Phillip Island, Australia
Johann Zarco is set to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the final three races of 2019, and race the 2018-spec Honda RC213V for the Idemitsu LCR Honda team. The news was first broken by Oriol Puigdemont of Motorsport.com, and though nobody contacted by MotoMatters.com would comment on the news, it was later confirmed by Zarco to Thomas Baujard of the French publication Moto Journal.
Some people hate MotoGP’s rules over track-limits, but to understand why they are there we need to look at racing safety over the years
It’s a funny old world. Here we are in 2019 arguing about MotoGP riders exceeding track limits when motorcycle racing already had the best punishment for this crime more than a hundred years ago.
Great big stone walls did the job just fine – the ultimate deterrent to riders who sought to better their lap times by taking faster, wider lines.
KTM have decided to replace Johann Zarco effective immediately. From Aragon until the end of 2019, current KTM test rider Mika Kallio will take the place of the Frenchman in the factory Red Bull KTM team.
Though the decision comes as a surprise to the outside world, it makes sense from the perspective of KTM. Zarco has announced his intention to leave at the end of the season, and given his options are limited for 2020, is looking at becoming a test rider, and has been linked to a possible vacancy at Yamaha. With so much work happening on the KTM RC16, and a constant flow of new parts in the garage, KTM have decided it is better to have test rider Mika Kallio on the bike than keeping Johann Zarco.
The FIM have issued a provisional calendar for the 2020 MotoGP season, which sees the series expand to 20 races, and lays the basis for expansion to 22 races. The biggest changes are the addition of the Kymiring in Finland in July, and the moving of the Thailand round of MotoGP in Buriram from October to 22nd March.
The racing season kicks off as ever in Qatar, the MotoGP race being moved to the first week of March. From Qatar, the series heads east to Thailand, the MotoGP race taking the slot of the WorldSBK race at Buriram. Attendance for the WorldSBK round had fallen since MotoGP went to Thailand, and so the WorldSBK round is being dropped, with another overseas round to be held in its place.
From Thailand, the paddock heads east once again to cross the International Date Line and head to Austin, the US round moving up to become the third race of the year, ahead of Argentina. The Argentina Grand Prix takes place two weeks after Austin.
Alvaro Bautista came to the WorldSBK championship and has been unstoppable. Since figuring out how to get the right feeling from the front end of the brand new Ducati Panigale V4R, he has won all six races held so far – four full-length races, and the two new Superpole sprint races held on Sunday. His winning margins in the four full races were 14.983, 12.195, 8.217, and 10.053 seconds. He won both sprint Superpole races by over a second as well.
Naturally, that kind of domination attracts attention. The WorldSBK series is meant to be a close battle between bikes based on road-going motorcycles, and as modification of the standard bikes is limited, there are mechanisms in the rule book for keeping the disparity between the different bikes racing to a minimum, giving any manufacturer which sells a 1000cc sports bike a chance to be competitive.
To ensure this, the rules have a section on balancing performance between the different bikes competing. The method of balancing performance has varied over the years, but the current rules use only the maximum revs to try to keep the bikes close. The maximum rev limit is set when each new model is homologated, following a formula described in the rules, and explained by WorldSBK Technical Director Scott Smart in a video on the WorldSBK website. The short version is that the bikes are limited at 1100 RPM above the point at which they make their peak horsepower.
We have never seen anything quite like the arrival of Alvaro Bautista and his big red rocket of a Ducati Panigale V4R in WorldSBK history. Well, we kinda have, in the form of Doug Polen on that year’s ballistic desmo missile back in 1991. Just not quite as dominantly in only two rounds, as Polen won five from six, after a retirement in race two at Donington.
Whatever the comparison, ex-GP runner Bautista has entered WorldSBK at Star Trek levels of spacetime continuums by winning the first six races of the 2019 season, his first ever races in WorldSBK. The fact that there are three races per meeting now, not two, only slightly detracts from the glorious arrival of the new class act - stage left, right and centre.
Really, can you pick holes in the fabric of Ducati’s Alvaro effort so far?
MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?
When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.
He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.
You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.
Press releases from the organizers, WorldSBK, and WorldSSP teams after Sunday's races at Phillip Island:
WorldSBK standings after the second full race at Phillip Island: