Author: Simon Toyne

Lincolnshire Biker and PMF Biker magazine editor, Goodwood (grrc.goodwood.com) motorcycle road tester and reviewer, UlsterGP contributor, Paddock chatter contributor, Bikefan.co.uk editor, Ducati 749S & Aprilia RSV-R Factory owner, full-time sportsbike lover, part-time deer slayer, petrolhead and owner of Write On Media (Writeonmedia.strikingly.com)

MotoGP 2019 silly season starts now

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So, the silly season is well and truly underway in MotoGP, with many top riders facing the real risk of being left out in the cold for the 2019 season.

With Marc Marquez extending his stay with the Repsol Honda team, Andrea Dovizioso doing the same with Ducati, Alex Rins committing to Suzuki and the KTM and Yamaha factories already agreeing contracts for the rider line-up for next season, there is the real possibility that some of the best riders in the series won ‘t be lining up on the grid in the future.

Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo is arguably the rider who dictates what will happen to the others. With his time at Ducati punctuated by a large number of poor performances, team bosses are becoming increasingly frustrated with Lorenzo’s lack of result, especially considering his large salary. The smart money is on Lorenzo being pushed out in favour of Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci or Jack Miller. But Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone’s recent form has also impressed, and don’t be surprised to see him back in red.

So, where would Lorenzo go? And who would have him? Suzuki seems like the obvious destination. The bike would suit Lorenzo’s smooth riding style, and with the team looking likely to attract Monster as a main sponsor, the funding would be in place to secure Lorenzo’s services.

However, the Japanese manufacturer is also rumoured to be seriously considering making an approach for WSBK three-time champion Jonny Rea. Rea has always had blistering pace, and when he filled in for Casey Stoner on the Repsol Honda, he piloted the bike to a couple of strong finishes.

So, if Rea does sign, where does that leave Lorenzo? There are no other factory bikes available, apart from the Repsol Honda. But would the manufacturer really want Lorenzo alongside Marquez.

And what of Repsol Honda’s long -time servant Dani Pedrosa? The Spaniard has an incredible record in MotoGP, winning a race in every season he has competed. But the word from the paddock is that this season will be his last in the orange and white Repsol colours.

Moto2 sensation Joan Mir is the outside bet to take Pedrosa’s seat, with LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow also mooted for the ride. The Brit looked to be in pole position to make the switch at the start of the season, with Honda bosses impressed with his work ethos and development skills. But a series of crashes in recent races have made bosses think twice abut his ability to be a No2 Factory rider.

So, where would Pedrosa go? He’s a proven winner, and a proven development rider, and would be an attractive option for Suzuki or whichever team runs the satellite Yamahas once the agreement with Tech 3 comes to an end.

Other riders looking for a ride are KTM’s Bradley Smith, who has been forced out after a series of disappointing races stretching back to last season, with Aprilia’s Scott Redding also believed to be under threat after failing to get to grips with the bike since his move from the Pramac Ducati.

The first piece of the jigsaw is expected to fall into place at Mugello, when Jorge Lorenzo announces his intentions. What this space…

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MotoGP – masterful Marquez makes it three in a row at Le Mans

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Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez took a record-breaking victory at the Grand Prix de France, which sees the reigning world champion equal Casey Stoner’s 38 premier class wins – and surpass Mike Hailwood’s win record.

Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci was a superb second to take his first podium of the season – and from the front row – with Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha returning to the rostrum in third place.

Sadly, however, the French fairytale wasn’t to be for Tech 3’s Johann Zarco as the home hero crashed out at Turn 8 on lap eight after re-passing Marquez for second in the fight at the front.

Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone was another rider to crash, falling out of contention on lap one at la Chapelle after making a good start. In yet more drama for the standings, championship contender Andrea Dovizioso  made a rare error on his Ducati at the same corner four laps later, making Le Mans another pivotal race in the Championship.

At the start, it was Ducatis’ Jorge Lorenzo who got the holeshot from the second row, repeating his incredible launch of the Spanish GP to take off in the lead – and hold onto it. Zarco dropped from pole but then struck back almost immediately into the chicane to take second, with Petrucci, Dovizioso, Marquez and Rossi all close at the front until Iannone crashed out – leaving a gap back to Marquez as the two Ducatis and Zarco stayed close together at the front.

The Frenchman then headed slightly wide and Dovizioso struck, honing in on teammate Lorenzo in the lead and not leaving long before trying an attack. Getting the job done quickly, it seemed the Italian was then going to unleash his pace shown in practice – but he suddenly slid out of the lead and into the gravel, leaving the number 99 of Lorenzo’s Ducati out front.

Zarco and Marquez closed in before the reigning champion shot past the Frenchman for second – but Zarco, in signature style, was quick to respond. The second bolt of drama was about to hit the race, however, as the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider then slid off at Turn 8 – leaving Marquez vs Lorenzo in the lead.

On Lap 10, the number 93 made his move before Petrucci followed the Honda rider through a lap later. Rossi and Miller soon carved their way past the five-time world champion, who started the race on softer rubber, with Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa waiting in the wings.

The gap between Marquez, Petrucci, Rossi and Miller stayed consistent, with all four exchanging quickest laps. That was until Marquez pulled the pin on Lap 16, setting the fastest lap of the race to bridge to gap to a second over the chasing GP18. From there, Marquez was able to stretch the gap tenth by tenth, with Petrucci also keeping Rossi at bay. Pedrosa was later able to pass Lorenzo for fifth, with the Ducati rider having to settle for sixth.

Further down the order, after failing to get the start he was looking for, last year’s winner Maverick Viñales  made his way back up to seventh on the factory Yamaha after being outside the top ten for the first half of the race. Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro had a great ride, holding onto eighth until the last lap but then coming home ninth. Passing him on the last lap was a superhuman Cal Crutchlow, who had a magnificent ride battling his LCR Honda to P8 from 13th on the grid – riding through the pain barrier after a huge highside on Saturday.

Suzuki’s Alex Rins battled with Viñales and Espargaro throughout the race, eventually rounding out the top ten in his first ride at the track in the premier class, having missed the event in 2017 due to injury. KTM’s Pol Espargaro picked up another solid result in P11 for some more good points for KTM, with Bradley Smith adding to the total in P14. Tech 3’s Hafizh Syahrin eventually got the better of Franco Morbidelli on the Marc VDS Honda to finish as top rookie in twelfth, with LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami rounding the points scorers.

Marquez said: “I’m particularly happy with this win here in Le Mans, as it’s one of the most difficult tracks for us. Today I was the only one on a hard rear tyre, and that made my approach to the race a bit different because I knew it would take a little more time to reach the right temperature. But during the warm-up, I had the opportunity to verify that once the tyre was ready, it was very constant, and I was able to keep a very good rhythm.

“To be honest, things were a bit challenging at the beginning of the race: Zarco touched me in the second corner and I went a bit wide, then Iannone crashed and nearly hit me, so I lost some more positions. I decided to cool down for a while.

“When I saw that Dovi and Johann were out, my approach to the race again changed a bit. At a certain point, I had one big moment in turn three, where I had already crashed in FP3, which is why I was being extremely careful there; I think that helped me to avoid a crash in that moment.

“I’m currently experiencing a very ‘sweet’ period with my bike, and when you’ve got that kind of feeling, you also work better; then you ride better, and the bike works better. Things don’t exactly become easier when you get into this zone, but they’re more ‘natural.’ Of course it’s a very long season, and not all the races will be the same, so we’ll just try and keep the momentum.”

MotoGP – Crutchlow declared fit to race after vicious qualifying highside

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LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow has been declared fit to race after suffering a vicious high side crash during Saturday’s qualifying 1 session at the Grand Prix of France in Le Mans.

Exiting Turn Nine while on a fast lap, the British rider was thrown over the top of the bike, before then being hit again by the bike as it slid along the asphalt behind him.

Crutchlow was attended to immediately by the marshals and medical staff at the side of the track, where it became clear that he had not lost consciousness at any moment, but he was complaining of pain in his hip region.

Crutchlow was stretchered off before being transferred to the circuit’s medical centre where he was checked over by medical staff. He was then taken to the hospital Le Mans for further examinations, and he was declared fit to race early on Sunday morning.

Lucio Cecchinello, LCR Honda team principal, said: “The most important thing first of all, is that after examination both the Le Mans circuit medical centre and here at the hospital in Le Mans, Cal has suffered no fractures or major injuries.”

MotoGP – home pole for Zarco at Le Mans

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Tech 3’s Johann Zarco stormed to a history-making pole position at the Grand Prix de France, smashing the pole record to become the first Frenchman to secure pole on home soil since Christian Sarron at Paul Ricard in 1988.

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez threatened to spoil the party on his final lap as the reigning champion honed in, but it wasn’t enough and the championship leader starts P2.

Q1 graduate Danilo Petrucci, meanwhile, made his presence felt in Q2 on the Pramac Ducati and will start tomorrow’s race third on the grid.

It was an incredibly tense Q2 session in Le Mans, with all eyes on the number five. The Frenchman, straight out the blocks, didn’t disappoint and topped the timesheets after his first flying lap. But Marquez – as ever – was quick to reply. The reigning champion wasn’t at the summit for long though, as Petrucci put in his fastest lap of the weekend go provisional P1.

Zarco though had other ideas, and on the final lap of his first run, the Frenchman sent a warning sign, going 0.330 seconds quicker than anyone else.

When the riders came back out for their second runs, Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo briefly led the session but Marquez then reset the benchmark, with Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone also leaping up the timesheets and taking second. However, the home hero wasn’t done, again going quickest, this time by 0.130. As all looked set and done, Marquez’ efforts on his final lap sent French nerves into overdrive but Zarco held on.

Behind the explosive front row, Iannone starts from P4 on his Suzuki and was less than a tenth off the front row – another name sure to add fireworks to the fight at the front. The Italian heads the two factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso, who’ll start fifth, and Lorenzo in sixth – both of whom look to have very strong race pace.

Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller was impressive once again in P7 and in the mix throughout the session, making it four Ducatis in the top seven on a track the manufacturer has never won at.

A team who has enjoyed winning at Le Mans recently are the factory Yamaha squad, but Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi will have work to do from P8 and P9 on the grid respectively – over half a second behind fellow Yamaha rider Zarco.

Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), who came through Q1, will start from tenth on Sunday – but the ‘Little Samurai’ is a previous winner at the track, and came through from outside the top ten to take the podium last season. He was just ahead of Avinita’s Tito Rabat, who was a slender 0.025 behind his compatriot, and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro. The number 41 crashed at Turn 1 on his opening run but was ok and ran back to the pits.

WSBK – Rea shines in Italy as he takes Race Two victory at Imola

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In taking his first double race win of the season at Imola Jonny Rea made WSBK history by equalling the all-time record of 59 career race wins.

The Ulsterman now shares that honour with WSBK royalty Carl Fogarty.

After a masterful race one win for Rea from pole position on Saturday, Sunday’s 19-lap race delivered a victory of a different kind. Starting from ninth, and not getting away as cleanly, Rea had to put in several passes before getting into the slipstream of early leader Chaz Davies.

Rea was in second place after four laps, and sat behind Davies for much of the race before deciding to make a final pass into the Variante Alta, on Lap 13.

Rea then put in two blistering laps with a clear track ahead of him and eventually won by a margin of 4.019 seconds.

He has now won half for the races in 2018, but this is the first time has been able to win the second race of any weekend, rather than the first.

He now has the chance to become the stand-alone record holder for race wins at the next round, at his home circuit of Donington.

Rea said: “We got it done and it was probably the best race win of the season. Coming from ninth on the grid, it was so difficult. I was not so confident I could win today. In fact, it was Fabien Foret, who kept talking me round.

“I think I was over-thinking the first lap a lot – and my track position – coming from the outside of row three. I lost places in the first corner but eventually I was able to stick in some passes.

“I wasted no time so when I arrived with Chaz I was able to relax a little bit behind him and understand where I could pass him. I tried two or three times, but he was determined to come back. The final time I made it through, into the Variante Alta, it was time to put my head down, set two clean laps and make a gap.

“It was really nice to equal the record total of race wins, and with a long season left I feel confident that I can extend my win tally, and that is super-nice.”

WSBK – flawless Rea takes Race One victory at Imola

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It was a good day at Imola for Kawasaki as riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes scored first and second places respectively in race one at the fifth round of the WSBK Championship in Italy.

In warm and sticky conditions Rea started the first 19-lap race of the WSBK race weekend from pole position, having secured his 16th career Superpole just a couple of hours before the 1pm race start.

The Ulsterman led from flag-to-flag with only his own team-mate Sykes for company in the first few laps, before Rea’s pace took him to an eventual margin of victory of 3.755 seconds. His latest win was his fourth of the season, all of them coming at different circuits.

Rea’s fourth success of the year was the 58th of his career and takes him to within one victory of sharing the all-time record for WorldSBK race wins with Carl Fogarty.

Rea said: “Going to the front from the start was my only plan today. My pace has been a little bit extra all weekend so the best thing for me to was to set my own rhythm and not get involved in anyone else’s race.

“There was a five lap plan to make a small gap but I had more than one second of advantage, so I was happy to ride to my own pit-board after that. When the gap was stagnant I could make a small effort, without taking many risks, because the temperature came up quite a lot today. The bike behaved differently because of this, so I was just trying to understand all the limits of the bike through the race and bring it home. It felt like a long race but I had a good solid rhythm, and that was enough.”

MotoGP – war of words as Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Lorenzo clash at Jerez

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A war of words has broken out between the Honda and Ducati factory riders following the dramatic racing incident at Jerez which saw Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso crash out while fighting for second.

The drama unfolded on Lap 18, when Dovizioso, clearly frustrated at running behind a sower Lorenzo, attempted to pass his team-mate on the brakes but ran wide at Turn 6, sucking team-mate Lorenzo with him. Pedrosa, saw his opportunity, and carried a smooth line into the corner, and as Lorenzo attempted to sweep back inside he made contact with the Honda rider, causing the diminutive Pedrosa to have a massive high side. Pedrosa’s bike then cuased Lorenzo to sit up and take avoiding action, leading him to Dovizioso and all three riders hit the dirt. 

A clearly angry Pedrosa slammed Race Direction for a lack of action. He said: “Regarding the race, of course it’s a great pity. I was riding well and was able to keep a very good pace, even if I wasn’t totally comfortable with the acceleration, and making passes was difficult for me. 

“I was just sticking to Dovizioso and Pedrosa, trying to see if I could conserve my tyres and improve my pace at the end of the race, or if they would make a mistake. 

“Finally they did, and they both went very wide. I kept the regular inside line, and the next thing I felt was a big hit, and I suffered a heavy high-side. 

“Unfortunately, it ended up with the three of us crashing. I’m very sad and disappointed for all of us, as we were having a great race but ended with zero points, and also because all of us are used to a nice style of riding and didn’t deserve this result. 

“However, what makes me sadder and more disappointed is that I could see that the Race Direction don’t seem to understand very well how to manage these situations, and how to make decisions about things that happen on the track. 

“I went to speak with them, just because I wanted to understand how they make decisions. In the end, there are many people who watch us, and many other riders who look at us as examples. I asked them how they judge: Was I on the correct inside line? Yes. Were the other guys on the outside coming back from a mistake, re-joining the right line? Yes. So who has the preference in this case, the guy who is inside or those who are outside? The one on the inside. 

“So, who was at fault? But I didn’t get an answer, only that they had already made their decision and that if I didn’t agree with it, which I don’t, to appeal against Lorenzo if I wanted. But I didn’t want that, as I don’t want Lorenzo to be penalised, only for them to understand correctly what is happening on track.”

A clearly dejected Andrea Dovizioso said: “About the incident, I braked right on the limit because I had been trying to pass Lorenzo for a few laps: I went wide and made Lorenzo go wide a bit as well, Pedrosa saw an opening and jumped in too quickly and in the end bad luck would have it that when they came together they also took me down with them.”

Jorge Lorenzo, the rider arguably most culpable in the incident, was less critical: “I’m really disappointed about the crash, especially because it involved three of the fairest riders in the world championship, and for this reason I don’t want to go into detail about what happened. 

“We were for sure very unlucky and it was a racing incident: Pedrosa went in very hard but I don’t think we can blame anyone except for bad luck and I’m really sorry for Andrea and for Ducati.”

Race Direction’s Mike Webb explained his reasoning behind a lack of penalties. He said: “You could possibly apportion some blame on Lorenzo, and possibly some on Pedrosa. Lorenzo was ahead, but he’s coming in on a strange line. Pedrosa has seen a gap and gone for it, and then there’s not a gap. And he was behind.

“So where do you apportion the blame? Given all the circumstances, where they ended up on the track and what unfolded, I don’t think any of the riders made ridiculous moves that had zero chance of coming off. There were riders that ended up on the same piece of tarmac by the circumstances they were put in.

“Pedrosa saw a gap and had a go and it was no longer there. There’ll be parallels drawn to all sorts of things. A very similar incident years ago [2012] in Barcelona with Marquez and Pol Espargaro, with a rider running wide and then coming back on track. I wasn’t Race Director at the time, but I remember it was penalised, and I remember also that the penalty was overturned by the FIM saying, that’s not a fair penalty. The rider was ahead.

“So I’m not saying that’s what we based it on. Again, I’ll say every incident is different and we have to consider them all on their own. But taking the whole set of circumstances, track positions and what was going on at the time, the reason it’s just a race incident is because two riders ended up contacting, causing a major incident, but not with any intent to do something wrong.

“It was a set of circumstances. Pedrosa tried to pass. He had a legitimate big gap waiting for him to go past. He had a go at it. The gap was no longer there by the time he got close to the other bike. That was because the other bike was coming in at a strange angle, because he’d ran wide, and been forced wide, in fact.”

MotoGP – Crutchlow smashes Jerez pole record to take P1

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LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow smashed the previous pole lap record at the newly-resurfaced Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto, taking pole position for the first time since the 2016 British GP at Silverstone in some style as he topped the session and then went even faster.

Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa – the winner at Jerez in 2017 – also dug deep to put in another stunner to take second despite his ongoing recovery from a broken wrist sustained in Argentina, with Tech 3’s Johann Zarco qualifying in third to make it eight times in a row the Frenchman will be starting the race from the front row.

It was a tense final shootout at the end of the session, and many eyes were on Marquez as the number 93 pushed and consistently lit up the first sectors red – and then just lost out before the line. Unable to improve on his initial fast lap, the six-time World Champion was pushed off the front row and then down to fifth as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo – the previous pole lap record holder – lit it up to take fourth and head up Row 2 at the venue at which he took his first podium for Ducati.

Suzuki pair Alex Rins Andrea Iannone, after topping FP4 in reverse order, line up sixth and seventh respectively – with the Hamamatsu factory a threat for the front throughout. Rins, who is racing in his first Spanish GP in the premier class after missing the event in 2017 due to injury, was only 0.007 off Marquez and just 0.003 ahead of Iannone.

Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso lines up eighth on the Ducati after he was left heading through – and going fastest in – Q1, but the gap was small once again, with the Italian only 0.042 off his compatriot ahead of him.

Fellow Italian Danilo Petrucci completes the third row on his Pramac Ducati.

It was a more difficult day for the factory Yamaha squad with Valentino Rossi lining up tenth after just edging out his teammate by 0.014, with Maverick Viñales therefore lining up P11.

Jack Miller on the second Pramac Ducati lines up twelfth ahead of Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), who was just left behind in Q1 by 0.040 seconds, with some solid rookie performances from Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Franco Morbidelli (Marc VDS) completing the top fifteen.

MotoGP – Zarco signs for KTM for 2019 and 2020 seasons

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One of the biggest dominoes of the 2018 MotoGP Silly Season has just fallen into place with the announcement that Johann Zarco has signed a two-year contract to race for KTM.

The move will see the in demand Frenchman switch to the orange machines for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, joining Pol Espargaro who has just announced a contract extension. 

Zarco’s performances on the Tech 3 satellite Yamaha has seen his stock rise since he made his debut in the premier class last year, with many paddock insiders having  him as a shoe-in to replace Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda.

The choice essentially boiled down to this – trying to beat Marc Marquez on a bike designed for Marc Marquez, or developing the KTM into a weapon capable of beating the reigning champion.

It seems Zarco has favoured rising to the challenge. 

Speaking in Jerez he said: ”For sure the chance with Honda is quite amazing for a rider, but the way KTM wanted me and also this challenge to be with a European constructor as a European rider gives me a lot of motivation.

“Together with my coach Laurent Fellon that I still have a very close relationship with for motorbikes – he really feels the bike is good and we can do great things. I trust him and that’s why we want to go for that challenge. My coach trusts that I can adapt well and that the things I’ve learnt during two years with the Yamaha and the MotoGP category will help me a lot.

“If we get good results and develop the bike we can have a fantastic future and the way KTM were improving last year made me think something is possible.

“I had the choice and I went there because I want to play with this challenge. My feeling is really good in MotoGP now. I enjoy it so much, the performance is good too and I hope to stay at this level for the next two years.”

The move means Bradley Smith will be looking for a new ride at the end of the season, with WSBK his most likely destination. 

Road riding – ten things I’ve learnt from riding a 2011 Yamaha Diversion 600F

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01) The Diversion 600F is tiny, really tiny for my 6’2in frame

02) OEM tyres from 2011 don’t age well…

03) The state of the roads in Lincolnshire is shocking – potholes everywhere

04) The standard of drivers isn’t much better; everyone seems glued to their phone or sat nav…the telltale weave is a giveaway

05) The temperature may be warm during the day right now but at twilight it’s still too early in the year for vented leathers and boots

06) The bugs are much bigger riding after 8pm too

07) The engine may be small, but it’s still lively and has enough poke to put a smile on your face

08) It’s crying out for an aftermarket can though…sounds like a washing machine

09) It begins to weave once you get it singing

10) The 600F may just be the perfect post-test bike to cut your teeth on