2021 Moto GP season preview

Photo credit: Moto GP website

2020 was the year to shake up all years, who could have predicted what happened?

Starting with Marc Marquez missing the whole season due to an injury sustained in Jerez, the possibility of no races even happening due to the pandemic, then the races going ahead but much later in the year to an unpredictable world champion and new tracks!

Marc Marquez at Jerez 2020. Image courtesy of Box Repsol/Honda Racing

However, with the new 2021 season fast approaching, there is more to discuss: will Marquez be at full fitness? Will Joan Mir be able to defend his title? Will Yamaha’s engine be problematic again and who have people got their eye on?

After Mir won his first Moto GP race and his first Moto GP championship in 2020 with Suzuki – a feat that hasn’t been accomplished for 20 years – Davide Brivio (Suzuki’s team Manager) announced that he was leaving and starting a new adventure outside of Moto GP. Suzuki have said that they are not currently looking for a replacement and are happy with the teams work-ethic. They may promote someone within the team, but nothing has been officially said. Let’s hope that they will keep the same momentum going through to 2021, with Mir being defending champion. Will he be able to handle the pressure? Will he be as hungry for the win now he has won one title? Will he be able to bring the fight to Marc Marquez, if he returns fully fit? Only time will tell.

Marquez has had to have numerous operations on his arm since the beginning of the 2020 season, which saw him unable to compete for the rest of the year. It has been announced that he will not be back for the start of 2021 in Qatar either, due to the healing process of the most recent operation. This paves the way potentially for Andrea Dovisioso to return to Moto GP, in place of Marc.

Andrea Dovizioso at the 2019 Misano Test. Image courtesy of Ducati

Dovisioso decided to leave Ducati last year, due to some differences, which left the “Undaunted” rider with no ride for the 2021. However, as he now has no ties or affiliation with any team, Honda are able to ask him to step in for Marc. Having ridden for Honda previously in Moto GP, starting in 2009, it wouldn’t be their worst decision.

When Marquez does return to racing, the questions are: will he be fully able to compete as he once did? Will he be physically and mentally prepared for the close contact, action packed races? And after having a year off, will the others riders be more focused and the teams more prepared than him and Honda?

Of course Alex Marquez is now going to be racing for LCR Honda, instead of being with his brother on the Repsol. So, Marc will also have to get used to his new team-mate Pol Espargaro and vice versa.

The teams are as follows:

Team

Racers

Repsol Honda

Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro

Ducati

Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia

Monster Energy Yamaha

Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quatararo

Suzuki Estar

Joan Mir and Alex Rins

Red Bull KTM

Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira

Aprila Racing

Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Salvadori (or Bradley Smith)

Petronas Yamaha

Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli

LCR Honda

Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami

Pramac Racing

Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin

Red Bull KTM Tech 3

Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona

Esponsorama Racing VR46 Team

Luca Marini and Enea Bastinini

Jorge Martin and Luca Marini are the rookies for this season and would be good to keep an eye on as they have shown great potential in previous Moto 2 and Moto 3 championships.

Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli at Jerez 2019. Image courtesy of Philip Platzer/KTM

2021 also sees three different sets of brothers competing against each other: Marc and Alex Marquez, Pol and Aleix Espargaro and Valentino Rossi and Luca Marini.

As for the tracks they will be competing on, the line-up is looking good. However, there are some reserve tracks should the Coronovirus impede on the championship again, namely: Portugal, Indonesia and Russia.

The calendar for the year is as follows:

Date

Location

Track

28th March

Qatar

Losail International Circuit

11th April

Argentina

Termas di Rio Hondo

18th April

America (Austin, Texas)

Grand Prix of the Americas

2nd May

Spain (Jerez)

Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto

16th May

France

Le Mans

30th May

Italy (Tuscany)

Autodromo Internaziole del Mugello

6th June

Spain (Catalunya)

Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya

20th June

Germany

Sachsenring

27th June

Netherlands

TT Circuit Assen

11th July

Finland

Kymi Ring

TBC

TBC

TBC

15th August

Austria

Red Bull Ring – Spielberg

29th August

Britain

Silverstone Circuit

12th September

Spain (Aragon)

Motorland Aragon

19th September

San Marino

Misano World Circuit – Marco Simoncelli

3rd October

Japan

Twin Ring Motegi

10th October

Thailand

Chang International Circuit

24th October

Australia

Phillip Island

31st October

Malaysia

Sepang International Circuit

14th November

Spain (Valencia)

Circuit Ricardo Tormo

However, due to Covid 19 the Sepang tests have already been cancelled. All dates and tracks are up to date and confirmed at the time of writing (January 2021), but can be subject to change.

There has also been a change for the Circuit de Barcelona. Turn 10 has had the shape re-designed, in agreement with the FIM and FIA for both Moto GP and F1, following safety concerns from past years.

Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales during the Austrian 2020 Race in which both riders avoided bikes re-entering the track. Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Racing

There is one new important rule to Moto GP this year: both non-concession and concession manufacturers must start the 2021 season using March 2020 approved parts. After that, normal upgrade regulations will apply for the rest of 2021.

Yamaha had issues last year with their engines and once with brake failure, which led to Vinales having to jump off at the end of the start-finish straight at the Styrian Grand Prix. Will this continue into 2021? Arguably, the Petronas Yamaha seemed to be the more competitive and reliable bike within the Yamaha team, will that still be the case for Rossi and Morbidelli this year? If so will Valentino be able to achieve his illusive 200th podium?

Marco Bezzecchi, Moto2 race, European MotoGP, 08 November 2020. Picture courtesy of Triumph

As for BT Sport viewers, they will also not be hearing the familiar voice of Keith Huewen as he has decided he would like to step down from commentating and spend more quality time with his family. It has not been announced yet who will be filling his shoes, but there are plenty of possibilities. Best wishes for him in the future.

Whatever the outcome, audiences are sure to be in for a treat with the 2021 Moto GP Championship.

Who do you think will come out victorious? And also which team will be number one at the end of the season?

Racing Legends: Casey Stoner

When talking about legends of grand prix racing, the name of Casey Stoner is never far from anyone’s lips. 

Stoner’s early career is somewhat unremarkable in terms of results. From dirt-track racing in the Australian outback, to honing his short circuit skills in the junior ranks of BSB and then through the 125cc and 250cc grand prix classes. His natural speed on a bike and his skill to ride any machine was undoubted, but throughout his junior years there was concern by many over his consistency.

His debut season in MotoGP, in 2006, seemed only to emphasise this. A regular front-row starter with LCR Honda, Stoner struggled for consistency over longer races – sending himself and bike barrelling through gravel traps as he tried to chase down those on superior machinery.  A pole position and a podium finish towards the end of the season provided a glimpse as to what was to come.

With Honda’s eggs at the time all devoted to Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, Stoner had to jump ship if he was to become a serious championship contender.

2007 – Ducati’s Golden Year

Credit: Ducati Corse

Stoner’s arrival at Ducati was met with more than a few questioning murmurs from many quarters, after a difficult debut season with LCR Honda. The discontent was particularly vocal back in his home country. Despite having claimed a maiden win for the factory outfit, Troy Bayliss was shown the door to make way for his younger compatriot.

Stoner would be paired with Loris Capirossi, with the expectation that the Italian stalwart would initially set the standard, and the young Australian would gradually build to an even footing by the end of the season. 

Whether it was the plan, or a cryptic challenge from the team, Stoner’s response on track was something else. 10 wins across the season, including an emotionally charged victory at Ducati’s home race at Misano to wrap up his first world championship crown. 

Such was his relentless charge to the title, it’s impossible not to draw similarities with Valentino Rossi. Was this a changing of the guard? The media couldn’t help but stir that particular pot. It irked Rossi, and as the season drew on there was a growing sense of rivalry between them. Things came to a head at Laguna Seca when Rossi accused Stoner of breaking the track limits to force an overtake at the corkscrew. Rossi would famously ‘repay the favour’ the following season. Whilst the two would joust each other more often than not for top honours in the years to come, Stoner was too fast and too consistent to be stopped in 2007. 

The Desmosedici machine was undeniably fast – especially on low-fuel qualifying runs and in a straight line (the traditional strength of any Ducati). However, those doubting Stoner’s racecraft were silenced as he hauled and wrestled a fully fuel laden Ducati around the circuits with relentless precision. When forced to cut through the field after a less than clean start, Stoner relied on the skills honed way back on the dirt tracks in Australia, as he dived, carved and – occasionally – bullied his way through the pack. 

The final standings for the season said it all – Stoner finished the season winning the championship by an astonishing 125 point margin. Capirossi, for the record, finished 7th and over 200 points behind. 

Stoner remains to this day Ducati’s only MotoGP world champion.

2009 – Battle with Chronic Fatigue

Credit: Getty Images

After securing another routine victory at the opening round in Qatar, the Australian’s form fell off the proverbial cliff. Nobody could fathom why. In qualifying he’d still have the beating of everyone – often by the best part of half a second. After the Catalan grand prix fell apart so spectacularly, Stoner took the unprecedented decision of taking a mid-season hiatus. 

At first it was just suspected burnout. Sit out the next round or two and be back. The reality was far more complex. After numerous tests and consultations back in Australia, Stoner was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue – a condition he is still managing to this day. The condition has many symptoms – among them most prevalent are a complete lack of energy / total exhaustion with an acute state of depression and quite often acute muscle and joint pains. Heavy exercise or over-exercising increases the symptoms. 

With this in mind one can see how racing an 800cc prototype, particularly such a demanding bike like the Ducati, resulted in such a sudden blowout for Stoner. Critics were quick to question his mentality – and even state he no longer had the desire to race as hard as his rivals. The truth is, he physically and mentally couldn’t race and needed to recuperate away from the inferno that is grand prix racing. For more information about Chronic fatigue: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome-cfs/ is a very useful starting point.   

Stoner’s decision to take a hiatus was vindicated immediately upon his return. He followed Lorenzo home to a comfortable second place at the Portuguese grand prix in Estoril, then demolished the field at Phillip Island to secure a hat-trick of victories on home-turf. 

Stoner was back.     

2011 – The Dream Come True

Credit: HRC Images

After relations soured with Ducati in 2010, Stoner signed for the Repsol Honda team. Emulating his boyhood hero, Mick Doohan. Once more he faced critics – this time aimed more at the team than the rider. The bike, whilst a competent competitor, had fallen clearly behind Yamaha in recent years. There was also the controversy of Honda employing three riders in their Repsol-backed factory team.

With a competitive bike underneath him again, and a team actively supporting his direction, Stoner was once more given an opportunity to fight for the championship. The season couldn’t have started better. Fast throughout testing, Stoner delivered at the opening round under the floodlights in Qatar, leaving the defending champion Jorge Lorenzo in a distant second place. 

The rivalry between Stoner and Rossi briefly resurfaced at the following round when the Italian – now at Ducati – lost the front wheel into turn one and took himself and Stoner out of the race. In the aftermath, Stoner uttered to Rossi the now famous line in racing folklore: “Your ambition outweighed your talent”.

Arguably, Stoner’s finest hour of the season came at a drenched Silverstone. The start was delayed due to the continuous downpour, but the decision was finally made to get underway. Whilst chaos reigned behind him with riders constantly tripping up on the treacherous surface, Stoner executed a wet-weather masterclass, negotiating every corner and braking point – almost drifting through every apex – with an elegance previously unseen by him. His teammate Andrea Dovizioso was the best of the rest, finishing 15 seconds adrift. The race effectively ended any hope Lorenzo had of retaining the title, crashing out halfway through the race, unable to stick to the Australian.

From then on, Stoner ensured he had it all his own way for the rest of the season. At Aragon he showcased another imperious lights-to-flag victory ahead of his other team-mate Dani Pedrosa. The result ensured victory in the constructors’ championship for Honda for the first time since 2006 with the late and much missed Nicky Hayden. Stoner’s personal triumph would be confirmed once again at Phillip Island. 

The weekend had been drummed up as a tribute to Mick Doohan – officially badged to mark 20 years since he joined HRC. Essentially, it was a grand gesture from Honda to mark Stoner realising his dream of following in his hero’s footsteps. Though before he could don the champions t-shirt again, he first had to fend off a spirited challenge from Marco Simoncelli, pushed all the way to the final lap before the Italian was forced into a mistake. 

Battle won, and cue the euphoric celebrations from rider, team and fans alike. A premier class world champion with multiple teams. Only a select few have managed to claim such an accolade.

Credit: Getty Images

2012 – The Curtain Falls

The Australian may have had a much shorter grand prix career than his contemporaries – he called time on his career just 7 seasons since making his bow in the premier class.

His decision to retire stunned the racing world, in much the same vein as his signing for Ducati and his decision to take time out did. Very fitting – above all else, Casey Stoner did it his own way throughout his career. His ability and sheer tenacity on the bike ensured that he succeeded wherever he went.

Any controversy that followed him was ultimately silenced by his results.

Racing Legends: Valentino Rossi

 

Credit: Getty Images

Whether it’s his infectious exuberance, his elaborate celebrations, his illustrious career, or his undeniable talent, it’s safe to say everyone has a reason to like Valentino Rossi aka. The G.O.A.T.

The Junior Years

It is amazing to think however, that his debut year in the 125cc class wasn’t magical. His talent though was clear. He pushed himself to new limits and in typical Rossi fashion, only took the one year to learn and the next year to win.

1997 was that year on the Aprilia, interrupting his Japanese rivals who were dominating the event, winning by 80 points over fellow racer Noboru Ueda.

It is also at this early start of his career that audiences first saw the iconic sun and moon design that has become Rossi’s signature motifs, albeit slight design changes throughout the years and where we first saw his showman side too, celebrating his victories. These celebrations would carry through as he progressed up the ranks, getting more elaborate and memorable.

The number 46 was now racing with the likes of Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada. In 1998, Rossi moved up to the 250cc class and won five of fourteen races. Still with Aprilia and finishing an incredible second in the championship, only 23 points behind Capirossi.

True to form, he managed to turn second into first in 1999, winning both the race and the title at the Nelson Piquet Circuit at 20 years old, 48 points above Ukawa.

His celebrations that year included ones like the chicken, the angel riding pillion and of course the classic porta loo at the side of the track.

During this season he also managed to clinch Aprilia’s 100th GP win.

Credit: Getty Images

500’s

Moving to Honda in 2000 with renowned crew chief Jeremy Burgess, as a one-man team, Rossi again took one year to learn and one year to win. Rossi was now competing against names like: Kenny Roberts Jnr, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa.

Although finding the transition hard from 250cc to 500cc racing bikes, it didn’t take the 21 year old long to win his first race at Donnington, in the top-class.

It was this year that the infamous feud between Rossi and Biaggi started to become apparent.

In only his first season, Rossi lost the title by only 49 points, behind Roberts.

Still riding the Honda, Valentino entered into his second year in the 500cc class in 2001, it was then that the iconic name The Doctor was founded. Overhearing at an airport the name ‘Doctor Rossi’ being announced, he thought the name sounded good, so adopted his own version. Previous names included: RossiFumi and Valentinik, but these understandably weren’t as catchy.

The Doctor secured his first pole in Welkom, became the first rider to win in all three classes at Brno and in the same year he won Honda’s 500th GP win. Rossi started to quickly rack up new records and had became a brand in his own right.

Credit: HRC Images

During this season the feud between The Doctor and The Roman Emperor (Biaggi) overflowed, making it highly entertaining for audiences around the world. While a scuffle happened off camera (at Catalunya – 2001), making all the wrong headlines and an official hand-shake took place to say sorry, their rivalry gained more momentum on the track.

At Suzuka 2001, Biaggi pushed out his elbow and nudged Rossi off track, this lead to Rossi passing him a lap later and putting his middle finger up to him. The rest of 2001 became a Honda / Yamaha dog-fight. This concluded with Rossi winning the last ever 500cc World Championship over Biaggi by a huge 106 points.

Then came a massive change to the premier class, as the two-stroke 500cc bikes were replaced with 990cc four-stroke machines.

MotoGP

After winning eleven races in 2002, including the first race of the season, Rossi had certainly become a household name and was furthering his conquest to earn the name G.O.A.T.

That year he raced among the usual faces: Barros, Biaggi, Gibernau and the late Daijiro Kato. Rossi won the title with four races left at Rio, leading once again, Max Biaggi. This time by a whopping 140 points.

Honda’s joy with Valentino was tempered in 2003 by the shock and sudden loss of fellow racer Kato, during the Suzuka race.

This year was also very strained for both the Honda team and Rossi, as Honda claimed it was mainly the bike that won the races and the rider was just the pilot. Even during those hard-times, Vale still managed to celebrate in the only way that he knew how. Memorably poking fun at Honda with the chain-gang gag.

Once again Rossi won this season over Gibernau by 80 points.

Credit: Getty Images

Then in 2004 came the biggest move. Rossi left his winning Repsol Honda team, risking everything, for the Yamaha M1, taking his crew chief with him.

Doubters said that Rossi couldn’t go ahead and win even one race on the Yamaha. They were proved severely wrong. Not only did he win races, he won the entire Championship again.

Welkom was welcome once more for The Doctor, after he won the opening race of the season against the likes of Hayden, Edwards and his main rival for the title Gibernau. The celebration that followed was clearly emotional for Rossi. He pulled over to the side of the track and after regaining his emotions embraced his M1.

There was plenty of on-the-track fights between the Italian and the Spaniard (Gibernau), which made for fantastic viewing.

To everyone’s surprise Rossi won the year 47 points clear of Gibernau. Collecting his fourth world title and sixth across all classes.

Jerez started off the 2005 championship, with a great battle between 15 and 46 after they collided on the last lap. However, during the race at Qatar, Rossi made a rare mistake and crashed. He blamed the Spaniard and ‘cursed’ him saying “he will never win another race”, this statement became oddly true.

Again with four races spare The Doctor secured his fifth title 147 points above Marco Melandri. Celebrating with ‘snow white and the seven dwarfs’.

Bad luck troubled Rossi throughout 2006, after a tyre failure, engine blow-ups and being knocked from his bike by Elias. Rossi heroically fought back during this season and going into the last race at Valencia he was eight points in front of the late American, Nicky Hayden. However, more bad luck plagued him and he fell, re-mounted and finished thirteenth. Hayden won his only title by five points.

2007 saw Rossi finish third in the championship, behind winner Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, in second.

Many people were saying, is that the end of Rossi?

Motegi – 2008 saw Rossi silence the critics and he won his eighth career title, across all classes, finishing on the GP rostrum for the 150th time overtaking Agostini’s record total of wins in the top class.

Bitter complications with Yamaha made 2009 a hard year for Rossi and his team. Even though it was tough in the garage he still took victory, finishing third in Malaysia, for his ninth World Championship, 45 points above his team-mate Lorenzo.

2010 was much of the same, Rossi’s love story with his M1 Yamaha came to an end, finishing the championship in third he made another massive decision.

Credit: Ducati Corse

Hoping to emulate his success in 2004, Valentino joined Ducati. The dream of an all-Italian team in 2011 ended awfully however. It seemed the only person who could tame the Ducati was Casey Stoner. The Australian memorably said to Rossi “did you run out of talent?”, which led many people to think, perhaps he was right.

Finishing sixth in the championship in 2012 two years in a row, the Ducati dream was not to be for Valentino and he returned to Yamaha.

2013 – Present

Rossi sacked his Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess in order to find fresh motivation. Burgess admitted they “had been chasing rainbows”. Still winning plenty of races and narrowly missing out on a tenth championship in 2015 by 5 points, Valentino is still be able to break records and be at the sharp-end of the pack. Having not won a title in eleven years, Rossi fully admits that he races for the love of the sport and the passion to have fun.

Will that illusive tenth championship be granted in his new adventure with Petronas Yamaha in 2021? And will he secure his 200th podium finish?

Whatever the outcome, the yellow army still flock to watch and support their hero at every race.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) takes the last win of the season

The last round of the 2020 MotoGP Championship took place on the 21-22 November at Portimao.

In the last race of the season, saw  the 7th new polesitter of the year as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) beating Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by 0.044 seconds with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) completing the line up for the front row. World Champion, Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), had a disastrous qualifying and starts from 20th position. Will we see a 10th new winner of the season? Let’s find out.

The starting grid for the race looked like this:

Row 1 : Oliveira : Morbidelli : Miller Row 2 : Crutchlow : Quartararo : Bradl

Row 3 : Zarco : Vinales : P.Espargaro Row 4 : Rins : Nakagami : Dovisiozo

Row 5 : Binder : A.Espargaro Bagnaia Row 6 : A.Marquez : Rossi : Petrucci

Row 7 : Savadori : Mir : Rabat

The start of the 2020 MotoGP Portugal race. Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

With 25 laps of racing, the last race of the season gets under way with Oliveira getting off to a great start and going first into Turn 1 followed by Morbidelli, Miller, Crutchlow, P.Espargaro and Rins. Miller takes Morbidelli into 2nd but two turns later Morbidelli takes the place back. Mir has an incident with Bagnaia where there seemed to be touching of the wheels on lap 2 and loses a lot of time and drops right back.

By lap 3 Oliveira has pulled out a 1.3 second lead and Binder crashes at Turn 1 putting a very early end to his race. The battle for 7th place is with Zarco, Quartararo and Vinales and all three riders are on it. Nakagami takes Rins and moves up to 10th place.

Lap 5 and Oliveira has now a 2.4 second lead, Miller is staying hot on the heels of Morbidelli biding his time for his opportunity to get past. By the following lap the World Champion has moved up to 16th place with Rossi in 15th, A.Espargaro in 14th, Vinales in 13th and A.Marquez in 12th.

P.Espargaro takes Crutchlow into 4th place on lap 7 but Crutchlow, Bradl and Zarco all have eyes on that 4th place and they are all on it with good clean racing taking place. On lap 9 Crutchlow takes 4th but a few turns later loses it again to P.Espargaro.

Nakagami takes Quartararo into 9th place on lap 10, Quartararo fights back and gets the place back but then Nakagami goes underneath and past, this time he manages to keep the place.

Lap 11 and Oliveira has a comfortable 3.7 lead over Morbidelli and Miller. Dovizioso takes A.Marquez and Quartararo and goes into 9th place and the following lap A.Marquez passes Quartararo pushing him down to 12th. P.Espargaro has a huge moment allowing Crutchlow to slide past but two turns later he gains the place back.

By Lap 14 Mir is still in 16th place and is a second a lap off the pace of the front runners. Nakagami takes Rins on the following lap and the battle for 13th place between Quartararo, Vinales and Rossi is hotting up with all three riders absolutely on it.

With a 4 second lead, can Oliveira keep up this pace for the remaining 10 laps of the race? Mir slows on the track and heads into the pits and retires from the race with what looks like mechanical issues. Zarco passes Crutchlow into 5th place.

On the start/finish straight on lap 19 Vinales gets a wobble on the bike but he manages to hold it and his 12th place.

Lap 21 sees Crutchlow run really wide allowing Dovizioso, Nakagami, Zarco and Bradl to pass and he is now down in 9th. Miller is hunting down Morbidelli, can he catch him and make a pass in the remaining 4 laps?

A.Espargaro passes Crutchlow into 9th on lap 22 and the following lap Nakagami passes Dovizioso up into 5th place. Turn 4 Savadori crashes out of the race.

Valentino Rossi’s last ride for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

On the start/finish straight going into the final lap, A.Marquez and Zarco are battling for 9th and are side by side, A.Marquez just manages to out brake Zarco and grab the place. Miller is still trying to get past Morbidelli and on Turn 13 he goes underneath and past into 2nd place but Morbidelli comes straight back and snatches the place back but Miller pulls back past and starts to ease away.

Oliveira takes the chequered flag with a comfortable win and his second of the season with Miller taking 2nd and just behind is Morbidelli in 3rd.

An absolutely nail biting last race of the season with some incredible racing taking place. Huge congratulations to KTM and Oliveira on a brilliant win and to Ducati for taking the Manufacturers Championship.

Karen Bristow

Featured image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

Six Of The Best: BSB Nuggets

As the countdown to the 2020 Bennett’s British Superbike Season ticks towards the series roaring into life at Donington Park on August 7th, here are a few fun facts about the series’ history for you to wow your mates with down the pub when taking in a (socially distanced) cold one.  Each fact is relevant to its numerical position in the list.

1. The Birth Of The Championship 

The British Superbike Championship (BSB) can trace its origins back to 1988 at the start of the Superbike racing boom, which coincided with the inaugural World Superbike Championship season.

The first BSB season was contested under Formula TT rules with race number one taking place in May 1988 at the Carnaby track on the site of a former RAF base near Bridlington in East Yorkshire. The first race winner was Darren Dixon who piloted his Suzuki RG500 all the way to the first championship title later in the year.

Dixon went on to become a star in the field of sidecar racing, winning the World Sidecar Championship in 1995 and 1996. Dixon’s son Jake came second in the 2018 BSB Championship and now competes in Moto2.

2. Always The Bridesmaid 

Fact number two refers to the second position in the BSB Championship achieved by Chris ‘Stalker’ Walker four years on the trot between 1997 and 2000.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these second placed finishes came at the climax of the 2000 season. With just three laps remaining in the final race, Walker led the pack only for his engine to fail on him. Despite trying desperately to reignite his machine, the mechanical problem allowed title rival Neil Hodgson to overtake Walker not just in the race but overall in the championship.

3. Niall’s Treble Triumph 

They say three is the magic number and it certainly was for Niall Mackenzie who became the most dominant rider of the 1990s, taking the BSB title three years in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Riding on the spectacular Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha team—run by former Grand Prix rider Rob McElnea—Mackenzie racked up 14 wins over the course of the 1997 season. This record was only bettered by Leon Camier with 19 during his dominant 2009 title win, and only Shane Byrne has won more BSB titles than the super Scot.

The Mackenzie name lives on as Niall’s sons Tarran and Taylor both now compete in the BSB and Superstock championships respectively.

4. Champions From Afar 

Over the course of British Superbike history, there have been four riders from outside the UK and Ireland who have finished the season top of the pile.

The first was Australian Troy Bayliss who piloted his GSE Ducati 996 to the 1999 title before going on to win a hat-trick of championships in World Superbikes. Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla only got his ride aboard the Airwaves Ducati 999 just days before the start of the 2005 season as a substitute for the injured James Haydon, but ended the season as champion after surprising many and holding off the challenge of the Honda riders and team-mate Leon Haslam.

Ryuichi Kiyonari became the first Japanese rider to claim the BSB title when he prevailed at the end of the dramatic 2006 championship decider at Brands Hatch. ‘Kiyo’ repeated the feat in 2007 and then after a spell in World Superbikes returned in 2010 to make it a hat-trick of titles all aboard the HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR FireBlade.

The most recent foreigner to win the British championship was Australian King of the Cadwell Park Mountain Josh Brookes who won his first (and to date only) BSB crown aboard the Milwaukee Yamaha R1 in 2015.

5. Rockin’ All Over The World 

Five British Superbike riders (including two former champions) have gone on to win the World Superbike crown after making the move from the domestic series.

As mentioned earlier, Troy Bayliss won the British title in 1999 before going on to add the World crown on three occasions in 2001, 2008 and 2009. Lancashire rider Neil Hodgson capitalised on Chris Walker’s dramatic engine failure in the final race of the 2000 season to win the BSB title aboard the GSE Ducati 996 (same bike ridden by Bayliss the previous year) and then conquered the world in 2003.

James Toseland rode the Paul Bird-backed Vimto Honda VTR1000 during the 2000 BSB season before moving up to the World Championship, winning the global crown on two occasions in 2004 and aboard the HannSpree Ten Kate Honda in 2007.

In the same year that Toseland bagged his second World Championship, Tom Sykes made his BSB debut aboard the Stobart Vent-Axia Honda FireBlade. After a year with Rizla Suzuki in 2008, Sykes made the step up to WSBK with Yamaha Moto Italia. Four years after making his World Championship debut in 2013, Sykes won his maiden title aboard the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R.

Perhaps the most successful rider to have won the WSBK title after making his debut in BSB is none other than Jonathan Rea. After making his bow aboard the Red Bull Honda FireBlade in 2006 and then eventually stepping up to the factory HM Plant Honda team for 2007, finishing second in the championship behind team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, Rea made the move to World Supersport for 2008. After eventually making the step up to the WSBK Championship in 2009, Rea went on to record five successive World Championships between 2015 and 2019, becoming the most successful rider in the history of the series.

6. Shakey’s Supremacy 

We couldn’t mention this number without making reference to the six British Superbike titles won by the most successful rider in the championship’s history, Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne At BSB Oulton Park 2017. Image courtesy of Ducati

The first of Byrne’s titles came aboard the Monstermob Ducati 998 in 2003 before spells in World Superbikes and Moto GP. After returning to the British series in 2006 with Rizla Suzuki and Stobart Vent-Axia Honda in 2007, another ride aboard a Ducati (this time the 1098) yielded his second championship in 2008.

Following another brief stint in the World Superbike Championship and then a return to BSB with HM Plant Honda, Byrne reunited with former team boss Paul Bird in 2012 and netted his third British title the same year aboard the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, repeating the trick in 2014. After the PBM team switched to a factory backed BeWiser Ducati Panigale 1199, Byrne notched another two back to back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Another rider will have to go a long way to depose Shane Byrne’s place in the BSB history books.

Those are our top six facts from BSB history. We look forward to seeing what the 2020 season can add to that when we hit Donington Park on August 7th.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

MotoGP Valencia Test, Part 2: Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia

It might feel like the 2018 season has just come to an end, but the 2019 season is well underway at the Valencia tests for Suzuki, KTM, Tech 3 KTM and Aprilia.

Suzuki’s main weakness in 2018 was straight line speed, so they had a new engine for Valencia. It has a lot of power, but currently the Ecstar squad are looking for new electronic solutions to harness those extra horses, and as of right now they are faster on the old engine. Only Alex Rins tried the new motor, as Joan Mir looked to get himself better acquainted with the GSX-RR. The 2018 Moto2 rookie of the year had ridden one day with Suzuki after the Japanese Grand Prix back in October, but still had a lot of work to do to acclimatise himself to MotoGP. He did fairly well, ending the test less than one second off the top time.

 

Alex Rins and new Suzuki teammate Joan Mir. Photo curtesy of Suzuki Racing.

 

Johann Zarco got off to a tough start with KTM. He pinpointed corner entry as a weak point on the first day, and didn’t find the improvements he expected on Wednesday, ending 1.7 seconds off the top. On the other hand, Pol Espargaro had a decent test, which he ended 0.871 seconds off front runner Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha). He had a revised version of KTM’s Yamaha-style aero fairing, as well as some new electronic solutions and no doubt a raft of different chassis’ and engine specs to try. Like Yamaha, KTM suffered with tyre wear last year, hence the electronics focus.

The Tech 3 KTM riders did not have such a great time. Miguel Oliveira highlighted braking as something he needed to work on, as he adapts to the carbon disks of MotoGP. His teammate, Hafizh Syahrin, also made some progress on Wednesday, but feels he needs more time to understand the RC16. Of course, both Syahrin and Oliveira have the additional difficulty of their team changing manufacturer.

Aprilia seemed to have a mixed test. Aleix Espargaro was quite fast, if somewhat indifferent about a new chassis from Noale. In comparison, Andrea Iannone was pleasantly surprised by his first contact with Aprilia. He was running 2017 bikes because it is from last year’s machine that the 2019 bike will derive. There were two crashes for Iannone on the second day, which he put down to him finding the limit with a new bike. Bradley Smith also got his first contact with the Aprilia, using a 2017 and a 2018 machine. He wasn’t too far from Iannone’s time which, considering his job title of test rider, should perhaps worry Aprilia a little.

As previously mentioned, Joan Mir had a brilliant debut on the Suzuki but arguably Francesco Bagnaia’s first appearance on the Pramac Ducati was even more impressive. He ended his first real MotoGP test just 0.6 seconds from the top. Braking is Bagnaia’s main focus at the moment, which is a common thing with new MotoGP riders. His competitors will hope he can’t find too much time there. Fellow rookie Fabio Quartararo also made some big improvements on Wednesday, to end just over one second from Vinales and in front of Iannone on the Aprilia.

 

Fabio Quartararo at the Valencia MotoGP tests, November 2018. Photo curtesy of SIC Racing Team.

 

Franco Morbidelli also had a stunning test; to be four tenths ahead of Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) on his first day with Yamaha was really quite impressive. The young Italian was especially complimentary about the smoothness of the M1, and commented on how easy it was to ride in comparison to the 2017 Honda RC213V he rode during his 2018 season.

Although, the undisputed hero of the Valencia test was Tito Rabat. He rode his Reale Avintia Ducati to 15th on the second day, 1.1 seconds off Vinales, and completed 59 laps. The first day of the test was nothing more than exploratory for Rabat, as he looked to see if it was even possible to ride in his current condition. On Wednesday he made some more progress, but realistically it won’t be until Sepang that he will really start focusing on the setting of his GP18. The MotoGP paddock now heads south to Jerez, where they will have the final chance to define their direction before the winter break.

 

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MotoGP Valencia Test, Part 1: Ducati, Yamaha and Honda

Tuesday saw the beginning of the 2019 MotoGP season, as preseason testing started for the premier class in Valencia, following the conclusion of the 2018 World Championship on Sunday.

There was plenty to see: the Ducati GP19 had been highly praised ahead of the test; Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda) would get his first taste of the Honda RC213V; Yamaha had two new engine specs to try in their search for tyre life; Franco Morbidelli (SIC Racing Team ) took to the Yamaha M1 for the first time; Danilo Petrucci moved to factory Ducati; Johann Zarco moved to KTM, as did Tech 3; and there were four rookies getting the chance to try out MotoGP machinery for the first time.

However, things did not go the way the teams would have liked. The first part of the morning was unusable for them because of overnight rain. Zarco was the only rider to go out before the track dried, but only for a couple of laps.

Eventually, the track dried and the riders were able to get their 2019 campaigns underway.  Starting with Ducati, they did not manage to get much of anything done on the first day. Andrea Dovizioso spent the time he had making a base setting with the GP18, since he did not have the opportunity to run in the dry in the weekend. This was the same for everyone, of course, but the time Dovizioso spent on the 2018 bike meant he did not get to try the GP19 until Tuesday. It was the same situation on the other side of the garage, as Danilo Petrucci was acclimatising to his new box, and new team. That said, when they got around to the new bike, Dovizioso was enthused by what his team had discovered, and Petrucci essentially said the GP19 was perfect. Nonetheless, the next test in Jerez will be important for the factory Ducati team to confirm what they found in Valencia, and to determine their direction for the winter before Sepang.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was also highly impressed with the first version of the GP19, saying he couldn’t understand how it was derived from the GP17 he has ridden in the 2018 season. Miller noted that the biggest thing with the new bike compared to the 2017 Desmosedici was the ease with which the 2019 bike changes direction. They have only had one day on the GP19 so far, but already the three factory Ducati riders look strong for the new season.

 

Valentino Rossi during Testing in Valencia. Photo curtesy of Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing

 

The factory Yamaha squad’s entire focus over the course of the test was on the two new engine specs they took with them. On Monday, the focus was on an engine which they had already tried at Aragon. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were happy with the engine, especially Vinales who was particularly enthusiastic about the engine braking. Rossi reflected Vinales’ opinions, but was more realistic in insisting that there is still work for Yamaha to do before they’ll be in a position to fight consistently. A newer engine spec on the second day seemed indifferent to the one tried on Monday. Vinales could not decide which he preferred, whilst Rossi didn’t seem too happy with either of them. Whilst both of these engines helped in the engine braking, they were still not helping with the acceleration or the tyre life either. However, both riders were happy with the direction after a 2018 season plagued with technical issues.

Yamaha also had Jonas Folger out for his first MotoGP experience since September 2017. Whilst the German’s work in these two days was perhaps not so important, he could be critical for Yamaha come the middle of 2019.

 

Marc Marquez during the Valencia Test. Photo curtesy of Repsol Honda Team.

 

Honda face a difficult winter, and Valencia was the beginning of that. Marc Marquez is injured, as is Jorge Lorenzo (who is new to the bikes) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who may still be unfit come the Sepang tests in 2019. Stefan Bradl was on the LCR Honda on Tuesday, but was just testing different suspension, whilst Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) got his hands on 2018 HRC machinery, and was somewhat taken aback by the progression made from 2017 to 2018. Marquez was limited in his track time, due to that injured left shoulder, but had three bikes to test. One was the 2018 spec, there for comparison, and then he had two black bikes, which were 2019 prototypes. Marquez couldn’t say much of his testing, but it seemed as though at least one new engine spec was there for him to try. There was also a new chassis for Marquez to try, but because of limited track time, he and Honda will need to use the Jerez test next week to confirm their feelings from Valencia.

 

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