Everquip Racing Ready to Fight for Supersport Championship

Image credit: Bonnie Lane

Hornsea-based Everquip Racing will expand their operations in the British Supersport championship next year, starring a two-man line-up for their second full season. South African Bjorn Estment was the team’s sole rider last season, achieving five top-five finishes on his way to 11th in the championship and will return with the team for 2018. He will be joined by ex- AMA Supersport champion, James Rispoli, who returns to the class after a season in British Superbikes and a season in the National Superstock 1000 category.

“I am really excited about 2018 and I’m peaking to be back with Everquip Racing for a second season. We started the journey in 2017 and I plan to continue the journey by being at the top in 2018. I am really grateful for the guys for the second season together. There are new things in place, including the expansion, with the team welcoming James Rispoli back into the Supersport category,” an elated Estment stated.

“Consistency is definitely key. I’m familiar with the team and how they work, my mechanics and also the bike. I think all things considered, the best option was to stay in the same place and build on what we made last season,” said a positive and optimistic South African, who finished 11th overall in 2017.

“The main focus is on improving the performance in general. Top-fives need to become podiums and then we need to start challenging for race wins, should the opportunity present itself. As a team, we all need to provide the right exposure for our sponsors and get to where we know we can be, which is at the front.

“The first year was divided into three parts. Initially, it was very good and positive: consistent top-eights and a best result of 6th in the first third of the season gave us plenty of optimism and pushed us on to do a lot better. The middle third is where we struggled; we hit technical problems which led to us chasing our tails, making it highly frustrating for everyone involved. The final third was great. It really was fantastic to be involved with everyone. Unfortunately, red flags, inclement weather conditions and a whole host of other variables scuppered our chances of a podium, which, was annoying and unlucky. To finish off with four top-fives on the bounce – five top-fives overall – and consistently racing with front running pace is a testament to the hard work, belief and resilience that the team has,” continued a reflective Estment.

The South African went on to thank his sponsors for their loyal support, saying: “I want to say a massive thanks to Everquip Racing, all the team partners and personnel and my personal sponsors – Total Building Services, Pro Air Conditioning and NFB.

James Rispoli was equally as excited about his return to the British Supersport class, stating that he wants to have a “real shot at the championship.”

“When I was in Supersport before, it was one of the toughest season’s there but we did the business. OK, we may not have won a race but we came so close on so many occasions. We took five 2nd-place finishes and every race we finished was within the top seven. The objective is to get back to winning ways in 2018 and have a real shot at the championship,” said the American.

“I am really stoked to have signed with the Everquip Racing Yamaha team. I know Bjorn from when I started in British Supersport. My entire goal for 2018 was to be on a winning motorcycle so I could fight for wins week in, week out. When I found out that Andy Jamison was building the bikes, I got really excited because he is the man when it comes to building a winning R6.

“Funnily enough, I haven’t met Stuart Everard yet but the phone calls we’ve made back and forth have been very positive from the beginning. We seemed to connect very well and he has the winning mentality that I really like and really need,” continued the ex-Superbike rider.

“For me it’s simple: we want to win races and be on the podium in every single race. When I was in British Supersport before, I struggled a little in the beginning of the season but finished it very strong and I believe that we can build on that straight away. I want to show up at every race as if it’s my last one.

“It is now time to go on a model diet so I can get back in Supersport trim – well, maybe after Christmas but I will get in shape either way,” concluded the former double AMA Supersport champion.

Team Owner Stuart Everard looks forward to his second season in the British Supersport class and expects to be pushing for the championship.

“Everquip Racing are delighted to welcome American James Rispoli for the upcoming 2018 British Super Sport Championship. He will join current Everquip charger South African Bjorn Estment who retains his ride after an impressive second half of the teams debut season. We are obviously going to want to push for the championship and consistency will be key in that” began an excited Everard.

“Everquip Racing will continue on the Yamaha R6 used last season. We would like to thank our loyal sponsors Michael Barugh, Watts Mix, Pneumatic Engineering, NGK, Pro-Air, Total Building Solutions, MHP, GB Racing and all our box sponsors,” concluded the Hornsea native.

To keep up with the team’s progress throughout the year on Twitter, follow @EverquipRacing. To keep up with the riders’ progress, follow @bjornestment27 and @JamesRispoli.

Laverty: We made some big steps

Image by Milwaukee Aprilia

Eugene Laverty has completed a highly productive Jerez test, declaring that he and the Milwaukee Aprilia team ‘made some big steps’ as they worked through their testing schedule.

“The test first of all was about exploring the new rev limits. We had to understand how to use the gearbox differently, which is going to make the rider busier as we need to shift more. I can’t say much more about the lower revs but we will just have to live with it, as every manufacturer will,” said a slightly sceptical Irishman.

“Today we’ve also focused on the issue I had for a lot of 2017 which was getting the bike to push on the rear tyre more so we can stop, turn and accelerate better. We made some big steps on Tuesday, and I was surprised how extreme we had to go. We made progress though and suddenly I had rear grip, which gives me confidence because it confirms what we thought about the bike and the direction we need to follow,” he continued.

Laverty has won at Jerez twice, both coming on the Aprilia in 2013. When he returned to the championship this season, he finished 8th in race one before retiring in race two. Whilst his testing lap time was slower than his qualifying time in 2017, the gains made will enable the Irishman to push on and have better race pace.

“I wish we had a third day as always so we could keep progressing, but it’s been a very useful two days. We still have to chase down those guys at the front, and Aprilia understand what’s needed on the engine and chassis side of things. We understand the direction needed, it will be the second year with the team and the same bike and we can only get stronger.”

The Father of a First-Time Winner

Thumbs Up, Race Win Accomplished. Picture by Peter Backhurst

Back at Brands Hatch, I caught up with the father of Ryan Vickers, Paul. Outside the Kentagon (I was the one drinking, not Paul) we spoke about a great deal of things in what has been an incredible season for Ryan. The interview also took place just hours after Ryan had taken his first victory of the season, in a frantic Superstock 600 race. Here is what it has been like for the family-run team from Thetford, Norfolk.

“It’s phenomenal. We’ve known for a long time that Ryan has the pace and the talent and after a couple of knock backs in the season, he has shown in the final three races that he has what it takes. We decided to use our own bike from Oulton Park onwards and thankfully, Ryan has really gelled with it. We’ve never put Ryan under pressure and he just goes out and tries his best; most importantly, he enjoys his racing and enjoys being out on track,” began father Paul Vickers, who was once 3rd in the world wheelie championship.

“Alan carter has been an amazing mentor to Ryan. Alan has got his racing head on and he breathes every second of the weekend with us all and that is something that is hard to come by.

“We had the troubles at the start of the year but because I know what Ryan is like and what he’s been like all through his life, I never doubted his ability to bounce back. We knew that if we could give him a bike that works for him, he’d be winning races. I must admit though, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to give him the bike – certainly not in the first year anyway. Having help from Ohlins has really transformed us and it made all the difference,” he continued.

Ryan Vickers’ first year was a success. After a difficult start to the season with another team, the team used their own bike and instantly, results came their way. Ryan crashed out of his home-race at Snetterton whilst battling for 2nd on the last lap, having come from as low as 10th. His first podium came at Silverstone, with 3rd in the race. Although he finished 2nd in the penultimate race, he, along with others, was disqualified. But the win finally came at Brands Hatch, under a sunny Autumn sky.

“Before we got Sam on board from Ohlins, I felt like I was letting him down. Ryan would come into the pits and basically say, ‘Dad, it’s doing this’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t know what to do mate.’ Now we have a couple of people on board that can react to what he is saying and turn it into an adjustment, there’s nothing stopping him.

“We will look at all the options over the Winter but our plan is National Superstock 600 again next season and to try and win the championship with the bike. We may try to buy another and just strip it down so we have spares because then at least he knows that if he writes the bike off, he has spares to keep racing with. If he had wrote his bike of at a point during any weekend this year, we’d be heading back home.

“Dave and Sue next door have been mega. Every single one of our sponsors have been mega – and I mean that; that isn’t me being PR but genuinely, without the help they provide, we wouldn’t have been able to go racing. even people who have chucked us a tenner here or a fiver there, we wouldn’t be here. Without the sponsors, we’d have had to make a lot of sacrifices. Work would’ve been harder, money would’ve been even harder too. We need more sponsors but with what we have, we can make it.

“With the package we have and the way we operate, I know that we have a bike and team that can win the title. People talking about us in a positive way helps us and spurs us all on; it builds your confidence and spirits and makes you believe what you may not have been able to believe before.”

Petrucci praises ‘Season full of Sensation’

Stunning stuff from Petrucci

Danilo Petrucci finished the 2017 MotoGP season with a 13th place in the race, giving him 8th overall in the championship. He finished as the top ‘Independent’ Ducati, 49 points ahead of next best Ducati rider, Alvaro Bautista, whilst finishing just 13 points behind Jorge Lorenzo of the factory team.

“It was a season full of satisfaction. We have experienced great emotions that I will remember forever,” said the Italian, who took four podiums throughout a highly successful campaign for Paolo Campinoti’s team.

“I have an extraordinary team that I want to thank for the work done throughout the season. A special dedication to all those who have contributed to achieving these results,” he concluded.

Petrucci finished the season with a superb four podiums – more than Jorge Lorenzo in the Factory team. The Italian also had four front row starts, however, there were no poles.

Marquez: The race was exciting and intense – a bit ‘Marquez Style’

Image by HondaProRacing

Marc Marquez has praised his Honda team after taking their 4th MotoGP Championship together. The Spaniard almost threw away the championship with another front end moment at turn 1, however, he saved the big from crashing, running through the gravel to rejoin in 5th.

“I’m living a dream. ‘Six Titles’ are big words. The truth is that I’m incredibly happy because we worked so much this year and today the race was incredibly tense and exciting—a bit ‘Marquez Style.’ I made a mistake, but I also made my best save of the year. From that moment on, I just tried to finish the race in a good position.

“I’m sorry that Andrea didn’t finish the race, as he deserved to do so. He had an incredible season and I would have liked to have him on the podium with me today. The key to the year has been our mentality. In our world, it’s very important to remain positive and motivated during the difficult moments. Some things happened to us at the beginning of the season but when we found the way to sort things out, everything went better.

“Congratulations to Honda and the entire team for the Triple Crown. It’s an amazing achievement. Winning the title at the last race of the season in front of our fans is one of the best things possible. Now I want to enjoy this with my entire team and my family and after that, we’ll start to work for next year.”

The result means that ever since joining the MotoGP class, Marquez has been on the podium. He is the youngest rider to win six championships and is the first rider to win four championships for Repsol Honda.

Hickman ‘Can Push for the BSB Championship in 2018’

Image by Peter Backhurst

Peter Hickman has declared his intentions for the 2018 British Superbike championship very early on, stating he feels that he has good chance of BSB title success in the coming season.

The fastest Isle of Man TT newcomer took a win at Thruxton in an emotional weekend, giving the Smith’s Racing BMW outfit their first win. Hickman also achieved two other podiums, on his way to his and Smith’s BMW’s first Showdown, where he finished 4th, 59 points off title success.

“This will be the first time in my career I’ve stayed with the same team on the same bike, so I’m delighted to be back with the Smiths team and on the BMW for 2018”, began an elated Hicky.

“We had a great season this year and we can now hit the ground running which can only benefit us. We know we have a lot more to come so I can’t wait to get started”, continued the five-time Isle of Man TT podium finisher.

“I genuinely feel I can push for the BSB championship next year. We had a great package on the roads too and it’s great to get everything sorted early, so we can focus 100% on the goals we want to achieve in 2018,” he concluded.

Hickman will be joined at Smith’s BMW by double FIM European Superstock 1000 champion, Sylvain Barrier, who comes across from MotoAmerica, in which he finished 15th this season.

‘Excited’ Rouse and Gilbert Looking Forward to 2018 with Team IMR

Image by Dave Kneen

Isle of Man-based outfit Team IMR have signed Chrissy Rouse and Jordan Gilbert for the 2018 National Superstock 1000 season, competing on BMW machinery. The team ventured into the series towards the end of last season with Joe Collier, securing a best finish of 9th in the final race of the year.

Chrissy Rouse is believed to have been hot property but after speculation, he confirmed his departure from Mission Racing to join IMR. Rouse was a persistent front runner in 2017 and excelled in many rounds, including Cadwell Park and also at Silverstone, before he crashed whilst leading. Jordan Gilbert finished runner-up in the National Superstock 600 class, taking three wins along the way – Knockhill, Thruxton and Snetterton being the venues.

In the team, Ian Moffitt will continue his role as owner/manager. Steve Brogan follows Chrissy Rouse and Jordan Gilbert, to help them progress yet again. Brogan himself was the 2008 National Superstock 1000 champion, winning 8 races from a possible 12. Ex TAS Racing crew member, Philip McLaughlin, will be the crew chief for the team.

Chrissy Rouse said, “I’m really excited to have signed for Team IMR and to have everything in place for 2018 so early is terrific. With such a strong package in place at Team IMR, I’m confident we’ve got the tools to do the job. I learnt a lot in 2017 and was close to the lap record at each circuit but I know there’s plenty more to come from me so I want to be challenging for the title in 2018”.

Rouse continued, praising Steve Brogan and his importance in the team. “Keeping Steve is a massive boost as he’s a tremendous help to me so with an ambitious team whose goals match my own, I’m confident we’re going to have a great season together.”

Jordan Gilbert was equally as excited; “I’m delighted to be joining Team IMR and, having enjoyed a strong year in 2017 in the Superstock 600cc class, it’s a tremendous opportunity for me”.

Gilbert continued, stating his plans for attack in 2018. “It’s a new class and a new bike for me but I’ll be able to tap into their knowledge and the continuity will mean I can concentrate on my riding. Ian’s put together a great team and it’s nice to have everything sorted so soon. I’m really excited about 2018 and I can’t wait to get going.”

The first weekend of the National Superstock 1000 season gets underway on the 31st of March, at Donington Park, near East Midlands Airport.

The End of an Era

Image Courtesy of BT Sport MotoGP Launch

It is the end of an era. There is nothing better than turning on your TV and being welcomed by the same voice or face, or switching over to your favourite sport and being introduced by a regular, passionate, informative presenter. In commentary, it is the same, especially when you’ve listened to the same voice for the best part of 25 years, across numerous formats. You get a sense of more than familiarity but a sense of trust, like you are one of the family. As if they are in the same living room as yourself.

There is one partnership who seemingly go above and beyond that of just being regulars. Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder were reunited in 2014, when BT Sport took over the British rights to broadcast MotoGP. Whilst some may complain at their ‘bickering’ or as I’d rather put it, ‘debating’, I believe they are synonymous with MotoGP and indeed motorcycle racing in general. For years, the partnership has brought British viewers an in-depth, passionate and entertaining outlook on motorcycle racing, which has gained both of them incredible popularity, respect and appreciation. However, this weekend will be the last time that we hear the dulcet tones of Julian, who steps away from the MotoGP paddock at the end of the season.

Whilst he commentated on the early 90s Grand Prix era, where himself and Keith first found each other in the same box, at Eurosport, it wasn’t until the two went to Sky Sports that they found big fame in the UK. Not only did they commentate on the best Superbike racing in the series’ history, on household names such as Carl Fogarty, Frankie Chili, Aaron Slight and Troy Corser etc, but they became household names themselves. They were the two most entertaining, yet informative, motorcycle racing broadcasters that we in Blighty had been blessed with.

It is sad that Julian is going but the day was always going to come in some way, shape or form. No commentator lasts forever; no iconic public figure lasts forever. However, we talk as if he is leaving the sport, sitting at home and reading The Guardian for the rest of his days. Julian is far from retiring, he’s leaving because of the amount of travel which is required to do his job. He will be heard in some form I’m sure.

A personal thank you from me too. As an aspiring commentator, it was ‘Keith and Jules’ who gave me that desire in the first place. I wanted to be able to talk about something that I enjoy watching and have a bit of a laugh whilst doing it – like them – and thankfully, that is beginning to happen – so thanks for that desire. Julian, thanks for the mentions on the TV and thanks for the wonderful insight into many things that only someone of your experience and passion could pass on.

I only met Mr. Ryder a couple of times but those couple of times were enough to confirm my thoughts that he is one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgable characters within our sport.

So, in the words of Frank Sinatra, ‘the end is near’. But only in MotoGP – the paddock may lose Jules’ services but he will be around – he really IS NOT retiring.

BT will keep Keith Huewen and the rest of the team for next season. Although, like I said at the start of this tribute, it is the end of an era. There will be no more ‘Keith and Jules’. That partnership will be done and dusted after Sunday. Just let it sink in for a moment. The irreplaceable chemistry and incomparable irrepressibility from commentary’s most dynamic duo will be in the history books. It’s a bit like a collocation – you can’t have one without the other; it just doesn’t sound right.

From the 90s to now, thanks for the amazing commentary and your excellent end of season books, Julian. It has been a pleasure to endure both. MotoGP really won’t be the same without you and I speak on behalf of hundreds and thousands of people on the UK on that.

Cheers mate.

MotoGP Valencia Preview: The Grand Final

Image: HondaProRacing

The final round beckons for MotoGP in 2017. A season that has seen five winners and one of the best head to head duals in years has arrived at the last setting. Valencia in Spain offers the 18th and crucial conclusive meeting of the year, with the chance to witness one of the most heroic battles in a last round Grand Finale. Marc Marquez needs 11th or better to win the championship, regardless of where challenger Andrea Dovizioso finishes. The Ducati rider in turn must win if he is to stand any hope of winning the championship, something that very few people had thought about prior to 2017. Will we see the expected result or will Valencia throw up one of the all-time greatest shocks in motorcycle racing history… again – remember 2006?

Marc Marquez is in control of the championship. He has been dynamite since winning in Germany, finishing either 1st or 2nd at each GP – with the exception of two races: Silverstone, when an engine fault literally blew his chances of winning and in Malaysia, last time out – where he was 4th. Those results mean that whilst Marquez is all but champion, he is exactly that. The championship is not yet sewed up and one mistake, like we saw with Valentino Rossi in 2006, sends it all tumbling away. By mistake, I mean that it doesn’t have to be his own. Valencia has seen pile ups at turn 1, turn 2 and turn 14 before now, meaning it could be someone else’s accident that brings him down. Equally, weather could play its part and give Marc an unexpected scare. Or, dare we say it, another mechanical? However, all things look in Marc’s hands. Not only is he in control of the title race but he has great form in Valencia. In 2012, he won the Moto2 race from the back of the grid and he also won in MotoGP 2014, from 5th. He was 3rd in 2013, giving him his first premier class title, whilst he finished a close-run 2nd in 2016. Marc hasn’t crashed at Valencia in the race since 2009 in the 125cc class, when he remounted and finished 17th. Can the run continue? He hasn’t had back-to-back 4th place finishes since Silverstone and Misano last season but don’t forget, 4th is more than good enough.

Andrea Dovizioso has put in a valiant effort in 2017, emerging from the pack as the only rider able to chase down Marc Marquez. A credible threat? Absolutely. He has beaten up Marc Marquez in last-lap, last-corner fights and has the potential to do that again this weekend. Is he a realistic threat? It all depends what you talk about. I personally believe that he can win the race, to become the first Ducati winner at the circuit since 2008, in the Stoner era. However, it is a mountain to climb to win the championship. Dovi can only do what he can do, he has to go out to the front and win the race. That will be his ‘job done’. Similar to Valentino Rossi in 2015, where he did what he could and got to 4th, leaving it in the hands of the motorcycle Gods to see if he would become champion from there. Dovizioso has never won at the circuit before and his best result on a Ducati was in 2014, in 4th. If he does win, it will be his 7th win of the year, the most Ducati have had in GP since Casey Stoner, exactly 10 years ago. Can Dovi do it? Realistically no, theoretically yes. Having said that, remember 2006…

Maverick Vinales can’t take 2nd in the championship now, having had a disaster in Malaysia which saw him languish in 9th. Vinales will be 3rd in the championship, as teammate Valentino Rossi cannot catch his new partner. Maverick will be looking to achieve Yamaha’s first win in the 2nd half of the season, an astonishing statistic. The Yamaha rider has won at the Ricardo Tormo circuit before, in 2011 on a 125cc bike and in 2013, in Moto3 – the latter of which was a titanic scrap between himself and Rins for the championship.

Valentino Rossi heads to a circuit he absolutely despises. It was the scene of his big crash in 2005 during qualifying, forcing him to start 15th – he finished 3rd. In 2006, he crashed out, resulting in him losing the title and Nicky Hayden taking it. In 2007, a monumental crash in qualifying saw Rossi fracture his hand in three places. In 2011, he was taken out in a first corner pile up and in 2015, he started from the back of the grid in his quest to win the GP title – he didn’t take his 10th crown. Rossi last won at the circuit in 2004. The last time Yamaha didn’t win a race in the 2nd half of the season was in 2003, when they didn’t win a race throughout the entire season.

Dani Pedrosa is 5th but has a chance of catching Valentino Rossi for 4th overall, which isn’t actually unlikely. Pedrosa has great form at Valencia and is the only rider to have won races in all classes at the circuit. Three wins and four other podiums stand Dani in good stead for an assault on 4th in the championship this weekend. He was 3rd in 2015 – his most recent podium. His last win came in 2012, in dodgy weather conditions. Pedrosa has been on the podium at every race in Spain so far this year and if he makes it on the podium again, it’ll be the first time since 2012 that he has achieved 4 Spanish podiums in as many Spanish races in one season.

Johann Zarco is already confirmed as top rookie in 2017 and will be wanting to give Tech 3 their first ever podium in Valencia – a previous best result was in 2011, with 4th for Britain’s Cal Crutchlow. Johann Zarco himself has won at the track, last year in Moto2, after a thrilling battle with Franco Morbidelli in the early stages of the race. A Frenchman hasn’t had back-to-back podiums in MotoGP since Regis Laconi at Ricardo Tormo and Phillip Island in 1999 – he was the last French winner, ironically at the Valencian GP. The last back-to-back podium for Tech 3 was at Assen and the Sachsenring, in 2013 with Cal Crutchlow.

Jorge Lorenzo’s 2nd place ahead of Zarco in Malaysia keeps his hopes of a 6th place finish overall in the standings alive. The Spaniard hasn’t had a great season but he could become the first ever Spanish winner on a Ducati in MotoGP. Lorenzo has won at Valencia on four occasions; 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2016. One truly incredible statistic is that Ducati haven’t ever had a back-to-back 1-2 finish in Grand Prix.

Danilo Petrucci’s heroic ride in Malaysia from the back to 6th demonstrated just how much of a top rider he is. Danilo Petrucci is a winner at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, back in 2009 in the European Superstock 600 class. His best result at the circuit in GP racing remains an 8th place in his rookie season, in 2012. For the last two seasons, he has finished in the same place he qualified in. Petrucci is 16 points behind Lorenzo in the championship, making it hard to catch him but not insurmountable.

Cal Crutchlow is 17 points further back in the championship. The top Brit has been a bit ‘hit and miss’ in 2017 and hasn’t had a podium since Argentina, round two. Crutchlow crashed out of a safe 2nd place in the 2012 Valencian GP and has a best result of 4th at the circuit, in his rookie year in 2011. Crutchlow won the World Supersport race at the circuit in 2009 and qualified on pole for the World Superbike round there in 2010.

Jonas Folger still holds onto his 10th place in the championship but yet again is not flying the Tech 3 Yamaha flag or the Bundesflagge. He is replaced by Michael van der Mark, who is fresh off the back of a 4th place in WSBK at Losail. He was 16th in the last GP, at Sepang.

Suzuki slumped to yet another poor result in Malaysia, with no points on the board again. They have never had back-to-back no-point scoring finishes during their return to MotoGP. The last time they had back-to-back no-point scoring finishes as a two bike team was in 2003, with John Hopkins and Kenny Roberts Jr., at Le Mans and Mugello.

Aprilia will be racing in RED this weekend, a charity supported by the Gresini Team last season at the same event. Aleix Espargaro could mathematically finish in the top 10 but he would have to win. If he scores two points more than Scott Redding, then he may take 13th, however, Iannone is just 2 points behind Aleix. Teammate Sam Lowes will bow out of the team after Sunday’s race, as he hopes to get third point-scoring ride of the year.

KTM made their return to premier class action at Valencia last season, where Mika Kallio suffered an electrical issue. The Austrian manufacturer will want a repeat of Sepang, where both bikes came home in the points for a 6th time this year and a 2nd consecutive GP. Kallio achieved a 1.32.092 in qualifying last year and that will almost certainly be surpassed this weekend if conditions remain dry.

The Aspar Ducati team head to Valencia with both riders having been on the podium there at some in their careers. Bautista was 2nd in the 250cc class in 2009 and Karel Abraham won the Moto2 race a year later. Both riders have also had top 5s in MotoGP, with Bautista 4th in 2012, having started from the pit lane and Abraham in 5th in 2011, after a battle for Rookie of the Year with Cal Crutchlow.

The Marc VDS outfit continue their resurgence to form, on Jack Miller’s side anyway. The Australian was 8th in Malaysia, still nursing a broken leg. The Valencian GP will be his last race for Marc VDS, as he moves to Pramac Ducati. Tito Rabat hasn’t scored a point since Phillip Island and will be looking to bow out of the team with a good result, as he moves to Avintia next season. Both riders have won a race in Valencia before; Miller in 2014 in Moto3 and Rabat in Moto2 in 2015.

Scott Redding will make his final appearance for Pramac Ducati this weekend, as he heads to Aprilia to replace Sam Lowes next season. Redding’s best finish at the Ricardo Tormo circuit was 5th in 2010 and his best in the premier class was back in 2014, when he was 10th for Gresini Honda. It’ll be the first time since 2014 that Redding hasn’t had a podium in the season – if he doesn’t get one this weekend.

Lastly, it will be the last premier class GP (for now) for Loris Baz and Hector Barbera, as they head to WSBK and Moto2 respectively. Baz has never scored a point in Valencia in GP, whilst Hector Barbera’s best premier class result was 8th in 2010. The Spaniard has won in the 125cc class in 2004 and then in the 250cc class in 2009. Barbera hasn’t had back-to-back point-scoring rides since Mugello and Catalunya, earlier in the year.

It is advantage Marquez at the head of the field, as he pursues title number six. Dovizioso hasn’t won the MotoGP title before but it could all change on Sunday. One of the biggest climaxes to a season before, the 2017 Valencian Grand Prix is arguably the most important race in the history of Ducati in MotoGP. Yamaha will want to end the season on a high, having won the last two Valencian GPs. One thing that we must remember about MotoGP is this: the only thing predictable about MotoGP is that it is totally unpredictable – Charlie Cox, on many occasions.

Exclusive: Joe Francis Q&A

Image by Peter Backhurst

Back at Brands Hatch, I spoke to Joe Francis of the Movuno Halsall Racing Team, on his return to action after a month and a half away from racing through a back injury. In this exclusive interview, Francis talks about nearly being left without a ride in 2017, how his season has been this year and how the Halsall Racing Team possibly saved his career.

How has 2017 been for you?

It has been a great year but tough at times. We have been fast at every round this season and we could say that we’ve had a lot of bad luck. However, all in all, it has been a mega season. It was a shame to miss Silverstone, Oulton Park and Assen with my injury but that is racing. Considering we secured the deal late on, I think we have really brought the bike together and made it into a competitive package.

 

How different is the Halsall Racing Team Yamaha compared to the TTC Yamaha you rode last year?

Both bikes are very similar. The only major difference is that at Halsall Racing, I have no Motec. The engine is better at Halsall Racing but the chassis is the same, purely because it is the standard R6. Both of them parts of the bike are still exceptionally strong. We have been progressing with each round, getting used to the bike and basically, just refining it to suit me a fraction more. I think our progression has been clear for everyone to see. We started slow in 2017 but over time, have got nearer to race wins and have been solid podium contenders.

Is it annoying that you still haven’t won a race this year and that Andy Irwin has?

In all honesty, we have been in positions this year where we have had better pace than Andy and on a few occasions, we have had the pace to win. Unfortunately, we have been very unlucky. The engine blew up in one round and that is no fault of mine nor the team’s. There’s been places where we should’ve won and could’ve won but unfortunately, things just didn’t quite fit together.

You was let down extremely close to the season starting in 2017 – explain what happened.

Just two weeks before the start of the season, a team that promised to come together for me actually didn’t come together, which left me without a ride. We don’t exactly know why they didn’t come together and in all fairness, I couldn’t dwell on it too much because I needed a ride! We had to take it on the chin and thankfully, at the last moment, Martin came up with a package. Martin without doubt saved my season and probably even my career and I can’t thank him enough.

The team on a whole are amazing. I have more than enjoyed 2017. They are a great group to work with and we have had a lot of laughs along the way. Everyone works so hard and it is a great environment to be a part of. Every negative result we have had and all the downs we have had have been turned around and it has been a really fun team to be in. There’s a lot of teams around the paddock that don’t look like they are enjoying themselves but with Halsall Racing, it is like being part of a family and it really is one of the most professional and fun teams to be in and in all honesty, it is the best team I’ve been in.

To what extent did your wildcard at Donington Park help you in 2017?

That wildcard turned our season around. It made us go straight to the top three over in the UK, which kickstarted our season proper. We went to Donington Park, a track we had been to already in 2017, with some confidence. However, we had to push so much harder. I never realised until I got to the race just how hard the World Supersport guys push.

Unfortunately, we tried to take that ‘push like crazy’ style back to the UK and as you’ve all seen, it hasn’t worked out. The smaller British circuits are very different to the likes of Donington Park and circuits used by the World Championship and more often than not, we have crashed. It is a massive shame about the injury because we missed out on circuits where we knew we would be strong at.

How have you got over the amount of crashes this season – including your big one at Cadwell Park?

Most of the crashes have been OK to get over. Some of them have been silly little mistakes and the others have been strange and unexpected. It is all part of racing; I am still young so I am learning all the time and still have a lot to learn in the future.

My injury was enough to put me out for a few rounds. We don’t know what caused the crash but we just got unlucky I guess. I am glad to be back and whilst I may not be the fittest I’ve ever been, I was able to show at Brands Hatch that we can be competitive and that is a really good sign for 2018.

How serious were your injuries?

It was a lot more serious than I ever thought it would be. The doctors were extremely concerned about me but thankfully, it will have no long-lasting effects. When I had the time off the bike, I didn’t do anything too stupid which could possibly harm the injury further or extend the recovery period. The doctors did an amazing job and they also said that we should be alright for the future! It could’ve been a lot worse but we will just have to have a few weeks off and rest properly but like I say, we will be fine in the future.

It wasn’t as bad as some other riders have had. I was told straight away that I would be able to ride a bike again. It was a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae – talk to other people and you’ll soon find that it is a common injury. The doctors always said that I’d make a full recovery and I’d be back to normal life, as long as I am sensible.

Has Brands Hatch’s results given you confidence for 2018?

I think we already had a lot of plans and confidence heading forward anyway. As for outright speed and pace, I believe that we are one of the fastest, definitely in the top 4. Some riders have to build up to that point where they are at their optimum whereas we seem to have that pace straight away. We just need to put the last few pieces together and hopefully, we will be standing on top of the podium very soon.

What are your plans for 2018?

As I am quite tall, Superbike would be a good route. I think my particular riding style will suit the Superbike. If Martin was to run a Superbike, then that’d be perfect for me. I want to remain with the team and if possible, move up. If he ran the Superbike team, it is the team I’d want to be part of.

Obviously, Supersport is still an option and I think it’d be good to stay here again. Overall, I am looking at the Supersport and Superbike classes. Whatever class we end up in, we will have to do a good job in. In Supersport, I would be expecting to win whereas I would change my plan for the Superbikes, looking at learning the basics in the first season and become consistent. If I was to go to Superbikes, I would be looking at treating it as a three year plan. A learning year, a better year and then hopefully, a big breakthrough year. Of course, as we all know, plans are just that and they could all change year after year so it is best to maybe just wait and see.

Image by Peter Backhurst