MotoGP

Moto GP – Crutchlow tops timesheet on day one of testing in Thailand

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Despite suffering an early crash, LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow got his Thai testing off to a flier as he topped the timesheets on Friday.

He said: “I had a not too bad day considering we’ve not been to the circuit before, I think only a couple of guys have, but I think we’ve continued to ride well after Malaysia.

“I didn’t have a good day this morning and I’ve had jet lag. I didn’t feel great. I didn’t feel psychically tired but I wanted to sleep! But maybe if I did that on a race weekend I could go a lot quicker…!”

Joking aside, the Brit did crash in the morning – a minor tip off at the last corner with no damage to man or machine. He said:  “I crashed this morning on the fifth lap or something but I wasn’t concentrating so well. There are a few bumps on the last corner and it’s a tricky corner. But that’s why we’re here to test.”

On the specifics of testing, Crutchlow was positive – especially about the engine.

“I felt good in Malaysia and the HRC engineers over the winter have done a good job,” affirms the two-time Grand Prix winner.

“Last year we were lacking something but this year we’ve found it. We still have some of the same problems, but we’ve found something this year that’s helped us to be more competitive. I’m pleased with how the team’s working. And they’ve definitely improved the engine. Acceleration I’m not sure, we have to look at the data from Sepang. I’m pleased with the engine, but we need to continue working on the rest of the bike.”

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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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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“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

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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.”

MotoGP – Honda appoints Puig as team manager

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Alberto Puig has been appointed new team manager of the Honda works MotoGP team.

The Spaniard will report to HRC race operations manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and will combine his new role with his existing positions as head of the Asian and British Talent Cup series.

“I’m very grateful to HRC for this opportunity they have given me with the Repsol Honda Team,” said Puig.

“To have the chance to be in this position in one of the most successful teams in the MotoGP championship is a very big honour for me, so I can only focus on giving my best back to Honda and on trying to help them to achieve their goals.”

MotoGP – Ducati unveils 2018 livery

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Ducati has launched its new-look 2018 MotoGP machine, with riders Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo unveiling a new colour scheme that sees a new red and grey scheme replacing the traditional red and white paint.

The modifications make the new Demosedici GP bike look even more menacing, but it’s worth noting that the design is yet to be finalised – the Italian factory will ditch and winglets and debut a new aerodynamic package at the upcoming preseason tests in Malaysia and Thailand.

MotoGP – Livio Suppo to leave HRC

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Honda has announced that Livio Suppo has decided to leave his role as Repsol Honda’s Team Principal.

Suppo joined HRC in 2010, as Communications and Marketing Director. From 2013 he assumed a dual-role as Team Principal of the Repsol Honda Team and HRC Communications and Marketing Director, giving a precious contribution in marketing, plus team and rider management.

Suppo said: “It has been a real honour to work for HRC over the past eight years. It has been a great professional and human experience, and I will be always grateful to the Company for asking me to be part of it.

“Anyway, after 22 seasons in the motorcycle racing world, I feel that it is time for me to look for new challenges. I leave HRC knowing that in 2018 they will be competitive, because Marc and Dani are very strong and the engineers will as always prepare a good package for them to fight for the championship again. I will never forget all the good days we had together, and one more time I would like to say thanks to everybody in the team and at HRC for sharing these exciting years with me.”