Miguel Oliveira: MotoGP’s coming man
The KTM rider has outscored everyone at the last three races, so what makes him so special? His crew chief Paul Trevathan reveals all
More from Silverstone: does Rossi have a carbon-fibre swingarm on the way? How Miller joined the Hells Angels, briefly; the agony of Lorenzo’s comeback weekend; why Márquez went back to basics and Britain’s 91-year-old world champion
Viñales and Rossi at Silverstone Photo: Yamaha
MotoGP is way beyond bolt-on go-faster goodies. Every tiny improvement in machine performance is won through painstaking analysis and development during test sessions and race weekends. If a rider finds a new part or a new setting that wins him even a hundredth of a second per lap he will be a happy man.
But in fact there is one bolt-on performance part that can work some magic. Marc Márquez has achieved all of his 15 victories since the start of last season with a carbon-fibre swingarm attached to his Honda RC213V frame. And when Pol Espargaró tried a carbon-fibre swingarm during post-Spanish GP tests he insisted on using the item at the subsequent French GP, even though it wasn’t 100 per cent ready.
Riders like Márquez and Espargaró who are lucky enough to use carbon-fibre swingarms with their carefully tuned rigidity characteristics always tell the same story: they get more grip and feel from the rear tyre, which allows them to exit corners faster. Also, the swingarm gives the tyre an easier time, which improves tyre life.
“If you can’t ride your bike at 100 per cent, you aren’t P7, you are P18, because everybody is strong.”
Over the past year or so factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales have complained that the YZR-M1 doesn’t exit corners fast enough and destroys its rear tyre too quickly. These problems surely emanate from a variety of factors, but if there’s a bolt-on part that might solve these exact problems, surely it’s worth a try.
So when will Rossi and Viñales get carbon-fibre swingarms? “Good question!” laughed Rossi on Sunday evening. “I’ve asked Yamaha a lot, a lot of times. I think and I hope that a carbon swingarm can help us as soon as possible. But we don’t know when, the situation isn’t very clear…”
At least Yamaha is making progress in some areas. Rossi sounded upbeat (ish) during much of last weekend
“Yamaha is finally starting in the right direction,” he said before Sunday’s disappointing race. “They start to do clever things, so the situation is very much changed compared to the last two years. Already with some small adjustments, we can accelerate better, the bike is easier to ride through the corners and we can save the tyres.
“I have the motivation and I know I can be strong. It depends very much on the feeling with the bike, because in the mid-part of the season I was optimistic about the tracks I like – Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Sachsenring – but we were in a very bad situation. We got lost a little bit and I wasn’t able to ride the bike, and if you can’t ride your bike at 100 per cent, you aren’t P7, you are P18, because everybody is strong.”
Rossi is now fully accustomed to people telling him he needs to retire. “If I make three very bad races then it’s normal at my age and at this point in my career for people start to saying, ‘he’s old and it’s time to stay at home’. But now I’m happier, because if I ride well I can be competitive.”
Jack Miller joined the Hells Angels at Silverstone, riding a Desmosedici chopper for the first half a minute of the race. The Pramac Ducati rider engaged his GP19’s holeshot device on the grid – to squat the bike to allow him to use more throttle at the start – but the system didn’t disengage before the first corner.
The mechanical system is designed to release itself the moment the rider hits the brakes for Turn One.
“I couldn’t get my holeshot device to pop back up, so I went through Turns One, Two and Three like a chopper,” said the young Aussie. “I was trying to get it to pop up and people were going around me, left, right and centre.
“Generally at tracks like this we don’t use the device. We ended up using it because we thought we could get enough transfer on the brakes [into Turn One], although I had my doubts about it. It was quite scary towards Turn Three, like an Orange County chopper! Basically, I had to do a stoppie at Turn Four to free it up. It wasn’t ideal.”
Is there a case to be argued regarding the safety of holeshot devices, especially because when they do go wrong the rider is likely to be at the front of or in the middle of the track?
Lorenzo’s primary objective: don’t crash Photo: Motorsport Images
Jorge Lorenzo knew one thing last weekend: he must not crash in his comeback ride from a serious back injury. So the three-times MotoGP world champion tip-toed around Silverstone – pootling down Hangar Straight at 202mph (326kph) – to qualify 21st fastest and finish 14th.
At June’s Italian Grand Prix his fastest race lap was seventh tenths of a second slower than the winner’s best. In safety/survival mode at Silverstone, his fastest lap was 2.7sec off winner Álex Rins’ best.
This is interesting because it illustrates the narrow edge along which top bike racers walk. In Sunday’s race the fastest dozen riders all lapped within a second of each other, so a further 1.7sec is the kind of insurance buffer a rider needs to make sure he doesn’t exceed the limit and go down in a heap.
Most motorcycle racers only really worry about two bad things happening to them – spinal injuries and head injuries
“My back injury isn’t completely healed so it’s obvious that now more than ever I don’t want to crash,” said the 32-year-old Spaniard who fractured two vertebrae during Dutch TT practice. “I don’t want to have another crash like I had in Assen because that could easily cause another break in the same place, which could be a disaster. I need to have the patience not to push too hard.
“When you speak about back injuries things get serious. Honestly, while I was recovering from the Assen crash I started having doubts about my life and my career.”
Lorenzo’s 2019 British GP was the latest in a saga of lows that’s been going on for more than a year. Lorenzo has barely completed a race fully injury-free since he won last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, on August 12, 2018.
He broke bones at Aragon and Buriram, then during winter training and at the season-opening Qatar. He believes he first damaged his back when he crashed heavily during post-Catalan GP tests at Barcelona. When he got to Assen the following week he had a terrifying rag-doll ride through a gravel trap which fractured those vertebrae.
Most motorcycle racers only really worry about two bad things happening to them – spinal injuries and head injuries – so this latest accident was worse than all the others put together.
This is far from the first time that Lorenzo has had to fight within himself, like all top riders. Lorenzo suffered numerous crashes and injuries during his rookie MotoGP season in 2008, to the point where he feared dying on a race bike. He came back from that and he insists he can do so again.
“The mental side and the pain [from his still-healing vertebrae] are the worst things for me. And I’m not used to being in the last positions. Now I’m trying to ride many laps to work my muscles. Maybe by Aragon I will have a better feeling.”
Speed Up’s carbon-fibre swingarm Photo: Oxley
In Moto2 only one constructor – Speed Up – uses carbon-fibre swingarms, which is why there’s been some talk in the Moto2 paddock: the entire ethos of the current intermediate class is reduced costs, so why allow swingarms that cost more than an entire chassis? If that is indeed the case. Estimates of costs vary hugely, but six-figure sums are common.
This is why MotoGP’s grand prix commission will soon ban carbon swingarms from Moto3, where no one yet uses the technology.
However, Speed Up boss Luca Boscoscuro insists that carbon swingarms can reduce costs because they should last longer than conventional items.
“Usually an alloy swingarm has a life of around 4000 kilometres [2500 miles], not even half a season,” says the former 250 GP rider, a regular top-ten finisher in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “This year our top rider Jorge Navarro is using the same carbon swingarm that Fabio Quartararo used with us all last season. And if we tried to recreate the feeling of the carbon swingarm with an aluminium swingarm then maybe that aluminium unit will only last 1000 kilometres [600 miles]. Also, whenever we check our swingarms for rigidity on our jig they are exactly the same now as they were a year or more ago.”
Boscoscuro, whose Speed Up Moto2 bikes have used carbon swingarms since 2012, also denies that carbon swingarms cost a lot, although he won’t say how much they do cost.
“If I sell chassis to other teams then I offer them the choice of aluminium or carbon swingarms, at the same price,” he adds. “And the carbon ’arm lasts three, four, maybe five times longer, so the idea that they are more expensive is bullshit. If you think of the money we spend on broken fairings, exhausts and so on, this is much more than we spend on swingarms, so this whole story is bullshit.”
Critics suggest that the individual cost of carbon swingarms isn’t the only problem, but also their alleged lack of resistance to crash damage, plus the subsequent cost and time of undertaking ultra-sonic crack tests, at specialist centres for aerospace and motorsport. This all adds time and money, because teams need several ’arms for each rider, so they can keep racing when a damaged ‘arm is away for checking.
Once again, the 47-year-old Italian disagrees. “If we have a big crash then of course we get the unit tested, but it only takes a week.”
Boscoscuro doesn’t want to further reduce innovation in Moto2, in which the chassis is the only part of the motorcycle with which teams can really work. All teams use the same engine, tyres, electronics and fuel, which are supplied free, as part of Dorna’s Moto2 entrant package.
“My concept is to build a proper racing bike,” Boscoscuro continues. “Remember the later days of the 250 class? The Honda was always the easier bike to ride, while the Aprilia was much more complicated to ride. But with a good rider, the Aprilia was the winning bike.
“Moto2 is a wonderful category, because every team can win. In the last days of 250s you had three kinds of bikes: factory bikes, bikes with kit parts and standard bikes. Then you had tyres for the factory bikes and other tyres for the other bikes. Then you had suspension for the factory bikes and other suspension for the other bikes. There was no chance to win without a factory bike and the best tyres and suspension. And you needed many millions for all of this. Now in Moto2 we can have a good team with good riders for two million Euro.”
MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge is monitoring the swingarm situation. Despite the upcoming Moto3 ban on carbon-fibre swingarms he has no plans to follow suit in Moto2 unless there is a strong push from a majority of teams.
At the preceding Austrian GP leader, Marc Márquez raced with an array of new parts on his RC213V: carbon-fibre-coated frame, new aero and a so-called ‘swinglet’ swingarm attachment.
Although it’s highly unusual for HRC to race so many new parts all in one go, this race/test at the Red Bull Ring made a lot of sense. Márquez’s huge points lead gave him and HRC room to experiment, gathering race data on new parts, which is always more valuable than testing data.
But two of the three items didn’t feature on his bikes at any time during the British GP weekend. Why?
“Because this weekend we have some doubts, because last we year struggled a lot at Silverstone, plus this weekend we have four front tyres and a completely different rear tyre to try [for the new surface],” he explained during practice. “That’s a lot of things all together, so it’s better to forget about most of the new parts and concentrate on what we already know. The new aero was clearly better at the last race, so we have kept that, but we’re not fully sure about the new frame and the ‘spoon’, so it’s better to forget about them for the moment. We will try them again at the Misano test.”
Sandford in the Forward MV Agusta Moto2 pit Photo: Oxley
Motorcycling’s oldest-surviving world champion visited Silverstone. Ninety-one-year-old Cecil Sandford won two world championships in the 1950s, making history when he won MV Agusta’s first crown, the 1952 125cc title.
He started racing on Velocettes and was recommended to Count Domenico Agusta by the Count’s first 500cc GP winner, Les Graham, a decorated Second World War RAF bomber pilot.
Sandford later rode Moto Guzzis and DKW’s three-cylinder two-stroke before joining Mondial, one of Italy’s first great grand prix brands. He won the 250cc world title for the factory in 1957, the last year of the fully enclosed, so-called dustbin fairings. He won a total of five grands prix, including two Isle of Man TT races.
“I watch MotoGP all the time, but I think this since is the first time I’ve been to a grand prix since the 1950s,” said Sandford. “Things have changed a bit since then! When I was doing this I had a bike, a van and a wooden plank to get the bike out of the van. That was about it.”
The 2018 and 2019 British MotoGP rounds couldn’t have been more different: from pouring racing and no racing to 30deg C sunshine and the fourth-closest finish in history.
The track resurfacing – managed by Italian racetrack experts Dromo and undertaken by British company Tarmac – was a hit with most riders. Silverstone is a fast, old-school track, with the kind of layout that bike racers adore, like Mugello, Phillip Island and Brno. The old bumps therefore ruined a great racetrack.
“Last year the track was like a motocross track, so we must congratulate the circuit for the job they’ve done,” said Marc Márquez.
The smooth asphalt opened up the circuit for riders, so they could use all the track available, instead of focusing on finding the fast line through the bumps.
“With good grip and no bumps you have to approach most of the corners in completely different way, using completely different lines,” explained Andrea Dovizioso. “I was losing a lot of tenths in a few corners until we found the right lines and gained some tenths.”
Jack Miller had other reasons to enjoy the new surface. “I’ve got two fake front teeth and now I don’t have to worry about them being glued in properly through the first sector which was so bumpy before. They’ve done a stellar job. Whoever did this place needs to do Brno, then we’ll have three or four classic old-school tracks that are fun to ride a MotoGP bike. This place is old-style, with none of these shitty off-camber corners and none of the other crap they put in new tracks.”
The new surface wasn’t without its problems. It is so grippy – and Sunday was so hot – that several MotoGP riders finished the race with badly damaged tyres. Michelin didn’t test the new asphalt before the race, so their engineers went in blind. In theory, next year should be better.
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