As the start of the MotoGP season grows closer, the news cycle is starting to ramp up. Websites are starting to be able to report on things that are actually happening, rather than desperately thrashing around looking for filler content. So here's a round up of the latest developments in MotoGP.
The first Covid casualty of 2022
Jack Miller took to social media last night to announce that he had unfortunately tested positive for the coronavirus. "As you can tell, I'm still here in Australia due to testing positive for covid. I'm currently unable to travel, and will miss the team presentation." He was not suffering any symptoms, he emphasized. "I just want to let you all know I'm doing fine, no symptoms, continuing training on the farm."
Miller was due to travel back to Europe to take part in Ducati's team launch, to be streamed online on January 28th, before heading to Sepang for the first test of the year on February 5th and 6th. But with Miller absent from Europe, Ducati have instead decided to reschedule their team launch to February 7th, the Monday after the MotoGP test has finished.
Miller's positive test is unlikely to prevent him from traveling to Malaysia. With two weeks to present a negative test, his odds of being at the Sepang test are excellent. But it is a salutary lesson in the challenges the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks face in 2022.
Although the omicron variant which has become predominant appears to have less severe outcomes, it is far more infectious, even among the vaccinated, which covers almost every single member of the MotoGP paddock. The chances of others testing positive for the coronavirus remain high, and that will restrict travel.
The Ducati launch may have been postponed, next week will still herald the start of team launch season. On Monday, January 24th, the RNF Yamaha team of Andrea Dovizioso and Darryn Binder will be presented from Verona, home of the team's sponsor. That presentation will be streamed via the team's YouTube channel starting at 4pm CET.
Three days later, on Thursday, January 27th, it is the turn of KTM. Both the Red Bull Factory team of Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira and the KTM Tech3 squad of Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner will be showing off their new machines. This will also be streamed on YouTube, starting at 10am CET.
The following week, on Wednesday February 2nd, the Pramac Ducati team of Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin will present their 2022 bikes. More details when they become available.
On Friday 4th February, the day before the first MotoGP test starts at Sepang, the Monster Energy Yamaha team of Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli will hold their team launch at the Sepang International Circuit. That will likewise be streamed live, and will start at 8:30am CET.
Later that day, the Suzuki Ecstar presentation is to be held at the same venue, with Joan Mir and Alex Rins showing off the bike they will be racing.
On Monday, February 7th, the day after the test, the factory Ducati Lenovo team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia will present the 2022 livery, with that launch scheduled for 4pm CET, and also streamed on Ducati's website and social media channels.
A day later, on Tuesday, February 8th, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro will launch the Repsol Honda team, again online, although there are no details fixed yet. And on Wednesday 9th, the LCR Honda team of Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez follows suit. Nakagami's launch will be at 10:30am CET, Alex Marquez at noon.
After the Grand Prix of the Americas at Austin, Texas last year, the riders were unanimous. Unless the track was fixed, especially the sections from Turn 2 through Turn 10, MotoGP could not return. The bumps were too bad. The good news came last November, in the form of a promise to fix at least the sections in that first half of the track.
That work has now begun, and it is being carried out on a much larger scale than at first anticipated. Turns 2 through 10 – the long series of turns starting from the bottom of the hill after Turn 1 to the hairpin at the start of the back straight - are being resurfaced, along with Turns 12 through 16 – the stadium section after the back straight.
In addition, work is being undertaken to tackle the substrate, which is prone to subsidence. A reinforced concrete slab has been laid underneath the section from Turns 2 to 10, in the hope of staving off a return of the bumps for as long as possible.
The work should make a huge improvement to the track, as well as make it much safer. It should also ensure that the US round of MotoGP remains at the Circuit of the Americas for the foreseeable future.
There was more good news on the track front, with the Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps announcing they are in the middle of a massive upgrade to the track. Work is being undertaken to modify the circuit at several points to add run off and swap hard standing for gravel in a bid to make the track safe for motorcycles.
The work is primarily aimed at preparing the return of the Endurance World Championship for the 24 Hours of Spa, scheduled for June 4th and 5th of this year. But the hope is that with a few additional changes, the legendary grand prix circuit can be made safe enough to see a return of MotoGP to the track.
The last time Spa hosted a motorcycling grand prix was in 1990, when Wayne Rainey beat Jean-Philippe Ruggia. Spa still holds the record for the highest average speed in grand prix racing, with Barry Sheene's lap of 220.720 km/h set in 1977. The track has since seen significant changes, making an improvement on that record unlikely.
The track layout is not the only change being made. Major upgrades are also being made to Spa-Francorchamps' aging infrastructure, improving facilities for all the classes that race there, including F1.
Back at the grindstone
After jumping on a Honda RC213V-S at Portimão for the first time since crash while riding an enduro bike, Marc Marquez was back on track again this week. This time, he was at the Motorland Aragon circuit.
Marquez was not a 1000cc road bike this time, however. Instead, he was on a Honda CBR600RR. That may seem a curious choice, but there are advantages to choosing a smaller bike. The FIM Grand Prix Regulations limit riders to practicing on road bikes with minimal modifications, if those bikes are the same capacity as the bikes they race with. In the case of MotoGP riders, that is 1000cc bikes, for Moto2 riders, 765cc machines (which basically means Triumph triples), and for Moto3 riders, 250cc bikes.
However, there are no rules for practice on bikes which are not the same capacity as the bikes they race. By choosing to ride a Honda CBR600RR, Marquez is allowed to make much bigger changes to the bike. Those changes are visible, even from the single photo posted on social media by Marquez. There is a full-size race radiator and cooler installed, much larger than the items on the stock bike. The bike uses Brembo calipers instead of the stock Tokicos, what look like non-standard front forks, and totally different clip ons.
The advantage of practicing on what looks to be either a superstock or supersport spec Honda CBR600RR is that the feel of the bike is much closer to proper race bike than a lightly modified road bike. That appears to be what Marquez is chasing. It is also a sign of just how determined he is going into the 2022 season.
As his career progressed, Valentino Rossi's media engagements became fewer and fewer. Getting a one-on-one interview with Rossi as a print or website journalist was nigh on impossible. Even his TV interviews were growing shorter and less frequent.
So it is something of a surprise and a pleasure to see that, now that he has retired, the MotoGP legend has given a huge interview to a veteran American sports journalist, Graham Bensinger. Bensinger spent a day with Rossi, touring the VR46 headquarters, and the VR46 flat track ranch.
The interview covers a huge amount of ground, and is available to paying subscribers of Bensinger's channel. A large number of segments, totaling over 50 minutes, have been posted to YouTube and are freely available without paying.
In those segments, Rossi talks about the VR46 ranch, his relationship with his partner Francesco Sofia Novello and the prospect of becoming a father, his retirement, and how Covid-19 affected that. He discusses his rivalry with Jorge Lorenzo, his motivation for racing and the thrill it gives him, and the loss of his friend Marco Simoncelli. He also talks about his tax situation, and the shock at learning he owed the Italian tax authorities €112 million, and how he ended up ensuring he could return to live in Italy.
The segments, mostly between 2 and 8 minutes long, make for easily digestible chunks of motorcycling history, and Rossi speaks freely and frankly about his past and his career. Well worth watching. The entire series is available as a YouTube playlist, and the first of the videos appears below.
Not strictly MotoGP news, but MotoMatters.com news. Listeners to the Paddock Pass Podcast probably know that I have spent the last 9 months or so looking at a new motorcycle, to replace my aging 2009 BMW R1200GS. I finally bit the bullet on a new bike in November of last year, and picked it up in December. You can read about the entire adventure over on my personal website.
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