MotoGP’s fall world championship: title race turns frosty

Track temperature concerns for MotoGP’s first autumnal championship, how not to crash on a cold racetrack and how MotoGP will get even icier in 2021, with the arrival of Luca ‘Marinovich’

Jake Dixon falls during the 2020 Moto2 Le Mans race

Jake Dixon crashes out of the Moto2 lead at Le Mans, where track temperature was low all weekend

Jean-Francois Monier/AFP via Getty Images

As you read this there will be lots of MotoGP riders and teams nervously eyeing the weather forecast for this weekend and beyond.

The global Covid pandemic has done strange things to the world and to the world championship. Last weekend MotoGP went racing at chilly Le Mans – wearing bobble hats and winter coats – when it should’ve been sweating it out in Thailand.

In olden times – 30, 40, 50 years ago – MotoGP hardly dared race in Europe during September, let alone October. Usually the season ended in some exotic, faraway clime – Sydney, Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires – in late October or early November, so riders and mechanics could embark on their months-long Christmas holiday somewhere nice and hot. That’s when the paddock knew how to live.

But here we are, with the majority of the championship in September, October and November. Because Covid and because needs must.

Summer turned to autumn at the last two races, with cold-tyre crashes a major factor at Le Mans and Barcelona three weeks ago. Hence the nervous eyes scanning weather forecasts for Aragon over the next two weekends and long-range predictions for Valencia and Portimao next month.

Valentino Rossi explains why.

Night-time temperatures on the Aragon plain will drop as low as 5C

“When the asphalt is 20 degrees [C] or more you can push to the limit,” says the nine-times world champion. “But when the asphalt is below 20 degrees it starts to be dangerous, because it’s difficult to get MotoGP’s slick tyres, which are very stiff and strong, into a good temperature range.”

In fact this isn’t only a problem in MotoGP.

Moto3 title challenger Ai Ogura was in storming form until autumn arrived. The 19-year-old Japanese rider hadn’t finished a race off the podium all season until he got to Barcelona, where he struggled with the cold track, qualifying 24th and finishing ninth.

In fact the forecast for the last five races at the last three tracks isn’t as bad as riders might fear. The prediction for Sunday at Aragon is an ambient high of 22C, which means a track temperature several degrees warmer than the previous rounds. That will be music to the ears of those who struggled with cold tyres and broke themselves and their bikes at Le Mans (race temperature 12C) and Barcelona (race temperature 17C).

Also, Aragon’s mostly flowing layout triggers few accidents. Last year – when the race was held in September – there were just 15 crashes across all three classes. Last weekend at Le Mans there were 100 falls.

However, this weekend won’t be easy, because night-time temperatures on the Aragon plain will drop as low as 5C, which means very cold FP1, FP3 and race-day warm-up. MotoGP starts to get very complicated when there’s a big temperature difference between morning and afternoon outings, because the feeling gained and the data gathered in morning sessions have little relevance to the race. And a cold-tyre crash in any of these sessions can derail a rider’s weekend.

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The situation at Valencia will be cooler, but at least riders and teams are used to dealing with those conditions at the Spanish track. Last year it was 12C in the morning and 15C in the afternoon, similar to Le Mans.

The big problem at Valencia is always the same: Turn Four, which is Valencia’s version of Turn Three at Le Mans. Last year there were 14 crashes at Turn Four. In 2018, when the weekend was mostly wet, there were 38 crashes at that corner!

Portimao – venue for the season-ending round on November 22 – should be slightly better, with highs of around 19C and not-too-cold mornings.

The big question is which of the title-contending motorcycles reacts best to cool conditions and which suffers the most.

Title leader Fabio Quartararo had a nightmare trying to get heat into his rear rain tyre last Sunday, but he shouldn’t have any problems in the dry because the Yamaha’s usual problem is overheating its rear tyre.

Rossi again: “Usually it looks like we put more temperature into the tyres than the other manufacturers and this is a disadvantage when it’s very hot, but an advantage when it’s cold”.

Suzuki’s Joan Mir, currently just ten points behind Quartararo, might have more reason to worry, after having all kinds of problems in the dry at Le Mans.

“The temperature in the front tyre is something we are struggling with,” he said. “I don’t have any feedback and if I try more I can lose the front.”

And yet in slightly warmer conditions at Barcelona both Mir and team-mate Álex Rins climbed the podium, so it seems unlikely they’ll have major difficulties at the last three tracks.

Andrea Dovizioso, eight points down on Mir, shouldn’t have major issues with his Ducati, because straight-line braking to the apex and straight-line acceleration on the exit is a great way to get heat into the tyres.


How not to crash on a cold racetrack: just push harder!

Jack Miller at Le Mans in the 2020 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Miller shows how it’s done it in iffy conditions: give it heaps

Pramac Ducati

There’s no one better than Marc Márquez at getting the best out of a cold racetrack. The reigning world champion’s mastery of the front-tyre slide allows him to push harder than anyone, which drives more heat into the front tyre, which allows him to go faster, sooner.

At Le Mans the fastest man in FP2 – when the track was slick-tyre dry, with a few damp patches – was Jack Miller.

“The biggest thing I’ve found with these conditions is that the harder I push straight away, with margin, the safer it is, because you’re getting temperature in the tyres,” said the Aussie. “So that’s my mentality: go out and try to get temperature into the tyres, because if you can get temperature into the tyres, you can make them work a lot better.”

Go too fast and you’ll crash, don’t go fast enough and you’ll crash

The worst thing a rider can do in cool conditions is ease off – which they usually do to get rid of a following rider or to wait for a tow – because in the space of just a few corners the tyres can lose enough temperature to make the next few corners risky.

This has long been the case. The most famous cold-tyre crash of all time – Valentino Rossi during Saturday morning practice at Mugello in 2010 – happened when Rossi closed the throttle for just a few seconds to get a rival out of his way.

It’s bike racing’s Catch 22: go too fast and you’ll crash, don’t go fast enough and you’ll crash.


Luca ‘Marinovich’ to join big-brother Rossi in MotoGP

Valentino Rossi with Luca Marini

Rossi and Marini – this is how you follow me into MotoGP


It’s not official yet, but it seems certain Luca ‘Marinovich’ Marini will be on the MotoGP grid next year, alongside big brother Valentino Rossi, riding an Esponsorama Ducati. This is the first step of the VR46 empire moving into MotoGP and arranging Rossi’s post-racing future.

This isn’t big news, the rumours have been circulating the paddock for ages, but why ‘Marinovich’? This is the Russian nickname given to Marini by his fellow VR46 academicians because he is so icy cool on the racetrack.

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Marini currently leads the Moto2 world championship, ahead of countryman Enea Bastianini, who is his main title rival and will be his MotoGP team-mate next year.

There will be fallout to this deal, because current Esponsorama rider Tito Rabat signed a 2020/2021 contract with the team halfway through last season. The 2015 Moto2 world champion – whose family pay Esponsorama around half a million Euros to put Rabat on its bikes – is therefore being forced out against his will. He is likely to ride a Ducati in World Superbike next year.

VR46 will have to pay even more to put Marini in MotoGP next year, because not only does Esponsorama need income, it also needs to buy Rabat out of his contract.

Esponsorama owner Raul Romero has always struggled to get serious backing for his squad, so he’s expected to move aside at the end of 2021, so that VR46 can take over the project.

There will be further fallout to these movements. The costs of entering MotoGP most likely means the end of the VR46 Moto3 team, which Rossi established in 2014 to help Italian youngsters climb the MotoGP ladder. Three years later he added a Moto2 team to his portfolio, which will continue, so VR46 will have a presence in the two biggest classes and will place its youngest Academy riders in other Moto3 teams and then bring them into its own Moto2 team.

Romero will most likely take over VR46’s Moto3 grid slots. The former rider established his first race team in 1994. BQR (for By Queroseno Racing) contested the CEV series (Campeonato de España de Velocidad), then moved into GPs in 2001. It scored its first GP victory with Scott Redding, at Donington in 2008. Four years later Romero moved into MotoGP, running CRT bikes, with superbike engines, backed by Avintia, a Spanish construction and real-estate business.