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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June 17, 2018

Consistency is key as Lorenzo scores back-to-back victory at Barcelona

Jorge Lorenzo was truly back to his best with a sublime performance at the Catalunya Grand Prix this afternoon, claiming his second win in as many races aboard his Ducati Desmosedici. Proving his doubters wrong with a masterclass in consistency, the Spaniard exuded a confidence of old as he rode a textbook race to beat Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi to Barcelona’s top step by over four seconds.

After his surprise success, taking the victory in Mugello last time out, Lorenzo had continued to shock the MotoGP™️ paddock in the run up to the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, announcing his switch from Ducati to Repsol Honda, to partner Marc Marquez for the 2019-20 seasons. The move, anticipated by no-one it seems, will create a powerhouse of talent on the Japanese marque by uniting the only two riders to have secured World Championship titles over the past six years. The unfortunate fall-guy to the current excitement comes in the form of Dani Pedrosa, the Honda-stalwart was expected to announce his retirement from racing on Thursday, after his 18 year, and 31 win, partnership with HRC comes to a close at the end of this season but a rumoured last-minute offer, possibly from Yamaha, may be enough to tempt the 32 year old to stay. A further, and possibly final, bombshell to this year’s silly season, albeit slightly more expected, came as reigning Moto3™️ Champion Joan Mir was announced as Andrea Iannone’s replacement at Suzuki on a two-year-deal. The 20 year old sensation – who is already shaking up Moto2™️ with two podiums so far in his rookie season, having achieved 10 victories and three further podiums in 2017 – has been fast-tracked to the premier class to align him with the majority of 2019-20 contracts and build on Suzuki’s ethos of promoting and harnessing young talent.

Lorenzo’s confidence was clear to see as the CatalanGP weekend got underway, claiming pole position with a 1’38.680 lap, in front of the adoring home crowds and becoming the first rider to head the grid on both Yamaha and Ducati machinery. Having stunned onlookers yet again during FP4 with a now characteristically-common, yet still breathtaking save that defied the laws of physics, Marquez joined his soon-to-be-teammate on the front row, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, with Maverick Viñales, Iannone – next year’s Aprilia signing – and Danilo Petrucci – confirmed as Lorenzo’s replacement at Ducati – lining up on row two. Rossi spearheaded row three ahead of Johann Zarco and an impressive performance by Avintia’s Tito Rabat, while Cal Crutchlow, Pedrosa and Takaaki Nakagami concluded the top-12.

The unknown quantity of the newly-resurfaced 4,627m layout meant that tyre-life remained the big question as the 24-lap race lined up, with race-pace versus race-management strategies soon to be played out. As the lights extinguished it was Marquez who got the jump, taking the hole-shot into turn one as Iannone shoved the Ducati pairing of Lorenzo and Dovizioso out of the way for second, with Rossi pushing for fifth.

Iannone quickly took his chance to make a move for the lead but was immediately denied by Marquez, ultimately running wide and letting Lorenzo through into second. The mistake was exactly what the Spaniard needed to take charge at the front, besting his countryman moments later and powering his Ducati forwards. The Italian’s bad luck continued as his Suzuki dropped back from podium contention to seventh, finding himself in front of the Red Bull of Bradley Smith – as another impressive opening performance by the highest-placed KTM rider saw him launch from 16th on the grid to eighth off the lights, and fighting with Crutchlow and Viñales for top-10 honours.

Settling into his distinctive smooth rhythm as the race developed, Lorenzo quietly began to eek out a gap at the front. Quietly circulating in fourth, Rossi was keeping his eye on the rostrum battle of Marquez and Dovizioso ahead, but with 16 laps to go the number 4 Ducati succumbed to the perilous turn five, damaging his title hopes as much as his Desmosedici and promoting ‘the Doctor’ into his podium position, with a rejuvenated Pedrosa up to fourth.

As the race heated up, Lorenzo and Marquez repeatedly took turns at setting fastest laps – the new layout clearing the slate so every record counted – but with 13 laps to go it was the double-Honda battle of Pedrosa and Crutchlow that had everyone’s interest. Dicing and swapping places for six laps, Crutchlow finally capitalised into turn four on the 18th revolution to take fourth from his factory-seated adversary.

A high attrition rate saw many fall-foul of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Wildcard riders Mika Kallio, KTM, and Sylvain Guintoli, Suzuki, both called time in the opening laps, with Thomas Luthi following-suit one lap later. A difficult weekend for Aleix Espargaro – having already endured a three-place grid demotion due to cruising on the racing line and impeding Lorenzo during Saturday’s qualifying – ended prematurely with a fifth lap crash at turn 11. A crushing disappointment for the new father-of-two after the excitement of the arrival of twins Max and Mia and the anticipation of his home race. Suzuki’s woes continued as Alex Rins retired his GSX-RR from the back of the field on lap 12, while Smith’s weekend was brought to a dramatic end by Nakagami at the fated turn 5 on lap 14, an earlier coming together with Zarco having already relegated him from the top-10. Having already witnessed Xavier Simeon’s earlier dismount, the dejected Avintia team could do nothing but watch as a disappointed Rabat was forced to abandon ship from his strong ninth-place as the engine blew on the start-finish straight with just six laps to go, setting his Ducati alight and into the gravel. Jack Miller, who had started the weekend on a high, confirming his position within the Pramac Team for 2019 on factory-spec machinery, ended in retirement, while Hafizh Syahrin – also announced on the 2019 grid, remaining with Tech 3 as they make the move to KTM – was the final victim in the closing stages, succumbing at turn four in a nasty high side, just four laps from the end.

Despite the action behind, the closing laps saw no change at the front as the determined 99 held a controlled 1.9 second lead from Marquez, with Rossi a further four seconds back from the reining champion. Harnessing his incredible race-long consistency, Lorenzo eventually took the victory with a 4.4 second lead, the 25 points haul moving him ahead of his teammate in the standings – equal on points but ahead on race wins. Fading on the final lap but doing just enough to hold second at the flag, Marquez retained his lead in the championship, 27 points ahead of third place finisher, Rossi – the Italian’s late-race resurgence seeing him as the fastest rider on track on the last lap for the second race in a row. Crutchlow once again claimed the Top Independent honours with his hard-fought fourth, ahead of outgoing Repsol rider Pedrosa in fifth.

Pushing the M1’s to the max, despite previous tyre worries from their respective Yamaha camps, Viñales and Zarco crossed the line in sixth and seventh having got the better of Petrucci in the closing stages. Alvaro Bautista put in another strong performance to take his second consecutive ninth place finish ahead of the somewhat deflated Iannone, in 10th. Pol Espargaro, Scott Redding, Karel Abraham and a beleaguered Franco Morbidelli – having already crashed at turn two, entered the pits and returned to the track – concluded the points finishers.

The Spanish sunshine now makes way for the electric atmosphere of the TT Circuit Assen as ‘the Cathedral’ plays host to round eight of the world championship, in the north of the Netherlands, on Sunday 1st July.

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June 3, 2018

Lorenzo leads dominant Ducati duo in dream Italian podium

Italian hearts sang at Mugello as Ducati claimed a one-two in this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix. Leading from the opening lap with a dominant performance on his Desmosedici, Jorge Lorenzo took the stirring victory by more than six seconds from teammate Andrea Dovizioso, proving his doubters wrong as he finally gelled with his Italian steed, with Valentino Rossi scoring his 230th GP podium to complete the home pride.

The rollercoaster weekend had begun in horrific style for the Bologna-based team, as test rider Michele Pirro succumbed to an eye-watering high-speed crash at turn one on Friday afternoon, however, the consummate professional was miraculously back at the track and able to join the factory celebrations come Sunday, having suffered with nothing more than concussion, a dislocated shoulder and two black eyes.

The Tuscan hills were awash with yellow as the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley readied itself for another epic battle but anticipation was even higher than normal at the Mugello circuit after Valentino Rossi secured a surprising and poetic pole position on Saturday afternoon, setting the fastest ever lap recorded around the 5,245m layout, a 1’46.208, to the delight of the adoring masses. Lining up against teammates old and new – as Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Viñales joined him on the front row – the Italian hero claimed his “extra special” 65th career pole as he looked towards another record-breaking race, with the epic milestone of becoming the first rider to score 5000 points within the premier class firmly in his sights. The ‘GOAT’ needed fifth place or higher to claim the marker but his fans were praying for magic at Mugello, and the win that has eluded him for the past decade at the home of Italian racing.

It was a strong and surprising grid that stood between Rossi and victory, Lorenzo has won at Mugello on five previous occasions, with Viñales last year’s pole sitter. Andrea Iannone headed the second row, after showing consistently impressive pace throughout the weekend’s practice sessions, with Danilo Petrucci, determined to secure his position within the Ducati factory, and a struggling Marc Marquez for company. Last year’s victor Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and Johann Zarco sat on row three, with Alex Rins, Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli rounding out the top-12 positions. Amplifying Honda’s tyre issue woes with his worse qualifying performance since he entered the MotoGP class in 2006, a disappointed Dani Pedrosa started from 20th,

As track temperatures soared above 50 degrees, an electric atmosphere pulsed through the 90,000 strong crowd as the lights went out for the 23 lap contest. Poleman Rossi briefly took the initial hole shot but it was Lorenzo who launched to the lead as they leaned into turn one. Equally hot off the line, Marquez made an aggressive start, diving into third before almost riding through Petrucci and forcing the Italian offline, in his bid to hold the position behind the home favourite, and ahead of Iannone. Benefitting from Petrucci’s misfortune, Dovizioso, Rins and Crutchlow held fifth to seventh, with Miller and Zarco rounding out the top-10.

While Rossi was battling Marquez for second, and despite his front row grid position, a poor start on the second YZR-M1 had left Viñales in a surprising battle with Bradley Smith for 11th position in the opening laps. The young Brit, having gained six positions on his Red Bull KTM with another impressive launch off the lights, had the top-10 in his sights as he continued to fight for a MotoGP ride next season.

The drama of the opening lap was further compounded by its high attrition rate with four riders falling before the end of the first revolution. Pedrosa, the most surprising of the quartet ended his miserable weekend early as he hit the gravel at turn two, with Takaaki Nakagami for company, before Scott Redding and Karel Abraham followed suit shortly after. Miller and Thomas Luthi also failed to make the distance by lap two but it was Marquez’ mistake that took the crowds attention, sliding out from second position at turn 10 on lap four and restarting his charge from the back of the field.

Having meticulously picked his way from the third row of the grid, Dovizioso carefully chose his moment to strike on Rossi, lining up a Ducati one-two on lap seven to the delight of the crowd and claiming the fastest speed record in the process, 356.5kph, as he hunted down his teammate’s already dominant lead.

A strong early ride by Iannone had seen him capitalise on his countryman for the last podium spot on lap eight, only to lose the position four laps later as Petrucci joined the Ducati party. Seeming to fade as his tyres began to struggle, it was teammate Rins who began snapping at the wheels of Rossi, making the move for fourth stick on lap 15 before the veteran returned the favour with six
to go.

The newfound-momentum propelled the home favourite firmly back into the podium fight as he outmanoeuvred Petrucci on the next lap but he was met with an equally rejuvenated Iannone following suit. A determined battle between the two Italians ensued for the remainder of the race but it was Rossi, willed on by the roaring masses, who eventually outdueled his compatriot as he made a last lap charge, closing on Dovizioso for second but ultimately falling short by just 0.3 of a second as they dived for the line.

Iannone was left to take fourth ahead of Rins, with Crutchlow bettering the deflated Petrucci for sixth. Viñales closed proceedings with a consolidatory eighth, while Alvaro Bautista collected his best result of the season in ninth ahead of Zarco. Another late-race charge saw Pol Espargaro claim the top-KTM honours in 11th as Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Smith battled on the line for 12th-14th respectively and Morbidelli rounded out the points positions in 15th.

Showcasing incredible pace and his characteristically smooth riding, Lorenzo took the flag with an impressive lead of 6.3 seconds over his teammate, having ridden consistent 1’48 lap times for the duration of the 23-lap contest, dominating the proceedings and reminding the world why he has five world titles to his name.

Marquez retains his lead on the championship despite failing to score this time out but Rossi’s resurgence sees him close the gap to 23 points, with Viñales a further five behind, heading into the Movistar Yamaha team’s home GP in a fortnight’s time.

While rumours that Lorenzo will part company with Ducati continue to circulate, the Spaniard is confident he will be both in MotoGP and on competitive machinery for the next two years. Many expected this to be on a GSX-RR but although Iannone has confirmed he will be leaving Suzuki at the end of the season, it is last year’s Moto3 Champion Joan Mir who is highly-tipped to be his replacement. A return to Yamaha, albeit within a satellite team, is now emerging as the firm-favourite option for the former M1 rider, with Montmélo expected to bring more clarity and further announcements for 2019, as all eyes turn to Barcelona for the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya on Sunday 17th June.

Amid another thrilling Moto2 race – which saw Miguel Oliveria triumph over a four-way battle between Lorenzo Baldassarri, Joan Mir and championship-leader Francesco Bagnaia – American rider Joe Roberts kept his head while others succumbed to the ever-increasing temperatures and receding grip levels. Promoting his NTS RW Racing GP machine from 26th on the grid to an impressive 14th place finish, he crossed the line just 0.019 ahead of teammate Steven Odendaal to claim the team’s best performance to date and delivering his debut points in the intermediate class.

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May 20, 2018

Home heartbreak for Zarco as Marquez delivers three-in-a-row at Le Mans

Spanish supremacy continued into round five of the 2018 MotoGP™️ World Championship, as Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez claimed his third straight victory of the season in the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France, to equal Casey Stoner’s tally of 38 premier class wins. Amid a rollercoaster weekend of surprises, Ducati honours went to the satellite offering of Danilo Petrucci, in second position, with Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi returning to his race-day form to claim third.

The French fairytale got off to a perfect start, much to the delight of the adoring Le Mans masses, as home hero Johann Zarco claimed a magnificent pole position during Saturday’s qualifying at the Bugatti Circuit, laying down a lap record time of 1’31.185. Breaking a 30 year drought, Zarco became the first Frenchman to start on pole in the premier class at his home Grand Prix since 1988 – the moment proving extra special as it came aboard the French Tech 3 machine and with French tyres to boot. Marquez and Petrucci joined him on the front row with Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo rounding out the top six. Jack Miller lined up in seventh ahead of the disappointed Yamaha duo of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi, with an injured Dani Pedrosa, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro filling out the top-12 positions. Cal Crutchlow was forced to start from 13th having suffered a horrific highside as he bid to claim the top promotion spot from the opening qualifying session, but after spending the night at the local hospital was declared fit to race, albeit battered and bruised.

As Zarco looked to become the first French winner on home soil in 46 years, perfect conditions greeted the 24-strong field as they lined up in front of the eagerly-awaiting 105, 203 fans, but despite blue skies and ambient temperatures, the weekend had already witnessed an attrition rate of over 100 crashes before the final showcase had even got underway.

While Marquez initially looked to have the holeshot as the lights went out for the 27-lap contest, it was the power of Lorenzo’s Ducati which ultimately took the lead, sandwiching the Repsol Honda between himself and teammate Dovizioso, with Suzuki’s Iannone muscling his way into the top-four. A bad start had left Zarco losing ground in the opening moments but an exceptional move into turn three, undercutting the three riders front, saw the local talent reclaim second from Marquez as the first lap developed.

The Ducati pairing soon took charge at the front, with Lorenzo advancing his lead after two laps and Dovizioso staying hard on his teammate’s wheel to pull away from the battling Honda and Tech 3 machines – Iannone having already succumbed at la Chapelle on the first try. The Italian made his move for the lead at turn three on the fifth revolution, and was expected to have the pace to disappear, but it was not to be, folding the front just three corners later, Dovizioso relegated his victory-shot, and possibly his title-challenge, to the gravel in utter disbelief for the second race running.

More heartbreak and drama was to follow just three laps later, as Zarco’s dream, and the home fans’ fairytale, evaporated at turn 8, crashing offline as he continued to battle with Marquez for second position.

Closing hard on Lorenzo’s lead as the race settled down, Marquez capitalised on his countryman as the 10th lap got underway, with Petrucci – fighting for position both on and off track with the 99 Ducati – echoing the move one circuit later. 15 laps to go and the yellow flags were flying as Rossi was the next rider to better Lorenzo for the final podium position but the Spaniard was losing ground, and heart, fast. Miller, equally bolstering his stature in the Bologna factory, soon followed suit, leaving Lorenzo to fade into the clutches of the pain-ridden but determined Pedrosa.

The fastest lap of the race so far, a 1’32.4 set at mid-race-distance cemented Rossi’s bid for the front as he began to reel in the pair in front but Marquez and Petrucci soon retaliated, upping the pace and keeping the distance, the lap-times continued to tumble.

A stellar effort from the injured Briton saw Crutchlow enter the top-10 with 10 laps to go, besting Espargaro on the highest-placed KTM with his sights set on the three-rider battle, between Viñales, Rins and the elder, Aprilia-mounted, Espargaro ahead.

Marquez’ impressive consistency continued to shine with lap-record pace as the race neared conclusion, forcing Rossi to slowly drop back from the leaders. Claiming his third victory in a row as the flag dropped, ahead of an impressive performance by Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati, the six-time Champion advanced his lead in the current standings to 36 points. Yamaha’s Sunday-man Rossi held fast to secure a somewhat unexpected podium position after recent form, with Pramac celebrating a spectacular weekend as second-man Miller came home in fourth.

Pedrosa, having taken fifth from the early leader on lap 21, consolidated the position at the line, leaving Lorenzo nursing another lacklustre performance and intensifying the headache of contract negotiations. Last-year’s victor Viñales claimed second position in the championship standings, despite his seventh place finish, while Crutchlow concluded his courageous effort in eighth having overcome Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins in the closing stages.

Just outside the top-10, Pol Espargaro retained top-KTM honours in 11th ahead of Hafizh Syahrin, Franco Morbidelli, and teammate Bradley Smith with Takaaki Nakagami claiming the final point-scoring position of the day.

The MotoGP calendar now moves from one cacophony of excitement to another as the FrenchGP makes way for the Italian adventure. The rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside looks set to host the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley at the majestic Autodromo del Mugello on Sunday June 3rd, and Italian hearts are hopeful their challengers can stop the might of Marquez next-time-out.
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May 6, 2018

Despair for Ducati as Marquez delights at drama-filled Jerez

The Spanish sun was certainly shining on Marc Marquez as the Gran Premio Red Bull de España roared into action at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto this afternoon. The reigning champion claimed his first victory at the Andalucian circuit since his breathtaking 2014 season, with Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone joining him for podium celebrations after another dramatic MotoGP™️race.

True to this season’s theme of controversy and debate, the weekend began with an early bang, as a succession of signing announcements kicked off on Wednesday, and all from the camp of KTM. Three more riders claimed places on the 2019 MotoGP grid as Zarco stunned the paddock confirming he will partner Pol Espargaro at the Red Bull KTM Racing Team for the forthcoming two seasons, with Miguel Oliveira taking the step from Moto2 to the newly-announced Tech3-KTM outfit. The Austro-French pairing will also extend to the Moto2 class, with the Tech 3 machines running KTM chassis’ as the Triumph era begins in six months time.

The life and legacy of 12+1 World Champion Angel Nieto, who passed away last year after a quad bike accident, was also celebrated this week as the home of the Spanish GP, Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto, was renamed in his honour and a bust to the Spanish supremo erected at the entrance of the paddock, while the crowd took to its feet on the 13th lap of each race in celebration.

Saturday’s qualifying saw the Honda’s dominate, as was expected due to past results and recent testing, but it was Argentina’s hero, Cal Crutchlow, who took the glory from the home talent, claiming the pole position with two session-topping lap times and a qualifying record of 1’37.653. Last year’s victor, Dani Pedrosa and top-Yamaha Johann Zarco rounded out the front row, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marquez and Suzuki’s Alex Rins holding court for the top-six. After an intense Q2 which saw the entire top-12 split by less than a second, it was the factory Yamaha’s that suffered the most, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales lined up in 10th and 11th, ahead of Jack Miller and behind an all-Italian third row of Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci.

Sunday’s spectacle promised to be just as electric as Lorenzo launched his Ducati from the second row to take the holeshot and lead his home Grand Prix into the first corner, holding fast as the determined pack chased him down and retaining his command as they crossed the line for the opening lap, despite determined efforts from Pedrosa and Zarco. Suffering off the lights, poleman Crutchlow had Marquez for company in the fight for fourth, with the Spaniard gaining the advantage at the end of the first 4.4km. Running wide, Lorenzo briefly handed the lead to Pedrosa, before digging deep and regaining his dominance moments later but two laps on and it was the 93 Repsol, leading a trio of Hondas, hard on his wheels and hinting at the impending attack. Ironically, Marquez struck at turn 13 – Lorenzo corner – on the eighth lap, and with Crutchlow falling foul at turn six half a lap before, a four rider battle now developed at the front between the factory might of Ducati and Honda. Initially it was Italian challenger Dovizioso who looked to be the man on the move but a rhythm soon developed as he analysed his teammate for the perfect opportunity.

A crash from Tom Luthi at turn 12 on lap 13 saw the racing line littered with gravel, causing a hold-your-breath moment for race leader Marquez a lap later, just as he looked to be checking out at the front. As is the mastery of his craft, however, the Spaniard maintained control, opening an impressive gap as his speed increased on the ensuing revolution only to improve it further still and claim the fastest-lap of the race -1’39.159 – next-time around.

Drama unfolded with eight laps to go as both Ducati’s continued to dice and tussle for position. Dovizioso took his opportunity at turn six, diving underneath his teammate before running wide, while the returning Lorenzo cut back up the inside and straight into the path of Pedrosa, clipping the Honda and sending the Spaniard skywards, with the rebound effect collecting both Ducatis to the gravel as the HRC machine spun in the middle of the track.

Echoing the pain of last year, both Movistar Yamaha’s seemed to struggle throughout the Jerez weekend, with Rossi fighting Miller for eighth while teammate Viñales languished down in 12th for the majority of the contest’s opening laps. As the race entered its 15th revolution, Rossi’s legendary status, however, claimed another milestone, having now raced enough laps throughout his GP career to have fully circumnavigated the globe – 40075km.

The carnage of the turn six collision had left a surprised Zarco sitting comfortable in second as the highest performing M1, but with five laps to go the battle for the podium intensified. Initially Petrucci, Iannone and Miller set their sights on third but as the battle entered the final stages, Rossi joined the party, ensuring all eyes were firmly fixed on the fight. It was a determined Iannone who conquered as they crossed the line, claiming his second podium in a row – and Suzuki’s third – ahead of Petrucci and Rossi, with Miller settling for sixth ahead of a dejected Viñales. Honoring the man of the weekend, Alvaro Bautista ran his Angel Nieto Ducati to an overshadowed but season-best-performance of eighth with top-rookie honours going to Franco Morbidelli on the Marc VDS Honda.

Despite qualifying 21st on his RC16, another impressive start from Bradley Smith saw the Brit running as fastest KTM, and up to 13th, for the majority of the race, having gained positions on both teammate Espargaro and wildcard Mika Kallio off the lights. With the entire Austrian trio fighting for points positions as the race developed, Espargaro briefly took the advantage with eight laps to go, before Kallio capitalised on the group, for tenth, in the final three, returning Smith to the middle of the KTM sandwich. A last lap tussle saw the re-signed Spaniard again get the better of his teammate to claim 11th with Smith relegated to 13th at the flag behind LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami as Tito Rabat and Scott Redding rounded out the points positions.

Marquez leaves his home race holding the cards, and the Championship standings, with a 12 point advantage on Zarco, but as the battle swaps one contender’s home race with the other heading into round five, will the fighting Frenchman come out on top at Le Mans in a fortnight time?

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April 22, 2018

Marquez retains his COTA crown with another American masterclass

The MotoGP circus rolled in to cowboy country this weekend as the Circuit of the Americas played host to the fastest rodeo in the world for the sixth year running, and the atmosphere was as electric as ever. Marc Marquez claimed his sixth successive victory under the Texan heat, on his 93rd Grand Prix career start, completing a consecutive decade of dominance in the United States – having won his past six races at COTA, three at Indianapolis and one at Laguna Seca.

While the drama of Argentina remained a talking point early in the weekend, it was soon overshadowed as the third round of the world championship got underway, by further Marquez controversy, when – after initially claiming his sixth consecutive pole position at the Texan track – race direction sanctioned him with a three-place grid-penalty for irresponsible, slow, riding in the path of another, Maverick Viñales. The sanction saw the wronged Yamaha rider take his place at the front of the grid, with Andrea Iannone and Johann Zarco for company, while Marquez moved to head row two, alongside Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Current championship leader Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa rounded out row three ahead of Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins and similarly promoted Takaaki Nakagami as KTM’s Pol Espargaro, also charged with the same infringement, this time on Tom Luthi, was relegated to 15th for the start of Sunday’s Austin adventure.

Blue skies and rising temperatures saw the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas get underway under perfect conditions for the 20 lap race, and as the lights went out it was Suzuki’s Iannone who took the holeshot from Marquez into the imposing first corner climb. Despite the Italian’s determined start initially surprising the Spaniard, Marquez quickly took charge after the turn two-nine ‘snake’ section. Iannone remained hard on his heels during the opening two laps but a momentary challenge for the lead on lap three did little to prevent the inevitable, as the reigning champion reinforced his dominance and checked out with a fastest lap 2’04.808, not looking back.

Grouped together in third and fourth and looking strong, the Movistar Yamaha duo of Viñales and Rossi hotly chased down the leading pair, and with 14 laps to go the number 25 rider claimed second from Iannone. ’The Doctor’, hard on his wheel and initially looking to follow suit, ultimately settled into a rhythm in fourth and held his position to the chequered flag.

As is the nature of the vast American circuit, the race was soon spread out, with Marquez developing a four second lead after just seven laps and pockets of three or four rider battles flourishing throughout the field. Pushing his Honda to its limit, Crutchlow looked to be mounting a charge while fighting Zarco for fifth, before crashing out with 13 laps to go. The victor of the last race rejoined in 21st but while his pace easily matched the podium contenders, the luckless Brit couldn’t make up the deficit, finishing a frustrating 19th, pointless, and 59 seconds adrift.

Hafizh Syahrin and Alex Rins became further casualties of the Austin layout as the race reached half distance, the Tech3 rider falling victim at turn 19 while Suzuki’s podium hero from Argentina finding himself down but still on track at turn 12, with four 1000cc machines coming at him at speed and narrowly missing the deflated Spaniard.

Six laps to go saw Avintia Ducati’s Tito Rabat confidently challenging the factory might of Lorenzo for eighth position, deposing and obviously rattling his compatriot who, while struggling to regroup, ran wide at turn one a lap later allowing Jack Miller and Aleix Espargaro through to round out the top ten positions and demoting the five-time world champion to 11th.

While Marquez retained his COTA crown with a dominating win, crossing the line 3.5 seconds ahead of a much revitalised Viñales – having held an incredible seven second lead in the closing laps – it was Pedrosa who rightly claims hero and ride of the day. A week on from surgery to fix two pins in his right wrist, broken in the early highside at the Termas de Rio Hondo, the diminutive Repsol Honda rider suffered immense pain for the majority of the weekend. Despite racing at the most physical track of the season, Pedrosa continued to battle intently for the duration of the 68.5 mile contest, taking seventh at the line and rewarding his efforts with nine championship points.

Dovizioso returned to the top of the championship standings with a fifth place finish ahead of Johann Zarco, who in turn claimed the top independent honours. Last year’s runner up now holds a one point lead on his adversary, and ‘King of COTA’, Marquez, with Viñales a further four points adrift as the series returns to Europe.

Another blistering start from Bradley Smith saw the Red Bull KTM into the top ten in the early laps before suffering and beginning to slip back into the clutches of his teammate – who was recovering from 17th – as the race developed. With both machines looking hopeful to score points at their title-sponsored race, the frustrated Briton ultimately faded to 16th in the dying laps, ahead of Aprilia’s Scott Redding, with Espargaro collecting 13th at the flag.

A poignant conclusion to the American weekend saw triple tributes to the paddock’s fallen star, Nicky Hayden. Both Marquez and Viñales dedicated their podiums to the much-loved ‘Kentucky Kid’, with Ducati displaying his 2013 Desmosedici inside the paddock and the circuit unveiling ‘Hayden Hill’ at Turn 18 to forever remember the 2006 MotoGP World Champion, who lost his life in a cycling accident a year ago next month.

Europe now beckons the return of motorcycle racing’s premier series to more familiar territory, as the season’s schedule intensifies over the coming months. Circuito de Jerez gets set to host the opening European contest, on Sunday May 6th, and with the championship battle looking as close as it’s been in years, there’s sure to be fireworks at the Spanish fiesta in a fortnight’s time.

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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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