, then Rossi, as he steamrollered his way through the pack – the latter losing out considerably after hitting the deck from sixth to rejoin in 19th and later describing the actions as more ‘demolition derby’ than blue-ribbon racing.

Rossi’s departure to the back of the pack left teammate Maverick Viñales holding court for the factory Movistar Yamaha effort, quietly pushing his way forwards from 12th, he found himself fighting Dovizioso for fifth at middle-distance while countryman Rins was expertly challenging for the lead on his previously vacated Suzuki seat. As Miller and Rins repeatedly battled for position, Zarco and Crutchlow calmly waited for their moment, the tight-knit group of four controlling the pace and an easy gap to the rest. With eight laps to go Rins made a mistake, running wide and allowing Miller back through with Crutchlow sharply following suit for second, but the Briton saw his chance and dived for the lead on the following revolution, relegating Miller to fourth as Zarco, sensing his impending debut win edging ever closer, also capitalised on the maneuverer. A brief foray at the front for the Frenchman was short-lived, however, as today was Crutchlow’. Securing his third Grand Prix win with the LCR squad, and Honda’s 750th in the premier class, the 32 year-old leaves the weekend leading the World Championship standings on 38 points – the first time for a British rider since Barry Sheen in 1979 – and adamant he has the package to challenge consistently as the season continues.

Sharing the rostrum celebrations, Zarco claimed second for Monster Yamaha Tech 3, with Rins securing his debut podium in the top class aboard his Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR, as Miller settled for a hard-fought fourth ahead of the factory machines of Viñales and Dovizioso. Impressive rides saw Rabat bring his Avintia Ducati home in seventh, with Tech 3’s late call-up Hafizh Syahrin in ninth – Iannone and Danilo Petrucci filling out the top ten. Pol Espargaro claimed Red Bull KTM’s first points haul of the season in 11th, his teammate Smith crashing out on lap 18 after an opening early flourish inside the top ten, while Scott Redding finished his second race with Aprilia in 12th ahead of rookies Takaaki Nakagami and Franco Morbidelli. A disappointed Jorge Lorenzo took the final point in 15th, and having received a 30 second penalty for his final infringement, the demoted Marquez concluded his volatile day 18th.

Sensational action and heated discussion both on and off-track now lends to an awesome build-up for the third round in a fortnight’s time, as the championship returns to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Sunday 22nd April 2018.

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March 18, 2018

2018’s debut race sees desert delights for Dovizioso and Ducati

The lights were bright, the cameras were rolling and the action certainly didn’t disappoint as the opening MotoGP™️ World Championship race of 2018 roared to life at the Losail International Circuit this Sunday. A sensational five-rider battle unfolded from lights to flag, with last season’s unexpected challenger, Andrea Dovizioso, throwing the gauntlet down again to stake his claim amongst the aliens and take first blood, and the top step in Qatar for the first time in his career.

As the only race of the day to be held as darkness fell over the desert – due to the revised schedule which saw Moto3 run in daylight and Moto2 as the sun set – the sparkling new liveries of the 24 prototype machines were spectacularly illuminated by the layout’s 1000 floodlights as the inaugural contest lined up on the grid.

A breathtaking qualifying performance amidst challenging conditions, had seen satellite superstar Johann Zarco shine brightest on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1, claiming the first pole position of the year and breaking the decade-held circuit record in the process. The Frenchman would line up against reigning World Champion Marc Marquez, with the front row rounded out by an equally impressive performance from Ducati’s satellite rider Danilo Petrucci – the now svelte-like Italian, having worked incredibly hard over the winter months, was suitably emotional to himself be under the previous record (1’53.927), with all three breaking the 1’54 barrier on Saturday evening. Four manufactures made up the top-six as Cal Crutchlow headed the second row, alongside Andrea Dovizioso and Alex Rins, and with three of the top-four being satellite machines, 2018 was already off to an exhilarating start before the lights even went out for the opening race but the main event would not disappoint!

Taking up the challenge from the outset, Zarco powered to the lead off the line as a four-way battle between himself, both Repsol Honda’s and Valentino Rossi ensued for the opening laps of the inaugural contest. Petrucci and Crutchlow followed firmly behind, determined to stay with the front fight, while any one of the closely packed top-ten looked to be in with a chance to challenge. While the screen continued to light up with fastest times, it was Rossi who immediately mounted a charge aboard his Movistar Yamaha M1 – much to the delight of the attending crowd – eventually getting the better of Dani Pedrosa to consolidate his podium commitment before claiming second from Marquez by lap-six.

Making a bid for the lead from his fellow Yamaha at turn one on the 11th revolution, Rossi ran wide, opening the door for Marquez to capitalise and bringing the surprise of Dovizioso with him into podium contention. With everyone concentrating on the fight at the front, the Ducati man had been able to quietly pick his way through the group as he made his determined ride back from a poor start, that had initially seen him languishing in eighth off the line. With ten laps to go the race saw its first casualty, Alex Rins crashing out on his Suzuki from an impressive sixth place having claimed two fastest laps in the opening stages and holding on to equal his qualifying position before succumbing at turn two. Lorenzo would be quick to follow suit, the Spaniard laying down his Desmosedici due to brake failure three corners later.

The epitome of close racing continued as seven riders battled for the podium with just eight laps to go, and Maverick Viñales, vying to join the party late after a disastrous qualifying and poor start, made for an impressive comeback from 14th off the line, to sit on the back of the group in the closing stages. Runner up for the past three years, Dovi was determined history would not be repeated and made a bid for the lead as lap 18 unfolded. Marquez quickly followed but an altercation with Zarco sent the Champion wide before regrouping in his usual style to reaffirm his claim on the second podium spot and relegating the Frenchman further. Tyre life an issue, the unfortunate Zarco seemed to be out of options and his dominant challenge ebbed away, succumbing to Rossi a few corners later and leaving him falling backwards as the front group continued its charge.

Having witnessed fighting for positions throughout the field for the entirety of the 22-lap contest, the electrifying race was far from over as the dying minutes closed in. Echoing the battles seen at the end of 2017, Marquez pushed his Italian challenger to the limit in the last lap, diving for the victory at the final corner but failing to make the move stick. Dovizioso dug deep, out-dragging the Honda across the line to banish his demons at the Qatari track and claim his debut win in the desert by just 0.027s from the six-time world champion. Rossi’s third place finish, coming home a mere seven-tenths behind to a rapturous reception, reaffirming his decision to re-sign for a further two years in the championship. Crutchlow, although somewhat disappointed not to challenge for the podium, brought the LCR Honda across the line in fourth to claim the top independent honours, with Petrucci and Viñales rounding out a hard fought top-six. Having lead the race for an impressive 17 laps, Zarco ultimately had to settle for eighth, behind Pedrosa and ahead of Suzuki’s sole finisher, Andrea Iannone, with top rookie, Franko Morbidelli (Marc VDS) claiming an impressive 12th on his MotoGP debut abroad the satellite Honda. It was a disappointing day at the office for Red Bull KTM as Pol Espargaro retired his RC16 on lap 15 due to technical complications while teammate Bradley Smith, having mounted an impressive charge to a points position at the start, succumbed to tyre issues in the latter stages, crossing the line in 18th ahead of both Aprilia’s of Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding.

MotoGP now looks west as it gets set for its two up-coming races in the Americas, in Argentina and Austin, Texas this April and, if the opening race is anything to go by, we are in for an exhilarating ride!

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March 16, 2018

MotoGP gets set to return after the whirlwind of 2018’s winter break

This weekend, the Losail International Circuit once again looks forward to hosting the inaugural race of the much-anticipated 2018 MotoGP™️ World Championship season, but as the prototype engines prepare to roar, the paddock itself has been far from quiet during its winter break.

Anguish was felt at Monster Yamaha Tech 3 as the year unfolded, with German rider Jonas Folger confirming his shock withdrawal from the season due to complications to his ongoing recovery from Gilbert’s Syndrome. The illness had already hampered his rookie season with the French team, putting paid to the latter four races of 2017, and with the majority of high-level riders already under contract – despite numerous rumours pertaining to offers of manufacturer and championship swapping – Hervé Poncheral called up Jonny Hernandez and Hafizh Syahrin to fill in with impending testing duties. The Colombian stepped across from his WorldSBK duties for the opening test at the Sepang International Circuit, just days after Folger’s announcement, with the young Malaysian being given a try-out as the championship trialled 2018’s new addition to the calendar, Buriram, in Thailand, a fortnight later. It was Syahrin who ultimately excelled and impressed aboard the Tech 3 YZR-M1, becoming Malaysia’s first full-time MotoGP competitor, and one to watch amongst this year’s strong line-up of rookies – alongside EG 0,0 Marc VDS’ Franco Morbidelli and Tom Luthi, LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami and Reale Avintia Racing’s Xavier Simeon.

While ‘silly season’ and contract talks seem to have been getting earlier and earlier over recent years, the record was well and truly broken this January, with the first announcement for 2019-20 coming before its recipient had even unveiled his 2018 machine! Despite a challenging end to his first year with the Japanese marque, Maverick Viñales declared he was staying at Yamaha, the Spaniard having re-signed for a further two years, before joining his teammate Valentino Rossi centre stage to launch this season’s Movistar Yamaha MotoGP M1.

Three of this year’s current grid spots will also remain unchanged for 2019, as Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda/HRC Factory) and Xavier Simeon (Avintia Ducati) both hold contracts that see them through the next two seasons, while Franco Morbidelli’s agreement with Marc VDS Honda not only secures him with the team for 18/19 but includes a further option on 2020. Reigning Champion Marc Marquez has also re-signed wth his current outfit, Repsol Honda, for a further two years, while Moto2’s rising star, and VR46 Academy rider, Francesco Bagnaia was announced as Ducati’s protégé for the 2019/20 seasons, claiming the first available satellite seat with the Alma Pramac Racing team.

This year’s ‘silly season’ didn’t, however, confine itself to the riders. Hervé Poncheral shocked the paddock with the news that Tech 3 would no longer be running Yamaha M1’s past the close of 2018, ending a 20-year partnership that had brought the French outfit much success – and the Japanese factory plenty of data! Rumours abound both as to who would be supplying Poncheral’s future monochrome machinery, and who would be picking up Yamaha’s satellite bikes – with many fingers automatically pointing to VR46’s promotion to MotoGP team management. The latter was quickly shot down by the man himself, as Rossi proffered that while the situation did take some consideration, he was not ready to hang up his leathers just yet but that it was definitely on the cards for future seasons. The question of Yamaha’s surplus M1’s is therefore still being pondered, with the manufacturer itself confirming the aim to have a solution for 2019 by June. Tech 3’s future has, however, been confirmed, with the orange powerhouse, KTM, providing a ‘too good to turn down’ offer of a three-year agreement to field factory-spec RC16’s. The deal, while mouthwatering to a satellite squad, is equally of paramount importance to the Austrian factory and seen as key to its ever-developing success within the premier class.

With six riders for next season confirmed before the opening race of 2018 even gets underway, there was still only one talking point on everyone’s lips as the Championship finally gathered in Qatar, when news on Rossi’s future would break, and if the nine-time World Champion would be staying. As has been the case in recent years, media day at the Losail Circuit didn’t disappoint, Yamaha confirmed the ‘GOAT’ would remain with the team, for not one but two more years, surpassing all expectations and taking his career to a record 25 seasons within the championship – 15 with Yamaha. While the announcement will see the Italian continue to ride into his forties, The Doctor’s passion, dedication and hunger for the sport remains unquestionable and the quest for his tenth title is still firmly in his sights.

Amongst all the talk of future years, there remains a building excitement for the season to come.
The factory teams remain mostly constant with the usual suspects continuing to tussle for top honours and times – Rossi and Viñales at Yamaha, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa at Honda, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso at Ducati. Suzuki has been making huge strides as the development continues and the confidence of its riders, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, grows with the GSX-RR, with the latter being on many people’s ‘one to watch’ lists alongside Tech 3’s Johann Zarco. The Frenchman certainly made the paddock sit up and pay attention from the outset of last season, leading laps in the opening race and taking three podiums and two pole positions on his way to claiming the best rookie title. While the elusive first win failed to materialise in his debut year, there is no doubt it’s possible, and if testing is anything to go by, it may not be a long wait. Eager to get back to racing and his confidence high Zarco is already claiming his eyes are on the championship title, a bold statement from a satellite rider! The impressive development shown by Red Bull KTM in its first full year of top-class competition made for an equal amount of back-slapping and wide-eyes across the industry – although there was never any doubt that the might of the Austrian factory would prove anything other than successful given time. Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro remain with the team and are both determined to continue where they left off, aiming for consistent top ten finishes before looking to advance on those golden ‘top six’ positions. Having announced in the off-season he is soon to become a father, to twins, Aleix Espargaro looks confident as he remains with Aprilia, Scott Redding joins him at the Noale-based outfit, as the Englishman makes the move from Pramac into the seat left vacant by his departing countryman Sam Lowes. Eyes will firmly be on Redding to see how he adapts on his new steed, likewise Jack Miller as he fills the void at Pramac Ducati, after two years on a satellite Honda. With the Australian now racing alongside the affable Danilo Petrucci, there is one thing certain, it will be a show stopping season for Pramac both on and off the track!

After the posturing smoke and mirrors of testing, that has seen Lorenzo, Pedrosa and last year’s sensation, Zarco, share the spoils with the fastest times, tomorrow the talking finally stops, as the opening practice sessions get underway ahead of Sunday’s epic clash under the floodlights for 2018’s inaugural MotoGP race weekend. Last year’s pre-season results held Viñales up as the one to watch for title honours, with Marquez retaining the glory come Valencia after a determined battle against surprise challenger Dovi, but who, if any, can hold the Spaniard off from claiming his fifth MotoGP – and seventh world championship – trophy in 19 races time?

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