Pol Espargaro

Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Riders Share Ideas For Making Racing Safer

It was inevitable that there would be a lot of talk at Austin of the events of a few days earlier, at Jerez. The death of Dean Berta Viñales in the first (and only) WorldSSP300 race at the Spanish track had once again raised the question of safety in motorcycle racing. Especially the safety in the support classes, where the technical rules had been set up to achieve as much parity as possible, creating very large groups on the race track. And especially in classes populated by sometimes very young riders.

How ironic, then, that some of such talk took place in the pre-event press conference in Austin, where a group of riders in the FIM MiniGP North America series were present. Kensei Matsudaira, age 10, Jesse Shedden, age 12, Jayden Fernandez, age 13, Kayla Yaakov, age 14, and Travis Horn, age 13, all got to sit and listen as the MotoGP riders were asked questions about how to prevent young kids from being killed in motorcycle races.

The FIM MiniGP series is one of the steps Dorna is putting in place in its Road to MotoGP initiative, aimed at stimulating racing talent at a regional and national level, before moving up on the path to World Championship level racing.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pole That Wasn't, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Aprilia's Auto-Adjuster

In the dying minutes of the Q2 session for MotoGP, it looked like we were witnessing a miracle. Jorge Martin flashed through the second sector nearly a second and a half up on the best time at that point. If he kept up that pace, he would be on his way to destroying the Silverstone pole record held by Marc Marquez, set on the newly resurfaced track back in 2019. Martin looked to be on his way to being the first rider to break the 1'58 barrier and lap the track in the 1'57s.

He lost a little ground in the third and fourth sectors, but as he flashed across the line, he left the MotoGP world speechless: a time of 1'58.008, 0.160 faster than Marquez' record from 2019. More impressively, it was nearly nine tenths faster than the 1'58.889 which had put Pol Espargaro on provisional pole, before the Pramac Ducati rider had so thoroughly demolished his time.

Could it be true? We waited for Race Direction to cancel Martin's time, but it stood for a very long time, until well after the checkered flag had been waved. The lap was too fast, but with little time to check, we had to believe that Jorge Martin once again pulled something exceptional out of the bag.

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Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Crashes, Risk vs Reward, Ducati's Big Step, And Why Silverstone Is Such A Tough Track

It's only Friday, so the times don't mean all that much. You don't win MotoGP races on Friday. But you can certainly lose them, and even lose championships if you're not careful. Especially on a Friday.

That was the lesson of Silverstone, as both Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo found to their cost. Marc Marquez had a fairly simple lowside, but managed to do so at 274 km/h at one of the fastest parts of the circuit. Quartararo's crash was much, much slower – 75 km/h, rather than 274 – but could have been much more serious. The Frenchman lost the rear, then the bike tried to flick him up and over the highside, twisting his ankle in the process.

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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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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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Assen MotoGP Thursday Round Up: A Special Track, A New Surface, A Young American, And Dubious Decisions

"This track is special." Alex Rins summed up what most of the MotoGP riders, and indeed, almost anyone who has raced a motorcycle, think of the Circuit van Drenthe, the official name of the TT Circuit, or as most fans around the world know it, Assen. "One of my favorite tracks," is how championship leader Fabio Quartararo described it.

Pecco Bagnaia loves it so much he has a tattoo of the circuit on his arm. "I really like the layout of this track," the Ducati Lenovo Team rider told us. He had good reason to like the layout, as Assen has been a happy hunting ground for him. "My first victory, the best weekend of my career in Moto2 here, when I was first in all the sessions and in the race," Bagnaia told. Reason enough to create an indelible reminder of the occasion on his own body.

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Sachsenring Sunday MotoGP Subscriber Notes: In The Court Of The SachsenKing

It is easy to make predictions. It is much harder to make predictions which will actually turn out to accurately forecast what will happen in the future. Which is why most of the many industries which make their living from what might broadly be labeled "predictions" – futurologists, financial analysts, political and sporting pundits – consist mainly of drawing a line through what happened in the past and extrapolating it on into the future.

Of course, the future doesn't work that way. The world is a far more complex and nuanced place, with a thousand minor details conspiring to change the course of history in unheard of ways. Which is why the only people who make really money off of predictions are those making the odds, such as the bookmakers, or playing with other people's money, such as merchant bankers and investment advisors.

My own role here is as a MotoGP pundit, and in that capacity, I too made my own prediction: that Marc Márquez would make it 11 victories in a row at the Sachsenring this Sunday. That prediction was based on two things: extrapolating the last 10 races in which Marc Márquez had competed into 2021; and Márquez' actions at the Barcelona tests, where he racked up more laps than any other rider.

Doubt creeps in

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Pol Espargaro Interview: “With hard work, blood and sweat, I can develop the Honda”

Whatever your impressions of Pol Espargaro, you can’t doubt his courage. It’s now over a year since the rider from Granollers, Catalonia chose to sign for Repsol Honda, leaving KTM’s factory team, which he helped build from the ground up. The seat has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent times. There, Dani Pedrosa’s racing career sizzled out in disappointment. Jorge Lorenzo’s sole year in orange turned into a personal ordeal. And Alex Márquez was informed he would be leaving the squad at the end of his first season before he had even raced. It turns out being team-mate to this generation’s greatest talent is no walk in the park.

Yet Espargaro jumped at the chance to measure himself against Marc Márquez He had long harboured that goal, telling me in 2019 without hesitation he’d choose racing his old Moto2 nemesis on the same bike over any other rider in history. While he was more than a match for his countryman in the junior categories – Pol narrowly lost out to Marc in fiery championship battles in 125s in 2010 and Moto2 in 2012 – their fortunes in the premier class diverged. As Márquez racked up records and titles at a dizzying race, Espargaro forged his reputation aiding KTM’s rise from class rookies to multiple race winners.

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