#GETD BEAST MODE ENGAGED 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R The NAKED rulebook has been re-written. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is now leaner, meaner and even more menacing than ever before. Sporting an all-new chassis and suspension setup, the flagship LC8 V-Twin 1301 cc boasting brutal forward thrust, blinding acceleration and an advanced electronics package, the NEW BEAST is locked and loaded for battle.
Photo: R. Schedl
DUKED Please make no attempt to imitate the illustrated riding scenes, always wear protective clothing and observe the applicable provisions of the road traffic regulations! The illustrated vehicles may vary in selected details from the production models and some illustrations feature optional equipment available at additional cost.
TITULAR THE NEW TITULAR WINNER TITULAR TITULAR
The first Dakar Rally of the decade visited fresh ground and was marked by distinction and tragedy. Ultimately it will be an unforgettable edition for the first American motorcycling winner, Ricky Brabec, who ended the KTM hegemony that lasted almost twenty years Photo by HRC
PENNY FOR YOUR... Supercross is clicking up a gear with the schedule now firmly running. Adam Cianciarulo has opened eyes as a 450 SX rookie but you have to wonder what it going through the Monster Energy Kawasaki racerâ€™s mind here in Glendale Photo by James Lissimore
STILL THE BENCHMARK?
TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR
For all the excitement of a new MXGP term the utter dominance and impact of Jeffrey Herlings’ 2018 championship still reverberates, and the Dutchman should – again – be the reference point for speed in the class…or maybe not?! Photo by Ray Archer
THE THREAT FROM WITHIN Could a hungry Alex Lowes be Jonathan Reaâ€™s toughest challenger yet in the midst of the KRT set-up? Testing times would indicate that the Brit will be right there, and the opposition are also closing-in en masse. Will anyone even dare to dismiss JRâ€™s chances of title #6 though? Photo by GeeBee Images
SO SPIN HOW MIPS & CO ARE INFORMING THE ESSENTIAL CRASH HELMET By Adam Wheeler, Photos by MIPS & 6D
lmost eighty years ago Australian neurologist Dr Hugh Cairns published the results of a study into the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets. The document entitled ‘Head Injuries in Motor-Cyclists with special reference to crash helmets’ examined the effectiveness of vulcanised rubber and compressed wood pulp(!) shells of what were the contemporary ‘pudding basin’ products. Head protection or ‘wear’ - like most new-fangled ‘fads’ or
developments of motorcycling in the initial throes – had first appeared in wider consciousness at the Isle of Man TT races some twentyfive years previously. Quite a lot has changed since. However, it is only in the last half a decade that the effectiveness and safety performance of motorcycle ‘lids’ has undergone a radical change. Facets of weight, comfort, vision, sound and protective quality all advanced with technology but
the pioneering exploits of a handful of scientists and engineers have led to a rethink in how helmets work. In particular how they address concussion and the effects of ‘rotational acceleration’. In short: the consequences of the brain moving inside the cranium upon impact, and how potentially lethal or devastating results can be reduced. Cairns’ 1943 document was made public two years after his initial curiosity and
FEATURE research into head injuries for bikers had led to the British Army making head protection compulsory for couriers. Cairns himself was allegedly inspired into the field after his treatment of famed and fated serviceman T.E. Lawrence; a staunch motorcyclist who lost his life in May 1935 after crashing his Brough Superior and spending six days in a coma. The Army logged a significant reduction in injuries after adopting the helmet policy. Cairns notes at the end of his follow-up paper in 1943 (having already recorded the location of the majority of blows to the helmet - front and sides – and the better performance of wood as opposed to rubber as well as grim description of facial injuries) that ‘further improvements in the design of helmets offer a profitable field of preventive medicine.’ Medicine was not the only profitable aspect as the speed and popularity of motorcycles climbed steadily, especially in the post-war years and eras of austerity where owning a car was more expensive. Enduring manufacturers like Arai (Japan), Bell (U.S.), Schuberth (Germany), AGV (Italy) soon took note and were fabricating ‘pudding basins’ by the end of the ‘50s. Bell constructed the first full face helmet, the ‘Star’, and launched it in 1967. Safety
standard agencies cottoned on. The DOT test morphed from other American standard policies in the 1960s and was established in the early ‘70s. The renowned independent Snell Foundation has been active and very prominent in the industry since the 1960s and the British BSI ‘kitemark’ has been around for almost a century and for bike ‘lids’ specifically since 1953. Australia made the use of crash helmets mandatory in 1961 and the UK followed
suit twelve years later. Amazingly less than half of the USA’s fifty states currently have universal helmet laws, the rest have regulations applying to younger riders up to 18 and 21. With regulations comes strict test parameters but this is a field where the work and thinking of innovators such as Sweden’s MIPS (Multi Impact Protection System) and the USA’s 6D Helmets were able to scrutinise and eventually revolutionise.
MIPS & CREATION OF THE NEW CRASH HELMET
Heading north… Less than 10km upwards from the centre of Stockholm the principal HQ of MIPS is a small and unassuming semi-circular single-floor building. The premises used to be home to a famous light design firm and 10,000 euro fixings still remain attached to footwell ceilings. It seems apt, considering how MIPS’ R&D has illuminated the
helmet industry to the point where the FIM have worked tirelessly and polemically to shake-up their own test protocol and are dragging the majority of brands to renovate and overhaul their catalogues to be present in the vast promotional window of world championship motorcycle competition.
STRANDWITZ: “YOU KNOW IT IS NOT ABOUT ‘WHOEVER MAKES THE MOST ADVANCED SOLUTION WINS’...”
In the cellar the architecture exposes the ‘Cold War’ dating of the structure. We stride through a large bunker door into former ‘Safe Rooms’ (now meeting rooms) and eventually to the pristine lab and at least three testing rigs – home of more than 27,000 procedures - located deeper in the recesses of the facility. We meet the two key figures behind MIPS, and a company born from the plights of the duo: distinguished neurosurgeon Hans von Holst and his never-ending search to understand and minimise critical head injury, then CTO Peter Halldin whose quest to overhaul and perfect helmet test standards led to the theorising behind the practicalities of the MIPS solution. Plus CEO Max Strandwitz, who has been tasked with expanding the word, the business and the in-
fluence of MIPS as far and as effectively as possible, so that the circular yellow sticker can now be found on headwear from skiing to equestrian to bicycles to building sites. Before von Holst gives us a detailed, sometimes daunting but riveting explanation of the complexities of brain injury (scary stuff in some cases) we’re able to see MIPS’ product piled along the lab test workstations. MIPS is staggeringly simple, almost unbelievably so. The minimal low friction plasticky ‘sheath’ that fits inside the helmet is a Brain Protection System (BPS) and it permits 10-15mm of movement or ‘play’ independent of the lid when it strikes an object: this minimal shift works in the first 5-10 milliseconds of the impact and redirects crucial energies that would otherwise induce strain and lead to torn brain tissue. Earlier experimental and numerical studies showed that the brain is much more sensitive to rotation forces compared to linear (impact in one direction). The yellow BPS’ on the workbench (customised for a particular helmet) look like a thin scalps of a mannequin. Being present at MIPS and watching Halldin dropping a 4.2kg headform (the same weight as the average human head) strapped into a helmet onto
IT IS PUZZLING AS TO WHY VON HOLST AND HALLDIN’S KNOWLEDGE AND THEORIES WERE NOT NOTICED OR DISCOVERED SOONER BY THE MOTORCYCLE INDUSTRY. “A LOT OF THE HELMET INDUSTRY HAS BEEN QUITE CONSERVATIVE AND THE TEST STANDARDS THEMSELVES HAVE DRIVEN THE DESIGN OF HELMETS,” HALLDIN REFERENCES
the rig and using state-ofthe-art video equipment and software to register the subsequent results then hearing some of von Holst’s vast bank of knowledge on the most mysterious part of the human anatomy (“we are still in the stone age now compared to the next 100 years”), and lastly absorbing Strandwitz’s account of how hard it was to sell and manage the MIPS patent and philosophy into
a business model gives full appreciation of all the effort, expertise and cost that has gone into the BPS. “We do get that comment sometimes,” says Strandwitz on how ‘basic’ the BPS seems. “For me it is an ingenious construction. There is so much money and thinking going into that solution: it is affordable, scalable, can be retrofitted into most helmets. We have
looked at so many different materials over time, and so many different technologies and, so far, we haven’t found anything superior to slip-plane technology. Through our testing and technology we have found that you really need this 10-15mm margin of movement to reduce forces into the brain and that’s where we see and feel that most competition falls short. People might say ‘I have a natural MIPS
MIPS & CREATION OF THE NEW CRASH HELMET
because I have a lot of hair’ but the pressure point you are exposed to during an accident is somewhere between 750 to 1000kg and try to move something with that: it’s impossible. So, it is simple…but that’s one of the reasons we have been able to scale. There is a very long-driven thought process on why it looks like it does.” In 1995 MIPS was founded as a project between von Holst and Halldin and the first patent was lodged in 1998. “The language between us just didn’t match,” smiles von Holst. “MDs [Doctor of Medicine] cannot do everything and engineers neither; it took six months before our dialogue was on the same page.” Von Holst’s research at the time found there were “22,000 head injuries annually in Sweden because of falls,” he says. “65-70% of those involved rotation. The energy is absorbed by the skull but there is always a register for brain tissue and just a little is enough. Even now concussion is still a mystery; we don’t know what it is, and no MD or expert can tell me more.” “It sounded stupid but we wanted to create the internal helmet…and it might have taken years,” von Holst added before divulging studies of protein impact and how urea and the physiology of Great White Sharks can hold even
more secrets for how brain injury and malformations can be treated in years to come.
standards themselves have driven the design of helmets,” Halldin references. “Such as the protrusion test – when “With the first tests in 1996 a helmet is dropped onto a we saw that we could reduce fifteen-degree angle surface – the moment of impact that but it is just to see that there refers to rotational accelerais nothing on the helmet that tion,” says Halldin of the idea will ‘grab’ into the road. They behind BPS. “We played with didn’t measure anything inprototypes of oil, Teflon and side the head but rather the some micro-spheres that left impact force on the plate. So, dust all over the lab when we while it has been understood impacted them! We then made that rotation is something you a two-dimensional spherical should avoid it hasn’t really model and went step-by-step. been tested as part of a standI got a small amount of uniard and put into helmet to versity funding at the time absorb it. Conservatism is one and then bigger funding so reason, another is that it takes I could go to the UK and the time to change and to educate University of Birmingham people. Others will point to where I’d heard of a professor the fact that the way to meas[Nigel Mills] who knew how to ure rotational acceleration was test helmets for oblique imnot really developed at that pacts. That was in 2000 and time either…but now there are we spent half a year building more sophisticated systems the test method together. We to measure acceleration and made the first test with a real rotational velocity.” MIPS helmet, one with a sliding layer and got great results “We are seeing a shift of so I wrote a scientific article mindset. People used to laugh on it in 2001. We started the at rotation as a problem…but company and went out trying now everybody is working on to sell the fantastic MIPS con- it. We see with our clients that cept…but it was not that easy people are more aware and because it was too expensive are educating themselves,” at that time.” asserts Senior Project Manager Daniel Lanner, revealing It is puzzling as to why von that while the MIPS story is Holst and Halldin’s knowledge a success and is being used and theories were not noticed by almost 80 different brands or discovered sooner by the and in nearly 450 helmets motorcycle industry. “A lot of across sports and industries, the helmet industry has been the story wasn’t always so quite conservative and the test streamlined. After the first
FEATURE patents and mathematical models in the 1990s the company took the initial steps to their own helmet product. “Equestrian is really big in Sweden,” Lanner recounts “and at one point was the second most popular sport. MIPS was looked up to by many here and the equestrian helmet was a big success.” However, due to a design fault of the retention system for the extreme cold of Swedish winters the lid had to be recalled and MIPS faced bankruptcy. “We then became an ‘ingredient’ brand, and not an expert in helmets but in rotation; we knew the idea had so much potential,” Lanner stresses. Shortly afterwards salvation, growth and an eventual float on the Swedish Stock Exchange in 2017 came about because large-scale helmet companies could not develop their own technology to tackle rotation. “Investment companies that owned brands like Bell and Giro took two years to do their due diligence and saw that they could not beat the MIPS patent, so they made an investment with us. Again, we had success, this time with the system ‘insert’ into a snow helmet.” Today MIPS belongs to 36 patent families and is present in a number of sports and activities. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution though. “It is crucial to know how we should build for certain helmet categories,” says Lanner. “We are extra strict in understanding the requirement before we start with a new category.” “We usually spend around 120 days on each case,” he adds. “We’ll have the CAD for each helmet model and size. Each helmet has its own tooling and process. They have to match our criteria and we need to see a minimum reduction of strain for our tech to be released and sold as part of the helmet. If we don’t see that then we don’t release until the helmet has been re-designed. We usually see a lot
MIPS & CREATION OF THE NEW CRASH HELMET
more than the minimum threshold though. MIPS is not just a ‘plug-in and play’ but then I have yet to see one helmet where we haven’t been able to make it work.” “We customise the MIPS insert for the shape of the helmet, EPS and things like ventilation channels and fixing points but it still needs to move in that 10mm-15mm bracket in all directions,” says engineer Marcus Seyffarth, who is operating a horizontal rig next to Halldin and is one of a team of twelve-fourteen people running up to 6000 tests a year. Was there a time when MIPS and the BPS wasn’t the solution for a client? “Yes, we had an approach from a company in baseball,” admits Lanner “but we saw that our technology would not have so much effect for those type of injuries, so we had to walk away.” Halldin’s work – and he is busy dropping a full-face motorcycle helmet from a hefty height before coming to talk – has been implicit in the modification and advancement of test protocol. “He is part of CEN TC158/Working Group 11 that looks at test set-up, impact materials and developed a new head form; a new version of the Hybrid III for helmet testing, scalp friction and inertia properties…the FIM is setting up its own tests with the same model,” says Lanner. “At MIPS we don’t tamper with standards, we just add protection. It is a severely conservative industry and a sharp change in standards would mean a lot of cost…but we are 100% convinced it will change anyway.” The discussion… Both Halldin and Strandwitz appear from busy schedules – Halldin actually stops testing and combines his interview with a lunch break – and present an opportune
moment to quiz the pair on various issues on MIPS and also their involvement in motorcycling specifically. On having to ‘sell’ or explain the rotational aspect of helmet performance… Strandwitz: We see quite a lot of different attitudes. The first one I think is always ‘not invented here’ syndrome. We also see some brands that still believe that rotational motion is not dangerous…but generally those are less and less. We also see more and more brands that say to us ‘we are late on the train but we understand it’. When we sign a new brand – and this is important for us – we always want them to come to our HQ so we can explain why we really make a difference. Otherwise we are ‘just a product’ like anyone else. So we invest quite a lot of time. There are cases when we don’t see some prioritising safety, and we say ‘it is better you go back and think why you want to include MIPS in the helmet’. They usually return much better equipped to launch MIPS. Some people think it is great we are here because we kind-of set the standard and therefore it’s easy because they don’t need to think about what they have to include. Other people think we are too big and have too much power. When people start to see how much time and knowledge we have invested into this and especially our link to KTH [Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology] then they say ‘OK… we understand’. We haven’t lost a lot of brands since we started, we have a very loyal customer base and I think this is testimony that we are doing some things right. Halldin: We contacted a couple of motorcycle brands in Europe and at the EICMA fair in 2002 we had some prototypes and no one at that time really talked about rotation…but at least two of the biggest brands in Europe at that time got interested and we had some projects with them although they ended up stopping because it was too expensive.
FEATURE Strandwitz: If you look at our customer base then 75% have U.S. origin. They distribute all over the world but we got a bit of a headstart with the Americans because there was an article published in ‘Popular Science’ in 2012, and also because of the whole concussion debate. The average consumer in the U.S. is much more aware of why rotational motion is dangerous. The average European consumer is not. We see some awareness in the UK but generally in Europe they are ten years behind in terms of consumer awareness. They have not had the American Football or hockey injuries and that’s why they are not that developed when it comes to thinking why this is an important subject. On working with diverse helmet companies… Strandwitz: One of the key reasons for our success is that we have been able to retro-fit into helmets. In one way it means we don’t need to be part of the design process. However if we are then this is beneficial…but it’s not a ‘must’. Halldin: Our spread means what we are doing in the test lab is the right thing. People have been trying to beat the MIPS system for quite a while and work out how they can get around the patents. In the end after a couple of years of research and trying to under-
stand they realised it wasn’t possible, so they invested in the company and the people and become partners. That is testimony to the IP portfolio but also how the system really works. Strandwitz: We have the ambition to get into as many helmets as possible. If we look at our position in motorcycling it
is a little bit different. In motocross we have about fifteen brands on board, the key ones, and we are penetrating their assortment quite heavily, which is great. When we look at the more traditional motorcycle helmets then we don’t have the same traction there yet. We are helped by the new FIM standards and so on, but
MIPS & CREATION OF THE NEW CRASH HELMET
we still have a long way to go. We are constantly developing new solutions and new technologies to always be equally safe and achieve the same thing: to reach the movement of 10-15mm in all directions… but it can be presented a bit differently. On standards and testing and the FIM… Halldin: Now that EC 22-06 has met and started the revision of the motorcycle test standard they looked at the FIM, and for that the FIM has been very important. When it comes to the test standard then the ball had already been rolling. We started our work in 2012 and the FIM started theirs in 2014, I believe, and the good thing is that they came to more-or-less the same conclusion as we did within CEN TC158/Working Group 11, except that they choose a slightly different test headform. Both of us have made the same decisions when it came to simplifications for what is needed; like both test methods do not have or include the neck… which people could question because everybody in the world has one! But we both concluded that the existing neck form – Hybrid III - is not designed for the testing of helmets. Strandwitz: We never publish our own test results because we think it is wrong for us to
say ‘see what we have done at home…’ We rely very much on third party testing to make sure they communicate results. While there is no standard [for rotational acceleration] and people publish their own test results then I think it will confuse the consumer rather than educate them. Halldin: I know the FIM have been working a lot to make this happen. Even though it is not perfect it is a very good first step and important for the whole helmet industry. The fact that there is a rotational element of the test standard for MotoGP is an important thing: that there is another dimension to helmet testing. There are other examples on the bicycle side. Now there is more of a debate about test points, impact angles, pass/fail criteria – but I think the most important thing right now is discussion, and that we are using the same or similar metrics for manufacturers when their design is being done and optimised. That optimisation should be done against the pass/fail metric that is used. On the wide road for MIPS… Strandwitz: Before we go into a category we always look for relevant injury criteria: can we make a difference or not? We are now entering construction. We have looked at how you actually hurt yourself on a construction site; what kind
of damages or dangers are you exposed to? It is not only falling objects. You can trip, you can slip, you can fall, and you work at heights. We have validated our solution against those types of accidents and we see that we can make a big difference. We see a lot of interest from that category and a lot of construction companies coming to us to say: ‘how can we have solutions with MIPS?’ We looked at injury statistics in Europe and especially in Sweden because they are very well documented to see where we can make a difference and then we model those kinds of accidents in our computer system to make sure that we would add brain protection. We have that capability, which means a big advantage. Halldin: We spent some time getting into the NFL Head Health programme – I or II – and we did not get any prize or funding at that time. They have been asking us to join again but it takes quite a lot of time. I have chosen to work on other matters. I would love to join that programme but the days are full enough already! Also, it is about building a full helmet…and we are about adding protection to an existing helmet. We’d need to team-up with a helmet manufacturer to participate.
FEATURE On dealing with competition… Strandwitz: I believe that competition is good because it makes you more agile, and that you always need to develop. I don’t think there are any industry benefits from the lack of competition. I think as long as people are trying to address a safety issue then this is great; it can be presented in a lot of different ways. Of course, we think we have a superior technology and have spent a lot of money trying to develop it. What I am more worried about is someone launching solutions that do not work that doesn’t enable the redirections of forces that would otherwise go into the brain. Other than that…if it works then I think it’s great. Halldin: It’s fantastic. There should be competitors to MIPS. Comparing MIPS with others then I can only judge on what I have seen in other helmets on the market. Some of the other technologies don’t have that 10-15mm movement or full coverage. I am sure there are some solutions that will have all of this in their system but right now I cannot see it on the helmets on the market. The wider pool… MIPS are ground-breakers and the forefathers of addressing the seriousness of rotational acceleration, but they are not the only specialists trying to tackle the issue. Bell Helmets
invented a three-layered EPS ‘Flex’ system in 2014, that borrows similar thinking to MIPS. 6D Helmets, based in California, fabricated an advanced Omni-Directional Suspension [ODS] construction that causes a series of dampers to shear as part of their radical energy management. Neck brace innovators Leatt worked on the same lines with their 360 Turbine tech.
simple shear-plane within the helmet’s comfort liner it can provide reductions in certain impact scenarios and does make for a safer helmet offering compared to a traditional monolithic liner design utilized in most helmets out there.”
As staunch purveyors of the merits of ODS, 6D naturally believe MIPS broke the mould but there are slithers of cracks still visible. “MIPS is con6D manufacture both street strained to some degree by and off-road helmets and the shape of the human head gathered significant praise and and does not provide any awards with their successful improvement in low-threshold presence in the high-profile linear energy management,” NFL Head Health campaign. opines Weber “which is very The Americans have noted important when it comes to MIPS’ prolificacy as an ‘ingre- increasing a helmet’s capadient’ brand and are currently bility to manage energy over working to develop ODS as a a broad range of impact demore modular and ‘transport- mands.” able’ entity. It is a mission that has seen some positive tracDebate over the technicalition in their bicycle range but ties of systems to combat ODS is far more complex than rotational acceleration and to MIPS’ BPS. ensure even more versatility of a crash helmet is – at this “MIPS is doing great as a stage – to miss the point of company and have had much what the likes of MIPS and success licensing the tech6D are fighting for, and that’s nology to many brands in a even more realisation of how variety of different verticals, a motorcyclists ‘lemon’ can be and that is good for the conprotected beyond the strength sumer,” says founder and MD of some fancy-looking carBob Weber. “There is not a lot bon. Helmet firms are taking of cost associated to the sysnote and are either embarking tem, so it doesn’t impact the on their own expensive soluselling price of the helmet that tions or, like Troy Lee Designs, much, and also there is not putting all their chips behind a lot of engineering required MIPS because it is the definito insert it in a helmet. As a tive reference.
MIPS & CREATION OF THE NEW CRASH HELMET
Understandably the greatest degree of innovation is being seen in the discipline of motocross or off-road riding where crashes – usually from height – are more prevalent. 6D’s first helmet was the ATR-1 MX model, Leatt placed the issue of rotational acceleration front-and-centre with their slim and narrow GPX 5.5 and Fly Racing’s Formula helmet caused sizeable ripples in the American market with the AIS (Adaptive Impact System) formed from Rheon technology. Fox, one of the most famous apparel companies in off-road and bicycle, were part of the MIPS programme and still have the yellow ‘dot’ on some of their helmet catalogue but their premier V3 moto helmet was relaunched in 2019 with Fluid Inside; a network of tough gel pods in the helmet that mimic cerebral spinal fluid. Again the ‘movement’ philosophy paying a debt to the work of MIPS. The Swede’s curiosity with the Canadian product led to MIPS acquiring the company. R&D doesn’t stop. “The primary reason to take on that technology is because they had some patents that we thought were quite interesting and we see a lot of entries into sharing patents and so-on,” Strandwitz explains. “We want to increase our patent protection and we see they have an interesting technology but
we need to spend a bit more time on developing it before we want to include it into our MIPS assortment.” Think of the motorcycle crash helmet since the 1980s and many areas of progression are visually obvious (aerodynamics, materials, visor, padding, emergency release systems, straps) but internally it could be argued that construction has not advanced at the same rate as other technological aspects of biking. MIPS has been a vanguard in this sense. For an appreciation of how this company has evolved awareness and protection of your brain then consider their position as winners of the Polhelm Prize; an award that ranks close to the Nobel prize and previous winners include creators of the zip, the refrigerator and the GPS. “It is a big recognition for Peter,” claims Strandwitz. “He has been instrumental to the whole industry through his work with MIPS but also KTH and has really educated the industry quite a lot. Peter and Hans got a lot of recognition and we piggyback on that when it comes to the company. They have worked more than twenty years developing this.” Mercifully there is a better choice between rubber or compressed wood for crash helmets these days and, thankfully, as another decade
starts there is every reason (and possibility) to think more about protecting the critical part of the body that bubbles all the chemicals generated by motorcycling.
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STATE FARM STADIUM · RND 4 OF 17 · JANUARY 25 450SX winner: Ken Roczen, KTM 250SX winner: Austin Forkner, Kawasaki
RED HEAT By Steve Matthes. Photos by James Lissimore
ROCZEN READY? Well, it’s official. Honda’s Ken Roczen is fully back to his pre-2017 injury form. The German rider has been through hell and back with all his surgeries, rehab and illness but has two wins in four 450SX races this year, the latest one coming this past Saturday night. Of course Roczen held the red plate signifying the points lead last season as well but he hadn’t won a 450SX since his horrific arm break at A2 and ended the drought at St Louis for round two. In that race he got the lead early and checked out right away to front almost every lap with a nice cushion. It was impressive for sure but can’t really touch what he did last weekend in Arizona. Roczen won all three Mains with great rides (although he did get a break when a red flag was thrown for the last main while he was buried around tenth) to take another win. His last two Mains were very reminiscent of his success in St Louis a couple of weeks ago but his first Main was the one that stood out for me. His arch enemy Eli Tomac reeled him in late-on and appeared to be ready to strike. Tomac took a bit longer to get into second but it did seem like the dominant Kawasaki from A2 would emerge here. He made a couple of strikes but Roczen shut the door every time. Late in the race, when you get caught, it’s very hard for a rider to up his pace while still trying to protect your inside lines. It’s a juggling act for anyone out there to pull it off but that’s exactly was Roczen did. He not only fought off the advances of Tomac and held him off for the win, he pulled back out again a bit. It was a great ride and when Roczen’s on, he makes riding a motorcycle seemingly effortless. “The first moto was super fun. I came actually from fourth or so, so I had to make some passes happen. Zacho (Osborne) went down,
so I was in the lead,” said Roczen. “We were yo-yo-ing, Eli and I, and we made a really good main event. It was a lot of fun. We go way back and we have a lot of battles on our hands. So that was great.” Forget about the other two main events, Roczen got the start, Tomac didn’t and the #94 checked out rather easily. “Then, in general, all the other ones, I can’t even remember all of them,” Roczen laughed. So, it’s taken some time but it says here that Kenny’s back all the way. I’m not going to go out and say that he’s going to win this title but he’ll be a factor. Whatever virus he had sapping of him of energy last season seems to be in the rear view mirror. “I got to just take all the good things,” he added. “We didn’t gain a whole lot of points but at the same time we did gain some. I’m on cloud nine right now. It’s amazing. It’s good to wipe everything clean after a couple of days. No matter if I win six in a row, I want to go every single weekend and just fight as if I’m going for my first one again.” Good for Roczen and good for Honda also who have signed Kenny for four years now and outside of a couple of races, haven’t gotten the best return they could’ve due to that crash. Good things come to those who wait and everyone is getting their monies worth right about now. And for Kenny this season is on its way to a possible magical ending. That’s got to feel pretty good for him and his crew. Title or not, this is a great thing for the sport.
HONING THE TRIPLE... Round four of the Monster Energy Supercross series took place in Glendale, Arizona and for the first time this season we saw the Triple Crown format crop up. We’re three years into using this format at three races a year and although I’m a fan of it, I’m not sure everyone else is just yet. The jury is out on this first radical change in supercross since 1985. There are some good things, in that every race the fans watch actually counts towards something. The shorter races (250SX class does 10 minutes plus a lap, the 450SX is 12 minutes plus a lap) definitely have some intensity that the heat sprints lack and the change that was made to make all three Mains the same amount of time was a good one, the first year the racers just didn’t have enough laps to make any passes if they had a bad start. So, we saw some great action and some riders that generally shine at this type of format didn’t have the best of nights and some riders that didn’t have the greatest stats at previous Triple
Crowns did. Honda’s Ken Roczen was dominant in all three “Mains” (we NEED a better name for these things, we already call the real mains “mains” and these are shorter and there are three of them. So they’re different. We need record keeping for these “mains” in our sport but they need a name you know what I mean?) which is a good sign for him going forward because he hasn’t been amazing at the more intense chases. Monster Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac was second and Rockstar Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson was third. Good starters like Roczen’s teammate Justin Brayton didn’t get those usual decent getaways and had to work like hell to get up into the
mix and same with Malcolm Stewart on the BullFrog Spas Honda team - he didn’t shine as much as some would think. The triple crown format isn’t something that I’d want to see for all 17 rounds but as a change of pace, it’s been refreshing. As a former mechanic though I feel for the teams and staff…most of the factory teams have second back-up bikes they can use (a new rule put in last year) so they aren’t in danger of missing a race, but smaller teams can’t do that. The gaps between races is long enough now to give the teams enough time to do what they need to do in-between so everything is jusssst about figured out right.
CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER BY STEVE MATTHES However, some riders still do not like the whole format for safety and effort/pay reasons. And I can’t sit here and say I don’t get it because I do. Rockstar Husky’s Dean Wilson, for one, had some harsh words for the format.
“FANS DON’T CARE THAT THESE AREN’T THE STARS, THEY WANT BAR BANGING ACTION AND LCQS DELIVER JUST THAT...” “I think it’s stupid. It’s just so dangerous for us. We had five starts tonight, and we had a fifth gear start straight,” he said. “It was good training for me but it’s dangerous just because it’s so chaotic the first few laps. It’s gnarly. Of course from a fan’s perspective, it’s awesome. If I was a fan, I’d be loving it. But as a rider, it’s dangerous.” Others have mentioned the bonuses for the riders/purse money is the same as a nor-
mal race. Plus add-in that in Glendale the riders were hitting 75 miles per hour down the longest start straight of the year and due to red flags for downed riders had to do five starts compared to two and it makes sense. From people I talk to, then to win a Triple Header “Main” means a rider gets a heat race bonus…but that ain’t right really either. The Triple Crown races are longer than a heat and with all the riders involved. So the riders are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to compensation. In due time the agents of the top guys will work to even this out I’m sure but for now, the riders are putting out more work. Roczen drilled pretty damn hard three times to win these races but in the end, only gained three points on Tomac for the championship; this doesn’t seem correct either but awarding full event points for each “Main” is way off
also and would penalize anyone who missed one of the “Mains” too heavily. There’s got to be a compromise in there somewhere. As far as the fan in the stands, well as I said every gate drop means something and all the stars of the sport are out there more which is always a good thing. The gaps between the Mains, while great for the teams, is a bit long during the night when you’re watching dozers work on the track. I understand that it’s hypercritical to complain about this while praising the changes for the riders and teams but I think the promoters need to fill the dead time with something. The KTM Jnr race is cool, the promotional Toyota thing works I guess but what about a B Main for the riders that didn’t make it?
Here’s the main drawback of the Triple Crown format and that’s the death of the privateers. With just 22 racers out there, there are some name riders that missed out, and the teams/sponsors that invest in these guys miss out of being part of “the show”. I know, survival of the fittest and that type-of-stuff but I don’t know if you’ve noticed; times are tough and we need the private teams in the sport. The fact that the LCQ races in both classes are most often some of the best of the night seem to be lost on the promoters. If you don’t want to do a B main then throw the LCQ’s at the start of the night and announce to the crowd that the top four get to go on, the rest go home for the evening. It’s drama at its finest. The fans don’t care that these aren’t the stars, they want bar banging action and these things deliver just that. Plus, the smaller teams and lesser names get their five
minutes of fame on live TV. It’s a win/win! Why this idea hasn’t been implemented already is beyond me, outside of perhaps lengthening the program by a bit, there’s no downside. So, all these things are to be considered when talking about the decision to alter the sport’s 40 year history format for a few races a year. One thing is for sure, after three season there is still no universal love for either format either way. I think with a few tweaks though, the TC agenda might just be a home run.
BY ADAM WHEELER
TROY LEE DESIGNS Troy Lee Designs will be much more prominent at the front of the MXGP series in 2020 thanks to their new deal and association with the Monster Energy Yamaha MX2 crew; meaning some of the coolest and best styling on the track can be found on the backs of Jago Geerts and Ben Watson. Initially the Belgian and the Brit will be wearing the new Ultra LE kit; TLD’s super-exclusive and benchmark-setting stuff made in collaboration with Adidas. Usually the Ultra is made in limited bulk so fans need to quickly find their closest dealer or stockist (online or not) to place an order and the Yamaha gear won’t be dropping until the end of February so we’ll flag it again in the next issue. In the meantime catch the ‘very’ TLD LE Stranded design for the accomplished and under-rated SE4 MIPS-equipped helmet (the black adorns the carbon model, the white and multi-colour feature on the composite shell). Crabs, desert, skulls, webs and plenty of other illustrations mean this will be one of the most talked about lids on the track or trail.
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L E AT T. C O M
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER WHY 2020 COULD BE JUSTIN BARCIAâ€™S YEAR
By Andrea Wilson, Photos by James Lissimore
nticipation for the new Supercross season on the heels of the New Year is fever pitched. A new campaign brings a lot of uncertainty, and the fun of speculation. Riders are lined up at the Anaheim I pre-race press conference and asked about preparations in the off season, fitness and changes made.
This year, sitting in the back row, Justin Barcia talked about preparation, feeling good and alterations in the team for 2020. Then he went on to win Anaheim I for the second year running.
For anyone who knows the sport, the hype leading into the championship opener is familiar, as is the fact that titles aren’t won at A1. That doesn’t escape the 27-year old either. He’s gone far enough along the learning curve. He took home back-to-back crowns in the 250SX East category in 2011-2012 but Barcia’s time in the premier class has been rocky. He got a pair of wins his rookie season but Supercross is relentlessly unforgiving and frequently unkind. It’s tough enough to transcend from the amateur ranks to the upper echelons of the highly competitive 250 class, but the 450s
FEATURE is a whole other level and there is a long list of riders snapping for a coveted ride. Injuries were prolific, team and brand changes didn’t work and the results petered-out. At the end of 2017 he was essentially out of a job. He entered the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas as a privateer and finished in the top five. He got a fill-in ride at the Yamaha Factory team after injury sidelined Davi Millsaps before A1 in 2018 and earned the full-time gig after showing that he was a still a front-runner. Last year’s win at A1 was a big boost for Barcia. It was his first triumph since 2013. But it again slipped downhill from there. A broken tailbone after a crash at A2 was followed by a big training crash before mid-season at Atlanta. He came back two rounds later, but he wasn’t fully ready. There were more crashes, struggles in general and that carried on until the end of the outdoor season. So what’s different about 2020? Although there are still doubters, and definitely more for him to prove, the 27-year old is pretty relaxed and comfortable with his current place – third in the standings, 11 points behind the red plate and still healthy.
Do you think there’s a certain amount of pressure after winning Anaheim 1? Do you think it’s a high mark to maintain in a 17-round season? No, not necessarily. I think coming out and winning A1 was fantastic. It was a great feeling. Then I got really sick and pulled through in St. Louis. I had a good setup and good vibes there. Then I had a bad race (A2) and then a sub-par race (Glendale). I’ve been at the highest of highs in this sport, and the lowest of lows. I’ve come back and went down and come back again. So for me, I don’t necessarily feel the pressure from anyone. Obviously you put more pressure on yourself than anyone. But I know I belong there now, so that’s a great feeling to have. I know I can do it. So, when everything clicks, which it will click again very soon, I feel like I’m in a very good position. I don’t feel like there’s a ton of weight on my shoulders (after that win). I believe I should be in that position. It’s not bad at all. Going into this season, like a lot of Anaheims, there’s a lot of hype and a lot of uncertainty. Do you feel like people overlooked you? I was honestly so busy working and preparing for the season, I wasn’t really looking at any of the pre-shows, pre-interviews or media things like that. Then after Anaheim I goes by, I had a
MXGP JUSTIN NETHERLANDS BARCIA’S 2020?
lot of the media saying: “sorry we overlooked you.” I told them, “I didn’t really notice, to be honest, so don’t feel bad about it.” I probably did get overlooked a little but for me I didn’t feel that at the time.
ways easier. I feel like I handle things quite well, whatever is thrown at me, but sometimes when there’s a lot more going on, more pressure and stuff, it makes it a little more difficult. So being under the radar is definitely not a bad thing.
Did that maybe work out better for you? For sure. When you can just put your head down and work and get the job done, that’s al-
It’s pretty hard to stay healthy as a supercross rider. What’s your current physical state? It’s cool to be healthy this year; coming into the season at full health and now we’re at round four and I’m feeling really good on the bike. Like I said, I had that flu. A few riders got those flu symptoms. I went through that round two and round three, so that was very difficult to get over. But physically I’m super-awesome right now. With my training and the things I did in the off-season, I feel like I’ve really never been in a better position physically and mentally, which is a really good thing. That’s a thing you have to have for the championship. Staying healthy throughout, making smart decisions, and not riding over your head but also pushing it really hard… it’s definitely a fine line in racing.
FEATURE Supercross is basically looked at as a young man’s sport, but is it a little bit too much to expect young riders to come into the 450 class and be able to meet the demands of a 17-round season in a highly competitive championship? Supercross is definitely a young man’s sport, but coming in as a 19-year-old or 18-year-old, or whatever, into the 450 class, it’s a very difficult road to manoeuvre. As you get older your body doesn’t work as well, but when you’re young, your brain is kind of crazy. There’s a lot of maturity that comes to play in racing and learning. When I went to the 450 class it was tough, lots of highs and lots of lows: balancing that is one of the keys to the sport. You have to have all the pieces to the puzzle in place. I believe in supercross there are a lot of puzzle pieces and to put all those in place in the first or second year as a young kid is extremely difficult. I know, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go into a championship hunt right-off the bat. There are some kids that win races and stuff, but it is definitely a sport where it’s difficult to win a championship your first year. In sports, navigating those highs and lows is a big challenge. How do you as a racer manage that? The highs and the lows of any sport is something that I think any great athlete has to able to manage. For me, obviously I love winning and I love that feeling, but I try not to get too crazy high, and when there’s a bad race I definitely don’t beat myself down super-bad. I look at the good and I look at the bad and I take all those things, those strengths and those weaknesses, and try to become better. You definitely have to be very cautious with the highs and the lows of the sport because if you get too low, sometimes it’s impossible to get out of it. I have been there. I’ve been in that position where I’ve been so low that you can’t dig your way out. There’s a fine balance. I love winning. You don’t want to get too excited, but
FOR ME, AT ONE POINT IN TIME, I LOST THE FUN AND LOST THE BELIEF A LITTLE. SO I HAD TO DO MY OWN LITTLE PRIVATEER THING FOR A MINUTE, AND REGROUP AND GET THAT GOOD FEELING AGAIN AND BELIEVE IN MYSELF AGAIN.
JUSTIN BARCIA’S 2020?
you definitely enjoy the moment. Then you’re right back to work because there’s a race every weekend. Were there any moments where you thought maybe I’m done? What am I going to do now? For sure. After my whole stint at JGR, it definitely put me in a mindset where I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do anymore. There were definitely times where I asked myself, “is this really what I want to do?” I took some time off and I missed the sport a lot. At the time, there wasn’t any racing going on or anything, but I did miss riding and the thought of
not racing was something that I didn’t think I could live with. So I hit the reset button and was like, “let’s give this another solid go.” That was about probably two years or so ago, or three years even. It’s crazy how time goes by so fast. I feel like I’m in the best place I’ve been in the 450 class right now. So I’m really glad I decided to race. I don’t think I was ever going to [stop], but I definitely would have been very disappointed in myself if I did. Do you think people write racers off too quickly? Yeah, for sure. One hundred percent. Lots of people wrote me off. A lot. When I went through those lows and tough times on some teams, and then didn’t have a ride…they write you off right away. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if people write you off or not because as a rider, as a person, or whatever you do, you make your own destiny. I was able to turn that around. It wasn’t really all that long ago that you were without a ride, a privateer racing the Monster Energy Cup... That’s the biggest thing in this sport. You just have to believe in yourself. For me, at one point in time, I lost the fun and lost the belief a little. So I had to do my own little privateer thing for a minute, and regroup and get that good feeling again and believe in myself again. Once you get that back, it’s on. It’s a very hard road to take, but for me as a racer, all the things I’ve been through, it’s not only made me a better racer, it’s made me a better person. I really wouldn’t change anything. You have said that you feel like you’re riding the best you have in years. What do you think has been the difference maker there? There’s a lot of things that changed in my life since a few years ago. I got married and have my wife Amber by my side, which is awesome. It’s just great to have someone that can
FEATURE go through the tough times of the sport with you and the really good times as well. Also, being on the Factory Yamaha team, I would say for me, has been a fresh start. Yamaha hasn’t been back in supercross all that long. This sport, so much goes into it. I think when a team takes off as many years as the Factory Yamaha team did, it takes a while to get back to that position. There’s been a lot of things changing. We’re adapting and learning as we go. It’s been a good relationship with Yamaha during this building [process]. Everyone is working together and realizing that we have to start over and keep building this thing back into a championship-winning team. So I think where we started and where we’re moving to is really good. We won the first race this year and
we’re third in points right now, so we’re at the top of the sport. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction for sure. Team aside, I’ve matured a lot as a rider. Every year you learn different things about your training, your fitness and your mind. So it’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of lots of things. Like I said, this whole thing is like a humongous puzzle and to connect all the pieces together, it takes a lot of work. And sometimes, you need to get some glue and scissors to put all the pieces together. There’s a lot of times where teammate dynamics are a challenge. You and Aaron seem to get along really well... Right now at Yamaha there’s a really good team vibe. Me and Aaron are good friends and
JUSTIN BARCIA’S 2020?
we enjoy racing each other, we enjoy riding together during the week and things like that. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate. Aaron’s a really fun kid to be around. He brings a lot of excitement to the team. His birthday was this past weekend. I always think we’re the same age because I feel really young at heart and joke around and stuff but he’s 24. I’m going to be 28 next month. It’s cool. I remember being the young kid on the team and now he’s the young kid and he brings the excitement out in me, it’s motivating. The team has really come around this year. We’ve had a really good offseason and spent a lot of time together and work together really well. We all have the same goal in mind and that’s winning races and fighting for championships. When you all have the same goal and you all click, it’s awesome. A lot of athletes talk about there’s the team at the track, but also the team at home. You and Amber moved out here to California to live in a motorhome for several months. How many wives would be like: “Sure, honey. Let’s just live out of a motorhome?!” Yeah, for sure. In this sport there’s insane sacrifices. I’ve never lived in California really and I don’t have a house out here or anything. My plan was to do whatever I needed to do this year. So we made the big decision. We got a motorhome and we parked it down by the beach. We haven’t been home in four months. For me and her, we sacrificed a ton to do that. It’s been a really positive thing, though. We’ve been able to work with the team a lot and build a really strong relationship. I’ve been able to do a lot of work on the motorcycle, which we needed to do. So I can’t complain at all, but it would be nice to be home sometimes. That just hasn’t been the way it was planned. We definitely made sacrifices this year, and we’ll continue to make sacrifices to be the best.
Your wife being from the UK, would you ever consider going international? For sure. I love the UK. I love Europe. Our plan in the future, when I retire from racing in the States, is to move to the UK part time because we have a lot of family over there and really good friends. In the past I’ve talked to teams in MXGP, way back in the day, about racing in Europe. So it’s never out of the question. My main focus though, for the next two, three, four, or however many years that I’m racing in America before I retire is full focus on America. Whatever happens after that is whatever it will be. But I’ve always enjoyed racing the Motocross of Nations and the Paris Supercross and Geneva Supercross and racing Italy supercrosses back in the day. I’ve always loved traveling and seeing the world. You never know what could happen. I’ve built good relationships over in Europe. I enjoy it. Maybe one day we could go race over there. We’ll just have to see how everything goes. Supercross is 17 rounds in 18 weeks. It’s pretty intense and fast-paced, but it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon in the end… I like to look at is as the Tour de France. You can’t win every race. You just have to be there throughout the whole thing. In the Tour de France they don’t want to lose time. In supercross we don’t want to lose too many points. It’s a long run. The competition level is really high. You have to win races, you have to be near the podium, and you want to eliminate those bad races. I think Supercross is the most demanding sport there is and there will ever be. It’s unbelievable what we’re able to do but to win a championship it takes a whole group of people all coming together.
By Adam Wheeler, Photos by Ray Archer/Kawasaki Bavo/Honda, KTM & Yamaha Racing
MXGP MOVEMENTS AS THE FIRST 2020 MXGP IMAGES START TO HIT THE INTERNET HERE ARE THREE EXCLUSIVE STORIES & TALKING POINTS FROM SEVERAL KEY NAMES IN THE SEASON TO COME...
PRADO SETS GOAL OF WANTING TO “PROGRESS” DURING MXGP DEBUT SEASON The British Grand Prix will open the FIM Motocross World Championship for the first time this century on March 1st but the initial round of twenty in ’20 will be without double MX2 title-winner and one of the star names of the series, Jorge Prado. The Red Bull KTM rider underwent surgery to fix a broken left femur midDecember and is pushing to regain fitness and eventually ride the works 450 SX-F again before considering his debut in the premier class. 2020 MXGP starts at pace with four Grands Prix occurring before the first weekend of April.
my upper body,” the recentlyturned 19 year old said. “I cannot run yet. People are really impressed with the progress I am making. It was a pretty serious injury and a complicated operation but the surgery could not have gone any better.” The Spaniard – who will be the focus of attention at just his second home Grand Prix at the new venue of intu Xanadú – Arroyomolinos in Madrid on April 18-19 and could well be racing by that stage – has had to deal with the consequences of the largest setback of his young three-year world championship career to-date. “In the first weeks you are full of medicine and pills to reduce pain and infection; it takes a while to feel normal again because there is swelling around the tissue and the side-effects mean you don’t feel hungry and generally a bit miserable,” he described. “So it was a hard time…”
PRADO MIGHT HAVE FOLLOWED ROMAIN FEBVRE (2015) AND TIM GAJSER (2016) AS ROOKIE WINNERS N AT THE FIRST ATTEMPT (HERLINGS MANAGED THE FEAT IN HIS SECOND ‘GO’ IN 2018). HE’LL NOW BE ABLE AFFRONT 2020 WITH A SOFTER SPOTLIGHT. Presently, Prado is focussing more on rehab rather than training but doctors approved a greater degree of prep ten days ago. “It’s only been four weeks, so it is still very early but I can now cycle and get in the gym to work on strength in
Prado suffered the break after losing grip and balance on the 450 SX-F around the Malagrotta track near Rome; the regular training base he uses with teammate and mentor Tony Cairoli. “I’ve not thought that much about the crash,” he admits. “For a day or two afterwards I was replaying in my mind what had happened… but I didn’t make a mistake and there was no problem with the bike: it was just bad luck. It had started to rain and I lost grip over a very easy jump! I think an amateur could crash there…but there is no way a rider at my level should do that. The circumstances mean that it hasn’t affected my confidence or my desire to get on the bike.” MXGP teammate and 2018 world champion Jeffrey Herlings was one of the first to message Prado once news of the accident filtered through. The Dutchman snapped the same bone with a commanding 145 point lead in the 2014 MX2 world championship and while riding an 85cc machine at a charity event. Eight weeks (and one stomach infection) later Herlings was able to hobble back on his KTM for the final race of the season in Mexico and despite a valiant 11th place finish overall in one of the most dramatic championship
MXGP 2020 STORIES
finales in recent memory lost a third crown in a row by four points to then teammate Jordi Tixier. Herlings would have to wait another eighteen months before wrapping his MX2 hatrick. “He wrote to me and sent some nice messages of advice and what I should do next with the injury,” Prado says. “Honestly that surprised me… and I really appreciated it.” Prado might have followed Romain Febvre (2015) and Tim Gajser (2016) as rookie winners of the premier class crown at the first attempt (Herlings managed the feat in his second ‘go’ in 2018). He’ll now be able affront 2020 with a softer spotlight. “All I want to do is progress,” he said of his realigned goals for the year. “It’s hard to think of the season [ahead] when I just want to concentrate on the next weeks to get back to a position where I am back on the bike and fit. I had very little time on the 450 but the bike was already ready to race and that also gives me confidence for when I can finally be in the MXGP gate.” If #61 does have a Grand Prix in mind to return to the orange awning next to Cairoli and Herlings then he’s being understandably discrete. “I really want to start riding as soon as possible mainly because I miss it!” he admitted.
“But we don’t have a set date at the moment. This break needs quite a bit of work and it means I might be on the bike when the leg is not in an ideal condition. I also need to work as much as I can to build up the muscle strength again, that will be the main thing before I can think about the bike.”
Verdict Jeffrey Herlings was 19 years old and on the way to a third world championship when he fractured his femur in 2014. At the time the argument over whether the Dutchman was too young and too inexperienced for the 450 and the premier class was particularly hot and was occurring in a miniera where he was smoking the best that MX2 had to offer. The future of the 450s was still a talking point at the time with Tony Cairoli having won three straight championships on the 350 SX-F and Herlings’ occasionally rash decisionmaking and riding style had many claiming the bigger bike was simply a step too far for an athlete so young. The MX2 class saw two rule changes to protect and then finally eject athletes aping Herlings’ dominance from what is essentially a category to funnel talent into MXGP. Prado is the first real ‘victim’ of this stipulation after establishing a similar rate of
MXGP 2020 STORIES
aloof results as his teammate, but there is not the same level of outcry and concern for the Spaniard and his forced entry into MXGP at the same age. This could possibly be down to the narrowing gap between 450 and 250 performance and dynamics but also because of Prado’s ability and technique. In his debut term in 2017 Prado was so slight and unprepared for the exertions of Grand Prix that he was forced to pull out of the two hottest races that year. A quick fast forward to 2019 and his promotion to MXGP seems natural, expected and unquestioned. Jorge’s skill, his phenomenal starting prowess and steely character hidden by a boyish charm and smile, means he would have been a contender from the outset in 2020 and the undoubted dark horse of the greatest MXGP team ever assembled. This injury is a test for his patience but – assuming he recovers well and fully – is not a disaster for his development.
Prado can hand-off the pressures of victories and title-scrapping to Cairoli and Herlings and go about his business learning the differences between MXGP and MX2. Missing the first three rounds of the year is a completely different scenario to, say, having won the first three and emerging as the main face of the sport and all the extra attention that entails. As a champion in various classes, a factory rider and the star of motocross in a bike-mad country like Spain, Prado is hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to carrying a public profile and has been in front of TV cameras since pre-puberty but he has been given breathing space to adapt and find his place at the last and biggest step that there is. Having just turned 19 that’s not a major cause for concern in his career. If he copies Herlings and clinches the gold plate in 2021 he will still be 20 at the time and it’s scary to think what he might go on to achieve…
FEBVRE WANTING TO LEAVE THEM ALL GREEN There are some, like Mitchell Evans on a HRC CRF450R, Thomas Covington and Calvin Vlaanderen as MXGP rookies with Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha and Glenn Coldenhoff on a GasGas and of course the incoming Jorge Prado with Red Bull KTM that hold a high curiosity factor for 2020 Grand Prix but perhaps Romain Febvre’s sixth campaign in the premier class that he won as a debutant in 2015 tops the bunch. Febvre is not only competing for his second brand in MXGP (his fourth since entering Grand Prix in 2012) but his second factory, and he joins the Monster Energy Kawasaki crew and the domain of Clement Desalle since 2016. The recently turned 28 year old has only just completed his first serious tests with the KX450F after full recuperation from a broken femur sustained last August. The Frenchman scored five podiums in 2019 despite two snapped bones and earned his first victory since ’16 with success in the Czech Republic. Febvre started to ride a stock Kawasaki at the beginning of December. “I was riding three months after surgery and the pin caused some pain but no inflammation and wasn’t bothering my knee; it wasn’t simple to get comfortable on the bike and to feel like normal,” he admitted. “I guess that is expected and, honestly, it has been getting better every time and I have been starting to get some speed.”
MXGP 2020 STORIES
The accident and fractured femur came just six months after he broke his foot in Argentina. It was the severest injury of his career. “I could feel a reminder of it,” he said of the recent spells of riding. “I wasn’t thinking of crashing, so I wasn’t afraid or worried, but I had trouble doing consecutive days on the bike and had to rest and recuperate because it had been a big injury. The only effect really was in the left corners when my foot would hit the floor. It was something new to get used to…but everything is new at the moment!” Personal development, or recovery, aside Febvre also has to handle two new ‘obstacles’ in his race prep for 2020. The first is the feeling and synergy with the KX. The second is the working relationship and atmosphere with fellow title-contender (and another rider returning from a broken leg) Desalle. When it comes to the bike then Febvre has good form in adapting quickly to the production base and making the most of a simplistic package: in the winter of 2014 he recovered from a broken arm by making laps with a standard YZ450F and then morphed the basis of the motorcycle to gain momentum, confidence and eventually the ’15 championship. He needs to get a handle on Showa suspension compared to five years with Yamaha KYB but otherwise has blended immediately with the KX. “The first difference is that the bike is thinner, especially around the tank and seat,” he describes. “I really like that, and it makes a difference for the handling. I felt good on it right away. Another positive is the character of the engine and the power. This was something where we had to make a lot of changes on the Yamaha to try and adapt it to my style. It [the Yamaha] was
very aggressive and we needed to always find a compromise for the different tracks and the starts. From the basic setting I’m already very happy and we still need to go through more testing. The Kawasaki power already matches my style, so I had proof in my hands and my mind that this will work. Hopefully it will only get better and better.” Febvre claimed the 2015 crown by brushing aside the threat and profile of thenteammate Jeremy Van Horebeek, who had been runner-up the previous year. The two famously clashed at the 2016
FEBVRE HAS TO HANDLE TWO NEW ‘OBSTACLES’ FOR 2020. THE FEELING AND SYNERGY WITH THE KX &THE WORKING RELATIONSHIP AND ATMOSPHERE WITH FELLOW TITLECONTENDER (AND ANOTHER RIDER RETURNING FROM A BROKEN LEG) DESALLE. German Grand Prix and were estranged for another two seasons. Desalle has not had a rider of the same level or status at KRT after two years with Jordi Tixier and two with Julien Lieber. The squad now have two heavyweights and arguably their largest billing since Ryan Villopoto made his notorious and brief attempt at the world championship in Febvre’s careerdefining term. “I’ve never really taken care of who my teammate is,” Febvre admits. “Jeremy Van Horebeek was not a title contender but he finished on the podium a few times and
MXGP 2020 STORIES
was also in front of me now and again. I will just do my best for the team; if either one of us is putting the team at the front then this is better.” “I don’t know Clement so much,” he added. “He is riding in Spain at the moment and I’m in Sardinia but we’ll link up soon. I think it is really good for the image of the team to have two top riders and hopefully we’ll have a nice season.” Febvre did admit to seeking a cordial working relationship with Desalle – two years his senior – and in particular tapping into his experience of having worked on two generations of the KX. “Clement is obviously used to the bike,” he says. “I think this will be his fifth year with the team and he knows them well and how the bike needs to be set-up. It will be interesting to hear his opinions because I still have a lot to learn. For sure it will be good top battle this year and whoever ends up in front will be the better rider.”
Verdict Of all the injuries to strike MXGP in 2019 Romain Febvre’s broken foot at the first race of the year was one of the most disappointing. His snapped femur while leading in Sweden was far more serious and ‘final’ but the mistake at Neuquen derailed arguably the Frenchman’s best off-season and what looked like a very competitive vein of intent thanks to his work with Jacky Vimond. The pair have collaborated again for 2020 as Vimond switched blue for green and Febvre will be hoping for a quick adaption to only his second motorcycle in six years of premier class racing. It’s hard to say which way 2020 could swing for the new #3. He mis-stepped with the factory Yamaha in
2017; it took half a season for the team and rider to calm and curate the YZ450F power curve sufficiently to make top five starts and be able to control the Yamaha enough to vie for MXGP podiums once more. Febvre was highly rated and highly paid at Yamaha but arguably needed a fresh challenge after a cycle of seasons that did not end as hoped. Not much has changed around him – he even keeps the same key sponsors in Monster Energy and Alpinestars – but the landscape ahead is untried and partially tested. Febvre is one of the most fiercely determined racers in MXGP and it will be fascinating to see how both he and Clement Desalle interact and unwillingly drive each other on. Desalle has not had a teammate of this ilk since he rode with Steve Ramon at Suzuki in 2011. It’s hard not to imagine Febvre as another protagonist of MXGP this year; the real mystery is to what extent. When he had recovered from his injury last summer he was a nuisance to Tim Gajser but was still relatively untested against the Red Bull KTMs. Charting Romain’s intensity and competitiveness will be one of the more watchable elements of grand prix once it gets underway.
WATSON PRIMED TO ATTACK ‘OPEN’ MX2 CAMPAIGN IN LAST SHOT When the MX2 class lines up at Matterley Basin at the end of February for the British Grand Prix and the first action of twenty dates in 2020 MXGP there will be only two riders in the gate with the knowledge and experience of having stop atop an FIM World Championship race podium. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Ben Watson is not one of those but the 2018 world #4 – who lost the chance to better himself in 2019 due to a broken hand and a broken wrist – will almost certainly be one of the contenders in a contest that has been largely owned by Red Bull KTM since the turn of the last decade.
Jordi Tixier, Pauls Jonass and Jorge Prado crowned since 2010. The champions will be hoping 2019 surprise package Tom Vialle will get close to joining that list but there are significant threats from Rockstar Energy Husqvarna (Thomas Kjer Olsen and Jed Beaton) and Watson’s Yamaha crew with teammate Jago Geerts very much in play.
2020 will be Watson’s last on a 250 as he turns 23 in June and with serial holeshotter and double world champion Prado now out of the class the Brit is in touching distance of a potentially bright campaign. “It’s really open this year and I “2019 SHOULD HAVE SEEN ANOTHER don’t think STAGE OF EVOLUTION AND DESPITE people have THE MISTAKES AND MISFORTUNE many WITH INJURY IT PERHAPS GAVE HIM expecHIS MOST IMPORTANT LESSON TO- tations for the DATE: DEALING WITH THE MENTAL class,” he assesses. ASPECT OF PRESSURE, DEMANDS “That AND EXPECTATION...” wasn’t the Only Tim Gajser (2015) has case for the last two seadethroned the Austrians who sons where Prado made it has seen Marvin Musquin, look pretty easy. We’d know Ken Roczen, Jeffrey Herlings, he’d likely holeshot, do some
hard, early laps and pull out a gap. It meant you needed an equally good start otherwise it was just a tough fight at the beginning of motos and he was usually gone by the time you came through. I think people don’t know exactly what will happen now.” 2019 runner-up Olsen is a clear favourite based on results of the previous two seasons and Watson knows he’ll need to put the lessons learned from two terms as a factory Yamaha rider to good use to graduate as GP winner and then look even further upwards. “In 2017 I was 15th and made a big step up to 4th in 2018 so last year there was a lot of expectation and added pressure and that worked against me,” he admits. “I didn’t have the experience to handle it. The results were OK at times but then I was also disappointed a lot; for instance, I was 4th overall at Arco di Trento and I was pissed off when perhaps I should have looked at it as a reasonable result so early in the season and focussed on the next race. I wasn’t enjoying myself, had some problems, fought with the bike, made some mistakes and it led into the hand injury.”
MXGP 2020 STORIES
Watson says the prospect of his final campaign in MX2 does not faze him. “I see my future in the 450s and where I’ll be riding at my best, so I don’t want to be putting pressure on myself as 2020 as the ‘last chance’,” the tall athlete says. “I want to have fun this season because whether I’m in contention for the title or not my future for MXGP is likely to be decided by the middle of the year. So, I need to find my rhythm, enjoy my riding and the results will come.” For now #919 could face his toughest and most competitive 2020 challenge close to home. 19 year old Geerts emerged as a regular podiumee in 2019 with six trophies and superseded Watson under the former Kemea-Yamaha awning. He smiles at the suggestion that tensions could end up running high in the works set-up. “Jago is not that kinda guy,” he states. “I think you could t-bone him or have a hard fight and he’d still say something like ‘good race…’ afterwards. He’s super-chilled and I’m also along those lines. We both know that what happens on the track stays on the track. Within the team we also know that we go out there to win; it doesn’t matter if the other guy is your best mate or even your brother. The attitude stays the same. I want to beat him just as much as the next guy in the gate.”
MXGP Verdict: While Ben Watson’s tall frame on a 250 could mean he’ll be a better fit for a 450 (the same thinking could apply to Calvin Vlaanderen, Mitch Evans and Thomas Kjer Olsen) there is little doubt that he’ll be attacking 2020 both to grasp the last opportunity in MX2 and make an impression for MXGP 2021. Watson might have exploded onto the international scene with victories and outstanding speed in the EMX250 European Championship as a fifteen year old and has long-been touted as a star in the UK since his junior MX days but his progress to the top level has been slowburn. Losing an entire year with a badly-broken foot in 2016 didn’t help but he was trying to fast-track his education in terms of preparation and race-leading capabilities in 2017 and 2018. 2019 should have seen another stage of evolution, and despite the mistakes and misfortune with injury it perhaps gave him his most important lesson to-date: dealing with the mental aspect of pressure, demands and expectation. Watson has the technique, the strength (again he has collaborated with Jacky Vimond in the off-season) and now, hopefully, the hardened character and race-mind to judge a weekend and paint the bigger picture. He is one of the very few top hopes for the UK in 2020 (perhaps Conrad Mewse can also develop) and beyond, and British fans will be hoping his maturation as a Pro and an athlete delivers the results he really should be hitting. He’s part of a clutch of riders that could produce surprises over the next nine months.
MXGP 2020 STORIES
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TITULAR TITULAR BUILD IT...AND WILL THEY COME? The announcement that the 2020 Grand Prix of Spain will take place at a brand-new ‘build’ 20km from the centre of Madrid came as a small surprise…but also in this era of modern MXGP and twenty-race schedules it wasn’t a big shock. The intu Xanadú – Arroyomolinos circuit (a mouthful, even for a Spaniard) is one of three unseen and debutant facilities for 2020. There could be a fourth if the second ever Grand Prix of China relocates somewhere else from Shanghai, and you’d also like to think that any alarms over epidemics will have long disappeared by the time MXGP has to jet east for the penultimate fixture in mid-September. Intu (let’s just shorten it for a moment) along with the KymiRing and Jakarta are fresh creations for MXGP and join a track record with a varying degree of success. Spain is a good example of a country that should have a Grand Prix…but somehow has struggled to make it
happen on a consistent basis. Bellpuig in Catalunya was a stable home from 1994 up until 2012 and through peaks and troughs in terms of attendance. Local government support was key, and the sports ministry even helped chip-in almost a million euros around the start of the century to allow the permanent circuit to overhaul and upgrade infrastructure. The erosion of this backing, a lack of domestic stars after the retirement of Javier Garcia Vico (a larger than life character if there ever was one) and Jonathan Barragan, and small crowds pushed the club out of the world championship picture. Short-term attempts at Leon (a terrible venue) and Red Sand and intermittent visits to Talavera de la Reina were
frustratingly unstable. Talavera is a historic racetrack and the definition of old-school with its incessant climbs, drops and narrow layout but far too compact to wedge MXGP and all the EMX circus into the surrounds. There was also a sense that the bikes had outgrown the course with a set of processional and uninteresting motos limited by frugal passing places. So, bolstered with a double world champion and a sub20 year old athlete who is making noises of a Grand Prix future (as opposed to an teenager eager to escape to supercross) the momentum and desire to push MXGP back into consciousness continues. Therefore why the new circuit instead of a search to adapt one of the many in Spain? Why not pick up the phone to a GP-ready installation like Bellpuig? The first answer seems to be in the coffers supposedly offered by the Comunidad de Madrid as
CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER BY ADAM WHEELER well as the Spanish Federation. Which leads to the second explanation of requiring a site in the province that can do the job. Intu fulfils certain criteria. It’s next to a shopping complex, has easy motorway access and parking and hard-standing facilities in the vein of Supercross.
“INTU WILL REQUIRE GOOD DIRECTION & STRONG COLLABORATION WHEN IT COMES TO ITS CONSTRUCTION.” It’s extremely close to the seven million population catchment of the capital, and thus more spotlight will be thrown on the marketing efforts of the organisation to see if the slimmest fraction of the well-informed native public (motorsport is regularly part of the evening news) will travel to see one of the
country’s best young motorcycle racing talents – the best ever from Spain – with motocross at last holding its own against the reams of successful figures in road racing, rally, trial, enduro; you name it. The Grand Prix is being organised by the management team that backs Jorge Prado; so, people that know the sport and have visited FIM championship events enough to know what should constitute a viable race. The same personnel will have watched the attempt by RedSand to convert from being a popular training course to a GP site with local government backing and ultimately struggle and throw-in the towel. The crew is led by Diego Muñoz and I contacted him for a few words on the project. “The Arroyomolinos council gave us this possibility and we saw that the site was perfect; it’s half an hour from the centre of a massive city like Madrid
as well as next door to a wellknown shopping centre that has around 60,000 visitors every weekend,” he said. The framework looks promising but the layout itself is the crux and, of course, there is trepidation over a new-build. I’ve already seen a virtual ‘rolling of the eyes’ reaction on social media. New and temporary (sometimes ill-fitting) tracks have a chequered record so far. For every man-made hit like Nequen, Matterley Basin, Gore Basin, Si Racha and Frauenfeld there have been other less-loved and unappealing experiments like Mallory Park, Guadalajara, Pangkal Pinang, Leon in Mexico, and Losail. For some reason the wealth of resources and passion invested by the Indonesian government to orientate a sporting event around a multi-million industry in their country has been met with some derision. Palembang and Semarang failed to inspire international
MXGP SBK BLOG BLOG
viewers and Jakarta is set to be the fourth different venue in as many years. If the Indonesian Federation soon decides that MotoGP should swallow all the funding for a new road racing complex then it will be motocross’ loss. The necessity for new circuits is down to the lack of history and tradition for the sport and the desire to tap-in into the vast amount of people and riders in urban areas. Generally, I believe people have a problem more with the track themselves rather than the circumstances that led the world championship being at a site; be it old, new, feted or hated. Palembang last year – new for 2019 and constructed in the town and the shadow of a vast and modern hotel - was a case of practical comfort for the teams and riders that travelled all the way from European bases to participate, but the compact and ungainly
aspect of the place seemed to gather a wide thumbs-down from those who felt they had to voice an opinion after watching through a screen. Track crews and Youthstream’s team have been guilty in the past of copypasting certain elements of one new layout to another (off-camber spoon curve? Check.). For example, there were parts of the track in Losail, Qatar that looked strikingly familiar to Beto Carrero in Brazil. However we’re not talking about a ‘cookie-cutter’ scenario – and there is only so much that can be created from a flat piece of land – but there was a tendency to make circuits ‘very busy’ within a recommended guideline length of 1.6km (watch how Matterley Basin will shrink this year to meet that regulation) and that means creation and installation of familiar sections.
It’s not an easy job, and I wouldn’t - for a second – believe that a designer and builder sets-out to chisel something unchallenging and restrictive, but they often have to work with a very condensed ‘palette’ and even a lack of machinery or willing co-operation. They also need to compromise for the fans’
“INTU HAS A THREEYEAR CONTRACT FOR MXGP AND THE CIRCUIT WILL STAY IN PLACE AND ONLY BE USED FOR THE GRAND PRIX.” views, TV set-up, rider’s reaction and safety…all within the scope of land and the type of dirt. Think about it for a second: it seems like an impossible job to create something that ticks boxes for everyone. “It has good ground,” Muñoz says of Intu. “Perhaps it doesn’t have the big hills of other world championship
tracks but it will be spectacular thanks to decent soil and a natural setting that the public can fill. It won’t be a Matterley Basin or Maggiora but it is a concept close to Switzerland [FrauenfeldGachnang] that could work well.” “We’ll do the basic design here in Spain with the organisation taking in all the necessary details - visibility, comfort for riders, staff, press – Youthstream will then send a technical delegate and a designer to decide together on the correct jumps, waves and obstacles.” Even if there are basic ‘musts’ such as knowledge and thorough preparation of the soil, it is absurd to pre-judge intu Xanadú – Arroyomolinos as a track before a wheel has turned or a gate has dropped. It’s even hard to be too critical after the first edition when there has to be a forgivable margin for getting every aspect of the event spot-on. I also rubbish the notion that a track is any less worthy because it hasn’t seen the good old days of two-strokes and immense crowds standing behind a piece of tape not seemingly caring if they get wiped out or not. 21st century MXGP might seem abhorrent to some but I’m willing to bet the kids and youngsters that travel to Intu
on 18-19 of April will be just as spellbound by what they see compared to any other generation or location in the past. I don’t think you can get too snobby about a track that appears and disappears either. If a fantastic circuit is established and prospers then brilliant, but if someone has the money to arrive, build and disband every year to escape the money pit of a permanent fixation and still puts on a decent show then fine. Intu has a three-year contract for MXGP and the circuit will stay in place and only be used for the Grand Prix. “We haven’t had any strict rider guidance for the design but Jorge has seen it and approves,” reveals Muñoz. “He told us that too many jumps mean that riders cannot make differences in lap-times and it affects the racing. He also said that wave sections are good for allowing riders to make time but are also very tiring. We know we have to look after the ground. It will be hard-packed but there will also be enough bumps.” Intu does lack a reputation, and the novelty factor can swing either way in terms of enticing the curious or dissuading the sceptical. That’s why it will require good direction and strong collaboration when it comes to its construction.
In a way the mystery is exciting and there is optimism. When it comes to survival rather than looking at the dirt, look at the dime. If the bills can be paid - and some roots laid – then this will signify the difference between Intu being a one-stop 2020 budget chop and something that could become a bright beacon for the sport, just like Prado.
AMID THE GLITZ OF LAST NOVEMBERâ€™S EICMA SHOW IN MILAN, ONE MACHINE STOOD OUT FOR BEING NOT JUST A NEW SUPERBIKE BUT FOR HIGHLIGHTING THE REBIRTH OF A LEGENDARY MANUFACTURER... By Roland Brown, Photos by Bimota
On one level, Bimota’s Tesi H2 is just what its name suggests: a combination of the supercharged engine from Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 and the “forkless” Tesi chassis long associated with the small firm from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast. But the Tesi H2 represents much more than this, because it is the first visible result of last year’s deal that saw Japanese giant Kawasaki buy a 49.9% stake in Bimota. Which means there might well be an exciting future for a once glamorous, brilliantly innovative company that for years lurched from one crisis to another before seemingly fading away for ever.
Bimota will always have a special place in many motorcyclists’ hearts – mine included – because it once represented the pinnacle of two-wheeled performance and technology. The firm was founded in the late Sixties, originally to make heating systems, by three friends who included the late Massimo Tamburini – the genius designer and engineer whose later creations would include Ducati’s 916 and MV Agusta’s 750 F4.
Bimota soon switched to building motorcycles, initially racebikes. Johnny Cecotto’s 1975 world championship winning Yamaha 350 had a Tamburini-designed Bimota frame, as did the Harley-Davidson (formerly Aermacchi) twins on which Walter Villa won 250 and 350cc titles. In 1980 Jon Ekerold rode a Bimota Yamaha – its Italian chassis now officially recognised – to the 350cc championship.
SALES PEAKED IN THE MID-90S WITH NEW CHIEF ENGINEER PIERLUIGI MARCONI’S SB6, WHICH HELD SUZUKI’S GSX-R1100 ENGINE. BUT THERE WERE PROBLEMS, TOO, MOSTLY DUE TO BOLD BUT OVER-AMBITIOUS ENGINEERING DIVERSIONS...
But it was for exotic, technically advanced roadgoing superbikes that Bimota became famous. Ironically the first, the CB750-engined HB1, came after Tamburini had wrecked his standard Honda at Misano, and rebuilt it with a new, much more advanced chassis of his own design. The SB2 that followed in 1977, powered by the engine from Suzuki’s GS750 four, was years ahead of its time.
It featured a swoopy full fairing, one-piece tank/seat unit, adjustable steering geometry, and rising-rate monoshock instead of twin shocks. Other Tamburini creations included the KB1 and KB2, powered by Kawasaki’s four-cylinder Z900 and Z500 engines respectively. Bimota’s first financial crash came in 1984 after Tamburini had quit but the firm was rescued by the success of the
stylish, Ducati-powered DB1 V-twin designed by his successor, Federico Martini. Another Martini design, the alloy beam-framed, Yamaha FZ750engined YB4, led to successful streetbikes and Virginio Ferrari’s 1987 World Formula One championship. Sales peaked in the mid-Nineties with new chief engineer Pierluigi Marconi’s SB6, which held Suzuki’s GSX-R1100 engine in a huge twin-spar
alloy frame. But there were problems, too, mostly due to bold but over-ambitious engineering diversions. The Tesi, whose origins were in Marconi’s university thesis, held Ducati’s eight-valve V-twin engine in a radical chassis featuring hub-centre steering. Both that and the later 500 Vdue, with its direct-injection two-stroke engine, showed promise but were plagued by teething troubles.
Bankruptcy was followed by revival under new ownership but a key issue remained: Bimota’s core principle – that a small, specialist firm could produce more advanced superbikes than a big manufacturer – was outdated. The BB2 unveiled in 2012, powered by BMW’s S1000RR engine, highlighted this. How could tiny Bimota hope to better the standard S1000RR, let alone the stunning HP4 derivative
that BMW had just launched? Predictably the BB2 flopped, and Bimota’s future seemed equally bleak. The success of models including Ducati’s Superleggeras and Honda’s RC213V-S MotoGP replica proved there was a market for ultra-exotic superbikes. But the business model that involved developing them around bought-in engines, and hand-assembling them at a small factory on an industrial estate in Rimini, no longer made sense. Bimota’s deal last year with Kawasaki, whose motorcycle division is part of a vast global corporation, changed that at a stroke. Suddenly Bimota had access not only to a supply of engines including the Ninja H2’s outrageous supercharged four, but also
Bimota have also revealed a concept sketch of a more conventional KB4 model that will follow the line established by the KB1, one of the marque’s biggest hits of the Seventies. A retro-themed sports bike with full fairing and single round headlight, the KB4 holds the Ninja 1000SX’s 1043cc, four-cylinder engine in a tubular steel frame.
a network of suppliers and, potentially, an army of testers and engineers, marketing and sales people. Much work is still needed to turn Bimota into a thriving, 21st-century manufacturer, but the future looks brighter than for many years. The firm aims to produce 200 bikes this year, most of them the Tesi H2 whose development will be overseen by Marconi. At a rumoured 50,000 euros, it will have a price tag to match its exalted specification.
Testing is due to start this summer, and the KB4 looks deliciously promising. It won’t have the radical engineering or all-conquering performance of its early, Tamburinidesigned KB forebears, but like the Bimotas of previous decades it’s set to be lighter, faster and cooler than its Japanese donor bike. Against all odds, the old Rimini format appears to be generating some magic once again.
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STILL PAINTING IN NARROW MARGINS: WILL MARC MARQUEZ SHOULDER ANOTHER MotoGP TITLE BID?
By Adam Wheeler, Photos by OTOR, CormacGP & Polarity Photo
In the last issue of OTOR we spoke exclusively with the MotoGP World Champion on a variety of subjects. Now, as the 2020 season approaches, we visited the HRC man’s hometown to learn about the state of his shoulder and rate of recovery ahead of an intense twenty-race schedule. Less than a minute after entering the age-old town of Cervera, located atop a plateau in the ﬂatlands west of Barcelona and a short distance from the city of Lleida, the ﬁrst signs that this is ‘Marquez’ land is apparent. A ‘Champions’ sign for both Marc and Alex is the initial warning that this village of 10,000 inhabitants is the birthplace and home for both MotoGP and Moto2 reigning world champions and a pair of siblings separated by nearly three years that split ten road racing titles between them. What is in the water around here? Fifteen minutes further to the west lies former MXGP grand prix venue Bellpuig. A brief skip east and back towards the direction of Barcelona lies MX circuit Pons as well as Parcmotor and the Igualada short circuit. The green, chilly and inviting landscape around speaks prime enduro country. Despite the condensed, historic and almost ghostly aspect of the town it’s not hard to imagine that motorcycling is a common and easilyfound pastime. A huge mural next to one of the public parking zones in the cramped urbanity is further evidence of the Marquez’ inﬂuence here. ’93 and ‘73’ ﬂags are dotted around apartment terraces
FEATURE and balconies. The brothers’ ‘official store’ is a stone’s throw from the imposing university next to the narrow high street and is overlooked by the balcony of the Casal de Cervera bar/hall where town celebrations to honour the world champ have become almost an annual fixture. Cervera is the epitome of a sleepy town at 10am on a Tuesday morning. It’s January, bright and cold and only a handful of people are wandering around, flanked by medieval masonry and covered alleys that are celebrated for their past association with black magic and witchcraft (perhaps some of Marc’s bike skills now begin to make sense). The Central Café is silent and barely inhabited – two older gentlemen stir coffee cups and flick through two of Spain’s four daily sports newspapers. Marquez regalia is on the wall and outside a small coin-operated plastic motorcycle offer riders to little kids. Approaching the town museum – almost entirely missable were it not for a set of directions provided by HRC – and peering through the glass door reveals the Marc Marquez exhibition. Inside Repsol have hung the eight ‘paintings’ created by the rear wheel of a Honda Fireblade furiously flicked by the 26 year old for a MM93 ‘artist’ concept. At least ten TV crews are fighting for room next to all of the Catalan’s titlewinning bikes and a vast collection of trophies, leathers and other mementos from a dizzying career. Marquez is speaking for the first time since MotoGP entered the brief winter slumber, and from a fairly dormant period of personal social media activity and updates from the #93. He is almost fifteen minutes late after the call-time to momentarily chat about his creative scheme with Repsol and then answer enquiries as to his physical shape – the second winter in a row of dealing with shoulder surgery and intense rush of physio and rehab to gain fitness in time for the season.
“CONSTERNATION AND CONJECTURE COULD FILL MARQUEZ’S FIRST STEPS OF THE CAMPAIGN, AND MYSTERY AROUND WHETHER HE’LL BE ABLE TO CREATE A NINTH PAINTING FOR REPSOL...
MARQUEZ, SHOULDERS & 2020
He is slight, and slimmer than usual. He also cuts a slightly more serious – concerned – demeanour compared to the 2019 season launch in Madrid at the same time the previous year. There are around twenty media listening to his words entirely in Spanish and occasionally in Catalan. Although the chances of Marquez showing all of his cards when it comes to his state of readiness, he is frank and open about his condition less than two weeks before he is set to fly to Kuala Lumpur for the first of just two pre-season tests before 2020 begins.
“At the start of the month I wasn’t that optimistic,” he said. “I was doing two hours of physio in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and combining that with the training I could do. It has taken longer than we thought. I’ve disappeared a bit from social media because I’ve been 100% concentrated on what I needed to do.” Marquez explained that while the surgery on his right joint – which he injured in the spectacular highside during practice in Sepang last November and reaggravated in the post-season test at Jerez – was a simpler correction to fix a
FEATURE dislocation issue, the recovery process was the same to 2018 but also “more complex and more difficult.” The hassle was not simply a matter of mobility but regaining the full use and potency of the muscle group of what is the most convoluted and problematic articulation in the human body. “The recovery was less painful than last year but it has been more difficult,” he admitted. “They told me that when they open the shoulder that there are nerves and muscles that can be affected. Last year the operation affected a few muscles that for the strength and mobility of the shoulder were not that important, this year it was a different group of muscles and nerves that are vital for the
stability of the shoulder. I’m working more and more on these now because two weeks ago I had zero strength and I could barely lift a glass of water. Little by little it has been getting better and the nerve has been stimulated, which then activates the muscle.” It may sound unnecessarily dramatic but Marquez is dealing with a serious fitness situation in a matter of days and hours before he’ll need to handle the factory RCV in anger. “There is still a difference [to his normal condition] but I really want to ride again and try at least one type of bike before going to Malaysia,” he said. “We haven’t done it yet because I haven’t been ready but I hope for next week as we’ll be going to Malaysia the week after.”
MARQUEZ, SHOULDERS & 2020
2018/2019 gave Marquez experience in dealing with exactly the same setback as well as a loud ticking clock to recover from a problem that might have hobbled most people for many more week. There is a considerable mental price to pay. With the MotoGP season stretching longer in terms of races and travelling in 2019 Marquez had precious little time to evade the microscope of his job and indulge in any of the activities he prizes away from road racing. It’s hard to imagine him having to consider yet another off-season of compromise and commitment to what is already a very pressurised vocation and lifestyle. “It has felt like a long time…” he reflects “and it reminds me of one of the sayings or phrases of Alberto Puig, who always analyses all aspects, no? When we made the meeting with the doctors and was talking about the convenience of the operation and our planning he said: “are you ready for another winter like the last one?” Well, if I want to follow my dreams then it takes sacrifice and priority. I had the same holidays planned [as last time] and this operation wasn’t planned, so I had to cancel everything and think again about the shoulder. It was the best way and the best path to follow my objective to fight for titles, or at the very least make it difficult for everyone else.” The sense of déjà vu is palpable when it comes to Marquez’ immediate work with the new Honda. Twelve months earlier he again had his own physical shape to worry about for the first tests but also the unknown potential of new teammate Jorge Lorenzo. A broken wrist was the first of several band aids on the former champion’s ebbing desire to continue at the ragged edge of MotoGP and Marquez, despite his winter of work and numbing routine, knew he had to both carry the piano and play it for HRC. Approaching 2020 and he is in a similar predicament, although one in which he might be far more sympathetic on account of his broth-
FEATURE er’s first strokes in the deep end of the premier class. “The dynamic is the same,” Marc says “because Alex is a rookie and cannot ask much when it comes to concepts of the bike because – like Jorge Lorenzo – he has to understand the bike and know how is a Honda [but] there is also Cal Crutchlow who is very capable to also have a second opinion of the development. I think the test in Malaysia will be like last year; I won’t be able to do all the laps I want but it will help to work on the shoulder as well.”
in the first five rounds. “The objective is to arrive at the first test in the best shape possible but at the same time remembering that the first race is at the beginning of March and the steps have to be made slowly,” he reasons. “We learned a lot from what we had to do last year. I didn’t need to change on the bike but in the first races I had to handle the practice sessions in a different way. Maybe the same will happen, I hope not because the evolution in the last weeks has been pretty good, but it’s possible that in pre-season I won’t be able to do all the laps that are necessary and should be made.”
Consternation and conjecture could fill Marquez’s first steps of the campaign and mystery Tipping the Honda around whether he’ll be RCV to angles “ALEX IS A ROOKIE AND CANNOT able to create a ninth that routinely defy ASK MUCH WHEN IT COMES TO painting for Repsol. At belief could involve the moment he is not CONCEPTS OF THE BIKE BECAUSE a brief and tentain the position of ideal tive process of – – LIKE JORGE LORENZO HE HAS strength to mentor or re-acclimatisation school his younger but there is one TO UNDERSTAND THE BIKE AND brother and insists that area of his phy[ ] KNOW HOW IS A HONDA BUT the presence of the #73 sique that doesn’t in the same box will THERE IS ALSO CAL CRUTCHLOW need any work. not veer to the point of Marquez clearly being a distraction from WHO IS VERY CAPABLE TO ALSO had a firm hold of his own aims. “Alex HAVE A SECOND OPINION OF THE the Fireblade when arrived in MotoGP as creating his ‘artistic DEVELOPMENT...” world champion and vision’. “It was a with a lot of enthusiunique experience,” asm…but my mentality and focus is the same he smiles. “I had to hold the bike really hard [as always],” he insists. “The first rival is always with my legs. We’ll see if we can paint another your teammate but this year he’s a rookie…I’ll one.” be working 100%, and don’t want to worry at all about the other half of the box. The moment Like any gallery (or quaint medieval town) visiI enter the circuit I will be 100% focussed on tor, MotoGP fans will digest and fully appreciate what I have to do, even if we do keep on trainwhat Marc and co will be hanging out to view ing and working together as we have done up for the next ten months. until now. I hope we’ll improve mutually.” With the opening paces of 2020 MotoGP only a few days away Marc is talking with the same cautiously positive outlook that served him well in 2019 and led to three wins and four podiums
MARQUEZ, SHOULDERS & 2020
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD... The news that Maverick Viñales has signed a two-year deal with Yamaha is the starting shot in what promises to be a fierce, frenzied, and extremely confusing silly season in MotoGP. The last time we had a similar merry-go-round, in the run up to 2019, it all fell a bit flat. That circus started with Viñales being the first to sign a contract as well, staying on for two more years at Yamaha. It proved to be a portent of things to come. The big rider moves we were expecting didn’t happen. The one significant change that did occur was Jorge Lorenzo leaving Ducati and heading for Honda, a decision made days before the Spaniard finally won his first race on the Desmosedici GP18. It was not a switch than ended well, of course, Lorenzo eventually
choosing to retire at the end of the 2019 season, opening the door for the arrival of Alex Márquez alongside brother Marc inside the Repsol Honda team. Does the fact that Viñales staysput mean that the 2020 transfer dealings will turn out to be as big a ‘let-down’ as 2018? Not this time. There are good reasons to believe there are going to be a lot of changes for 2021. One generation is about to move on while another is set to arrive. Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki believe they are ready to try to topple the hegemony of Marc Márquez and the Honda RC213V, and are looking for the best rider to take on the reigning champion. There are plenty of incentives to move, and few to stay put. That Yamaha made a big push to keep Viñales – a pay rise and a promise of the lead role in development – is a sign of Yamaha’s priorities. Although Valentino Rossi is still competitive, it is clear that retirement is drawing near (read Neil Morrison’s always outstanding column for more).
Rossi may still feature in Yamaha’s short-term plans, but he is deciding his future year-to-year now. Rossi may still be the present, but Maverick Viñales is the future. Which brings us to Fabio Quartararo. With Viñales taken out of the rider equation, that makes Quartararo the hottest property on the market. Sure, the fast Frenchman is yet to win a race (let alone a title) but he made a devastating impact on MotoGP as a rookie. So good was he that he forced the other Yamaha riders to up their game. Ducati wants a piece of that. Especially now they have missed out on Viñales. That puts Yamaha in a difficult position. Can they afford to wait until Rossi makes a decision on retiring or racing on, a choice he said he would only make after five or six races? If they wait for Rossi, they risk losing Quartararo to the temptations of a factory Ducati ride, or perhaps even a seat at Suzuki. But Rossi has ruled the roost at Yamaha for so long that he won’t be pressured
into an early decision. Perhaps Rossi will choose to switch to the Petronas squad, with full factory backing, on the condition that his brother Luca Marini is drafted in alongside him. That would be no bad choice: Marini has grown enormously as a rider in the past couple of years, winning three races and becoming a regular on the podium. The idea of a Rossi family team to take on the Márquez family team inside Repsol Honda may well prove irresistible to The Doctor. In Bologna, Ducati is chomping at the bit. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna has always felt that the main obstacle on his path to a championship was the lack of a top rider. And when he had one in Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali’s impatience caused the Spaniard to leave. Ducati will throw money at Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins, and hope that some of it sticks. If it doesn’t, they still have stalwart Andrea Dovizioso, and a rapidly maturing Jack Miller.
And Dall’Igna has promised to bring more horsepower for 2020, piqued that Honda matched him for power last year. Viñales’ residence at Yamaha changes the prospects for Dovizioso as well. At 34 this year, he looked to be on the way out, despite finishing second in the championship for the past three years. But Viñales’ renewing with Yamaha could and should win him a reprieve. The biggest threat for Dovizioso, and for the other thirty somethings in the paddock, is the wave of young riders ready to engulf MotoGP. Jack Miller, 25, is ready to step up to the factory Ducati team from the Pramac squad. Brad Binder, 25, and Iker Lecuona, 20, are ready to make an impact at KTM. Jorge Navarro, 24, Augusto Fernandez, 23, and Fabio Di Giannantonio, 22, are ready to step up from Moto2. The kids are coming.
CREATED THANKS TO Moto3’S NEWEST RACING TEAM
BY DAVID EMMETT
FOUR QUESTIONS IN THE AIR FOR THE SEPANG TEST & 2020 MotoGP
ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRA DETA ENTRADETAENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADE TA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA EN TRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA By Adam Wheeler, Photos by Ray Archer/KTM
By Neil Morrison, Photos by CormacGP & Polarity Photo
1) HE’S GOOD. BUT HOW GOOD? Going off last season’s showings it was hard to disagree with the thoughts of Petronas Yamaha SRT boss Wilco Zeelenberg when assessing the abilities of his rider Fabio Quartararo after a thrilling Thai Grand Prix. In the former 250cc race winner’s eyes, the mercurial Frenchman is a long-term cure for those already weary of Marquez’s serial success. “Today is all about Marc,” he said last October. “But I think for the future it’s all about Fabio and Marc.” There was a youthful innocence to Quartararo during his rookie campaign that won him a new legion of admirers. Four-time 500cc runner-up Randy Mamola recalls walking along the grid ahead of last year’s Dutch TT, where the 20-year old was showing few signs of strain that come with holding pole position. “At Assen his personal assistant Tom [Maubant] and him were f**king laughing on the grid. They were probably just saying, ‘How the f**k did we get here? They’re all behind me! This is awesome!’ That’s what young people bring, that freedom and honesty.”
Those traits will surely be put to the test with greater venom in the two tests and 20 races ahead, when pole positions, podiums and – yes – race wins are expected. The danger with hyping up young riders is the difficulty in maintaining that level. Johann Zarco was the most recent athlete to thrill during a rookie year only to encounter the limitations of
his satellite steed the following term. Two years on and he’s now riding in MotoGP’s least attractive team. But age (20 to Zarco’s 27 at the time), satellite status (Quartararo should have mostly up to date kit in the year ahead) and the current fortunes of Yamaha all differ to Zarco’s sophomore campaign.
“THE DANGER WITH HYPING UP YOUNG RIDERS IS THE DIFFICULTY IN MAINTAINING THAT LEVEL. JOHANN ZARCO WAS THE MOST RECENT ATHLETE TO THRILL DURING A ROOKIE YEAR ONLY TO ENCOUNTER THE LIMITATIONS OF HIS SATELLITE STEED THE FOLLOWING TERM. TWO YEARS ON AND HE’S NOW RIDING IN MOTOGP’S LEAST ATTRACTIVE TEAM...”
FOUR QS ON THE EVE OF MotoGP 2020
Despite not liking the proposed 2020 chassis in tests at Valencia and Jerez last year, Quartararo was still lightening quick (he placed second and fourth respectively). After a steady winter of preparation, the three days at Sepang should be an early measure of Quartararoâ€™s strength for the year ahead.
FOUR QS ON THE EVE OF MotoGP 2020
2) FULLY HEALED? Anyone with an eye on Marc Marquez’s social media channels will be aware the reigning world champion’s preparations for the 2020 season are far from perfect. A photo posted on 21st January showed a right shoulder – operated on at the end of November – gaunt and undefined compared to the left. Marquez has been here before, of course. The way the 26-year old approached his rehabilitation programme in the winter of 2018/’19, when he had “more aggressive” surgery on a troublesome left shoulder, was almost as aweinspiring as his early season performances. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult. His incredible P1 time on the first day of 2019’s first test hid the extent of his discomfort. Over three days Marquez managed just 105 laps (100 less than Maverick Viñales, for example) with the pain on day two a serious concern. We may well see a repeat this February. Therefore much of Honda’s development work over the three days may fall on the shoulders of LCR’s Cal Crutchlow.
With Marquez unlikely to perform many (if any) long runs, Crutchlow’s development experience will be crucial. And his feedback – rather than Marquez’s speed – should indicate whether factory engineers have made the 2020 RC213V a good deal easier to ride than its predecessor.
3) A NEW MAN IN BLACK? As if the challenge to bring Aprilia in line with the other five manufacturers wasn’t complicated enough. The Noale factory is poised to debut an all new challenger at Sepang, complete with a new engine aimed at improving traction and acceleration. But rather than speculating on the merits of technical chief Romano Albesiano’s labour over the winter months, we are yet to learn of the factory’s line-up for the Malaysian shakedown. Andrea Iannone’s chances of being present took an almighty hit on 5th January, when it was revealed
the B sample of his urine also tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone. From that date the FIM’s International Disciplinary Court has 45 days to decide on the relevant action. With no official communication provided at the time of going online, Iannone’s participation at Sepang appears unlikely, placing Aprilia in a state of limbo. It increases the likelihood of a new rider dressed in black exiting the Noale garage next week. Test rider Bradley Smith was pencilled in to ride there anyway, albeit in a testing capacity. Chances are he’ll be moved to the factory team to fill the Iannone-shaped void.
The question is, who moves into the testing team? Exworld champion Max Biaggi has already ruled himself out. Karel Abraham, the subject of a criminally late sacking by Avintia last November, has been cited as an option. No matter what pans out over the coming week, Aprilia is operating under a cloud of stress. Any possible ban for Iannone would represent a disaster, with his feedback on electronics set-up seen as crucial to carry the RS-GP forward. The formidable task of clawing its way back toward MotoGP’s top eight could be even greater.
FOUR QS ON THE EVE OF MotoGP 2020
4) IS THE BIKE FOR TURNING? There appeared to be slightly mixed messages coming out of Bologna last week as Ducati launched its GP20. Gigi Dall’Igna, the factory’s technical director, insisted making the chassis more friendly and easier to turn tops his ‘To Do’ list. “The chassis is the priority,” he told reporters at the factory’s 2020 presentation in Bologna last week. But then came his insistence that having the grid’s fastest bike was also of great importance. Possibly even of greatest importance. Thanks to a much improved engine, Honda slashed Ducati’s usual top speed advantage in 2019 completely, allowing Marquez to make a mockery of the idea this is meant to be the most competitive era in MotoGP history. According to Dall’Igna, it’s time to put that right. “Honestly speaking … it will be more important to have the speed of the bike to win the race. For sure it’s easier to win races if you have the fastest bike on the race track. I think to manage the race where you have the speed, for sure it’s important to have some horsepower more than your competitors.”
How Dall’Igna successfully moulds a balanced machine, which features a sweeter handling chassis with a more powerful engine, remains to be seen. There is a suspicion his idea of a title-winning bike differs to his riders, but Sepang will offer a first true glimpse of how far he has come. Ducatis were first, second, third and fourth fastest at last year’s Malaysian test without ever excelling in terms of pace. Checking the lap-by-lap analysis and deciphering Andrea Dovizioso’s impressions should provide a better understanding on whether factory engineers have succeeded where they have previously failed. Should Dall’Igna get it right, Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller can all be counted on for taking wins away from Marquez in the months ahead.
THE FINAL ACT... Wash the yellow t-shirts, dust off ‘The Doctor’ paraphernalia, fire up the klaxons; ready yourself for what may be the greatest farewell tour of them all. Among the many stories vying for airtime ahead of the resumption of hostilities in February, the issue of whether 2020 will mark the end point of Valentino Rossi’s illustrious grand prix career still looms. Winter testing always carries great importance. But the six days of track time between 7th and 24th of February may be among the most crucial tests of the venerable Italian’s recent career. For it will be during the laps in Malaysia and Qatar when the crux of Rossi’s – and Yamaha’s – decision to prolong a stint at the pinnacle of the sport that his fame and allure has often transcended is bound to be made.
Don’t be fooled by claims he may well wait until Mugello to assess his suitability for another one or two-year contract. The current market won’t afford him that amount of time. Team boss Massimo Meregalli has said discussions will continue throughout the preseason to see his rider’s preference. “We always talk [about that]” he said last November. There have been several occasions recently when Rossi made it loud and clear 2020 represents something of a final shot. Entrusting MotoGP rookie David Muñoz to reverse his fortunes in his new role as crew chief raised many eyebrows, mainly due to the Spaniard’s lack of elite-level experience. But the rider – soon to be 41 years old – admitted this amounted to a final rolling of the dice. “I prefer to live without regrets,” he explained last October. “Someone in my place might have thought, ‘OK, it’s 2020, my last season’ and maybe everything would’ve been comfortable leaving everything the same.
[But] I thought, ‘Fuck, let’s try it.’” And early impressions have been good. The nine-time world champion talked up the impact of the change in November at tests at Valencia and Jerez. “[David] needs to study, he needs to check the data, to understand the way that this bike works,” he said at Valencia. “But the first impression is positive, I feel good, we did already some small modify and at the end of the day I was better than at the beginning.” Yamaha appears a happy place once more, as communication between factory and racing outfit has improved greatly. Rider complaints are not only listened to but swiftly addressed. And last season’s test at Misano saw them do what had been lacking for each of the three previous years: bring a selection of innovative new parts to try. But for Rossi will this be enough? Despite those good early impressions, times at the two tests (tenth at Valencia, eleventh at Jerez) have still been some way off the top.
That team-mate Maverick Viñales has been fastest on both occasions with new talent Fabio Quartararo close behind won’t be lost on the Italian. Nor will Tuesday’s news that Viñales has become the first rider to renew for 2021. As he stepped up from August to become a regular thorn in Marc Marquez’s side, Rossi consistently lagged some way behind. The same can be said of him and Quartararo, the sport’s most explosive young talent to come along in six years. Will Yamaha really allow the Frenchman – still only 20 years old – to slip through its grasp? With Viñales signed up, Quartararo is second only to Marquez as MotoGP’s most in-demand man. The idea of switching places with the Frenchman, based in the Petronas SRT Yamaha outfit, has been considered. Rossi even admitted as much when speaking to the Gazzetta Dello Sport’s Paolo Ianieri at the end of last year. “I don’t see all that much difference in going to Petronas.
I would prefer to stay where I am, but we are three riders for two places, so you have to think of a third [place],” he said. “And for me, even if it’s at Petronas, it doesn’t seem like such a bad team.” But can we really envision the sport’s biggest draw stepping down to a satellite team and away from the outfit that brought him four of his seven premier class crowns? In my eyes, it’s unlikely in the extreme. He spoke of his “sadness” last August at the lack of results coming his way. A place on the grid doesn’t fuel his motivation; fighting at the front and challenging for wins do. And his appearance at Abu Dhabi’s Gulf of 12 Hours event last December – held for sports car prototypes – offered a glimpse that competition is still an option when the curtains come down on the most illustrious MotoGP career of them all. “When I give up bikes, I’d like to race in Endurance [car racing] – the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Spa 24 Hours and the 24 Hours of Nurburgring,” he told Sky Italia.
CREATED THANKS TO Moto3’S NEWEST RACING TEAM
BY NEIL MORRISON
“Let’s say there are five races in the calendar that I’d like to take part in.” Should he walk away, where does that leave MotoGP? It’s a prospect that fills us all with trepidation. Yes, the sport is in a fine bill of health with full grandstands, great racing and an expanding calendar evidence of this. There has been no notable decline in audiences in the past year in spite of Rossi’s struggles. But he remains the sport’s leading name, known to nearly everyone with an interest in bikes or otherwise. The news that one wellknown quarterly publication that is no longer in existence saw sales decrease dramatically on the occasion it didn’t adorn its front page with the #46 is an example of how the sport will be a good deal less marketable in the great man’s absence. The effect of this possibility remains a great unknown. But one thing is for sure: Rossi’s retirement from MotoGP currently seems closer than it’s ever been.
THE FIRST SIGNS... Like every year it was a bit of a wrench to get up and running after the winter break and Christmas holidays, and like every year the first few weeks are full gas, eyeballs-out working or travelling every day.
Bautista’s bike being warmed up behind a screen. I am not sure what they had to hide but it added a spark of intrigue and excitement to an otherwise cold and damp morning.
This year I am combining the start of the WorldSBK season with the European launch of a new motorbike. I began in Barcelona in the middle of the month, shooting the KRT race machine in the studio, before driving down to Seville to repeat the exercise for Yamaha. It was then on to Jerez for the first of the tests in 2020 and with much anticipation the first look at the new Honda Fireblade.
It started to dry up a little and I ventured out on track but there wasn’t much activity. However, both the Hondas of Haslam and Bautista looked fast and it was borne out by the results with Haslam topping the time sheets at the end of the day. Scott Redding, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Alex Lowes were predictably fast but a noticeable absentee was Jonathan Rea. He and his crew had decided to sit it out whilst the track was wet, and kept their fingers crossed for a dry spell the following day.
What hadn’t been anticipated was the weather. The rain in Spain most certainly wasn’t falling on the plain. Each and every coast of Iberia seemed to be being battered by wind and rain, and in some cases hailstorms. Andulacia wasn’t spared
and the two official days of testing was forecast for high winds and heavy downpours. The Kawasaki team however stole a march on everyone else through the benefit of being included in a video shoot on the day before and when filming concluded early, Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes enjoyed 2 hours of dry track time. However, the next day the weather turned and testing began on a wet track. There was a swarm of media and team mechanics hanging around the Honda pit box from early on and as soon as the doors opened there was a flurry of activity. The HRC staff were being particularly cautious in a way reminiscent of their MotoGP colleagues with Alvaro
The track was still wet the next morning but it dried sufficiently throughout the morning to result in everyone taking to the track, including JR, and right away
BY ADAM WHEELER
he was on the pace. He only ran 19 laps but was quickest overall with a 1m 40 laptime. There were still damp patches to be avoided so the times weren’t really at a full race pace, with the lap record being in the 1m 39s. What was interesting was that behind him it was pretty tight in the top four with Redding, Razgatlioglu and Lowes all within 0.6s. There was a pretty big drop-off after that though with Michael
WE COULD SEE SIX OR SEVEN RIDERS CHALLENGING FOR THE TITLE: IT COULD BE ONE OF THE BEST SEASONS OF ALL TIME VD Mark and Leon Haslam almost two seconds slower in fifth and sixth spots. Whilst conditions weren’t ideal, I was surprised to see such a big gap between those top four and the rest. Part of the reason I think was because as we got to
the last hour of the test the heavens opened and brought everything to a halt. Those that had been testing set up changes and looking for consistent lap times hadn’t had the chance to push hard for an outright quick time. One of those was noticeably BMW. Eugene Laverty pointed out afterwards that he and Sykes were still working on what he termed installation laps, gathering data to programme the electronics for the bike, to then work out strategies that ultimately improve the lap times, but in the moment - it called for steady laps at a consistent pace, lap after lap. Honda would have been in the same boat and when the riders came in, and on the odd occasion where the garage door stayed open for more than 30 seconds, a team of electronics engineers were immediately plugging in laptops and downloading the data.
As JR and AB19 know all too well testing in January only tells part of the story and nothing more can be gleaned than a broad idea of who will be competitive. Last year Bautista didn’t seem to be anywhere like threatening the dominance of Rea and the Kawasaki but subsequently exploded onto the top step of the podium 11 times in a row at the start of the year. I reckon we will see a closer fight at the front of the grid in 2020. The KRT duo of Rea and Lowes will start out as favourites though. Lowes finished third in last year’s title race and has already indicated that he is really happy with the 2020 Ninja ZX-10RR and is starting to feel at home on it. Scott Redding is another who has settled in well at his new team. I overheard him talking to Michael Rinaldi about the bike and he was surprised how different it felt to his BSB winning Panigale V4R.
He is certainly quick and will no doubt take off where Bautista left off. Toprak Razgatlioglu makes it a hat-trick of transferred riders who seamlessly slotted in at his new team. As I write this on a late night working session in Cordoba, more of that later, he and Redding were trading fastest times at the second of the tests in Portimao. Again, surprisingly, Kawasaki chose to sit out this test. They had no intentions of doing anything more after Jerez but as a result of the inclement weather they hastily chose to squeeze in a one-day test at Circuit Catalunya, which is right next to their workshops. One thing that Rea also said in Jerez is that, come the first race, he fully expects the Honda to perform well. With it being a full HRC race team they will not come to the races and underperform like some of the other privateer teams in the past.
We could therefore see six or seven riders challenging for the title this year. If so, it could be one of the best WorldSBK seasons of all time, which is somewhat ironic as I heard in Jerez that Bridgepoint, parent company of Dorna, and owners of WorldSBK are far advanced in discussions with Eurosport to sell the rights for the series. That would put it into the French media companies stable alongside the World Endurance Championship. I wasnâ€™t able to confirm the veracity of the claim but I have no reason to doubt the person who told me. That in itself would be interesting and may spark new life, but I have said all along, if you keep the rules to any motorsport series consistent, manufacturers have time to develop a race machine and also their overall marketing needs, given WorldSBK is a production based series, will fall in line with a race programme. A healthy competition will then ensue. Testing in Europe is now done and the teams will
start to prepare for the first races in Australia. I will remain in Spain for the foreseeable future as I am shooting the press launch of a new road bike. For the next 10 days we will have groups of journalists ride the bike and myself and Tim Keeton, of Impact Images BSB fame, will photograph them riding and deliver a package of images at the end of each day for them to add to their stories and blogs. It means pretty long days as we start on the road at 8:00am and as today I am still working at 1:00am. After that I will drive back to Barcelona for the KRT team launch on February 6th, which is to be streamed live on a free to view channel the team will construct. I will have a few days off before returning home to tackle the mountain of laundry I will have been carrying around for four weeks. Then, with all the teams and riders, I will head to Australia to get another season under way. See you all down under.
BY ADAM WHEELER
RED BULL KTM KTM have tied-up again with Red Bull for their latest collection of casualwear and accessories for 2020 and enlisted the help of some familiar faces to show off certain garments. A range of t-shirts, tops, hoodies, jackets, shirts, caps, beanies and other goodies like towels, mugs and drinks bottles are a distinguished part of the broader KTM PowerWear range and exist in their own privileged sub-section due to the Red Bull KTM link that filters through the entire racing division. There are Men, Women and Kids’ wares and the current gamut can be viewed by pressing on any of the links here. To-date only Pol Espargaro has his own official t-shirt (but Tony Cairoli has his RACR label stocked in PowerWear for 2020) but there are some other tempting choice here that range from the obvious ‘Red Bull KTM’ declaration of fandom to items that are far more subtle.
ET. Supercross. By James Lissimore
ON TRACK OFF ROAD
‘On-track Off-road’ is a free, monthly publication for the screen focussed on bringing the latest perspectives on events, blogs and some of the very finest photography from the three worlds of MXGP, the AMA Motocross and Supercross series’, MotoGP, WorldSBK as well as the latest bike tests. ‘On-track Off-road’ will be published online at www.ontrackoffroad.com on the last Tuesday of the month. To receive an email notification that a new issue available with a brief description of each edition’s contents simply enter an address in the box provided on the homepage. All email addresses will be kept strictly confidential and only used for purposes connected with OTOR. Adam Wheeler Editor and MXGP/MotoGP correspondent Ray Archer Photographer Steve Matthes AMA MX and SX correspondent James Lissimore AMA SX Photographer Cormac Ryan-Meenan MotoGP Photographer www.cormacgp.com Rob Gray MotoGP Photographer David Emmett MotoGP Blogger Neil Morrison MotoGP Blogger & Feature writer Graeme Brown WSB Blogger and Photographer Roland Brown Tester/Columnist Núria Garcia Cover Design Gabi Álvarez Web developer Hosting FireThumb7 - www.firethumb7.co.uk PHOTO CREDITS Ray Archer, CormacGP, Polarity Photo, GeeBee Images, KTM, Bavo/Honda, Yamaha, Ducati Cover shot: 2019 reigning SX Champion Cooper Webb. By James Lissimore This publication took a lot of time and effort to put together so please respect it! Nothing in this publication can be reproduced in whole or part without the written permission of the editorial team. For more information please visit www.ontrackoffroad.com and click ‘Contact us’.