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6 days ago
By motogp.com

Here come the rookies...

Four men debut in the premier class in 2018. So who are they?

As in 2017, there are four new faces on the MotoGP™ grid this year. To get to know them a little better ahead of the Sepang test, here’s a more formal introduction to each: Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing).

Morbidelli

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Morbidelli settling into MotoGP™ with setup adjustments

Franco Morbidelli – a 23-year-old Italian-Brazilian who is Italian by passport – is the reigning Moto2™ World Champion. Beginning his winning career in STK600, the rider from Rome’s rise to the top has been pretty stratospheric.

He took the aforementioned Superstock 600 title in 2013 and that was the year he first appeared in the Grand Prix paddock, racing as a wildcard in Moto2™ at Misano, Motegi and Valencia. The next season he had a full time ride, and by 2015 he was taking his first rostrum finish, at Indianapolis. After recovering from a broken leg later that year, the Italian joined EG 0,0 Marc VDS for 2016 – and that’s when he gained some real traction.

A run of podium finishes to end 2016 laid perfect foundations for his first push at the crown the following year, and ‘Franky’ shot out the blocks to win the first three races of the year. He was the only name to top the standings in 2017, and wrapped up the title at Sepang after key rival Tom Lüthi was sidelined through injury. And who is Lüthi? Morbidelli’s 2018 teammate…

Lüthi

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It’s a double bill of rookies for the EG 0,0 Marc VDS team in 2018, with reigning intermediate class Champion Morbidelli joined by the man who came home runner up, Tom Lüthi. The Swiss rider is an older debutant than many at 31, but has been a mainstay of both Moto2™ and the 250 World Championship since he moved up from the lightweight category in which he took the crown in 2005.

Lüthi’s CV is both impressive and consistent, and he does have some limited MotoGP™ experience after a test with the KTM RC16 during development in 2016. But his experience doesn’t yet include a run out on his new Honda after having been sidelined through injury at the end of 2017 – missing both the last two Moto2™ races of the year and the first MotoGP™ tests ahead of this season. So he’ll be wanting to play catch up as quickly as possible.

His team will be somewhat bedded in ahead of his debut, however, with EG 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2™ rider Alex Marquez having sat in for Lüthi at Jerez in November – giving the crew on Lüthi’s side of the garage a good idea of what to expect from a new graduate.

Nakagami

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Nakagami: the challenge of moving up to MotoGP™

A Moto2™ race winner and frontrunner, Nakagami moves up to the premier class in 2018. Stable mates with Cal Crutchlow but under the banner of LCR Honda Idemitsu, the 25-year-old from Chiba was dueling Morbidelli for the honour of top rookie during much of preseason testing.

First getting on a MotoGP™ bike some time before, Nakagami is tipped for speed in the premier class by teammate Crutchlow.

Simeon

Simeon makes it four out of four graduates who can call themselves Grand Prix winners, with the 28-year-old having taken victory in the 2015 German GP in Moto2™. That’s alongside a number of further podiums, with his first having come at Le Mans in 2013. 2013 also saw the Belgian take his first pole in Grand Prix racing as he showing his speed at the Sachsenring two years ahead of his maiden win.

Simeon, like contemporary Morbidelli, began in Superstock – winning the 600 crown in 2006 and that of STK1000 in 2009 ahead of his Grand Prix debut the following year.

One of these four will be crowned Rookie of the Year in 2018, and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will be a tough act to follow. Follow their progress in the Sepang test as the season really gets in gear, with coverage beginning on Sunday.