2011 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up - On Bumps, Speed And The Lack Of It, And WSBK Silly Season
Phillip Island is the best circuit in the world, according to just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock. At least, that's what they thought yesterday, before they actually rode the circuit, and found out that the recent visits by the Australian GT series and the V8 Supercars have torn the track up and left bumps everywhere.
The verdict was unanimous, but as ever, Casey Stoner phrased it the best. "This year, the track's terrible," he told reporters. "It's always been a little bit bumpy into Turn 1, but this year, they're a lot more aggressive than they were in the past, and I'm not too happy with the condition of the track. I don't know what they've been racing around here, but it's made the track a lot worse." So bad was the surface that Jorge Lorenzo said he and the other riders would bring the subject up in the Safety Commission on Friday night, and ask for the track to be repaved.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
2011 Phillip Island MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Hope For Ducati, And CRT As A Solution To Shrinking Grids
Phillip Island, the best track on the calendar, according to just about everyone who races a motorcycle. There are those such as Dani Pedrosa, as he explained at the pre-event press conference, who have some bad memories of the track, from injury or, like Pedrosa, from riding here in pain, as he did last year when freshly back from surgery on his collarbone. But the track itself is spectacular, and offers all the thrills that riders love: long, fast corners where you slide the bike round at high speed. "You gotta be brave here," as Nicky Hayden put it.
Hayden is not short of courage, as he has proved many times in the past, and for once this season, this is a track that both he and Valentino Rossi go into feeling relatively confident. There has been at least one Ducati on the podium at Phillip Island every year they have competed in MotoGP, except for 2006, when Sete Gibernau was beaten into 4th by half a bike length by Valentino Rossi, so the bike has historically gone well here. That is largely down to the fact that Phillip Island is much more about rear traction than it is about front-end grip, and the rear end of the Ducati is in pretty good shape, especially since the GP11.1 design eliminated most of the pumping. The Ducati still has plenty of motor - when asked what is the strong point of the Ducati, Rossi invariably replies "the engine" - and so the bike suits a high-speed track like Phillip Island, despite the problems that remain.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams previewing the upcoming Phillip Island round this weekend:
The two-year contracts that all four of the MotoGP Aliens signed during 2010 have made for a very quiet silly season, with speculation on who will be riding where next season taking a very long time to get started. There are a number of reasons for this - talks about contracts have been lost in the general commotion surrounding the two big topics of 2011: Rossi's struggle with the Ducati Desmosedici and the controversy over whether to race at Motegi or not, and the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami has badly hit motorcycle racing budgets as well - but as we approach the final few races of the 2011 MotoGP season, some movement is starting to be visible on the riders market. So let's take a stroll through what we know for certain, have a look what we think is likely and glance into the crystal ball of MotoGP's future, which comes in the shape of the Claiming Rule Teams.
What We Know
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the race at Motegi:
2011 Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up - Bike Setup Makes Lorenzo And Rossi More Competitive, And Titles On The Line In France
What a difference a day makes. Or perhaps that should be, what a different an afternoon makes. That Casey Stoner took pole at Motegi in the MotoGP class should surprise no one: pole in Japan is Stoner's 10th of the year, a new record for a MotoGP season, and with it, he wrapped up the BMW M Award, getting to take home a shiny new BMW 1 Series M Coupe. And all that with three qualifying sessions left to go.
What was more of a surprise was the man who will start from next to him on the grid at Motegi. Yesterday, Jorge Lorenzo was the best-of-the-rest, capable only of following at a discreet distance, but a change after FP3 on Saturday morning turned the reigning World Champion's fortunes around. During qualifying, Lorenzo found he was matching the race pace of the Repsol Hondas, then as the pace was upped in the last 10 minutes, the factory Yamaha man found himself temporarily on pole, with a new pole record to boot. That would not stand - Stoner smashed both the old and the new pole record, bagging himself a BMW in the process - but the fact that Lorenzo was on the pace of the Hondas gave him heart. "I didn't expect to be on the front row," Lorenzo said, but the changes the team had made had worked. A front-row start puts him in touch with Stoner from the line, and going by the Spaniard's pace on race tires, capable of giving the Australian a run for his money.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after qualifying at Motegi:
The first day of practice was summed up succinctly by Colin Edwards, in the TV interview that all of the riders do with MotoGP.com at the end of each day. The bike felt good, Edwards said, the front feels planted, he felt good on the bike. "It's just them frickin' Hondas!"
A quick glance at the timesheets and you can see his point: places one to four are taken by factory Honda RC212Vs, the three Repsols leading the San Carlo Gresini bike of Marco Simoncelli. The layout of the track helps a lot: a lot of slow corners leading onto long straights, and a fast back straight thrown in for good measure. The Honda's strong points are outstanding acceleration and good top speed, exactly what is needed to go around Motegi at a decent clip.
That should hardly come as a surprise. Motegi is owned by Honda, and as Casey Stoner pointed out, this track is one of the tracks the RC212V is developed around. Although Honda's test riders - including wildcard riders Kousuke Akiyoshi and the hoary veteran Shinichi Itoh, riding a stunning RC30 tribute HRC livery in red, white and blue - divide their time between Suzuka and Motegi aboard the MotoGP bike, Motegi remains a key track for the factory, where much of their development is done.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Motegi:
It was billed by the respected Italian website GPOne.com as "The Grand Prix Of Fear" and finally it's here. Unless something extremely untoward happens - highly unlikely, but the zone is one of the most geologically active regions in the world - by Friday evening, everyone will have gotten over themselves and we'll be talking about bikes on track again.
There are still plenty of signs of advanced paranoia in the paddock, however. The Italian media contingent is reduced to just a few brave souls, while the Spanish media is a little better represented, but still much thinner on the ground. The English-speaking media is actually a little more numerous than originally planned: out of sheer frustration with the panic-mongering being spread about by some of the more paranoid sections of the paddock, veteran MotoGP journalist Michael Scott has added Motegi to his itinerary, a race he would otherwise have covered from home.
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi: