Danilo Petrucci

Motegi MotoGP Preview: Can Ducati Upset The Marquez Machine?

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid. If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8 Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda's 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year's race is even more important. Before the previous Grand Prix in Thailand, HRC President Yoshishige Nomura told Marc Márquez to wrap up the rider's title in Buriram, so he could arrive in Motegi as champion, a goal Márquez dutifully fulfilled. The target at Motegi will be to clinch the manufacturers crown, which he can do by simply finishing ahead of the first Ducati.

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Buriram MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Pride Pushes Riders To Take Risks, Why Priorities Matter, And A Classic Race In The Making

Looked at objectively, motorcycle racing is a pointless exercise. Sure, it has some benefits. The engineering involved helps make motorcycles better, safer, and more efficient. The determination of riders to return to action as quickly as possible makes them willing guinea pigs for medical science to try out new ideas for faster and better recovery from injury. But in the grand scheme of things, being able to ride a motorcycle around a track faster than anyone else is fairly meaningless.

Unsurprisingly, that is not how the actual competitors see it. For motorcycle racers, being able to go around a track faster than anyone else is the most important thing in the world. To paraphrase former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, it is not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that. That is precisely how riders end up as willing guinea pigs for medical science. As Marc Márquez explained to Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles in the sports daily AS, "to understand the limits of the bike, you have to accept that if it takes 25 crashes to understand, then you have to be willing to crash 25 times in a season."

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Who Can Beat Marc Marquez At A Counterclockwise Track?

In the space of a week, we travel from a race track set in the heart of a bustling tourist spot to one sitting in the middle of nowhere. We go from having affordable accommodation withing 15 minutes of the track, to having to drive for 50 minutes or more to find somewhere which costs less for 5 nights than the budget of a mid-pack Moto2 team.

It's worth it though. The Motorland Aragon circuit is set in some spectacular scenery, sat on the side of a hill looking over the arid plains of Aragon's southern interior. To the south and east, the low mountains of the Maestrazgo, a wild and empty place of visceral beauty. There is no better place to combine a hiking or mountain biking holiday with a race weekend. And the roads are pretty good too.

The fact that the circuit is used a lot for testing tells you a lot about the layout of the track. It has a little bit of everything, from the long, fast back straight, to tight changes of direction like the 'Sacacorchos' or Corkscrew at Turns 8 and 9, to long and fast corners like Turns 10 and 11, and Turns 16 and 17. There are places where you brake hard: Turn 1, Turn 12, and Turn 16, the corner at the bottom hill having the added complication of being downhill before turning for a long off-camber corner which then heads back up the hill.

Passing lane

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Why Are The Yamahas So Fast On A Track With No Grip?

On a normal race weekend, you might see one or two minor updates in all of the garages collectively. Factories don't like to debut too many new parts at the same time, as there is not enough time to evaluate them effectively. And normally, you would test one part at a time and evaluate them separately, to try to understand what difference each specific part makes.

However, there was an official test here at Misano two weeks ago, and so teams had a chance to do the preliminary sifting ahead of the race. And that is why Valentino Rossi started FP1 with a new carbon-fiber swingarm on both of his Yamaha M1s, tested a new aerodynamic front wheel cover, and both he and Maverick Viñales had one bike each with the new double-barreled exhaust debuted at the test.

"It's positive, because it looks like that Yamaha is working stronger now and also working in the right direction," Rossi told us on Friday afternoon. "For me, from the end of 2016 to the Brno test, in reality everything we test is not clearly better than the old stuff. So technically speaking it was a very difficult period and in fact the gap to the other manufacturers increased. But now, from the beginning of the season something changed and have a lot of different people from Japanese especially but also Europe and it looks like now we start to see the effect."

Quiet revolution

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MotoGP Misano Thursday Round Up: Track Preconceptions, Disagreement In Aprilia, Coming Back From Injury, And Lorenzo Parries Criticism

Thursday was the first chance most of the media got to talk to the MotoGP riders after the test at Misano two weeks ago, and find out what they really thought about the test, rather than trying to decode the meaning of the press releases issued. That clarified a lot about the test, answering some of the questions we had been left with, and intriguingly, raising yet more questions which had slipped under the radar.

As always, however, when you ask different riders about a subject, they will have different opinions. Even if they are teammates, like Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli. Asked about the state of the track, Quartararo expressed concern about the lack of grip, especially in certain places.

"For me, [track grip] was terrible, but some corners were good, some corners were less, and one corner was totally a disaster, corner 14," the Petronas Yamaha rider said. "I think many riders crashed in this corner. I heard that when Marc crashed, he thought it was the white line which they just painted, but as soon as you want to put lean angle in this corner, you crash. And I have a lot of big moments in this corner. Let's see if it improves this weekend, because in the test it was a really critical place to ride."

Better the devil you know

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Misano MotoGP Test Friday Notes: Much Work For Yamaha, Honda, KTM, and Michelin

The Misano MotoGP test may well turn out to be more important than it might seem at first glance. Perhaps precisely because it was a private test, and the teams could work in some privacy away from the prying eyes of most media. The pit lane was closed, and there were virtually no media present, with the honorable exception of Italian stalwarts GPOne.com.

It meant that factories could test early versions of their 2020 bikes with relatively little interference from outside, other than the usual crowd of engineers from rival factories gathered round as they warm up their bikes. And that is precisely what Yamaha, Honda, and KTM in particular spent their time doing, while Ducati and Suzuki debuted a few parts which may or may not see use next season.

New rubber

It wasn't only the motorcycle manufactures. Michelin also brought two updates, a rear tire with a different casing to help improve performance, which was also tested at Barcelona and Brno, and a new front tire with a stronger casing, to help give support in braking. Both tires received positive feedback, the riders praising the front in particular.

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Misano MotoGP Test Thursday Notes: Yamaha Lead On Busy Day Of Testing

The advantage of a private test is that work can take place away from the prying eyes of the media. Some of the MotoGP manufacturers, most notably Yamaha and Honda, have taken advantage of the fact that the two-day test at Misano is private, and have debuted various new parts for both this year and next. With the pit lane closed to the media, the factories can work more freely.

The work going on means you can set little stock by the order on the timesheets. The two satellite Petronas Yamaha riders were fastest, but as they have mainly been working on race setup, this should hardly come as a surprise. Nor should the fact that Marc Márquez was third fastest, the Repsol Honda rider always fast under all conditions. But riders such as Alex Rins were not focused on a single fast lap, and so comparisons are difficult.

Yamaha had the most intriguing test program. Factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales had a lot of parts to test. Both riders tried a second version of the 2020 engine they debuted at Brno, and though it was a slight improvement, much more was needed. "The step is not as big as we need, but in the right direction," was Rossi's verdict, while Viñales was a little more pessimistic, saying it was not the step they had been hoping for.

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Silverstone MotoGP Preview: A New Surface, And More Mindgames From Dovizioso on Marquez

This time last year, the entire paddock was stood in the rain, looking at the skies, and wondering how we were ever going to have a MotoGP race at Silverstone again. After a brief shower of torrential rain on Saturday put more water on the track than the new surface could drain away, making the track unrideable and creating conditions which saw a series of riders crash at the end of Hangar Straight, Tito Rabat coming off worst as Franco Morbidelli's wayward Honda smashed into his leg and destroyed his femur.

With the forecast for rain later on Sunday, the race was rescheduled for an early start, the lights due to go out at 11:30am local time. But the rain came earlier than forecast, and was heavier, and the track never dried out. There was standing water at several sections around the track. We waited, and we waited, and we waited. And we looked at one another and asked, have you heard anything? And every time we heard about a possible start time, or a time to evaluate track conditions, that was contradicted or retracted ten minutes later.

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