Munandar’s death overshadows MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix


Márquez pays tribute to Asia Talent Cup star, the Quartararo/Márquez Q2 clash, why KTM signed ‘unknown’ Lecuona & reasons why Yamaha: MotoGP Malaysian GP round-up

Afridza Munandar

Afridza Munandar: RIP Photo: Asia Talent Cup

Rising Indonesian star dies at Sepang

Eight years ago the Malaysian Grand Prix was marred by the death of larger-than-life MotoGP star Marco Simoncelli.

This year’s Malaysian GP was darkened by the passing of Asia Talent Cup rider Afridza Munandar. The Indonesian youngster lost his life in Saturday’s ATC race when he fell on the first lap and was struck by another rider. He was rushed by helicopter to hospital in Kuala Lumpur but succumbed to his injuries

Munandar was one of the standout riders of the 2019 Asia Talent Cup, South East Asia’s so-called road to MotoGP that has already brought Somkiat Chantra, Ai Ogura, Can Oncu, Ayumu Sasaki, Kaito Toba and others into the Moto2 and Moto3 world championships.

“He was pushing, riding with his passion and he will always be the most special rider of this Grand Prix”

The 20-year-old, who also raced underbone machines in the Indonesian national series, had stood on the podium at three world championship rounds this year: he won the ATC support race at the Thailand World Superbike round in March, he took third at October’s Thailand MotoGP round and he was second during the recent Japanese GP round. He also won an ATC race during the Malaysian national superbike event at Sepang in June.

Reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Márquez spoke eloquently of Munandar’s passing after Sunday’s MotoGP race.

“Today is an emotional day because yesterday we lost Munandar,” said Márquez.

“He was a young talent. I knew him because he’s from Astra Honda, where we went many times [in Indonesia]. We cannot forget that everybody here realises the risks we take on the track. We take these risks to achieve our goals, for those sweet moments, so when we achieve our goals we need to enjoy them. Today we enjoyed racing for him because he was also looking for these moments. He was pushing, riding with his passion and he will always be the most special rider of this Grand Prix.”

Munandar is the fifth rider to lose his life at a MotoGP event in the last ten years. Japanese Moto2 star Shoya Tomizawa was killed during the 2010 San Marino GP, a week after 13-year-old American Peter Lenz died after falling on the warm-up lap of a support race at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. All these riders lost their lives in similar ways – they fell from their motorcycle and were struck by following riders. The fifth rider to die during this period was Luis Salom, who was killed during the 2016 Catalan GP, when he was struck by his bike that had rebounded off the trackside airfence.

Despite never-ending development work by riding-gear manufacturers it’s very difficult to protect a fallen rider from the impact of motorcycles travelling at high speed.

Motor Sport extends its deepest condolences to Munandar’s family, friends and loved ones.



More reasons why Yamaha is back up front…

Apologies for this – the following information should have featured in Monday’s Sepang race insight, revealing another the reasons for Yamaha’s current revival. Two weeks before Sepang I spoke to Petronas SRT team manager Wilco Zeelenberg at Motegi.

“This year’s improvements are nothing big, just tiny changes, but the biggest thing has been Fabio [Quartararo] pushing all the other guys by showing them what the bike can really do,” said Zeelenberg. And then they can look at his data and learn from him, so this is a big help for all of Yamaha.

“Many things are better this year: the engine and the electronics, but most of all it’s the engine that helps us by giving us traction, which is what we needed last year. Pretty much all of our problems last year were because the engine was wrong. The way it made power didn’t find traction, the electronics were not the biggest problem.

“Also, Michelin’s 2019 tyres have helped us a lot. The rear tyre compounds are stronger than last year, so this is a real help, because tyre life was our biggest problem last season.”



Márquez evaluates scooter-style rear brake

Márquez in FP2 at Sepang: with rear brake lever above, clutch lever below Photo: Honda

Marc Márquez tried a new rear-brake system at Sepang which may trigger a major shift in how MotoGP riders use the rear brake.

MotoGP riders don’t only use the rear brake to decelerate, they use it to help turn the bike mid-corner, to adjust geometry and to control acceleration on corner exits.

Several riders in MotoGP now use rear brakes operated by the left thumb, because they cannot get their right foot to the rear lever in right-handers. However, a thumb-brake cannot deliver much pressure to the rear brake. A finger-operated lever delivers much more pressure and feels more natural because riders use the same system when riding scooters. World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark and several other superbike riders already use finger-operated rear brakes.

“Normally in left corners I’m very fast, but in right corners I’m not extra fast, so we are trying something more,” said Márquez, who only tried the finger lever in FP2. “I didn’t like the thumb brake because I need to feel the handlebar in my hand. But I ride a lot of motocross using the clutch, so this system is easier for me, but at the moment it’s not ready. This was just the first contact to see if it’s possible to use in the future.”

Brembo technicians believe Márquez needs to start 2020 preseason testing with the system and use it for the whole season.



MotoGP aerodynamics to be removed (occasionally)

Aerodynamics has been the greatest area of controversy in MotoGP during the last few seasons and now the downforce devices may be removed, if only occasionally.

The recent Australian Grand Prix, interrupted by gale-force winds that caused several crashes, convinced riders and teams that MotoGP’s aero winglets can be dangerous in certain circumstances.

“Phillip Island is a unique track in a unique location by the sea, so sometimes it does get very windy,” explained MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge at Sepang.

“Some riders, teams and manufacturers came to me during the weekend explaining that when it’s really windy the wind can get under the wings, so when the weather’s like that they feel it’s safer to run without them.

“But at that late stage in the weekend we couldn’t do much about it, because while some factories use aerodynamics that are attached to the bodywork, others use aero that’s moulded into the bodywork, so it wouldn’t have been fair if some teams had removed their aero and others couldn’t. We have discussed the situation at IRTA and now the proposal will go to the Grand Prix Commission.”



‘Swinglets’ are NOT tyre coolers, confirms KTM

KTM's 'swinglet' during the 2019 MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix

New ‘swinglet’ on factory KTM RC16 Photo: Oxley

The last of MotoGP’s six factories to introduce swingarm aero used its first so-called ‘swinglet’ at Sepang. KTM is more against aerodynamics than any of the other factories but is going with the flow.

When Ducati introduced the first ‘swinglet’ at the season-opening Qatar GP it caused one of the nastiest confrontations between MotoGP factories in some years. Several rival brands protested at the innovation and the case eventually went to MotoGP’s Court of Appeal, which ruled in the Italian factory’s favour.

At that time Red Bull KTM team manager Mike Leitner said, “a full aero ban would be great; it would make us happy”. But both KTM factory riders raced with ‘swinglets’ at Sepang.

Because swingarm attachments aren’t allowed for aerodynamic reasons Ducati had its unit authorised as a tyre-cooling device. However, every rider from every rival factory that’s subsequently used copies of Ducati’s ‘swinglet’ says the same thing: the ‘swinglet’ increases rear-tyre downforce, which gives them vital extra grip during braking.

“We feel more support from the rear in braking, more rear-tyre force,” said KTM rider Pol Espargaro at Sepang. “This is why all the manufacturers do this: to increase downforce.”

In other words, it would appear that Ducati was being economical with the truth at the start of the season. So what happens next? Will ‘swinglets’ be banned? Not quite.

“I homologate items on the confirmation that the factories give me – what the riders say out there is something else,” said MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge at Sepang. “Obviously this is no longer a grey area and all the factories have these things, so they will be allowed for 2020. And it’s not all downforce – for example Suzuki say that when they look at their data the unit does cool the tyre.

“The rules will be clarified for next year. Factories will be allowed only one upgrade through the season, and if you remove your unit that’s your upgrade. So you can change the design once, but the upgrade has got to be there all the time, except in the rain.”



Why did KTM choose Lecuona? ‘Because he’s an animal!’

Iker Lecuona during the 2019 Malaysian Moto2 Grand Prix

Lecuona with crew chief Mathieu Grodecoeur and WP engineer Tim De Bot Photo: Oxley

When Casey Stoner rode for Ducati his team manager Livio Suppo famously said, “I love Casey – he’s an animal!”

When I asked a top Moto2 engineer why KTM had signed a virtual unknown to its Tech 3 MotoGP team he laughed and said, “Iker is an animal!”.

Motorcycle racing is a vicious sport and requires huge amounts of aggression. This is why KTM signed Iker Lecuona, plus the fact that he is only just starting out as a roadracer and is already fighting close to the front of the Moto2 pack. Incredibly this is only the Spanish 19-year-old’s third full season as a roadracer! Before that he was Spanish Supermoto champion.

At Sepang on Sunday he fought for fourth place on a private KTM, 20 seconds ahead of the next KTM privateer.

The fact that Lecuona (pronounced ‘Laykwona’) is so aggressive on the bike appeals to KTM, which has had its best MotoGP results with Pol Espargaro, who also rides it like he stole it.

And there is something else KTM likes about the Spaniard – he may just have front-tyre skills like Marc Márquez.

“Iker rides with the rear and doesn’t care what happens with the front,” says Mathieu Grodecoeur, his Moto2 crew chief in the American Racing Moto2 squad. “The reason he is strong with the KTM Moto2 bike is that he completely ignores the front chatter and all that stuff.

They have super-rookie in Iker, who will be able tell them completely new things, because he’s never ridden this kind of bike

“When we checked his data from Phillip Island we saw he lost the front every lap at the last corner, but he didn’t mind because he just rides with the rear. He has the attitude to brake late and not really worry about the front.

“His riding style is aggressive. He hangs off a lot and makes the bike turn by himself, working a lot with his body position. I don’t expect him to be consistent in year one in MotoGP, but I think he will show some impressive results sometime.”

Lecuona rode his first Grand Prix in late 2016, then missed the start of his first full-time season in 2017 after suffering serious injuries in preseason testing.

“Since day one working with him I’ve believed in Iker’s huge, huge talent,” adds Grodecoeur. “Obviously he lacks experience in roadracing but his raw talent is incredible.

“For sure KTM’s MotoGP bike has a special DNA, so they need a rider that fits that DNA and I think he will suit the bike very well. When we jumped from Kalex to KTM at the end of 2017 Iker felt from his first lap that this bike was made for him because he can be very aggressive with it and do what he wants with it. With the Kalex you need to be more sensitive with the front and he didn’t like that so much.”

Grodecoeur also believes Lecuona will bring a fresh avenue of development to the RC16

“KTM’s 2019 line-up makes a lot of sense because they have every kind of rider. They have a very experienced MotoGP rider in Pol [Espargaro], they have a rider with one year of experience Miguel [Oliveira], they have a multiple Moto2 race winner in Brad [Binder] and they have super-rookie in Iker, who will be able tell them completely new things, because he’s never ridden this kind of bike

KTM’s MotoGP squad has been watching Lecuona since early 2018 when he fought with Brad Binder and Joan Mir at COTA. Next year he will be replaced in American Racing’s line-up by twice Moto3 race winner Marcos Ramirez



When Márquez’s magic tricks go wrong

Maverick Viñales took home 25 points from Sepang, but the biggest talking point of the weekend was the clash between Fabio Quartararo and Marc Márquez during Saturday’s Q2 qualifying session.

What happened during that outing was basically the opposite of what happened during qualifying for June’s Italian GP.

That afternoon at Mugello, Márquez played a genius move on his Ducati rivals. The Ducati team told Andrea Dovizioso and Michele Pirro to wait in the pits until Márquez started his final run, then sent them out to mess with him.

Márquez wasn’t playing, so the trio cruised around Mugello, until Dovizioso knew time was running out, so he had to get his head down and go for it. This is when Márquez turned Ducati over.

Instead of allowing Dovizioso to use his speed to snatch pole he slotted in behind Dovizioso, leaving himself just enough space to chase down the Italian on their final lap to take pole by two tenths. This was possibly the best qualifying trick since the introduction of the 15-minute format.

At Sepang it was Márquez who did the chasing, riding out of pit lane right behind Quartararo as they began their final run. Every time Quartararo closed the throttle to force Márquez to overtake, the world champion closed his throttle.

The pair rode a whole lap like this. Quartararo finally tired of the game and knew time was running out, so when they started the next lap he returned to full speed. And that’s when it happened. When Márquez flicked into Turn Two his rear tyre slid and gripped, flicking him over the highside, landing knees, elbows and face first on the track.

The champ was badly battered by the fall, which Jack Miller witnessed from just a few metres behind. “I saw the highside and knew exactly what he’d done – he was dicking around,” said the Aussie. “The left side of the rear tyre is quite hard here, so it got too cold and the bike highsided him. He was playing cat and mouse. He’s generally the master tactician, but today it came back and bit him on the arse. The crash didn’t look pleasant.”

The world champ refused to admit his tactics, while Quartararo only admitted to being flattered. “Marc wanted to follow me because we are doing a good job this year,” said the rookie. “And all this is part of the game – if I have the possibility to do it I’ll also do it.”

Márquez’s Sunday comeback from his massive highside was remarkable. MotoGP doctor Angel Charte prescribed anti-inflammatories and painkillers for his injuries and described him as “pure, hardened steel”.

Perhaps without the injuries Márquez may have been hunted down Vinales, but perhaps Q2 was the more important moment of the weekend: the first shot of the 2020 MotoGP season?

Even more remarkable than Márquez’s race was the fact that neither him nor Quartararo were reprimanded for cruising in Q2, because there is nothing more dangerous on a racetrack than riding slowly.

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Rossi: still life in the old dog yet

The Malaysian Grand Prix is MotoGP’s most physically demanding race due to the tropical weather. Sunday’s race took place in 32-degree heat and 60 percent humidity and yet the fastest lap was ridden by the oldest man in the race.

Valentino Rossi, who very nearly won last year’s Malaysian GP and this year was only thwarted in his battle for third by Andrea Dovizioso’s rocket-ship Ducati, broke the four-year-old lap record by almost a second. And he was chuffed to bits.

“I feel good with the bike and I’m very happy to be strong here because physically this is the hardest race of season,” said the 40-year-old. “This time we worked well on tyre life, although you do a lot of the lap on the edge of the tyres here, so you stress the tyres more. Also we have a lack of speed, so when we fight with faster bikes it’s very difficult to manage. I was faster in the long corners, but on the straights Andrea could always repass me. I tried my maximum because there’s a big difference between finishing third and fourth.

“Maverick rode the race in the best way today, because with our bike when you are alone you can make your lines and make the difference in the corners, which is where our bike is strong. But when you fight with a bike that’s faster on the straights you cannot overtake in the corners.”



Bagnaia still using too much corner speed

Last year’s Moto2 world champion Pecco Bagnaia completed February’s three-day preseason test at Sepang second fastest, 0.063 seconds behind Danilo Petrucci and faster than Marc Márquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo and everyone else.

That performance had many people marking Bagnaia down as 2019 Rookie of the Year. But the 22-year-old goes into next week’s 2019 season finale at Valencia with less than a third of the points of Fabio Quartararo and only just ahead of embattled KTM rookie Miguel Oliveira. More importantly he’s hit the ground 13 times, putting him just behind Jack Miller and Johann Zarco at the top of the 2019 crasher’s league.

Pramac team manager Francesco Guidotti explains the problem.

“Pecco’s riding style is more corner speed, using the front tyre a lot,” he explained. “There’s a lot more risk to crash with high corner speed, instead of using hard braking, strong acceleration and lower speed in the corners. This is clear and he knows it and he’s trying to change. Sometimes he can, other times he cannot. We show him the data of all the Ducati riders. What he wants to do is to use both styles and make a balance. If he can do that it will be perfect!”

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