Indianapolis is not given to great racing - a lack of use on the infield road course means that the track is usually fairly dirty once you get off line - and Sunday was no real exception. The MotoGP and Moto2 races were tactically brilliant and masterful displays of crushing the opposition, but neither was particularly entertaining to watch. Fortunately, nobody had told the Moto3 riders about the lack of great racing, and the youngsters got the day off to a fantastic start, with the race decided in the last sector of the track.
Luis Salom's victory was well deserved, from any number of perspectives. The Spaniard had stalked Sandro Cortese and Maverick Vinales all race long, and knew he would have to capitalize on any mistakes the front runners made. That mistake turned out to be a preoccupation with one another, both Cortese and Vinales spending all their time worrying about each other and their battle for the championship. On the run into Turn 10, Salom dived inside the leaders and took over at the front. That threw Vinales and Cortese enough of a curve ball for Salom to lead the race to the line, taking his first ever victory in Grand Prix, a win that has been coming for some time now.
But the win is also just reward for the team: the RW Racing GP team has been an asset to the series, since Roelof Waninge took over the team from Arie Molenaar. RW Racing is a team of modest means, but they try to live within them, getting everything they can out of what they have, rather than throwing money they don't have at a problem in the hope of fixing it. Sticking with Luis Salom has been sensible: this is now the third season that the Spaniard has worked with crew chief Hans Spaan, and the stability of his situation is paying off. Salom is still a long way from the title fight, but looks like playing more of a role from this point forward.
2012 Indianapolis MotoGP Friday Notes: The Love-Hate Relationship For Indy, And How Hondas Love Going Left
MotoGP has a love-hate relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: most of the paddock love the place, the rest hate it. The way those feelings are divided is what is really interesting, though: the admirers of the track include most of the media, the teams and many, many fans. Those that hate the track are a small but well-defined group: anyone either wielding a camera or a racing a motorcycle have very few kind words for IMS.
So why the schism? It really depends on what you are doing at the track: the circuit has some of the best facilities of any circuit the MotoGP circus goes to all year, and making the life of the media, the teams and the fans exceptionally easy. The photographers, on the other hand, hate the track because of the fences. As a circuit that mainly hosts car races, there are high chain-link fences all around the circuit, to prevent debris from wrecked four-wheelers from flying into the spectators. At a few selected spots on the circuit, there are openings in the fences for photographers to poke their lenses through, giving them an unobstructed view of the circuit. There are lots of photographers and relatively few camera holes, leaving gaggles of photographers gathered around the available shooting spots like narwhals around a breathing hole in the arctic icesheet.
So what are we to make of Valentino Rossi's not-so-shock decision to leave Ducati and go back to Yamaha? The initial reaction from fans and media was that the biggest losers from the move are Ducati as a manufacturer and Rossi's reputation as miracle worker when it comes to bike development. There is some merit in both those arguments, but perhaps it is not quite so clear cut as that. Rossi's two years at Ducati have done a lot of damage to both parties - as well as to MotoGP's popularity and TV income - but in the end, this move could have some very positive long-term repercussions.
Kissing A Frog
Valentino Rossi's honeymoon period with the Ducati lasted just a few laps. From the very beginning, Rossi realized that this was not the bike he had been expecting. The bike had no front-end feel, an excessively aggressive power delivery and a seating position that would not allow him to shift his weight as he needed. Three days after finishing third in the race at Valencia, Rossi ended the test 1.7 seconds slower than Casey Stoner, the man whose bike he was now riding. Rossi looked stiff and awkward, a shadow of the rider he was a few days earlier on the Yamaha.
After shoulder surgery and development over the winter, Rossi was not much faster. At the final test ahead of the season opener at Qatar, he was 1.4 behind the leader, Casey Stoner. In the 14 months since then, the gap has been roughly halved, but Rossi on the Ducati is still some seven or eight tenths behind the leaders, and looking only marginally less stiff, awkward and uncomfortable than he did back in November 2010. On a good day, he finishes 6th, telling reporters "this is our potential."
Valentino Rossi's imminent return to Yamaha - to be announced on Friday morning, Yamaha and Ducati having been forced to move the schedule forward once news of the switch leaked - will accelerate the final movements in MotoGP's silly season, with the still open grid slots on prototype machines likely to be filled in very short order once the Rossi announcement has been made. Rossi's return to Yamaha will be heralded much as his departure from the factory for fresh pastures at Ducati was, only this time the roles will be reversed. First, Ducati will issue a release thanking Valentino Rossi for his time with the factory, and shortly after - minutes, rather than hours, - Yamaha will issue a press release welcoming Rossi back to the fold. The difference, perhaps, is that this time a love letter such as the one Rossi wrote to Yamaha after he left in the middle of 2010 is unlikely to be forthcoming.
With Rossi at Yamaha, that leaves five prototype seats still open: The factory Ducati left vacant by Rossi's switch to Yamaha; the as-yet unfilled second Monster Tech 3 Yamaha seat (the first seat is for Bradley Smith, who will be moving up from Moto2 as provided for in the contract he signed with Herve Poncharal in the middle of last season); the San Carlo Gresini Honda bike currently being ridden by Alvaro Bautista; and the Ducati junior team seats, in a yet-to-be-decided structure with one or more yet-to-be-selected teams. So who will be filling those seats? And where does that leave the riders left standing once the music stops?
It is a bit of a risk, announcing that Valentino Rossi will be switching to Yamaha just a couple of days after getting caught out by a hacked Twitter and email account. This time, though, confirmation is coming from multiple sources, including our own. Rossi will be leaving Ducati for Yamaha at the end of this season, with an official press release expected from Yamaha on the morning of August 15th, the Italian national holiday of Ferragosto, and the day before the paddock assembles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.
2012 Laguna Seca MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: Contrasting Styles, Racing Softs, And A Decision Is Nigh
Laguna Seca has a habit of throwing the championship a curve ball. The epic race between Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in 2008 was a prime example, a turning point in the championship when Rossi halted what looked like the inexorable rise of Casey Stoner. Last year, too, Laguna proved to be key moment in the championship, when Stoner stopped Jorge Lorenzo's resurgence with one of the bravest passes in racing for a long time, through the ultra-fast Turn 1. With Laguna Seca the last race going into the summer break, winning or losing at the US GP can have a dramatic effect on the momentum of the championship.
Whether the same will be said of Laguna Seca in 2012 will only be clear at the end of the season. But it has all the signs of being a significant moment, for more than just the five points Casey Stoner clawed back from Jorge Lorenzo. The race, if not thrilling, was at least tense: there was little between the two men for most of the race, Stoner shadowing Lorenzo closely, snapping at his heels but not quite able to attempt a pass. The turning point came on lap 18. As the leading pair plunged down the Corkscrew, Lorenzo's sliding rear tire almost threw him out of the saddle. "I closed my eyes during the highside," the Yamaha man said afterwards, "and I was happy to still be in the seat when I opened them again."
Just seven more days, and the biggest open piece of MotoGP's puzzle should be slotted into place. On Saturday night, Valentino Rossi met with Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio, to discuss the details of the offer Ducati have for Rossi, and this morning, Del Torchio told French journalist Michel Turco that he expected to know Rossi's answer within the next seven days. The money from Ducati is generous, some 17 million euros a season, if the rumors are to be believed, but the money will not be the important part of the deal. The biggest item will be what help Ducati will get from Audi, and whether the rate of progress at Borgo Panigale can be ramped up to start rolling out updates faster, and start to change some of the things which Rossi and Burgess believe are vital before the bike can even begin to become competitive.
2012 Laguna Seca Saturday Round Up: Lorenzo's Blistering Pace, Stoner's Traffic Problems and Rossi's Ducati Offer
Despite dominating the championship so far, Jorge Lorenzo does not get a lot of pole positions. Except at Laguna: though this was only his third of the season, Saturday's pole position was Lorenzo's fourth in a row at the circuit, and he secured it in convincing style. The circuit record tumbled - it had stood since 2008, set by Casey Stoner when he looked on his way to dominating the US GP at Laguna, before his run in with Valentino Rossi. There has been much complaining about the Bridgestone tires of late, yet both Lorenzo and Stoner beat the pole record on the tire they will probably race on, a pole record set on super-soft special qualifiers, which at a track like Laguna Seca you could just about eke two laps out of before they were finished. In reality, there's not so much wrong with these tires.
The pole record could have been beaten by a lot more, but Casey Stoner kept running into traffic each time he went for a fast lap. Up by a tenth or more at each split a number of times, he would suddenly run into a rider cruising, or a CRT machine on a hot lap, and lose out. On his last attempt, he ran into Danilo Petrucci just before the final corner, working his way swiftly past to take pole from Lorenzo with a couple of minutes to go. But Lorenzo would not be denied, pushing hard in the final sector to get pole back from Stoner in the dying moments.
As a MotoGP rider, dealing with the press can be a lot like boxing against a stronger opponent: put in a quick attack, and then grab on and defend for dear life. At Laguna Seca, Ben Spies showed he had mastered the art perfectly. After dropping the bombshell that he would be leaving Yamaha on Tuesday, on Thursday Spies was in full defensive mode, deflecting questions and saying that he would not be discussing the situation and what had motivated his decision "until I'm ready to talk about the future." To carry that off and persist in your position in a room full of journalists hell-bent on wheedling the truth out of you is quite an achievement.
Fortunately for Spies, his announcement had given the assembled media hordes - well, not quite a horde, as dwindling print sales, economic stagnation in the key markets of Spain and Italy and a few border issues with journalists traveling on tourist visas meant that press corps numbers at Laguna are down - plenty of other issues to sink their teeth into. Spies leaving Yamaha opens up another seat, and with the Texan looking almost certain to switch back to the World Superbike series with the BMW Italia squad next season, an extra factory prototype, something of increasing scarcity in these days of dwindling factory involvement. Naturally, with Spies out of the equation, the media and fans have joined in an epic game of fill-in-the-blanks to try to slot all the surplus of talented riders into the limited available rides.
It has been an intense week or so for speculation about the next and biggest cog in MotoGP's Silly Season merry-go-round. The question of Valentino Rossi's future has filled the media, with multiple sometimes conflicting stories appearing in the international press. That Rossi should dominate the headlines is logical. After all, with Casey Stoner retiring, and the futures of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez all settled, Rossi's decision will determine not just where he lands, but to a massive degree who will fill the rest of the seats in MotoGP next year.
Rossi's choice is fairly straightforward: he can elect to stay at Ducati and hope that Filippo Preziosi can provide him with a competitive bike soon; he can take up the offer he is believed to have from Yamaha to join the factory team; or he can accept a ride with a satellite Honda team aboard a full-factory RC213V. During his daily briefing with the press at each race weekend, Rossi has suggested that his primary focus is to stay with Ducati and make the Desmosedici competitive. Yet all of the news stories in the past 10 days have been suggesting that Rossi is close to signing a deal with Yamaha, with the sponsors backing the deal varying depending on the source.