MotoGP 2016 Jerez Review

When Valentino Rossi proved at Jerez that at 37 years old he’s still got the proverbial ‘it’ he set MotoGP experts and fans the task of recalling the last time he did it in such a commanding fashion.  He has a fantastic record at Jerez after taking the third win of his career in 125cc there in 1997, a win in his 250cc title year in 1999 and six wins in the premier class between 2001 and 2009.  Jerez was the scene for Rossi’s infamous clash with his then arch rival Sete Gibernau as he passed the Spaniard on the final corner to win the race with a very late move which pushed the Honda rider into the gravel (he recovered to finish second).  None of those races trigger memories of a performance like we saw in this race though as the Italian delivered the kind of race for which his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo is more famous.

Rossi was starting from only his third pole position since he returned to Yamaha in 2013 after beating Lorenzo to pole by 0.122 seconds.  Once the lights went out he led the whole race apart from a brief moment when Lorenzo went past only to be re-taken by his team-mate at the next corner.  Rossi pulled away, established a comfortable lead and held it to the finish even taking the fastest lap in the process.  The record books show numerous occasions where he’s had the holy trinity of pole, win and fastest lap but I cannot recall a race where he led every lap and dominated from start to finish.  With Lorenzo leaving Yamaha at the end of the season to join Ducati and his new team-mate yet to be decided it was a great statement from Rossi that he will be the number one rider in 2017.  He stays third in the championship but is now 24 points behind Marc Marquez after being 33 points back at the start of the day.

Lorenzo took a commanding win here last season which set off a four race win streak but the 28 year-old didn’t have an answer for Rossi’s dominance this weekend.  After being second on the grid and second in the race he stays second in the championship now 17 points behind Marquez.  It looked at one stage like Lorenzo would have a good battle for second place but he could not hold the same pace and was five second back from his fellow Spaniard by the end of the race.  He retains his grip on the championship though as they head to Le Mans. What was disappointing but not surprising was Lorenzo’s lack of sportsmanship on the podium. Despite their rivalry Rossi and Marquez applauded each other and Lorenzo  while they received their trophies where the reigning champion stood sulking like a child who’d had his lunch money stolen.

Dani Pedrosa finished fourth after a bright start to the race where he briefly passed Marquez for third place but his challenge soon faded and he had to focus more on the Suzukis chasing him than what was happening in front.  For the first time this season it was Aleix Espargaro that was the lead Suzuki after he muscled past Maverick Vinales at the start and finished 2.629 seconds in front of his team-mate.  It shows how far Suzuki have come since their return to MotoGP that they are now third in the Teams’ Standings behind Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda.  Espargaro and Vinales have amassed 65 points and are 9 ahead of Monster Tech 3 Yamahas on 56 and 17 in front of the Ducati Corse boys who were expected to challenge for wins this season.

Speaking of Ducati then, Andrea Iannone’s season goes from cold to tepid as he spent the whole of the race fighting for single figure points before finally working his way up to seventh to take nine points.  That at least took him above team-mate Andrea Dovizioso in the standings now after the elder Italian retired with an undiagnosed mechanical fault.

In eighth place Pol Espargaro continues to out-perform Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamahas as he has done every race this season. It’s a big turnaround from 2015 and you have to wonder how much Bradley has his eyes on that factory KTM contract in 2017 in much the same way that Cal Crutchlow’s performances dropped off at Tech 3 once he had the factory Ducati contract in his pocket.  I don’t think it’s anything deliberate by Smith but he certainly isn’t delivering the same performances he was last season when his future was on the line.

Apart from Rossi’s masterful win the ride of the day has to go to Eugene Laverty who brought the Aspar Ducati home in ninth and showed for most of the race how much he has developed in the last year and a bit.  His fourth place in Argentina may have been a brilliant result but even he admits he was pretty much gifted four places on the last lap.  In Jerez though he ran as the top Ducati for a long time until Iannone worked his way through and still finished above Hector Barbera on the Avintia Ducati to be top satelite Ducati rider.  Laverty remains ninth in the standings and is just three points behind Barbera in eighth and here’s another nice face for him – apart from Valentino Rossi he’s the first non-Spanish rider in the standings.

Cal Crutchlow scored his first points of the season in eleventh place to go to eighteenth in the standings with five points.  Smith was next to add just four to his tally and drops to twelfth overall on twenty points.  Loris Baz had his best result of the season with thirteenth place in front of Stefan Bradl whose two points take him on to seventeen for the season. Aprilia are really improving this season and have as many points as the Aspar boys and more than Pramac Ducati which nobody would have predicted after four races.  Yonny Hernandez took the final point for Aspar Ducati in fifteenth.

The riders still running outside the points at the finish were both Pramac Ducatis and both Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Hondas.  At Pramac you can almost forgive Michele Pirro as he is a substitute for the injured Danilo Petrucci and clearly better suited to a test rider role but this was a horror weekend for Scott Redding.  I really expected Scott to excel given the chance to shine on such a competitive bike and I know he’s had a lot of bad luck (the Argentina breakdown for example) but he is fourteenth in the standings with just sixteen points.  The only saving grace is that he has more points after four races this season than he did last on the Honda which takes us to Jack Miller and Tito Rabat.  As with Pirro I don’t expect anything special from Miller as I think he’s in over his head but I thought Rabat would be a little more on the pace by now.  Perhaps the satelite Hondas aren’t as near to their factory counterparts as the Ducatis and Yamahas are as Crutchlow isn’t challenging for good points yet either.

STANDINGS (Top 15 only)

1 – Marc Marquez – SPA – Repsol Honda – 82
2 – Jorge Lorenzo – SPA – Movistar Yamaha – 65
3 – Valentino Rossi – ITA – Movistar Yamaha – 58
4 – Dani Pedrosa – SPA – Repsol Honda – 40
5 – Pol Espargaro – SPA – Monster Tech 3 Yamaha – 36
6 – Maverick Vinales – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar – 33
7 – Aleix Espargaro – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar – 32
8 – Hector Barbera – SPA – Avintia Ducati – 31
9 – Eugene Laverty – IRL – Aspar Ducati – 28
10 – Andrea  Iannone – ITA – Ducati Corse – 25
11 – Andrea Dovizioso – ITA – Ducati Corse – 23

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Andy Neate Special Feature

It seems that the racing dream for the Miracle Man of the BTCC is over as Andy Neate has parted ways with Halfords Yuasa Racing.  He suffered horrendous injuries in a horrific crash at Silverstone in 2008 but returned to racing after an eighteen month recovery to compete in the BTCC from 2010 to 2013.  After a two year sabbatical he returned this season with the Team Dynamics Honda outfit but after just one event at Brands Hatch the dream is over.

THE SPLIT

While the team and TOCA have been tight-lipped over the reasons for the split but Andy made the following statement on his Facebook social media site:

“Whilst the guys at Honda and Dynamics have been great, your heart has got to be in something to commit fully. I think with so much going on for me my lack of full commitment and focus on the job isn’t the best way forward for me or such a great team as Honda Dynamics.

I’m gonna enjoy watching my little man take the reins now. I got so much joy watching him get his first British podium last weekend. I knew then on top of the disappointment I felt after Brands that’s what it’s about now.

I’ve had my fill over the years, broke a few bones and walked away with my life just about thankfully, I did ok. But it’s over to my little man now (and) he’ll do far much better than I ever did.

Best of luck to Matt and Flash and Honda, great drivers and an awesome team.. I’m sure they will bring home the big trophy this year.”

As a father myself of two young boys I can certainly see that appeal of putting your all into helping them achieve their dreams.  Like Andy I would not hesitate to their ambitions first and it looks to me that two consecutive weekends helped him come to this decision.  This is just my personal speculation based on his statement above, I’d like to make that clear,

The first weekend was the opening round of the BTCC season at Brands Hatch.  Andy made his return to the series with the 2015 champions alongside Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal who have five titles between them.  With his two team-mates qualifying second and third behind Tom Ingram the best Andy could manage was eighteenth.  I personally didn’t think that was too bad after a couple of years away but perhaps the disappointment of qualifying carried into the races as he was battling with a number of drivers making their debuts and others with less experience.  In the three races he finished 18th, 26th and 26th to round off a bad weekend with no championship points.  His frustration was clear when that evening he posted that having qualified crap he ended up surrounded by just that and labelled a few drivers ‘numpties’ without naming names.  Andy’s feeling of discouragement was palpable.

Fast forward seven days and Andy is with his son Aiden at FKS (Formula Kart Stars) at Buckmore Park as the next generation Neate was racing for Fusion Motorsport.  Aiden took a 2nd and two 4ths in the heats then a great 2nd place in the Final for a fantastic start to the season.  Being friends with Andy on Facebook allowed me to see the highs and lows of the racing weekends as the entire low mood from Brands appeared to be erased by Aiden’s success.  The overcast cloud of a poor weekend for dad was broken by the blinding sunshine of success for his progeny.

If you look at it through Andy’s eyes then it makes it much easier to see why he came to this decision.  I’ve seen rumours with other reasons for the split involving money and financing but without any basis in fact then this unsubstantiated gossip is just that.  The only statement we have is the one above from Andy and in the absence of anything to the contrary then perhaps people should just accept it and move on.

CAREER

Andy Neate moved into Formula First from karting in 1997 and outside the BTCC he has also raced in the Formula Opel Europa Cup, British GT Championship, Renault Clio Cup, Ford Fiesta Championship (winning the title in 2006) and Porsche Carrera Cup GB.

He first raced in the BTCC in 2001 at the first two races at Brands Hatch in a Mitsubishi Carisma, retiring both times.  His next appearance was the final three races at the same circuit for Daniels Motorsport in a Vauxhall Astra Coupe where he finished tenth in the second race for his first championship point and was only just outside in the other two races.

THAT ACCIDENT

Unfortunately the 21st September 2008 was the defining date in Andy’s career and no blog about him would be complete without its coverage.  He was racing a TVR Sagaris for Track Power Motorsport in the 24 hour Britcar race at Silverstone.  He was chosen to start the race for the team and it was at the start where fate intervened and sent Andy’s life in a whole new direction which may have seen him never walk again let alone race.  The pole sitter’s car lost control as they came out of Woodcote across the line, losing the rear as he perhaps tried too hard on tyres that were not up to temperature.  Andy took avoiding action which carried him across the grass on the left into the wall and then back across the track as the field streamed through at the start of the race.  As he neared the pit wall he was hit hard and full on by Richard Dean’s Ginetta which destroyed the car and caused serious injuries to Andy.  He was airlifted to hospital with among other injuries a broken neck and two decompressed lungs. Once at the hospital he was placed into an induced coma for his own safety for 2 weeks and his long road to recovery lasted eighteen months.  He says he suffered the same injury as Christopher Reeve which left the Superman actor paralysed but was luckier in that his spinal cord remained attached to the vertebrae.  It was thought that he would never return to racing but was back in the BTCC in 2010. At the time of the accident he was in discussion to drive for West Surrey Racing in 2009 and the team honoured the talks with a drive the following year once he was back to full fitness.  No matter what happened in the years since the accident the guy got back in a car and raced again and for that will always have my total respect. One can only imagine the amount of intestinal fortitude that it took to do that and he had a good few years racing since.  For me that gave him the right to call time on his racing career any time he likes.

BTCC RETURN

Andy was back racing for West Surrey Racing in 2010 in a BMW 320si alongside Rob Collard and finished 10th for a championship point (only ten scorers then) in his first race back.  Over the season he scored points in five races amounting six points to finish 18th overall.  For 2011 he raced a Ford Focus for Team Aon Arena Motorsport with Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole and achieved his highest ever result with 6th at Oulton Park and scored 15 points across the season for 18th in the championship again, 2012 took him to his best ever season with Triple Eight Racing in the MG 6GT alongside Jason Plato as he equalled the 6th place best at Croft and was 16th overall scoring 79 points under the new scoring system and having five top ten finishes.  He formed his own team for 2013 and drove himself at three rounds (Snetterton, Rockingham and Silverstone) and had Mike Bushell in the car at Knockhill.  The car was a Chevrolet Cruze and unfortunately neither driver managed to get the car into the points.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Andy is leaving racing himself to continue to support his son Aiden in his racing career (something that I’m sure will give him a huge amount of pleasure) and having recently been engaged to his fiancée Tillie Thompson I’m sure there will be wedding bells in the future.  Halfords Yuasa Racing had the third licence on loan which has now been returned for re-allocation.  The announcement is that another team will have use of the licence from the next round at Thruxton for the rest of the season but nothing has been confirmed on who that is yet.

BTCC Brands Hatch Review – Team BMR

After the first three Brands Hatch reviews focussed on the teams with race winners we have a complete switch of fortune to Team BMR.  There is no doubt that the team and star drivers will return to podiums and wins soon but they have started the season playing catch up with no testing time in the brand new Subaru Levorgs.  Apparently they had to pull out all the stops just to get all four cars on the grid at Brands and effectively used the day as a public testing session.  They may have been racing the best they could but every time they went out there were tweaking the settings and learning more and more about the car.  One thing’s for sure and that’s if anyone can get the best out of this package then it’s former BTCC champions Plato and Turkington and the whole of the Team BMR crew.  The fact that both those drivers managed to score points is amazing considering the cars hadn’t turned a wheel in anger until race weekend.  It will be interesting to see at Donington Park how much they have learned from Brands and how much improvement we will see in their running times.

Team: Team BMR
Driver: Jason Plato
Car: Subaru Levorg
Race One Started: 23rd
Race One Finished: 21st
Race Two Started: 21st
Race Two Finished: 13th
Race Three Started: 13th
Race Three Finished: 16th

Plato had the honour of being the first driver in BTCC to score points in a Subaru with thirteenth in Race Two.  He just managed to fend off Rob Austin in the Toyota by 0.276 seconds with Hunter Abbott roughly the same distance behind him.  In the last race of the day Jason was less than half a second behind debutant rookie Matt Simpson who just beat him to the last point in his Honda.

Donington Park is next and one can only assume that this is somewhat of a bogey circuit for the 48 year-old.  He’s recorded 94 wins in the BTCC since 1997 and only seven of those have come at the Leicestershire circuit.  Although he made his BTCC debut for Renault there it was not until 2001 while racing for Vauxhall that he recorded his first win there (at the time his tenth career win).  The next was at the 2004 season finale with Seat before a double win in 2007 and a single in 2008 for the same team.  He remained without another Donington win until 2014 in the Triple Eight MG and 2015 in the BMR VW when he won Race One both times.

Team: Team BMR
Driver: Colin Turkington
Car: Subaru Levorg
Race One Started: 11th
Race One Finished: Retired
Race Two Started: 26th
Race Two Finished: 20th
Race Three Started: 20th
Race Three Finished: 12th

Although Plato had the honour of scoring the team’s first points it’s Turkington that now holds the highest BTCC finish in a Subaru and stands highest in the standings in 17th place after Brands Hatch.  He qualified an amazing eleventh given the lack of running time and surely some of that will be down to his rear wheel drive experience and how to control such cars around the Indy circuit.  The day started badly though as on the second lap of Race One he was off at Graham Hill Bend with a spin that may or may not have involved Michael Epps and Chris Smiley (the cameras showed both Team HARD drivers re-joining at the same time).  With seven laps to go Colin retired the car in the pits so that the team could start on repairs for Race Two.  He started in 26th and made steady progression through the field but nearly lost the control completely only to recover with a save from a slide caused by fluid dropped on the downhill approach to Graham Hill Bend that caught out several drivers.  He finished 20th as the meat in a team-mate sandwich with Scott in front and Cole behind.  He made further progression in the final race that gives the team hope for the next round and crossed the line for the final race of the day in 12th place behind Ash Sutton and Rob Austin but in front of Hunter Abbott.

Just three of Turkington’s BTCC wins have come at Donington so could this circuit be unlucky for him too (Croft and Oulton Park seem to be his favourites)?  Colin made his BTCC debut in 2002 and recorded his first win in 2003 (both for MG) but it was not until 2006 that he recorded his first Donington win (on his return to MG from Vauxhall) which was his sixth overall at the time.  His other wins were 2013 in the BMW and last year in Race Two for Team BMR after Plato’s Race One victory.

Team: Team BMR
Driver: James Cole
Car: Subaru Levorg
Race One Started: 29th
Race One Finished: 25th
Race Two Started: 25th
Race Two Finished: 19th
Race Three Started: 19th
Race Three Finished: 18th

After a difficult first weekend of the season at least this year he can reflect on it being an improvement upon last year when Motorbase Performance had to withdraw from the first half of the season.  He qualified 29th with just Stewart Lines in the Ford Focus and two rookies (Mark Howard and Kelvin Fletcher) behind him.  At the end of Race One he was the last running classified car but two laps down on winner Tom Ingram.  He started Race Two in 25th spot and finished at the front of a trio of Subarus with Turkington and Scott behind him in 19th. Race Three brought further improvement to 18th and just 0.484 seconds behind Ingram and 0.611 seconds behind team-mate Plato.

Cole has only made five BTCC starts at Donington Park before and his best finish was 17th in 2013 in the Tony Gilham Racing Vauxhall Insignia which was his sixth ever BTCC outing.

Team: Team BMR
Driver: Warren Scott
Car: Subaru Levorg
Race One Started: Pit Lane
Race One Finished: Did Not Start
Race Two Started: 32nd
Race Two Finished: 21st
Race Three Started: 21st
Race Three Finished: 19th

A driveshaft problem caused Warren to stay in pit lane for the duration of the race and nullified his 27th place qualifying achievement where he would have been sandwiched between Epps’ and Smiley’s Toyotas.  He therefore started Race Two dead last and made good progress to 21st place by the end behind Cole and Turkington on the road but roughly five seconds away from the Irishman.  In Race Three he was just 0.62 seconds behind Cole as he finished 19th.

In his third BTCC season last year Scott had a good weekend at Donington Park as he finished in the points in two of the three races (11th in Race One and 15th in Race Three) and also saw his drivers Plato and Turkington take two of the three wins.

BTCC Brands Hatch Review – WIX Racing

Team: WIX Racing
Driver: Adam Morgan
Car: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Race One Started: 7th
Race One Finished: 9th
Race Two Started: 9th
Race Two Finished: 8th
 Race Three Started: 2nd
Race Three Finished: Winner

After a good qualifying session on Saturday Morgan qualified seventh and 0.368 seconds away from pole but in front of some strong competition like the BMWs of Jack Goff & Rob Collard and the Fords of Andrew Jordan & Mat Jackson.  Adam was involved in some great wheel to wheel battles from the start unlike Tom Ingram, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal in Race One.  While they were able to pull away to ‘almost comfortable’ podium positions Morgan was battling hard with Josh Cook’s MG, Aron Smith’s VW, Jackson in the Focus and Collard in the BMW.  In the end he finished behind that quartet but still took solid points for ninth place and managed to fend off Jack Goff’s BMW and Jordan’s Ford in the process.  In Race Two the Hondas pulled away for a one-two and Smith and Jordan battled for the last step on the podium leaving seven drivers vying for fifth position onwards.  Morgan finished one place higher than his starting spot behind Jackson, Ash Sutton in the MG and Goff.  He was 0.319 seconds in front of Tordoff though who had come through from sixteenth on the grid and he had Jeff Smith and Aiden Moffat in the other Mercedes right with him.

It was in Race Three where Morgan got his chance to shine.  The reverse grid draw by former-BTCC champion Rob Gravett put the 27 year-old on the front row behind new pole sitter Tordoff.  After a good start he slotted in behind the BMW driver with Goff, Jackson and Jordan hot on his tail.  At the end of the first lap he could tell he had more pace than Tordoff, got a good run out of Clearways and passed him in the pit straight before they got to Paddock Hill Bend.  Throughout the race he held a decent if not comfortable lead over the BMWs and despite them both turning up the heat in the closing laps he took his third ever BTCC win at the circuit where he took his maiden victory on the grand prix layout back in 2014.

The season is so open you can never tell when the next win or even podium will come when there are so many drivers capable of finishing in the top three.  This weekend we go to Donington where Morgan was on the podium once last year but apart from that race the WIX Racing Mercedes hasn’t had a great time at the Leicestershire circuit.  In 2014 the highest finish in the three races was 10th place and last year apart from the podium Morgan was 7th in Race One (not bad) but just 12th in Race Three.

BTCC Brands Hatch Review – Halfords Yuasa Racing

After featuring Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport in my first review following Tom’s Race One win it’s only natural to look at Halfords Yuasa Racing next after Gordon Shedden took victory in Race Two. Covering image of Matt Neal’s Honda comes courtesy of James Seymour Photography.

Team: Halfords Yuasa Racing
Driver: Gordon Shedden
Car: Honda Civic
Race One Started: 2nd
Race One Finished: 2nd
Race Two Started: 2nd
Race Two Finished: Winner
 Race Three Started: 9th
Race Three Finished: Retired

The reigning champion didn’t put a wheel wrong all weekend and had he not been the victim of misfortune in Race Three then he would likely be leading the drivers’ standings at this point.  He qualified second behind Tom Ingram and spent most of Race One harassing the rear bumper of the Toyota Avensis.  Had Ingram slipped up at any point then Shedden was ready to steal victory but the 22 year-old had a faultless race.  ‘Flash’ (as he is known to his fans) crossed the line 2.2 seconds behind Ingram and 1.6 seconds in front of team-mate Neal.  In Race Two he was overtaken by Rob Collard as the start as the BMW driver made a lightning getaway but when the 47 year-old former hot rod racer clashed with Ingram it handed the lead to the Honda driver.  The Hondas raced in flying formation with Shedden’s precision not allowing Neal a chance to pass and he won the second race by 0.848 seconds.  With the reverse grid draw he started the third race in ninth place and was up to sixth at one point soon lost that to Collard.  He then ran seventh until being pass by Aron Smith, Jeff Smith and Aiden Moffat with six laps to go.  As the Honda went through Paddock Hill Bend to start the next lap it suffered a puncture to the left rear tyre, sending it into the gravel and Shedden into retirement.  We go to Donington now where Shedden was on the podium twice last year and had won there eight times before starting with a double win in 2006 up to his last victory there in 2014.

Team: Halfords Yuasa Racing
Driver: Matt Neal
Car: Honda Civic
Race One Started: 3rd
Race One Finished: 3rd
Race Two Started: 3rd
Race Two Finished: 2nd
Race Three Started: 8th
Race Three Finished: 5th

Neal was as close as you like to Shedden all weekend and even if neither of them takes the BTCC title this year the battle for top Honda driver will be entertaining.  In qualifying he was 0.111 seconds behind pole sitter Ingram and just 0.048 seconds behind his team-mate.  In Race One he couldn’t get close to Shedden just as Shedden couldn’t get close to Ingram and Neal finished a healthy 2.145 seconds in front of debutant Ash Sutton.  In Race Two it was déjà vu as Neal followed Shedden throughout and finished less than a second behind.  He was lucky to avoid being collected by Collard after his collision with Ingram at Druids though.  In Race Three he worked his way past Andrew Jordan and Aron Smith in the early laps and was running fourth but was re-passed by the Ford Focus by the end of the race.  He finished fifth but just 0.037 seconds behind Jordan in a photo finish.  With three top five finishes it was enough to put Neal at the top of the standings even though he didn’t win a race.  He leads his team-mate by five points with Adam Morgan a point further back.  Matt won the third race at Donington last year but that was his first win there since 2011.  Looking back through his race history I can find seven wins that Neal has achieved at Donington going back to his first ever BTCC win in 1999 in the privateer Nissan Primera run by Team Dynamics.

Team: Halfords Yuasa Racing
Driver: Andy Neate
Car: Honda Civic
Race One Started: 18th
Race One Finished: 18th
Race Two Started: 18th
Race Two Finished: 26th
 Race Three Started: 26th
Race Three Finished: 26th

Andy returned to the BTCC as the third Honda driver and celebrated his 100th start in Race One and became the thirteenth driver in the field to make over a century of starts.  The weekend didn’t go to plan as he qualified 18th for Race One and held the same position by the end.  In Race Two he was a victim of the enthusiastic inexperience of some of the drivers around him as he continued to suffer the after effects of a lowly qualifying position.  He finished Race Two in 26th place nearly a lap down on Shedden and with only Mark Howard and Chris Smiley behind him still running.  He then held the same position to finish 26th in Race Three and left Brands Hatch wanting to put the whole weekend behind him and he will be keen to set the record straight at Donington.  Andy’s race in the BTCC at Donington nine times but never featured in the top ten with eleventh in 2011 in the Arena Motorsport Team Aon Ford Focus.

BTCC Brands Hatch Review – Speedworks

If we learned one thing from the opening rounds of the BTCC at Brands Hatch it’s that the 2016 season will be as unpredictable as any we’ve seen before.  We had three different winners in three different cars, a driver winning his first race (from his first pole), a driver winning his third race, a driver winning his 42nd race and two drivers scoring their first championship points. Over the next few blogs I’ll take a look at how the teams fared at Brands and preview the upcoming Donington Park weekend.  We’ll start with the Speedworks Motorsport team who had a great start to the weekend.

Team: Speedworks Motorsport
Driver: Tom Ingram
Car: Toyota Avensis
Race One Started: Pole
Race One Finished: Winner
Race Two Started: Pole
Race Two Finished: Retired
Race Three Started: 31st
Race Three Finished: 17th

Although he leaves Brands Hatch in ninth place in the championship Ingram is my driver of the weekend.  I may be a little biased as a big fan of Tom but he secured his first ever pole position on Saturday before the rain effectively cut short the qualifying session and then went on to a perfect lights to flag victory.  His control of Race One was so flawless that there is very little to say about it other than that he held of any challenge from reigning champion Gordon Shedden with ease and even when Alex Martin’s crash brought out the safety car he timed the re-start superbly.  They say you never forget your first win and I’m sure Tom has been savouring the excitement and emotion that everyone associated with the team felt when the chequered flag was waved.  He was delighted with his maiden podium at Rockingham last season but was understandably even more emotional with his first win in the first race of his third season in the series.  Things didn’t go according to plan after that though.  His start in Race Two was as good as in Race One but Rob Collard was soon on his tail.  Coming out of Paddock Hill Bend on the run up to Druids Collard made a lunge for the inside line.  Ingram defended the line with the BMW partially alongside and the pair touched in what was deemed a racing incident.  Collard spun while Ingram continued but the Toyota had suffered enough damage to end its race, crabbing wildly from broken suspension on the right rear.  That retirement left him starting from the back of the grid for the final race of the day and try as he might he could not cut through the field enough to get to the points and finish seventeenth.  As he was trying to scythe through the pack he had a coming together with Jake Hill and received a fine and licence points as a result.  He will hope for better fortune at Donington than he’s had in previous seasons as he hasn’t finished higher than tenth before (although he had been tenth in three of his six races).

Team: Speedworks Motorsport
Driver: Matt Simpson
Car: Honda Civic
Race One Started: 24th
Race One Finished: 17th
Race Two Started: 17th
Race Two Finished: 18th
Race Three Started: 18th
Race Three Finished: 15th

The way that Matt has switched from oval hot rod racing to circuit racing is nothing short of amazing. He showed he was no slouch by qualifying 24th of the 32 drivers and made steady progress throughout Sunday.  He may have started Race Three one place lower than he started Race Two but from what I could see he was smooth and consistent all weekend and wasn’t involved in any of the shenanigans going on around him.  To score his first BTCC point in his first ever circuit racing weekend is a fantastic achievement and he was one of only two rookies to score points.  If he debut performance is anything to go by we could be seeing good things from Matt before the season is out.

MotoGP Argentina Review

Grid
Row 1 – Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha), Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha)
Row 2 – Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Corse), Andrea Iannone (Ducati Corse)
Row 3 – Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar), Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
Row 4 – Pol Espargaro (Tech 3 Yamaha), Aleix Espargaro (Suzuki Ecstar), Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha)
Row 5 – Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati), Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), Jack Miller (Marc VDS Honda)
Row 6 – Stefan Bradl (Gresini Aprilia), Eugene Laverty (Aspar Ducati), Michele Pirro (Pramac Ducati)
Row 7 – Tito Rabat (Marc VDS Honda), Alvaro Bautista (Gresini Aprilia), Yonny Hernandez (Aspar Ducati)

The Race
The headlines coming out of Argentina were all about the clash of the Ducatis as Andrea Iannone committed the ultimate crime in the eyes of a team and took himself and Andrea Dovizioso out of the race at the final turn.  All the pair of Ducati Corse riders had to do was negotiate the final turn, flick the bike left through the kink onto the pit straight and cross the line to both finish on the podium with winner Marc Marquez.  Iannone is a racer though and right or wrong he went for the pass and it didn’t work.  Social media has been raging ever since with many criticising Iannone for causing the accident (some with extreme punishments in mind) and other supporting his move as this is racing after all.

On the approach to the final turn Dovizioso (Dovi for simplicity) was ahead of Iannone and they weren’t even nose to tail.  Dovi took a natural wide entry to the corner to take the racing line and Iannone saw what he thought was a gap to go for on the inside.  As he went to make his move however he lost the front under braking and skittled both himself and his team-mate off of the guaranteed podium spots.  Had he not lost the front it appeared to me that he would still have hit Dovi but not as severely and both bikes may well have finished.  Personally I don’t think the gap was there and it seems certain that the Ducati management have had some serious words with the excitable Italian.  Through his career in the lower and intermediate class he gained a reputation as a ‘win it or bin it’ rider and has had a few erratic moments.  You don’t get a nickname like Crazy Joe or Maniac Joe for nothing.    Since he joined MotoGP however he seems to have tamed that side of him and hopefully Argentina was a blip rather than a sign of things to come.

There are two issues which could affect his mentality going forward.  The first is the fact that he has now fallen at both opening races and is already losing touch with the leading riders in the championship.  That might just make him want to try a little harder in Austin which can cause a rider to push too much.  The second issue concerns the rumours surrounding Jorge Lorenzo’s potential move to Ducati in 2017. Obviously that would spell the end of at least one of the Andreas’ tenure with Ducati so he, like Dovizioso, is fighting for his seat. The next race in Austin will certainly give us some idea of the Iannone we will see going forward.

Of course the biggest story of the weekend started long before the two Ducatis collided.  It did start with a Ducati but it was Scott Redding’s Pramac Ducati that suffered a blow out from the rear Michelin tyre on Saturday.  While Michelin investigated the cause of the tyre failure they liaised with Race Direction to reduce the race to twenty laps and invoke the same forced bike change at mid-distance that occurred in Australia a couple of years ago.  There were other options depending on the weather but it was a dry race and it stayed dry so the riders had a three lap window to come in and change bikes.  It certainly hasn’t been a great start for the new tyre supplier for MotoGP and they’ll be praying that everything goes to plan in Austin.

The conditions certainly helped make it a race of attrition as only thirteen of the twenty-one bikes finished the race.  Cal Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro both slid off the track at turn one at the same time without touching each other.  Both remounted and although Espargaro finished eleventh Crutchlow crashed again and missed the points.  The most iconic retiree was Jorge Lorenzo who lost the front going through turn one (which caught most retirees out) while running in sixth place.  The reigning champion was struggling with the conditions and had slipped behind both Repsol Hondas, both factory Ducatis and his team-mate by the time he slid out.  Jack Miller crashed out on lap four and has since been lambasted by Scott Redding for his riding style and rightly so in my opinion.  I still believe that any rider starting his career in Moto3 should be nurtured in Moto2 before moving up to the premier class.  I think Miller was already an aggressive, accident-prone rider in Moto3 anyway and although there is no doubting his speed he is also a hazard to those around him (and himself). Yonny Hernandez went out the lap before Miller and the other retirees were in the second half of the race.

The first half of the race was a thrilling battle between Marquez and Rossi at the front.  Dovizioso was the early leader but Marquez passed both Italians on the third lap and when Rossi followed him through it set up a great battle between the bitter rivals.  It was even more intriguing as Marquez’s rear mounted camera was flapping around on its cable after Iannone dislodged it at the first corner.  Iannone had a good start and came into the first turn hot on the inside but the bike started skittering and he could not slow up in time.  He was so close to taking out Marquez that he knocked the camera off of its mounting and proceeded to knock Dani Pedrosa wide instead.

Marques and Rossi were battling right to the pit entrance in the first half of the race and they swapped the lead a couple of time.  Unfortunately in the second half of the race Rossi didn’t have the same performance on his second bike and Marquez pulled away in the last ten laps to take a dominant win.  It was behind him where all the drama was taking place.

Iannone’s assault on Dovizioso handed Rossi as surprise second place meaning he leaves Argentina only eight points behind Marquez whereas if he had finished fourth the gap would have been fifteen.  Pedrosa also benefitted from the accident and other retirees to come home third and put two Repsol Hondas on the podium.

Redding was having a great race in sixth place having passed Pedrosa when his bike suffered a mechanical failure and he had to retire.  Maverick Vinales could have been one of the heroes of the day as he was right in the mix of a great scrap for second place with Rossi, Iannone and Dovizioso for most of the race.  He was in third place pushing Rossi hard when he lost the front into turn one which claimed so many victims over the weekend.

The rider of the day has to be Eugene Laverty though he finished fourth after passing Hector Barbera and Pol Espargaro on the last lap.  The detractors can argue that he was helped by eight retirees and Dovizioso finishing by pushing his bike over the line but he beat a host of quality riders on merit.  Barbera and Espargaro may have tripped each other up but Laverty had worked hard to be in the right place to take advantage of that and beat the Aprilias of Bradl and Bautista, Espargaro’s team-mate Bradley Smith, Espargaro’s brother Aleix and former Moto2 champion Tito Rabat.

Result
1 – Marc Marquez – SPA – Repsol Honda – 25 – 41
2 – Valentino Rossi – ITA – Movistar Yamaha – 20 – 33
3 – Dani Pedrosa – SPA – Repsol Honda – 16 – 27
4 – Eugene Laverty – EIR – Aspar Ducati – 13 – 17
5 – Hector Barbera – SPA – Avintia Ducati – 11 – 18
6 – Pol Espargaro – SPA – Tech 3 Yamaha – 10 – 19
7 – Stefan Bradl – GER – Gresini Aprilia – 9 – 9
8 – Bradley Smith – GBR – Tech 3 Yamaha – 8 – 16
9 – Tito Rabat – SPA – Marc VDS Honda – 7 – 8
10 – Alvaro Bautista – SPA – Gresini Aprilia – 6 – 9
11 – Aleix Espargaro – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar – 5 – 10
12 – Michele Pirro – ITA – Pramac Ducati – 4 – 4
13 – Andrea Dovizioso – ITA – Ducati Corse – 3 – 23

R – Andrea Iannone – ITA – Ducati Corse
R – Cal Crutchlow – GBR – LCR Honda
R – Maverick Vinales – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar
R – Scott Redding – GBR – Pramac Ducati
R – Loris Baz – FRA – Avintia Ducati
R – Jorge Lorenzo – SPA – Movistar Yamaha
R – Jack Miller – AUS – Marc VDS Honda
R – Yonny Hernandez – COL – Aspar Ducati

Standings
1 – Marc Marquez – SPA – Repsol Honda – 41
2 – Valentino Rossi – ITA – Movistar Yamaha – 33
3 – Dani Pedrosa – SPA – Repsol Honda – 27
4 – Jorge Lorenzo – SPA – Movistar Yamaha – 25
5 – Andrea Dovizioso – ITA – Ducati Corse – 23
6 – Pol Espargaro – SPA – Tech 3 Yamaha – 19
7 – Hector Barbera – SPA – Avintia Ducati – 18
8 – Eugene Laverty – EIR – Aspar Ducati – 17
9 – Bradley Smith – GBR – Tech 3 Yamaha – 16
10 = Maverick Vinales – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar – 10
10 = Aleix Espargaro – SPA – Suzuki Ecstar – 10
12 = Alvaro Bautista – SPA – Gresini Aprilia – 9
12 = Stefan Bradl – GER – Gresini Aprilia – 9
14 – Tito Rabat – SPA – Marc VDS Honda – 8
15 – Scott Redding – GBR – Pramac Ducati – 6
16 – Michele Pirro – ITA – Pramac Ducati – 4
17 – Jack Miller – AUS – Marc VDS – 2