THE MEN TO WATCH
JOHANN ZARCO Before last season, Zarco hadn’t won a race in Moto2, yet the Frenchman dominated. For eight successive races between Mugello and Misano, he didn’t finish outside the top two, and eventually took eight wins to clinch the crown with three races remaining. He’s desperate to be the first rider in history to successfully defend the Moto2 title.
ALEX RINS So cool and calm he’s got ice running in his veins. A winner in Indianapolis and Phillip Island, he easily won the best rookie award and is many people’s overwhelming pre-season favourite. Only distraction could be all the talk of his Motogp switch in 2017, with every factory chasing his signature.
THOMAS LUTHI The Swiss rider has never finished lower than sixth in the Moto2 world championship since its inception in 2010. Yet he’s never finished higher than fourth overall. And there lies the problem with Luthi. He’s fast and on his day unbeatable, but not enough top six finishes get converted into podiums to worry the top men.
LORENZO BALDASSARRI One of the most promising of an exciting crop of young talent run by Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Academy, Baldassarri scored a maiden podium in Phillip Island and finished inside the top five in the last two races. Under Rossi’s guidance and with more experience, expect a regular podium challenge
JONAS FOLGER Folger looked like a potential worldbeater at the start of last season when he won two of the opening four races. But the German went AWOL in the crucial summer phase of the championship before a late rally saw him back on the podium in Japan and Malaysia. If he can be more consistent, then he’s a definite dark horse.
FRANCO MORBIDELLI A late starter before being taken under Rossi’s wing. A promising 2015 was ruined by a double leg break sustained while motocross training with the boss and, while he has the pace and hunger, this season might be one too early for a serious title challenge.
‘You have to make sure you don’t stress the front’
“With the Bridgestones I could brake really late and find the lap time there, so now I have to change my style. It’s all very different, especially midcorner. I must find a new way to ride the bike, but even more important than riding the bike is finding the limit.
“Most of the front crashes happen when you’re on the gas, trying to transfer load to the rear, because when you open the throttle mid-
improvement, but not enough to save a front slide. When the Bridgestone front tucked it was usually possible to save the slide, so it was quite difficult to crash. In Malaysia I had a front slide and the tyre stayed tucked for a long time, but although I almost saved the crash, the tyre didn’t come back, so I did crash. Anyway, the times speak for themselves. Michelin has done a great job, because now the feeling is closer to what we had last year. Now I feel very comfortable and fast.”
‘The secret to this year’s Motogp title may be brains over brawn’
“Rear-tyre slides are a lot easier to save than front-end slides, which means that the secret to this year’s championship may be caution, or brains over brawn. Michelin’s front has less corner-entry grip than the Bridgestone, so riders are going to have tread more carefully.
“Of course, all this may change as the year goes on. Michelin have been out of Motogp for seven seasons – an aeon in racing terms – so they are playing catch-up: catch-up to the bikes and catch-up to the riders. They’ve already made big steps and no doubt that will continue.
“That is good news, but when tyre character keeps changing – especially front-tyre character – riders will have to keep adapting their riding techniques and their race strategies, and it’s very tricky changing the way you use the front tyre.”
Suzuki and Aprilia qualify for concessions based on the fact that they have not had a dry win since 2013 or didn’t achieve six ‘concession points’ last year. Concession points are based on podium positions. Suzuki and Aprilia could lose their concessions based on their on-track success in wet or dry races. If one of their riders wins a race, they get three concession points. A second place scores two concession points, and third on the podium scores one point. If Suzuki and Aprilia accrue six concession points during the 2016 season then they begin to surrender some concessions. If they accrue six concession points then they immediately lose the option of unlimited testing. Their annual engine allocation will be reduced from nine to seven engines and they will also lose in-season engine development for next season. It seems inconceivable, but if Yamaha, Honda or Ducati failed to score a podium in 2016, they will be able to use the concessions in 2017.
On top of the official Motogp tests, Honda, Yamaha and Ducati can only test for five additional days with their officially contracted riders on any track. As part of their concessions, Suzuki and Aprilia are free to test on any track when they want, but machine development is limited by a test tyre allocation. Each rider is limited to using 120 tyres for testing during the season.