MotoGP

Miller Time: A battle in Texas

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes from Austin about overcoming a shoulder injury and a bad qualifying to sneak into the top 10 again.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Another top 10 finish? Yeah, I’ll take that – that’s six in a row for me now. It was a tough old weekend for us in Texas and definitely a bit of a let-down after how good Argentina was, but sometimes you have to make the best of a shitty situation and get what you can out of it, so ninth place is a pretty positive end to what wasn’t the most positive of weekends.

I expected more coming into the weekend, but we struggled with the bike set-up from the get-go (as the Americans would say), and I was struggling with a shoulder injury that I carried into the weekend as well. Not ideal.

We kept pretty quiet about the shoulder all weekend, but now we’re done, I can admit that it wasn’t great. I was out training in California after Argentina, and I fell off doing some mountain biking. The injuries are nothing that some rest time and recovery can’t handle, but I ended up with some muscle damage, some bruising and a little tear on my rotator cuff on my right shoulder. And a crack in my collarbone as well. I tell you, sometimes the time between the races can be more dangerous than the race weekends themselves …

I had a crash in final practice just before qualifying and had to use my second bike for Q1, so that was partly the reason I struggled and only started from 18th. Saying that, 18th and not hurting myself again after the injury I came in with actually wasn’t a bad result – there’s no small crashes here because of the nature of the track, as I found out the hard way a few years ago when I had to miss the race here. So, 18th sucked, but being upright and not too sore afterwards was a win of sorts.

I would have liked to have finished in front of my old teammate Tito (Rabat), but he got me in the end after I passed him for eighth with about three laps to go. We had a good last-lap battle and I think we both enjoyed it a lot, but he got me this time. He passed me at the end of the back straight on the last lap but ran a little wide, so I got back through. But then he got me at the left-hander soon after that; I ran narrow to try to block the inside kerb, but as I did that I saw his front tyre coming out of nowhere, so I guess he was pretty set on coming through. He got me by about a tenth of a second at the line by the end. But a good battle anyway, and I’ll have to make sure I get him back next time.

The Circuit of the Americas is an amazing facility and they’ve clearly spent a heap of money on it, but the track itself doesn’t tend to produce great MotoGP races for whatever reason. Part of that is because Marc (Marquez) clears off and wins every time we come here, but the track layout doesn’t give you as many passing chances as you’d think. I did most of my passing at Turn 1 up the hill, because it’s so wide there that you can take all sorts of different lines and still get the bike stopped up the top. I always try for a tighter line there, and that made my race in some ways today because I got a few spots on the first lap of the race, and I was able to get past Jorge (Lorenzo) there later on too.

It’s Turn 1 and the corner before the long back straight, they’re my preferred spots. But it’s funny, passing is way harder than you’d think here. There’s some good passing spots in theory, but if you pass you can run wide so easily, and then the other guy cuts back on you, squares the corner off and stays ahead anyway. It’s a wide track with a lot of run-off, so that’s the result. It’s a bit one-line, follow the leader, that sort of thing.

The other big talking point about the track was how bad the surface was, especially on Friday when we realised what had happened to it after they’d tried to remove some of the worst of the bumps from when we were here last year. Friday was definitely the worst it has ever been, it was filthy. It’s time to resurface the whole thing really, you can’t keep sticking band-aids on it and expect the problems to go away, it just won’t happen. It’s gone past being able to be fixed and patched up, and I reckon it needs a fair bit of work.

It’s back to Europe now after a long few weeks away, and it’ll be good to get back “home” and do some training, and try to get the shoulder more right for Jerez. I’ve got young Billy Van Eerde near me in Andorra at the moment, he’s the young Aussie who’s doing the Red Bull Rookies Cup this year and has been there a couple of weeks, so I’ll spend some time with him and get him ready for what he has coming up. And maybe ease up a bit on the mountain bike …

Cheers, Jack

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Bigger in America: How Marquez mastered the USA

Nine races, never beaten – here’s how the reigning MotoGP champ has laid the foundations for a perfect 10 in Austin this weekend.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If the answer is Nicolas Terol, then what’s the question? The date: August 29, 2010 – the last time Marc Marquez raced in the world motorcycle championship in the United States and wasn’t the winner of the race. No, really.

It was the Indianapolis 125cc Grand Prix of that year, and Marquez, from pole, was leading on lap nine before crashing, re-mounting and crossing the line fifth, 19 seconds behind compatriot and race-winner Terol. But it didn’t end there – Marquez was penalised 20 seconds after the race for performing an “illegal manoeuvre” by cutting Turns 3 and 4 of the track on the penultimate lap and gaining ground. He was eventually classified 10th. Even back then, the 17-year-old had a penchant for drama …

The reason we’re bringing this up? There’s nine of them, actually. For the four-time MotoGP world champion comes into this weekend’s Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on a remarkable nine-race winning streak in MotoGP in the US – yes, every race he’s ridden under a fluttering Stars and Stripes on a flaming orange Repsol Honda. He’s started all but one of those races on pole too, Stefan Bradl denying Marquez by 0.017secs in qualifying at Laguna Seca in 2013 to spoil his clean sheet.

Scouring through the archives, it appears the only way to slow down Marquez’s rate of victories in America is to reduce the number of races held there. There were three in his rookie season of 2013, which coincided with Laguna Seca’s final year and the first race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. For the following two years, there were two races in the US until Indianapolis dropped off the schedule after 2015. Since, he’s had to content himself with a single annual trophy collection ‘Stateside at COTA.

Marquez isn’t just prolific in MotoGP races in the US, either. Even in Moto2 he was victorious there: he won at Indianapolis in 2011 and 2012 in his only two seasons in the intermediate class, meaning he’s actually on an 11-race winning streak across seven years in America ahead of this weekend.

As we wonder who to put our hard-earned cash on for this weekend at COTA (tip: number 93 will do quite nicely, even after the dramas and controversy of Argentina last time out), here’s how Marquez put the building blocks in place to score a perfect 10 this Sunday.

2013, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2mins 03.021secs (2nd: Dani Pedrosa, +0.254secs)
Winning margin:
1.534secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
A weekend of breakthroughs at the Circuit of the Americas for Marquez; his first MotoGP pole and win in just his second MotoGP start, and one where he became the sport’s youngest premier-class winner (20 years, two months, four days). Marquez took the lead from teammate Pedrosa just after half-distance in Austin’s maiden 21-lap race, and never allowed his senior compatriot a look-in as he got on the board in MotoGP.

2013, US Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:21.193 (2nd, +0.017secs behind Stefan Bradl)
Winning margin:
2.298secs (2nd: Bradl)
Recap:
It was Marquez’s first (and only) experience of the undulating Californian circuit, remembering that the junior classes didn’t race at Laguna Seca when it was on the schedule. His inexperience mattered not: Marquez bounced back from a qualifying crash that enabled Bradl to pip him for pole to beat the German 24 hours later, recovering from a tardy start and passing Valentino Rossi in a memorable move at The Corkscrew that saw both riders briefly in the dirt. Ah, things were so friendly between Marquez and Rossi back then …

2013, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:37.958 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.513secs)
Winning margin:
3.495secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
Marquez had winning form at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Moto2, but rose to a new level on his first visit to ‘The Brickyard’ on the bigger bike, setting a new circuit record in qualifying, breaking the lap record in the race and keeping both teammate Pedrosa and countryman Jorge Lorenzo at bay after assuming the lead for good at the halfway stage.

2014, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.773 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.289secs)
Winning margin:
4.124secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
Marquez was on a different planet in qualifying, repeatedly shattering his own circuit record, and was only headed briefly in the race after a bizarre jump start from Lorenzo, whose Yamaha was nearly halfway up the hill to COTA’s signature first corner before the lights went out. Once Lorenzo pitted to serve a ride-through penalty, Marquez stretched his lead to over five seconds before a wobble on the final corner of the final lap gave his pit crew a scare. It was the one moment all weekend he didn’t look completely in control.

2014, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:31.619 (2nd: Andrea Dovizioso, +0.225secs)
Winning margin:
1.803secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Marquez came to Indy in a season where his title defence from 2013 couldn’t have been going much better – he’d won all nine of the previous races, and took his eighth pole for 2014 on Saturday despite running wide on his first attempt. He made if a perfect 10 on Sunday, but this was a hard-fought win – embroiled in a scrap with Rossi and Lorenzo for the first half of the race, he escaped as the factory Yamaha teammates fought one another to ease to victory.

2015, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.135 (2nd: Dovizioso, +0.339secs)
Winning margin:
2.354secs (2nd: Dovizioso)
Recap:
COTA in 2015 may have produced the best single lap of Marquez’s career in qualifying, after his bike shut down on the pit straight as he was about to start his final lap. He abandoned his Honda, sprinted down the pit lane to board his spare bike, and then rode it like a man possessed, seemingly within millimetres of crashing on every corner to jump from seventh place to pole in 122 seconds of white-knuckle genius. The race was, by comparison, a more tame affair, Marquez passing Dovizioso on lap five for a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

2015, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:31.884 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.171secs)
Winning margin:
0.688secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Marquez was a long shot for the title by the time the series hit Indianapolis for its final visit, but that didn’t stop him winning in the US for a seventh straight time. He was made to earn this one, though; Lorenzo got the holeshot from the outside of the front row and set the pace, Marquez sitting behind him for lap after lap without attempting to pass. Marquez then struck at the first corner with three laps to go, and held firm for the closest victory of his nine on the bounce in the US.

2016, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:03.188 (2nd: Lorenzo, +0.069secs)
Winning margin:
6.107secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Having barely kept his unblemished pole record at Austin alive – Lorenzo was just six-hundredths of a second slower – Marquez appeared vulnerable to Yamaha’s world champion on race day, but only if Lorenzo could produce a flawless race. Note the use of ‘could’: two first-lap mistakes by the Yamaha rider saw him drop behind Dovizioso, and by the time Lorenzo got back to second place on lap five, Marquez had checked out. His margin ballooned to eight seconds before easing off as the chequered flag loomed.

2017, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.741 (2nd: Maverick Vinales, +0.130secs)
Winning margin:
3.069secs (2nd: Rossi)
Recap:
COTA came at a good time for Marquez, Yamaha’s new signing Vinales having won the opening two races of the year in Qatar and Argentina to skip to a decisive series lead, helped by Marquez crashing out in round two. Pole put the pressure on Vinales, who then fell at Turn 18 chasing Marquez on lap two. With a chance to get right back into the title fight, Marquez scurried past teammate Pedrosa on lap nine. You know what happened next …

Miller Time: A rollercoaster in Argentina

Jack Miller writes his first pole position, a podium near-miss and Marc Marquez’s antics after a crazy second race of the year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

I’m speaking to you about an hour after finishing fourth in the race in Argentina and it’s hard to really know where to start. I mean, a bit went on as you probably saw … So let’s start at the start. I don’t completely know myself what went on, so bear with me … It was chaos, to be honest.

We went to the grid, and I felt it wasn’t going to rain anymore and stayed out there on slicks. The others didn’t feel that way, I guess – and they all peeled back into the pit lane and left me out there by myself. For me, slicks was the way to go, there’s no way we should have started on wets and the weather afterwards proved that. Once I saw how quickly the track and the pit lane were drying, it was for sure slick tyres. So the others all peel back in, I’m sitting there on pole position wondering where the hell everyone is, and then they delay the start by 15 minutes. Everyone else made the wrong call by choosing the wrong tyres; we didn’t. So why I do I get penalised for that? I understand the guys in charge of the series are under a whole heap of pressure, but it’s a shame for us because we made the right choice and got dicked around for it.

My tyres were pretty knackered towards the end of the race, but I’m more annoyed that I made two mistakes that almost certainly cost me a podium, or maybe even a victory. Who knows, the other guys, Cal (Crutchlow), Johann (Zarco) and Alex (Rins), they were all struggling with their tyres and maybe a win could have been on in the final laps. But saying that, I’ve just finished fourth in a race, it’s the second-best result I’ve had in MotoGP, so there’s a lot to be happy about. Us motorcycle riders are wired to always want more and you can’t help but think about that, but if you’d given me fourth from pole before the weekend started, I would have said ‘you beauty, thanks’ and snapped that up, and probably told you that you were dreaming too … So to have that happen was still pretty cool.

As you can imagine, everyone here has an opinion about Marc’s (Marquez) race, and I don’t even know if I’ve caught up with it all yet – I know about his incident with Valentino (Rossi), but apparently there were more, even though that one will rumble on for probably, well, forever.

All I know is that when he came past me on lap two I was pretty happy, because it gave me someone to follow and a reference for how hard I could push, you’re always a bit of a pioneer in the sketchy track conditions when you’re out the front. It was a bit disappointing when he had to pull in for the penalty off the start from that side of things. It’s not often you see someone get penalised three times in 24 laps though, I’ll say that.

On the grid, when he stalled it and then was going backwards, forwards, doing three-point turns or whatever he was doing, that was a bit weird. I was more thinking about my tyres and how they were cooling off waiting for him to get himself organised. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ was a polite version of what was going through my mind at the time …

Anyway, it was an exhausting race to be in, and probably the same for everyone watching it. There’s definitely a bit to process after a race like that, so maybe it’s just as well it takes forever to get back from here, the circuit is in a pretty remote part of Argentina and we all had stories of the journeys we took to get here last week.

Between now and the race in Austin I’m going to head out to California to do some training and some cycling, so that’s something to look forward to. We’ll talk again after the next one, which surely won’t be as crazy as that was …

Cheers, Jack

Miller Time: Going down the long road

Jack Miller writes about a Qatar GP that produced a top-10 finish on his Ducati debut, but showed there’s plenty more in the pipeline.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It’s a long season. It’s a long season. It’s a long season … yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s what I’ve been saying in my head since I got off the bike here in Qatar after the first race on Sunday night. Starting 10th and finishing in the same position after 22 laps isn’t going to get anyone that excited, especially me, and especially after how well the pre-season went for me – I was expecting quite a lot more. But it’s a long … you get the drift.

The whole weekend was one of those ‘nearly, but not quite’ weekends where you feel you can just about touch a good result, but it never quite gets there. Friday, I had some dramas with tyres in practice and it didn’t look good back in 14th, especially seeing as though I’d been six-tenths of a second faster  in the test a couple of weeks back. But I knew I had more pace than that, there was a reason I was back there, and it was nice to show I was right on Saturday in qualifying. I finished top of Q1 and made it through to Q2, and then did a 1:54.449 on my last Q2 lap and managed personal bests in three of the four sectors, so really happy with that. Felt like a lap that could have been on the second row of the grid, to be honest. But the pace was crazy fast and I was back in 10th; not terrible, but could have been better for the first race.

Tyre wear at Losail is always an issue on this surface and being in the middle of the desert like we are, so it wasn’t the first few laps that would set up everyone’s races on Sunday, it was the last seven laps or so. I was in OK shape hanging onto the main group for the first bunch of laps, but got a bit of a warning at the second-last corner eight laps in when I had a decent moment, and you could tell I needed to manage the front tyre life a bit more. That was when my pace dropped off, I never did do a lap of 1min 55secs after that, and the pack got further away from me. I was hardly the only one to drop back; Johann (Zarco) led the race for most of it from pole and fell back massively at the end to finish eighth, while someone like Maverick (Vinales), who started behind me and was a fair way back from me in the early laps, ended up flying through and finishing sixth. How much tyre you had left at the end was the deciding factor, really.

Compared to last year, I finished a tenth of a second (literally 0.108secs, someone told me) further back from first place than here in 2017, which isn’t great. But it’s not all bad, because last year I was pushing like crazy and maxed it out to get to eighth, and this year I know we have way more potential than that and I was still the same 14-ish seconds off the winner. Didn’t feel like I could have done much more last year, but there’s way more to come from me and this Ducati. It’s one race of 19. Long season … The team seemed pretty happy, and for me, it’s natural to be disappointed because us riders always want more, even the guy who wins wishes he could have won by more most of the time. But we’ll be OK in the long run.

Argentina comes next, but that’s three weeks away yet which is a bit frustrating. It’ll be my 50th MotoGP race too, so that’s a bit of a milestone. Should be a better one than it was here too. I’ll catch up with you then.

Cheers, Jack

10 fearless predictions for the MotoGP season

Want to know what will happen on two wheels in 2018? We’ve peered into the crystal ball …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Testing? Done. Takeaways from testing? On record. The season start in Qatar? Merely days away. Which means it’s time. Time to stick our neck out and come up with 10 fearless predictions for the coming MotoGP season.

Who wins the title? Who has no chance? Who will spring a surprise for the right or wrong reasons? Which rookie will shine brightest? And is there anyone who can unseat Marc Marquez from his throne as the king of MotoGP?

We’ve dusted off the crystal ball and peered into the future to come up with our cast-iron guarantees (or, if you like, best educated guesses) for 2018. Deep breath, here goes.

1. Pedrosa is a title contender

Yes, we know he’s been in the premier class for 12 years and hasn’t finished third or better for five seasons. Yes, we’re aware three of his teammates (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marquez – four times) have won the championship where he hasn’t managed it once. And yes, he’s 33 years old in September. But Dani Pedrosa’s pre-season pace has been eye-catching, and if you were going to choose someone to give Marquez a run to the title, what about the rider on the same bike on the other side of the same garage? Any Pedrosa predictions have to come, history tells us, with an asterisk for injury, but we’re backing him in.

2. More wins for Jorge, more points for Dovi

Jorge Lorenzo’s first year in Ducati red was underwhelming in the extreme, particularly when compared to that of teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who snared six victories to the Mallorcan’s zero to become Marquez’s major (and unlikely) rival for the title. The metronomic ‘Dovi’ crashes rarely and makes very few mistakes, and we’re predicting it’ll be that rather than outrageous speed that keeps the Italian in the title fight again. Can we see Lorenzo picking up a win or two more than his teammate? Absolutely. Will that be enough to be the highest-scoring Ducati rider over 19 races? We’re saying no.

3. Jack Miller will make podiums, plural

He’s stood on a MotoGP podium before, of course (who can forget Assen 2016 when the Aussie surveyed the view from the top step?), but that was a crazy race in crazy weather that owed itself to opportunism, sublime skill, a smattering of luck and a ‘what the hell’ approach. This year? Jack Miller’s pace in pre-season testing on a Ducati has been fierce and not at all fleeting – he’s been a top-10 constant in Malaysia, Thailand and Qatar – and you sense he can make the top three in races (plural) this year with or without inclement weather aiding his cause.

4. Johann Zarco will lead Yamaha’s charge

This is bold, but the Frenchman who adopts a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to his racing might just fly while the factory Yamaha squad flap about with aerodynamic tweaks, wondering which chassis to use and managing the expectations of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, who often want very different things from the same motorcycle. One thing we know: Zarco won’t want for wondering. What effect, we wonder, will Yamaha’s end-of-year divorce with Tech 3 have on his chances as the season progresses? (We’ll be using that as our asterisk, incidentally, if this one doesn’t come true).

5. Rossi will ride on

OK, so this one isn’t so bold. Indications suggest ‘The Doctor’ will keep making house calls on the MotoGP calendar for the next two seasons, which will take him into his 40s. For anyone else, signing a multi-year deal at that age and stage of a career would seem unlikely and lucky in equal measure – but the biggest drawcard in the sport (still) will be competitive for as long as he’s around. Let’s hope it’s for a good while yet.

6. The silly season won’t be very silly

Rossi likely to re-sign with Yamaha’s factory squad, Marquez already locked in at Repsol Honda, Vinales staying at Yamaha until 2020 … will there be much intrigue over this season as to who rides where next year? Other than what happens to Zarco when the Tech 3/Yamaha alliance ends, we might know more about next season before this one really gets underway, especially at the pointy end of the field.

7. Rins will rise

We never got to see the best of Suzuki rookie Alex Rins last year, one injury after another scuppering his chances of playing himself into the top flight alongside experienced Italian Andrea Iannone. But there were signs the 22-year-old was learning fast towards the end of the season, top 10 results in Japan, Australia and Valencia (where he finished a career-best fourth) giving cause for optimism, and he’s been the pick of Suzuki’s riders in testing, save for Iannone’s first two days at one of his strongest circuits in Qatar. Iannone can blow hot and cold, but the more consistent Rins will end up as the team’s primary charger.

8. Taka takes a turn in the top three

Ten of the riders on this year’s grid have never stood on a MotoGP podium, and based on the above, Rins looks best placed to get there first. But keep an eye on Takaaki Nagakami, the Japanese rookie who has stepped up from Moto2 to partner Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda this season. A surprise in the top 10 at the Thailand test, the 26-year-old has impressed the battle-hardened Crutchlow already, the Briton telling reporters in Buriram that “he’s a good kid and he’s got a big future ahead in MotoGP”. If you’re looking for a smoky to make a top three this year, Taka’s top of the list.

9. Thailand will be the GP of the year

Argentina will be manic, Mugello magic. Assen will be, well, Assen, and Phillip Island will probably produce the race of the year, if recent Australian Grands Prix are any indication. But the event of 2018? Let’s give the ‘trophy’ to Thailand now, shall we? A nation obsessed by bikes, desperate to see the world’s best riders ply their trade and a debut world championship race in Buriram? If the crowds at pre-season testing were any indication, look out in October when MotoGP returns for real.

10. The Marquez masterclass will roll on

Can four titles in five years become five in six? Let’s answer one question with another: who or what stops him?

What do we know about the 2018 MotoGP season?

Testing is over – and with the countdown on to the Qatar season-opener, here’s five pointers about the year to come.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’ve reached the finish of the start – the end of pre-season testing for MotoGP before the 2018 season roars into life in Qatar on March 18. Over nine days of testing between Sepang in Malaysia, a first look at the Buriram circuit in Thailand and Losail in Qatar, riders and teams have fine-tuned machines, tried and tested (and discarded) new aerodynamic directions, and blown the cobwebs away from the post-season ahead of this year’s 19-race campaign.

So what do we know as the build-up starts to Qatar in less than a fortnight’s time? Do we trust the timesheets? Do we place more stock on history and pedigree than form and momentum? And will the real story only start to emerge after a handful of races on more traditional tracks back in Europe, given Losail counts as neither?

Here’s some of what we can deduce from testing – and a few pointers of what to look out for when the lights go out for real on the season proper.

Qatar won’t tell us everything

Qatar pays a lot (really, a LOT) of money to host MotoGP’s season-opener, held in a desert at night with very few people watching trackside. If you’re looking for atmosphere, this isn’t the race. And if you’re looking for a pointer of what’s to follow, Qatar probably isn’t the race either.

We saw some of that in pre-season testing, where a rider like Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, nowhere in the preceding tests in Malaysia and Thailand, suddenly vaulted to the top three on the timesheets on the first two days at Losail before missing the final day with illness. Is there a world in which Iannone challenges for the podium in Qatar in two weeks’ time? Absolutely. Are there a majority who’ll guarantee he’ll finish ahead of fast-rising teammate Alex Rins in the standings over the course of the season? Not really.

The location, circuit layout, time of day and other peculiarities of the Losail track making drawing conclusions from one race difficult and unwise at the same time. It’s just one chapter in a 19-race story.

Yamaha found more questions than answers

If you’ve made any sense of Yamaha’s pre-season, you’re smarter than us – and possibly Yamaha, after the comments of their riders in Qatar. Consider this sequence of numbers: 14-1-18-11-4-12-1-7-5 – they’re the finishing positions of Maverick Vinales on the timesheets on the nine days of testing across three very different tracks, a steep rollercoaster that left the Spaniard perplexed.

On the final day of the Qatar test, with Vinales commenting that he was riding at “50 per cent” before the last hour because he had no confidence the bike would stay on the track, Yamaha elected to revert back the base setting of the bike he’d tried three days prior – and he immediately leapt into the top five.

“We finished with the same bike that I started with on the first day … (and) I did the lap time without trusting the front,” he told the assembled media afterwards.

“It’s quite strange for me,” he said. “Now it looks like we lost one day, one-and-a-half days to try other things. We have to pay a lot of attention to the things we changed. Because nothing changed on the bike, it’s just the same bike as the first day. The second day we tried other things and we lost the way. So my feeling was that I could not push. Even now I feel like I can push more, I still can’t give my best.”

Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi, who finished the Qatar test strongly, wasn’t getting carried away with his second-fastest time, either.

“There have been too many ups and downs this winter,” Rossi told the Italian press. “This means that from one track to another, the difference between the bikes will change a lot, and we have to avoid that we suffer too much at our worst tracks.”

Johann Zarco, the Tech3 Yamaha rider who narrowly missed shattering Jorge Lorenzo’s decade-old pole record with a 1min 54.029sec lap on the final day, is running Yamaha’s 2016 chassis this year, and his single-lap pace was a massive quarter of a second faster than anyone else. Which is all very well until you consider his race pace, given the Qatar GP is held over 22 laps, was nowhere near as strong. “When I tried to find the race pace, I was a bit slow,” he admitted.

Could we see a Yamaha or two on the podium for the season-opener? Yes. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Rossi, Vinales and Zarco didn’t make the top five in a fortnight’s time. Their guess is only slightly better than yours.

Jack is legit

Jack Miller has almost been counting the days down until the first race in Qatar from the moment he stepped onto a Ducati Desmosedici GP17 for the first time in Valencia last November, and comes into the 2018 campaign in great shape, his confidence sky-high and his expectations for the season needing to be recalibrated.

Remarkably, the first day in Qatar (when he was 12th overall) was the only day he didn’t feature inside the top 10 across nine days of testing, while his long-run pace came relatively easily, leaving him in no doubt that there’s more to come. He’s been right on the pace (and sometimes faster than) Alma Pramac Racing teammate Danilo Petrucci too, remembering that the Italian is on the updated Ducati GP18 that will be campaigned by Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory squad.

Miller’s best qualifying and race results at Losail came last year (started 16th, finished eighth) – and it’ll be a huge disappointment and something of a surprise if he’s not able to eclipse that in two weeks.

‘Dovi’ knows he can do it

There’s a big difference between thinking you can do something big and knowing you can, and that’s why Dovizioso’s pre-season makes for such interesting analysis. After his belated breakout season in 2017, when the 31-year-old won six races in one season where the previous nine years had yielded just two victories, there’s a sense of calm around the Italian these days, and he approaches his craft with a minimum of fuss – no headline times in testing (he never led a day across the nine), few crashes or runs wide into gravel traps or onto tarmac escape roads, and no big proclamations of what’s to follow. Consistent and methodical lap times while understanding why he’s fast (as opposed to just being fast) was the aim, and those boxes were ticked.

After day two in Qatar, ‘Dovi’ pulled back the curtain – ever so slightly – to reveal the inner confidence that will surely see him stay a title contender this year. “My best time I set in a mini long-run of 12 laps which I did this evening, and I have to admit that the times came quite easily …,” he said.

“We are in a better situation then we had last year, so I’m really happy about that.”

Marquez is favourite, but …

Miller gave the media a first-hand insight into Marquez’s brilliance at Qatar, after he followed the reigning world champion on track during the second day of running and watched the Repsol Honda rider push to – and beyond – the limits reserved for mere mortals.

“I watched him lose the front I think six times in the space of two laps,” Miller said, shaking his head.

“I thought ‘he’s down, he’s down’, and then he stood it up and kept going again! But I followed him the lap before through the fast three corners, and he lost the front each time.

“It was amazing to watch from behind, there was smoke and stuff coming off him …”

Marquez’s ability to manhandle a bike that isn’t quite where he wants it in conditions that aren’t quite the optimum means, yet again, the Spaniard will be the man to beat this year. We might not get a repeat of the nine race winners that made the 2016 season one of the more memorable in the sport’s history, but we could see an increase on the number of riders to make the podium this year, if testing is any guide.

It’ll be a tall order for anyone to unseat Marquez, but the number of contenders nipping at his heels looks set to rise – which can only be a good thing.

Thai takeaways: what the riders thought of MotoGP’s new track

Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa, Miller and more weigh in on the newest circuit to join the MotoGP calendar in Buriram.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s been a while since we had a completely new circuit join the MotoGP calendar – the Red Bull Ring in Austria re-joined the world championship in 2016, while the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina came on stream two years earlier.

So it was with much anticipation (and plenty of cold water) that MotoGP arrived in steaming hot Thailand last week for a three-day test at the Chang International Circuit, located at Buriram, a little over 400 kilometres northeast of the country’s capital, Bangkok.

The 4.6km track, which has played host to World Superbikes for the past three years, will hold its first world championship Grands Prix in October this year, meaning riders and teams were keen to bank as much knowledge as they could over three days of running, and to familiarise themselves with the 12-turn layout. “I’ve adapted to it pretty quickly, and the circuit itself is very fast,” said Alma Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller after the second day of the test, adding “it’s a little bit like Austria, minus the elevation changes.” We’re presuming he meant minus snow-capped mountains, lush green fields and a giant bull statue, as well …

The comparisons between Austria and Buriram are valid – the Thailand circuit is 300m longer, has two more corners and is just as wide (12m) as the Red Bull Ring – but while Austria has been Ducati territory for the past two seasons, Buriram was all about Honda, factory rider Dani Pedrosa setting the fastest time of the test (a lap of 1min 29.781secs on the final day), and becoming the third Honda to top the timesheets after Cal Crutchlow led day one, and Pedrosa’s teammate and reigning world champion Marc Marquez set the day two benchmark.

Pre-season testing times should be taken with a grain of salt – who would have thought Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo would struggle so much after dominating the Malaysian test just two weeks previously? – but the timesheets can tell us that Johann Zarco is plainly the fastest man on a Yamaha, factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have a lot of head-scratching to do between now and the final test in Qatar in a fortnight’s time, and Miller and Ducati appear to be the perfect marriage, the Aussie backing up his strong showing at Sepang by finishing sixth overall – and the fastest Ducati rider – in Buriram.

That’s what the stopwatch says, but what did the riders themselves think of the new circuit? Here’s what they had to say, and where they finished after three days of sweltering action in front of grandstands that were routinely packed, the locals showing their love for all things two wheels before racing starts in earnest in eight months’ time.

Dani Pedrosa
Repsol Honda Team (1:29.781, 1st overall)
“The circuit is quite narrow, so it’s important to use the right lines and carry speed. We’re working to find the best balance in order to be quick in both the fast sectors and the more twisty ones.”

Marc Marquez
Repsol Honda Team (+0.188secs, 3rd)
“Regarding the track layout, it seemed quite fast to me when I lapped it on a scooter yesterday, but today riding my bike, I realised it was slower that I was expecting, with many second- or third-gear corners. Still, there are some hard acceleration and braking points, and it will probably be challenging to manage tyre life, so we’ll work on that as well.”

Jack Miller
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.404secs, 6th)
“The layout of the circuit is fascinating. I expected it to be more dirty, especially in the morning, but I had the feeling of having a good grip right away. It’s a fast track and it’s nice to race here. To do the best lap time you have to be patient and you have to give up a bit in braking to get the acceleration, especially on the Ducati. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that at the moment. But being patient isn’t one of my strong points …”

Andrea Dovizioso
Ducati Team (+0.411secs, 7th)
“The Buriram track is very unusual and it wasn’t easy to get used to its layout. There are three corners which are virtually hairpins and then the rest is quite a pretty straightforward run. It’s quite a slow track for our bike, but it’s always interesting to try new circuits.”

Maverick Vinales
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.493secs, 8th)
“I like the track a lot, it fits my riding style quite well with these flowing corners.”

Danilo Petrucci
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.586secs, 9th)
“I liked the track right away. We were expecting to find a circuit with a lot of aggressive braking but many curves turned out to be fast.”

Tito Rabat
Reale Avintia Racing (+0.695secs, 11th)
“I like the circuit and I had a lot of fun. It has several parts that reminded me of Qatar, others of Texas… it has some long straights and the asphalt is okay, although at the beginning of the day it was a little bit dirty. But the first impression was very good.”

Valentino Rossi
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.730secs, 12th)
“First of all, the feeling with the track is not too bad, I expect worse, but first of all the track is in a good condition. It’s clean and the asphalt has good grip. This is very important. And also the layout. I remembered [this track to be] more similar to Austria, so I was very worried. But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It’s good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it’s fun. Technically it’s quite easy, but it’s not boring.”

Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini (+0.920secs, 14th)
“To be honest, the track surprised me. I had more fun than I thought I would. The first part is not particularly interesting with all the straights connected by braking sections, but overall it is a nice track.”

Alvaro Bautista
Angel Nieto Team (+1.102secs, 17th)
“It’s a track that has a couple of good points like Turn 4, where you go into it very fast and you have to go down a couple of gears and enter quickly. The circuit reminds me a little of Austria; it’s varied and fun. I thought it looked easier, on paper, but riding a MotoGP bike complicates everything a bit more. The last two sectors are critical; they are narrow and you have to clearly choose the line because otherwise you can lose a lot of time.”