September 25th, 2009
The World Supersport field were the first class to take to the field at Imola, after the state of the track had caused chaos for the Superbikes. After the track had been cleaned, the riders took to the track, and it was Kenan Sofuoglu who took an early lead. Cal Crutchlow sat in the pits for the first half of practice, but once he hit the track he devasted the rest of the field, regularly being over 2 seconds faster than anyone else on the circuit. In the end, Sofuoglu got within half a second, but the man in 3rd, Joan Lascorz, was 2.1 seconds behind Crutchlow, with Eugene Laverty another few tenths slower than the Spaniard.
With track conditions at Imola too slippery to practice on, SBK race organizers are facing the very real possibility of a race cancellation. A combination of a freshly washed track and oil allegedly rising from the asphalt to the surface culminated in the first practice session being suspended and probably cancelled. Points leader Ben Spies reckons that the available traction is worse than a full wet track. Apriia rider Max Biaggi says that if conditions aren't improved then it is not possible to race on the surface, even at a much slower pace. In the opinion of Xerox Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi, the only possible soluton is a complete reconfiguration of the racing line as another track washing might worsen the situation. A casualty of the abbreviated practice session was Sterilgarda Yamaha rider Tom Sykes, who suffered an as yet unnamed injury to his right foot.
UPDATE: Gpone.com is reporting that the track is being re-washed and dryed and there will be an attempt to have bikes out on track at 16:30 Imola time.
UPDATE 2: World Supersport bikes are currently on track.
Ten Kate Racing announced this morning that 22 year-old Ulsterman Jonathan Rea has been signed to ride with the Dutch team in the World Superbike series for another 2 years. Rea, a former standout in British superbikes and World Supersport had been widely tipped to retain his ride. The recent switch by Ten Kate to Ohlins suspension components has apparently complemented Rea's style, resulting in his recent race win at the Nurburgring. Ten Kate, who have previously revealed that the team intended to cut back to 2 riders for 2010 are reportedly considering current rider Carlos Checa and former employees Chris Vermeulen and James Toseland for the second seat.
What was supposed to be a triumphant return to a track steeped in history has turned into a farce. Action at the World Superbike round at Imola ground to a halt after just two laps of practice, with Tom Sykes crashing and riders complaining of a complete lack of grip. The track is incredibly slick from last weekend's WTCC car racing, with some confusion over whether there is still oil on the track or whether the lack of grip is due to an overly aggressive cleaning process which removed all the rubber from the track.
According to BikeSportNews.com, the riders and teams have gone into a meeting with FIM safety representative Claude Danis to discuss how to solve the problems. So far, it looks like there'll be no action today, while the circuit organization finds a solution to track conditions, in the hope of getting the riders back out onto the track tomorrow.
More as it comes in.
The hardest thing in the world for a professional sports star is to retire. When the thrill and drive of competing falls away, sportsmen and women in every discipline tend to fall into a black hole, and spend a long time thrashing around trying to find new meaning in their lives.
Former World Superbike star Troy Bayliss seemed to have his retirement already planned out. His future, he had decided, would lie in Australia's extremely popular V8 Supercars series, and he would channel all of his considerable talent and drive into that sport, and forget all about motorcycle racing.
But according to leading Italian magazine MotoSprint, Bayliss just can't forget about two wheels. MotoSprint is reporting that Bayliss told them at Imola that he wanted to come back to World Superbikes. His outings in V8 Supercars had been a disappointment to him, he told MotoSprint: "The car and the team are good for twentieth place, no more."
And so he had set his mind to World Superbikes again. "I want to race in Superbikes again," he told MotoSprint. "I'll be looking around here at Imola. It's a shame that Ducati have already signed two riders for 2010, I feel that I could have done well next season."
Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi confirmed that Bayliss had approached him about racing. "Troy asked me if he could race when he landed, last Tuesday. But how could we satisfy his request? We don't have the resources for three riders," Motosprint quotes Tardozzi as saying.
Lately, the flow of racing endorphins has dried up for motorcycle junkies. There hasn't been any bike racing on the world scene since Labor Day weekend (OK, so there has been BSB and *yawn* endurance racing). The sight of once-proud motorcycle journalists posting trivia like a list of the ages of racers as news items is a pitiful one and the most heated topic of discussion is the silly season. Cold Turkey is an ugly experience indeed.
Luckily for us, the drought is nearly over and the World Superbike series will resume this weekend at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, near Imola, Italy. When we last met at the Nurburgring, American rookie sensation "Big" Ben Spies had wrested the lead in the series from Xerox Ducati's "Nitro" Noriyuki Haga as a result of the Texan's win in race one and second place in race two while Haga
was knocked went down as a result of contact with Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea. At the end of the day, Spies found himself atop the leader board, 18 points ahead of Haga.
With 6 races left in the season, the championship has become Spies' to lose. The Yamaha Italia team tested at Imola last July and Spies was at or near the top of the time sheets most of the time. Spies was also fast at the season-ending Portimao test last year on a bike he'd never seen before. That leaves Magny Cours as the only track that the American has no prior seat time at, not that lack of track knowledge has been much of an impediment to his meteoric rise to the top.
Nori looks to have mostly recovered from the broken wrist and shoulder blade incurred at Donington Park in June. Haga finished a close second to Spies in Race one in Germany and was running at the the front before he was taken out. Haga's Xerox Ducati team mate, Michel "Mr. Fabulous" Fabrizio hasn't provided much of an assist to Haga, other than his failed pass in race 1 at Brno that sent both himself and Spies into the kitty litter.
Since the start of the season, MotoMatters.com has been trying to bring you news and analysis from both MotoGP and World Superbikes, but with the limited resources we have at our disposal, it's been hard. We have not been able to give the World Superbike series the attention it deserves, and so we have called in some help. From now on, Mike Walt will be helping out with the World Superbike series, while David Emmett focuses on the world he knows best, the world of MotoGP.
Many of you will already know Mike, as he posts around the world under the moniker Yooperbikemike. His knowledge of all forms of motorcycle racing is encyclopedic, and his style is both informative and entertaining, a very, very difficult balancing act to manage. So for all of you who love World Superbikes, and I know there are many, we hope to start to give the series much better coverage.
The MotoGP silly season is just about played out. With four races left in the season, the rider line up for 2010 is almost complete. As expected, once Jorge Lorenzo finally made up his mind, the remaining pieces in the puzzle fell into place, leaving just a few gaps to fill.
All of the factory seats are now full, and largely unchanged, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo back at Yamaha, Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden at Ducati, Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa (albeit reluctantly) re-signed with Repsol Honda, and Loris Capirossi joined at Suzuki by the only newcomer to the factory line up, Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista. Though next year's seats are settled, plenty of excitement still remains over what will happen next year: Everyone but Andrea Dovizioso and Alvaro Bautista is on a one year contract, which means that the Fantastic Four will all be on the market at the same time next year and looking to move, almost certainly precipitating a bidding war and making a mockery of all the cost-cutting measures already put in place.
Of the satellite teams, only the Gresini and LCR squads are completely set. Fausto Gresini got his Italian Dream Team with the two Marcos, Melandri and Simoncelli, and helping him extend the team's sponsorship contract with snack manufacturer San Carlo, while Lucio Cecchinello has re-upped with Randy de Puniet. But even among the remaining teams, the seats are largely taken. Mika Kallio is back with Pramac, and Colin Edwards returns to the Monster Tech 3 team, though reportedly taking a half million dollar pay cut for the privilege. No official word as yet from Team Scot, but as Gabor Talmacsi is the only person likely to be bringing significant funds into the team, the Hungarian must be a safe bet for that seat.
With barely time to recover from the shock news that reigning 250 World Champion Marco Simoncelli was testing an Aprilia RSV4 World Superbike machine at Mugello, with an eye to competing in this weekend's WSBK round at Imola, motorcycle racing fans have more to deal with. Aprilia and Simoncelli have confirmed today that Simoncelli will indeed be racing on Sunday at Imola, according to GPOne.com.
The news was almost inevitable: After posting times within six tenths of a second of the times Michel Fabrizio was posting on the factory Xerox Ducati 1098 F09, Simoncelli was always likely to want to race. A conclave this morning of all of the senior figures inside of Aprilia's racing program, including Gigi Dall'Igna and Giampiero Sacchi, as well as Simoncelli's current Gilera team boss Luca Boscoscuro and - rather surprisingly - his team boss next year, Fausto Gresini, made Simoncelli's participation a near certainty. Added to this were Simoncelli's statements to MotoSprint, telling the Italian magazine "When Sacchi offered me the bike on Monday afternoon, I asked for an hour to think it over, but in my heart I decided instantly: I will race!"
After getting off the bike at Mugello, Simoncelli told GPOne.com that he felt pretty comfortable on the bike, much better than the first time he had ridden the Aprilia RSV4 at Valencia at the end of last year. The team had worked on finding a setup that worked for the Italian, and given the times Simoncelli was posting they had obviously found one.
As the weekend of the Portuguese Grand Prix approaches, speculation concerning Casey Stoner is once again stirring on whether the Australian will actually race at Estoril. Little has been heard from the 2007 World Champion since his return to his native Australia, other than some speculation and a brief interview about a fishing trip. While undoubtedly good for Stoner's recovery, this radio silence has done nothing to shed light on Stoner's situation and the burning question in the minds of MotoGP fans and followers of whether the Australian will actually be making a return or not.
Naturally, Ducati has tried to do whatever it can to quash any speculation, and as part of that information offensive, Ducati team boss Livio Suppo spoke to the Spanish state broadcaster RTVE. During the interview, Suppo affirmed that he was sure that Stoner would be back in action at Estoril. "At this moment, we have no reason to think that Casey won't be back," Suppo told RTVE. "Everything is organized, we've booked the flights, we have nothing to make us think he won't be back."
Suppo also asserted that the team had been in constant contact with Stoner and his medical staff, though he had not spoken to Stoner himself, as all communication was happening through Stoner's father, Colin, who manages the young Australian. Stoner himself is avoiding taking telephone calls, under instruction from his doctors, but Ducati's doctors had spoken to the Australian's physician in Australia yesterday (Tuesday September 22nd), and had been assured that Stoner was in much better health than when he first arrived back home at the end of July.
Marco Simoncelli appears to be edging closer to racing in this weekend's World Superbike round at Imola. The Italian posted a best time of 1'54.21 during testing at Mugello today, after running 49 laps in sets of 10. Simoncelli was not chasing hot laps, but was instead getting used to the bike and the tires, and spent the day running on a medium compound, according to the Italian website GPOne.com.
Simoncelli's times were certainly good enough for Aprilia's Superbike project technical director Gigi Dall'Igna. "He rode with his head," Dall'Igna told GPOne.com, expressing his surprise at how rapid Simoncelli's progress had been at Mugello. A final decision on whether Simoncelli will race at Imola is to be taken at the end of Wednesday's test, but Dall'Igna was fairly confident. When asked whether he thought Simoncelli would race, Dall'Igna replied "I expect he will."
At the same time as Simoncelli was testing, fellow 250 star Mattia Pasini was once again aboard the Ducati Desmosedici. The Italian posted a fairly mediocre time of 1'52.8 after 56 laps, a time some 3 seconds off the pace of the MotoGP regulars, but the track conditions were not ideal. Speculation continues that Pasini is being evaluated for a role at Pramac next season, though talk also continues of Pasini being a reserve rider in the unlikely case that Casey Stoner doesn't make a return to racing after all.
Both Pasini and Simoncelli will continue testing tomorrow, while Pasini will put in a third day of testing on Thursday.
Marco Simoncelli's future may already be fixed, the Italian 250 star having decided to move up to the MotoGP class with Gresini Honda, but the Piaggio Group hasn't quite given up on the Italian yet. Before Simoncelli announced his future, Aprilia had tried to keep him within the fold by persuading the Italian to switch to the World Superbike series, allowing him to test the RSV4 Superbike during the winter in the hope that this might persuade him.
Though Simoncelli's decision came down on the side of MotoGP, he isn't quite done with World Superbikes. For according to the Italian websites GPOne.com and MotoSprint.it, Simoncelli is testing the Aprilia at Mugello alongside Mattia Pasini who is currently testing the Ducati Desmosedici. The point of the test is to see whether Simoncelli believes he is capable of being fast enough on a relatively unknown bike to compete in Sunday's round of World Superbikes at Imola, as a substitute for the injured Shinya Nakano.
GPOne.com reports that the official argument is that Simoncelli is too far behind to have a chance at the 250cc title, conceding a 40 point deficit to Hiroshi Aoyama with 4 races to go, and that therefore the risk to Simoncelli's title chances are minimal. But according to GPOne.com, the pressure to race is coming from Aprilia rather than Simoncelli, for though Simoncelli is very happy to be testing, he is less keen on racing at Imola, a circuit which has attracted criticism for still having a couple of very dangerous spots around the track, despite the changes made recently. Simoncelli and Aprilia are due to make a decision on whether to race or not at the end of Wednesday, once the test has been completed.
Randy de Puniet has been one of the revelations of the 2009 season. The Frenchman has lost his reputation for being the first to hit the gravel trap, and instead become one of the men most likely to get on the podium, despite having only a satellite spec Honda RC212V at his disposal. De Puniet's transformation is in part down to the spec Bridgestone tires, and in part down to a new training regime, as he told MotoMatters.com in an interview earlier this year.
His improvement has clearly paid off. De Puniet was one of the riders being courted by a number of teams, with both the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team expressing an interest as well as his existing LCR Honda team. For De Puniet, the key to the negotations was the level of machinery the teams could provide, the Frenchman growing frustrated with trying to compete on clearly inferior equipment.
De Puniet is to get what he wants. According to the French site Moto Caradisiac (and later confirmed in a press release), LCR Honda announced today that they have signed a new one-year deal with De Puniet. Along with the contract comes an interesting guarantee: LCR Honda will be the first of the teams to make use of the switch in policy by HRC to provide factory-spec equipment to satellite teams at an increased lease price. Under the arrangement, LCR will receive a Honda RC212V which is very close to the factory machines provided to Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, getting updates to the bike a few races after the Repsol Honda team.
Of the two new MotoGP projects currently being bandied around in the press, the candidate which looks most likely to actually make it onto the grid in the near future is surely the FB Corse machine. The bike - a custom-built chassis housing an 800cc three cylinder, based on the design for BMW's MotoGP bike by the Oral Engineering Group and discussed here a couple of weeks ago - actually exists and has been seen by journalists, and appears to be reaching fruition. Indeed, so far advanced is the project that the Italian website Motocorse.com spoke with one of the two men behind the project, Andrea Ferrari (the F of FB, the other being Sergio Bertocchi), who gave a summary of where the project stands and how close the team are to actually signing a rider and putting the bike onto the track.
According to Ferrari, the bike is now complete, after the team finished the chassis into which the Oral-designed in-line triple will be dropped, but now that it is ready to ride, the project faces its first hurdle. The obstacle to be overcome is the bike's semi-automatic transmission, which used a hydraulically-assisted gear change, allowing a rider to shift gears in around 20 milliseconds. All forms of assisted gear shifting were outlawed at a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission earlier this year, and so now the FB Corse team are working on a manual gear change, a problem which is not particularly complex, but time-consuming all the same.
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of running a triple, Ferrari pointed to weight as the main advantage the bike has. Under FIM rules, triples may weigh 7.5 kg less than the four cylinder bikes currently on the grid, about a 5% weight saving. The downside, fairly obviously, is that it is harder to get the torque and horsepower from a triple that a four cylinder of the same capacity offers. This problem is made worse by the new engine regulations allowing the teams only 6 engines to last an entire season in 2010. Nonetheless Ferrari feels that they can be competitive, telling Motocorse.com that the bike is already producing 90 Nm of torque at 18,000 rpm, a figure that equates to around 225 horsepower. The engine has also run 2,500 km on the bench without suffering any mechanical failures, and so reliability should not be a problem.
In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.