Month: January 2018

MotoGP – Jorge Lorenzo ends official MotoGP test at Sepang at the top of the timesheets

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The first official MotoGP test of 2018 has concluded at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia with Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo lapping in a time of 1’58.830 to establish an unofficial new track record.

The Spaniard ended the day at the top of the timings, and the three-day test, despite having a harmless crash late in the morning, and praised the changes made to the Desmosedici GP 2018 machine.

He said: “I leave Sepang very satisfied with the work that we have done over the last three days, not only because of the time that I set today, but also because I’m convinced that many aspects of the bike have improved since last year. Now I feel it’s better adapted to my riding style and I feel more at home when I’m riding it, but we still have to understand a few things to be able to get the best out of its potential. We are only at the start of the year but the sensations are already good and now it will be important to confirm them in the next test in Thailand.”

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MotoGP – Yamaha factory duo top the timesheets on Day 2 at Sepang

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The Factory Yamaha MotoGP squad enjoyed a positive second day of testing any Sepang,  finishing the second day in first and second place respectively.

Similar to yesterday morning, the MotoGP riders waited for the track to dry before they ventured out just before 12 o’clock local track time.

Viñales had a busy schedule again. His strategy remained the same as for Day 1: put in a lot of laps to work on tyre wear. He initially headed out on the same bike as yesterday to get a feel for the conditions, before he gave the new fairing a try. Throughout the second day of testing the Spaniard noticed improvement in the consistency of his lap times. He put his YZR-M1 to the test during the final stages of the eight-hour session and posted a 1’59.355s on lap 66/68 for top billing, with a 0.035s margin.

Trying to make up for lost time due to the overnight rain, Rossi also made strides in the afternoon. He only needed about half an hours’ time to drop a 1’59.766s, set on lap 12, to take over at the top of the timesheets. Back into the rhythm, he proceeded work on his bike’s setting as well as the tyre wear. He spent a long time in second place on the provisional timesheets, until the pace quickened at the end of the day. The Doctor joined in on the action and briefly went top with a 1’59.390s attempt on lap 38/39, before his teammate pushed him to second place.

Today’s efforts see Viñales and Rossi also hold first and second place respectively in the combined day 1-2 standings, leaving them in a positive mindset to complete the testing schedule tomorrow.

Viñales  said: “The second day went really well. I felt really good with the bike. We’ve been working especially on the electronics, but there’s still work to do. We have a long way to go to set up the electronics correctly, but I’m happy with the steps we’ve made. We tried to work in hot conditions, especially around midday and we’ll follow the same plan tomorrow. We’re trying to improve a lot in hot conditions, to solve the problems we had last year. I think it was a positive day and I’m ready to work some more tomorrow.”

Rossi was equally positive. He said: “I’m happy about the second day because we worked well and finished our programme for today. We tried some big and small details and some things were good and some things were less good. For example, I like the aerodynamics, and I was able to improve my pace and lap times. I think I did my personal best here in Sepang today, because a 1’59.3s is good. It’s very tight, all the top riders are very strong, so that will be interesting. I’m very happy to be there at the front. I like the fairing more than last year’s because I have more protection and – because I’m a bit big and tall – that’s what I need, so that’s good. The ducts – that are not wings – are good because the bike has less wheelie and that gives us more front contact. It looks like we’re also quite fast in the straight and so it was a good day.”

MotoGP – Pedrosa tops the standings on first day of testing in Sepang

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Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa set the fastest time of the opening day of the Sepang test, with a mark of 1’59.427” on his 55th lap (out of 56), three tenths faster than the Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo.

In typical Malaysian fashion, the morning dawned under heavy rain, so the asphalt was still wet when the track opened at 10 am.

Pedrosa said: “Of course it’s good to start the testing with the fastest time, so we’re happy with that. We had some rain in the morning and therefore the chance to do a few laps on rain tyres, and we felt good from the beginning. In the afternoon, when the track dried, the asphalt kept improving lap by lap, and that was positive for the many changes we had to try.

“We have three bikes here, and they have the same setup but different engines. Basically, we worked on the engine package, trying to collect as much information as possible and to get a feeling with each different specification; that’s one of the main areas we have as a target for this test. There are still points we need to work on in order to understand more. We also need more laps on used tyres, as we didn’t get any long runs in today. Of course we’re still in the early stages but so far the feeling is good.”

Life after racing – Neil Hodgson

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Motorcycle racers are generally a different breed – very competitive, focussed to the point of obsession, and ruthless in their quest to be number one. Becoming a national champion takes years of dedication, sweat and toil, becoming a world champion requires even more commitment. And talent.

Neil Hodgson knows what it takes to be a winner. He scooped both the BSB and WSBK titles in an illustrious career on both sides of the Atlantic before injury forced his retirement. After dislocating his shoulder in a motocross training accident in California in 2009, Hodgson landed on the same shoulder during Sunday morning warm-up for the opening round of the 2010 British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch and knew his career was over. That, in reality, was the start of the second phase of his life. We caught up with him to see how he’s coped with life after racing…

LB: You raced from the age of eight until 36. You’ve literally grown up racing and for 20 seasons you had your life mapped out for you. And then the rug was suddenly pulled out from under you when you damaged your shoulder. What happened next?

NH: When racers stop racing , 99 per cent of them will be in their 30s. And they won’t be earning mega money, so stopping racing is a big fear – you have a lot of your life left when your career’s over, and it was a big worry for me. Just what was I going to do? I didn’t plan to retire when I did; the crash at the first round of the BSB championship that year forced my hand. That was my year done, and I remember sitting at home at the Isle of Man, thinking ‘now what?’. I thought I’d just sit back and the phone would ring and I’d be offered a really cool job. I sat looking at my phone for six months, and as you can imagine, it never rang.

As with anything in life, if you want something, you have to make it happen yourself, so I started making some calls. I can remember talking to Niall Mackenzie at length about what I should do, and he recommended I should look into doing some trackday instruction. It was great and I fell in love with it instantly; it’s so much fun, and it’s rewarding when you see the improvements made as a direct result of your feedback and input. I got a huge buzz from that…

LB: What happened next?

NH: I started doing some punditry work for Eurosport, and then I stated doing more trackdays before I got approached by Alex Lowes to manage him. Being a manager is a massive job. There’s so much to organise, and it’s far more involved than most people realise. It’s very satisfying, but it’s also a huge challenge.

LB: How did you become the face of MotoGP for BT?

NH: I was lucky. I was approached by BT and my role was initially supposed to be small. I was just going to be the in-studio guest a couple of times, but that changed to doing the first round on-site. They liked what I did, so I was asked if I wanted to do every round. I snapped their arms off.

Over the past few years I’ve grown into the job and I’m really enjoying it. This season I’m set to do the MotoGP commentary with Keith Huewen, which is a challenge in itself. For almost everyone, myself included, Julian Ryder is the voice of MotoGP, and I realise I can’t replace him. I’m going to try and offer something different, and I think my background will allow me to do this.

LB: Do you miss racing?

NH: I get asked this all the time and honestly, there’s nothing I miss about racing, nothing at all. I started racing when I was eight, and I finished when I was 36. Done. I don’t miss it. Everyone’s well shocked with that, but it’s easy to explain – it’s incredibly hard to be at that limit all the time. This always surprises people, but it’s the truth.

LB: And now you’re running your own insurance company, Mackenzie Hodgson. How did that happen?

NH: I love the TV stuff, it’s a lot of fun, but I’ve always felt like something is missing. I am such a competitive person. To be be successful at anything you have to be competitive, and I’ve only just realised that it’s this competitive element which I’ve been missing.

Mackenzie Hodgson has been going on behind the scenes for two years, and we spent a lot of time organising focus groups and seeing what riders wanted. What we quickly realised was that there were a lot of people out there who were dissatisfied with what they were being offered. Motorcycle insurance is a big market, and both Niall and myself were convinced we could offer something different.

Niall and I make a great team – he’s calm, incredibly thorough and doesn’t miss anything. I’m more spontaneous and have lots of ideas, so we complement each other.

Since the company was launched in November I have been devoting most of my efforts trying to work out how we can make the company special, and what we can do to set us apart from our rivals. We are concentrating on value. We’ve realised that not everyone wants the cheapest; if this was the case we’d all have Nokia mobile phones and be riding around on Chinese motorcycles. People want value instead For example, I personally hate it when I’m a long-standing customer and I see new people getting better deals. And then there’s the ever-increasing premiums – you’re a year older, your bike is a year older, yet your insurance premium goes up. It’s infuriating.

The insurance industry is like that, and I want to change this. This is our company – we are not paid to be the face of it – this is our business, and we are committed to making it work. We are working hard to represent the everyday biker and are going to try and reward loyalty. We have a lot of really exciting add-ons in the pipeline, and these will benefit the customer. It’s a long-term plan, and we are here to stay.

I am loving the competition, and this is what is driving me forwards. I didn’t start racing to ride round in circles, I started racing to win, and winning makes me feel good. Insurance is similar – I want to walk round bike shows and hold my head high, having created an insurance company we are proud of. All we are asking people is give us a go…

Mackenzie Hodgson specialises exclusively in motorcycle insurance, and prides itself on offering riders the right cover at a competitive price while providing the best service and attention in the case of a claim, as well as offering European breakdown cover and motor legal expenses up to 100,000 with every cover. For more details visit http://www.mackenziehodgson.co.uk or call 0330 343 8751. 

Racer’s Kit – Neil Hodgson

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Neil Hodgson is a former BSB and WSBK champion. Remembered fondly for his ‘Doohan’esque riding style, and his epic title decider with Chris Walker at Donington Park, Hodgson announced his retirement in 2010 after 20 seasons of racing after suffering a brutal shoulder injury.

He’s now the MotoGP commentator for BT Sport, where he uses his knowledge to offer a valuable insight into racing’s premier class alongside Keith Huewen. After two decades of competition, he’s got a wealth of experience with kit from a huge range of manufacturers, and is uniquely placed to explain what works and doesn’t. Here he shares his hard earned kit wisdom:

HELMET
“I know it’s obvious, but your helmet is your most important piece of kit. It has to be – you only get one head, so you need to do everything you can to protect it. My advice is to buy the best helmet you can afford.

“As well as being protective, it also needs to work. It needs to be comfortable, needs to fit and it needs to offer decent levels of vision. When you come off you’re going to hit the ground hard, so you need to know everything’s going to work. For example, it’s no good having a strong shell but a weak visor. If a visor comes off when you crash that’s not going to end well as you’ll either get hit in the face by flying stones or a handlebar.

“In the 1990s I had a crash and the helmet was totally destroyed. It was a nothing crash, yet it had shattered like an egg. It was only after the crash that I proper looked at it and realised how flimsy it was.

“I’ve got so much experience with helmets. I raced for 20 seasons, and I have ridden with every brand you can imagine, from FM to AGV to Shoei to Suomy and UVEX. It’s funny, I never raced with Arai during the entirety of my career, and everyone always said they were the best. I so didn’t believe it. I thought it was all hype, but it was only when I wore one for the first time that I thought ‘what have I been doing?’. I’m such a stubborn bugger, and I guess I was trying to prove a point, but the reality is that everything about an Arai helmet is better than what I have experienced before.

“Yes you pay a bit extra for it, but the design justifies the price. The design has virtually remained unchanged for years, and everything is researched and made to the highest level. There really is no compromise – the reason it has the shape it has is solely down to safety. It’s a brand which focuses on protection, not fashion or the latest trends, and I love that.

“My helmet is an off-the-peg lid, standard RX-7V that you can buy yourself, and apart from the paint, it’s not been changed or modified in any way. What I love about it is that everything works perfectly – it fits me, the lining is comfortable and effective at wicking away the sweat, the ventilation is superb, and the vision is excellent.

LEATHERS

“I need my leathers to be comfortable, but prefer them to be tight too. They also need to fit, and all the internal and external armour needs to sit where it’s supposed to – if it moves it’s not going to do you any good in a crash.

“It’s no good them being too loose and rolling up when you hit the Tarmac. A good test is to pull the leather at the wrists and ankles. If they move up your arm or leg then they’re too big. You need to try them on in the correct way – by sitting as if you’re crouching on the bike. It’s no good just trying them on standing up as this wont replicate how they’ll sit on your body when you’re on the bike. When you crouch, the suit changes and you need to realise this.

“In 1998 I was testing in Indonesia and I crashed. It really was nothing of a crash – I just tucked the front. I had changed manufacturers and didn’t have any leathers ready, so I was I was wearing a baggy, off-the-peg suit. Basically, the leathers spun, my leg was trapped under the bike, and the elastic part of the suit was now over my knee. This wore out really quickly and holed, and put a big hole in my knee – the local hospital stitched my up, but I’d gotten gravel in the knee and it got infected. That was a miserable experience, and all because I wasn’t wearing tight fitting leathers.

“And that’s still the case today. I see so many people on trackdays, as many as 90 percent, wearing leathers that are just too big for them. I go up to them, grab their arm and I can pinch a full handful of leather. I can spin the elbow protector right round, and that’s just with my hand. Imagine the g-forces involved if you crash at Craner Curves when your elbow hits the ground. That is the reason so many trackday riders get injured.

“Kit works, it really does. But it has to fit. Think about MotoGP – the number of crashes last year was sky high, but the number of riders injured was low, and that is because kit has improved since the days I raced in a full Kevlar suit.

“I wear RST. They have progressed so much over the past few years. What I like about the owner, Jonny Towers, is that five years ago he told me he wanted to RST to be the third best leather manufacturers in the world after Alpinestars and Dainese. And he’s committed to achieving that – every year he tweaks the suits, and makes them better. Go into the BSB paddock and there is a reason a lot of riders are wearing the suits; they work. A lot of that is down to the fact that Jonny races himself and understands what it takes to make a good suit. An RST suit is very, very impressive for the price.

“Another exciting thing from my point of view about RST is that they’re always listening to rider’s feedback and constantly evolving and improving their products.”

BOOTS
“There are a lot of bones in your feet, and the ankle’s a really complicated joint, so you can’t afford to take chances. You need your boots to be protective. But you also need them to be flexible.

“It’s the ultimate compromise. You need safety around your ankle, but you also need the flexibility, especially when you hang off the bike a lot. I roll my ankle in weird shapes when I ride, so I need lot of movement. I have tried Daytona boots, but they were so rigid I couldn’t ride how I wanted to.

“I also ride with the back brake a lot, and need to have a pair of boots which will let me accurately feed back what I’m doing. If the sole is too thick, I know full well it will cost me a second a lap, so I need my boots to offer some flex. It’s about trying different sets on, and discovering what works for you.”

GLOVES
“I’m quite picky when it comes to gloves because I need them to look after me. And they have – I have been so lucky throughout my career, I don’t have a single scar on my hands.

“When I was racing, once I’d found a pair of gloves I liked I’d wear them for the whole season. I hated new gloves, still do. Yes, new gloves are much better at breaking in, but I still prefer older gloves. I like my gloves to feel like old slippers, and in a weird way, because of this I have probably compromised safety in the past.

“Today’s gloves have so much armour and protective features – looks for sliders on the palm and fingers, and make sure the cuff closes over your leathers.”

BACK AND CHEST PROTECTORS
“I’ve always worn a back protector, and I wouldn’t race without one. It just gives me peace of mind.

“Having said that I don’t wear a chest protector and I’ve never given one any thought. People started using them when I was racing, but I was so fanatical about being tucked in, being as low on the bike as I could, that I thought the extra 1cm thickness would cost me 0.001 of a second. It’s absolute stupidity thinking about it now, and I’d consider wearing one so long as it doesn’t restrict movement on the bike.”

AIRBAGS
“Airbags are compulsory for all racers competing in MotoGP this year. The whole technology is getting better, and the low number of riders getting injured is testimony to the fact that airbags work. Just look at Jack Miler’s crash at Le Mans last year. It was a fast crash, a massive crash, and he walked away unscathed.

“I think we’re in golden age of rider safety and we’ve never had it so good. For example, I know wrist locking technology is coming and that will help stop riders injuring their wrists. And RST are developing their own airbag system; you know full well it will represent value for money. I’d wear one…”

ANY CRASHES WHERE YOU FEEL YOUR KIT WORKED PARTICULARLY WELL?
“I’ve had some decent crashes, but not many major ones. I never used to crash that much – I averaged six crashes a year over my 20-year career, and most of the time I tucked the front, which is the type of crash you want.

“I once highsided on some oil coming out of Turn 1 at Valencia, it wasn’t actually that fast, but I was well out of the corner. My own oil caught me out, I got stuck under the bike and slid all the way down to Turn 2. I stood up after that and my AXO leathers had literally split open, but I didn’t have a mark on me. That was incredible. I kept that suit – the leather and back protector had completely worn away, but I didn’t have a single bruise or cut.”

Neil Hodgson has joined forces with Niall Mackenzie to create a new insurance company – Mackenzie Hodgson. Specialising exclusively in motorcycle insurance, the company prides itself on offering riders the right cover at a competitive price while providing best service and attention in the case of a claim.
For more details visit http://www.mackenziehodgson.co.uk or call 0330 343 8751

MotoGP – Viñales extends Yamaha deal until 2020

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Maverick Viñales has agreed a two-year extension to his contract with the factory Movistar Yamaha squad which will see him ride for the Japanese manufacturer until 2020.

The young Catalan, who won won three races and took seven podiums with Yamaha, finished third place in the MotoGP Championship standings last year, and is the first rider in the leading factory teams to secure his seat on next year’s MotoGP grid.

He said: “I’m really happy that Yamaha and I have extended our contract by two more years. It’s great for me and the team that we were able to make this announcement this early on, because it gives us a sense of calm: we know that I will continue riding my M1 for the coming three seasons, so now we can just focus on the actual racing.

“I’m very satisfied with this decision. I have a lot of belief in the team and in Yamaha and I’m happy that they feel the same way. I want to thank Yamaha for their vote of confidence, and also the fans, who are always supporting us. We will continue to work hard. We will be pushing to the maximum at all the Grands Prix and I look forward to three more incredible seasons together.”

Team manager Lin Jarvis said: “The announcement that he will be staying with the team for two further years after 2018 is a fantastic way to start the new season: it shows clear commitment by both parties and affirms a reciprocal confidence that together we can achieve our mutual goal of becoming MotoGP World Champions.

“Maverick has been a real asset to the team as soon as he came in. He’s full of motivation and never loses sight of his goals. The 2017 season wasn’t easy, yet he has already delivered Yamaha three race wins and secured the manufacturer its 500th Grand Prix win in his first year with us. Furthermore, he took third in the championship standings after switching manufacturers, which is also an impressive achievement.

“Maverick is still very young, so we see a great future for him in Grand Prix racing, and we are very excited to challenge alongside with him during the upcoming three seasons of MotoGP.”

BSB and WSBK – Neil Hodgson’s 2018 season preview

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Neil Hodgson is a BSB and WSBK champion and a MotoGP commentator for BT Sport. He’s got his finger on the pulse in the MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB paddocks and his encyclopaedic knowledge of bike racing make him perfectly placed to preview the season ahead.

WSBK

“This season sees the introduction of a complex series of rules designed to stop Johnny Rea running away win a fourth consecutive title. Aimed at reducing the performance gulf between teams, one of the key new measures will see rev limits replacing weight penalties. What this means is that if a bike or a team keeps disappearing off into the distance, the race organisers will turn down the revs and give other riders more in an attempt to even things out. Will it change anything? I’m not so sure…

“Johnny Rea is still the stand-out rider of the series, and he’s won his titles through sheer talent, dedication and hard work. He really has everything as a rider – he’s fast, fearless, consistent and mentally strong. He’s the class act of the championship, and he wouldn’t be out of place in MotoGP. Yes, he’s got the best bike, but he’s so smooth, so aggressive and he rarely makes mistakes. He definitely starts the season as favourite.

“Chaz Davies was his closest rival in 2017, but fell away as the season progressed. He was having to override the bike to stay in touch with Rea, and that saw him suffer his fair share of crashes, costing him important points in the title chase. I think the Ducati will be harder hit by the new rules than the Kawasaki, but the title fight will still between these two.

“As for the rest, I think Leon Camier will cause a few surprises on the Honda. Last year’s bike was a dog, but Honda won’t accept that, and I’m sure they’re working hard with the Ten Kate team to fix the bike’s shortcomings. Camier performed miracles during his time on the MV, consistently delivering strong performances on an ageing package, and I think he could be one of the dark horses of 2018.

“As could Alex Lowes. He’s now established himself in the Yamaha team, and the bike is just getting stronger and stronger. He’s fast, fearless and he’s matured a lot this past season. He knows he’s fast, he’s got the talent, and has demonstrated to himself he can run at the sharp end. This could well be the year he fights for race wins, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he strung a title challenge together. Watch this space…”

BSB

“I honestly thought 2017 was going to be the year Leon Haslam finally won the title. And he would have done bar a nasty crash at the final round at Brands. He had a commanding 32-point lead going in to the final three races, but his brakes failed at 172mph in the final race on the approach to Hawthorns, leaving him with a broken left ankle and right wrist. He’s incredibly tough though, and I’m confident he’ll be there come the showdown – he’s fast, has a point to prove and he’ll be hungrier than ever for success.

“As will Shakey Byrne. The six-time champion will be desperate to add to his record number of titles after taking back-to-back honours for the first time in his illustrious career. The 84-time BSB race winner didn’t expect to land the crown after an especially tough 2017, and he’ll be keen to prove that he’s still the man to beat.

“I love the showdown format and I’m certain there will be a whole host of winners again throughout the season. The likes of Dan Linfoot, Peter Hickman, Glenn Irwin, Jake Dixon, Josh Brookes Christian Iddon and Jason O’Halloran can all win races, and I expect Tarran Mackenzie will fly on the McAms Yamaha. He’s only 22, his stint in Moto2 will have helped his racecraft and I’m sure he’ll relish the challenge of riding the superbike. Then there’s the British weather – that will definitely throw in the odd surprise too.”

Neil Hodgson has joined forces with Niall Mackenzie to create a new insurance company – Mackenzie Hodgson. Specialising exclusively in motorcycle insurance, the company prides itself on offering riders the right cover at a competitive price while providing best service and attention in the case of a claim.

For more details visit http://www.mackenziehodgson.co.uk or call 0330 343 8751

TESTED – DRIFT ACTION CAMERA MOUNTS

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I’ve always had good experiences with Drift cameras; they’re compact, aerodynamic, discreet and the footage itself is superb – colours are crisp and it captures loads of detail, and there’s no ‘fish-eye’ effect at the edge of the frame.

However, after two years of testing we’ve discovered a problem with the mounts – the cameras are prone to working lose and simply unscrew themselves from their secure housing.

This very thing happened to me last summer. Prior to every ride, I religiously check the camera is fixed securely in its mount, yet on a ride to enjoy Bardney Bends the forward facing camera mounted on the side of the bike simply unwound itself and made a desperate bid for freedom. Luckily, this was captured by the rear facing camera, and thanks to the wonder of social media, I managed to track the camera down. Unsurprisingly it was battered, and even though the battery was still working, the lens had cracked and the housing had taken a beating.

We’ve contacted Drift and they say it’s the riders duty to check the cameras are secure before riding. Admittedly, we were riding a big twin on the day, but we’ve repeated the test on an inline 600, and the same thing happened.

Some online research suggest sticking tape inside the mount acts as a cushion and spares the house from the worst of the engine’s vibrations. We’ll be looking into this and will let you know how we get on…

MotoGP – Neil Hodgson’s 2018 season preview

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Neil Hodgson is a BSB and WSBK champion and a MotoGP commentator for BT Sport. He’s got his finger on the pulse in the MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB paddocks and his encyclopaedic knowledge of bike racing make him perfectly placed to preview the season ahead.

MOTOGP
“I’m really excited about this season. Last year was the best season I can ever remember and it had everything – drama, rivalry, high and lows – this really is the golden era of MotoGP and it has never been so unpredictable.

“Yes, Marc Marquez won the title, but Ducati’s Number Two rider Andrea Dovizioso pushed him hard right to the wire, and the season was packed full of twists and turns and saw an awful lot of different riders finishing in the top three.

“Just how hard he was pushing is reflected in the number of times he crashed. In 2017, a season where his six wins and eight pole positions helped him and Honda complete the hat-trick of rider, team and manufacturer world championships, he crashed 27 times and incredibly escaped unscathed – his crash count is one more than the 2017 tallies of Valentino Rossi (four), Jorge Lorenzo (nine), Maverick Vinales (seven) and Andrea Dovizioso (six) combined. In fact, Marquez has yet to sustain a serious injury in his five years of racing in MotoGP, whereas most of his rivals have broken at least one major bone or joint — or worse. An impressive feat for someone whose career tally of MotoGP races (90) is almost matched by his career tally of MotoGP crashes (83).

“That’s an incredible achievement, and the fact that he susses everything out in practice means he has the confidence to lay everything on the line come race day. It’s this ability to push harder than anyone else that means he’ll still be the benchmark for 2018. Honda has spent the winter extensively testing the 2018 bike, and I’ll expect him to be competitive from the off. He’s only 24, and just three titles away from equalling Rossi’s total – don’t bet against 2018 being lucky number seven.

“Dovizioso had the season of his life and will be buoyed by his results from last season, and the fact that he went into the last race and still had a chance of winning will give him enormous confidence. He has grown in stature as a rider and now has added a combative element to his riding. He managed six race wins last year, and I’m sure he’ll be right at the front in 2018.

“The factory Yamahas were disappointing last year. Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales both had strong starts to the season, but both struggled with grip mid-season and their performances suffered more as the season went on. It was strange to watch, and you can be certain that the Japanese manufacturer is working tirelessly behind the scene to ensure it won’t be repeated this season.

“This will be a pivotal season for Rossi. If he’s competitive he’ll continue racing into 2019 and beyond, if not he’ll hang up his leathers. It’s that simple. And his team-mate Viñales will be doing everything he can to ensure he’s the top gun in the Yamaha camp. He’s fast on his day, and if he can find a bit more consistency, and lose a bit of emotion, he’ll be right at the front. The one shining light for Yamaha last season was rookie Johann Zarco on the satellite Tech 3 bike. He was a revelation, and was not afraid to rub shoulders with the so-called ‘aliens’. He’ll definitely be among the top riders, and I fully expect him to take his debut victory in the premier class very soon.

“And what about Jorge Lorenzo? The Ducati rider joined the factory last year to great fanfare, and while he had a strong season, he didn’t set the world alight. He’s on a lot of money, and his refusal to follow team orders in the final race of the season means he has a point to prove, especially to his team. He needs to re-establish himself as the team’s Number One, and he can only do that with a season of strong results.

“The Brits face another tough season. Scott Redding has moved to Aprilia, and he needs to put in some strong rides to prove he deserves his place on the grid. He’s a talented rider, and on his day he’s plenty fast enough, especially in tricky conditions, but he needs to learn not to use his tyre up. If he can manage his rubber effectively he’ll be fine. Sam Lowes rode the wheels off the bike last year, with limited support from the factory, and he still lost his ride. I hope Redding has more luck.

“Cal Crutchlow is more difficult to read. He’s a grisly, hard rider and really determined, and Honda clearly values his feedback, but he struggles with consistency. One race he’s threatening the top three, the next he’s struggling in the midfield. Having said that, no one tries as hard as Cal, and I’m sure he’ll take the odd podium here and there.

“Bradley Smith had a torrid debut season on the KTM last time out and he’s literally riding for his career. If he can rediscover his pace, he’ll comfortably be inside the top ten and pushing for a top six finish. If he doesn’t then I fear he’ll lose his seat. KTM has huge backing from Red Bull and the paddock is full of rumours that they’re lining up Johann Zarco for Smith’s ride win 2019, so he needs to deliver.”

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MotoGP – illness forces Folger to sit out 2018 season

Folger-Argentina-Rio-Hondo-2017-5

Tech 3 Yahama rider Jonas Folger has announced he will be sitting out the 2018 season as he bids to fully recover from Gilbert’s Syndrome – a genetic condition which has left the German flyer bedridden.

The 24-year-old was forced to miss the final four rounds of the 2017 season but had been expected to make a full recovery. However, the 125cc, Moto3 and Moto2 winner, who still finished a creditable tenth in  the championship last time out in what was his rookie season, has decided to focus fully on his recovery and will miss the new season.

Folger said: “I’m incredibly sad to be saying this, but I will not be racing MotoGP in 2018. I wasn’t able to make the improvements I was hoping for, and at this stage I don’t feel able to ride a MotoGP machine at 100%.

“I hope to be back one day and want to thank you all for your ongoing support.”

Folger’s absence leaves Tech 3 needing to find a replacement quickly, and Poncharal added the news was ‘hard to swallow’.

“It is still very difficult for me to believe, that he’s not going to race with us in 2018, especially because he has been somebody I had lot of faith in and I was sure we would reach top level together this year,” he said.

“I completely respect his decision, although it’s hard to swallow.

“I will try to find a solution for a replacement rider, which is a very difficult mission, as all of the fast riders are already contracted.”