Analysis

Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Danger Of A Bumpy Track, Lasting 20 Laps, And Can Marc Marquez' Withstand Fabio Quartararo's Onslaught?

Pol Espargaro summed up the complex emotions of almost the entire grid (possibly bar Jack Miller, but more of that later) at the end of an eventful first day of practice at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. "First of all we need to say that it's super nice to come here to America, to be able to race here," the Repsol Honda rider said. "Already this is something super good after so long in Europe. And to see the American fans is super nice, they are super excited and it's nice. Saying that, I think we are in a professional MotoGP championship that, we need a minimum of quality in the tracks, about safety, run off area."

Then came the 'but'. "We must say that the track is not at the level of a MotoGP championship, sure. First of all, there are parts where the asphalt is super bad. Not about the bumps, it's just cracked everywhere, and the asphalt is super old, and it looks bad, and also it's bad grip. But then there are the bumps, and the bumps are not something that we can say it's better or it's worse. The bumps are super dangerous."

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Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Riders Share Ideas For Making Racing Safer

It was inevitable that there would be a lot of talk at Austin of the events of a few days earlier, at Jerez. The death of Dean Berta Viñales in the first (and only) WorldSSP300 race at the Spanish track had once again raised the question of safety in motorcycle racing. Especially the safety in the support classes, where the technical rules had been set up to achieve as much parity as possible, creating very large groups on the race track. And especially in classes populated by sometimes very young riders.

How ironic, then, that some of such talk took place in the pre-event press conference in Austin, where a group of riders in the FIM MiniGP North America series were present. Kensei Matsudaira, age 10, Jesse Shedden, age 12, Jayden Fernandez, age 13, Kayla Yaakov, age 14, and Travis Horn, age 13, all got to sit and listen as the MotoGP riders were asked questions about how to prevent young kids from being killed in motorcycle races.

The FIM MiniGP series is one of the steps Dorna is putting in place in its Road to MotoGP initiative, aimed at stimulating racing talent at a regional and national level, before moving up on the path to World Championship level racing.

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Austin MotoGP Preview: Mastering The Bumps In Texas

For the first time in two years, MotoGP is headed for a flyaway race which isn't in Qatar. After a long period of uncertainty, and facing a certain amount of opposition from inside the Grand Prix paddock, the series is heading to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. After having 12 of the first 14 races all inside the same timezone (give or take an hour), a flyaway race feels like something of a novelty.

The novelty will not be quite as great as hoped for all those traveling to Austin. Given the extremely high case numbers of Covid-19 in Texas, and the dearth of ICU beds, Dorna has requested everyone attending the race remain in their bubbles – staying inside their hotels, not going into town, not visiting bars and restaurants – as much as possible. Normally, the Austin round of MotoGP is a reason to party. That will not be the case this year.

Staying inside will be made easier by the weather: very heavy rain is expected throughout the weekend, especially on Friday and Saturday. Leaving the hotel to wander the streets of downtown Austin is a much less attractive opposition in the pouring rain.

The rain is going to add an extra level of difficulty to what is already one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar. COTA is probably the most physically demanding track of the year, thanks to its layout.

Roller coaster ride

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Misano Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On That MotoE Controversy, New Dunlops, Mental Coaches, And Nurturing Talent In Moto2

Ding ding: Torres v Aegerter in incredible MotoE finale

Even the most ardent opponent of electric mobility would need a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the finale of the 2021 MotoE World Cup. The double-header at Misano had everything you’d want in a championship showdown: three of the four title contenders challenging for victory in race one, before two of them faced off in race two. It also included that crucial ingredient which is so crucial in gaining wider recognition: controversy.

There was plenty of that on Sunday, as Dominique Aegerter’s last lap move on Jordi Torres took the Catalan down and, for a few minutes at least, handed the Swiss rider the title, sending Spanish fans and members of the media to collect their pitchforks and demand a penalty. The FIM Stewards came to a swift conclusion: Aegerter was handed a 38-second penalty for the move – the equivalent of a ride-through penalty – demoting him to twelfth, handing Torres the crown by seven points.

Was this right? Clearly Aegerter had to make the move, with the championship on the line. He was in front of Torres when contact was made, and he didn’t technically run off track. As he explained, “He knew I'd be coming from the inside just like in the previous laps and that I would brake later than him. He kept his line which resulted in touching my rear wheel and him crashing out of the race.”

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Honda's 2022 RC213V Prototype - A Deep Technical Dive Into HRC's Radical New Bike

What MotoGP manufacturers change on test bikes for the future reveals a lot about what they feel is wrong with their current machines. So for example, at the Misano test, we saw Ducati roll out an updated version of their fairing, narrower and smaller, and consequently, likely aimed at creating a little more agility.

Aprilia introduced two different aero packages for high speed and low speed circuits. Suzuki had a new engine and a new chassis, while Yamaha had a different frame and revised engine. All small steps aimed at honing their current bikes into something better, an evolution of the bikes that raced at Misano the previous Sunday.

Not Honda. At Tuesday in Misano, Honda rolled out the latest prototype of their 2022 RC213V MotoGP machine, designed to address some of the obvious weaknesses of their current bike. The most remarkable thing about the machine is the stark and obvious differences between the 2021 bike and this latest prototype. This was no minor upgrade from last year's RC213V, this was a completely new bike, from the ground up. Very little remained the same; revolution, not evolution.

A New Hope

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2021 Misano MotoGP Test Round Up: Six Factories And What They Were Working On

The weather cooperated for the second and final day of the Misano MotoGP test. It stayed dry and warm all day, which meant everyone got the track time they were looking for. In the case of Maverick Viñales, that was a lot of track time: the Aprilia rider racked up 109 laps, a grand total of 460.6 kilometers. Equivalent to Misano to Turin, London to Paris, Dallas, Texas to San Antonio, Texas.

The problem with all that track time, of course, is that a lot of rubber gets laid down. That adds oodles of grip, making conditions ideal for MotoGP machines. That is all very well, but MotoGP races never take place in such ideal conditions, and so testing can be deceptive. "It's true that everybody says the same in the tests, because there is a lot of grip everybody is fast, everybody is happy!" Marc Marquez noted.

Conditions are totally different between a race and a test, Marquez pointed out. "It changes a lot, a race weekend or test day. It changes a lot the risk of the way to ride also, with a lot of rubber on the track, a lot of grip and you can open a lot of gas," the Repsol Honda rider said.

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Misano MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Wet Riding, Yamaha's New Chassis, Aero Updates, Honda's New Frame

The trouble with testing is that you have no control of the weather. As a result result of rain, and a track that was slow to dry, the MotoGP field lost half of the first day of the two-day test at Misano to wet conditions, with little use made of the track. The test riders were sent out as sacrificial lambs to put in laps and collect data in the wet. But Fabio Quartararo also put in some laps in the wet, to try to get a better feel for the Yamaha M1 in the wet, conditions they struggle in.


The wet-weather brake disc covers on the Yamaha M1

Those wet laps were useful for the championship leader. "In the morning I tried to make some laps but the track conditions were changing a lot, but from the first lap I could clearly see where the problem is with our bike and I think that we need to find a solution to that… But it's true that it's quite difficult to know what is happening," Quartararo told us at the end of the day.

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Misano MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Bagnaia's Start, The One-Man Yamaha, Behold The Bestia, And What Honda Need To Fix

It is crunch time in the championships of all three Grand Prix classes. In Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, the leader went into Misano with a comfortable lead: 46 points for Pedro Acosta over Sergio Garcia, 39 points for Remy Gardner over Raul Fernandez, and 53 points for Fabio Quartararo over Pecco Bagnaia. Enough of a lead not to have to win at all costs, but not so much that they could afford to throw away points.

If anything, that's more stressful than having a much smaller lead. With a gap of just a few points or so, your only option is to put your head down and try to win as many races as possible. You have to take risks if you have any hope of winning the championship; the choice is out of your hands. With a comfortable gap, you have to start thinking about how much to risk, and when and how many points you can afford to give away. You can't relax and ride freely, because you are still a long way from actually wrapping up the title. But you can't just ease off and ride for points, because if you lose a couple of places you can suddenly find your rivals have slashed large chunks out of your championship lead, making your job even harder.

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Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: How The Dry Saved Fabio's Bacon, What's Irking Marc Marquez, And Why All The Crashes?

It was supposed to rain, so of course it didn't, proving that the weather on Italy's Adriatic coast is just as fickle as any other place in the world at the moment. Instead, it was hot and humid, with the threat of rain looming in the distance, providing a brief shower during qualifying for the Moto2 class, but leaving the rest of the sessions untouched.

The recent rains did leave their mark, however. The standing water left by the heavy showers of recent weeks had allowed midges, mosquitoes, and other insect life to breed copiously, and clouds of midges swarmed sections of the track. To the misfortune of Jack Miller, who had to come into the pits after getting one of the little mites in his eye.

"I did end up with one in my eye," he told the press conference after qualifying on the front row of the grid. "It was annoying for a couple of laps. It was strange. There were small tubes of them just randomly in random spots on the track. Even on my best lap in FP3, I had one flying around the inside of the helmet and it didn’t want to go away. I was trying to look past him a little bit."

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fast Maverick, Wet & Dry Ducatis & Yamahas, New Returnees, And Honda's Chassis Tests

Friday at Misano was fun, if a complete waste of time. Ideal conditions for about 35 minutes of FP1, then the deluge came, flooding the track and putting an end to any idea of improvement. A rainy afternoon – though not quite as rain-sodden as the end of FP1 – meant it was impossible to better the times from this morning.

Which left Maverick Viñales at the top of the timesheets. A remarkable achievement, given this is just his second race on the Aprilia after his dramatic separation from the Yamaha team. Does this mean that Viñales is now the favorite for the win at Misano? Even Maverick Viñales doesn't think so.

"Overall the feeling has been good, but like in Alcañiz, we are not thinking at all about the position and the performance," Viñales said on Friday afternoon. "We know we have to be focused on the feelings, especially on this learning process that we are doing. It's good to be in the front, this is clear, makes you feel much more calm, much more comfortable, because you feel you have the speed. But whatever it takes right now, we need to keep with a lot of calmness, trying to build up a solid step and this is what we are trying to do."

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