Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Itsy Bisty Teenie Weenie Marquez Buggered Off, The Meanie

"Choose bikes. Choose MotoGP. Choose World Superbikes. Choose British Superbikes. Choose fucking speedway, choose Moto3, Moto2, World Supersport. Choose Cadwell Park, Oulton Park, or Brands Hatch. Choose camping in shit British weather. Choose a hotel down the road. Choose your paddock friends. Choose warm multi-layered clothing and a fancy cool box. Choose a massive caravan on hire purchase in a range of fucking colours. Choose no DIY and not wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning, waiting for Warm Up. Choose sitting on that banking watching watching endless Free Practice sessions just to get your bike fix, stuffing fucking picnic food into your mouth. Choose coming away on Sunday at the end of it all, all excited and happy as you head home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves as race fans. Choose your future. Choose bikes... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose to choose bikes. I didn't choose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got bikes?"
by Dave Neal, aged 45 and a bit.

All the hype, all the social media arguments that STILL bubble on preceded what turned out to be the most boring MotoGP race of the season so far - yes, I know we're only three rounds in but still... Even the undoubted three place grid demotion for Marc Marquez couldn't really add the necessary excitement to proceedings such was his advantage around the red, white and blue-bedecked dust bowl just outside Austin. "Not-a-maniac-just-a caravan" Iannone had one big attempt to upset the rhythm of the pesky Spaniard in the opening lap but, yeah, unsurprisingly it didn't quite work. Credit to Iannone though, he's really stepped it up since the Lorenzo-to-Suzuki rumours began. Can't think why...

The 'Horsepower Rodeo' was little more than a glorified procession for the majestic Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda around CotA, and really, was it ever in doubt?! Not really. 11 races unbeaten on American soil before Sunday, turning left really suits the mercurial Spaniard. Texas was a glimpse at how the start to the season could possibly have panned out but for the Ducati-favouring Qatar circuit and the shenanigans in Argentina. 

MotoGP in 2018 so far appears to have flattered to deceive; other rider's misfortunes have opened up the championship battle for early flyaway honours before the 'regular' part of the season kicks off at Jerez next time out. But really, who is going to stop Marquez other than Marc himself because, to be fair to the fella, he's doing his best to give the rest a bit of a chance with time and grid penalties in successive races! The reigning World Champion has the bit between his teeth, determined to dominate the title race and looking at his form over the last two races, it has been a shot across the bows for anyone with even half an eye on a championship challenge.

I know it's a long 19-race season and we're only three rounds in but let's be honest (this isn't a #93 love-in, by the way), while there have been glimpses shown by the chasing pack that they're not THAT far away - well, apart from Jorge Lorenzo obviously, he's frikkin' MILES away - is it enough? The Yamahas of both Rossi and Viñales seem to have finally exorcised the demons of 2017 with a welcome return to the podium over the weekend for the precocious talent of the #25. Mav was as exuberant as I've seen him in a long time after the race and it's he who I think will take the fight to #93 as the season unfolds, not discounting Rossi completely or title challenger of last year, Dovi, I just think that a happy Maverick Viñales is a very fast Maverick Viñales and who's due more MotoGP glory after the that epic start to 2017 turned in to utter tripe. I feel he will have the measure of his illustrious team mate at most rounds. I'm probably wrong but we'll see. 

The Great MotoGP Seat Swap is proving a real conundrum this season. After the relatively average silly season of last year the line up for 2019 is anyone's guess... well, apart from Movistar Yamaha, anyway! The second seat at Repsol Honda is the main focus for most learned observers (so, not me - at least the 'learned' bit anyway!) and with it being reported that Johann Zarco signed for for the Factory KTM squad for 2019/2020 at CotA, that's one less rider to fill any gap that may arise with the HRC squad. There is too much to go in to in this episode of my ramblings, the permutations are long and protracted but nevertheless really, really interesting but they're for another day.

Speaking of really, really interesting - World Superbikes was exactly that this weekend. From a scintillating Qualifying session to a hard-fought race one and a runaway winner (but not the one you'd expect!) in race two with a mighty battle raging behind him, it was another good weekend for the seemingly rejuvenated series. A glorious first Pole Position for Alex Lowes to then becoming the unluckiest man in Holland (after poor Werner from Weisbaden who got his weiner wedged in his zip while window shopping in the 'Dam). It was a bitter pill to swallow for my fellow Yellowbelly (a what?! This...) but he'll bounce back. Just as in MotoGP, the Yamahas are really coming strong in WorldSBK - gotta call it that, they get a bit sniffy if you call it WSB) partly in thanks to the rule changes but I suspect mainly to the revised electronics package on the R1. One conundrum though, Tom Sykes can lead a race from the front in imperious style but appears to struggle when it's time to battle? Good to see a different Kawasaki on the top step, however briefly it'll be!

The Bennett's British Superbike Championship - it still feels strange calling it that - continued it's rich vein of form at Brands Hatch a week or so ago. Shakey Byrne was really, really happy and Leon Haslam equally so as they took the spoils around the Indy circuit as tyre issues once again became a real bugbear for some, despite measures being introduced to retain a level playing field in terms of black round rubber. Hopefully the issues will be solved before Oulton Park in a couple of weeks time (there's an official test there on Thursday) and that the weather can be either one thing or the other in that leafy, affluent corner of Cheshire. Bright and sunny preferably! Even as a proud Lincolnshireman, Oulton Park is an equal favourite circuit of mine next to our own Cadwell Park and all I ask for is a dry, warmish (I burn easily; Snetterton seems to prove that every chuffing year!) weekend for some mega racing in every class as the series heads towards the Roads break.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Back To The Future, It Seems...

Here I am! Back once again like some renegade master. (Google it, if you're not sure). 

And while we're on a musical theme, to quote DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince after Sunday evening, 'Here We Go Again'!

I won't delve deeply into the shenanigans of last Sunday as the more qualified luminaries of the MotoGP Press Room have covered them far more eloquently and with better knowledge here, herehere and here (courtesy of Neil Morrison, David Emmett, Manuel Pecino and Mat Oxley). Four exceptional pieces of writing, all united in their voices about arguably the most exciting and interesting MotoGP race in a number of seasons.

The biggest disappointment about last Sunday for me was the fact that the divisions set in 2015 and the weakly engineered patch-up of relations over the passage of time since have been widened exponentially by one errant 'pass' and subsequent actions from pit box to press scrum. The whys and wherefores from a racing and paddock perspective have been well covered by the links above, however it's the cursed platform of Social Media, that ever-growing harbor of the perpetually offended and occasional hard of thinking, that once again holds court to those spouting vitriol and responding with derision to those who offer a different opinion. Back to 2015 we go and the mildly dwindling catcalling and booing will now continue with renewed vigour. Also, I'd expect the 'ambient' microphones to be turned down in Texas should Marquez stand on the podium at CotA...can't have the watching masses hear that, now can we?

The not-so-small matter of a British winner and that same Briton now leading the MotoGP Standings, somewhat lost in the fire, fury and fallout because of the wayward actions of others. Bit disappointing, really.

Neither rider has apologised and I suspect neither rider will. No doubt Marc Marquez was over-aggressive when he didn't need to be and was completely at fault, however the contact wasn't deliberate. Valentino Rossi's comments post-race however were unnecessary, inflammatory and absolutely deliberate in their delivery. Rossi is a master of the mental game but Marquez is in his head and any opportunity that presents itself to discredit the Spaniard he'll take with both hands and quite possibly to the detriment of the sport unless the powers that be intervene behind closed doors and not with a bullshit staged-managed PR-friendly handshake that neither rider is remotely interested in. The CotA Press Conference will certainly be interesting and undoubtedly with a better attendance than the Argentinian post-race version!

On a more positive outlook, I'm reliably informed Jorge Lorenzo did finish the race. Bless...

The Bennett's British Superbike Championship reconvenes this weekend for Round 2 around the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. The opening races at a sodden, cold and thoughtfully revamped Donington Park brought a fresh new look to the title race in the form of the gangly, bespectacled Brad Ray. The Buildbase Suzuki man took a double win ahead of a strong, predominantly fully fit field over Easter Weekend, brilliantly carving his name in to the list of title contenders for 2018 with all the style and maturity of a seasoned pro.

While pre-season favourites Leon Haslam, Josh Brookes and Shane 'really, really' Byrne (just a bit of fun, listen to his interviews) had their issues over the weekend, it was BSB's own member of the Hair Bear Bunch that made those brave souls who risked hypothermia while entrenched under the approach path of East Midlands Airport sit up and take notice of his intentions for this season - wait, that's an unfair statement, UK race fans are, in the main, anoraks of the finest order and were already acutely aware of the talents of Kent's latest BSB race winner. Can he sustain it? No idea! It's a long season and only two races old but with a small matter of 10 podium credits already in the bag for September, there's no doubt he's made a perfect start.

Make no mistake, Byrne, Haslam, Brookes, Ellison et al will soon find their stride despite the next round being on such a unique circuit. Luke Mossey took the double there last season and will be chomping at the bit to repeat that feat while fending off the marauding pack. The Yamaha R1 works around the Indy layout, James Ellison proved that by taking pole position last year so you can count him and Josh Brookes and with a reported new swing arm for Shakey Byrne's Ducati Panigale, it won't be any surprise to see him really, really pushing for his first win of 2018 (see what I did there?). Throw in both the strong-starting Honda riders along with Ray's team-mate Cooper, a former podium man around there, the Tyco BMWs, Glenn Irwin and an ever-determined Peter Hickman, to name but a few, and we have a Battle Royale on our hands! Just let it be dry. On track, at least! 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Rambings of a Bike Racing Fan

I've no idea why I only seem to sit and do this once or maybe twice a year, it's not like I don't have the time these days. I'm regularly encouraged to put finger to keyboard but the motivation to do so has been lacking after an at times turbulent last 12 months on a personal level. Those turbulent times affected many things, including my love of racing, however for 2018 things are looking better and brighter on all fronts! So it's back to basics, tapping on a keyboard to make words that a few will read. I hope you enjoy it.

The 'Big 3' of British Superbikes, World Superbikes and MotoGP all reconvene over the next six weeks or so and at least one of those series has the potential to be the very best season in a number of years, which after the excitement of  recent years, is going to be some achievement. The other two series, or more to the point certain teams within them, have their own hurdles to jump before we see the absolute cut and thrust of racing return along with all the regulation celebratory pomp and back-slapping. Or is that stabbing? Who knows, it's motorcycle racing so there's always liberal doses of both in almost equal measure.

While WorldSBK undergoes changes in its rules with regards to rev limits, the teams are doing all they can to try and close the gap to the pretty much all conquering KRT squad. The first real look at the riders and teams at the recent test was the first time we've seen all WorldSBK protagonists on track together and there are no surprises on seeing who was fastest. Triple and reigning WorldSBK Champion Jonathan Rea topped the timesheets at the end of the final pre-season test at Phillip Island ahead of this weekend's season opener at the Gateway to Hypothermia, once again asserting his dominance on the field.

As I'll touch on later (I may be here for a while...) testing is testing, it's hard to gauge the true pace of man and machine and no matter how many race simulations they do, you can't replicate racing without, well, racing! Every year the unique nature of Phillip Island provides close testing times and sometimes even closer racing so it's tough to get a true perspective on the strengths of the teams battling Kawasaki for honours this year. There are the obvious ones, namely Ducati and Yamaha, that will constantly push for podiums and race wins however it's the ones who have not shown their full potential in recent seasons that may make the biggest progress. Milwaukee Aprilia finished the Test in positive form as did Barni Ducati while wholesale changes at Red Bull Honda saw visible progress in to the top ten. With the uniqueness of PI and the challenges of Buriram and the damage limitation required at both, I suspect it won't be until the circus reaches Europe that the true story of WorldSBK 2018 will unfold.

MotoGP testing has been in full swing these last four weeks with a sack-load of stories winding their way out of both Sepang and the Chang circuit at Buriram, Thailand. For almost every Factory  team Sepang, as is the law these days, was the first chance to get to grips with the 2018 machinery with their full-time riders after the final tests of last year and it was the contrast of Factory fortunes that really made the bulk of the headlines. Tip of the hat to the new boys of Morbidelli, Luthi, Syahrin and Nakagaami, who all made solid progress throughout testing.

Honda, Yamaha and Ducati were the main focus of attention as you'd expect and the fortunes could not have been more different. The HRC Holy Trinity of Marquez, Pedrosa and Crutchlow looked to have the consistency over the six days of Far East testing as they looked to refine the latest incarnation of HRC engine along with revised aero packages, that subject explored by pretty much everyone and with varying degrees of aesthetic pleasure.

Marquez wasn't always the fastest of the trio, that honour was shared between the triumvirate, however his race runs were somewhat ominous. This developing, maturing-thinking Marc Marquez will be a concern for the rest of the field, no longer a pure Pole hound, no longer a man chasing the fastest time, he's a man working in the same way we saw last season. Points per round is the target.  And points make prizes.

Yamaha are in trouble. There are no two ways about it. As I said before, testing is testing however there are glaringly obvious issues when a Factory team of Yamaha's standing are so far off the pace on Day 1 and Day 3 at Sepang but 1 and 2 on Day 2. Confused? So are Vinales and Rossi! According to Rossi in Buriram the problem is obvious but difficult to fix whereas after Buriram Vinales was almost at a loss as to what to say to the waiting Journos. It may well be a difficult start to 2018 for Movistar Yamaha, the only positive in the early rounds being a contract extension for the grid's fluorescent yellow-clad elder statesman. Which will keep a few bums on seats in the stands for another season, at least.

At Ducati things are also not as they may have appeared to be after the Buriram test. A stunning lap of Sepang on the final day saw Jorge Lorenzo take the fastest ever lap of the Malaysian circuit. It was a  suitable end to the test after both he and team-mate Andrea Dovizioso had, apart from an 8th position on Day 2 for the Italian, consistently run well inside the top 5 over the three sweltering days. If Sepang was a triumph then Chang was a tragedy for the Mallorcan, even out-paced on the final day by Tech3 new boy Hafizh Syahrin. Dovi fared somewhat better, the story of last season all over again, by posting top ten times on all three days of the test. With just the Qatar test to go before it all gets serious, there are some searching questions that need answering amongst the MotoGP elite.

The Bennett's British Superbike Championship is building up to the start of the season with various teams cutting laps around the circuits of Spain where many are gearing up for the Pro-test at Cartagena at the beginning of March ahead of the annual Test Day at Donington Park on 20th March. So far as comparisons in times go, there aren't any apart from Honda and JG Speedfit Kawasaki who attended a WSB Test at Jerez.

So what do we know ahead of the 2018 Season? The usual suspects will all be a force, that's a given. Reigning champ Shane Byrne along with Josh Brookes and Leon Haslam will be strong from the first lights-out, there's not a doubt about that. The Honda duo of O'Halloran and Linfoot finished the season on the front foot and they'll be looking to continue that trend from Round 1 after the difficult start to 2017. The Tyco BMW duo of Christian Iddon and a returning Michael Laverty will have a firm eye on podium positions as will Luke Mossey and Glenn Irwin. James Ellison, in what will be his final year in BSB, will be as keen as ever to put a strong, consistent season together aboard the Anvil TAG Yamaha vacated by Josh Brookes as he in turn takes the McAMS seat from Ellison.

Youth will play a big part in the series this year. Expect to see BSB race winner Jake Dixon to carry on his form of last year on the RAF Regular & Reserves Kawasaki and Brad Ray to make his mark fully on the top ten on the Buildbase Suzuki alongside Richard Cooper after his impressive showings last season. Alongside Brookes will be former British Supersport Champion Tarran Mackenzie, returning from a torrid time in Moto2, who I suspect will challenge for top ten honours before mid-season, lining up on the grid alongside his Moto Rapido Ducati-mounted brother Taylor. Team WD-40 have put their faith in their STK1000 rider of last year, Mason Law and the youth emphasis continues with Kyle Ryde joining the ranks from WSS along with Northern Irishman Carl Phillips who steps up from STK1000.

After plying his trade on the European and World stage, Gino Rea will make his BSB debut this year aboard the OMG Racing Suzuki as will Sylvain Barrier, the twice European STK1000 Champion joins the multifaceted Peter Hickman at Smith's BMW. FS-3 Kawasaki have signed STK1000 Champion Danny Buchan for 2018, after two previous attempts it could be third time lucky for Buchan to get to grips with a Superbike and finally transfer that obvious talent to the big class and Tommy Bridewell returns to the bosom of Martin Halsall and the team which brought the Wiltshire rider much of his BSB success.

I suspect the top six places of the Showdown will be the most hotly contested (good English? Not sure) positions since the format's inception back in 2010. Byrne & Irwin, Brookes, Haslam & Mossey, O'Halloran & Linfoot, Hickman, Iddon & Laverty, Ellison, Dixon and Brad Ray all stood on the podium in 2017 and quite possibly will all do so again across the forthcoming season. If a Rookie can score a Top Ten this year he'll certainly have earned it as the competition for points is stronger than I can ever remember. As for who will win it, I'm not brave enough to predict, however, on last season's form alone it's difficult to see past a Haslam/Brookes/Byrne title fight once again come October. There are a lot of laps and a lot of stories to unfold before then and as Larry Carter regularly reminds us, we should expect the unexpected once again.

In true Motopod style, this could be "the best season ever", well in BSB, at least.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Is This The Best British Superbike Season, Ever?

Well, that's a pretty bold question, and what factors really define 'best ever'? Either way, do read on...

The MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship is arguably in its richest vein of form for a number of years. Ten different race winners and all five manufacturers taking not only podiums but also, more importantly, race wins across the season along with some of the closest racing and tightest finishes in any series. The public outcry on social media for fast, young talent is also showing well as Kent boys Jake Dixon and Bradley Ray along with Cadwell Park lap-record holder Lee Jackson show that the talent is definitely out there. The results also show that the BSB Regulations, however difficult to implement for each of those race-winning manufacturers, are working. But make no mistake, it's been a tough road for the majority of those teams. Like Coldplay sang, nobody said it was easy...
Photo: BSB Website/Double Red

Every team has had its difficult times this season, some more than others as keen followers of the sport have witnessed. With two brand new motorcycles joining the fray in 2017, in the Honda Fireblade and the Suzuki GSX-R 1000, it's been down to Honda Racing and Bennett's Suzuki to hone these much-lauded machines to BSB own unique style.

The bulk of the initial development of these racing motorcycles is done invariably with the manufacturer's own native electronics; ECUs that are loaded with rider aids, sensors and all sorts of goodies designed to encourage the bike to behave as well as making the undoubted power work in the best way possible. Take those ECUs away and replace them with control MoTec units and it opens up a whole new world of hurdles to clear. The Panigale has had problems; the BMW had problems, as did the Yamaha so race bike development is nothing new in BSB, it's down to how soon and how well teams can overcome those electronic hurdles and using the Pirelli control tyres, not Bridgestone, Michelin or Dunlop or whatever rubber the manufacturers preferred. It ALL makes a difference.

We all remember 2011. That incredible battle between Tommy Hill and John Hopkins and the unified, excitable tones of Jack Burnicle and James Whitham on commentary, "HILL...BY SIX THOUSANDTHS OF A SECOND!!" (no, I didn't look that up and yes, it still gives me goosebumps!). It was, for me, the pinnacle season of BSB to which all other seasons will be measured. We've come close since, when Alex Lowes and Samsung Honda took the title by just 7 points in 2013 but more recent years have promised so much and, for various reasons, not quite delivered. I have a feeling that this year will be different...

Photo: BSB Website/Double Red
This season's run-in to the final round has been nothing short of fascinating. Not since that 2013 season when James Ellison arrived at Brands Hatch 42 points adrift of Byrne and Lowes have we had three riders in with a realistic chance of taking the coveted crown . Sure, the points gap has been closer in both 2014 and 2016, but there hasn't been a third rider with more than just a mathematical chance of taking the title in either of those years. This year Haslam leads Brookes and Byrne by just 32 and 33 points respectively, and with 75 points up for grabs in Kent, it really is all to play for.

Byrne and his Be Wiser Ducati took the double at Brands Hatch back in July. Leon Haslam was third and fifth while Brookes took fifth in race one but a rare DNF in race two dented his consistency, consoled only with a new lap record around what is often referred to as "Shakey's Back Yard". There is no doubt that Byrne will be going to Brands with the express purpose of winning all three races, that's clear a no-brainer, he has to, as will Haslam and Brookes! Haslam has only finished ahead of Byrne once in 7 races around the full GP circuit, by less than 0.1 seconds in race two last October in mixed conditions, so he's got his work cut out to keep that points gap. Anvil Hire TAG Yamaha man Brookes won't give up either as the July round showed, he had the pace to run with the leaders and it's also a track he's had some strong results on.
Photo: BSB Website/Double Red

Don't get me wrong, it's not ALL about those three. Yes, in terms of the championship it pretty much is (sorry, Jake Dixon), but for the races it's anything but cut and dried. If the weather stays dry (there are fingers crossed across the land for that!) it's hard to see past Byrne on recent form around Brands Hatch. That said, his results since the summer round have shown that there are clearly still some issues plaguing the Ducati Panigale with no wins registered since his back to back doubles in July. Byrne's form is currently the weakest of the three, picking up 92 points since the last visit to Brands Hatch, while Brookes has out-scored Haslam and his JG Speedfit Kawasaki 141 to 136 over the same period.

Added in to the podium mix, I expect a battling RAF & Reserves Kawasaki man Jake Dixon to want to regain the form he showed mid-season, it's also his home round along with Buildbase Suzuki's Brad Ray, so he'll have added reasons to perform. Smith's BMW man Peter Hickman will be looking to finish his already successful season on a high as will McAMS Yamaha's James Ellison, who makes no secret of his love for the longer GP circuit. Honda Racing's Dan Linfoot and Jason O'Halloran, Moto Rapido's John Hopkins and maybe even Sylvain Guintoli, subject to the trees and armco not being too close, and his ever-developing Bennett's Suzuki are all podium contenders and will all want their say in finishing the season on a strong performance. It's only then that, all of a sudden, it becomes even less of a certainty as to who'll take the flag in all three races and ultimately the biggest prize in domestic racing.

Bring on the finale!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Four Years Since The Last One!

23rd November 2012 was the last time I posted on this blog, dear reader (hi, mum!). I don't even know if people actually even do this anymore? Who knows... I enjoyed it previously and I've missed it, so lets see if I can get it started again and if anyone cares to read it.

Times have changed over the last four years, although not if you're Valentino Rossi or Shane Byrne who, both being much closer to 40 years old than either would like, are still riding at the top of their game. We've had a British Grand Prix World Champion with Danny Kent in Moto3, despite trying his best NOT to win it as the season drew to a breathtaking close at Valencia last year; we've had Sam Lowes win the World Supersport crown and both Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes taking the World Superbike spoils then more recently all topped off with the first British winner of a MotoGP race for 35 years as the inimitable Cal Crutchlow took victory in Brno. Decent success among the British ranks, I'm sure you'll agree.
British MotoGP Post-race Press Conference

We've also seen the ugly side of the sport in the clusterfuck that was Sepang 2015 and the ridiculous fallout that still rumbles on almost a full 12 months later between the riders and also sections of fans. We've seen the emergence of the phenomenal talent that is Marc Marquez, who's debut was covered in the very last post before the prolonged hiatus came and is now on the verge of a third MotoGP World title as the circus moves to the flyaway rounds in a couple of weeks time. Speaking of talent, not only have we seen the emergence of Marquez but also on a similar trajectory is Maverick Vinales, a talent worthy of MotoGP and one that may well take the battle to Marquez in 2017. Just Maverick to take the battle on? Well, no. Not quite, obviously.

Rossi will be another year older, Pedrosa I suspect still wont be heavy enough to make the Michelin tyres work consistently for him and Lorenzo is making the hop to Ducati for 2017, that change may well take time to adapt to and I'd suggest possibly more time than Maverick Vinales will require to get comfortable on the Yamaha M1 he'll ride for the first time in the post-season Valencia test as he moves from Suzuki. True, the spec electronics should have also improved for 2017 (it really needs to, especially on anti-wheelie with the outlawing of Winglets!) as, slightly less hopefully, will the Michelin tyres. Those black and round things have been more than a big contribution to the number of different race winners we've had this season and racing is all the better for it because, as good as it is watching the same same rider win week in and weeeeeeee...... sorry, almost nodded off at the very thought..., it really has been a fantastic MotoGP season so far and one that may well still hold the odd twist and turn before we reach Valencia in November.

Closer to home, the British Championship appears to have changed the least in that time. It still provides the thrill and excitement the fans crave and the Showdown still remains, as I suspect it always will, in the name of Sports Entertainment. I did wonder if the Showdown had run it's course as BSB made the playing field somewhat level with stringent Tech Regs introduced but the dominant form of Shane Byrne and his, according to some, 'it isn't in the spirit of the rules' factory-supported Ducati Panigale, this season would have almost made a cakewalk of a championship had it not been for the close attention of the returning Leon Haslam aboard a GBmoto Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
Proud times in 2014 with Jordan Weaving

As for the best of the rest, Honda have made an incredible effort again this year with Linfoot and O'Halloran while Ellison has been at the sharp end for the majority of the season along with Bridewell and the talented Luke Mossey but none offering the pace and consistency enough to challenge the two title favourites for wins week in, week out. Crucially, Byrne leads Haslam 4 to 1 in the podium head to heads they've had when finishing 1st and 2nd, and that could be a
critical factor as the season heads to it's crescendo at Brands Hatch in mid-October. For the record, Byrne won both races there in early August, with Leon second each time. But before that, however, there's Assen...

On a personal level it's been a quite incredible four years. From here to PaddockChatter to interviewing racing Legends, World Champions and British Champions for MotoPod to witnessing two domestic Championship campaigns first hand to making some of the finest friends, it's been incredible at times. Incredible that nobody actually sussed me out as merely winging it, at least! It all stemmed from this humble blog, the encouragement of Jared Earle and Ian Wheeler and not being a dick on Twitter. Where next? Who knows. Is there a 'next'? Again, who knows. Back to basics for now and then we'll just have to wait and see however it won't be four years until the next post here, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013! Testing Times Ahead...

Soon comes around doesn't it? The 2012 season has drawn to a close, all the bikes are off to Shows around the world, riders are all on holiday or rallying or whatever they choose to do and Alex Briggs has hung his pass on the back of the door with the other 19 he's collected... THAT'S when I know it's all over...It was a season that, in places, lacked excitement and few meaningful on-track battles at the front, with Brno and Silverstone the notable exceptions in a difficult season.

Things at Valencia for the final GP could've been so different in the MotoGP class and really they should have been but for two episodes of misfortune, Jorge at Assen and Dani at Misano which in turn would maybe have lead to a different podium at Phillip Island at the penultimate round, where win or bust for Pedrosa was the order of the day.

It was Lorenzos early season form that helped him secure the title, every season is a marathon not a sprint but in 2012 it was Yamaha who got the head start in to that marathon while HRC were still tying their laces. Yamaha were hurting from losing their crown to Casey Stoner at the end of 2011 and came out swinging, Honda had made errors with the new bike that both riders were critical of, although I guess one of the riders was just moaning for no reason... However the Yamaha looked to be on rails and the  metronomic rhythm and blistering pace of Lorenzo was no match for his biggest rivals and the season looked to be a foregone conclusion as far in to the championship as Silverstone.

But Honda fixed the RCV213V a little and the tide turned...

Dani Pedrosa found some self-belief, a consistent but somewhat lack-lustre start to the season saw the diddy Spaniard consistently finish top four and remain fully fit. His first victory of the season at the German GP at Sachsenring saw the beginning of a sequence that, had Honda produced THAT bike for Qatar would have seen a whole different light shed on the 2012 season.

Sachsenring was almost the beginning of the end of Casey Stoners title charge, a fighting second at Silverstone followed by a win at Assen showed he had the desire to defend his crown, even though at that point he was all for retirement from the sport, a distant eighth at Mugello made many ask questions of Caseys commitment before a dominant win at Laguna (the race noted for its ONE pass) saw a brief upturn in fortune but then came Indianapolis qualifying, and we all know what happened there...

Caseys injury at Indy saw a fire lit under Pedrosa, after spending the whole of 2011 in the dark shadow of his imperious team-mate, he looked a different rider. While Stoner struggled round the Brickyard (struggled as in finished fourth, 30 secs ahead of Valentino Rossi) with an injury that curtailed his season, Dani, in true Spanish style, took the bull by the horns (you see what I did there? Always thinking...) and embarked on a remarkable string of results which Lorenzo had no answer to, regardless of how hard he tried. You could sense the tension in the Yamaha camp as Dani was on a run of form that matched Lorenzo's early season stats, at Phillip Island though the story was to end prematurely.

I know that every season can be looked at in hindsight with ifs, buts and maybes but really, IF after qualifying on pole for the San Marino GP at Misano, the chain of events that followed hadn't happened therefore making Dani over-ride too early at Phillip Island and IF Jorge hadn't have been skittled by Bautista at Assen or dropped it at Valencia...well  the championship would have looked the same...

Jorge was going to win at Assen, of that I have no doubt. Dani was going to win at Misano, again of that I have no doubt - such is the season we've just had - so taking that in to account, with the Phillip Island result staying as per qualifying leaving Dani in third, which was also more than likely and Jorge staying on to finish second at Valencia, then Dani Pedrosa still would not have been 2012 World Champion. Jorge would have still taken the crown 390 to 369. Even though both riders shared an outstanding run of results, it was Pedrosa's early season form over the first six races with three 3rds and a 4th that ultimately cost him the title compared to Lorenzo's staggering 1st/2nd consistency throughout the year.

But, back to reality, as it was Dani had to ride hard, fast and early at Phillip Island to stand any chance of clawing the defecit back on Jorge, and in Stoners back yard it was, ironically, the tallest of orders for the shortest of riders... On that day nobody, and I mean N.O.B.O.D.Y, was going to beat Stoner on his final appearance in front of his adoring crowd and it was the simplest mistake that handed Jorge Lorenzo his second world crown. A crown won the hard way, from the front and without the 'ah, but' stigma of injury to his closest contenders.

Dani was back to dominant form at Valencia where interference from Mother Nature saw the most exciting race of the season unfold. Starting from Pit Lane after a last minute tyre change saw Dani chase down race leader Lorenzo and win from the very back of the pack. Sadly an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration saw Jorge end the season in the gravel, and with it the chance of taking the record for most podium appearances in a season, after a mis-guided attempt to pass James Ellison, who rode a fantastic last race to finish a deserved ninth. Shock of the day was a CRT machine leading for two laps, a mix of youthful exuberance and nationalistic pride helping Aleix Espagaro to his short burst in the limelight before normal service was resumed.

Maybe Dani felt a little karma at this point after his Phillip Island off, over-excitement putting paid to a points haul there and the same for Lorenzo at Valencia. Either way it didn't prevent him from hammering home his seventh win of the season and taking the 'prize' of Most Wins in 2012. He'll carry that forward in to 2013, whereas Jorge showed us that he still has, albeit deep-rooted, that impetuousness that flared so often in the junior classes with his haste to get around James Ellison but his consistency is nothing short of phenomenal, and if Dani starts '13 the way he ended '12, then it's going to be an amazing season.

Testing for 2013 was held in difficult conditions over the Tuesday and Wednesday  following the  GP with Valentino Rossi's long-awaited return to Yamaha the focal point of most peoples attention. The keener eyes of the paddock were waiting for the young pretender to take his place at the top table. Enter Marc Marquez....erm...but not until the Thursday and, sadly by that point, Yamaha had de-camped to Aragon.

This is the point where my limited vocabulary runs out of superlatives, his performance in testing was nothing short of spectacular. Whereas rookies before him had had two full days and a 100+ laps to get within 2 seconds of the fastest time of the test Marquez required half a day, 28 laps in total, to get to within 1 second of Dani Pedrosa's best time. I said it last time, this kid is special, very special. He may well visit the Clinica Mobile on a regular basis as he searches for the limit on a 1000cc Prototype, just as Jorge did in his maiden season on the 800. But believe me, he's going to win races next season. Dani, Jorge, Marc, Cal, Stefan all fighting it out to be on that podium...oh and Valentino too. Bring on Sepang!

David Emmett at Motomatters.com sums the testing and rookie debut up far better than I right here and if you haven't already, then read it - it's an education in to the future of MotoGP and that future IS Marc Marquez.

Final word, as I said earlier, goes to @guyhanderson 'What if...'

Casey Stoner retiring at the age of 27 is nothing if not remarkable.  And he neatly steps away from the circus as a two-time world champion to enjoy fishing and his marriage and daughter as well as some V8 car racing it seems.  It must take a lot of determination to get to the top and even more to walk away from it all when riding the crest of the biggest wave in bike racing.  Its almost been universally accepted in the racing circus that Stoner has done what a lot wish they could do; that is separate the mind-blowing act of racing from reality.  Its not that important to Stoner; it might be to armchair experts and 99% of the other riders, but to him?  “Pfft…!” as he might say.

But what if he hadn’t?  What if he had stayed at Honda next year? He was possibly the number 1 in the team as the reigning World Champion at the time of joining and recognised by all as being the fastest on the RCV213, although Pedrosa’s transformation into a tougher, faster rider this year has been not much short of brilliant.

Stoner staying would have caused HRC a mighty headache.  Remember the 3 man team last year with Stoner, Pedrosa and Dovizioso?  As rich as Honda are they only wanted a 2-man team, and only ran a three man team because Dovizioso (foolishly?) exercised his rights in his contract that said if he was third the season before he would be retained.  But Stoner left Ducati and Honda wanted him. 

So to 2012 and there was one thing that was 100% cast-iron certain; Honda wanted to keep Marquez in the family.  Marquez is Spanish, but don’t read too much into that – they’d have wanted him if he had been British and that fast!  Repsol have no problem with Marquez, after all he’s already riding a bike sponsored by them; a perfect marketing tool for Repsol and the other sponsors.  There was no way Honda were going to let him go to Yamaha.  Can you imagine Lorenzo and Marquez in a team together?  What a prospect; the current World Champion and almost certainly a future WC.  Now Rossi is good and alongside Lorenzo, Yamaha have a great team, but Lorenzo and Marquez? Phew.  Anyway dream on; its not happened - yet. You almost get the feeling Honda paid Yamaha to take Rossi, so they couldn’t have Marquez.  Don’t ya?

So if Stoner hadn’t have announced his retirement; Stoner, Pedrosa and Marquez in one team?  I think not.  Marquez to LCR to replace Bradl who is rookie of the season would have been a tough call.  So I guess Marquez to Gresini might have been the only way, but those guys are the only team to run Showa suspenders still.  The rest of Honda went to Ohlïns (after Yamaha sold them) because basically they make better suspenders.  And as you can tell everybody wants Ohlins.  I guess there could have been some technical and political manoeuvring to give Marquez a full-on full-fat factory bike at Gresini, and he may have brought some headline sponsors with him, but at the same time I doubt Repsol would have been happy.  Or Pedrosa out of Honda and off to Yamaha with Alberto Puig?  Blimey – now there’s a salivating thought!  Puig is pretty much a Honda man, and I doubt he’d hold the same sway at Yamaha as he does at Honda.  Alternatively, Pedrosa to Ducati, but Dani is much shrewder than that – he’s seen the metaphorical car crash that has been happening at Ducati for the past 2 years.  Personally I would have liked to have seen Pedrosa at Yamaha, but you have to admire his loyalty staying at Honda ever since he stepped up to the main class, despite all the speculation. 

At the end of the day, as much as Casey Stoner retiring might be a big disappointment to 99.9% of race fans, it sure as hell helped sort out the remaining riders’ team places.

Takes a special kind of talent to get 'pfft...!' in to a piece doesn't it...

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Goodbye Casey Stoner...and Thank You

The 2012 MotoGP season came to a close this weekend and with it came the end of Repsol Hondas Casey Stoner. The very much maligned and misunderstood Aussie has hung up his Alpinestars for the very last time (NB: 'very last time' is subject to change), heading to his ranch to steer cattle, ride horses, go hunting and more than likely practice making more babies with his beautiful wife and do you know something? I'm so jealous...sorry, I mean I'm going to miss him.

I've not always been a fan of Stoners, my admiration has always been there just because he races motorcycles, but the full appreciation of his style and sheer speed is only, in the grand scheme of things, relatively recent. In his days as a Ducati rider I may have been guilty of having a soft spot for Valentino Rossi which, on occasion, clouded my judgement of Casey. The tide of change began at the Valencia post-season test in 2010 and, to be honest, the comments made in that Summer by Rossi and Jerry Burgess about him not trying and 'we can fix that bike in 80 seconds' probably let me see the nine time champion in a different light. The comments were unnecessary and disrespectful, regardless of who the rider was it was aimed at. Didn't it come back to bite them on the arse tho...

As I've said before, Casey Stoner has THE most exciting riding style I've ever witnessed, what he did on that Honda defied belief, he made a motorcycle make shapes it wasn't designed to do and made his achievements on the Ducati look all the more impressive. Although the racing in 2011 wasn't the most exciting, Stoner was imperious and it got to the point that I was just enjoying watching him race, it was that special. If it wasn't for Rossi's ambition out-weighing his talent at Jerez then he would undoubtedly have gone a full season appearing on the Podium in every race. I lost a little more respect for Valentino Rossi that day, apologising to Casey in front of the watching world but without removing his helmet, maybe afraid the fans would see through his insincerity...

Yes he moans. So do you. So do I. But we don't get jumped on every time we express an opinion, if something's not right he says it's not right. Why flower it up? It is what it is. The thing that strikes me most though is the irony of the patch on his leathers and his pit board as he crossed the line...'Gone Fishing'. As I tweeted earlier in the week, that is something Casey has done throughout his MotoGP career, and every time he's 'gone fishing' he's got a bite and with the growth of social media he gets thousands of bites every time he drops bait. And I love that.

So, thank you Casey. Thank you for leaving me, at times, lost for words with your style and speed. Thank you for helping the likes of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Crutchlow etc raise their game. You will be missed.

As with the last installment of Straw Bales, @guyhanderson as again kindly penned a piece that is worthy of a read. I'll leave the last words to Guy...

“This website won't be updated during the 2011 Campaign.” *

There is more than one Casey it seems.  One is a father and husband who likes nothing better than fishing and the outback.  The other is, in the eyes of some, an arrogant whining Aussie who rides faster than anyone else. 

MotoGP fans don’t get to see nice Mr Stoner except maybe at Philip Island when TV shows him with his family.  Some MotoGP fans only chose to see the arrogant part of Stoner.  But those of us who divest the emotion of favouritism get to see a blindingly fast exponent of bike racing.  A guy who has made the unrideable Ducati Desmosedici win when no one else could.  Stoner won the last six MGP races at Philip Island – 4 on a Ducati. 

Until this year Stoner’s biggest competitor was Valentino Rossi. Comparing one aspect of Stoner to one aspect of Rossi is telling: Rossi has had at sometimes in his career absolute adoration of a bike he has ridden.  Rossi looked lovingly at the Yamaha M1 of 2008, and has spoken with affection of other bikes he’s ridden.  Ever heard any such nonsense from Stoner?  Me neither.  It’s as if he hates the bike and he’s in a 45 minute fight with it hanging on for his life.  I’ve heard less contempt of Jimmy Saville than the way Stoner looks at his bike when he gets off at the end of a practice or qualifying session.  Consequently Stoner has a reputation.  A reputation that has been borne of beating Rossi.  And beating Rossi is tantamount to being the insurrection in the eyes of the fan-bois.  None of this is Stoner’s fault, but the negative press he receives may weigh (wears?) heavily on him.  And this ends up being a self fulfilling prophesy; that is, Stoner is negative/whining/ungrateful/disrespectful/whatever whereas he says his job is to ride a bike faster than anyone else and win races.  Which is what he does.  So what’s your problem? 

To some viewers beating Rossi is unthinkable, but to a rider it is probably the pinnacle of their career, although he would probably never admit that.  Admitting that beating a rider is above winning a World Championship is flawed.  It shows a flaw in your character of being a rider.  And 95% of winning is psychological, so you don’t do it.  You don’t admit anyone is better than you.  Least of to yourself.  Until you win the championship and are being gracious in victory (but never in defeat).

So Stoner carries these projections around with him; from being booed at Donington by fuckwits who are comparable to Jimmy Saville to being “difficult with the press’ and to this day I’m unsure if it bothers him or not. 

Well not anymore.  Valencia 2012 was the last time you will see Casey Stoner on a motorbike in a race.  Or so he says.  I hope he changes his mind, but at the same time I suspect he won’t.  He has that dogmatic determination of a winner that comes across as arrogant, but is the only way they know. 

You can look back and read the cold statistics that say Stoner won 2 championships 4 years apart in 2007 and 2011. Neatly they were on different machines; Ducati and Honda.  2007 was Stoner’s second year in MGP and his first on the new 800 Ducati Desmosedici.  And from then on he risked the ire of many; from Rossi’s fans for not showing enough respect through to journalists who don’t understand his quite ways, of his dislike for everything to do with racing that isn’t riding.  And this has probably been the biggest negative side of Stoner; his unease at being involved in anything other than racing. 

Stoner doesn’t do PR bullshit; he doesn’t enjoy corporate crap or pandering to sponsors.  This is Stoner’s flaw.  Or one of his flaws.  He is also unspeakably hard on himself and his team.  In fact someone from his team this weekend took him to one side and told him that there is only so much a bike can be made to do – there are indeed limits, though to Stoner they are obstacles he wants to overcome. 

But Stoner is tired of racing.  Contrast that to his earlier years – in one weekend he won 32 out of 35 races he rode in.

There is another Casey too.  Casey Jones, steamin and a rollin.  *winky smiley face ;-) 

* Want an illustration of what Stoner thinks of all the media stuff he has to do?  This quote is from http://www.caseystoner.com.au/home.php - it hasn’t been touched for over a year.

As always, thanks for reading.