KTM

Styria MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Randomness Of Restarts, Another Rookie Sensation, The Power Of Podiums, And Maverick's Electronics Woes Explained

Weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. Usually when people say that, they mean it as a bad thing, but it isn't necessarily so. Unpredictability swings in all possible directions, and means that just because something is likely to happen, it doesn't mean that it will. It was supposed to rain all day on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring. It did, overnight, and in the morning. Then it dried out, and we had a drying Moto3 race followed by dry Moto2 and MotoGP races.

Two MotoGP races, in fact. A very short two-and-a-half lap race, interrupted by a fiery crash and long delay, and then a completely new race – if a race is interrupted before the leader crosses the line at the end of lap 3, the race is restarted as if the first attempt had never happened, with everyone allowed to race and the same grid as set by qualifying – which was shortened by one lap, from 28 to 27 laps.

The red flag shook up the field, creating winners and losers, some riders getting a chance to correct earlier mistakes, others finding themselves struggling in the second race. There is a small element of random chance in every MotoGP race – a good thing, or else the outcome would always be entirely predictable – and the cards fall a different way each time the lights go out.

We'll keep the red flag flying here

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Styria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Meaningless Practice, Holeshot Devices, Track Limits, And The Curious Case Of The KTM Rider Announcement

It has been a fascinating day of thrilling action at the Red Bull Ring. Records have been broken, riders have pushed the limits of their bikes, and the fans – back in full force at last – have added some of the atmosphere that has been missing during the long Covid-19 pandemic. There was elation and heartbreak, a sensational pole in MotoGP, and above all, glorious Austrian summer weather.

Yet it all lacked a sense that it stood outside reality, had no bearing on the actual racing, nothing to do with MotoGP. Perhaps that is the illusion of a return to racing after such a long summer break, the longest in recent history. But more likely, it is because while the fans lapped up the action under the sunshine, we all knew that whatever happened on Saturday is likely to be undone by the weather gods on Sunday. If it rains tomorrow – and it almost certainly will, though the question of when, how heavily, and for how long is completely uncertain – then what happened on track today will be forgotten. On Sunday, it all starts from scratch again.

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Styria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, Yamaha's Problems In Mixed Conditions, And Filling Empty MotoGP Seats

In an ideal world, MotoGP teams can use practice to prepare for the race on Sunday. Test tires in FP1, make setup changes in FP2, finalize the setting in FP3 and FP4, then into qualifying to be ready for the race. In an ideal world, conditions are comparable enough through all practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to find the optimal setup choices for Sunday.

But we don't live in an ideal world, of course. Temperature differences and changing conditions leave a lot to a mixture of experience and guesswork. Even then, as long as you have dry weather, you can get pretty close.

That is not the case this weekend in Spielberg, however. FP1 saw excellent conditions: warm, dry sunny. Not too hot, and temperatures not far off optimum for the tires. But rain started in the afternoon, and FP2 was wet, with a drying line as the session went on. Data collected in the morning would be useful for a dry race. Data in the afternoon is contingent on the amount of rain that falls in the case of a wet race, which looks a racing certainty.

Ready for anything?

A wet race would render the data collected on Saturday pretty much irrelevant as well. Saturday in Spielberg looks set very fair, bright, sunny and warm. But the forecast for Sunday is the worst of all worlds: thunderstorms, with a chance of heavy rain.

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Styria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Rossi's Retirement, Charisma, Safety, Race Lessons, And Slow Healing

It was an odd day today. The moment we heard that there would be an extra press conference to be held by Valentino Rossi, the work of a journalist goes into overdrive. Preparing a story for if he announced his retirement, worrying whether to write an alternative story, for if he had announced he would be switching to Ducati and racing in his own team, putting out feelers to see what people thought the announcement would be. Weighing rumors that he would be doing one thing or another.

The most remarkable thing about today's announcement was that nobody knew which way it was going to go. Normally, decisions of such import leak out; there were rumors that Jorge Lorenzo was going to retire for weeks before hand, Casey Stoner's retirement had been credibly reported at least three weeks before the announcement, and Dani Pedrosa's retirement had been telegraphed for a long time.

Even Rossi's decision to drop long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess had been leaked to the press a week beforehand. (And in truth, the leak probably forced Rossi's hand, and into making an announcement before the Valencia race, instead of after it. Rossi got his revenge later, however, planting a false story with the same journalist a year or so later.)

Loose lips sink ships

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Styria MotoGP Preview: Danger And Opportunity In The Austrian Alps

If it's scenery you're after, the Red Bull Ring, or Spielberg, or Zeltweg – choose your favorite name for the Austrian circuit – is hard to beat. Mugello maybe? The Italian track sits in a valley, rather than being set up against the lower slopes of a mountain, but Spielberg wins on the mountain backdrop behind it.

Phillip Island, perhaps? The Bass Strait makes for a stunning setting, but is it more dramatic than the Austrian Alps which frame the Red Bull Ring? The weather will change just as quickly as both, storms brewing in the mountains as rapidly as they are blown in off the Southern Ocean at Phillip Island. One minute the sun is shining, the next the heavens have opened.

In Spielberg, that can be a problem. The track is dangerous at the best of times, but a downpour at the track makes braking into Turn 1 a lottery. In previous years, the rubber left by cars at the first corner turned it into an ice rink when it rained. The circuit has addressed that in recent years by scrubbing out the rubber left by the cars in the braking zone. But concerns remain.

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KTM's Sebastian Risse: On 3D Printing, New Chassis, Dealing With Tires, And The Frustration Of Ride Height Devices

KTM has seen not one, but two remarkable turnarounds in recent years. First, there was the huge step in performance between 2019 and 2020, after the Austrian factory introduced a radically different chassis, switching from circular section tubes to oval section for their steel chassis. That saw KTM go from fighting for the spots just outside the top five to winning three races and consistently battling for the podium.

So it came as a surprise at the opening races of the 2021 season that the KTM riders were suddenly struggling again, Miguel Oliveira finishing tenth in the first race at Qatar, teammate Brad Binder ending up eighth at the second race at Losail. KTM found themselves heavily penalized by a change in the front tire allocation, with a switch to more asymmetric tires.

That required a review of their current development direction, and after another revision to the chassis, and a change of fuel supplier, Miguel Oliveira was back on the podium at Mugello. The improvements were confirmed when the Portuguese rider won the next race at Barcelona.

Before the race at Assen, I spoke to Sebastian Risse, as Technical Coordinator, the man in charge of KTM's MotoGP project. In the interview, Risse explained how they had changed the KTM RC16 to achieve these remarkable turnarounds. In our extended conversation, we covered 3D printing, chassis stiffness, building a more versatile MotoGP bike, and dealing with changing tire allocations. Risse also explained his dislike of the current round of holeshot and ride-height devices, and gave his views on aerodynamics. A fascinating insight into the process of developing a MotoGP machine.

Q: Obviously, you made a big step from 2019 to 2020. Can you talk about that change? What do you think was the big change from 2019 to 2020?

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Old Hands Return To MotoGP - Dani Pedrosa To Wildcard In Austria, Cal Crutchlow To Replace Franco Morbidelli

The old guard of MotoGP are making something of a comeback after the summer break. Two familiar names and now test riders are to make a brief return to racing, in Austria and beyond. Only one of those riders - Dani Pedrosa - has been officially confirmed as a wildcard at the first race at the Red Bull Ring - but Cal Crutchlow is widely expected to replace Franco Morbidelli for the next three rounds.

The news that Dani Pedrosa is to make a wildcard appearance at the Red Bull Ring at the Styrian Grand Prix had been widely rumored, but still comes as something of a surprise. There had been much talk early in the year that Pedrosa would race for KTM as a wildcard, but the Spaniard's aversion to media appearances and general lack of interest in racing made that seem unlikely.

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Assen Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Raul Fernandez' Future, Augusto Fernandez' Revival, And Pedro Acosta's Hospital Bed Ride

TT Circuit Assen produced two excellent contests in the Moto2 and 3 classes. Yet the biggest story of the weekend related to the future of one certain star…

Fernandez – will he stay or go?

Never mind Maverick Viñales. Raul Fernandez was the talk of the paddock once again after news from reliable outlets confirmed he will join current team-mate Remy Gardner in Tech 3 KTM next year in MotoGP.

Not just that; Fernandez produced another performance that demonstrated this year’s title fight will be far from a one-horse race. A day on from becoming the first rider to score four pole positions in their rookie Moto2 campaign since a certain Marc Marquez in 2011, the 20-year old produced a fightback that would have gained even the eight-time champion’s approval.

Here he displayed the composure to recover from a second lap mistake at turn seven that saw him drop to ninth. All appeared lost for the Spaniard as the Marc VDS Kalex team-mates of Sam Lowes and Augusto Fernandez, and championship leader Remy Gardner made up an exciting three-way fight for the lead, 1.7s ahead. Then Fernandez went to work. He made short work of four riders ahead to join the leaders on lap 13. And not one of them had an answer for him as he pulled clear in the closing laps to win by just over a second.

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Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Viñales' Bombshell Aprilia Move, A Wide Open Rider Market, And Who Can Stop The Yamahas?

Saturday at Assen only deepened the enigma that is Maverick Viñales. After being fastest in both sessions of practice on Friday, the Monster Energy Yamaha man added FP3 to his belt in the morning, then finished second in FP4. That result was a little deceptive, however: he started FP4 on a used soft tire with 15 laps, nearly two thirds race distance, on it, and put nearly race distance on it, ending with a couple of 1'33.7s. For context, the race lap record at Assen is 1'33.617, set by Marc Márquez on lap 4 of the 2015 race. Viñales' second run was on a new medium tire, assessing tire choice for the race.

Seven days ago, Viñales was just twelfth fastest in FP4, and qualified in 21st. The contrast could not be greater with Assen. Here, he qualified on pole position, smashing the lap record and becoming the second rider to lap the Circuit van Drenthe in under 1'32, after teammate Fabio Quartararo posted a 1'31.922 in his first run during Q2. Both Monster Energy Yamaha riders ended with laps of 1'31.8, Quartararo posting three 1'31s to Viñales' two. But it was Viñales who was the quickest of the pair, taking pole with 1'31.814.

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Sachsenring Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Remy Gardner's Remarkable Turnaround, Aki Ajo On Pedro Acosta, And Ineffectual Penalties

There was plenty of drama in both Moto2 and Moto3 at the German Grand Prix, with the respective leaders in each class cementing their championship leads.

Gardner: better rider, more stable person

The more this year goes on, the more Remy Gardner appears like a champion in waiting. The 23-year old was the class of the Moto2 field once again in Germany, translating his relentless free practice speed to the race, where he rushed past teammate and pole sitter Raul Fernandez and immediately put the Spaniard under pressure.

No one else got a sniff. The pair were 0.8s ahead of third by the close of lap one, 2.9s at the end of lap three, and Gardner’s lead was extended to 4.9s on lap five when Fernandez crashed out – margins that are not normal for a track as short as the Sachsenring, especially in a class as tight as Moto2.

It capped a brilliant three-week period for the 23-year old, in which he became the first Australian in history to win three consecutive races in grand prix’s intermediate category, and confirmed a deal to climb to MotoGP with Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM squad.

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