Pol Espargaro

Mandalika MotoGP Friday Round Up: How Low Grip Helps Yamaha, And Ducati Dropping Their Front Ride-Height Device

We say it pretty much every Friday of a MotoGP weekend: it's hard to draw conclusions from the first day of practice. The first day of practice is usually spent trying out different setups and then assessing which tires are the best compromise between performance and durability for the race, so just glancing at the timesheets doesn't tell you as much as you would like.

The first day of practice at Mandalika is even more complicated to unravel. First, there is the fact that it rained heavily on Friday morning, leaving the track damp at the start before drying out. Then there's the fact that nearly half the track has been resurfaced, the work finished not long before MotoGP arrived. Finally, Michelin changed the construction of the rear tire from the one used at the test, in response to the heat at the track, the new surface, and the data from the test.

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Qatar MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: A Much Faster Race Brings Emotion And Surprise, But Does It Mean Anything?

It was good to get racing underway again in 2022, given everything that has happened over the past couple of years, and what is going on right now in a corner of Europe. If racing is escapism, we had some of best stories of recent years, with plenty to talk about. So here are some initial thoughts after the opening round of the season, before taking a deeper dive later this week.

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Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Clean Track, Suzuki's Speed, Tyre Coolers, Yamaha Pace, Ducati's Engines

Testing is all well and good, but at last, we have real, actual data from a race track on a bona fide race weekend. All 24 bikes on the track at the same time, trying to figure out as much as possible in two short 45 minute sessions. No running separately, or trying to figure out how the conditions for the 8-lap run done at 11am compare to the 12-lap run at 2pm, or the 7-lap run at 5pm.

The first day at Qatar may have been genuine competition, but the picture was also confused by the schedule. With FP1 at 1:40pm, in the heat of the day, and FP2 shortly after sunset, at 6pm, conditions were completely different, the air temperature 7°C lower, and the track a whole 16°C cooler.

"Well, for sure now it is hard to see who has the better pace than the other because we don’t have the normal day schedule," Miguel Oliveira reflected after the first day."The hour is not that different but for the temperature and the wind it changes quite a lot."

Sweeper

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Mandalika MotoGP Testing Round - How Honda's Radical Redesign Reshapes 2022

What did we learn from the Mandalika test? First of all, we learned that building a circuit is hard, and every aspect of it needs to be carefully monitored. Because using the wrong stones in the aggregate for the asphalt can mean you have to resurface the track just a few weeks before the race is due to be held.

Despite the state of the asphalt, once the track cleaned up – something the riders had to be bullied into to doing, even though it was for their own good – the riders put in a lot of laps, the reward for effort going to Takaaki Nakagami, who racked up a grand total of 91 laps on the final day, or over 390km. Spend 390km on a motorcycle at road legal(ish) speeds, and you'll know about it. Spend the same distance on a MotoGP bike, pushing at the effort and intensity levels required for testing to be useful, and you enter a very different level of pain and discomfort. As made plain by LCR Honda team boss Lucio Cecchinello's photo of Nakagami's blistered hands on Instagram.

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Mandalika MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: Real Work Starts And The Cream Rises To The Top

You could tell testing was underway in earnest at Mandalika on Saturday by the fact that for most of the day, Brad Binder's name was stuck at the top of the timesheets. The time Binder set was already well under Pol Espargaro's best time from Friday, hitting a 1'31.814 on his third exit from the pits. But nobody followed suit until the final hour or so of the test, with Luca Marini eventually ending up fastest with a lap of 1'31.289. The teams and riders were too busy with the hard graft of testing, optimizing parts and refining setup, figuring out the best base with which to launch their assault on the 2022 MotoGP championship at Qatar in three weeks' time.

A day of riding had made a huge difference to the track surface, with a clean line with high grip appearing. Off line, the track was still filthy, and quite dangerous – Raul Fernandez took a very big tumble and was wandering round on Saturday afternoon with bruises on his face from the impact, and one of Marc Marquez' practice starts ended in a massive fishtail with a lot of sideways motion and not much forward momentum.

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Mandalika MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Sweeping The Circuit To Start

It was a good day for attention-grabbing headlines at Mandalika. Pol Espargaro ended the day with a scorching lap which took him under the WorldSBK Superpole by four tenths of a second. There were six different manufacturers in the top six. The lead on the first day changed hands time after time in the last couple of hours.

But the headlines don't really mean very much. Times were dropping because the track started off filthy and only really started to clean up in the last hour or so of the day. This is the first outing at Mandalika for MotoGP, so the teams and factories have very little data to go on, with teams working on such basics as figuring out the best gearing for the track.

The track was incredibly dirty, because it is still in the middle of a building site and has not been used since WorldSBK left the circuit back in November of last year. There has been plenty of building work done, the pit complex is much closer to completion than November, but the combination of building work and torrential tropical rains left a lot of dirt and mud on the track.

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Room For Optimism: What We Learned From The Honda MotoGP Presentation

Team presentations tend to be rather turgid affairs. Hours of talk for a few brief moments of enlightenment. Which is why we sit through all those hours of talk, of course, because if you listen carefully and read between the lines, you might learn a thing or two.

Past experience left the MotoGP media looking at the Honda motorsport Q&A with some trepidation. Would it be worth sitting through the long presentations to dig out nuggets of interest?

That calculation changed on Thursday night, when HRC announced that Marc Marquez had been riding a motorcycle again, and would be present at the launch on Friday. Both developments which meant the media would get a chance to talk to Marquez about his eye injury, about the accident which caused it, and and how soon we might expect to see him on track again.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Can Honda be Ducati’s biggest threat in 2022?

Honda’s 2022 RC213V is the factory’s biggest MotoGP redesign in 16 years – so what’s the focus of the new bike and what does HRC technical director Takeo Yokoyama think it can achieve?

If Ducati’s Desmosedici is favourite to win the 2022 MotoGP title, who or what might stop it?

The last two MotoGP championships have been won by inline-fours – Suzuki’s GSX-RR in 2020 and Yamaha’s YZR-M1 last year. Why? Because both factories built good bikes, but also because Honda’s six-time MotoGP king Marc Márquez was out of the game and because Michelin’s new-for-2020 rear slick suited inline-fours better than V4s.

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The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season Primer: Who Is Likely To Move Where Next Year?

It is the second week of January, and there as yet no substantial rumors of MotoGP rider contracts being signed. Compared to recent years, that is a bit of a late start to Silly Season, given that all but a handful of riders have their contracts up for renewal at the end of 2022.

In past years, January has been a hive of activity. In 2020, there were rumors over the new year period that Maverick Viñales was being courted by Ducati, with Yamaha forced to make an early announcement to keep the Spaniard in the Monster Energy factory team (and we all know how that turned out). A couple of weeks later, rumors followed that Ducati had signed Jorge Martin, and at the end of January, we learned that Fabio Quartararo had been signed to the factory Yamaha squad, displacing Valentino Rossi.

Two years earlier had seen a similar story, with Yamaha signing both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi up in January, in time for the team launch. And to think, Valentino Rossi bemoaned Casey Stoner's move to Repsol Honda for the 2011 season as a decision taken early, when the deal was sealed after the Jerez round of MotoGP in early May, 2010.

By those standards, the current lack of movement on the contract front almost qualifies as tardiness. Riders are not jumping on contracts early, and factories are not pushing hard to sign riders before they get poached by someone else.

A different environment

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Paul Trevathan Interview: Red Bull KTM Crew Chief On Riding Position, Changing Riders, The Influence Of Ride-Height Devices, And Developing A MotoGP Bike

There are a lot of elements to racing a motorcycle, and as the racing in MotoGP gets closer, every detail counts. When you are chasing thousandths of a second instead of tenths, then even the smallest details matter.

Paul Trevathan, experienced MotoGP crew chief with the Red Bull KTM Factory Team, understands this all too well. After switching from motocross, Trevathan took some of the skills he learned in the dirt to help MotoGP riders go faster. With success: he helped Pol Espargaro develop the KTM RC16 to the point where Espargaro racked up six podiums, including five in 2020. With Miguel Oliveira taking Espargaro's place in 2021, Trevathan and Oliveira teamed up for a victory and two more podiums.

At Valencia, I sat down with Trevathan to dig into the nitty gritty of bike set up, in terms of position on the bike, and how that has changed over the years. We talked how handlebar positions have shifted, how riding styles affect peg, lever, and seat positions, and the process of adapting a rider to a bike. Trevathan talks about how he has adapted to work with Miguel Oliveira, a very different personality to his previous rider, Pol Espargaro. And he discusses how aerodynamics and ride-height devices have changed MotoGP, and the effect they have for a crew chief, and on rider safety.

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