Analysis

Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Better But Not Briliant New Surface, Marquez Returns, Ducati's Front Ride-Height, and Quartararo's Contract

After all the talk, the riders finally to walk the walk. Or rather, ride the new surface at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. After the bitter complaints last year about the bumps, the MotoGP riders got to experience for themselves just what a difference a new layer of asphalt made.

At the start of the first session of the day, I headed up the hill and around the first half of the track, stopping to watch the Moto2 bikes through Turn 2, and then wandering around to Turn 10 – a decent hike at a vast track, but frankly, I need the exercise. Last year, the bikes had been bottoming out through the bump on the entry to Turn 2, where this year the rear was clearly moving, but not excessively.

At Turn 10, what looked like a motocross step-down had been largely tamed. There was still a sizable bump there, enough to kick the riders out of their seats, but it was no longer the terrifying ordeal it had been. "Turn 10, if you are not on the line, it is tricky, but on the line is OK," was Fabio Quartararo assessment.

From dangerous to difficult

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Austin MotoGP Preview: A Tough Track With A Clear Favorite?

It has been a rough start to the 2022 MotoGP season. Qatar started relatively smoothly, but things started going downhill from there. The Indonesian round at Mandalika barely scraped through, the newly resurfaced track already coming up in the final corner as the new asphalt had not had time to bed in. Then two broken cargo aircraft suffered technical problems and left part of the freight stranded in Mombasa, Africa on its way to Argentina.

A hastily rescheduled two-day event at the Termas de Rio Honda followed, which came off surprisingly well. Then with a short turnaround getting the freight from Argentina to Texas, there was another problem with cargo planes breaking down, and freight arriving late. Fortunately for the GP of the Americas at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, the delay was merely stressful rather than problematic. The last flight cases arrived at the beginning of the afternoon on Thursday, with teams rushing to unpack and prepare everything ready for Friday morning. But that is a deadline they would easily make, making delay or rescheduling unnecessary.

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Method In The Madness - Why A Pattern Is About To Emerge In The MotoGP Championship

The start of the 2022 MotoGP season has been labeled chaotic. There have been nine different riders on the podium in the first three races, with nobody managing to get on the podium twice. There have been three different leaders in the teams championship, and two different leaders in the riders championship, with Aleix Espargaro taking over from Enea Bastianini, and Ducati and KTM have swapped the lead in the manufacturers championship. The winners of the first three races were three different riders on three different bikes. How are we expect to make sense of that?

At first, there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the start of the season. Fans, pundits, and experts have racked their brains trying to make sense of 2022 so far. Every race seems to throw up new anomalies, every time a rider has a strong race, they seem to falter badly at the next race. Consistency appears to have gone out of style in a big way.

While it may look like chaos reigns in the premier class, that is not the full picture. The season is starting to take shape, but for most teams, the biggest issue is finding a base setting that works everywhere. At some tracks, the bikes work well. At others, a key piece of the puzzle is still missing.

Why the mess?

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Argentina MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Long And Winding Road To Success

In November 2014, at the Valencia post-race test, there was something of a buzz. Aprilia to make a return to MotoGP as a factory team for the 2015 season, albeit under the umbrella of the Gresini squad. Up until that point, Aprilias had been racing in MotoGP, but they were modified versions of the Noale factory's RSV-4 superbike, with a lot of chassis work and a much more powerful engine. They would be racing more or less the same bikes in 2015, but the ambition was to step up development and build a genuinely competitive motorcycle.

To do that, they had abandoned their factory entry in the WorldSBK championship – a championship which Sylvain Guintoli had won for them the previous year – and drafted in Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri. Bautista was keen to push the project forward, but from the very first moment he appeared in the MotoGP paddock again, Melandri made it glaringly obvious he did not want to be there.

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Argentina MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Hard Work And Making History

The Grand Prix of Argentina continues its proud tradition of weirdness, with Friday skipped and a day and a half of practice and qualifying crammed into Saturday. The missing cargo, the result of not one but two planes breaking down between Mandalika and Termas de Rio Hondo, meant that Friday was canceled and the work of preparing for practice started around 2am on Saturday morning, as bikes and equipment were delivered up and down pit lane. But MotoGP as a whole pulled it off: apart from the weird schedule, practice and qualifying happened, and history was made.

With missing bikes and parts, teams had gone back to their hotels early on Friday afternoon, to get some sleep ahead of a long night. But you wouldn't know it looking at the pit boxes on Saturday morning. The work of a couple of days was condensed to a few short hours.

With success, for some. The Mooney VR46 Ducatis had turned up in the dead of night, and the crew had worked through the night to get the bikes ready for practice and qualifying. Luca Marini rewarded their grit and hard work with a front row start in Argentina, his second after the one in Misano last year.

No rest for the wicked

"My team did an amazing job so thanks to them and thanks to Ducati because they prepared for me two perfect bikes today," Marini said on Saturday evening. "It was not so easy for them because they did the work in just eight hours. They always do it in two days normally."

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Argentina MotoGP Friday Notes: Following Freight, And The Benefits Of A Different Schedule

It has been a busy day for everyone involved in MotoGP. A large section of the paddock was sat either behind a computer or staring at a mobile device frantically refreshing their flight tracker app of choice, watching the exploits of Aerostan aircraft EX-47001, as it finally made its way from Mombasa in Kenya to Lagos in Nigeria to Salvador in Brazil. As I write this, it has taken off from Salvador and is winging its way to Tucuman, where it is due to land some time after 9pm. At Salvador, the flight number changed from BSC4042 to BSC4043. A sign? I leave it up to the reader to decipher the letters BSC in the flight number.

At San Miguel de Tucuman, the plane will have to be unloaded and the customs formalities dealt with, before the contents of the plane are transported from the airport to the circuit at Termas de Rio Hondo, just under 100km away. They should at least arrive some time before midnight.

That will mean mechanics working through the night to get the bikes ready for Saturday. In preparation for this, the Gresini mechanics left the circuit early on Friday, presumably to get some sleep ahead of a long night.

Prepping the bikes

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Argentina MotoGP Preview: An Always Wild Weekend Gets Weirder And Weirder

Despite being back to something resembling relative normality, MotoGP is off to a strange start in 2022. The season opener at Qatar saw the favorites fall short, and a surprise winner and championship leader. The second race, at Mandalika in Indonesia, nudged uncomfortably close to farce, the rain saving the MotoGP race from disaster. But like many wet races, the result was far from representative.

For round 3, MotoGP heads to Argentina, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. The track in Argentina is a lesson in contrasts. The layout is magnificent, a fast, sweeping track with challenging corners, a straight that emphasizes acceleration over outright horsepower, and plenty of spots to pass other riders. But the location – near a modest town, and some distance away from major population centers – means the track gets little use outside of the MotoGP weekend. That usually leaves the surface of the track a mess, covered in dust and dirt, making preparation difficult.

Drama central

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Mandalika, Michelin, Marquez - How A Chain Of Unfortunate Choices Ended In Disaster

Honda went into the Indonesian Grand Prix widely seen as potential front runners. Pol Espargaro had been fastest in the test at Mandalika a month previously, Marc Marquez had been quickest on the second day of the test, Honda riders had set a consistently fast pace, looking better than their single-lap speed. What's more, Espargaro was coming off a podium at the season opener at Qatar, the race where Marc Marquez had finished fifth.

To say the Indonesian Grand Prix ended badly for Honda is an understatement. Pol Espargaro was fastest Honda once again, but the Repsol rider crossed the line way down in 12th, 33 seconds behind the winner, Miguel Oliveira. Espargaro was one of only two Honda riders to finish in the points, crossing the line just ahead of Alex Marquez on the LCR Honda in 13th. Takaaki Nakagami could only struggle to a 19th place, 49 seconds behind the winner.

That wasn't the really bad news, however. The worst blow for Honda was the fact that Marc Marquez manage to miss the race, and perhaps endanger his chances of the 2022 title, or worse. Much worse.

Living on the edge

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Mandalika MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Indonesia Deserves Better, Why Confidence Matters, And A Surprising Rookie

As I wrote on Thursday, if there is one nation which deserves a MotoGP race, it is Indonesia. The fact that the President himself turned up for the race, (and actually hung around for the MotoGP race, rather than disappearing once the formalities had been handled) says plenty about the central role which the sport plays in Indonesia.

Indonesia may deserve a MotoGP round, but they deserve better than they got at Mandalika. Despite the fact that we had three races at the track, with three deserving winners, including an Indonesian rider on the front row in Moto3 and the first ever Thai winner of a grand prix, with Somkiat Chantra's victory in Moto2, MotoGP got through the event by the skin of its teeth.

Starting with the crowds. The fans who turned up were fantastic, enthusiastic and clearly reveling in the fact that they had a race in their home country at last. The official attendance figure was 62,923, but to paraphrase a popularly misattributed aphorism, there are lies, damned lies, and official sporting event attendance numbers.

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Mandalika MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Chaos Reigns, Honda Riders Moan At Michelin, And Ducatis Menace

The first Indonesian GP in 25 years has been a complicated affair. A new track, in the middle of a construction site where a new resort is being built. A track which was resurfaced after the test uncovered issues with the asphalt. The blistering tropical heat, capable of raising track temperatures to well over 60°. The swapping out of the rear tire used at the test for an older, safer tire used in Austria and Buriram to prevent the tire from blistering if track temperatures get that high. And the intense rains which leave the track wet for a long time, have eaten into setup time, and keep washing dirt onto the surface.

When working on a problem, such as the correct setup for a MotoGP bike, engineers like to change one variable at a time, to understand how it works. At Mandalika, that just hasn't been possible. The teams already had two new variables – a new track surface and different tires – thrown at them, and the weather is adding a third. It is making it almost impossible to figure out what needs to be changed to make the bikes go faster.

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