All sports evolve over time, and motorcycle racing is no different. The nature of racing changes as rider skills evolve, as rider training evolves, and as the bikes they ride develop in new directions. Sometimes those changes help riders better prepare for the next level of racing, but sometimes, those changes can be counterproductive.
At Mugello, I spoke to one of the most successful team managers of recent years, Aki Ajo, about how the Moto3 class is developing and changing, and how the current direction of Moto3 is affecting the development of young riders. He had some fascinating and surprising insights into how the class has changed in recent years, and what effect those changes will have when riders move up from Moto3 to Moto2 and MotoGP.
As Moto3 bikes have improved, they have allowed a more aggressive riding style, Ajo told me. And that, he believes, spells trouble in years ahead. As far as Aki Ajo is concerned, picking the right Moto3 rider to step up to Moto2 has become a lot more difficult.
Part of the problem is that winning a Moto3 race requires less preparation and more naked aggression, Ajo told me. "OK, maybe I am not the right guy to talk about this, because we haven't won a dry Moto3 race in nearly three years – our concept also changed, so we only have junior riders, and we won last year in the wet – but if we are talking about a normal dry race, I think it really changed. It's like a war now," the Finnish veteran said.
"Is that a good thing?" Ajo asked rhetorically. "I don't know. Personally I liked a bit more like it was before, where it is a bit more related to your work, and what you have done during the week, and how your crew is working." Those were the skills that transferred to Moto2 and MotoGP, according to Ajo. "Because in Moto2, you need to work really seriously for the race all the time, and find the race pace. Now, when Moto3 is like this, it's difficult to make riders focus for the pace and consistency. Because it's not the only key anymore. It's one key, but it's not the only key."
Is it easier to win a race now that Moto3 is a lot closer than it was in the past? "In some ways, yes," Ajo replied pensively. "It has become easier. Of course it's never easy: you need something, you need to be very brave, and you need to be maybe even a little bit too aggressive, let's say. And you need some strategy as well, and you need some luck too. Maybe more luck than in the bigger categories. How it was before in Moto3 and 125, I liked that a little bit more, because it was maybe more connected to the skill and experience."
Fewer makes, tighter racing
What changed? "Difficult to say. I think one reason for sure is the competition between the manufacturers. Before there were more manufacturers, and there were a few steps between them. Now there are basically only two, and they are really, really close to each other. Both are really competitive. This is one reason. And also it seems like maybe the bikes are developing this way, that you can ride them really aggressively. If you compare the times with the 125s, maybe the tires, the bikes themselves, everything is improving, and you can ride in a really aggressive way, and this aggressive way works in the last laps, of course."
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