2012 MotoGP Sepang 1 Test Monday Pre-Test Round Up: Phoenix Unveiled, HRC's Launch, And New Tires For All
So the day that MotoGP fans have been waiting for throughout the long, dark, bikeless winter break has nearly arrived. In a few short hours time, the MotoGP bikes will be tearing up the track in Malaysia once again in preparation for the 2012 season. Indeed, all day Monday, a few MotoGP bikes - the cynics and naysayers would refute that the Aprilia CRT bike is a MotoGP bike, but they are wrong - have been howling round Valencia, but as that is a private test it has not impinged upon the consciousness of MotoGP fans as much as Sepang has. On Tuesday morning, the winter is officially, finally over.
A very great deal of the interest in the Sepang test has been focused on Ducati, a rather logical result of Valentino Rossi's dismal debut year with the iconic Italian brand. In the break between the Valencia test and tomorrow's test at Sepang, the Desmosedici GP12 has been redesigned from the ground up, Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi claiming that the bike is 90% different, even though it would look strikingly similar to the bike labeled the "GP Zero" by the press at Valencia. To further stir the interest of the fans - as if they needed any stirring - Ducati then failed to display the bike at their traditional Wrooom! launch event in mid-January, leaving even more room for speculation and conjecture. Even a private test of the bike organized by Ducati Corse at Jerez went off without anyone managing to sneak any photos or information out to the ever-eager press.
Yamaha has confirmed that Japanese oil company JX Nippon will be partnering the Yamaha MotoGP team as sponsor in 2012. As uncovered by Greek website motograndprix.gr and reported here earlier this month, JX Nippon will be using their sponsorship of the Yamaha MotoGP team to promote the ENEOS brand, a range of performance oil products sold worldwide.
ENEOS sponsorship will appear on the bike at the first official MotoGP test, which kicks off at Sepang on Tuesday, January 31st, but the official livery will not be revealed until the second Sepang test, later in February. ENEOS is not the title sponsor, but will have a prominent place on the bike, as the company is replacing former Malaysian oil company Petronas.
Below is the official press release from Yamaha announcing the deal:
MotoGP's long winter break is drawing to a close, and the testing season is about to kick off once again. For the last couple of years that's been very easy to follow, as everyone headed to the official MotoGP tests organized by IRTA. With the introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams, however, MotoGP's testing schedule has become a lot more complex, as some of the CRT teams will be joining the test in Sepang, while others will be remaining in Europe.
Below is the schedule as we know it so far. Everyone on a factory prototype (that is, all of the factory and satellite teams) will be heading to the two Sepang tests (Jan 31st - Feb 2nd, and Feb 28th-March 1st), with Colin Edwards on the NGM Forward Suter BMW and the BQR CRT team consisting of Ivan Silva and test rider Robertino Pietri aboard the FTR Kawasakis at the first Sepang test at least. The Aprilia-powered CRT bikes will be firing up their engines in Europe, starting at Valencia on January 30th. PBM's James Ellison will join the Aspar bikes at Jerez on February 20th, while a fuller compliment of CRT bikes is expected at Aragon on March 8th. Testing then culminates at Jerez in late March, as everyone gathers for the final CRT test.
MotoGP is looking eastward. As the involvement and interest from and in Asia has continued to grow in recent years, the importance of the region - beyond the historic role that Japan has played in the series, that is - to both the MotoGP series and the manufacturers has become increasingly evident. With Yamaha riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies visiting the region a couple of times over the winter, and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta hinting at more races in Asia in coming years, the Asian dimension in MotoGP is set to grow in the near future.
The addition of "Semakin di Depan", the slogan used by Yamaha's subsidiary in Indonesia, to the factory Yamaha M1s back in 2010 was the first sign of change, and Honda followed suit in 2011, with the addition of the "Satu Hati" slogan, used by Honda's Indonesian subsidiary, to the factory Repsol Honda machines. Meanwhile, Yamaha's factory riders have been making marketing trips to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries in the region on a regular basis since 2008.
The FIM today released the provisional entry lists for all three Grand Prix classes, and the grids are looking remarkably healthy. Some 21 riders will line up in the MotoGP class, the Moto2 grid has been shrunk to a more manageable 33 entries, and 32 riders will be at the start for the inaugural season of racing in the Moto3 class, the grid the same size as it was for last year's 125cc class, which Moto3 replaces.
There are no surprises in the MotoGP class. As expected, there are 21 entries: 12 factory prototype entries and 9 CRT entries. Of the factory prototypes (which includes satellite machines), the three factory teams remain unchanged with the exception of the reduction of the Repsol Honda squad from three riders to two, Andrea Dovizioso having been dropped, despite finishing 3rd in the championship in 2011 ahead of Dani Pedrosa, who retains his seat. Dovizioso joins Cal Crutchlow at Monster Tech 3, Yamaha maintaining its commitment at 4 YZR-M1 machines. Both Honda and Ducati have cut back to just two satellite bikes apiece, with the bikes spread over four different teams. Stefan Bradl, whose usual number, 65, was retired in honor of Loris Capirossi, has elected to use the number 6.
A press release issued by Yamaha about Jorge Lorenzo's visit to the Budh International circuit near New Delhi:
Yamaha's sponsorship situation is not as perilous as it seems. Departing Malaysian oil giant Petronas (announced at the end of last week) is to be replaced by Japanese oil brand ENEOS, which markets a range of high-end lubrication products from the Japanese oil giant JX Nippon.
The deal was uncovered by Greek website MotoGrandPrix.gr, who learned of it from the CEO of ENPO Hellas SA, the Greek importer of ENEOS products, and has been confirmed to MotoMatters.com by secondary sources. As ENEOS is in direct competition with Petronas, it was not possible to announce the fact that ENEOS would be replacing the Malaysian company in the press release issued last week due to contractual obligations. An official announcement of the deal is expected in the next week or two, most probably in the news vacuum once Ducati's annual MotoGP Wrooom event has concluded.
ENEOS and JX Nippon are no stranger to motorsports, having previously sponsored Honda's Formula One team, and currently being involved with with a team in the Japanese Super GT series. They have not yet been involved in motorcycle racing, however, and bringing a new brand into the sport is seen as a major coup for Yamaha, and a positive step for the team.
Yamaha have suffered a costly blow to their MotoGP program. Today, the factory Yamaha team announced that the three-year deal with Malaysian oil giant Petronas to sponsor Yamaha's MotoGP team will not be extended, and will terminate at the end of 2011. In a joint press release issued with Petronas, Yamaha stated that after three successful years, the agreement had "reached its natural conclusion."
The announcement is very bad news indeed for Yamaha. The deal was reportedly worth $8 million a year for the Japanese factory, and coming on top of the loss of Fiat as a title sponsor at the end of 2010, Yamaha is currently being forced to fund a much greater part of its MotoGP budget - thought to be between 50 and 70 million euros a year - out of its own pocket, a situation that is not sustainable in the current economic climate. The factory seized the opportunity offered by its 50th anniversary in racing to run in factory colors for 2011, which was very well received, especially when the team ran the red-and-white livery that was such a massive hit with the fans. No such anniversary looms for 2012, and with motorcycle sales still in a downward spiral, and no sign of recovery in the global economy, the cost of racing in MotoGP could be too much to sustain for Yamaha.
MotoGP rider entry list for the 2012 MotoGP season
With the signing of Stefan Bradl to LCR Honda, the total number of confirmed riders in MotoGP has now grown to 16, including 12 on factory prototype machines (traditional MotoGP machines from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati) and 4 CRT entries (cheaper entries, mainly based on production engines). With official confirmation of Suzuki's withdrawal still awaiting, though zero chance of them continuing, it looks like 12 is the maximum number of bikes that the factories are willing to supply, with Honda, Ducati and Yamaha all provding 4 each, 2 factory bikes and 2 satellite bikes.
The prospects for the CRT teams are much brighter. With 4 riders already confirmed (Colin Edwards, James Ellison, Ant West and Danilo Petrucci), there could be another 7 CRT bikes on the grid, bringing the total to 23. Those CRT riders could also include a couple of interesting names, with Randy de Puniet being linked to a ride with Aspar after testing the Aprilia RSV4 on Bridgestone tires at Valencia this week. The final rider line up will probably take a few more weeks to shake out, but the MotoGP grid is looking the healthiest it has been for years. The last time there were more than 20 riders on the grid was in 2004.
Here's the latest 2012 MotoGP rider line up, as of November 17th: