On-Track Off-Road issue 219 January 2022

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KISKA.COM Photo: R.Schedl

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FEATURE WorldSBK DAKAR

GASSED! TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR


Sam Almost Sunderland Anaheim courted time and success Christmas for the represents second time theatlast the few Dakar quiet rally; days hitting on most milestones AMA Supercross of being teams the schedules first Brit tobefore claim the bevy bronze of trophy seventeen twice races (his in first eighteen haul was weeks. in 2017) The and excitement giving the and anGASGAS ticipation brand willvictory peak for for the the fifirst rst gathering time in the atmain the Angel motorcycle Stadium category. on January 7th Photo Photo by GASGAS/RallyZone by Ray Archer


MotoGP


READY TO MARC Neil Morrison’s excellent MotoGP Blog this month outlines the first ‘race’ to be won in the 2022 MotoGP campaign, and why the Grand Prix field should be worried that Marc Marquez is back on the throttle before the season picks up speed with the Sepang test on February 5-6. Photo by Polarity Photo


AMA-SX


CHAOS CALLING IT

Eli Tomac is the third rider in three Monster Energy AMA Supercross weekends to change the front of his Yamaha YZ450F to red as 8 racers are split by 7 points, with three different victors in Anaheim, Oakland and San Diego. Some wicked sets of whoops to negotiate and little in the way of consistency thus far are other features of an engaging 450SX contest Photo by Align Media




TOMBO SPINN AMA-SX


SAN DIEGO

OLA NING

SAN DIEGO, RND 3 Blogs by Steve Matthes & Mike Antonovich Photos by Align Media

450SX 1. Chase Sexton, Honda 2. Eli Tomac, Yamaha 3. Dylan Ferrandis, Yamaha

250SX

1. Michael Mosiman, GASGAS 2. Hunter Lawrence, Honda 3. Christian Craig, Yamaha



SAN DIEGO



SAN DIEGO



SAN DIEGO


SX BLOG

OPENING THE TAP

CREATED THANKS TO

Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton made history this past weekend in San Diego when he scored his first ever 450SX main event victory when he grabbed the lead from Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin and took off with a relatively easy win. The joy of claiming the race probably only eclipsed the relief that Sexton will feel from people asking when he was finally going to win one of these things. Sexton’s rookie year last season showed us all some serious speed in qualifying and heat races but there’s always been a crash or a mistake that’s held him back. In being the 66th man to win a 450SX main event, Sexton also pulled himself to within one point of the series lead. Now, in all fairness at this point after three races there is just seven points between eight riders so it’s anyone’s title right now but Chase is still one of the front-runners. “This is what I worked for all off-season. This weekend I got mad at a few people

because everyone was like, ‘When’s it coming? You’re so close!’ I’m like, ‘Dude, you don’t think I want to win?’ I race to win,” Sexton told me after the race. “Tonight was finally the night. It was a dream-come-true ride. I felt really comfortable. I was good in the whoops. It was just solid. Couldn’t have happened any better, especially San Diego. I got a podium here in 2018, almost won the race.” Sexton’s 450SX career has been one of big speed and big mistakes so far. “I’m ‘over’ hitting the ground. It’s not characteristic of me. Even when I was on the 250, I never really crashed that much. I just was over it,” he told me. In San Diego it all came together.

In my eyes, there’s a real possibility that Sexton could win this title. He’s got the bike, the team and he’s got that speed. What he needed to do was cut out the mistakes and although he did that this past weekend, we need to see that pattern continue. Some pretty big bike changes helped as well as Honda went and tried to make the frame a bit stiffer and the clamps were changed as well. All designed to help him (and teammate Ken Roczen) try to be a little better through the whoops. In Oakland two weeks ago, both riders crashed there and I think that rattled them a bit. So, the crew got busy and found some things to help the bike out.


BY ADAM WHEELER

BY STEVE MATTHES “[Changed] Triple clamps. Making the frame more rigid. We tried a shock. I was out there until 4:00 this week testing. It was a long week, but it paid off,” Sexton said. Generally speaking, it’s tough for a rider to get his first win in a season and pull-off the title, there was that McGrath guy, Ryan Dungey did it, Cooper Webb and, well, not really anyone else comes to mind in the modern era. So, knowing that and seeing the veterans Sexton’s up against, one wouldn’t think he’s the guy to do it. Heck, Monster Yamaha’s Eli Tomac has the points lead right now and he hasn’t led a lap, how about that to start a season! But Sexton’s a bit of a different dude. As I mentioned, he’s got that speed and style to be consistent and pull off podium after podium.

And when he needs it, he’s got that speed. In his 450SX career, he’s tied for the second most fast laps in a main event (behind Roczen), he’s third as the fastest qualifier and he’s fourth in average position on the first lap. Starts, skill and speed: Chase Sexton has got it. Yeah, I get the counter argument: he makes mistakes and we’ve seen it at round one right? He was all over Ken Roczen for the lead and went down. Then he went down two more times so there’s always that. He still got fifth at the race though and that’s impressive. In Oakland it was a quiet ninth so for those judging at home, Sexton’s two for three with impressive performances to start the year off. We’ll obviously see and know more here shortly but for those that were going with

the easy choices of Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac or Ken Roczen for this title before the year (like I was) I think you have to open your eyes up a bit and accept that change is coming to the top of the series at some point. With Sexton’s early season win, the change just might be here sooner than we thought.





PRODUCTS

FLY RACING The arrival of Anaheim 1 meant the ritual first sighting of some new riding products, some quite visual and others quietly in development. Fresh gear colours were an easy giveaway and Fly Racing unveiled a Limited Edition EVO DST ‘Primary’. The EVO DST (standing for Durable Stretch Technology) is the top-of-the-line raceorientated collection by Fly and the wares that consistently draw decent reviews for comfort and resistance as well as innovation: the EVO DST boasts the BOA waist fit system for the ideal closure. The construction of the shirt and pants (gloves also available) shows the premium nature of the garments: it has a full mesh back and integrated mesh in key areas, multi-directional lycra in the shoulder and neck zones, seamless armpits and silicone printed ‘tail’. The pants have fourway HEX fabric, mesh as well as heat panels, a seat panel sewn to breathable and more light mesh (with 900D material), a zipper lock system, internal waistband pockets and ergo pre-shaped knees. Get all bright and fiery for a combined price less than 260 dollars. For this particular A1 LE set then find a Fly dealer fast.

www.flyracing.com



PRODUCTS

PROTAPER ProTaper handlebars will be in the hands of racers chasing Main Event supercross wins in the coming weeks, especially the Monster Energy Yamaha team among others, and one of the American company’s top aftermarket products is the ‘Fuzion’. The ‘lock’ design of the bar means that riders can easily find or adjust the amount of stiffness and shock absorption depending on the conditions and the terrain.

The modification is made through the robust and dependable ‘dial’ and can be done in seconds. The bar itself is made from tough 2000 series T6 aluminium with 5mm wall thickness (1 1/8 tubing at the clamping area) It’s strong but light (weighs less than 1kg) and engineered for the track. It is anodised in black and is scratch and peel resistant. It comes with six different bend options and costs 136,49 dollars.

www.protaper.com



SAN DIEGO


JUSTIN COOPER

MONSTER ENERGY STAR RACING YAMAHA

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FEATURE


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51 S OF H A RE D D ES


FEATURE

J

ustin Barcia sounds chipper. He’s on the way to the KTM Group test track ahead of the San Diego supercross and round three of the series. For the second year in a row his GASGAS MC450F is all red: the numberplate background the same crimson as the race bike, denoting his status as the early championship pacesetter. Always polite, always friendly, always spectacular, never predictable there is nevertheless a quiet confidence about the soon-tobe 30-year-old this year. While supercross tends to throw the best and most carefully constructed championship campaigns to the weeds in the time it takes to hit the wrong bump, Barcia is at the top of the 450SX series for the third year in a row but with solid podium pedigree. The last time we sat down for an interview was on the eve of the 2017 Monster Energy Cup. Perched around a table in Starbucks a short walk from Las Vegas’ strip, Barcia was out of Yamaha, without a ride, depending on friends to back his appearance at the invitational on a stock Honda and wondering where to go next. There had even been talk with MXGP teams. The Monster Energy Cup was a crossroads. The rider from New York who had only recently had a two-storey

poster draped across the entrance of the Sam Boyd Stadium as the winner of the MEC in 2012, settled back in Iwata blue but then veered drastically in a new direction two years ago. Leaving Monster for Red Bull, Japanese machinery for Austrian technology, he was the senior figure in the fun, young and new GASGAS branded Troy Lee Designs outfit. 2021 opening round supercross victory indicated that Barcia was still a main protagonist. In the formative stages of his tenth 450 season and a career in the premier division that has been peppered with injury and phases of insecurity, Barcia is making a concerted bid for the ‘long road’. 2022 is his second term in his current set-up. It’s his first with new mechanic and former Pro Circuit technician Olly Stone, meaning his now has an English spannerman alongside his English wife Amber. Barcia is also relying on the observations and knowledge of Wil Hahn as a trainer; the former racer who had such a notable impact at Star Racing. Healthy, fit, experienced but still not afraid to stake his claim on a piece of supercross track space with vigour, Barcia is ready to subvert expectations of his ‘bit-part player’ rep to all who would watch.

“I was new to the team and didn’t really know Justin, so I was nervous about the kind of guy I’d find,” Stone says. “I quickly came to know a person that doesn’t leave any stone unturned and is very, very professional. He wants to do his motos, he wants some critique on his style or he wants to pick the bike apart. Recovery, nutrition, training: he’s all-in, for sure. He makes the sacrifices that are needed. Things can change in this sport in the blink of an eye, but he has the support system and people around him as well as a whole off-season programme that was based on going the full seventeen rounds, not peaking early on, which he did three years in a row! [in the past] He won then kinda dropped off the map and was trying to figure that out. I think there is an attitude now of looking at the numbers and trying to be fresh all year long, rather than just making an impact in January.” Perhaps there are very strong reasons for Barcia’s cheerfulness. A few days after we talk he’d finish 9th – ruing a so-so start and some more attentiongrabbing antics - at Petco Park in southern California but would sit a paltry three points from further ‘redness’. He’s in the game, and should know by now the pitfalls that have seen him tumble out of the reckoning.


JUSTIN BARCIA

STONE: “HE HAS HIS RIVALRIES: YOU CANNOT RACE FOR AS LONG AS HE HAS WITHOUT THEM. WE’RE TRYING TO GET HIM TO NOT SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF BECAUSE ANY ATHLETE CAN GET RATTLED BY THE LITTLEST THING BUT WE’RE LOOKING AT THE BIGGER PICTURE… EVEN IF YOU CANNOT CONTROL THINGS THAT ARE OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.”


FEATURE Is it true that you started drinking more tea and started carrying around an umbrella? 100%! I think I am halfEnglish now. It’s all working out for me. Seriously though the programme I have is all working out nicely. My wife is awesome and Olly has been incredible in terms of bringing a good vibe and being a good mechanic, we hit-it-off well. It’s been a lot of fun.

previously it was more of a shock. It doesn’t really matter what other people think but for me it felt different, it felt ‘right’ and like I deserve it whereas previously I was not ready. Of course, you want that red plate at the end of the year compared to the beginning but I’ll take it right now. It doesn’t hurt my feelings and the GASGAS does look cool with the extra red.

The mechanic, and our Crew Chief Josh who I worked with at Geico [Honda], he’s been around a long time. Last year was like a ‘warm-up’, I’d say. We had a pretty good one, but things have improved this time. I’ve hired a mental coach. I’ve always gone after the ‘extra steps’ but now I’m finally putting everything together and it feels really good.

You have the red plate. Is it a case of déjà vu? I’m guessing you rather turn the season upside down in terms of the championship table… Yeah, normally I would say that but this time things feel different. It feels like it is ‘supposed to be’ whereas

What’s contributed to that ‘different’ feeling? I think in the way I put my programme together. We got Wil Hahn onboard, which has been awesome because he’s a good friend and a good trainer and is able to see things that we were lacking.

What goes on with the mental coach? Is it about confidence reinforcement? Pretty much what you said. It’s about reinforcement. The good things. He’s worked with us a lot in the off-season and with my teammates also and we’ve seen some effects.


How would you define your career right now? There was 250 success, the HRC seasons, Yamaha and then that low point where you didn’t really have a deal. Now you have a new home… Exactly. At this point, I guess a lot of people would call me a veteran now! Realistically I am but with the team and the way everybody is I feel I’m at the best I’ve been in my career. I’ve been through all those

ups-and-downs and ironed out all those issues. I really feel I am at ‘home’ and this is where I belong. I’ll finish my career out on this team. People ask me ‘how many years do you have left?’ and, right now, my answer is ‘man, I feel I have a lot!’. I’m in a stable position with my career and it feels awesome going from the last time we talked until now life has changed a lot. I have my head on straight. How would you describe the vibe of the team? Especially compared to previous squads like HRC and JGR; which must have been like a family set-up… Definitely no comparison to

any team I’ve had before. HRC was very serious and then JGR was a little bit – it’s hard to describe – they were not less serious but had that family feeling. With this team we have big brands behind us and a ton of infrastructure and support and when the owner is Troy Lee and the manager is Tyler Keefe there is a very relaxed vibe. We want to win but at the same time we want to have fun. At this point in my career it is good that the team trusts me and believes in me, so I just do my thing and they focus in the bike and we piece it all together. It’s fun, and in the company we’re seen as the fun team so we are going to stick to that.

JUSTIN BARCIA

I think where I am in my career I am able to put my focus in the mental side and it comes to me more naturally. I think the big thing – which is connected I guess – is the enjoyment factor of going racing. I’m having a lot of fun.


FEATURE

You might be regarded as a veteran and your fans will be hoping for more consistency but, from what we’ve seen in the first two rounds at least, you’re still not afraid of mixing it up on the track. Is that fair to say? Absolutely. I still have that spark. It’s cool, even at the practice track with Michael [Mosiman] and Pierce [Brown] I still feel like a young kid. I’m pretty aggressive with them and I like it when they are with me. The ‘Bam Bam’ kinda style is still there. I have a lot more experience now and I can put that to use as well. In the first race there was some aggressive stuff going on! It’s not like I am just this consistent guy who will only chip away at the points now; I also have this aggression because I have this great package to do what I need to do to go at this championship. How do you feel about the trend for more behind-thescenes footage and the portrayal of how racers are away from the track? The whole ‘Drive to Survive’/’All Access’ phenomenon for sports. You obviously have your BAMTV YouTube videos so you must be open to it… I honestly like it. The F1 series

on Netflix is incredible so to have anything like that come into our sport is really good. We need more of it, honestly. We’ve been building our YouTube channel from last year and it’s really been taking-off. With the whole BAMTV the fans are able to see the other side of racing and what I do and how I am. We went after it on our own. Supercross are doing their thing, so we did ours. We love it. In my career now with my training and all of my programme I looked around and thought ‘let’s try to bring some more fun into it’ because I feel comfortable with my racing. So, we made the channel and it’s had a pretty good response. It’s not too much? The great thing is that my buddy Jack Berg – his Dad was my doctor for so long when I was in Florida –and I have been friends for a long time. So, it’s easy. He’s been in Florida and I’ve been spending a lot of time in California so he flies in, we film for a couple of days and he puts together a few episodes. It’s not ‘forced’, which is great. Like I said, I have a great balance of racing, training and enjoying life. I’m pretty outgoing and I know

it can get a bit outrageous sometimes. Jack is able to get that with ease. Did the pandemic stoke your desire for racing? Or did the complications for travel, restrictions and the race conditions make you question whether it was worth continuing? The pandemic really made things difficult, to be honest with you. I was lucky in that I had some really good things going in around me and I’d just joined the Troy Lee Designs GASGAS team. The situation of the pandemic was depressing but joining a new team kept me motivated. Not having fans at the races was pretty miserable. There were a lot of blocks in the road but luckily this year a lot of it is pretty back-to-normal. Things are still a bit sketchy and we have to do a lot of stuff…but all-in-all the fans are back and it feels like supercross again. 2021 was one of the hardest years mentally in terms of staying on track and staying motivated when you are racing in stadiums three weeks at a time. It was not the most fun but now we’re a lot more grateful.


JUSTIN BARCIA


FEATURE

Lastly, do you have it written somewhere in your contracts that you have to look cool?! After Monster and Alpinestars you’ve gone to TLD and Red Bull and still throw some of the most outrageous bike shapes… Haha, it’s not set in stone but the amazing thing about the team is that Troy Lee is at the head and he’s like the design king of our sport. When I came here it was a perfect fit because Troy and I hit-itoff right away and I love his design work. It’s so easy [for me] because we have that fun aspect here and the guys let me do what I want to do. I don’t have to worry about not looking cool because everyone else is bringing their A-game.


JUSTIN BARCIA


PRODUCTS

SADDLEBACK For serious cycling and mountain-bike enthusiasts then consider the online home for elite brands and performance: saddleback.com. The company is UK-based but is seeking European expansion where they hope to bring their spread of high-end components, equipment and brands to wider consideration. The Saddleback website is clear enough to negotiate and the pricing is competitive. Saddleback was formed by a small group of cyclists almost twenty years ago, so the company knows the right brands for the job, whether that means parts upgrades, maintenance or some appealing gear from the likes of Troy Lee Designs. We made a small selection and the speed of delivery (free 24hr in the UK), packing and presentation was impressive. Through exploring their online catalogue (that includes exclusive UK distribution for the likes of Castelli, Chris King, ENVE, HJC, Sidi, Silca, Sportful, Stages, Wolf Tooth and TLD), regular customers and riders can also sign up to the ‘Riders Club’ for exclusive special offers, the latest news and loyalty rewards. With a hefty degree of competition in the booming bicycle market, Saddleback is a worthy player.

www.saddleback.com


Polarity Photo


END ARRIVAL LIVING AND BREATHING THE 2022 DAKAR RALLY Words and Photos by Federico Tondelli



FEATURE The Dakar Rally is the race of the races, which means 13 ‘races’ one after another that build up the whole competition. The first one is the preparation because getting to the starting presentation stage is already a victory in itself. Then you have the 12 stages, which are a mixer: ride, eat, sleep, repeat. There is a lot of riding, some food, very little sleeping. Not only the riders, but journalists, photographers, technicians and workers as well. The Dakar is a race for everybody. And yes, it still is THE Dakar. “I arrived at the top of the dune and realized that it was cut, the descent was too steep to face it without risk. I deviated slightly driving to the top to look for a gentler line to descend, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a red spot appearing to my right. I heard the nefarious whistle of the sentinel [the sound buzzer that warns of danger, the equivalent of the normal horn] and in the blink of an eye I realized that it was a car, which was going up at full throttle and that it would never, ever see me in time. By pure instinct I jumped off the bike and saw Nani Roma’s BRX literally pass over my bike. In the end my Husqvarna and I came down from that dune, but tumbling down. When we got to the base, I counted the damages: the exhaust was so bent that it passed between the wheel and the tail, the instruments tower practically no longer existed and the handlebars were gone, including the throttle. David Castera’s helicopter landed, which by pure chance was luckily hovering over us and we managed to straighten the exhaust and patch the tower, but what about the gas? I took a spare cable that I had, a rubber hose, and I made an eyelet to connect to

“IN ITS 44-YEAR HISTORY, THE DAKAR HAS HAD TO DEAL WITH WARS, TERRORIST THREATS, ADVERSE CLIMATE SITUATIONS AND, LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THE GROWING ECONOMIC INTEREST THAT THE RACE HAS AROUSED.”


The speaker is Tiziano Internò, participant in the Original by Motul (trade name of the malles) moto class), who tells one of the thousand ‘MacGyver’-style adventures that happen to those who participate in the Dakar. The toughest rally in the world always keeps its promises.

A certain Danilo Petrucci knows this well, fresh from MotoGP and arriving in Arabia with a bike and an official team to support him. Instead he had to deal with, in order: a broken astragalus, a positive Covid test (then turned negative, somehow...), a fuse that took him out of the battle for the ranking, a third place that became fifteenth and a second that became first (ah, late penalties ...), a shabby collarbone, five stitches on an elbow and a fractured wrist. The only one who has fared worse than him is perhaps his mechanic Davide Cotimbo, who at a certain point had to mount white handguards because he had ran out of the official orange ones.

LIVING THE 2022 DAKAR

what was left of the throttle cable, to operate with my thumb, a bit like you do on snowmobiles. It wasn’t nice, but it took me to the end of the stage.”


FEATURE Petrux’s fuse, a 0.20 euro piece, made the difference between staying in the standings or running for the experience, but in other cases it can be the discriminating factor between realizing your dream or returning home without crossing that long desired final finish line. For privateer riders, those who pay everything out of their own pockets (or almost) and aim for the medal, certainly not the trophy statue, it can become an even more unbearable burden. The charm of this race is that it’s a democratic one: the efforts are the same for everyone, any issue can affect either the top drivers or the runaways of the moto category. Pros and amateurs run, eat and sleep on the same route and

“YOU SLEEP CURLED UP IN YOUR SLEEPING BAG, YOU DRESS WITH THERMAL UNDERWEAR . THE WORST IS IF YOU NEED A TOILET DURING THE NIGHT... FORGET ABOUT IT. BUT THE SCENERY IS AMAZING AND EVERY DAY THERE IS A NEW WONDER TO FILL YOUR EYES...” in the same places. In this, the original spirit that inspired Thierry Sabine in designing the-then ‘Oasis Rallye ParisDakar’ (later to become ‘Paris-Dakar’ and today only ‘Dakar’) has not changed: anyone has to be self-sufficient, in all respects. The official teams interpret this self-sufficiency in the sense that we could define as ‘enlarged’ but most of the participants are still in this dimension of autonomy, especially motorcyclists.

The organization takes care of equipping the bivouac with a huge tent that serves as a canteen – more than 9000 meals served every day - and the containers with bathrooms and showers (pleasant until 9:30 in the morning, then the hot water runs out and ...), but to sleep you have to equip yourself with a tent, sleeping bag and inflatable mattress. In this, the most structured teams make the difference: this year there were 190 motorhomes, where the riders can find greater comfort. For everyone else, it’s a throwback to the school summer camp. The Dakar is a race made up of twelve chapters, an immense blender where you enter on the first day, you are grounded for the twelve stages, and you are spat out at the end completely chewed up. Italian rider Cesare Zacchetti described a typical stage of the Dakar as follows: “You leave Turin at 4 in the morning, in the freezing cold and reach Milan riding on local roads and in between the fields. There you enter the special stage: they send you to the lousiest and dirtiest roads up to Rome. At that point you go back to the country lanes and go to Naples, where there is the bivouac. Repeat for 12 days!” But it is not only the riders who suffer, it is also the same for journalists and photographers: the alarm clock rings at 4:00, wrap the sleeping bag, deflate the mattress, fold the tent and make everything fit in a single suitcase, a game of ‘Tetris’ that becomes harder (and heavier thanks to the sand you manage to incorporate in the cracks of the luggage here and there..) day after day. At the canteen you grab the bag with breakfast and get in the car, following the route reserved for assistance vehicles. There are from 500 to 800 km between one bivouac and


You sleep curled up in your sleeping bag, you dress with thermal underwear as if to go skiing. The worst is if you need a toilet during the night... forget about it. In the middle of the sand or rocks it gets windy, which makes things even tougher. But the scenery is amazing and every day there is a new wonder to fill your eyes. The cold is also a problem for racers because only cars and trucks offer a little shelter, while motorcycles and SSVs are

LIVING THE 2022 DAKAR

the other and you have to arrive before the riders finish the stage, because that is the moment when the bivouac comes to life and the word of mouth of stories, the odd curiosities begin. Photographers, on the other hand, are hunters, always on the trail. Their GPS points are communicated at the very end, because they are on the race path and therefore are kept secret as long as possible. They arrive before the drivers, so they don’t know what route they will take and they need to be quick to read the trails, guess the routing and find the most scenic spots for the best shot. Sometimes leaving early is not enough, and therefore they do not pass at all by the bivouac: after the stage they already go to the next day point. While one drives, the others work on the photos, to send them as soon as possible. The breakfast, that already works as lunch also, becomes dinner as well, but the emotion of sleeping under a sky full of stars is priceless. Of course, it’s cold. “Go in the desert, you’ll feel that heat.” But no, not really! The first week temperatures never rose above 8 degrees during the day, let alone at night. Only in the last stages, those closest to the Red Sea, the thermometer reached milder centigrade, around 18/20 ° C.


FEATURE

completely exposed to elements. We can remember that already in South America the situation became critical when the riders had to cross the Andes in the midst of snowstorms and blizzards. In the morning the bikers leave buckled up in layers, with mittens on the handlebars and harnessed like Eskimos at the north pole. When they arrive at the start of the stage, the undressing ritual begins, leaving their heavy clothes to the organization that takes care of having them delivered on time to the next bivouac. Then the stopwatch goes off and they open the throttle. Even if on a stage of 3-400km you do not always go full speed. Chaleco Lopez, the former motorcycle rider who switched to light prototypes, knows the feeling of boredom well: “I’m riding safely thinking about the ranking, but every now and then I have to increase the pace a bit to keep concentrated”. Read this as: not to fall asleep. At that moment he had a 1h20’ advantage over the pursuers in the general standings. He wasn’t the only one who used some strategy: Red Bull GASGAS’ Daniel Sanders, with a clear advantage in the

third stage, stopped to eat a granola bar to lose the minutes he needed in order to not to cross the finish line first: therefore not leading the trail the next day. No strategy for Frenchman Guillaume Chollet when he found himself a little too close to the border with Iraq at the end of the stage. Navigation errors that happen. The difficulties of the Dakar amplify emotions, make adrenaline pump, turning up everything to be more intense. Javi Viega, a Spaniard all nerves and smiles, took advantage of this unique setting, arrived at the final stage of Jeddah with the pocket of his jacket containing a special box. In front of the cameras, he knelt down towards his partner Sara Garcia, also on a motorcycle, also a competitor, and asked her to marry him. Tears and joy made the arrival of the two even more emotional. The couple had already made themselves noticed (and loved) in the 2021 edition, with a story worthy of the nostalgia for whom that ‘the real Dakar is what it once was’: on the seventh stage, the one after rest day, the gearbox of Sara’s Yamaha breaks. The Spaniard manages to return to the bivouac with the four gears left. Then she and Javi roll up their sleeves and begin to open up the motorbike.


Strip the engine, off to the Yamaha trucks to redo the gearbox (but without external help, because this is prohibited), back to the bike and in goes the engine. The intensity goes from 4:30pm to one o’clock in the morning before hearing the new roar of the reborn WR450F and breathing a sigh of relief. A miracle, considering the conditions and the tools available. The spirit of sacrifice fills even the most famous riders. This is the case of Stephane Peterhansel, who despite being ‘Monsieur Dakar’ for his 14 victories in the competition, during the seventh stage stopped in the desert to help his teammate Carlos Sainz, giving him his suspension to allow him to continue the

race and remained another 2h45’ waiting for the assistance truck to allow him to finish the stage. “Why did I do it? Simple: I work and race for Audi and I want the best possible result for my team, and this is what we need to create a team spirit. I lost a lot on the first day of the race while Carlos and Matthias (Ekstrom) could also compete to get into the top ten, so it was a pleasure to help, really. Carlos and I have known each other for a long time, and I think he would have done the same for me, like Matthias himself. And I repeat, if we really want to become a strong team, we must be close to each other,” said Peterhansel.

LIVING THE 2022 DAKAR

“THE SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE FILLS EVEN THE MOST FAMOUS RIDERS. THIS IS THE CASE OF STEPHANE PETERHANSEL, WHO DESPITE BEING ‘MONSIEUR DAKAR’ FOR HIS 14 VICTORIES IN THE COMPETITION, DURING THE SEVENTH STAGE STOPPED IN THE DESERT TO HELP HIS TEAMMATE CARLOS SAINZ, GIVING HIM HIS SUSPENSION TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE THE RACE...”


FEATURE So now let’s leave the big guns and go back to romance, because the Dakar is also the race where the ‘Davids’ can defeat the ‘Goliaths’. This is the case for HERO, the Indian brand that made its debut on the rally tracks in 2017 and five years later managed to win its first stage with Joaquim Rodrigues. It certainly cannot be said that the path was an easy one: in 2020 they lost their top rider Paulo Goncalves in an accident that took his life. In 2021 they held their breath again for Santosh, who on the fourth stage sustained a bad head injury that forced doctors to keep him in a pharmacological coma for several days before being able to stabilize him and make him recover. Santosh was in Saudi as a consultant to the Team and enjoyed the success of ‘J-Rod’ together with Wolfgang Fisher, the ‘deus ex machina’ of the racing team: “Returning to racing last year after Paulo’s death, moreover building a completely new bike, wasn’t easy. We did as many races and as much training

as we could to be ready for the Dakar, but we were unlucky in the weeks before the race with the injuries of Sebastian Buhler and Franco Caimi. In the end we managed to be there with Aaron Mare and J-Rod and this victory rewards both Joaquim and Hero. It’s an exciting time.” Rodrigues dedicated the historic victory to his late friend Goncalves: “It’s my first stage win at the Dakar and also for Hero, my team, and I’m really happy about it. I was riding so well and so fast that I thought to myself: Paulo is with me. Today it was me and him who won.” At the Dakar strong bonds are created, friendships that transcend competition are cemented over time, becoming almost family. But the blood bond is there, and it is true especially for the two Winklers: Aldo and Andrea, father and son. Aldo has already raced several editions, when it was still Paris-Dakar, while Andrea was a promising supercross rider


In its 44-year history, the Dakar has had to deal with wars, terrorist threats, adverse climate situations and, last but not least, the growing economic interest that the race has aroused. The commercial interests that the Dakar has developed are the same that allow many lone adventurers to persuade small sponsors to support them in realizing their private dream. It remains the most arduous race in the world and the ‘adventurous spirit’ of nights out in the open and cold soups from aluminium cookware is incompatible not only with today’s number of participants but above all with the times we are living in, where safety must - rightly - come first. The Dakar has been able to keep up with a world that has radically changed, even managing to guarantee a complete, technical and beauty-filled race despite the pandemic situation we are living in today. Evolution was the survival of the human being, and the Dakar wasn’t left behind.

LIVING THE 2022 DAKAR

before injuries forced a change of direction. The two mixed their respective travails to help each other get to the finish line and they made it. Aldo had to pull out on the eve of the penultimate stage due to a clash on a dune with an innocent Tiziano Internò (him, again) which led to a bruised hip and a sleepless night for dizziness, due to what turned out later to be a slightly dislocated vertebra. Andy ran the eleventh stage alone, leaving his father in the hands of the physiotherapist trying to get him back on his feet for the final rush and he also got a great result. But on arrival, the watery eyes were not for the satisfaction but for the disappointment of not having had his dad with him. All’s well that ends well: Aldo got back on his feet and completed stage number 12, the one up to Jeddah, the final stage, the one ending with an embrace and the father and son’s tears.


PRODUCTS

HUS


SQVARNA MOTORCYCLES The launch of the Norden 901 travel bike last year meant a major model addition to Husqvarna Motorcycles’ canon. The stylish and versatile midweight now gets an updated range of specifically designed accessories that can be ordered through any Husky dealer. The options span added bike protection to rider comfort, performance enhancement and practical carry space. The protective elements include an engine grille that extends the scope of the original skid plate and stops any mud or muck building up around the exhaust header. There is also a lamp and headlight buffer to deflect the best efforts of unwanted stones. In terms of comfort then the windshield spoiler will enable even more hours in the saddle and out of any buffeting breeze while shorter customers might appreciate the lowering kit that drops the Norden 901 saddle height by 22mm without affecting the riding sensation.

Heated grips (with four different settings) and two heated saddles should assist with the colder winter conditions and until spring shuffles into view. Count on the Akarpovic ‘slip-on’ line, made from high-grade titanium, for a lighter exhaust package and an even throatier rasp from the Husqvarna’s engine. Lastly, pack for longer trips with the 114l of space in the Touratech panniers and top case, which are light and strong thanks to the quality aluminium and contain silicone seals for extra capabilities against all weather. Even more luggage potential comes through the Side Bag set and the Luggage bag; constructed from waterproof material and with a roll-close design.

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PRODUCTS

KTM KTM have upgraded their kids 12eDRIVE and 16eDRIVE balance bikes for 2022 with a brand new livery and ‘race’ orientated graphics to capture youngsters’ imagination. The products feature a sturdy, lightweight aluminum frame (so it’s easy for children to pick up & handle) and three progressive electric power modes (giving juniors their first experience of powered speed). They have a safe, thermally protected 20V battery providing 30-60 mins run time with 45-60 mins charging time. The models have 33cm & 43 cm seat heights respectively and the robust build contains steel, BMX-style forks, BMX-styled chain & freewheel. The ‘throttle’ is multi functional with ride mode display & battery level. The little ones can also get kitted-out with comprehensive and exclusive PowerWear items to complete the look. Families in North America can get their kids on the move from this month while Europeans will have to wait until March for the latest versions.


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FEATURE

THE LOOMIN

MXGP IS KEEPING THE ROLLING TIDE OF ELECTRONICS AT BAY AND CONS OF THE TECH FOR MOTOCROSS…BUT THE WORLD


By Adam Wheeler Photos by Ray Archer

NG SHADOW

Y WITH A TIGHT RULEBOOK AND ENDLESS DEBATE ON THE PROS D CHAMPIONSHIP IS SEEING SOME DEVELOPMENT WITH GPS.


FEATURE

G

oPros, drones, better air suspension…er, now we’re struggling. Recent innovations in MXGP have been sparse and advances are largely hidden under bike plastics or seats or found in the secretive screens of laptops or tablets. There hasn’t been a great deal to draw the sport up to and into a year such as 2022. Perhaps motocross is the better for it, but there are minds in the world championship that are constantly looking at ways in which technology and material can be used within the designated limitations. Those restrictions involve a purposely tight set of regulations to protect both the costs of motocross and the rider’s prevalence as the main determining factor in the results. However, 2022 could see some developments. Infront Moto Racing installed a new timing system through Dutch firm MYLAPS in 2021 and the GPS potential of the software and hardware might have some implications for both safety and, potentially, the visuals of MXGP. To find out more, to gauge reaction and to ask whether this creep into more modernisation could have a bigger effect, we ventured into the paddock… WHAT’S GOING ON AND WHY GPS? Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician:


Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “We have GPS for data logging so the MYLAPS device is just another GPS box which is for the pure purpose of the rider. Infront want to show their position as a safety feature. From our side, technically, we cannot

can see the location of their rider from pitlane and whether he’s stopped or crashed. The new system from MYLAPS means we can define sectors and when a bike has stopped for, say, more than four seconds it will emit a warning. Then it is about finding the best way to communicate that warning. One option could be external LED panels positioned around the track or to place an LED light on all the bikes but this needs a discussion with teams and riders about where the rider is look-

GRUEBEL: “I THINK THERE WOULD BE A LOT OF CONFUSION IN THE FIRST YEARS. IT WOULD MEAN MORE MANPOWER AND MORE EQUIPMENT AND WOULD ALSO NEED TO BE WELL ENCRYPTED...” really benefit from that at the moment. We’re talking about the bikes having two devices that do the same job. It would make sense if we had one that we could share but there are two different systems: theirs is integrated with the timekeeping and ours with our ECU. This is just the beginning of the story…but I hope we can come to the point where we have less sensors doing the same job.” Hans-Martin Fetzer, Sport Office Director, Infront Moto Racing: “The plan is so teams

ing while he’s riding and how will he notice it. We might even be able to make some tests with a camera placed near a rider’s goggles to see where he or she is looking, where are the visible areas.” Roger Shenton, HRC Team Technical Co-ordinator: “It’s early days and we need to see how we can effectively share information without showing other teams our data! From a safety point of view it is a positive direction. We still haven’t tried the MYLAPS transponder but I know it’s part of the plan

GPS IN MXGP

“We check the GPS and RPM when the bike is back in the paddock and to react to the rider’s words about any problems or feelings on certain parts of the track. That’s the main use of it really.”


FEATURE


for the future. We’ve attached the actual unit to the bike in training, just to examine the extra weight and to check Tim [Gajser] was comfortable.” Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “If the rider says: ‘I had a problem in this turn...’ then you need to be able to go back to the data, revisit his lap and see what was going on with the engine or what gear he was using.”

Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “It is nowhere near as consistent as road racing where tracks are pretty standard apart from temperature and weather. Here, if you have an EMX race out before your second moto and the lines develop differently then all your data from the first moto is useless.” Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “We look at data after every session. We’re looking at shifting points and things like starting RPM if

Hans-Martin Fetzer, Sport Office Director, Infront Moto Racing: “The main thing for 2021 MXGP was to thoroughly imbed the new timing system and then look at the GPS possibilities on top. We will use part of 2022 to develop the GPS together with the teams. We made the first test towards the end of 2021 but it was not so easy to find the best position on the bike, which suits all bikes, for the additional device. Putting it behind the number plate meant we could run into problems with the power washers. We need to use an external antenna and a GPS antenna: it has to be in a good position. So, we are working with the brands. We are also talking with MYLAPS about a special off-road device that has an external part but then a battery as well, like the normal transponder.” THE FIM OPENING THE RULE BOOK & THE BENEFIT FOR MXGP?

GPS IN MXGP

they haven’t started well or went out of the recommended range. Shifting behaviour, engine and water temperature and other critical points of a motor where we might be reaching a limit and have to change the engine. We look all the time, and I would say the reading is 80-20 in terms of function and failure.”


FEATURE

Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “Opening GPS possibilities alone wouldn’t have much impact because we basically know where the bike is on the track but if they opened up the whole book so you could really manage active data and have access to engine maps outside of the track then this would be something big, like Formula sports or road racing where they have active control from the pit wall.” Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician: “It would open a different jar! Especially for the setting of a four-stroke engine. I don’t think

there is too much experience for active management in this paddock. They are working much more with this in F1 where they are also very far ahead in terms of technology.” Hans-Martin Fetzer, Sport Office Director, Infront Moto Racing: “Everything goes through one server, so the information comes one way. You wouldn’t be able to transmit in the other direction and modify the bike by sending data. I know some teams in MotoGP are using the technology as a way of detecting where they are

and make like a ‘pre-programming’ of the electronics based on the loops they are passing through so they can switch the mapping automatically. In MXGP we don’t have so many loops so it wouldn’t make too much sense when you only have four sectors. On a road racing track you have more loops and if even if they are not used for a sector time, you still have a signal. I think on most F1 tracks there


Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “More possibilities with electronics: I think there would be a lot of confusion in the first years. It would mean more manpower and more equipment and would also need to be well encrypted.”

Roger Shenton, HRC Team Technical Co-ordinator: “If it becomes like MotoGP then it could become interesting for fans and viewers. We’d have to make sure there is some control on what information is being given out. We need a bit more clarity out of what we could give and what we could get out of it. We always like to have data!” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “If we can see that riders are going around turns or down straights at different thousands of RPM then it means

teams will be giving things away. If we have to go this route then so be it. If you look at a sport like football then it has come such a long, long way in terms of data. The players’ every step and move are measured, and they are much fitter now than ever. It has become very complex. It has pushed the boundaries… but I don’t see it happening in motocross because we can see visually the differences from one rider to the next even if they are on the same bike. You only have to move backwards 200mm on the seat and you have a different type of traction on the tyre, a different balance.” Hans-Martin Fetzer, Sport Office Director, Infront Moto Racing: “We could integrate the information into the TV graphics. It also depends on what device the teams are prepared to use. Some could opt for the advanced device that also connects to other areas of the bike to gather additional data from sensors during the race. I know a lot of teams use a lot of sensors during testing but then they remove some of them for the race. We have a step-by-step plan in terms of what we show and use for the TV production.” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “A motocross bike needs so

GPS IN MXGP

is a fixed loop every 100m. It’s more granular. With the GPS system it is possible to have virtual timing loops - which are not totally accurate – but at least you know where you are. You could have up to 8 virtual loops, which then switch.”


FEATURE many variables. Sometimes it needs to grip and needs to spin. The way a rider comes into a jump and the way he whips and pushes the bike, correcting it with the revs; it would be a mess in terms of data information.” Hans-Martin Fetzer, Sport Office Director, Infront Moto Racing: “We have to see how and where we could implement the LEDs, together with MYLAPS. It would be good if we could start in the second half of the 2022 season but then it also depends on the calendar. I’m confident in the technology and the new software. We had the new material at the 2021 Motocross of Nations.”

STANDARD ECU & MORE SENSORS? Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “Data transmission is not allowed, and it is a question of ‘give-and-take’ anyway because we see with our own acquisition that there can be quite a few ‘chinks’: the sensors are prone to damage and water pressure which is something you have far less in car racing and road racing. Sensors and hardware can be battered pretty quickly. We’ve experienced quite a lot of it. Even the military has this problem! Circumstances, climates and surroundings that just hammer the equipment. Some people underestimate just how tricky water and soap can be for technical parts.”

Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician: “More sensors? I think it depends how far we go with combustion engines and when the electric bikes will come.” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “In the past we were working with Cosworth and we still have a good relationship. Electronics: basically, you have an ECU telling the throttle body when to put fuel in and when to spark. Go back to the twostroke days and that had to happen through experience and you had a multitude of pilot jets, needle jets, valve cutaways, carburettor sizes, needle tapers and positions. It was a complex amount that-


reacting in real-time and can anticipate.” Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “A standard ECU would be possible. But it would also be difficult because every manufacturer has kinda gone their own way over the last few years and it would be hard to give this up overnight.” Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician: “We tried a few years ago to have a single ECU for everybody but it was hard to get everyone to agree as they all have their own package and their own development, which is confidential.”

MORE MANPOWER AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE RIDER? Roger Shenton, HRC Team Technical Co-ordinator: “The more electronics we have the more expensive it will be but we have to see what benefits we can source and how it can lead to improvement. We are using durable equipment now but you also need to make sure you have high durability in all weather conditions for the harnesses and couplings and connections. The bikes are becoming more complex with finer connections. So, we need to pay extra attention.” Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician: “There is no limit

GPS IN MXGP

people wittered down to a few variations over the years. You had to have a feel for it. With electronics there is a maximum power which is achieved by the right fuel/air ratio, 13-1, and the right ignition advance so the engine doesn’t get too hot over the race. Once you have achieved that then you just end-up taking away power because you’ve reached that optimum spark and fuelling. Speaking with someone like Cosworth and saying to them ‘can I get more power for my race start from electronics?’ the answer will be ‘well, no… you can take spark out and get traction…but it still comes down to rider reaction’. If the right person has the right feel they will still ‘beat’ the electronics because they are


FEATURE when it comes to performance of the bikes and we are always looking for improvements in terms of configuration. I think it would be dangerous to open it in this sport.” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “We invested in advanced data collection in the past, not because we wanted to push electronics but we wanted to look at our set-up on race day and gain any advantage we could. We still use it now for the basic information acquisition regarding what the bike is doing. My personal belief is to have the smallest amount of electronics possible on the bike because it is a point for failure, it is susceptible to temperature and other factors. I can understand brands collecting data to then go back and evolve the production bike but for out-and-out racing it isn’t really needed when you have your basic settings. It is just about fine-tuning: what we used to do with compressions and carburetion. Back in the 125 days I had a collection of forty different cylinder head inserts and you would get the bike to detonation in practice and revise it. Back in those days we had a lot of track time to re-valve the suspension and fine-tune up to the race. Now we almost have to arrive at a GP with the right setting prepared, and it’s almost a risk to change between the motos, unless something is drastically out.”


Fabio Santoni, Yamaha Motor Europe MXGP Data Technician: “You could create more possibilities technically but it would also be hard to judge whether it would be better or worse because we cannot communicate with the riders. That’s obviously possible in F1 and to a degree with the dashboard in MotoGP. We can only tell by what we see from the fences. So, I don’t know how we could handle it and maybe the rider has to sacrifice as the teams have more control.” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “You’ll have riders thinking even more about lines and options when their reactions should be more natural and instinctive…rather than wondering

about how the electronics will help them. It is good for information collection…but one race can be so different to another in just a couple of hours.” Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “For sure in some areas we could benefit but in off-road sports there is a limit and that needs to be defined. It is always interesting to have a look at data and to see what possibilities open-up – it’s not like we’re saying ‘we don’t want this’ and I’m sure plenty of people have been working on it. We see sometimes reactions from certain bikes that have led to an incident not of the rider’s doing…but, then, we don’t see the proof!” Steve Dixon, Bike is Dixon Racing Team Principal: “I’m all for technology and using it to try and make a bike fast but everything happens so quickly in motocross and the way the rider uses his body on the track to get traction that I don’t think there is enough consistency. Electronics would confuse things to the point that people would lose sight of what is actually going on. We need to keep our focus on the bikes around the track and that means rider feel.”

GPS IN MXGP

Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “It would need to be evaluated. If you could find more grip through things like traction control and rideby-wire – which is not allowed at the moment – you could come to a new level but also when the rider is not really the one that’s in control anymore. With an ever-changing environment on track it is a different story compared to other motorsports with a consistent layout. We have changing ruts, lines, bumps. I don’t know if we would get the same sort of benefits they have because of the irregularity of the laps.”




SBK BLOG BLOG MXGP

CREATED THANKS TO

THE UNKNOWN AWAITS When Conrad Mewse climbed atop the EMX250 podium at Valkenswaard on March 28, 2016, it was as if a star had been born. Following years of hype and excitement, he had arrived on the scene and in a dominant fashion. The world was his oyster at that point – the only way was up with support from a decorated factory Husqvarna effort. Very few would have bet on him not returning to the podium in the 2127 days that followed that now-poignant event in The Netherlands. The lack of silverware is made more puzzling by the fact that the multi British Champion clearly has the speed and technique to battle with the very best. There have been countless examples of him posting fast lap times, yet those never quite materialised in the form of a trophy or anything greater. There is still time for him to tick boxes aboard the 250F in Grand Prix competition, as he has one more year in MX2. The upcoming 2022 FIM Motocross World Championship was always

going to be the most important for him, especially if he wants to establish some sort of longevity. The challenge that lies ahead was already enormous, but it has been made even more daunting by the fact that he has made a late decision to leave the Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee team. Mewse parted ways with the squad in the middle of January, but not because he had another opportunity or a secure path that he could venture down. There is little certainty in his future – he is desperately trying to construct his own privateer effort using components that he knows and loves. Although that sounds great, the fact that he is trying to piece that together in just one month is unfathomable.

Even the most capable person would struggle to establish an international race effort in that time frame, so one would think that Mewse would get the benefit of the doubt and not be judged too cruelly for his results. It is far from the truth though, as what he has done thus far is irrelevant. There are very few positives for him to present to prospective team managers ahead of his big-bike debut, so he has to create a compelling case for himself in the upcoming races or risk losing international status. The potential of such a demotion is not just worrying for Mewse, but for the thousands of British fans too. The number of Brits in Grand Prix competition is falling fast, as is the number of guys who even aspire to be there.


BY ADAM WHEELER

BY LEWIS PHILLIPS Ben Watson is a beam of light for the United Kingdom, especially after such a rapid rise to the top in recent years, and then Mewse slots in behind him as the next prospect. Gone are the days of four British riders filling the top ten at regular Grands Prix, especially now that Shaun Simpson has retired and Adam Sterry is struggling to secure a full-time contract. British interest is falling quicker than one could have ever imagined. The same goes for the EMX divisions, where Bobby Bruce is the most noteworthy British talent yet still very linked to the domestic scene. Maybe the lack of British investment in EMX could be linked back to the little success that guys like Mewse have posted. There have been few enlightening stories of British riders managing to conquer all, so it must be harder for rising stars to picture themselves hitting the highest level.

There is a snowball effect in place here and someone needs to break that mould before the United Kingdom becomes irrelevant at the highest level. Moving back to the subject at hand, Mewse can draw inspiration from a rider like Simpson when attempting to form his own programme. Simpson was able to conclude an illustrious Grand Prix career underneath his own SS24 umbrella, but he had little to prove and everything to gain. It is so much easier to make a privateer 450F competitive versus trying to beat a factory 250F programme with a limited budget. The magnitude of this challenge should not be underestimated and if he does indeed find a way to achieve success then it is going to be such a statement. Perhaps that is the silver lining? The narrative that surrounds Mewse is so set

in stone that it would take a drastic action to alter it and this could be it. Mewse could be six months away from confirming that he does indeed have a future in Grands Prix. This could be the biggest story that emerges in the 2022 FIM Motocross World Championship, if he does indeed fulfil his potential, but that will no easy task.


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The 3, in particular, is described as an ‘over the jacket Airbag System designed for commuters and road riding. With its practical design, it can be worn in all weather conditions, and its lightweight construction and packable design mean that it can be quickly and easily folded up and stowed in a backpack or under a scooter’s seat when not in use. The Tech-Air 3 Airbag System is available in men’s and women’s Stella versions with an ergonomically designed, dedicated fit.’ Keep an eye on the Alpinestars website for full availability.



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FEATURE

HUNGRY LIKE A By Adam Wheeler Photos from Stark Future/JP Acevedo

NEW PLAYERS, NEW MODEL. THE LAUNCH OF THE ELECTRIC STARK VARG TOWARDS THE END OF 2021 CERTAINLY GATHERED ATTENTION WITH THE INNOVATIVE BIKE ACCOMPANIED BY SOME BIG STATEMENTS. WE ASKED THE VARG’S CREATOR FOR SOME BACKGROUND…

F

rom a small team, in a small but brand-new workspace in a small industrial area just south of Barcelona the Stark motorcycle brand has arrived with a big splash and large-scale ambition. When Swedish CEO Anton Wass, a man who appears as though he should be modelling sportswear in a catalogue, looks at you and states his target for better sustainability and to shake up an off-road motorcycle industry by using patented electric technology to out-

perform combustion-engined competition, it is hard not be swayed by his steely eyed conviction. Wass heads a motivated consortium that have established Stark Future in Catalunya, have cherrypicked an international, young and also experienced design team and have spent more than two years constructing the firm’s first model – the ‘VARG’ (wolf in Swedish) – to showcase what their innovative

battery tech and case construction, fly wheel components and cooling system can do. They will eventually feed into other motorcycle sectors. The 32-year-old was originally one of the founding partners in the international ecommerce behemoth that is 24mx.com before making his fortune and pursuing other avenues. Wass held an affection for the costal region south of Barcelona and had a house built just outside the town of


WOLF


FEATURE Sitges. The base would be an apt and inspirational zone of Europe for this motorcycle fan and rider’s next (huge) passion project.

into another new facility after the response and orders from the VARG’s launch led to nine million dollars of pre-orders in the first 24-hours.

The Stark VARG washed across social media when Wass and his colleagues were finally ready to talk about the fetching red motocrosser in December. The bike looked the part – not like other recent off-road models that have tended to resemble beefed-up MTB – but also came with hefty tech specs and bold boasts that the VARG would put out 30% more power than the fastest 450 on the market and with double the amount of torque. The engine management system would permit the bike to be ‘programmed’ up to 100 different modes, meaning it could squirt power like a 125cc two-stroke or growl like a 650 four-stroke, all with a few touches of the extra tough smartphone that clips to the bars as a robust and portable dash. ‘Premium’ is a word that has been levelled at the VARG and from the small details such as the wheel axles, swingarm, footpegs and chain adjuster, Stark have applied their attitude of performance superiority to every component.

Stark’s surprise ‘holeshot’ into the e-mobility sector, and the off-road sphere in particular, has led many to wonder whether the company can live-up to their initial promise and potential. There will be a keen interest for the first official press try-out of the VARG in the coming months

The bike has yet to roll away from the production lines but Stark are already set to move

and before the final version of the bike – built by Stark’s new robotic assembly tech - begins to ship. In the meantime, an extremely busy Wass is able to find time to sit and talk about his creation and why the silent VARG will come with a lot of bluster. Talk about the origins of Stark. You don’t have any previous experience with motorcycle manufacturing…


that job was less technical and more commercial. So, I started surrounded by tech and entered the commercial side. I got bored doing that. We started as three guys in a garage and we set a target of 100 million euros in sales. It was nice goal to achieve but once we started getting near it then the job and life wasn’t so much fun anymore. It was just

STARK VARG

Riding motorcycles was my first great passion in life and as a youngster I’d spent many evenings in the garage building and re-building bikes, tuning engines and stuff like that. I enjoy adrenaline and motors! I spent the first part of my professional career building the world’s largest online motorcycle store and

“OUR COMPETITION IS NOT THE OTHER ELECTRIC BIKE BRANDS BUT THE BIG COMPANIES THAT ARE MAKING MOTOCROSS BIKES TODAY.” about scaling the same thing over and over, not doing anything new and not learning anything. Through the business side I built a strong interest for sustainability. Just trying to sell more stuff every single day was not so inspiring, so I felt that it was time to do something new and much bigger and something that was actually helpful for the world. I was in the fortunate position to be able to choose. Building a new motorcycle is a huge challenge and I believe I have the right background to do it. We have a great team. Did you get a decent perspective on the motorcycle industry through your website business? Was it enough to enter the marketplace yourself? My view was: if you are going to build an electric motocross

bike then it’s only worth it if the product is better than any other gas bike on the market. If you cannot do that then it’s not inspiring. For me, it is about changing the industry and being the company that will really start to switch motorcycling to electric, starting with motocross of course. I’ve always been interested by technology so I kept as up-to-date as I could with the electric mobility field and was reading a lot on the power density of motors and the energy density of batteries and calculating the weight of motors, chassis, etc. I came to the conclusion that it was possible to build an electric motocross bike to outperform a gasoline one and from that point it was a case of ‘let’s do it’. The first thing I looked for was a partner to help build the company and a CTO who


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“THIS IS A DREAM. IT IS NOT ABOUT MAKING AN EXIT IN THREE YEARS TIME. I WANT TO BRING IT TO THE BEST POSSIBLE LEVEL THAT WE CAN. SELLING THE COMPANY WOULD BE LIKE PREPARING FOR A BIG PARTY AND THEN SKIPPING IT; I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’D WANT TO DO THAT.” has experience of making motorcycles at a high level. I met a few people before being lucky enough to find Paul [Saucy] and we created Stark together. He had also been dreaming of building electric motocross bikes and when I presented my concept of using the motor as a structural component, he had already been thinking in a similar direction. So, we connected at the right time. Besides the passion for bikes and motocross we are quite similar in what we want with sustainability and how competitive we are. So, were you dissatisfied with off-road bikes that were on the market? Well, first of all I’m not a fast rider, so it’s not like I needed a more powerful or faster bike but – even if you are slow – you always want something that’s better. Or something that’s lighter, easier. I always liked a handlebar rear brake and found the pedal kinda difficult. I’m the type of character that is always looking and thinking ‘how can things be better?’. If you look at the motorcycle

industry and compare it to bicycles or auto then the level of innovation has been incredibly low, purely because of the lack of competition. You have some Japanese companies that were really strong in the past but nowadays the development level is almost nothing. It took them nearly twenty years to implement an electric starter after they understood that people wanted it. The KTM Group has been progressive but have not re-invented much. The big thing they did was show the world that a steel frame is superior to aluminium. They have optimised their bikes and now they are so strong, I think they have 50% market share and they know that the product is better than the Japanese so they are focussing on profitability rather than innovation. I think there is a huge gap there in terms of challenging the market. Going back; there is no easy way to reach the top, so what were the biggest lessons from your business success and can you bring any of those experiences into Stark?

Yeah, you need two ingredients to succeed. You need high ambitions – to believe that you can become the best in the world – and then you need a huge amount of drive. You need to be a dreamer and then a do-oer. If you have those capabilities then you can succeed and find your way. You cannot sit down on day one. If you have the right mentality then you will see better ways to improve all the time and you will adapt. Is the off-road market sufficiently big to conquer then with your first Stark project? Based on your previous business experience…? Well, I knew the off-road market very well and in great detail. We did a lot of surveys and we had a million customers. I think the understanding of the market was very high and understanding of the customers is perhaps much better than other motorcycle manufacturers because they lack that deep connection to the user: they produce the bike, ship it to the dealer and then lose the connection. They have some connection through


STARK VARG race teams…but these are still quite far away from the average user. So, it is a benefit to know about the customer and the different splits between the customer groups and soon. Through your market research did you find that off-road riders and fans were potentially more open to new technology? Yes, absolutely. I think Alta

kinda proved that it is possible to build an electric motocross bike that can be competitive with gas bikes. I don’t think it was better…but they had a good powertrain and many people understood that the end-goal was achievable. There is this conception that people who do motocross drink two-stroke oil for breakfast, and that’s all they do but if you know the customer base a bit more then

you can see there are various splits and the differences are not that much more than any other consumer market: normal people, with normal jobs and normal problems and similar dreams. There is always a certain amount of people who will want to try a new type of technology – it doesn’t matter whether it’s cars, bikes, or phones - and we are convinced about that,


FEATURE but we assumed that a mass of people will want to switch to electric when they learn it can be better than gasoline. The big question is: can you get the majority of the market to shift? That answer comes when new standards are set. We know, on paper, that our technology is better and people want performance. This is a performance-driven sport, whether you are an amateur or not, you want the power, the lower weight, the handling. That, for me, had us convinced. We’ve also interviewed 100+ dealers whether they believe in electric and it is incredibly clear that this is the case. Why is Stark in Catalunya? If you want to build premium motorcycles then there is no better place to be than Barcelona. You have the right climate, which means you can ride all year, you have plenty of motocross and road circuits within reach, you have a motorcycling culture and a huge amount of bikes. There are people with a lot of experience in motorcycling here. A lot of brands do development work here. I’m not building this company myself, I’m doing it with the best team possible and, fortunately, a lot of the best people are based in and around Barcelona. Also, from a manufacturing perspective, we are building the bike here

but a lot of the components are also made from this region. We are producing our diecast magnesium battery cases a few hours away and they are the same people doing parts for Porsche, Audi and so on. The same applies for the motor case, the swingarm and the frame. It helps we can jump in the car and go to these places that are just one hour away.

them are close to the level of technology. For us, the closest benchmark would be the car industry and they are very far ahead. Electric motorcycles it’s on a low level right now and I think the big manufacturers are still trying to search for their concept and they haven’t figured it out yet. When they start development it also takes them years. We have not seen anything, so I’m not sure if they have begun.

It is a high-pressure project with a strict time limit to deliver results? Unfortunately, I think the competition is pretty low. It’s always good to have pressure and I wish we had more competition…but the reality is that we are the only real ‘serious’ electric manufacturer right now. I mean, there are other players but none of

The Stark VARG lays everything out on the table in terms of tech… Yes, but all the big brands will buy one anyway and will tear it down. We have some patents and I want to make it clear that those are open for others to use because we want to turn the industry onto more sustainability. Other brands just need to call us! It’s not really about the


technology you have but your innovation level. Today, I believe we have the best motocross bike in the world but if anyone tries to copy it now it will take three-four years and in that time ours will be different because we want to continue to innovate. Your comment about making the best motocross bike in the world is interesting because there are brands who have been building MX models for fifty years. You managed it in two… The people behind the bike have been building bikes for many years. We have people with the right experience here and that’s the only way you can achieve a target like we had in a short period of time. As a team we are new but we have experience. So, the recruitment process must have been thorough… We have a great team but the right people who are suited

to work in a company like this are also inspired by the idea. They have not been hard to convince because they also believe in what we are doing. My network in the industry helped and fortunately good people tend to know more good people. If you ask, you can always find a way. We are not a typical start-up. We began with strong finances and we aimed high from the beginning. We are not looking at a production run of 50 bikes but thousands and thousands. We are going for a high level and that also creates a different perspective for the people who are joining. It’s a new company but it works like a big company… and faster. Were there any companies that you used for inspiration in any other industry? A firm that was taking-on the big-hitters? Tesla is a great inspiration because they are a company

STARK VARG

that showed the car industry that the future is electric. Now everyone has grasped it. It’s taken fifteen years. They seemed to have an incredible amount of problems but they managed to get through them with persistence. This is what you can see from the outside. Looking at the motorcycle industry, Alta is an inspiration in terms of what they made with their motocross bike but when you dig a bit deeper into the technology then the geometry is a bit off and the bike tends to squat. They did a lot of very nice things but the bike could have been on a higher level from a scientific perspective. We analysed the gasoline bikes more than I think Alta did. What you see with those types of companies is that they are started by clever engineers but they are not so strong on the business side. You see some that are creative and imaginative with their tech but to then produce, sell and make a profit – because you need a profit to exist and survive – you need a different type of challenge. Just because you are an engineer then you are not a businessman. We must be extremely good at engineering, which is very difficult, but we also need to be very strong in sourcing and that’s why we decided to set up for larger scale production from day one.


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This is where my experience from building a large corporation helps. Scaling up from three people to five hundred means that you learn what you need to make a company grow. We had the benefit of experience joining us there, and that allowed us to make the right structure from the start. The rest of the management team also gained that experience. If you have set up an assembly line for one hundred thousand models per year then it is easy to do it again.

You mentioned the strengths and failings of Alta but are there any other ways in which they failed and where Stark will succeed? Our main focus as a company is to be great in three areas: innovation - so technology design and sourcing. This is key because through innovation and design we believe we can build the best product. Though sourcing we can make the product available at a reasonable cost to a large amount of people. If we cannot sell volume then we cannot succeed. You cannot build a sophisticated product and then only do 500 of them a year. You will lose money. By being well-financed we are reducing our amount of risk and we are reducing steps.

Is Stark Future a company that is being primed for acquisition by one of the ‘big’ players? We are not here to be bought by anybody. If you look at the main founders then this is not the first company that any of us have built. This is a dream. It is not about making an exit in three years time. I want to bring it to the best possible level that we can. Selling the company would be like preparing for a big party and then skipping it; I don’t know why you’d want to do that. You mentioned sourcing. How difficult has that been during the pandemic and is supply of parts and materials one of your biggest obstacles at the moment?


Some parts of the Stark VARG are local, others must be coming from Asia. How difficult was it to locate the right material and the vendor? Well, we’re working with Kayaba and then Technical Touch in Holland. They are very helpful. Our battery cells are made in Asia, like 97% of all cells, but it hasn’t been that difficult. The benefit for us is that our suppliers really have to choose their customers and they like our project because they believe in its sophistication. If you are a manufacturer of high-end electrical components then this is where you want to have your output. They have prioritised us and that also gives us a high target. Anyone in supply chain work will end up having issues. If you look at the bicycle industry then a lot of product is out of stock right now and that might be for two reasons, one that the lockdowns caused supply problems but two the pandemic has also created a big increase in demand, and any market will struggle to move with a sudden surge. It might take them a couple of years to catch up. I’m not privy to information from the bicycle industry but I would assume the problems come from the fact that they are selling much more than they forecasted. If you are building 100,000 bicycles a year then you are

likely to be planning two years ahead and to then have much more stock in just three months is not possible. Your assembly lines will be robotic and automated state-of-the-art. Is that through necessity or just the latest manufacturing status quo? We are setting the bar high from the beginning and by using more robots in production we can scale things faster and some of the production methods are not possible by hand. A robot is much more accurate. Our ambition is to have the highest quality within our niche, which is an incredibly difficult target and only time will tell if we can achieve it. As well as the robots we are also x-raying safety parts and doing everything we can. Every single screw on the bike is assembled using an electric torque so nothing is done with hand or feeling. We can optimise. Stark started as just a few people. How many are you now? We also have a subsidiary in Croatia but, right now, I’d say we are around forty which will eventually expand to several hundred. We are already looking at a new plot for our base and construction.

STARK VARG

It is incredibly difficult. You have to focus on two things. One, is the right cost of buying the components. By that I don’t mean dropping our intention of only using premium parts and the best materials we can findAn example? Yes, if you look at Japanese bikes they are mainly made out of 6000 series aluminium and wherever we can we are using 7000 series, which is slightly higher for materials properties but is also more expensive. The motor uses a carbon-fibre sleeve which gives us slightly higher performance than if we used glassed fibre. We’ve always looked to find the best alternative possible. Back to supply though: there is a huge global demand right now for chips and battery cells. These are difficult to source and the manufacturers have to hand-pick their customers because they cannot increase production. We understood this quite early on and committed to buying large volume for the next few years so we have already confirmed supply of critical components. We don’t want to build a bike and then have to wait a year because we’re waiting for a chip.


FEATURE The bike itself: you’ve really created a pure electric motocrosser. It’s not a conventional dirtbike with a different engine concept, neither is it minimalistic… There are a lot of manufacturers trying to create a new product segment which is something in between a motocrosser, an enduro bike and a bicycle. It has more power than an electric bicycle but is lighter and has a lot less power than a motocrosser and Enduro bike. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun but it’s very new and for a businessman I’m sure it’s easier to go into an existing segment and say ‘well, there are 250,000 motocross bikes sold every year and our goal is to turn a

small percentage of that into electric.’ For me that is a more obvious path to access instead of creating a completely new market which could be great but how big will it be in ten years? Will it be a thousand or a million? It’s hard to say. We are focussed on sustainability so if we create one more ‘toy’ that people don’t use then we are not really changing anything. We want people to switch from riding gasoline bikes to electric and that’s why we are targeting an existing segment. And we’re motocross guys, we enjoy it. The advantages of customising the set-up of the VARG means you can have different types of bike in one. But is

there a danger that the machine is versatile but not specifically strong in one area? It’s a relevant question. If you want to change the character of the gasoline motor then you need to switch around camshafts, piston, port the cylinder, cylinder head. You can change some of the performance by mapping but maybe that’s 20%; the rest needs a rebuild. The beauty of an electric motor is that it will do exactly what you programme it to do. It can react much faster than a human can react. You might think ‘too fast, too powerful’ but that’s good to know because then you can set the limit of where your limit is as a rider. However, you can also down-


STARK VARG

grade it all the way to 5hp one with slightly higher power There are numerous details which means if you like riding was that by having higher on the Stark VARG. Any in a bicycle then you’ll also like mid-range you are using more particular that you are proud this bike. All of this adjustabil- engine efficiency. We compro- of? ity is a huge benefit in terms mised with that weight, which There are so many. The footof choosing what you want is still less than 1% but it will pegs are pretty cool. It is and the power curve you want. give you more than 1% longer one of those items where he Higher RPM for a harder hit range. It’s not really a compro- initially thought ‘let’s take or a flat curve, engine brakmise. one off the shelf, there are so ing, traction control as well many good ones around and as a virtual flywheel which we Where did the inspiration we don’t need to spend time developed for the ratios, which for the chassis design come on it…’ but the mentality of is pretty cool: it’s fairly easy from? trying to make things better is to change on a gasoline bike It’s something we’ve seen in pretty deep in the company so but you can only have one. “CAKE ARE DOING A GOOD JOB. THEY ARE FOCUSED MORE All this flexibility: ON LIFESTYLE PRODUCTS AND THE WAY THEY SHOW THEIR is there a VEHICLES TO THE WORLD IS PRETTY COOL. THEY ARE AN downside? INSPIRING COMPANY BUT THEY ARE NOT A COMPETITOR, It might not be THEY ARE NOT BUILDING A MOTOCROSS BIKE. I THINK optimised. THEY ARE HEADING MORE TOWARDS THE LOW-POWER The battery is CONVENIENCE SECTOR. WE ARE MORE PERFORMANCE.” the heaviest component of the motorcycles since the 1950s there were a couple of peobike and we need it to be pret- but it is very unusual in ple setting the challenge of ty big to have the range. Even motocross where the bikes are find improvements. We made if we don’t prioritise power pretty complicated in terms of a study of different materiwe still need to have that all the elements and tricky for als and one of our engineers large battery. If you have peak creating a clean package. The found a special stainless-steel power the truth is that you’re frame tends to wrap around alloy that has almost 50% not using it that often. Using all of it. We managed to create better properties than titaonly half the power doesn’t quite a simple concept. There nium or chromoly steel, which mean you will get twice the wasn’t a need to have a frame is normally what is used in range. The weight of the mogoing all the way around the stock footpegs, and by using tor is nine kilos. We looked bike. We thought it would higher properties we can use at two alternatives when we be good for an electric bike less material to have the same developed the bike and we and by having a steel tubular strength. Then we had some simulated one that was a kilo frame we also managed to ideas of how we can attach it. lighter and could have worked make it very light. I think it is Anyone who’s replaced a footin terms of performance but half the weight of our peg knows it can be a nightthe reason we went for this competitor’s. mare with the spring, pin and


FEATURE the safety clip so we wanted something else. This peg can be assembled in 15 seconds without leaving any blood on the floor! It’s the lightest in the world and stronger than the benchmark we looked at. We found the material and innovated the production process a bit to achieve that. Also, the chain adjusters on the rear axle are pretty cool. Normally you’d have to use two wrenches to set the tension and it is not the most convenient process, so we changed that to a clicker, and if you do three clicks on one side you just need the same on the other to measure. The bike has other more sophisticated technical solutions such as the honeycomb battery case where it’s used as both as a structural component and as attachments for each battery shell, so each shell is connected directly to the case for very efficient cooling while maintaining a neat package both from a weight and dimensions perspective. I think it is the most compact battery system in the world. It was a combined team effort between Barcelona and Croatia. Stronger, lighter, safer.

The battery. Will I be satisfied with the range? Will it also be worth my while waiting another two years for electric bikes when battery tech could already be much better? We have built the best possible bike that we can right now. I think you should buy a gasoline powered bike if you like maintenance, rebuilding the motor and stuff like that. If this is the case then this is the bike for you. If you want a pleasurable riding experience and low maintenance – while also doing something a bit kinder to the environment - then this is the choice for you. The range? We decided to build the battery this size because we think it suits 95% of all rides. We could have made it bigger but then the bike would be heavier. This is where we have set the balance in between weight and range. It’s very similar to a full tank of gas on a 450. That was our ambition. If you want to ride on a gasoline bike for longer you can buy an over-sized gas tank but I believe few people do that. With our range you can go for six hours of trail riding, which is normally enough, unless you’re superman. If you want to do more then you simply plug in the bike while resting. With the standard charger that’s included the bike can be full in two hours. If you go to a track then I still don’t believe many will ride non-stop until the bike

is empty. You’ll need to be in incredible shape. Most established tracks have the ability to produce a power outlet and in the worst case you can bring a spare charging pack or even some electric cars have an outlet! The dashboard/smartphone is a neat idea but doesn’t seem that practical… Sorting out the display was more hassle than you can imagine. We started playing with the idea when we saw how many motorcycle displays actually suck. Some claim to have a TFT unit but compared to a smartphone now they are like smartphones of twenty years ago. We came to the conclusion: ‘why not use a current smartphone?’ It seemed clever but also something that would never work, but, we then had to prove ourselves wrong. We knew we faced issues of water and impact so we looked around and sourced a military-grade smartphone which is fully waterproof and impact resistant, so no problem if you are washing the bike or falling off in a river. It’s also quite well protected by a framework we created of aluminium and foam. You need to be extremely unlucky to damage the display by falling upside onto a very sharp rock. Of course, you also have the ability to remove it and ride without it…but you just won’t have all


that information and options to-hand. I think it brings the riding experience to the next level because you can see lap-times or even navigation guidance, the battery level and ride mode. It adds another dimension. It communicates and charges wirelessly so you don’t need to be connected to the bike. You can take photos or call a friend. It’s a convenient tool but also a very cool addition. You’ve talked about sustainability but how realistic is this ambition with a product that requires quite a big footprint to produce, to ship and to rely on a grid? There is a lot of people who say that the best thing you can do for sustainability is nothing, and that’s true. If everyone changed their lifestyle, moved into forests, stopped using electricity and depended on products of their own making then this would be the best scenario. It’s not realistic and it won’t happen even if we want it to. I don’t think sustainability should mean a compromise on the quality of life. Our goal with sustainability is to create a product that replaces one that is being used today.

By building this product, yes, we are creating Co2, but we are making a replacement for something that will create a lot more. We have to start somewhere. We use plastics on the bike because there is no other alternative right now but we use less than other manufacturers. We generate Co2 from production but none from riding. It is about pushing development in a direction that is much more sustainable than what we have today. For our new plant we are installing solar panels to harness more energy. We cannot make every partner we have use green manufacturing and we have to use air shipping, we have to produce prototype parts but these are sacrifices we have to make. If we do nothing then nothing will change. Our goal is to keep reducing Co2 and plastic until we can reach a zero level, possibly, but that will take years. There’s no escaping the fact that people will put this motorcycle into a diesel or petrol van and drive distance to use it…but then you can only do your part… That’s right but there are companies building electric vans and pick-ups right now

so that possibility exists. We cannot fix everything at the same time. We’re focused on motorcycles and fortunately other people are focused on four wheels. The cool thing with electric is that you might not end up having to drive or ride as far. The lack of noise means you might be able to ride in more areas closer to where you live. It could save time and also your Co2 footprint. Would about bio fuel and the threat for the electric future? I think we are already past the point where current electric mobility technology is better than combustion-engine, so there is not really a good reason to use a combustion engine anymore. As battery technology evolves the gap will only grow bigger. As for gas, it depends on the type of vehicle. The beauty of a motorcycle is that you’ll never have to go to a gas station, you can charge it wherever you park. Using fuel means distribution so you will need to go to specific places, perhaps ride longer just to find those fuel stations. In the end I think electricity will be the cheapest and easiest solution. If you have a constant distribution

STARK VARG

“WE ARE TALKING TO DEALERS AND WE WANT TO FIND THE BEST WAY TO SERVE THE MARKET. RIDERS CAN EASILY ORDER THEIR BIKE THROUGH OUR WEBSITE...”


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set up – say large shipment ferries that are constantly on the move – then, of course, these are not apt for battery technology. It would not make sense from a cost and weight point of view. In those situations I think hydrogen or another fuel source would make sense with supply in each port. The same for aeroplanes going from terminal to terminal. For normal transport purposes I don’t think there is anything but electric in the future. It wouldn’t take much to convert the VARG into an Enduro model? Our vision is to have a full line-up of on-and-off road motorcycles. We have already started development for our first streetbikes. Projected timeframe? We will show something in 2023, maybe before. We are continuing to build the team and it is a different challenge to make various bikes at the same time. There will be some interesting stuff coming from us in the future. Lastly, what about sport marketing and racing? The best way to show your performance is at a racetrack. We would love to be able to compete in the world championship as well as the AMA Supercross and Nationals series’. That is our ambition. Watch this space.


STARK VARG

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND ALL THE TECH SPECS OF THE STARK VARG CLICK ON THE IMAGE.




PRODUCTS

FXR RACING FXR have wrapped the Muc-Off/FXR/ ClubMX race team in AMA Supercross with the new 2022.5 spring offering of their Revo Comp line. The gear is catchy and unmissable through their colours and graphics and FXR claim the wares have ‘market-leading unrestricted performance and breathability combined with perforated Omni-Stretch materials’. Omni-stretch is the company’s interpretation of highlight functional and elastic material that is both durable and effective in terms of performance and fit. The dimensions are slim-fit and the jersey comes with the features you’d expect from premium kit, namely: ‘Lightweight polyester-spandex mesh for increased breathability, bonded sleeve cuffs for reduced friction, shaped front collar for improved comfort, drop-tail hem and long length protect midriff exposure and fade-free sublimation prints. The pants have been redesigned but still keep the same yoke panel architecture to enable full movement possibilities. They come with the ‘autoBuckle front closure system’ and ‘fool-proof Hook & Loop side hip adjusters’. Count on mesh inserts, triple stitching in critical areas and silicone inner elastic waist among other benefits. Check out the FXR website to find details of where to order.


www.fxrracing.com


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TRIPES MXGP NETHERLANDS

By Adam Wheeler Photos by Polarity Photo

CAMERON BEAUBIER COULD BE CLOSE TO GIVING THE USA REGULAR PRESENCE IN MOTOGP FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2015. THE FORMER MULTI MOTOAMERICA CHAMPION WAS A Moto2 ROOKIE IN 2021 BUT IS ALREADY STARTING TO STAND OUT FROM THE AMERICAN RACING TEAM…

ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRA DETA ENTRADETAENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADE TA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA EN TRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA By Adam Wheeler, Photos by Ray Archer/KTM


M

ore than ten years elapsed between the California’s last Grand Prix appearance as a 17-year-old in the 125s and his first in Moto2 as a five-time MotoAmerica #1. Cameron Beaubier went through the early phases of the supply chain system to Grand Prix which is now solidifying with ‘Road to MotoGP’ schemes around the world. Beaubier transferred to Europe, battled in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, was picked as teammate to Marc Marquez (no less) during one of the last years of 125cc championship competition. He gathered just three points and decide to progress his career back on American soil and around the time when some soul-searching and reorganisation of the national racing scene took place. The Beaubier/Yamaha combination was fierce in the USA but the competitive instinct clearly gnawed away at the 2015, 2016, 2018-2020 champion and Ben Spies’ retirement from the world stage and the late Nicky Hayden’s eventual withdrawal from MotoGP continue to leave a large American gap that wasn’t being filled. Joe Roberts surged forward in terms of his performance and potential in 2020 but Beaubier had already decided that he had to answer his own

questions. A saddle in the American Racing Team was an ideal platform and what Beaubier lacked in Grand Prix knowledge – at an already advanced 28 (compared to the likes of Marco Bezzecchi at 22) – he compensated with racecraft, focus and a heightened desire to make the most of his opportunity.

I was always just a tick away. A day behind. Everywhere we went it seemed I was always ‘chasing’. I think that was during a sequence where it was one new track after another, and it did ding my confidence a bit trying to deal with all of that back-to-back. COTA [round fifteen of eighteen] was like a re-fresher. I got some familiarity. I’d been there on a Superbike, but I was also really nervous for that Grand Prix because it was my home race and there were no excuses! It was the ideal measure of

We cornered #6 at Valencia for the final round of a maiden term back in the world of Grand Prix to ask whether he feels the extra weight of expectation associated with his nationality, of pressing time and other ‘delayed’ “WHEN I AM GETTING SOMEWHE insecurities by putting his name and reputation GET INTO MY HEAD [MotoGP]. IT’ on the line… MUCH, BUT KNOWING I AM COMP

GIVES ME SOME CONFIDENCE, W PAD

Where are you after a first year of Moto2 and TOUGH CLASS AND A TOUGH some ups-and-downs? Were there moments when where I was and where I could you thought ‘this is tougher be in the class. It was huge than I thought…’? for me. It ended up being cool Yeah, the only way I can that the podium was only a describe it is like a fricking few seconds up road. It was rollercoaster. It started out a shame that we had another pretty good and I was hittough one back in Europe and ting the top ten quite earlyat Misano where it rained in on. I then had some crashes every practice and was then while in good positions and dry for the race. I was still that was both a bummer and pretty competitive though. confidence inspiring because I knew I could ride through It must be a bit bewildering the pack and get near that top to be a rookie for most of the ten again. Then came a rough year and then suddenly go slump of crashing and struginto that environment at COTA gling to get back on pace, or where there is a big spotlight struggling to catch-up. and expectation around you…


You knew your way through the ‘whoops’… Exactly! I’m hearing they are going to be re-paving part of the track for next year. I hope they do something because I know a lot of the guys where

ERE IN Moto2 THEN IT DOES ’S NOT LIKE I HAVE DONE PETITIVE MOVING INTO 2022 WHILE ALSO KNOWING IT IS A DDOCK...”

CAMERON BEAUBIER

That’s exactly why I was so nervous. It was not ‘make or break’ but it was going to be publicly informative of where I was in the class and on that bike. Thankfully it went quite good!


FEATURE not too happy about it and I really want to go back. Portimao ‘2’ was also good because we’d been there earlier in the year and that had given me my first top-ten. I went there confident that I could be competitive. I had the fastest lap of the race and had a sniff at the podium late-on. It was another huge one. I’m learning a lot about myself, my style and what I need to do to

Did you come into the year thinking there was a big ticking clock above your head? There is always pressure to perform but then there is always a young rider or a rider with a sponsor hunting Grand Prix saddles. Did you feel that you had to learn very quickly? That’s one of the great things about the team and having a two-year contract. I went into

end of the season because I knew I had showed something; I know they are only top five results but it gives me such a better feeling going into next year knowing that we are getting competitive. This paddock beats you up when your struggling, and it seems like it will never end. You are still riding and trying as hard as you can in every session but you’re falling down while

adapt to the bike. It’s helping. I still have a way-to-go but I think, as a team, we have been working much better and my Crew Chief, Stu, is now really tuned in to Moto2 and has learned the class like I have. We have made steps and it is definitely a lot more enjoyable running near the front.

2021 knowing I could learn and wouldn’t have to stress about 2022 too much. Obviously, I put a bunch of pressure on myself – more than anyone else did – and that was a factor but it didn’t have me overly worried. This is a sink-or-swim paddock! I was in a better mood and had a calm about me towards the

trying to learn new tracks. It’s a tough paddock to get into man. It’s brutal. The depth of talent is incredible. Moto2 can be a bit of a graveyard for careers. You are tenths of a second from being somebody or a nobody… It’s what makes this class so tough. You have some Moto2


There have definitely been talks about it…but, to be honest, they were during the middle of the season when I was struggling and not even thinking about moving up or anything like that. I want to earn my way. Obviously, I want to race MotoGP – that’s what I’m here to do and that’s my goal. I guess I just do my best when I’m focussed on what I am doing and ‘in the moment’.

28-years old and some of these young guys are so fast. Being an American is something ‘on my side’.

Moto3 that can come straight in and boom! They are on the path to MotoGP. It’s tough for many reasons.

When I am getting somewhere in Moto2 then it does get into my head [MotoGP]. It’s not like I have done much, but knowing I am competitive moving into 2022 gives me some confidence, while also knowing it is a tough class and a tough paddock. The goal is MotoGP someday but it is crazy because I’m already

That riders like Pedro Acosta or Darryn Binder can leap-on so quickly? Yeah, in some ways. In other ways I did it to myself. I’m super-lucky to have had my upbringing though with Yamaha. I could have come over here earlier. If I really, really wanted to come over five-six years ago then I’m sure we

You have your own personal targets but is there also a swell of force or people wanting an American to do well and get on the MotoGP grid? Some politics around you?

There was enough clamour around Joe Roberts around the end of 2020 but then experience counts for a lot. It is frustrating that people don’t necessarily value the depth of your racing knowledge?

CAMERON BEAUBIER

veterans that are really good and know the bikes and what it takes. They can still throw in a crazy lap-time and suddenly make the podium. I’m thinking of guys like Marcel Schrotter and [Xavi] Vierge. They have been around a couple of years but have never really had that chance to move up. There are a handful of them and on top of that you have those crazy talents from


FEATURE could have figured out some way, whether that was riding for free or something. With the opportunity that Yamaha gave me year-after-year in the States and in Superbike… it was about give-and-take. It set me up well for the future and, with the path I was on, I felt the only way I would get over to Europe was through World Superbike. But it came to a moment where I was really hungry to race the world’s best guys and do something different. I wanted out of that comfort zone where I had raced MotoAmerica and AMA for so many years. Luckily, I had some good success and built a great family in Yamaha. Now, looking back, I think ‘man, it’s crazy I’ve reached 28 already...’ especially when I was always ‘the kid’!

It took some balls to move to Moto2. Kenny Roberts told us at COTA a couple of years ago that American racers just didn’t want to leave home any more… That’s right. I was riding for a factory Yamaha team in the States. You have your friends in the pits, a family vibe with your team, your family comes to the races, you fly home Sunday nights and you get paid well! It was too good an opportunity, I was having too much fun and it was too hard to give that up. I was also racing good guys with people like Toni [Elias] coming over and other talent that nobody really sees. They don’t know just how good some of them are. Look at what [Jake] Gagne has done and [Garrett] Gerloff as well. We came-up racing each other since 2011-12 but there came a point where I wanted to do something else and I kick myself for not wanting to do it sooner but at the same time it set-me-up.

dle of the season where I was sitting there thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ The previous couple of years had been so nice, so there were low moments where I thought ‘get me home’ but fortunately this year, with the Covid situation and the low prices of flights, I was actually able to get home when I felt I needed to. Luckily Shelby [now his wife] has been able to get over to quite a few races, half of the season I’d say, so that’s been cool. Bell Helmets did something really cool as well by sending my buddy Cameron Dish over as well. He’s worked for Bell for a number of years and we grew up together. Having a buddy over helped as well. I rented a house in St Pere de Ribes and it is starting to feel like a home-from-home and, it sounds stupid, but little things like bringing my Xbox over so I can play my buddies back in the States helps. I think Joe [Roberts] might move to Spain next year and my new From interviewing American teammate Sean [Dylan Kelly] riders – or non-Europeans might be around, which will generally – in MXGP it seems be cool for training and hanglike the biggest struggle came ing-out. 2022 will be easier, in the low moments of form compared to this year when I or injury. You are living in just arrived with my bags and Sitges, just south of had to figure it out. Barcelona, but were there still times this year where you You’ve got a strong off-road thought about packing the background, a fondness for bag? the dirt. Has that fed into or Absolutely. There were a informed much of your handful of times in the midtechnique or style?


Is the ‘old dog, new tricks’ thing harder than people think? I believe it is! Honestly! I wouldn’t say I am like an old dog yet! But I think I got setin-my-ways. I’ve been able to make a good adjustment though, which really helped, and I’ve used the back brake more. On our superbikes the electronics were so adjustable

and we could change the traction control, engine braking and wheelie control cornerby-corner, section-by-section and here we don’t really have wheelie control or traction control. I’ve had to re-learn what I used to do with 600s and what I relied on with electronics in Superbike. I’ve had to really ‘ride’ the bike and assist it, like dragging the rear brake, things I got away from. What’s been the best or coolest discovery about Moto2? I think just getting back to the level of talent here. Everyone can go faster than you can and it’s within tenths of a second. Being back in the MotoGP paddock and seeing how it works is cool. It’s like a big travelling circus: they just pick-up, get to the next spot and go again. There is a lot of passion for the sport here from riders to mechanics to chefs. It’s pretty cool. Watching some of the other riders also, like Bez [Marco Bezzecchi] and how he snaps that bike up. It’s impressive seeing how fast and how well these guys ride bikes. It’s an honour to be here.

CAMERON BEAUBIER

Not just for Moto2 or Superbike but road racing in general, I feel that dirt bikes – mainly motocross – has helped me a ton. You are always on the edge of grip, whether front or rear, and you are playing with your body to increase traction where you can. It’s crazy what you can do with your body and how much you can feel it on a dirt bike and then you can transfer bits to the road race bike. That ‘feel’ you get from motocross transitions so well. One thing I have struggled with is my body position on the Moto2 bike because I have been riding it like a superbike: I wasn’t hanging-off much and was getting tied-up with the bike. The reason was because I had a few crashes where I didn’t trust the bike enough. I’ve really had to adjust my style and get off the edge of the tyre a bit and use my body more. It is tough changing your style after so many years.


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SCOTT SPORTS The final phases of training and preparation mean some riders and Pro racers might be exhausting their kit. Runners that also want to emerge from some of the colder conditions in February and March could also be on the hunt for some new trail shoes. Scott Sports’ small selection of footwear brings the same kind of quality and performanceaspect carried by many of their other products. From textile ‘road’ offerings to more robust, Gore-Tex based shoes, there is a solution for any cause. For a wintery/spring climate then look towards the Kinabalu 2 (general running) and Supertrac 3 (for mountains). As well as Gore-Tex, the Kinabalu 2 features Scott’s Kinetic foam, which returns 14% more energy than standard EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate). It has an eRIDE midsole to help any running style and reduce heel impacts. The versatile traction outsole means the Kinabalu won’t let you down for grip. The Supertrac 3 is the most weatherproof shoe in the portfolio and has a tough nylon ripstop upper for the sharpest rocks or stones. Aerofoam+ brings decent cushioning into the mix. There are new colourways and options for men and women. We use Kinabalu 2 for getting around MXGP tracks and can vouch for their ability to repel water and mud.

www.scott-sports.com


www.evropublishing.com

VALENTINO ROSSI: ALL HIS RACES

Mat Oxley and Evro Publishing’s vast tome of the Italian’s race history is far more than a catalogue of each of his competitive appearances. The book is littered with stories, interviews and insight from one of the premier journalists still in the paddock and having already written a publication about the MotoGP icon. Oxley has been able to chart Rossi’s career closely from the outset and has a wealth of knowledge and anecdotes about the fabled #46. He told us a few stories recently on the Paddock Pass Podcast and the details make the prospect of ‘Valentino Rossi: All his Races’ even more compelling. The book is hardback, over 330 pages long and with more than 280 photos spanning Rossi’s life and career. It costs 50 pounds but beware that any orders from outside of the UK is bound to involve customs delivery charges. Check the small print.


M

FEATURE

“DRUGS, SEX AND MotoGP...” NEW TELL-ALL BOOK FROM EXMOTORCYCLE RACER JOHN HOPKINS IS A RAW STORY OF SURVIVAL... By Matthew Miles, Photo by www.suzuki-racing.com



FEATURE

“‘T

welve shots of whiskey, please,’ I said to the bartender, who could have only imagined I was buying a round for my friends. His face dropped when I handed him the money over, and then stood right there at the bar and downed all 12, one after the other.” Former MotoGP star John Hopkins was in an airport, on his way to a drug-addiction treatment center. Before the flight, he decided to sneak off to the bar for “one last hurrah.” This scene from Hopkins’ autobiography, “Leathered,” is the culmination of a lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse. “I believe I became an addict on 22 May 1983,” Hopkins writes. “Pretty much everything I have done since the day I was born, I have taken to the limit.” Motorcycles, he says, were his first vice. “Man, I was obsessed from the first time I laid eyes on one and, as far as I am concerned, every addiction that followed was all thanks to the same compulsive gene I inherited from my dad.” Born in Los Angeles to British parents, Roy and Linda, Hopkins soloed on a 70cc Honda at age 2. He describes trail riding in the California desert, his first race at Ascot Park, a budding

amateur motocross career and his initial encounter with pavement. “On the asphalt,” he writes, “I immediately found I could feel where the limit was and I was brave enough to ride to it straight away, winning the race quite easily.” In the same breath, Hopkins recalls competing with the Kentucky-born Hayden brothers, Tommy, Nicky and Roger. “Little did we know that Nicky and I would eventually line up together as bitter rivals on the biggest stage of all.” After winning the 1999 Aprilia Challenge Cup and the 2000 AMA Pro 750cc Supersport and 2001 AMA Pro Formula Xtreme titles, Hopkins, still a teenager, signed a six-figure contract to race a Yamaha YZR500 in the 2002 FIM MotoGP World Championship. Before jetting to Europe, Hopkins threw a going-away party. “As usual, me and my buddies got wild and we started racing these little Honda 100cc flat trackers around the dirt oval in the backyard. Pretty soon things got out of control and everybody was blind drunk, sliding their cars around the yard.”

Before the night was over, Hopkins had been arrested and charged with felony domestic violence. He would have other run-ins with the law. Hopkins raced seven full seasons in Grand Prix motorcycle road racing’s premier class, five on factory Suzukis. He made 112 starts and had four podium finishes. In 2007, his finest hour, Hopkins was fourth overall in championship points, behind Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, who closed out their collective careers with 14 world titles. Along the way, Hopkins suffered injuries too numerous to count, several of which threatened not only his occupation but his life. “The only way to keep going—to keep racing, keep training—was with painkillers,” he writes. “Vicodin, oxycodone … those pills are no joke, man; it doesn’t take much. The majority of my career, every surgery I had, I never wanted to take them for longer than I had to because I knew how dangerous they were. But the stronger the medication, the more I was able to abuse my body and get away with it. Or at least that’s what I thought.” When his prescriptions ran dry, Hopkins resorted to buying drugs in Mexico and smuggling them across the U.S. border.


JOHN HOPKINS “My marriage wasn’t the only thing I was putting on the line,” he writes. “It was my entire career, everything I had worked up to my whole life, every professional and personal relationship I had. Not to mention the amount of money I was wasting: thousands of dollars on every trip. Deep down I knew that sooner or later I would most likely end up either robbed, in jail or dead. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was addicted to drugs and a 24/7 alcoholic. The only thing on my mind was to ward off the withdrawal symptoms that were squeezing the will to live out of me anyway.” Hopkins’ admissions — reckless life-altering decisions, marital infidelities and the

lengths to which he went to satisfy his addictions — will shock readers. “My whole life, I have always been against suicide,” he admits. “I always saw it as an extremely selfish thing to do but even knowing that, knowing how much it would affect the people I loved, my mindset was getting to the point that it was the only option I had left. I didn’t want to carry on how I was living, that was a fact.” Hopkins had help writing this book. Matthew Roberts, who also has authored autobiographies with Stoner and fivetime world champion Jorge Lorenzo, successfully puts across Hopkins’ voice. For the most part, those who know

Hopkins will feel they are having a conversation with him, one which ends, mercifully, not in tragedy but with fresh opportunities. “I have done a lot of things in my life that I am not proud of,” Hopkins concludes. “But I am proud of the person I have become, because of the things I have done.” “Leathered” A Life Taken To The Extremes … On And Off The Bike By John Hopkins with Matt Roberts 338 pp. GET IT HERE


MotoGP BLOG

WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG TECH SURPR There was a frenzy of excitement at the Sepang tests in 2019, when eagle-eyed photographers and journalists spotted a mysterious butterfly switch on the top yoke of the Ducati Desmosedici GP19. Below the switch, a cable could be seen disappearing into the bodywork. The collective minds of the MotoGP media quickly surmised it must be some kind of holeshot device, similar to those used in motocross to lock the front forks down to get a better start. A little later, we saw footage of the rear of the bike dropping as Michele Pirro carried out a practice start. The principle is the same, of course. By lowering the suspension, either front or rear, you lower the centre of gravity (yes, I know, technically the centre of mass...) and that helps reduce

wheelie. There is some advantage to lowering the rear, as it also helps put more pressure on the rear wheel, and creates more mechanical grip. It was an interesting development. It turned out that Ducati had been experimenting with the rear holeshot at the end of 2018, with Jack Miller trying it out in a couple of races for the Pramac Ducati team. That is the role of Pramac, of course: Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco have all been roped in to try out new parts or setup ideas, leaving the factory team free to concentrate on the championship. If it works, it gets transferred to the factory bikes. If it doesn’t, well, the Pramac team isn’t supposed to be in the championship hunt. By the end of 2019, most of the factories were experimenting with holeshot devices while Ducati had moved on to activating the device while riding. The rear holeshot gadget had become a ride-height device, allowing Ducati’s riders to benefit from extra drive out of corners during the race,

and not just at the start. By the end of 2020, Ducati had moved on to have the device engage automatically, but still within the rules, and by the end of 2021, all six manufacturers had front holeshot and rear ride-height devices, and Aprilia and possibly KTM had joined them in having the device engage automatically. The holeshot and ride-height saga was a new front opened in MotoGP’s technology wars. It came on top of (and added more complications to) the aerodynamics war which has been raging since Ducati turned up at Qatar in 2015 with a whole bunch of wings stuck onto the Desmosedici. That was also aimed at helping with wheelie control, and also with braking, reducing the transition between full throttle and heavy stopping. The reason for all these clever mechanical tweaks is, of course, because the introduction of spec electronics took away many of the tools the factories were using to control the dynamics of a MotoGP bike. No more clever anti-wheelie algorithms and self-


BY DAVID EMMETT

RISE? learning traction control which would adjust itself as the tyres started to go off. This was one of the best moves the MotoGP rule makers have made. Yamaha’s veteran crew chief Ramon Forcada told me recently, “for sure if it was possible to make everything controlled by electronics, then the bike becomes an airplane”. Spec electronics had stopped the costs of an already astronomically expensive sport spiralling out of control. “But this for me is good, because if we start to make many automatic systems activated by the position, by the ECU, the price becomes fucking high.” So, we have winglets – I’m sorry, aerodynamics packages – and we have remotely operated and automatically engaged hydraulic pistons which change the attitude of the bike. Where does MotoGP go from here? Clearly, aerodynamics are not going to be banned, nor are ride-height devices, though Dorna keeps trying to ratchet the rules down to stop things from getting out

of hand. But what new thing will appear at the Sepang or Mandalika test to catch us all off guard? I don’t have a crystal ball, nor the engineering background to make an educated guess. But we know that two areas have been crucial to lap time in MotoGP recently. Corner exit was important when the series switched to 800cc back in 2007, and electronics came into play. But that was a trick everyone soon mastered, especially once the seamless gearboxes appeared, and the focus shifted back to corner entry and braking. Spec electronics took the software engineers’ toys away, which is why we have ride-height devices for corner exit and winglets and exhaust pressure valves for braking and corner entry. The rules will allow 355mm front brake discs (up from 340mm), which will allow riders to brake even harder. So the next battle is likely to concern getting stopped for the corner.

Riders want to brake as late as possible and enter without upsetting the bike. The current generation of ride-height devices complicate that, as the rear of the bike stays down for a long time, and is only released under braking. There is room for improvement there, and no doubt, there is room to adjust the attitude of the bike as it brakes, to get more out of Michelin’s rear tyre. That, after all, is where Fabio Quartararo made up all his ground against the Ducatis in 2021, and how he won the title. There is more to come there, surely. I know a lot of fans (and riders!) hate both the aerodynamics and the ride-height devices, and what they have done to MotoGP. But the aero and attitude cats are out of the bag, and there’s no putting them back. Those technologies will only get better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.


MotoGP BLOG

BACK IN THE GAME A wheel has yet to be turned in anger in 2022. Yet one of the most significant races of the year looks as though it is already being won. For the fourth winter in succession Marc Marquez is attempting to overcome a major physical hurdle to be on the grid for the first test of the year in Malaysia starting on 5th February. Social media over the past ten days has been an endless reel of Marquez’s recovery. First came photos of a motocross outing at the Pons Circuit near his home in Cervera. Then the biggest test: a day riding around Portimao on the road version of a Honda RC213V, before trips to Aragon on a CBR600RR and Karting Vendrell in Tarragona on a souped-up go-kart.

It’s all a far cry from the bum note on which 2021 ended. Most involved in the sport agreed that Marquez’s career was under threat as he was plagued by double vision (diplopia), a consequence of a training crash. But his most recent comeback is significant in two ways. Marquez’s physical shape will be paramount to the outcome of the upcoming season. It’s hard to shake the feeling Ducati is best placed for the year ahead, especially seeing how Pecco Bagnaia demoralised his Yamaha and Suzuki opponents in the final two races of 2021. He then sounded off the year with a soundbite that would send shivers down the spines of rival engineers. “The [GP21] was already perfect and we are improving on this perfect bike,” he said last November. But no matter the strength of Ducati, Marquez’s track record of eight world championships and 85 grand prix wins cannot be overlooked. The timing of the Catalan’s recent setback was cruel. Marquez had gone to hell and back as he shrugged off pain and discomfort

from the right humerus break in 2020, an injury that required three operations and countless hours of physio. Yet by October there were signs he was approaching that formidable form of old. A surprise win at Misano – his first at a clockwise layout since breaking his arm – felt significant. Ten days later he was struck down again, as a bang to the head while riding enduro brought about double vision and dizziness when stood up. Marquez is used to these situations by now. At the start of 2019 he was recovering from serious surgery on his left shoulder. A year later it was on his right. And the first months of 2021 were fraught with uncertainty from his humerus break. When he spoke with the media two weeks ago there was plenty of optimism, even after “one of the most difficult moments of my career, the fourth winter (of recovery),” he said. “But now it looks better.” This was still a rider who mustered three wins last year with one fully working arm aboard one


of the worst iterations of Honda’s RC213V in history. Before the innocuous off-road crash that prematurely ended last year’s campaign, he was still sixth in the championship and had a realistic chance of finishing third – even on that Honda, and having missed the first two races of the year. Now that “the shoulder is much better, the arm is much better,” as he said earlier in January, a Marquez approaching full fitness for the first time in years is still a formidable opponent. Like him or not, Marquez’s return is also crucial for the health of the championship. 2020 demonstrated the show certainly went on in his absence. One of the more random years unfolded, with nine different winners, a title fight that, at one time, featured nine names, and ended with a world champion that didn’t even feature in the top five of the preseason predictions of many. But one thing Marquez’s presence in the series does generates is controversy. It could be argued the goings on between last year’s

title contenders was all too nice. Bagnaia, Quartararo and Mir come across as approachable, decent. But none are known for jibing and insults or mind games. It took Marquez all of four sessions in his comeback round at Portimao before he had wound Mir up with his antics in qualifying. Even if he isn’t fighting for wins, he’s compulsive viewing. The constant presence of Marquez will consistently test Bagnaia and Quartararo on the bike; we will certainly get an indication of their mental strength if they are locked in a championship fight with him. As two of the class’ big characters departed in the form of Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci last November, a little bit of spice between protagonists is always welcome. There are further hurdles to overcome of course. Even if his eyesight no longer poses a problem during the five days of testing in Malaysia and Indonesia next month, Honda’s 2022 RC213V – with all new chassis, fairing, seat unit and engine – still has to be fine-tuned.

BY NEIL MORRISON


MotoGP BLOG

Providing he arrives at the first race in decent physical shape, only a fool would bet against Marquez going on to claim his ninth world title in 2022. And after the trials and tribulations of the past two years, it would surely rank as the greatest feat in a career full of them.

CormacGP


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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 Wednesday 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 Mike Antonovich AMA SX Blogger Cormac Ryan-Meenan MotoGP Photographer www.cormacgp.com Rob Gray/Polarity Photo MotoGP Photographer David Emmett MotoGP Blogger Neil Morrison MotoGP Blogger & Feature writer Steve English WSB Blogger & Feature writer Lewis Phillips MXGP Blogger Roland Brown Tester/Columnist Núria Garcia Cover Design Gabi Álvarez Web developer Hosting FireThumb7 - www.firethumb7.co.uk Thanks to www.mototribu.com for the share PHOTO CREDITS Ray Archer, Polarity Photo, Align Media, Federico Tondelli Cover shot: Justin Barcia by Align Media 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’.