The Sepang round of MotoGP could see all three championships clinched this weekend, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Sandro Cortese all closing in on their respective world championships. The job is easiest for Cortese, all the German has to do to become the inaugural Moto3 champion is finish one place behind Maverick Vinales and the title is his. After getting a little too excited at Motegi, Cortese will doubtless be heading to Sepang in a much calmer frame of mind.
Marquez also faces a relatively manageable task, but unlike Cortese, he does not have his fate entirely in his own hands. If Pol Espargaro wins at Sepang, then the earliest Marquez could be crowned champion would be at Phillip Island. If Espargaro does not win, the Marquez is in with a very good chance: should Espargaro finish the race in third or worse, then Marquez only has to finish directly behind him; if Espargaro finishes second, then Marquez has to win. On current form, it would be hard to bet against Marquez, but Sepang was the circuit where the Spaniard was badly injured last year, suffering damage to his eyes which limited his vision and threatened to end his career. It will be interesting to see whether the memory has spooked Marquez, but judging by his performance this year, that seems faintly ridiculous.
2012 Motegi Post-Race Round Up: A Dominant Honda, Unnecessary Fuel Limits, Going Last To First, And Moto3 Maturity
"I don't think it will be between only Dani and me," Jorge Lorenzo had said on Saturday night at Motegi. After qualifying, there was a sizable group of fast men, including Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies, who all looked quick enough to keep pace with Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. It turns out he was wrong: once the lights went out, the contest was between the two main title contenders as it has been all season, especially once Casey Stoner dropped out of contention after the massive ankle injury he sustained at Indianapolis.
Qualifying had been deceptive: Jorge Lorenzo took a brilliant pole, and had looked his usual fast and smooth self. Pedrosa had had a bumpy ride - literally, chatter mysteriously appearing early on during QP and taking a long time to get under control, leaving Pedrosa to start from 2nd. The race was similarly deceptive: Lorenzo led, stalked by Pedrosa, and the hearts of race fans beat faster in anticipation of a repeat of Brno. That would not come to be. Once Pedrosa motored by Lorenzo, he was gone, managing the gap all the way to the end.
It was an impressive display and a fantastic achievement, given the Repsol Honda man still had chatter with his RC213V. But HRC are slowly getting a grip on that situation, and are opening the gap over Yamaha once again. Jorge Lorenzo was clear that Pedrosa's advantage lay in acceleration, something which the Yamaha has traditionally suffered with, though the problem has been less this year. "There was too much difference on the straight," Lorenzo said. "I could not recover everything in the corners."
Another Brno. That is the hope of every MotoGP fan around the world after qualifying sessions like the one at Motegi on Saturday. The breathtaking battle in the Czech Republic, which saw Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo on each others' tails all race long and the result settled in almost the final corner, was the natural outcome of two equally-matched men on very different but equally-matched machines. There was nothing to choose between the two during qualifying at Brno, and there was nothing to choose between them during the race.
Motegi is shaping up to be similar. Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa have very similar pace, and both have the consistency, the talent and the desire to push to the end. Jorge Lorenzo may have taken pole - the 50th of his career and one of his finest, with a blistering lap in near-perfect condition to destroy the existing pole record - but Pedrosa's race pace is fractionally faster than that of the polesitter. Where Lorenzo's near-robotic consistency has him lapping in the low 1'46.1s, Pedrosa is posting high 1'46.0s. The two men are separated by hundredths of a second only, and appear to have the measure of each other.
There is little that motorcycle racing fans love more than a good conspiracy. No mishap, contract dispute, or rider swap is ever the result of chance, error, greed or incompetence; there are always darker and greater powers involved, be it Dorna, Honda, or a major sponsor. They do not let the fact that their theories bear little resemblance to reality in 99.999% of the cases spoil the fun, and rightly so, moving happily on to the next dark conspiracy.
It took less than 10 minutes of the first session of MotoGP free practice before they had plenty to get their teeth into. Casey Stoner barely made it out of the pits before his Honda RC213V packed up, and he was forced to park it up by the side of the track, the bike felled by a mystery electronics issue. Stoner lost a lot of time in that first session, working with just a single bike as his mechanics tried to find out what had caused his first bike to fail. In the afternoon, an issue with the brake caused Stoner similar problems, losing valuable track time he needs to get back up to speed again.
The press conference room at the Motegi circuit was a busy place on Thursday. The assembled press filed in twice during the afternoon, once to hear the head of Dorna talk about the long-term future of both motorcycle racing world championship series, and then again to hear five world champions talk about this weekend's racing. There was much to digest.
What Carmelo Ezpeleta had to say about Dorna's takeover of the World Superbike series has been covered elsewhere, though the irony of Ezpeleta hosting a press conference to talk about what was essentially an end run around HRC's threats of a withdrawal at a facility owned and operated by Honda was not lost on everyone. The significance of the occasion was clear to all, and the groundwork has been laid for the future of both WSBK and MotoGP, though many fear the outcome.
An hour later, a much lighter mood prevailed when the riders filed in for the usual pre-event press conference. The long term was forgotten for a while, as everyone concentrated on two items: the return of Casey Stoner, and the impact of the Australian's return on the championship. Will Stoner help Dani Pedrosa in his battle with Jorge Lorenzo for the 2012 MotoGP title? And is he fit enough and fast enough to be able to help if he wanted to?
The repercussions of Bridgepoint's decision to hand control of the World Superbike series to Dorna are just starting to become clear, as each of the protagonists get to explain their side of the story. After Paolo Flammini spoke to the media at the final World Superbike round of the year at Magny-Cours, at Motegi, it was the turn of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to face the press.
He did so an hour before the traditional pre-event press conference, giving a statement and answering questions from assembled journalists on the implications of the move (a full transcript of the press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website). Ezpeleta did his best to first of all quell any fears among the legions of World Superbike fans that Dorna intended implementing any major changes for the coming season, ensuring the assembled media that all would go ahead for 2013 as planned. "For next year things will continue as they are, and both MotoGP and WSBK will continue the same way, with exactly the same system of organization and with the same technical rules," Ezpeleta told the press. "For 2013 the regulations will be the ones that have been approved between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports," he said in response to questions, "In 2013 it will be exactly as proposed by the different parties involved, there will not be any changes for 2013."
Beyond 2013 is a different matter, however. Ezpeleta made it clear that his goal was to harmonize the regulations between the MotoGP and World Superbike series, each maintaining their separate identities, but cutting costs and increasing the spectacle in both. "From now, together with the FIM, the manufacturers, the circuits and with the teams, we will try to accommodate these difficult economic times to set up two championships that are able to continue and to grow together," Ezpeleta said. "This is the main aim of both championships - reducing costs and increasing the show."
This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.
So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.
After the bombshell announcement that Bridgepoint was putting Dorna in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series, the media were keen to get a reaction from either of the Flammini brothers, the two men who had helped to grow the series into the success it is today, and who currently run WSBK. After an initial deafening silence, Paolo Flammini finally made an appearance at Magny-Cours on Sunday morning, to explain his, and Infront's, point of view. Our friends at the Italian website InfoMotoGP.com were present to record the press conference on video.
Flammini did not say much - indeed, he started his speech with the words "I don't have much to add to what is written in the press release," - but what he did say helped clarify the situation a little. Starting off with an understatement - "This step represents a very big moment in the history of World Superbikes", Flammini told the assembled media - the Italian was at pains to make clear that World Superbikes would face few changes for 2013. "Many people are worried for the 2013 season, but nothing special will happen," he said, emphasizing that his aim was to keep stability in the series.
Sunday is going to be a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title is to be settled in what could be a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO will speak to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.
That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK's Rolling Stones.
There is some justification to their fears. WSBK, in the person of Paolo Flammini, has been holding out on requests from MotoGP's organizers to impose further restrictions on development of the WSBK machines, bringing them much more in line with the Superstock-style regulations proposed by FIM to harmonize regulations at the national level. He does so with good reason: the manufacturers currently racing in World Superbikes have made it very clear that they have no desire to see any further restrictions on tuning and bike modification put into place. Given WSBK's increasing reliance on manufacturer teams - though blessed with six different manufacturers, teams without some form of manufacturer backing are finding it increasingly hard to survive, leading to shrinking grids and gaps opening between the factory-backed and privateer squads - keeping the factories happy is becoming ever more important. WSBK does at least have the freedom to change the rules without factory interference, something which was until recently unthinkable in MotoGP.
2012 Aragon MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Bitter Rivalries, Exceptional Bravery, Bitter Rivalries And Nicky Hayden's Bizarre Crash
After two days of miserable weather at Aragon, race day dawned dry, sunny, though still a little cool. Paddock regulars who had spent the last two days scurrying from pits to hospitality to shelter from the rain poured out into the paddock to catch the warmth of the sun which they had just about given up on previously.
The blue skies brought out some great racing, at least in Moto3 and Moto2, as well as some fantastic displays of riding in MotoGP, though the excitement in the premier class was to be found in the battle for the final spot on the podium rather than in the fight for victory. But there were also a few signs of improvement in the near future.
The race of the day was undoubtedly Moto2, which turned into a display of what motorcycle racing is supposed to be. The class is currently blessed with three riders who despise each other enough to do almost anything to win, but with the intelligence to understand the very thin line between hard and dangerous riding. Pol Espargaro, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all swapped places and fairing paint in a good old-fashioned barn burner of a race. The action was fueled by the most intense rivalry in MotoGP at the moment, between three young men all hell-bent on winning.