Analysis

Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Aprilia's Dream Ends, Morbidelli vs Espargaro, Arm Pump For Mir, And Spinning KTMs

While most of the focus from Sunday's race at Sepang was on the battle at the front – understandably, as the championship (nearly) got settled – there was plenty to learn from events further down the field as well.

The battle at the front left only Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo standing in the battle for the championship. Enea Bastianini may have finished second, but Bagnaia's victory put the Gresini Ducati rider out of contention.

Sepang also saw the end of the dream for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia as well. A tenth place finish (eleventh crossing the line, but given a place after his clash with Franco Morbidelli, more of which anon) put him 46 points behind Bagnaia, and out of reach of the MotoGP championship.

End of a dream

"I'm very disappointed today. I'm very sad," Espargaro said after the race. But he was proud of everything he and Aprilia have achieved this year. "I'm very proud of everybody in Aprilia, of myself, of my teammate of everybody in Noale. What we did this year is amazing, historic, it will be forever. It will last for ever."

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How (Not) To Win A Championship, And A Morbidelli Revival

Winning a MotoGP championship is hard. Arguably, the individual riders championship is the hardest title in the world to win. Apart from the basics – talent, and the opportunity to develop it – you also need to have persuaded a factory team with a competitive bike that they should sign you to race for them. You need the right people around you, and the right tools to take on the very best riders in the world, on the fast racing motorcycles ever built.

That last part, getting on a competitive bike, may be one of the hardest parts. Even with six factories and twelve seats (to be reduced to five factories next year), getting to join the right factory at the right time is tough. It is easy for factories to take the wrong direction, and go from being competitive to struggling. Yamaha's botched engine upgrade this year is evidence of that. Or Honda's radical update to the RC213V which has improved one weakness while removing the bike's greatest strength.

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Tows, Bumps, And Championships

There is a cliché about sports events having a "pressure cooker atmosphere", but in the case of the Sepang MotoGP race, it is almost literally true. A combination of withering heat, completely saturated humidity, and incredible pressure is cooking up an explosive climax to the MotoGP championship.

With a championship on the line, the pressure is plain to see. In the previous 18 races, Pecco Bagnaia had just 12 crashes. On Saturday, he added another two to that tally. Fabio Quartararo has had six crashes in the 18 races before this weekend, and added another during FP4, fracturing a finger in his left hand in the process. Likewise Aleix Espargaro, who has added another two crashes this weekend, taking his total to 13. For the record, the current crash leader is Darryn Binder, with 22.

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Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Ruining Plans, The Dangers Of A Wet Q1, And Aprilia Coming Up Short

The weather in the tropics is always a gamble. At some places, you can set your clock by the rains during monsoon season. If it's 3:45pm, you're about to get soaked. At others, you only know that at some point during the afternoon, a lot of rain is going to fall. It might rain at 1pm. Or it might rain at 5pm. But of one thing you can be certain: a hard rain is gonna fall, and it will flood the track.

Friday at Sepang the rain came shortly after 2:15pm, less than a quarter of the way through the Moto2 FP2 session. Light at first, then more heavily, then a torrent of water from the heavens, forcing a red flag, and a delay of an hour.

It caught everyone by surprise. The forecast had been for dry weather through the afternoon, and teams had made their plans accordingly. That meant that in FP1, a lot of riders didn't bother putting in a set of soft tires to chase a fast lap, expecting to improve in the afternoon.

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Sepang MotoGP Thursday Preview: Crunch Time For The Title Fight

We are nearing the climax of the 2022 MotoGP season. At Phillip Island, Pecco Bagnaia took over the championship lead from Fabio Quartararo, Bagnaia scoring a podium, Quartararo first making a mistake and the crashing out. The factory Ducati rider now leads the reigning champion by 14 points, and Aleix Espargaro by 27 points.

So what has to happen for Bagnaia to be crowned champion at Sepang? The MotoGP press office provided this handy list of calculations. Bagnaia will win the 2022 MotoGP title at Sepang if the following things happen:

  •  Bagnaia wins and Quartararo doesn’t finish on the podium,
  •  Bagnaia finishes P2, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P7 and Espargaro doesn’t win,
  •  Bagnaia finishes P3, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P11 and Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium,
  •  Bagnaia finishes P4, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P14 and Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium,
  •  Bagnaia finishes P5, Quartararo fails to score any points and Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium.

Basically, Bagnaia has to finish in the top five and score 11 more points than Quartararo. Bagnaia needs Aleix Espargaro to finish off the podium, or not win if Bagnaia is second. And whatever happens, Bagnaia has to finish in the top five. If he doesn't, the championship goes to Valencia.

Outsider

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Phillip Island MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Secret To Great Racing, How To Win A Tire Conservation Race, And The Power Of Leadership

If there is one thing which is bound to rile up the fans and get them complaining, it is the prospect of a race which requires the riders to carefully manage their tires. "Let them race!" people cry. "It should be a test of who goes fastest, not who can save their tires!" The clamor invariably ends up with a single, indignant demand: "Bring back the tire wars!"

If you needed proof of the wrongness of that opinion, you need only look at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. In a race where tire preservation was paramount, we saw countless passing maneuvers throughout the race, a pass for the win on the last lap, and the first seven riders finishing within a second of one another. Yes, you read that right. The top seven were within one second. 0.884, actually.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record Falls At Last, Managing Tires, And Controlling Wildlife

It has been a long time coming, but Jorge Lorenzo's pole record from 2013 has fallen at last. Lorenzo's 1'27.899 was MotoGP's most long-standing record, the then factory Yamaha rider smashing the previous pole record, set by Casey Stoner in 2008 by seven tenths of a second.

Why did Lorenzo's record stand for so long? Those with a long memory will remember that Phillip Island was last resurfaced at the end of 2012, with Stoner being used as a consultant on the project. The new asphalt increased the available grip by a massive amount. Fergus Cameron, managing director of the circuit at the time, told the New Atlas website, "On a scale of 0-110 on a friction coefficient test the old surface was at 54 or 55 and the new surface is at 78, so the new surface is much grippier."

The Omnishambles

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Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up: Coping with The Wind, And Turning With The Rear

Phillip Island is going to Phillip Island. A truth universally acknowledged, that whatever you thought the weather was going to do at the glorious racetrack overlooking the Bass Strait, the weather systems powered by the mighty Southern Ocean will always have a mind of their own.

So the day started off bright and relatively sunny, confounding forecasts of rain on Friday. "The thing in this country is that is it so difficult to predict the weather," Pecco Bagnaia said. "It was raining a lot yesterday but then it was completely dry during FP2 so it is difficult to know."

The rain from Thursday had left a lot of water around the track, but the strong wind had dried most of the track out, bar a couple of sections where water ran across the surface, including at the last corner and around Siberia. It made FP1 extremely difficult. "Coming back to the Island after three years was quite nice," Alex Rins said. "Sincerely FP1 was so difficult and so dangerous. With two-three wet patches crossing the track and it was on the limit for those conditions and with some kerbs full of water."

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Phillip Island MotoGP Preview: The Greatest, Remotest, Spectacle On Earth

Why is it that arguably the greatest motorcycle racing track in the world is built in exactly the wrong place? Sure, the scenery at Phillip Island is spectacular: photos of riders heading down the Gardner Straight looking like they are about to fire off into the Bass Strait have become iconic. But to actually get to create that image? It's one hell of a trek, facing considerable challenges.

The circuit sits balanced on the top of a cliff overlooking the Bass Strait, not quite at the southernmost point of the Australian continent, but not far off. It is located on Phillip Island, normally a place for a quiet vacation, or to go to watch the Penguin Parade, when large numbers of little penguins come ashore at sunset. Phillip Island is two hours from Melbourne, 1000km from Sydney, and 2600km from Jack Miller's home in Townsville, Queensland.

The remoteness of Phillip Island lends it a great deal of charm. Accessible only via a two-lane bridge, and with a number of small towns on the island, it has a rustic, wild feel. A place to surf, to wander the cliffs, to stand and stare across the sea, and ponder the majesty of nature and your own insignificance in that greater whole.

The pilgrim's way

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Why Can't Dorna Just Ban Ride-Height Devices And Aerodynamic Wings In MotoGP?

When I wrote about the difficult situation MotoGP finds itself in with respect to the new front tire Michelin is developing in an attempt to address the increasing problems with tire temperature and pressure, the immediate response, especially on Twitter, was "MotoGP should just ban ride-height devices and aerodynamics". While this is a charming notion, it is also utterly impractical. To paraphrase a quote from a movie about ill-thought out decisions, those commenters were so preoccupied with what MotoGP should, they didn't stop to think whether they could.

If you talk to independent team bosses, they have no love for either aerodynamics or ride-height devices. Similarly, senior officials within Dorna and IRTA have expressed a dislike for both technologies. If they could, they would get ride of ride-height devices tomorrow, and aerodynamics shortly after. Even a severe restriction on aerodynamics would be welcomed.

What Dorna would like to do, and what they can do, are two very different things, however. The formal process for changing the MotoGP technical regulations has been set out in detail, and simply do not allow Dorna to change the rules.

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