MotoGP: The Fight!

MotoGP

We all love to watch a good duff-up on the racetrack, but what about the riders? We asked Marc Márquez, Valentino, Jorge, Cal and the rest what the racing battle means to them

Assen MotoGP 2018

Dovizioso, Márquez, Viñales, Rossi, Zarco and Crutchlow battle it out, Assen 2018

Ducati

First published in November 2016

Modern MotoGP is all about the fight because the racing is closer than ever and it’s harder than ever to overtake.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, grand prix races were often won by several minutes, which can’t have been much fun for the fans (although they still turned up in their hundreds of thousands at some tracks).

In recent years new technical regulations have created a grid of very similar motorcycles, with the express purpose of having riders fighting each other all the way to the chequered flag. This makes great entertainment for fans, although its primary purpose is to increase Dorna’s profits by getting more people watching television and coming to races.

Elbow-to-elbow racing works for those MotoGP riders who love to battle with their rivals and not so well for others who prefer the thrill of an open road before them. But who is who?

Marc Marquez

Márquez, Viñales, Crutchlow, Lorenzo and Dovizioso go at it, Silverstone 2017

Honda

Marc Márquez

Three-time MotoGP king in the past four years, Márquez is the championship’s number-one assassin

“A good battle is very special, because if you race alone for 25 laps it feels very, very long, but if you battle all through the race, it feels like ten laps.

“For me the battle is the nicest thing because when your opponents are close, you can follow them and try to understand some different lines; then in the last laps the adrenaline comes! You always learn something because you are trying to beat your opponent, so you push a little more and you can improve your riding.

“When you are alone you ride at your limit and that’s it. You need to ride like that in free practice, so you can understand the bike and work on set-up, but I’m always waiting for the race.

“For me, the best overtakes happen on the last lap – tight but no contact! The big thing you need to understand is that if you overtake aggressively then the others can overtake you aggressively too. I do overtake like that, so I expect the others to do the same to me. You cannot complain! If, for example, we think about Valentino’s overtake on Jorge at Misano, it was on the limit, but this is racing.

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“The bikes are now very close in performance and this year it was even more difficult to make the difference because the limit of the Michelin front was very, very tight.

“Also, the wings didn’t help because when you were behind somebody, the rider in front had more aero effect, so he got more downforce, which gave him less wheelie and more acceleration, so it was more difficult to stay with him on the straight.

“Late braking has always been my style, from my days in 125s. When I arrived in MotoGP I was more or less fast, but to make the last step I always compared my data with Dani’s and he was really strong on the brakes. Also, it’s the character of the Honda to make the lap time on the brakes.

I would be riding full speed in a corner and someone would come around the outside, going much faster. Wow!

“This year with the Michelins, all the different bikes enter the corners in a more similar way, but the Honda still asks me to brake late, because if I don’t, the lap times never come.

“Winning a race at the last corner is an amazing feeling, but also when I won Aragon by 2.7 seconds the feeling was about the same because that race was really important for the championship. Maybe it was a bit boring but after practice I expected it to be even more boring because my rhythm was really good and my target was to lead the race and open the gap, but then I made a mistake and lost many places, so I had to make a lot of overtakes.

“I’ve made a lot of good overtakes and at Aragon I passed everyone in the same place, which always feels very nice. I made my overtakes at the chicane, because this is a strong point with the Honda and my riding style.

“I think the best overtakes on me were when I first arrived in the world championship. I would be riding full speed in a corner and someone would come around the outside, going much faster. Wow! Also, Jorge did a good job on me at the last corner at Silverstone in 2013.”

RedBullRing19

39 minutes later Dovizioso will be this much in front of Márquez, Red Bull Ring 2019

Andrea Dovizioso

Dovizioso has won two races in nine years of MotoGP which suggests he’s not the best fighter, but he still enjoys a battle

“I love the battle – riding all alone is not so nice! But I don’t like really aggressive battles because when you’re on the bike it’s quite easy to exceed the limit and sometimes when your adrenaline is very high and you fight with a rider you don’t like, you forget about the risk. I don’t like some riders who are not focused 100 per cent on analysing the risks, but apart from that I love the battle.

“I think it’s got more aggressive now because with all the bike development and all the electronics we can use every last millimetre of the racetrack, which is why there are more battles. Of course, tyres also make a big difference. This year it’s a bit different with the Michelins because there’s more variance in the tyres, so you find yourself fighting with different riders every weekend. Last year, when you were faster, you were faster.

“I’ve had a lot of bad overtakes on me – for sure one of the worst was Argentina this year when Iannone took me out with one corner to go.”

Valentino Rossi in 2004

Rossi’s greatest victory fight? Winning first time out with Yamaha, Welkom 2004

Yamaha

Valentino Rossi

Nine-time champion Rossi invented the modern era of no-quarter-given racing and still has the killer instinct at 37-years-old

“For all the riders the perfect race is to start first and arrive at the finish line with a five-second advantage! But for sure the battle is the most excitement. First of all because if you battle it means the performance between you and the other riders is very similar and also because you need to have the space in your brain to ride the bike, but at the same time you must work out where you can attack and in which way. The battle is also very good because it gives you a lot of adrenaline and it’s the best thing for the people that follow the races.

“It’s difficult to be friends with the riders who you have the harder battles with! Every rider has his own style – some riders are more aggressive and some riders are less aggressive. I think it’s normal to be aggressive, especially in MotoGP because it’s really difficult to overtake. You never have the chance to make an easy, comfortable overtake because the braking distances are so small, so you always have to risk it.

“The important thing is to always try to be aggressive, but not too much. You need to have respect for your rivals to leave some room, but in general all the strong riders I’ve raced against are always very strong in a battle.

“When I had my first big fight with Max [Biaggi] and beat him at Motegi in 2000 I said it felt like an orgasm. I had some very hard battles and some good overtakes with Max. Another of my favourite overtakes was during the battle with [Casey] Stoner at Laguna. Not the one at the Corkscrew but the one where we exited from Turn Two and I went around the outside at Turn Three and we touched a little bit.

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Also, the last corner in Barcelona when I beat Jorge in 2009. That one was good. When you are fighting for victory then the overtakes are always more important and it’s always a great feeling when you arrive in front.

“When you are overtaking it’s very important to know where the other bike is and what type of corner it is. The later you overtake, the more likely it is to be an aggressive overtake and if you touch the other rider it’s even more aggressive. It’s a bit of joke now but some people still talk about how I passed Jorge at Misano in September. I had my bike completely ahead of him, 20 metres before the corner.

“He said he didn’t see me but it’s very clear to me that he did see me. The reason we nearly collided was because he expected me to go wide, so he wanted to cross my line and go underneath for me. If we have to speak any more about this overtake then we must have no more overtaking!”

Cal Crutchlow in 2016

Crutchlow heads Aleix Espargaró, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso, Phillip Island 2016

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow

He looks like a boxer and he can race like one, when required. Crutchlow loves a fight, even if the Moto3 madness scares him

“When I won at Phillip Island I loved watching the gap go up on my pit board, but I would much prefer to have been in a battle. When you’re in a battle the race goes so much quicker. The only time I don’t want to be in a battle is when you’re fighting with a few guys and someone’s going way at the front and pulling a gap. At Silverstone I honestly believed I could have challenged Maverick for the win if I hadn’t had to battle so much with Marc, Vale and Iannone.

“I love a battle. It’s a great part of racing – it’s entertaining for the fans, it’s good for us and it’s good for the teams. I’ve had some fantastic battles in my career and I’ve enjoyed them more than racing all alone. It’s a different feeling.

“When we go to the grid we’re like 24 warriors. Every one of us wants to have a battle. Two people, one against the other, is the best because when it’s just two of you it’s like two gladiators fighting. Three riders together is all right, but any more than that gets a bit too much. These Moto3 races, I can’t even understand them; I don’t even know how they get around the track! They’re great for us to sit and watch, but I’d hate to be in one because you could find yourself out of the points for no real reason.

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“I only know a couple of MotoGP riders who prefer not to be in a battle, but when the numbers are going up on your pit board and you’re pulling a gap on the person behind, that’s nice because you feel really strong. I said after the Phillip Island race that I thought Vale was coming, so I thought we were going to have a fight.

“Given the choice of riding around with a six-second lead, just concentrating on yourself, or having a battle, I’d rather be in a battle, but that said, I’m glad I won that race the way I won it. Honestly, I don’t give a shit if I win by a tenth of a second or ten seconds!

“My best overtake this season would have to be passing Marc at Silverstone [squeezing through on the inside at Woodcote, with seven laps to go]. I thought it was quite a good pass, it entertained the crowd anyway. I try and forget the ones when I’ve been passed.

“I’ve never had someone ride around the outside of me, because that would be a bit embarrassing, but I have to say that some of the passes Marc’s done on me have been pretty good – you think he’s not going to stop but he does. I’ve had a few hard passes from him and from Vale.”

Andre Iannone in 2017

Iannone fights with Bautista, Baz, Kallio and Redding, Sachsenring 2017

Suzuki

Andrea Iannone

Iannone’s The Maniac nickname refers to a part of his anatomy rather than his racing technique, but you’d never guess it

“Me, Valentino, Marc and some other riders are more adapted to fighting, just because it’s part of our style. When you have this power it’s one of the best things for a rider, because when you have the fight inside you can ride in two different ways – you can choose to fight or not. I don’t like to be bored on the track but also I don’t always want to fight.

“We race in MotoGP and I think it’s very important to remember this because after what happened in 2015 I think the decisions that Race Direction make now about overtaking are a bit worse. This is MotoGP: sometimes we overtake at the limit and make contact with another rider and sometimes when we make contact someone crashes. It’s normal! MotoGP is sometimes like this; it’s not dancing! I think that in the past Race Direction controlled the situation very well but sometimes now they control too much. They have overtaken the limit.

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“Fighting is completely normal for me because some of us often have the same pace, so you must fight, fight, fight! You try to stay in front at every corner and if they overtake you then you must try again at the next corner, especially if it’s the last two laps.

“During the fight you don’t understand much because you are living completely in the moment, but at the same time it’s important to have a clear vision of what you are doing, otherwise it’s very dangerous

“When you fight during the last laps you always have very good adrenaline and a good feeling because everything is at the limit. When you fight for victory on the last lap it’s extra-special and you try 120 per cent. But honestly I prefer to have a race under control, like I did in Austria. I controlled that race, I controlled the pace and also the gap to my rivals.”

Jorge Lorenzo Red Bull Ring 2018

Lorenzo’s greatest battle? Beating Márquez and Dovizioso, Red Bull Ring 2018

Ducati

Jorge Lorenzo

Lorenzo prefers a clear track so he can work his own magic, but sometimes he’s prepared to fight as hard as anyone

“Obviously if you have the ability to be faster than the other guys and escape, then that’s the best thing because you keep the victory safe. But I like the fight, especially if it’s a clean fight and a conscious fight, so the riders overtaking aren’t making big risks for the other riders

“It all depends on what you are used to. Some riders are always waiting to follow others in practice, so they are good at following. Others are good at battling because in practice they like to ride with other riders. I usually ride alone in practice, so if I’m alone all Friday and Saturday and then I have to fight in the race, I have to get used to being around other riders. There are many different ways to plan for a race, but I don’t have a problem if I have to fight.

“When you are fighting you are not as free as you are when you’re alone on the track, because you are responsible for the rider in front, because if you make miscalculation on the brakes you may crash into him.

“Some riders aren’t so conscious of what may happen if they make a miscalculation. That’s why Marc so often nearly touched other riders on the brakes during 2013. Then he understood that he needed to be conscious of the risk to the others and he started braking a bit more carefully.

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“A lot of it depends on riding technique. My way of riding is to brake not so hard and use more corner-entry speed, so sometimes I struggle against the others with braking. Then there are other riders to brake harder but ride through the corners more slowly and then maybe try to exit faster. These riders have greater braking skills. But I have demonstrated that I can be competitive on the brakes, overtake and beat guys like Marc, Valentino and Casey Stoner.

“I think my most spectacular overtake was at Mugello in 2005, when I was riding a 250 Honda, which wasn’t so fast. Alex De Angelis and Stoner were in front and then Dani came past me on the straight. When we braked for the first corner I overtook Dani, then Alex and finally Casey!

“Also I’m quite good at seeing a gap on the inside and my faster corner speed can help me use that gap; like when I passed Marc at the last-but-one corner at Silverstone in 2013.

“The best overtake on me? Catalunya 2009. Valentino took a big risk but he had the advantage, because he knew that if he crashed he would make me crash also, so neither of us would have won.”

Dani Pedrosa in 2016

Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso fight for position, Silverstone 2016

Honda

Dani Pedrosa

The diminutive Spaniard once shied away from a fight, but at Misano 2016 and Aragon 2015 he proved he has what it takes

“I prefer to ride on my own but now I feel more prepared when I have to battle. During my first few years in MotoGP I preferred way more to be alone, but now I’m more flexible to it, I’m happy to battle.

“There are two ways to win a race and they give you different sensations. When you win by a good margin you feel dominant because you are calm and in control of the race. Having that domination helps you build more confidence. The other way, when you win at the last corner, is adrenaline and excitement at the maximum! Even when you are accelerating towards the finish line you dare not look back and you are thinking, is he there? Is he going to come out of my draft and beat me to the line?!

“My favourite overtake was like that, when I battled for the win with Jorge at Brno in 2012. He came past on the outside into the final esses, then I went inside. It was a very important victory because we were also fighting for the championship.

“Winning at the edge like that is more exciting and the energy you feel back from the pit and from the fans is massive. To beat everyone by 20 seconds is more boring but it would give me more pleasure.

“My win at Misano this year felt very nice because I had to make up a lot of ground and pass all the top riders. It was a dream race, passing Marc and everyone. Some people said my overtake on Valentino was too close, but more or less Valentino invented this kind of overtake!

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“For sure, one reason for the battles is that the bikes are so similar now and the electronics make everyone exit corners at the same speed. When you exit a corner the guy in front opens the throttle earlier than you, so you can’t catch him. Some years ago this wasn’t so much the case, because if you were riding well you could open the throttle earlier than the guy in front.

“That’s why most of the overtaking is done on the brakes and into the turn: boom! But also you can make an overtake through a combination of corners when you prepare better and get better drive out of the first part of a sequence.

“Control tyres also make it harder to overtake because they narrow the window. But I do think it’s much better to have everyone on the same tyres because then you can focus on your bike and on your riding.

“Also, there’s more fighting now because everyone is going faster, so the gap between the guys at the front and the guys nearer the back is smaller. You can fight in a similar way with the top guys and the middle-of-the-pack guys because now everyone has a similar way of using the tyres, the brakes and the throttle. A few years ago you might have two guys fighting at the end of a race and there might be some controversy. Now you can find controversy anywhere in the race.

“I grew up watching Rainey and Schwantz have some amazing races. I watched them thousands of times as a kid and they were my inspiration. I was more in love with Rainey, with his way of pushing from the start with cold tyres, which is what I did it early in my career. Even now, if I see a clip I’m hypnotized!”


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