I don’t know about everyone else but I for one have felt the frustration of the summer break for the MotoGP and WorldSBK championships. It’s already tough enough just waiting it out between races, never-mind a few week break with no racing to look forward to after a long week at work. It hasn’t been all bad though as in that time I decided to finally head to some local racing, catching both the 8 hour endurance and the South African SuperGP national championship races. Both races were held at Redstar Raceway which I covered in previous blogs. I have also been glued to social media to see what has been happening behind the scenes over the break as well as what some of the riders have been getting up to.
So what has been happening?
MotoGP took a three week summer break, last racing in Germany at the Sachsenring where Marc Marquez pulled off a composed victory in tricky conditions. Since then some of the teams took part in a two-day private test in Austria. The riders had their first run of the Red Bull Ring-Spielberg a few days after the German GP, this ahead of the first MotoGP race to be held at the Red Bull Ring, the championship returning to Austria for the first time since 1996.
Riders gave their first impressions of the new addition to the MotoGP calendar. Ducati rider Eugene Laverty of the Pull and Bear Aspar team saying, “I like the track, it really seems to suit our bike.” That it did, as the Ducati’s dominated the two-day private test. At the end of the first day Ducati filled eight of of the top ten spots on the time sheets.
In all fairness, the practise and test times have not quite been an accurate reflection for qualifying and race pace this season, and the factory Honda’s of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were also not in attendance for the test. However, as Laverty said, the track does seem to suit the set up of the Ducati’s, so could it be possible that in good, dry conditions we see the Ducati’s taking down the Yamaha’s and Honda’s, or will the Ducati’s continue to disappoint and take each other, and everyone in their path, to the gravel, where they’ve been for most of the season? Time will tell.
Andrea Iannone ended the final day on top of the time sheets, riding with a new chassis. Andrea Dovizioso, the only man really close to Iannone, coming within half a second of his team mates time. Casey Stoner was in attendance as the test rider for the factory Ducati team, only adding more frustration for fans at the fact that he is no longer racing in the championship, proving that he still has the pace. Stoner the only other rider to break the 1min ’24sec barrier. Hector Barbera rounding up an all Ducati top four.
Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo finished fifth and sixth respectively, within a second of Ianonne. The Suzuki’s ending up in seventh and eighth, Maverick Vinales just ahead of team mate Aliex Espargaro. The Suzuki team mainly focusing on the electronics over the two-days of testing. The other two teams not attending the Red Bull Ring test were the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini.
The test did see the KTM RC16 out for the first time alongside the rest of the MotoGP competition. The KTM posting competitive times with test riders, Thomas Luthi and Mika Kallio on board. The KTM was said to have shown plenty of power and impressed many. I can’t wait to see the KTM out on track competing in the championship.
Something else I can’t wait to see is Sam Lowes on board the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini RS-GP in 2017. Lowes was given some time on the Aprilia at the Red Bull test. The team unfortunately did not fit a transponder on the bike, so no times were recorded.
Johann Zarco also gave his opinion on the Red Bull Ring. Zarco put in 144 laps on his Ajo Motorsport Kalex machine, he went on to say, “We’ve been fast with our lap times and had good pace.” “This is a very interesting circuit that is also very fast, given that it only has 9 corners.”
South Africa’s very own Brad Binder rode the Red Bull Ring for the first time.“What really matters here is that you push hard,” The Moto3 KTM Ajo rider commented. Binder completed 190 laps over the two-day test looking for a base set up for the race at the Red Bull Ring. He leads the championship going in to the next round in Austria.
All in all the verdict on the track itself seems to be a positive one and I just can’t wait to see the race. The wait is killing me! Round 10 of the MotoGP championship is on the 14th of August.
That’s not all that has happened though over the summer break. A few changes in the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks have taken place. The teams are starting to take shape after Alex Rins announced he would be joining Suzuki and Johan Zarco snatched up the last spot at Yamaha Tech 3. Aliex Espargaro will be on board the Aprilia RS-GP alongside Sam Lowes, this however all took place before the summer break. The moves left some riders without a ride for 2017. One of those riders was Stefan Bardl. It did not take him long to find a new ride though, switching MotoGP for WorldSBK and joining former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden at Ten Kate Honda.
Aspar and Avintia Ducati the two teams who have not yet made final decisions on their riders for the 2017 season. Will Carl Crutchlow have a team mate at LCR? No confirmation as yet on whether or not LCR will have two bikes out on track in 2017.
The WorldSBK took centre stage in the rider ‘transfer’ department over the summer break. Not much had been done as yet in the WorldSBK paddock in terms of finalising riders for 2017. Chaz Davies was confirmed to be staying at Aruba.it Ducati. Chaz Davies team mate Davide Giugliano is to be replace by Marco Melandri who returns the the WorldSBK championship. Arguably the biggest news is that of Micheal van der Mark’s move from Honda to Yamaha. A great bit of business getting their hands on possibly the hottest property in WorldSBK, let’s just hope their bike can actually put in it’s part next season, what it has failed to do so far this season.
Aside from the rider switches, there has been a bit happening on track as well. A few of the MotoGP and WorldSBK riders took to the track at the Suzuka 8 hour endurance race. For those who may not know, the Suzuka 8 hour is one, if not the most, popular motorcycle endurance races in the world. The race attracts many of the world’s best riders from most championships including MotoGP and WorldSBK. A number of big names have won the Suzuka 8 hour. The likes of Wayne Gardner, Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Noriyuki Haga and yes, the Doctor himself, Valentino Rossi have graced the top step at the Suzuka 8 hour.
2015 saw the Yamaha factory team take top honours. Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith bringing the Yamaha R1 home in first place. It is always a hotly contested race with so many big name riders in the field, this year would be no different. Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro were back to defend the title for Yamaha, this year joined by a certain Alex Lowes of the Pata Yamaha factory WorldSBK team. One of my all time favourite riders, Noriyuki Haga, was back this year. Haga would be on board the Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance Suzuki GSX-R1000. He would be joined by another familiar name, Josh Brookes. Former WorldSBK rider, now riding in the British Superbike championship, Leon Haslam was on board the team Green Kawasaki ZX-10R. PJ Jacobson of the Word Super Sport Ten Kate Honda team rode the FCC TSR Honda alongside Dominique Aegerter. More big names in the form of Nicky Hayden and Micheal van der Mark were on board another of the CBR1000RR’s. Just from those names already you can tell just how popular this race is and just how competitive it is as well.
In the end Yamaha Factory Racing made it back-to-back victories at the Suzuka 8 hour. They lead for almost all of the race and would finish over two minutes ahead of team Green Kawasaki. Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance, with Haga, Brookes and Tsuda on board rounded up the podium in third. Hayden, van der Mark and Takahashi failed to bring the factory Musashi Harc-Pro CBR1000RR home after a technical problem ended their race. Dominique Aegerter crashed out on board the FCC TSR Honda.
A very good looking top three then with a Yamaha R1, Kawasaki ZX-10R and GSX-R1000 all on the podium. Not a great race for Honda however as their best placed bike came home in a disappointing eighth. This is yet another example of a race I wish could be televised. I would have loved to see the actual race instead of just having tho find out how things played out via the website or social media. There were some top class riders in the field and it would have been amazing to see them in action in a different format of motorcycle racing, riding alongside guys from different championships. I guess I will just have to save up and go watch it in person some day.
This is just some of the action that has taken place over the summer break. Now it’s back to the long wait for MotoGP and WorldSBK to return. MotoGP is up and running again on the 14th of August, while the wait is a bit longer for WorldSBK as they return to action on the 18th of September for the Pirelli German round. Until then, I, and many others will be keeping an eye out for any news that breaks before the action gets back underway.
This has been my word on what has been happening over the MotoGP and WorldSBK summer break.