In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | February 3, 2021

Cycle News In The Paddock

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Tricky Going? Send Out The Supers

So it goes. Dorna and cohorts were admirably persistent last year, mounting a worthwhile championship in spite of The Virus. This year, The Virus is kicking back, with a stubborn streak and unpredictable malice all of its own.

Cancellations and postponements have already begun, Argentina and the USA the first casualties. A double-up weekend at Qatar is key to the first proposed rescue attempt, and with a well-advanced vaccination program spanning the emirates, and if all personnel stay put after the preceding tests (presuming they can get in for them), that might even happen.

In The Paddock Column

The other late insert, a proposed third round at popular Portimao, has since been undermined by a growing state of emergency in Portugal, with the border with Spain suddenly closed a week after the announcement.

All flyaway GPs remain seriously in doubt, particularly the Australian, while Europe remains in the grip of tightening travel restrictions and quarantining. Different countries have their own different approaches. But for MotoGP, essentially a traveling circus, traveling between them is more fraught than ever.

With no possible finalization of the calendar and the threat of another year without paying spectators to make events financially viable, the so-called new normal doesn’t look like it will give bike racing a much easier time than it did last year, when the strictures at least had the benefit of novelty.

Thus, it’s refreshing to see some racing traditions are still alive, albeit in a modernized and modified form.

Back in the day, before most of us can remember, there was still a traditional world championship—you know, proper dead-engine push starts (oh, the atmosphere of a silent grid!) and at least four solo classes, with riders frequently taking part in several of them at the same weekend. And sidecars, which served a special purpose.

Whenever things got tricky—most especially track conditions, whether it was fog, standing water, ice and hail and even on at least one occasion snow—the solution was simple: Send out the sidecars.

Sadly, or otherwise, the three-wheelers have long since been condemned to the outer darkness occupied by endurance racing and other non-Dorna variations.

But there is a substitute. Superbikes. And, hence the late-January test sessions at Jerez. Testing the water for the rest of racing.

Sadly, “testing the water” turned out rather too literal, at the first attempt anyway. Two planned days were washed out and canceled on the spot to avoid using up an allocation of just 10 days of private testing per team.

For MotoGP, the notion of using Superbikes as test dummies goes a little further than just me trying to lift the gloom by being facetious. Honda had test rider Stefan Bradl along to take advantage of the track time, with an updated RC213V MotoGP bike for some early gallops. He even managed to get a handful of laps in.

Eager for any news, observers spied a beefier carbon swingarm and rear frame members. Though without vernier-calibrated measuring equipment, it is hard to see by just how much, from the gallery of pictures on the Italian GPOne website. Chassis stiffness being a somewhat subtle art not readily revealed to the naked eye.

Thanks to cost-saving restrictions triggered by Covid, MotoGP development has mainly been frozen, aside from chassis mods and a permitted bodywork upgrade. So, detail changes will have to suffice.

And, just at present, speculation likewise.

This pre-season period should be marked by growing excitement, and it is right to feel the same at present. It’s that “anything is possible” period. Even that Aprilia will smoke them.

But it is also hard not to feel trepidation. The trials facing MotoGP, like those facing the world at large, are without doubt game changers—and sending out the Superbikes to pave the way is no long-term solution. Most especially since the breed of superfast road bikes on which the class is based must themselves be considered as increasingly threatened and irrelevant dinosaurs.

If motorbike racing is to have any relevance to actual motorcycling, then it needs to be exploring and developing alternative power. This means that MotoE is much more important than its levels of excitement and enjoyment, which, even in its second season, were basically zero. There’s a long way to go before petrol-heads are going to embrace the whining high-torque/low-thrills class, with hapless riders heaving around on bikes that are, when they fall over, too heavy for one man to pick up again.

Meanwhile, it’s probably best to look no further than the tip of one’s nose. I predict another truncated season, mainly in Europe and largely in Spain, with a reduced number of races and several Groundhog-Day events repeating at the same circuits.

But we’re entitled to hope it will be at least as tense and exciting as it turned out in 2020. CN

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.