All posts by fastmike585

RaceRip: F1 Australian GP 2016


This past weekend’s Australian Grand Prix delivered just about everything it could be expected to. Surprises, talk of safety, great midfield battles, a failed qualifying “innovation,” and the debut of an American team were all on tap. Indeed, the Australian GP has carried on the pre-season tones that will likely define the 2016 world championship.

One cannot begin this discussion without first touching on Fernando Alonso’s massive shunt on Lap 18. When I first saw the “wreckage” (if it even amounted to that), I did not think that could possibly be the car. My first thought was with Fernando, and hoping he was okay. Once we all saw him emerge from the car, my next thought was, “Oh lord, here comes all the discussion about the closed cockpit.” I am grateful for Jenson Button’s post-race comments about the use of the “halo.” While I favor a truly closed cockpit, it is important that we not let the “success” of F1’s safety technology in this crash overshadow the need to prevent future tragedies. Given the angle that the McLaren took after the collision with Gutierrez’s car, Fernando could very easily have hit his head on a catch fence post (a la Dan Wheldon). While it is welcome that he did not, we need to not allow miracles to be an excuse for sidestepping safety in the name of tradition.

The crash was a strange one to watch develop. Gutierrez had been reporting problems with his Ferrari power unit, so that would explain why Alonso caught up with him so quickly or unexpectedly. It would be hard for me to believe a driver of Fernando Alonso’s caliber could make that kind of mistake. The other unfortunate part of the shunt is that it happened to teams that really need time on track. The McLaren-Honda looks much improved this year. Even though Button finished down a lap in the other McLaren, Honda have obviously improved their power unit quite a bit over the off-season. Still, Honda and the rookie Haas team could really just use more on-track data at this point.

Aside from the Alonso/Gutierrez shunt, the race was memorable for both its start and its conclusion. The qualifying session was a borderline joke with the “new” format. While fans may agree with Bernie Eccelstone’s desire to not see Mercedes dominate the championship again this season, it is disturbing to see the lengths Eccelstone and other in F1’s “strategy” group are willing to go to prevent that, as well as how fundamentally flawed their approaches have been so far. Whoever thought that the “timing” portion of qualifying was somehow going to catch Mercedes out was clearly not thinking clearly. Instead, Haas  and several drivers were severely penalized for doing nothing wrong, while Mercedes still ended up on the front row.

To me, this whole thing started with freezing engine development after the 2005 season. Someone took a look at team budgets and realized the majority of team resources were going to engine development. So engine development was frozen to cut costs. Something was fatally missed here: Telling teams that have $400m budgets they cannot spend money on something does nothing to prevent them from spending it on something else. This kind of thinking, which will be covered in a later essay, has grown to a toxic level in F1. Consequently, the part of this weekend’s race that I enjoyed most was the start. Despite everything the Eccelstone cartel has done to “improve” the on-track product (the magnesium boxes that make the sparks, DRS, etc.) Vettal zoomed past both Mercedes and into a commanding lead. Some may argue the newly mandated “single clutch” made that possible. However, in the following laps, the Silver Arrow cars did not blitz Vettal, who showed he had the pace in the Ferrari to stay in the lead.

However, the Scuderia’s day went downhill quickly after the Alonso incident. Ferrari sent their cars out on the supersoft tires whereas everyone else had changed to the harder mediums. But for that poor strategy call and a problem with Vettal’s left front tire when he pitted on Lap 36, Vettal could easily have ended up second or first in the GP. It appears Hamilton wasn’t kidding when he said he thought Ferrari had something serious to offer this season. Vettal’s teammate Raikkonen also had a bad day at the office. He came into the pits on Lap 22 and had fire billowing out of his air intake. Not a great finish for Ferrari, but the pace was definitely there.

Lastly, a kind note about Haas. Despite the problems with Gutierrez’s car, Grosjean brought the other Haas home in P6. For those who remember when the three “new” teams came into F1 in 2010, the new cars were more like rolling chicanes. Haas’ nearly unbelievable performance in Australia demonstrates the important of having a strong technical knowledge base when entering the F1 arena. The funding from Gene Haas and the close technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari likely have a lot to do with the team’s early success. Having said that, the Haas approach of waiting a year, securing the services of a team principal like Gunther Steiner who has years of experience on an F1 pit wall, and the general racing knowledge the Haas organization has gleaned from its time competing in NASCAR may prove to be an example for future F1 teams to follow.

RaceRip: MotoGP Qatar GP 2016


In my season preview article, I noted that this was going to be a MotoGP season full of unknowns. The usually consistent “premier class” saw a number of rules and equipment changes over the off-season. The first round in Qatar answered a lot of those questions, and not the way I was expecting them to. We saw several glimmers of the gems that may yet emerge from the 2016 MotoGP season, as well as a couple things that raised eyebrows.

The most notable of these surprises is the life of the new Michelin tires. Reviewing statistics from the 2015 season, 14 out of 18 fast laps came on Laps 2 through 5. At Qatar, Lorenzo was setting fast laps all the way to Lap 20 or 22. We know Michelin has been a big proponent of direct return on investment with its racing participation. That said, I do not believe many saw such a dramatic coming. We will need to wait and see how the next few grands prix play out. However, if this becomes a norm in MotoGP, it will be interesting to see how aggressive teams and riders become on tire choice, and how much it changes race strategy. It could also make grands prix boring if no one begins to lose pace as a race goes on. On the other hand, if two or more riders are locked in a battle, they may not need to worry about tire wear. The larger 17-inch rims and did not appear to hurt the visual aspect of the on-track product the way some had feared, The close racing at the front made the grand prix very entertaining to watch, regardless if the riders were carrying 62-degrees of lean angle or 64-degrees.

Another takeaway from the race was the performance of the factory Ducatis. Despite Iannone crashing out on Lap 5, Dovizioso finished second. Moreover, both Ducatis showed they had the pace to stay with the Yamahas. Where the Ducati appeared to gain its advantage was on the Losail Circuit’s long front straight. Ducatis have never been short on top-end power in MotoGP. The problem has usually been getting that power to the ground early on corner exit. That is where Stoner’s unique riding style could do things all other Ducati factory riders had not been able to. This is where innovations like Yamaha’s cross-plane crankshaft come into play. Even with the simplified electronics, it appears Ducati engineers have found a way to address their age-old problem. MotoGP’s next stop is Argentina, before making their way to the United States’ Circuit of the Americas. We will have to wait and see how much of an advantage the Ducatis can gain on both of those circuits’ long backstraights.

Not surprisingly, off-season favorite and 2015 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo took a convincing victory. Lorenzo’s strong and consistent pace throughout winter testing easily made him the favorite for the Qatar race. Meanwhile, Lorenzo’s nine-time World Champion teammate Valentino Rossi came home in fourth. While having some technical problems with his Yamaha R1, Rossi never appeared to be a threat to Lorenzo, and had a hard time staying with Marc Marquez  after Marquez passed him on Lap 3. We do not have a big enough sample size to determine how much of a threat Rossi will be this year. With his future at Yamaha secured with a two-year contract extension, Rossi can ride off into the sunset on the brand that brought him four of his seven MotoGP titles. It will be interesting to watch this season unfold and see if Rossi can stay with Lorenzo and the Ducatis at more technical tracks like Assen or Misano.

Race Rip: WSBK Thailand 2016


Until the last few laps of Race 2, I was going to start this report by saying that the on-track action at the Chang International Circuit had been overshadowed by the track conditions. The slippery surface that had riders regularly running off the track at several corners was detracting from the on-track product. Then the last 5 laps happened. Then we saw a real scrap between the Kawasaki powerhouse teammates Johnny Rea and Tom Sykes. The two Team Green riders put on a epic display of speed, cunning, and true grit as they jockeyed for the lead. The slippery asphalt raised the stakes, making the scrap even more impressive to watch. While Tom Sykes got the victory, despite his previous problems maintaining rear tire grip over a full race distance. But this was no ordinary victory; it was more than a win. After having won a world championship and having narrowly missed out on two more, Johnny Rea turned Tom Sykes’ world upside down last year. Rea’s dominant championship-winning year left many wondering how good Skyes really was. Despite losing Race 1 to Rea, Sykes boldly answered back in Race 2. While last year Rea was the clear number one rider at the Kawasaki team, Sykes has now proven he indeed has the talent and confidence to beat Rea head to head. However, Sykes’ performance at Phillip Island two weeks ago was not nearly as spectacular. Despite taking the pole in Australia, Sykes finished P5 and P6 in Race 1 and Race 2, respectively. The next track on the WSBK calendar, Motorland Aragon, is a fast but technical track. It will be interesting to see how both riders perform there.

While the epic battle between Sykes and Rea made the headline in the end, the track conditions at the Chang International Circuit were less than ideal. Riders were seen having to sit their machines up mid-corner in several areas of the track. Most perturbing among them was  Turn 3, the right-hander at the end of the track’s longest straightaway. Although ample, paved run-off room was available to the riders, having to suddenly change one’s line can make for hazardous on-track conditions. The slip-and-slide asphalt detracted from the races, as riders who were otherwise performing well were penalized by poor pavement rather than poor riding. While the conditions were not egregious, one would expect them to be addressed before next year’s event in Thailand.

Another notable performance was that of Dutchman Michael van der Mark. Riding for the Dutch-owned Ten Kate Honda team and teammate to American Nicky Hayden, van der Mark has shown astoundingly fast cornerspeed and scrappy racecraft in the first two rounds of the WSBK season. The 2014 World Supersport Champion and weekend pole winner, van der Mark has shown both speed and consistency this season. He has usually been able to get solid starts off the line, and has been able to maintain solid track position to the end of a race. Having podiumed three times in his rookie WSBK season in 2015, look to van der Mark to continue to develop both his speed and his racecraft as the season progresses. The Dutch round of the championship at Assen is the series’ next stop after Aragon. Two of van der Mark’s three podiums in 2015 were at the Dutch circuit. Johnny Rea also always seemed to do well at Assen when he was riding the Ten Kate Honda. We could be in store for something very special if van der Mark could pull off a home soil win in motorcycle-crazy Holland.

For American fans, Nicky Hayden had an up-and-down weekend. While Hayden DNF’d in Race 1 (by no fault of his own), Hayden came back from the technical problem to place in the top 5 in Race 2. While it appears Nicky is still getting used to the World Superbike package, look for Hayden to become even more competitive as the season progresses. Of note, Hayden has performed much better in both Race 2’s than in Race 1’s. If that trend continues at Aragon, it will be apparent Hayden just needs a little more time to get used to the WSBK brakes, tires, and chassis before he’s right up at the front with the Kawasakis. Another American favorite, long-time AMA road racer and 2008 Daytona 200 Champion Chaz Davies has performed very well this season. Riding one of the two factory Ducati’s, Davies has placed in the top 5 three times, and has been on the podium twice. If Davies had not crashed out of Race 2 at Phillip Island on the last lap (where he still managed to finish 10th), Davies would be right near the top of the championship standings. Davies has historically done well at Aragon, so it will be an opportunity for him to get right back in the fight for the title.

Why I am so excited about Nicky Hayden’s move to World Superbike


At first glance, Nicky Hayden’s move from MotoGP to World Superbike seems like a step backward. Hayden is moving from a series where a crankshaft is probably as expensive as an entire superbike. This is something we have seen other riders do toward the end of their careers. Talented riders like Carlos Checa, Max Biaggi, and Marco Melandri (all of whom had the misfortune of racing in MotoGP during the Rossi era) have made the same transition when they were no longer as competitive in the “premier class.” Superbikes, despite their name, are usually several seconds slower on the same track than MotoGP machinery. They do not lean as far, accelerate as fast, or turn as nimbly. Some equate the difference even more extremely, and compare MotoGP to Formula 1 and World Superbike to touring car racing.

So then, why is this author so stoked to see a name that many American motorcycle road racing fans practically worship taking such a big step down? Because to the author, it is anything but a step down. Technical sophistication, lavish hospitality tents, and absurd factory budgets do not, alone, beget great racing. Sure, MotoGP, as a championship, is even older than Formula 1. World Superbike (as we know it today) did not emerge until the late 1980’s. But to the author, what matters most is the quality and authenticity of the on-track product. It does not matter how many millions of dollars a MotoGP machine costs when “grands prix” turn into really, really fast motorcycle parades. Nor is the domination of a couple teams on budgets alone impressive. Nor the nearly NASCAR-like rule-making MotoGP is beginning to become accustomed to. With the exception of Johnny Rea’s dominant season in 2015, World Superbike has historically produced the best racing on the planet. There is usually a battle at the front, or at least several good scraps in the midfield. A number of different riders win races each year, and manufacturers have had a much easier time getting to the front. Moreover, the machinery and environment is much closer to what we here in the States are accustomed to. In short, MotoGP may be the technical pinnacle of the sport, but WSBK has, time and again, proven to be the “sporting” pinnacle of road racing.

Moreover, Nicky is now in an arena where he will finally be able to show how great of a rider he is. He may not have gotten on the podium at Phillip Island. That said, to score a P4 and P9 on one of the oldest bikes on the grid speaks volumes. Nicky’s stop-and-go, throttle happy riding style will find a compliant home on WSBK’s soft-carcass Pirelli tires. Nicky hasn’t lost a thing. Rather, he has finally shed a series that was designed around one particular riding style. Moreover, Honda is rolling out a brand new, redesigned bike in 2017. This will give Nicky a chance to test the new bike and provide feedback to Honda. Perhaps next season Nicky will get a bike that matches his talent for the first time since 2006.

So why is the author so happy for Nicky? Because Nicky is racing in a series to means more to many of us for many reasons, and will let the world see just how good he still is.

2016 World Superbike Season Preview


As we make our way through February, we come ever closer to one of the weekends that has defined my life for the last nine years. Sure, the end of February means that big sporting events have already passed us by. The Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 are in the history books by then. But the last weekend in February marks the start of a different season: The motorcycle road racing season. The last weekend in February is the traditional trip down under for the World Superbike paddock to one of motorbike racing’s most iconic race tracks. With it’s distinctive curves, whose names we all know by heart, Phillip Island is the perfect setting for the start of the rubber-on-asphalt two-wheeled racing season. There is elegance and challenge in the simplicity of its layout. Most of us can probably easily redraw the circuit from memory. Some years have seen six weeks or more between the Phillip Island event and the next round of any international road racing. However, the event remains year after year to wake us all from the slumber of the off-season to the sounds of crossplane crankshafts and the sight of road racers sliding their way through Stoner Curve.

 

However, with the beginning of each new season come changes in the paddock. New teams, new riders, riders with new teams, and new brands. So, to assist the casual fan (and even the experienced fan who gets frustrated trying to figure out who is who during the first races), this article represents a short summary of what to look for heading into the 2016 World Superbike Championship season.

 

A few notes must be covered before we dive into a team-by-team breakdown. Pirelli remains the control tire supplier for the championship. One big change for this season will be the timing of the two races. World Superbike is switching its weekend schedule to holding one of its two races on Saturday instead of holding both races on Sunday. This is something America’s AMA Superbike and MotoAmerica series have done since the 1990’s. World Superbike held a Saturday race at Laguna Seca a couple years back, but just for that one weekend. Holding one race per day (rather than having them 90 minutes apart) gives a team that crashes or has a mechanical problem in the first race a chance to repair the bike and get back out on track for the second race. However, it also requires an audience to tune in on two different days in the middle of the afternoon. It will be interesting to see what the fan reaction is to this change. Even though we in the U.S. we are more accustomed to having races split between two days, those races were often broadcast on tape delay (sometimes the following day). It will be interesting to see how the live broadcasts of the races perform ratings-wise both in the U.S. and internationally.

 

Some calendar changes are also worth noting. The Algarve International Circuit (near Portiamo, Portugal) has been dropped from the calendar to 2016. World Superbike was the first professional motorsports series to hold an event at the venue when it opened in 2008, and had held and event at the venue every year since. The track is a fast, flowing, undulating circuit that most road racing fans enjoy. Returning to the schedule are two circuits that could not be more different from one another. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza, a circuit of great lore in Formula 1, will return to the World Superbike schedule for the first time since 2013. With it’s rich racing history, long straights, and park-like setting, the circuit is like a journey back in time. It is also a throwback to when racers had to have even larger attachments than they do now. Speeds on the Curva Grande are reported to be in the 170mph range, at nearly full lean angle. Look for bikes with strong top-end performance like the Kawasakis and Ducatis to do well at Monza.

 

The other addition to the 2016 calendar is the EuroSpeedway Lausitz. This is a large motorsports facility in the former East Germany with several different track configurations. A portion of the facility that World Superbike does not use was built to act as a replacement for the AVUS circuit/public highway in Berlin. The facility also features a 2.023-mile tri-oval similar to Pocono Raceway in the U.S. Sadly, it was on the tri-oval that Champ Car racer Alex Zanardi lost both of his legs in a horrific accident in 2001. World Superbike will use a 2.670-mile, 13-turn layout that utilizes the facility’s infield road course, similar to what MotoGP did when it held a GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2008 to 2015. Naturally, the road course is very flat but uses several of the superspeedway’s long straights. The entire facility was actually constructed on top of a former open-pit coal mine. World Superbike formerly raced at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz from 2005-2007.

 

Kawasaki Racing Team – Johnny Rea (#1), Tom Sykes (#66): With Johnny Rea’s dominance of the championship last season, this team has to be the favorite to win the team’s championship in 2016. Coming over from the Ten Kate Honda team last season, Rea showcased the talent that had allowed him to have success on the underpowered Honda in stark comparison to his past Honda teammates. Rea’s Kawasaki teammate Sykes is the 2013 World Superbike Champion and narrowly missed out on the 2012 and 2014 crowns. Late in the 2015 season Sykes began struggling with rear tire grip toward the end of races. Sykes has had a history of struggling with the same problem on an older edition of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. While the reason for the re-emergence of the problem on a bike that had not had a re-design since 2011 was not clear, the team also have a redesigned bike to roll out for the 2016 campaign. While there could be some teething problems with a brand new machine, testing times indicate the Kawasakis are solidly out in front of everyone right now.

 

Aruba.it Racing Ducati Corse – Chaz Davies (#7), Davide Giugliano (#34): The Ducatis were a bit of a surprise coming into their own this year. Ducati had struggled with their completely redesigned Panigale superbike since it was introduced to the World Superbike Championship in 2013. The bike marked a dramatic departure from Ducati’s previous emphasis on mid-range power and driveability in favor of more top-end performance. This was likely in response to having been down on power on long straightaways in comparison to the four-cylinder machines, and apparently having lost the ability to make up that time in the corners.

 

Chaz Davies’ success was a bit of a surprise to many. The 2008 Daytona 200 winner and former AMA Formula Xteme racer has had a successful career at the international level. Despite being tall for a motorcycle racer (6’0), Davies won the 2011 World Supersport title on a Yamaha YZF-R6, and won at least one race in World Superbike in 2012 (Aprilia) and 2013 (BMW). While Davies has proved his talent time and again, it was unexpected that he would pip Tom Sykes for second place in the 2015 championship. Look for Chaz to have another strong season in 2016.

 

The status of Davies’ teammate, Italian Davide Giugliano, is less certain. Giugliano missed the beginning and end of the 2015 campaign with injuries. During pre-season testing at Phillip Island last year, Giugliano had a nasty crash at the circuit’s fast Swan Corner that resulted in two broken vertebrae. His injuries caused him to miss the first four rounds of the 2015 season. Guigliano returned and showed he had not lost anything in terms of pace. He scored three podiums and eight top 5 finishes in 10 races before re-injuring his back in a crash at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca round. One of the noticeable differences in Giugliano’s riding was his consistency. Since Giugliano began riding in World Superbike full-time in 2012, he had shown great pace but had crashed out of 24 of 88 races. Giugliano also had a record of not being able to maintain his quick pace over an entire race distance, as he has yet to win a World Superbike race despite four years as a factory rider. Despite his Italian heritage, the iconic Italian mark may need to make a change mid-season if Giugliano cannot make it through the entire season without injury. In that event, look for Ducati to call up the likes of Xavi Fores or Michele Pirro who subbed for Giugliano for parts of the 2015 season. Additionally, Marco Melandri has done some testing for the MV Agusta team, but is still a free agent. Leon Haslam is also a free agent.

 

Honda World Superbike Team (Ten Kate Racing) — Michael van der Mark (#60), Nicky Hayden (#69): Perhaps the most exciting news for American fans is Nicky Hayden moving from a very uncompetitive Open class Honda in MotoGP to the factory-supported Ten Kate Honda Superbike team for the 2016 season. While Nicky may not have looked excited in World Superbike based on the preseason videos released by the team, Nicky was consistently in the top 5 during World Superbike testing sessions on a bike that has not seen significant updates since 2008. Hayden’s point and shoot, dirt track-oriented riding style should find a suitable home with World Superbike machinery. Without the high cornerspeed-oriented MotoGP tires and chassis, Hayden should see a career revival on the softer-carcass Pirelli tires. With American Honda footing part of the bill to make Hayden a factory superbike rider, look for Nicky to be at or near the front for most of this season.

 

Ten Kate Honda’s other rider is 2014 World Supersport champion Michael van der Mark. After a solid 2013 and a stellar 2014 on the Ten Kate Supersport squad, van der Mark was promoted to the superbike team for 2015. He had an inconsistent season, with podium finishes at his native Assen circuit and Aragon while also crashing out of six races. Van der Mark was regularly, but not consistently in the top 5 until the end of the season, when he finished fifth or better in six of the last eight races. Based on his shared Dutch heritage with the Ten Kate team, look for van der Mark to continue to develop with the knowledge his race seat is secure for the 2016 season and likely beyond.

 

Milwaukee BMW – Karel Abraham (#17), Josh Brookes (#25): While new to the World Superbike paddock, the Milwaukee BMW squad is anything but a new team. Sponsor names aside, this is the Shaun Muir Racing outfit that won the 2011 and 2015 British Superbike Championship. The team is reported to be receiving factory support from BMW after having previously run factory Yamaha and Honda machines in the British Championship. The team will field 2015 British Superbike Champion and World Superbike and Supersport veteran Josh Brooks and former MotoGP rider Karel Abraham. Brookes had a solid season in World Supersport in 2008, finishing third overall. Since 2009, Brookes has had several wildcard rides in World Superbike with a few top 10 finishes, and has finished no lower than fifth in the British Superbike Championship on a wide range of machinery. Abraham comes to World Superbike after a five year stint on satellite and Open class Hondas in MotoGP. The son of the owner of the Czech Republic’s Brno circuit, Abraham will look to restart his career after an underwhelming and injury-riddled 2015 MotoGP campaign.

 

Pata Yamaha Official WSBK Team – Alex Lowes (#22), Sylvain Guintoli (#50): While this is Yamaha’s first official factory effort in World Superbike since the 2011 season, this is anything but a new team. The team is owned by Paul Denning, who was the team principal for the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP factory team. The team was formerly known as Crescent Suzuki and had a successful run in the British Superbike Championship before making the jump to World Superbike in 2012. After having a torrid 2015 season, long-time Suzuki man Denning has made to the move to factory Yamaha equipment. The team will carry over British rider Alex Lowes from the 2015 season (twin brother of current Moto2 rider and 2013 World Supersport champion Sam Lowes) and add 2014 World Superbike Champion Sylvain Guintoli to replace aging former MotoGP rider Randy de Puniet. Based on Yamaha’s past success in World Superbike, look for this team to start strong and come on stronger as the season progresses.

 

MV Agusta Reparto Corse – Leon Camier (#2): The famous Italian mark will enter a one-bike factory effort for the third straight season. Despite more than doubling the number of points it scored from 2014 to 2015, MV Agusta remained seventh in the constructors championship. With returning rider Leon Camier, bringing in staff from the former MotoGP Forward Racing Team, and signing Marco Melandri to do off-season testing, MV has demonstrated a commitment to staying in the World Superbike Championship. However, it has yet to make real inroads on its factory competition.

 

Ioda Racing Team (Aprilia) — Alex De Angelis (#15), Lorenzo Savadori (#32): This team is making the move from the MotoGP Open class to World Superbike. With the demise of the Red Devils Roma team, Ioda will carry the flag for Aprilia in World Superbike. De Angelis is still recovering from a crash at the MotoGP round in Motegi, Japan last year, but has been able to participate in limited testing. Savadori is the reigning World Superstock 1000 champion. The Aprilias, even without factory support, looked fast at times last year, especially at Phillip Island where they placed in the top two in both races. Look for an up and down season from the team as they get experience under their belt with the new bike and new tires.

 

Althea BMW Racing Team — Markus Reiterberger (#21), Jordi Torres (#81): This privateer squad is the former factory-supported Ducati team that took the 2011 World Superbike crown with Carlos Checa. After losing Ducati factory support to Frank Alstare’s team in 2013, Althea has run Aprilia and non-factory Ducati machines, and is switching to the BMW S1000RR for the 2016 season. The team will field two very strong riders in the form of Jordi Torres and two-time and current German (IDM) Superbike Champion Markus Reiterberger. Reiterberger won his German championships on BMW equipment, and Torres had a strong 2015 in World Superbike on the privateer Aprilia. Look for this team to remain mid-pack most of the year with an eye toward 2017.

 

Barni Racing Team (Ducati) — Xavi Fores (#12): This privateer team is entering its second year of running full-time in the World Superbike Championship. The team scored points in every race but one in 2015 with rider Leandro Mercado on board a privateer Ducati. For 2016, the team will compete with 2014 IDM (German) Superbike Champion Xavi Fores. Fores filled in for the injured Davide Giugliano for four races in 2015, scoring consistent top 10 finishes in every race. Look for Fores to be fighting in the mid-pack for most of the season.

 

Pedercini Racing (Kawasaki) — Saeed Al-Sulaiti (#11), Sylvain Barrier (#20): Long-time privateer team Pedercini will again contest the World Superbike Championship aboard Kawasaki ZX-10R’s. After having had a successful run given its budget with rider David Salom, the team has brought in former BMW rider Sylvain Barrier and Qatari rider Saeed Al-Sulaiti. Al-Sulaiti brings the support of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) to the team, while Barrier is a two-time World Superstock 1000 champion who was forced out of the BMW Italia team last season after just two rounds. Look for Barrier to make the most of his second chance in World Superbike and push hard in the mid-field.

 

 

The teams below are not likely to make much of an impact in even the mid-field. Rider Roman Ramos was just a few point behind Pedercini’s David Salom last season while also riding a Kawasaki ZX-10R. VFT Racing are making the jump from competing in the World Supersport Championship on a Yamaha YZF-R6 to a privateer Ducati Panigale for 2016.

 

 

Team GOELEVEN (Kawasaki) — Roman Ramos (#40)

 

Grillini Racing Team (Kawasaki) — Dominic Schmitter (#9), Josh Hook (#16)

 

Team Toth (Yamaha) — Imre Toth (#10), Peter Sebestyen (#56)

 

VFT Racing (Ducati) — Fabio Menghi (#61)

 

 

 

 

2016 MotoGP Season Preview


As we approach the start of the 2016 MotoGP World Championship, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. After two years of Honda domination, Yamaha is back on top. After two years of Marc Marquez’s youthful exuberance beating out the old guard, the veteran and rival Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo is the reigning world champion. Unlike previous seasons where the rules have only been tweaked, we have wholesale changes to the rules governing electronic rider aids. Unlike previous seasons where Bridgestone had brought the teams a sense of consistency, Michelin is now bringing a very different approach to tire research and design. Unlike previous years where MotoGP has graced American soil two or even three times, the U.S. is down to just one grand prix. While in years past grand prix bikes were forbidden from racing at Assen on Sunday to allow for the sound of church bells, their toll will be joined this year by the echoes of cross-plane crankshafts. This will indeed be a different season. The championship may not be determined by outright talent or pace, but rather by adaptation MotoGP’s new environment. Grand prix motorcycle racing has always represented the evolutionary edge of the sport. What happens when evolution stops its gradual progression, slams on the brakes, throws itself into a corner, and whacks the throttle open mid-apex? The answer is: We shall find out.

 

Unlike World Superbike, MotoGP has only one scheduling change for the 2016 season. Sadly, it is one that has left many American fans disgruntled. Despite having been a fixture on the calendar since 2008, there will not be an Indianapolis Motorcycle Grand Prix this year. The lone American round will be held at Texas’ Circuit of the Americas on April 8-10. Yours truly will be covering the event for the Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show. In place of the beloved Indy event will be the first Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix since 1997. It will also be the first at Austria’s Red Bull Ring (formerly known as the A1-Ring) since it was rebuilt by Red Bull tycoon and motorsports supporter Dietrich Mateschitz. While the circuit has only nine turns, it features several long straights and lots of elevation changes. Look for a team like Honda or Ducati who favor horsepower over handling to perform well at the Red Bull Ring.

 

MotoGP will also see the introduction to several major rules changes that may have a mild or drastic impact on the series. The first of these is the switch from long-time control tire supplier Bridgestone to Michelin. The Bridgestone tires, though using a very soft compound that provided exceptional grip at MotoGP’s extreme lean angles, were also known to use a very hard carcass. This in part is what has lead to the high cornerspeed nature of riding a MotoGP bike. Michelin, which was last involved in the MotoGP World Championship in 2008, uses a very different approach to its involvement in professional motorsports. After leaving Formula 1 in 2006, Michelin has adopted a high return on investment strategy with its motorsports efforts. While Michelin has courted Formula 1 about returning as a tire supplier, it has demanded the use of 18-inch rims in place of Formula 1’s current 13-inch rims. Michelin’s argument is the larger rim is consistent with modern road-going cars. That similarity would allow it to apply what it learned from developing and testing Formula 1 tires in its consumer products. For MotoGP, Michelin is adopting the same approach and is moving MotoGP from 16.5-inch rims to 17-inch rims. The 16.5-inch rims allow for the incredible lean angles MotoGP machines exhibit. However, modern sportbikes and naked bikes almost universally use 17-inch rims. It will be interesting to see not only how much it will affect MotoGP riders and lap times, but also if it will affect the visual beauty of the on-track product.

 

The other major rule change for the 2016 MotoGP season will be the introduction of a standardized electronic control unit (ECU) and associated systems. This is something the factory teams, particularly Honda, have fought against for years. The goal of this rule change is to cut costs and allow the newer factory teams (Aprilia and Suzuki) and the non-factory teams to be more competitive against the big three (Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati). This is similar to the approach Formula 1 used when it banned traction control in 2009. However, unlike the Formula 1 approach, where an outside vendor (Microsoft) was engaged and partnered with only one team, MotoGP ECU partner Magneti Marelli has worked with all three of the big factory teams to design the ECU software. Fans have lamented for years the very in-line nature of MotoGP racing since the advent of modern electronic rider aids. Many MotoGP fans may recall the tire-smoking days of the 990cc engines from 2002 to 2006. Valentino Rossi has reportedly stated that the new electronics package has taken electronic rider aids back to 2008 levels. It will be interesting to see whether the non-factory and newer factory teams will be able to make up ground over the next 2-3 seasons, as well as if there are any teething problems with the new system under the intensity of race conditions. For a more detailed discussion of the new electronics systems, see: (https://motomatters.com/analysis/2015/09/08/everything_you_wanted_to_know_about_moto.html). In short, the bikes will be more difficult to ride because the electronic aids will not be able to help the riders control their bike’s power delivery.

One smaller rule change will see the end of the Open class in MotoGP. All bikes will now be governed by the same rules regarding fuel allocation and electronic rider aids. The only remaining rules disparity will be regarding engines. The big three will be limited to seven engines for the 2016 season (for 18 rounds) and will have their engine development frozen at the start of the season. The remaining teams will have use of 12 engines and will be allowed to continue engine development throughout the season. This could be huge for a newer factory team like Aprilia and especially Suzuki, which was down on top-end power throughout its 2015 campaign.

 

Moviestar Yamaha MotoGP – Jorge Lorenzo (#99), Valentino Rossi (#46): The reigning world champion rider and team return as the preseason favorite to repeat their 2015 triumphs. In testing at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, Lorenzo was around one second faster than his teammate and 9-time world champion Rossi. Despite the level of electronic sophistication being seriously curtailed and Lorenzo spending more time on the edge of the tire than most other MotoGP riders, Lorenzo has shown an early ability to adapt to the new technological environment. While Rossi was off of Lorenzo’s pace, he was still among the fastest riders in testing. Yamaha may in itself have a major advantage heading into the 2016 season as well. While the other factory teams have favored top-end power and speed down a straightaway as the path to long-term road racing success, Yamaha has historically favored a bike with strong handling characteristics and speed through corners. This approach may make the Yamaha less susceptible to the reduced ability of the ECU to manage the engine’s power delivery. However, Yamaha’s dependency on good handling may be adversely affected by the new Michelin tires. The last time Michelin was in MotoGP, Rossi demanded Yamaha allow him to race Bridgestone tires instead of the Michelins that the Yamaha team had used in previous seasons. For the 2008 season, rookie Lorenzo was relegated to the Michelin tires while Rossi went on to claim his eighth world championship. Keep an eye on how Rossi and Lorenzo adapt to the Michelins and how well they are able to maintain their race pace at tight, twisty circuits like Assen, Misano, and Valencia.

 

Repsol Honda – Marc Marquez (#93), Dani Pedrosa (#26): Honda had a lackluster 2015 season, where its star and two-time world champion Marquez had to revert to using Honda’s 2014 chassis with its 2015-spec engine. With the same rider line-up returning and having learned from its 2015 failures, look for Honda to have a bounce-back season. However, the new spec electronics package may put a damper on that. While Honda will likely solve its handling problems, Honda also furiously fought against Dorna with regard to any regulation of electronic rider aids. Honda’s ferocity may be an indication of its reliance on electronics for its pace. If Honda engineers cannot master the new system before engine development is frozen, Honda may have to wait another year for a return to dominance.

 

Another story that will be interesting to follow will be how Marquez responds to the off-season discussion of his infamous incident with Rossi at the Sepang round last season. More than one MotoGP rider accused Marquez of riding dangerously and intentionally trying to slow down Rossi at Phillip Island and Sepang. Marquez has been known as an aggressive rider, in much the same way as the late Marco Simoncelli was when he broke into MotoGP in 2010. It will be interesting to see if this is the year Marquez begins to tone down his aggression on the track, or if his agitation towards Rossi carries into 2016.

 

Ducati Racing Team – Andrea Dovizioso (#4), Andrea Iannone (#29): The iconic Italian mark returns its all-Italian rider line-up for the 2016 campaign. Having not won a grand prix in 2013, 2014, or 2015, Ducati will be able to continue its engine development throughout the 2016 season. Iannone finished fifth in the 2015 championship, and was the highest finishing rider behind the Honda and Yamaha factory riders. Look for Ducati to continue to make inroads against the two big Japanese teams under the leadership of Team Principal Gigi Dall’Igna. After taking the Aprilia World Superbike to two championships in 2010 and 2012 despite having only re-entered superbike racing in 2009 with a completely new machine, Dall’Igna will look to continue working similar magic with a team that has not been able to perform without rider Casey Stoner. Also noteworthy is Stoner’s return to the Bologna-Panigale outfit after spending the last three seasons as a test rider for Honda. Despite both current riders’ Italian heritage, it will be interesting to see what affect Stoner has both on the bike and the team in his return. Stoner left grand prix motorcycle racing at the peak of his career because of his disdain for the job’s many corporate engagements. It remains to be seen whether Ducati will use Stoner as a racer in select rounds this season, or as a full-time rider in 2017.

 

Team Suzuki Ecstar – Maverick Vinales (#25), Aleix Espargaro (#41): Having returned with a completely new bike that it spent the better part of two years developing, Suzuki’s 2015 season was solid but underwhelming. Returning riders Vinales and Espargaro regularly finished in the points, but struggled to consistently make the top 10 until later in the season. Suzuki is a much smaller factory than the likes of its Japanese brethren Honda and Yamaha, so progress may take more time than some fans expect. Both Vinales and Espargaro are proven riders at the Moto2 level, and Espargaro had a great run on the Forward-Yamaha package in 2014. One advantage Suzuki may have is experience with the new electronics package. Looking to the future, Suzuki ran Magneti Marelli electronics packages with both its MotoGP and World Superbike teams in 2015. While neither team performed very well with the systems, look for Suzuki to make steady progress in 2016 toward the mid-pack.

 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini – Stefan Bradl (#6), Alvaro Bautista (#19): While struggling mightily in 2015, this team may be poised to make progress in 2016. With proven rider Stefan Bradl and the fast but inconsistent Alvaro Bautista at the helm of its machines, Aprilia’s 2016 challenger is reported to be a completely new design (not a derivative of its RSV4 superbike machine). Like Suzuki, look for Aprilia to make progress as the season progresses, but not move up the grid as much.

 

Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – Bradley Smith (#38), Pol Espargaro (#44): Perhaps the strongest of the satellite teams, Tech 3 returns its 2015 rider line-up of Brit Bradley Smith and Spaniard Pol Espargaro. Smith emerged last season as the team leader, consistently finishing in or near the top 5 while scoring a podium at the Misano round. Espargaro, the 2013 Moto2 Champion, was consistently in the top 10 but also retired from five of 18 grands prix. Look for Tech 3 to continue its recent history of being the cream of the satellite crop and even challenge for podiums if one of the Honda or Yamaha riders DNF’s.

 

LCR Honda – Cal Crutchlow (#35): As the official Honda Satellite team with the Gresini team taking on Aprilia factory equipment, the LCR ride is one of the most coveted in MotoGP. It is odd then that the seat belongs to the talented and entertaining but inconsistent Brit Cal Crutchlow. The 2009 World Supersport Champion, Crutchlow has bounced around MotoGP since entering the class in 2011. Crutchlow spent three seasons with Tech 3, constantly complaining about not having the same equipment as the factory Yamaha machines. Crutchlow rode for the Ducati factory team in 2014, before leaving for the satellite Honda ride at LCR in 2015. Crutchlow has shown he has speed on MotoGP machinery, which is something many former World Superbike riders (Ben Spies, James Toseland, Colin Edwards, and Troy Bayliss) have not historically shown on a consistent basis. Crutchlow has amassed eight podiums in 72 grands prix, while retiring from 26 of those races. It will be interesting to see what LCR does mid-season if Crutchlow remains inconsistent. Also, LCR dropped the second bike it ran in the 2015 season with Jack Miller, and will run a single bike in 2016.

 

 

MarcVDS Racing Team (Honda) – Jack Miller (#43), Tito Rabat (#53): While MarcVDS fielded its first entry in MotoGP last season, it is anything but new to racing. The team has been competing in sports car racing since the late 2000’s and the Moto2 class since 2010. Having run a single Honda satellite bike in 2015 with 2013 Moto2 runner-up Scott Redding, MacVDS will upgrade to a two bike effort for 2016 with 2014 Moto3 Champion Jack Miller and 2014 Moto2 Champion Tito Rabat as its riders. While inconsistently in the top 10 with Redding at the helm in 2015 (with one podium at Misano), look for this team to consistently be in the top 10 in 2016, but advancing beyond that will be difficult.

 

The three satellite Ducati teams below are not expected to make much of an impact in 2016. The one exception to this may be Danilio Petrucci. Petrucci scored a podium at the Silverstone race in 2015, and was consistently in or near the top 10. Petrucci’s teammate Redding may also challenge for the top 10 occasionally. However, all three of these teams are reported to be running 2014 or 2015-spec Ducati machines, which have not proven to be as consistently fast as the Honda and Yamaha satellite equipment. Also notable is the new partnership between Russian motorsports team Yakhnich and the Pramac team. Yakhnich won the 2013 World Supersport title with Sam Lowes in a factory-supported Yamaha, and was operating MV Agusta’s World Superbike and World Supersport efforts until mid-2014. Look for the Pramac squad to outperform the other Ducati satellite teams.

Octo Pracmac Yakhnich (Ducati) — Danilio Petrucci (#9), Scott Redding (#45)

Aspar MotoGP Team (Ducati) — Eugene Laverty (#50), Yonny Hernandez (#68)

Avintia Racing (Ducati) — Hector Barbera (#8), Loris Baz (#76)

 

 

 

Race Rip: F1 Monaco 2014


As I watched the podium “ceremony” in Monaco, I became very confused. I checked my phone and my computer and confirmed that it was indeed Sunday morning and I was not watching a weekday soap opera. The similarities between a soap and the Mercedes duo’s antics on the podium do create a lot of press, but also tarnish the professional image of Formula 1. Drivers have always been extremely competitive people, and we should do nothing to diminish or quash that unique aspect of the sport. But in addition to a code of conduct on the track (rules about passing, etc.) there has always been a code of conduct in the paddock. Professionalism is supposed to demonstrate a competitor’s ability to accept, tolerate, and compete within a set of rules. Additionally, racing (especially F1) isn’t cheap, and professional athletes are expected to act like professionals in their roles as role models and spokespersons. There is an exception for what happens on the track. For example, I don’t look dimly on Ed Carpenter’s immediate reaction to getting taken out by James Hinchcliffe in the Indy 500. While referencing a serious injury like a concussion may have been less than graceful, a competitor never wants to be taken out of the game and Carpenter’s frustration was understandable and real.

But back across the pond in Monaco, how did Nico wrong Lewis by competing fairly and beating him? Similarly, what did Lewis do wrong by beating Nico for four GP in a row? The answer to both questions is absolutely nothing. When people act like they have been wronged when in fact no wrong has occurred, they’re not being competitive: they’re bitching. They’re whining. They’re acting like children, and we as fans should not tolerate it. Everywhere you go in life, you will undoubtedly find someone who is better than you at something. Even the best aren’t number one in everything. Nico’s frustration at how things were going when Lewis was beating him regularly was completely understandable. However, frustration is a personal feeling and does not mean showing ill will or disregard for a fellow competitor’s achievements. Nico, however, does not have Lewis’ track record of sulking and whining. I’ve been a Lewis Hamilton fan from the time he entered the Formula 1 world in 2007. That was the first season I began watching F1. Lewis got his first win on my birthday at the track closest to my house. As someone whose native field is politics, I cheered for a person of color to win in a sport that has historically been rather white-washed. However, my favouritism of Lewis has wained over the years. Sure, he had a rough entrance into F1 with Alonso that may have set him up for this. But Lewis’ behavior has demonstrated a pattern of narcissism and now borderline paranoia that will make him a handful for any team he races for. I’ll never forget watching the interview with Lewis and Heikki Kovalainen in 2009. Lewis was sitting there like a hawk listening to each and every word Kovalainen uttered. When the McLaren chassis proved to be subpar in 2009, Lewis started demanding a new car be designed mid-season. For several years at McLaren, Lewis couldn’t find an opening-lap crash he didn’t like and easily became frustrated with the team. And now Lewis is acting exactly like Alonso acted with him in 2007. It appears that what Lewis has tried so hard to avoid (his experience with Alonso in 2007) has actually turned him into the very thing he is trying not to be.

I should have spent this article writing about racing, like Marussia scoring a point, the challenges of Monaco, and the passing we saw this year is unusual places. But what is remembered best is often remembered last. In this case, the immaturity after the race will cast a dark cloud over the entirety of this year’s event. Much like the Hungarian GP in 2007, Monaco will be a GP that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.