November 27th, 2009
One name keeps cropping up amidst all the speculation about still open seats in the various race series. Alex de Angelis has been linked with a range of options since the late summer, all of them revolving around sponsorship by the tourism agency of San Marino, the tiny Italian republic from whence De Angelis hails. It started with the Scot Honda MotoGP program, and when that was abandoned, went on to a second Aprilia World Superbike team, as well as several options in Moto2, including the Hayate Moto2 team.
It is not that easy, though, it seems. According to San Marino's state broadcasting corporation, De Angelis' options are quickly drying up. The Scot Honda MotoGP ride fell through when San Marino could not provide the necessary (and necessarily sizable) sponsorship to fund the program. The protracted negotiations with Honda also ended another intriguing possibility, that the Scot team had been offered a Ducati GP10, expanding the Bolognese factory's presence on the grid from 5 to 6 bikes according to Italian broadcaster Sportmediaset. Unfortunately for De Angelis, by the time the negotiations with Honda had failed, Ducati had withdrawn their offer.
Aprilia's shock decision to cease development on its Moto2 project created many victims, but the team worst affected are probably Team Aspar. The Valencian team, run by Jorge "Aspar" Martinez, have probably been Aprilia's closest partners in their years in the 125 and 250 class, and have invested a great deal in both the relationship and in helping the Italian factory to develop their motorcycles. This cooperation had been extended into the new Moto2 class, with Aspar signing both 125 World Champion Julian Simon and the Frenchman Mike di Meglio to race the Aprilia framed entry in the series.
Aprilia's withdrawal has left Aspar high and dry, and the team needs to quickly find a solution if they are to compete next season. To this end, Martinez and team manager Gino Borsoi is to fly to Italy next Tuesday to meet with Aprilia to discuss possible ways of finding their way out of the situation. "It would be best if we could find a solution with Aprilia," the team management told the Spanish press agency EFE, "but if we don't, we will look for the most competitive of the many existing options, to allow us to pursue our objective of fighting for the championship."
As has been widely supposed here on MotoMatters, and nearly everywhere else in the racing press, 2009 BSB champion Leon Camier has signed to race alongside Max Biaggi on the Factory Aprilia Racing Team in 2010. Aprilia's recent withdrawal with extreme prejudice from Moto2 to concentrate on WSBK and the proposed 1000cc 2012 MotoGP regulations, leaves open the possibility that the Noale based manufacturer will field a satellite team in WSBK in 2010 with MotoGP refugee Alex de Angelis as a possible rider next to Guandalini Ducati/Aprilia's Jakub Smrz.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Austalian Broc Parkes has reportedly signed with CRS Echo Team Honda Racing to contest the 2010 World Superbike championship. Parkes, the second place finisher in the 2007 WSS championship, had a season to forget in 2009, winding up in 18th place in WSBK racing a factory Kawasaki ZX10 for Paul Bird Motorsports. CRS Echo, who fielded Michael Laverty in WSS in 2009, has acquired Stiggy Racing's 2009 CBR1000RR superbikes. It is thought that there is an outside chance that Stiggy (Johan Stigefelt ) himself may come over to the team to run the superbike effort, but Stigefelt is still trying to secure funding to run his own team in 2010, a prospect that he admits faces an uphill battle in today's tough economic climate.
Now that the 2009 season has come to a close, and Toni Elias has signed with his current team boss to move down a class for 2010, there will be a temporary ebb in the debates about who this man is and where he belongs in the sport. There is a long-developing opinion espoused, subscribed to, or at least tacitly accepted by a growing number, that Toni Elias takes the first half of a season to lazily absorb his life in the top tier of motorcycle racing before beginning a mid-season panic where he must suddenly show results good enough to secure a job for the subsequent season. I don't know when this line of reasoning began, but since it seems to pass for critical thinking these days, I, for one, have had enough.
I'll save you some time and give you the punchline up front: Toni Elias has never been on the same bike two years in a row since entering the MotoGP class. How good would your first half of the season be?
Doubts about the future of Aprilia's Moto2 project have been growing for some time now. Reports first emerged on Friday that the factory was considering rerouting its investment in the class, and directing it towards a return to MotoGP when the new engine regulations come into force in 2012. Since then, things have moved very swiftly, so swiftly in fact that the Piaggio Group has issued a press release announcing that it is ceasing all Moto2 activities with immediate effect. The press release, translated from Italian, reads as follows:
The Piaggio Group wishes to communicate that Aprilia will not participate in the Moto2 Championship, nor will they supply motorcycles to private teams participating in that Championship. In the vision of the Group, the Moto2 Championship does not possess the technological and competitive characteristics which would make participating in this kind of competition a positive strategic choice for Aprilia.
The Group believes that it would be unnecessary and damaging for a major Italian and European motorcycle manufacturer - one which has 43 World Championships in both road and off-road racing to its name - to take part in a competitive series based on the engine technology of a rival manufacturer.
When news broke a couple of days ago that Yoshimura Suzuki team was to abandon the All-Japan Superbikes championship to run in World Superbikes, speculation immediately turned to the fate of Yoshimura's US program, featuring the veteran Tommy Hayden and young challenger Blake Young. Would this decision mean that Yoshimura would also turn its back on the AMA Pro racing series in the USA and redouble its efforts in World Superbikes?
The answer to that question is almost certainly no, according to the authoritative US journal Roadracing World. The American magazine had a meeting with Fujio Yoshimura, head of the Japanese specialist parts manufacturer, in which Yoshimura told the magazine that the decision by the company to withdraw from the Japanese series would have no effect on the current American racing program. The decision, according to Roadracing World, was based entirely on dissatisfaction with the direction of the Japanese Superbike series, and is independent of the events going on in the DMG-run AMA Pro series - despite their apparent similarity.
It has long been rumored, but now comes as close to something like confirmation as we are going to get, for the meantime. The very well-informed Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Leon Camier has signed with Aprilia, to run alongside Max Biaggi in the Noale factory's World Superbike squad. The manner of the announcement is somewhat unusual, however. GPOne.com spoke to the head of Aprilia's racing activities, Leo Mercanti at Bangkok Airport, where he was on his way to participate in a Rally Raid in the Middle East, where the Italian confirmed that Camier had been given the job after a couple of impressive rides substituting for the injured Shinya Nakano.
Speaking of Camier, Mercanti told GPOne.com "I think he's a good choice, the guy did well in the races he ran with us." So far, though, no official press release or announcement has been issued by the factory, the news is not 100% certain, merely 99.999%, given that Mercanti is the person with the final say in Aprilia's racing program.
Over the past couple of years, attention has been focused on the sparseness of the MotoGP grid, with just 17 permanent entries in 2009, and most likely the same number in 2010. The comparison was always made with the World Superbike grid, which had a bumper crop of 31 entries for the start of the 2009 season. Such a well-filled grid meant that the worryingly large number of teams and riders dropping out of World Superbikes throughout the season was largely ignored. The World Superbike grid for 2010, however, is looking disturbingly thin, with only 17 riders entered so far, and little sign of that number growing by any significant amount.
News emerging from Japan, however, suggests that at least one team is to swell the ranks of World Superbikes. More significant than the number of riders this team will bring is the name involved: It is not just any old team which is to make the jump from the All Japan Superbike championship, the team under discussion is Yoshimura Suzuki. The team has a long and rich history in the Japanese Superbike championship, with several JSB titles to its name, as well as wins in the prestigious Suzuka 8 hour race and a host of international events.
According to the Italian website Bikeracing.it (which reached us through the excellent Dutch site MOTOR.nl), Yoshimura Japan President Fujio Yoshimura announced that the legendary performance parts supplier had made the decision to move up to the World stage after spending many years in the Japanese national series. "Despite the period of economic crisis for us in Japan," Bikeracing.it reports Yoshimura as saying, "racing has been part of our sporting culture for some 60 years. For this reason, we have decided to take up a new challenge, a leap forward for all of us: To race in the World Championship. It will be a whole new challenge for Yoshimura, and we hope to have the support of all our sponsors and supporters in our attempt to become number 1 in World Superbikes." The move would see Yoshimura Japan switch its current All Japan Superbike team to the World Superbike championship, reportedly taking at least one of their riders - Daisaku Sakai is being named as the most likely candidate - up on to the world stage.
The Red Bull Rookies Cup provided some of the most entertaining racing of the year for spectators attending the European MotoGP rounds, but given the nature of the competitors, that was to be expected. Having thirty-odd teenagers with hyperactive hormones and no fear of death all racing for glory on identical bikes is a recipe for both spectacle and disaster. Fortunately, the skill these young boys and girls displayed helped avert disaster in most cases, leaving just the spectacle to enjoy. My personal favorite moment was at Assen, watching the Red Bull Rookies head into the final GT chicane eight abreast, none of them with any intention of giving ground to each other.
Unfortunately for people who weren't at the races, or couldn't follow the races live on the Red Bull Rookies website, there was little coverage on live TV. That appalling error has now been remedied, with the online broadcaster VBS has put together an eight-part series covering the 2009 Red Bull Rookies Cup. You can watch all of the episodes over on the VBS website, or watch the trailer or the first episode below.
The intricate dance of contract negotiating position for the 2011 silly season is in full swing. Every opportunity that the press gets to interrogate the Fantastic Four about their intentions for 2011 is seized upon with relish, despite the fact the 2010 MotoGP season has yet to begin.
Jorge Lorenzo was the latest victim: the Spaniard was being feted by fans at a special dinner in Barcelona, laid on by his fan club. The Spanish press agency Europa Press was there, and took the opportunity to ask Lorenzo about the where he sees himself in 2011. Lorenzo's main priority, was to remain at Yamaha he said, because of the confidence the factory had shown in him and because he is very happy there. "But I can't guarantee anything," he added.
The news that 1000cc production-based engines will be allowed to race in MotoGP alongside the prototypes appears to be having some unexpected consequences. After at first announcing their intention to offer cut-price Aprilia RSA 250s to run in Moto2, and then dropping that idea to concentrate on building a chassis for the Moto2 class to wrap around the spec Honda engine due to be used, the Spanish website Motoworld.es is reporting that Aprilia may decide to switch tack altogether.
According to the reports, Aprilia will instead start work on plans to enter the MotoGP series, dropping their support for the Moto2 class altogether. Five teams had already been lined up to use Aprilia's Moto2 chassis, but hints that the project had been shelved appeared when news broke that Julian Simon and Mike di Meglio of the Aspar team are testing the BQR chassis at Valencia today. Aspar has very close links to the Aprilia factory, and so their choice to test a different chassis could be interpreted as a sign that they have already been informed that Aprilia's plans have changed, and there will not be an Aprilia chassis.
The first round of extra testing for MotoGP's bumper crop of rookies has concluded, with Alvaro Bautista wrapping up a three-day test at Estoril in Portugal. The young Spaniard put in over 200 laps at the circuit, eventually lapping consistently in the 1'38.5s, according to the Suzuki press release. That pace would have put him around 12th place in the race, despite the conditions being cooler and less favorable. Bautista did, however, have a large number of laps to achieve that time, far more than the riders did during the race weekend.
Perhaps of more significance for Suzuki's overall effort was Japanese test rider Nobuatsu Aoki, who tested alongside Bautista at Estoril. The Japanese veteran spent time working on developing the bike ready for the 2010 season, testing a long list of parts which Loris Capirossi had started to test in the post-race event at Valencia. The test was doubly important to Suzuki, as it gave them a chance to test at a circuit outside of their usual testing facilities in Japan.
Some things are so good they are worth making a tradition of. One such thing is the MotoMatters.com Motorcycle Racing Calendar - it was a huge hit last year, and so this year, it's back, bigger and better than before. The calendar features one of Scott Jones' fantastic photos above every month, with the month grid below containing birthdays for most of the leading riders in the MotoGP, World Superbike, Moto2, World Supersport and 125cc classes, as well as every MotoGP and World Superbike round highlighted for easy reference.
Niccolo Canepa had a very tough rookie year in MotoGP. The Italian joined the Pramac Ducati team after a year as Ducati's test rider, having won the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup a year before. But once he made the switch from test rider to MotoGP rider, he has struggled badly, circulating close to the back of the field for much of the season. So it was no surprise that the likable Italian lost his MotoGP ride at the end of the 2009 season.
He may be out of a MotoGP ride, but he is not out of the paddock, however. The Scot Racing Team announced today that Niccolo Canepa has been signed a one-year contract to race in Moto2 next season. Like Canepa, Scot Honda found itself out of the MotoGP paddock, after both Yuki Takahashi and his later replacement Gabor Talmacsi found themselves circulating behind even Canepa. Financial problems within the team meant that the team could not afford to provide the support necessary for the bike to be competitive, and having two rookies on the bike reduced their chances even further. In contrast to the Scot Racing team's problems in MotoGP, their 250cc program was triumphant, winning both the last ever 250 championship with Hiroshi Aoyama, as well as the rookie of the year award with Raffaele de Rosa.