Getting ahead of yourself

Apparently 2020 has started (!) November is still to be seen out but for the last few weeks “#2020startshere” is all I have seen and heard on my timeline from riders, teams, journos and anyone, it seems, working in the motorsport industry. I wonder if there would be an appetite in any other walk of life to change the calendar and have New Year’s Day on the 16th November each year.

What people are referring to of course is the fact that the racing campaigns have all reached their conclusions and the focus now turns to preparations for the 2020 season. There was a strange irony that some of the main WorldSBK teams had convened in Motorland Aragon to begin their winter testing programmes just days before the final round of the MotoGP Championship, despite being the only series that did not have a published calendar for 2020.  We waited all week with the prospect of, ‘it’s coming soon’. It took another full week or so to get there but we finally have it. Was it worth waiting for? Probably not.

There will be no race in the US next year. This causes a major problem for GeeBee as I’ll need to stretch my current pair of Levis and Gazelles for some time longer as there will be no spending spree at the Gilroy Outlet Village, a famed destination with all European travellers heading to Laguna Seca. However, I am genuinely disappointed. Laguna Seca can be a difficult track to work at but it always adds an extra angle to the pictures for the year and California in summer time is never much of a chore.

The series will also have no race in the far east. Buriram will now only appear on the MotoGP calendar in the early part of the year and nothing has filled it’s place on the WorldSBK schedule. Instead we will head to Qatar two weeks after the season has kicked off in Australia. There was a suggestion that Losail may be the first round in February but I would imagine the Phillip Island organisation would be less than chuffed with losing their unique place on the calendar, for which I am sure they pay a handsome fee. Personally I will be glad to get Qatar out of the way early in the year and can look forward to enjoying the rest of the season.

It does mean that Argentina will be the final round of the championship, something that I understand they were not particularly keen on. It is a great place to visit and I am sure will serve up a suitable season finale. However, the mistakes of this year cannot be repeated. I fear that a degree of damage may have been done amongst the local fan base after the debacle that happened back in October. It would be unforgivable to have a similar situation arise at the last race of the year in 2020.

The rest of the season has a familiar look to it with the only a couple of tracks being shuffled around. Jerez and Motorland Aragon have swapped dates primarily to avoid a cold and windy weekend in Alcañiz. It is hoped that the weather will be more clement in Andalucia in March. 

As expected, Oscherleben in Germany joins the party in the first week in August. It was interesting looking back to the last time we visited there in May 2004. A lot of people have complained in recent times that when Jonathan Rea or Alvaro Bautista were winning by eight, nine or ten seconds that the races were boring. Race two at Oschersleben in 2004 was taken by Regis Laconi with a margin of 21.549 seconds. Imagine that.

The other ‘new’ venue is Circuit de Catalunya at Montmelo, north of Barcelona. The date has been fixed for the weekend of 18-20 September but there was a real push to have it in October as the final round. However, my understanding is that the circuit has to change several parts of the track to meet the FIM safety standards if they have held a car race beforehand. It obviously has to be changed back if the car race comes after. The time frame and the costs associated with this didn’t fit the circuit’s own schedule so the October date couldn’t be met. I would, however expect to see it as the final round in 2021.

Back at the test in Motorland Aragon, there was little that threw up any surprises. Jonathan Rea only turned a few laps on the first day, posted a fast time and went home. I read some criticism of the fact he didn’t run at all on the second day but the weather literally put the dampers on the team’s and JR’s plans. A family commitment meant he had always intended to return home on the Thursday afternoon but no one had factored in the wet weather we encountered. That said the team had very little new to test so were just confirming some things learnt in the final races of he season. I reckon with the time he posted it pretty much confirmed they were on the right track. 

The rest of the guys managed to test on the Thursday afternoon once the track dried out and in the end the times were really close between Scott Redding, Chaz Davies, Alex Lowes and Toprak Razgatlioglu. 

Redding impressed by being fast straight off the bat. Coming from the BSB spec Ducati to the full factory machine with different electronics he could have been forgiven for settling in gently and building some momentum but he looked at home from the off and finished the test as the only man to dip into 1m49s territory. Razgatlioglu also felt strong on the Yamaha.  He was impressed with the power and its delivery but also with the feeling in the wet. Rain has always been his Achilles Heel and I found out at the test that this dates back to his early days on the Superstock1000 Kawasaki ZX-10R. He had an electronic malfunction in the rain in that season and crashed heavily. Since then he has struggled for confidence in the wet.  However, having run in the damp on the Yamaha he felt a lot more comfortable and able to push harder.

Alex Lowes was fast on his first outing on the Kawasaki but admitted he was using the time to learn the characteristics of the bike. He seems to be a fast learner, posting times comparable with his best on the Yamaha from the race weekend earlier in the year, on a track that was much colder. Once he is familiar with the ZX-10RR I reckon he is one to watch in 2020 for sure.

‘Man of the test’ for me however was the American Garrett Gerloff. Having jumped off the MotoAmerica Yamaha R1 with Dunlop tyres he arrived at Motorland having to learn both the track and the characteristics of the Pirelli tyres in conditions that were not ideal. Like Lowes he learned pretty quickly and was only a few tenths off the quickest Yamaha of Razgatlioglu by the end of the test. He did have a crash in the final minutes of the second day, he was unhurt, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on in Jerez in the coming week.

That leads me nicely to the last gig of the 2019 GeeBee World Tour. I am in Jerez all week covering both the MotoGP and WorldSBK sessions and after that I will have my full focus on the Christmas and New Year holidays. I will be next on track in Jerez again in January for the WorldSBK test before the merry-go-round starts to gather some speed for another year.  Then, and only then will 2020 have started.

Words by Graeme Brown

Photos by GeeBee Images/Jamie Morris @geebeeimages @jamiemorris19

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