October 2nd, 2009
Jonny Rea led the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class at Magny-Cours, putting in a scorching lap in the final minutes of the session, and displacing the surprising Fonsi Nieto on the DFX Corse Ducati. Rea put his Ten Kate Honda ahead of the Stiggy Honda of Leon Haslam, while Noriyuki Haga set the 3rd fastest lap, ahead of Carlos Checa. Nieto finally ended the session in 5th spot. Newly-signed Tech 3 rider Ben Spies set the 7th fastest time, four tenths slower than Rea and nearly two tenths off Haga's time. Freshly crowned BSB Champion Leon Camier went 17th fastest on his World Superbike debut, running 1.7 seconds behind his compatriot Jonny Rea, and a second off his temporary team mate Max Biaggi.
The two big stories this weekend - at least so far - have been the return of Casey Stoner to MotoGP and the rearranging of the seats at Yamaha. Anticipating the media interest in Casey Stoner's return, Ducati put on a press conference for the returnee. A video summary of that press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website, or for those without a MotoGP.com subscription, we have a summary transcript of the press conference.
The other news has received less coverage, mostly because Ben Spies is hard at work trying to regain the lead in World Superbike championship this weekend at Magny-Cours. Fortunately, Dean Adams over at Superbikeplanet.com got Spies on the phone, and recorded an interview with the Texan which he has put up as a Soupkast, Superbikeplanet.com's podcast series. In the interview, Spies talks about why he decided to go straight to MotoGP, instead of spending another season in World Superbikes, what his expectations are of his rookie year in MotoGP, and how Team Texas is going to work out. It's well worth a listen.
As the captain in Cool Hand Luke said, "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Stiggy Racing today announced that they were severing their relationship with Partner S2 Racing stating, "that they (S2) failed to fulfill their commitments with the team throughout the year." In the last 3 races of the season, Stiggy has been forced to reduce their rider line-ups to one per class amid pronouncements of financial calamity by team principal Johan Stigefelt.
In the Stiggy Universe, S2 was the financial end and Stiggy was the technical side. Apparently the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing with Stigefelt claiming that he was "left in the dark financially". Even though straits are dire financially this year, Stigefelt feels that he'll be able to field a team next year, although most believe it will be a reduced effort, confined to WSS or one rider in Superbike, depending on what rumor you chose to believe.
As expected, Casey Stoner's return to the MotoGP paddock at Estoril generated a genuine media storm. Wisely, the Marlboro Ducati team chose to put on a special press conference in the team hospitality unit, to field questions from the press and provide an explanation of the current situation.
Press debriefs in the Marlboro hospitality unit usually involve a couple of handfuls of journalists and the odd stray photographer, but not so on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon. Almost everyone with a press pass and twenty or so TV crews packed into the shiny red unit, as Livio Suppo, Casey Stoner and Filippo Preziosi faced the media.
Team boss Suppo opened the session, welcoming the prodigal Stoner back to the Ducati fold. "Today is a very good day for us. Casey's back." Suppo said. He then went on to express his support, saying "We understood the situation and we totally support Casey."
Suppo then turned to his rider, and Casey Stoner - looking fairly healthy and much more relaxed than he did at Donington in July - proceeded to explain what had happened, and why he had chosen to miss three full rounds of MotoGP. Stoner made it clear from the outset that it had not been easy: "For me it was a very difficult decision to make," Stoner told the media. "Basically we went back to Australia after Donington just to get an understanding of what's going on, to see some more doctors and hopefully go in the right direction. We were planning to come back after Brno, but unfortunately we didn't find any solutions in the short time available. And we had many recommendations from my doctors, and my wife, my father said enough, you've got to have a time out. So the decision was made just to spend three races away. There was never going to be more races away than those three, and already for me, missing those three was a really tough decision. It was a decision that I wasn't forced into but was highly recommended to take by everyone."
Citing nagging back injuries from a disastrous mid-summer Imola test, Alstare Suzuki's Max Neukirchner has ruled himself out for the last two rounds of the season at Magny Cours and Portimao. Neukirchner has reset his goals with the aim of being fit for the end of season Portimao test. Team owner Frankie Batta has stood by the injured German who has a year remaining on his contract with Alstare, publicly stating that Neukirchner has what it takes to be a front-runner in SBK.
In a surprising, if not shocking move, speedweek.eu is reporting that Chris Vermeulen has made a two-year commitment to Paul Bird Kawasaki to ride the ZX-10 Superbike in the World Superbike series. Vermeulen, who will be replaced by Alvaro Bautista at Rizla Suzuki next year, was rumored to be on every team manager in WSBK's short list of desirable riders, but whispers of serious discussions with Kawasaki had just surfaced a few days ago. The ZX-10 package has been a relatively uncompetitive one but wild-card rides by Jamie Hacking at Salt Lake City and by Sheridan Morais at Kyalami indicated that maybe the hardware wasn't the sole culprit.
With the demise of Kawasaki's MotoGP program it is expected that resources devoted to that effort will be reallocated toward the superbike program with the Vermeulen signing the first visable result. Just who will be pairing with Vermeulen is currently unknown but Sterilgarda Ducati rider Shakey Byrne and soon to be former Sterigarda Yamaha rider Tom Sykes have also been thought to be in discussions with the British team.
It's a busy day for the Yamaha press office: After earlier announcing that Ben Spies was to switch to the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, the Sterilgarda Yamaha squad announced that the seat that Spies is vacating is to be taking by the man making way for Spies at Tech 3. James Toseland, who has struggled to get to grip with the Bridgestone tires this season, will be returning to the World Superbike series, to race once again in the class where he has conquered two titles.
Joining Toseland will be the man still leading the World Supersport championship, Cal Crutchlow. Crutchlow has completely dominated World Supersport this season, but a mechanical and a mistake have tightened up the championship considerably. The young Briton had been angling for a seat in the new Moto2 class, as he felt this was his best avenue into the MotoGP series, but the two-year contract Crutchlow signed with Yamaha at the beginning of last season precluded the switch, as Yamaha will not be fielding any official entries in Moto2.
MotoGP's current worst-kept secret is finally out: Ben Spies has now officially signed to ride for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team in MotoGP in 2010. In a press release issued just a few minutes ago, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team officially announced their rider line up for 2010, and it's going to be Team Texas. Spies will partner Colin Edwards for next season, whose widely-rumored contract was also made official at Estoril.
Spies signing has a number of repercussions, the most interesting of which occur next year. First of all, it puts pressure on the young Texan to win the World Superbike title this season, as this is likely to be his only chance for the foreseeable future. Secondly, Spies switch to Tech 3 underlines Yamaha's embarrassment of riches in the rider department, the Texan joining Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi at the Sign of the Tuning Forks.
When KTM announced they would be withdrawing from the 250cc class at the end of last year, it was generally put down to the bitterness felt by the Austrian factory over the way the Moto2 class was forced through. That announcement was followed shortly by both the onset of the global financial crisis, and a string of very poor financial results by KTM. Since then, KTM has been gradually screwing back its involvement in two-stroke road racing, including withdrawing support from the US Red Bull Rookies series, causing that class to collapse before the start of the season. Earlier this month, when the 2010 Red Bull Rookies Cup was announced, the press release made no mention of KTM, and the Red Bull Rookies web site states that the bike the rookies will be using next season is the Metrakit Pre GP 125.
Leon Camier has been looking for a ride in the World Superbike paddock for a while now, and his utter domination of the British Superbike series certainly showed that he has the necessary talent. As we reported yesterday, Camier is to get his chance, taking the place of the injured Shinya Nakano riding the Aprilia RSV4.
Three points. Three miserable stinkin' little points. That's what the World Superbike championship has come down to coming into the penultimate round at Magny Cours, in central France. Despite being the final round in the series from 2003 to 2007, Magny Cours has somehow never been one of those places where legendary battles to the finish happen. The closest that the the French circuit has came to deciding a title was in 2007 when this year's point leader Noriyuki Haga doubled to come as near as he ever has to winning a world championship, a mere two points behind James Toseland.
Haga is in the catbird seat, albeit just barely, after winning race 1 and taking second in Race 2 at Imola. Haga and Ducati have historically done well at the mostly flat French track, with 4 wins and eight podiums for Haga and 7 wins and 10 podiums for Ducati. Haga's showing at Imola confirms that the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro is recovered from his mid-season shoulder and arm injuries, or at least well enough that they don't matter much.
It's been a tough year for Honda. The season got off to a bad start with the injury to Dani Pedrosa, then when it came time for the team to sign new riders, it took a suspiciously long time to actually reach deals with both Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, while rumors raged that HRC was also courting Jorge Lorenzo. Along with the rider difficulties, there have been continuing rumblings that Repsol, the factory Honda team's title sponsor, is dissatisfied with the way the team has performed and was looking at pulling its support for the squad.
To deal with this problem, Honda has invested a huge amount of time and effort to solve the problems they have faced. HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto has publicly admitted that the team's difficulties have been down to Honda's failure to produce a competitive motorcycle, rather than any shortcomings by the riders - as has been the previous practice. Honda has even started experimenting with Ohlins suspension, replacing the equipment produced by Honda subsidiary Showa.
MCN is reporting that James Toseland will announce tomorrow that he will be moving to the Yamaha World Superbike team in 2010. There should also be a concurrent or simultaneous announcement that, as has been heavily rumored for weeks, American Ben Spies will ascend to Toseland's old seat at Tech 3. Perhaps Tech 3 will also confirm that Colin Edwards will team with his fellow Texan. As Toseland had been rumored to be in line for a number of "A" list rides in WSBK, this move should set forth a chain reaction of rider placements in the superbike paddock.
With Shinya Nakano out for the rest of the season with an injury, Aprilia are in need of a replacement rider for the World Superbike rounds at Magny-Cours and Portimao. Marco Simoncelli returns to his day job as factory Gilera 250cc rider this weekend at Estoril, and Aprilia test rider Alex Hofmann has duties of his own as a TV presenter for the German-language sports channel DSF at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Thus Aprilia is taking the opportunity of the two final races of the year to give a chance to candidates for the factory seat next year. Their main target is newly-crowned BSB champion Leon Camier, according to the Swiss magazine SpeedWeek. The Airwaves Yamaha rider wrapped up the BSB title last weekend at Silverstone, and has made no secret of his desire to make the switch to the World Superbike series next season. And so Camier has the Magny-Cours and Portimao WSBK rounds to secure a ride in the WSBK paddock for 2010 with a few good results.
Though Camier's talent is beyond question, whether the Aprilia is the best vehicle for showcasing that talent is another matter altogether. The RSV4 is by far the most compact - even minuscule - of the current Superbikes, and Camier is one of the tallest men in racing. Max Biaggi fits on the RSV4 neatly, but the Roman Emperor is no giant. Marco Simoncelli, at 6' or 1.83m, looked cramped on the bike, so how Camier, at 6'2 or 1.89m will fit on the RSV4 remains to be seen.
Simoncelli has also set the bar high for the young Briton. The reigning 250 World Champion came into the series as a wildcard at Imola, crashing out of 5th in race 1 and getting on the podium in race 2. As reigning BSB champion, Camier will have goals which, if not quite as high, will still be to finish well inside the top 10. Aboard a machine which will make him look like he is riding a pocket bike, that may be a tough ask.
The long awaited press release from Ducati is finally here, and it contains the news that many fans around the world have been waiting for: Casey Stoner will be back and ready to race at Estoril. The press release also contains the most detailed explanation of Stoner's medical situation yet to be released by either Ducati or the Australian World Champion, but the diagnosis remains unclear. No viral or bacterial problems turned up in any of the tests Stoner was subjected to, and the only problems to appear were low blood pressure and a sodium imbalance. These are probably the causes of Stoner's extreme fatigue, which prevented him from being competitive. Stoner is currently on a sodium-rich diet, to help raise his blood pressure and muscle responsiveness.
We don't usually reprint press releases, but this is one that is worth reading, so it is reproduced below, or you can read it on the Ducati website:
STONER BACK ON TRACK AND HAYDEN CONFIDENT OF CONTINUED PROGRESS AS DUCATI MOTOGP TEAM HEADS TO ESTORIL
The Ducati MotoGP Team returns from a long September break this weekend ready to tackle the Estoril circuit with Casey Stoner back in the saddle alongside his team-mate Nicky Hayden.
The Italian outfit has been working hard on two fronts since the end of July, on one hand liasing with doctors in Australia monitoring the progress being made by Casey and on the other continuing exhaustive development of the Desmosedici, on which Nicky has been able to make great strides, culminating with his podium finish at Indianapolis and further signs of competitiveness at Misano before a blameless first lap crash.
During two months away from racing under the supervision of an expert medical team in his homeland (Dr. Neil Halpin, Sport Physician, Dr Jeremy Coleman, Consultant Physician, Dr Harry Grunstein, Endocrinologist and Professor Jonathan Silberberg, Cardiologist), who have remained in touch with Prof. Fabio Catani (Specialist in Pathology and Locomotive System at the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute of Bologna and Ducati's doctor for several years) and Dr Claudio Macchiagodena of the Clinica Mobile, Casey has undergone a series of exams and special tests.