Rob Gray

History Deep Dive: Why Suzuki's Withdrawal From MotoGP Won't Be Like Kawasaki In 2009

Two years after starting the blog which would eventual morph into MotoMatters.com, I felt it was time to quit my job and do this full time. It seemed like the perfect moment to pursue my dream of writing about MotoGP for a living, so I handed in my notice to my erstwhile employer and prepared to strike out on my own. That was late August, 2008.

Two weeks later, on September 15th, Lehman Brothers collapsed, kicking off the Global Financial Crisis which would plunge the world into recession. My timing turned out to be absolutely terrible.

Why am I looking back to 2008? Because the financial crisis sparked by the collapse of the US housing market and the worldwide banking system would have a profound effect on motorcycle racing, and would go on to shape MotoGP as it is today. It would create the conditions where there were six manufacturers racing in MotoGP. It would also reshape the politics of MotoGP to put Dorna in a much stronger position to cope with Suzuki's decision to withdraw from the series.

What will Dorna do and how will they handle Suzuki's withdrawal? To understand their current position, you need to go back to 2008, and the aftermath of that terrible September.

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Pit Beirer And The KTM MotoGP Launch: It's The Human Factor That Makes The Difference

Not all team launches are the same. They vary in style, substance, length, medium. There are live presentations, long prerecorded presentations, and short videos. Their length or content inevitably have no correlation to their information density. When you start, you never know what you are going to get.

The KTM MotoGP launch kicked off with a 4:35 video presentation which was all style and no substance, four minutes of spectacular images, dramatic electronic music, and empty cliches about racing. After the launch, however, things got good. Really good. Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira gave a glimpse of where they felt the KTM RC16 was lacking in 2021, and what needed to improve. Interesting, but not earth-shattering.

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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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Moto3 Aerodynamics: How The Law Of Unexpected Consequences Produced Closed Rear Wheels

There was some consternation in Austria in August when KTM rolled out a wheel cover for the rear wheel of the KTM RC4 on the Red Bull KTM Ajo bikes of Pedro Acosta and Jaume Masia. Despite the strict technical rules in Moto3, the specter of aerodynamics has reared its ugly head.

Naturally, this advance could not go unanswered by KTM's only technical rival in Moto3. At Aragon, the Hondas of the Leopard squad – the most technically advanced of the Honda Moto3 teams – also sprouted a closed wheel cover, almost identical in design to that of the KTM.

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Aki Ajo Interview: On 2021 success, maintaining inter-team harmony, educating riders and fixing Moto3

Even for a team manager of Aki Ajo’s standing, 2021 has been quite the year. The Finn has resided over one of the most successful seasons ever for his squad as his riders Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez contest the Moto2 World Championship, while Pedro Acosta comfortably leads the Moto3 standings.

The success of Ajo’s team came into focus at the recent Austrian Grand Prix, where Fernandez scored the 100th victory for Ajo Motorsport, quite an achievement for a squad that made its debut with Mika Kallio all the way back in 2001. Incredibly, his riders have won 14 of the 24 races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes this year.

But more than results, the Finn and his slick Red Bull KTM Ajo structure play a key role in developing and educating young talent for the Austrian factory. Take a look at the current MotoGP grid and Marc Márquez, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira, Brad Binder, Jorge Martin and, to a lesser extent, Iker Lecuona have all passed through his garage – that’s 31% of the current MotoGP grid.

In his own words, Ajo sees his job as “50% is to achieve results and 50% to educate and develop riders for the future, for MotoGP.” That is just one of many topics covered in this interview, held in June before the summer break. Across 20 minutes Ajo also shared his thoughts on maintaining team harmony when both his riders are fighting for a title, working with the bright talents of Fernandez and Acosta and how to fix the current problem that is Moto3.

Q: What has been the secret to your team’s success in 2021?

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Tales From The Petronas Launch: Rossi, Morbidelli, 2019 vs 2020, And Petronas' Future As A Satellite Team

There has been a reversal of roles in the Yamaha camp. The youthful Fabio Quartararo has swapped the confines of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team for the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. In turn, the 42-year-old hoary veteran Valentino Rossi has been demoted from the factory squad into what is supposed to be the junior team, where young talent is nurtured and prepared to move up to the factory team.

Given the relative performance of the two Yamaha teams in 2020, it seems wrong to class Rossi's move as a demotion, or Quartararo's as a promotion. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the 2020 team championship, while the Monster Energy Yamaha team finished sixth. Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was the best-placed Yamaha rider, ending the season in second, while factory rider Maverick Viñales finished just 5 points ahead of second Petronas man Quartararo.

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Joan Mir Interview: "I'm The Man To Beat, But I'm Not The Favorite"

For the first time since 2014, a rider prepares to defend the MotoGP title for the first time in their career. But the circumstances in which Joan Mir is preparing for the 2021 season are very different to who Marc Márquez prepared after he won his first MotoGP title back in 2013. The Covid-19 pandemic means no mass celebrations, no jetting around the world to have his photo taken with sponsors, to fulfill the requirements in his contract. No going directly from the previous season into testing, with barely a break in between.

Joan Mir has had plenty of time at home, with media engagements few and far between, a necessary consequence of the pandemic. He has been in his home in Andorra, training, working to get ready for the coming season. Earlier this week, he spoke to a group of journalists about the year ahead. And here, too, he reaped the benefits of the pandemic: he participated in a large-scale media event from comfort of his home. No time wasted traveling, just change into a team shirt, sit down behind a laptop, and fire up the webcam.

He was as professional in the zoom debrief as he has been in every aspect of his career. And the zoom debrief was as well-organized and smoothly-run as we have come to expect from the Suzuki Ecstar team. It's hardly a surprise that Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP title.

Mir started off telling us about how he had been spending the winter.

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2021 MotoGP Calendar Update: Why Brno Won't Host MotoGP, And Where The Season Starts

The 2021 MotoGP season continues to be a fluid affair. With the Argentina and Austin rounds already canceled (technically postponed, but with no real chance of them actually taking place), it is now clear that Brno will not host a MotoGP round in 2021. And there are more signs of a shake up coming.

The biggest, and saddest news is that the Automotodrom Brno circuit today announced that they would not be hosting any world championship motorcycle racing for the foreseeable future. The cancellation had been expected, but still comes as a blow to MotoGP.

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Why The Repsol Honda Partnership Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon

Marc Marquez on the Honda RC213V at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test - photo Polarity Photo

For the past couple of months, rumors have been doing the rounds that Spanish oil giant Repsol was about to withdraw its sponsorship of the factory Honda squad, and Red Bull would step in to take over as title sponsor.

There were plenty of reasons to give credence to the rumors. The global Covid-19 pandemic has caused the oil price to plummet: the price of a barrel of Brent Crude went from nearly $70 a barrel in February to under $20 a barrel in April, though it has since recovered to just over $40 a barrel. That is still roughly 33% lower than it has been for the past couple of years.

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Brno MotoGP Things I Missed: KTM's Long Road To Success, Rins' Grits His Teeth, And Viñales Comes Up Short

Every MotoGP round has a lot going on, too much to capture on a Sunday night. But the Brno round of MotoGP was even worse than usual, with ten times the usual surprises, and a month's worth of stories and intrigue. On Sunday, I covered Brad Binder's win, KTM's journey, the state of the championship, Yamaha's engine situation, and Ducati's problems since the start of the season. Below is a round up of things I didn't get around to writing about.

It goes without saying that Brad Binder's victory was the biggest story to come out of the MotoGP race at Brno. A rookie winning in MotoGP in just his third race, and claiming the first victory in MotoGP for KTM – coincidentally, the first win for a manufacturer not from either Japan or Italy since Kim Newcombe won the Yugoslavia GP in 1973 on a König, something you can find out much more about in this highly recommended documentary series – is unquestionably a massive event.

The KTM factory team celebrate Brad Binder's first win for the manufacturer in the premier class

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