It is a tradition to look back at the end of the year, and pick out the highlights of the season. Certainly for us at MotoMatters.com, the highlights have been Scott Jones' beautiful photos. Having paddock access for the first time meant that Scott could attend more races and take better photos. Over the next few days, we'll be going back and selecting a few of our favorites from among the very many beautiful shots Scott took for us. If you see any photos you'd like to have on your wall, then drop Scott an email to ask about pricing. And if you want to help us do it all over again in 2010, then head over to the donate page and send us a contribution. Here are some of Scott Jones' photos from Qatar to help persuade you of the wisdom of that decision.
Yesterday, Dorna released a list of engines presented to MotoGP's Technical Director Mike Webb to be officially sealed. The seals are placed to comply with the engine limit which comes into effect at Brno, which stipulates that each rider is only allowed to use 5 engines until the end of the season. The teams only needed to submit 1, or at most 2 engines to be sealed before practice started, but instead most submitted 3 or even more. That demands some kind of explanation, and so we decided to take a closer look at the numbers.
Here's the full list:
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda Team||3|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Repsol Honda Team||3|
|5||Colin Edwards||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||3|
|7||Chris Vermeulen||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||2|
|14||Randy de Puniet||LCR Honda MotoGP||3|
|15||Alex de Angelis||San Carlo Honda Gresini||3|
|24||Toni Elias||San Carlo Honda Gresini||2|
|27||Casey Stoner||Ducati Marlboro Team||4|
|33||Marco Melandri||Hayate Racing Team||3|
|36||Mika Kallio||Pramac Racing||3|
|41||Gabor Talmacsi||Scot Racing Team MotoGP||2|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Fiat Yamaha Team||3|
|52||James Toseland||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||3|
|65||Loris Capirossi||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||2|
|69||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Marlboro Team||4|
|88||Niccolo Canepa||Pramac Racing||3|
|99||Jorge Lorenzo||Fiat Yamaha Team||3|
* There are also 2 spare Suzuki engines not yet assigned to a rider
The first thing to note is that Casey Stoner's absence generates a small complication. Casey Stoner has had 4 engines sealed, and Mika Kallio has had 3 engines sealed. But Kallio is riding the factory Marlboro Ducati bike this weekend, so whose engines is he using?
It's been a tough season so far for MotoGP, with the withdrawal of Kawasaki before the start of the season, the Japanese factory finally yielding to pressure from Carmelo Ezpeleta and Dorna to provide machinery and limited support for a single season for Marco Melandri. Then came the rider switch at Team Scot, Gabor Talmacsi stepping in, bringing Hungarian oil money to rescue the team which was close to financial ruin.
Now, another dark day for the series, as Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team has just announced that they will be pulling out of MotoGP with immediate effect. The reasons given for the withdrawal are unsurprising - the global financial crisis - but the announcement came as a shock to Sete Gibernau. In the press release, the Spanish veteran stated "The person most surprised by this decision was me. Everyone in the team worked hard to keep the project on track. On a personal level, it was a brave gamble, taken with the hope of building a successful project which would achieve targets we had set for ourselves as each Grand Prix passed."
Gibernau said he was very disappointed that the project had foundered at this stage. "It's truly a pity that we are forced to abandon the project at this stage, just when we were convinced we were on the verge of achieving the results we were looking for. I'd like to thank the team, my personal sponsors, the fans and all the press, the treatment I have received, which has repaid in full the hard work and efforts which I have put in to return to racing after two years out of the World Championship. Your support has made me be happy to be racing in MotoGP again," Gibernau added.
MotoGPMatters.com is once again fortunate to have Scott Jones live at Laguna Seca, shooting some more of his superb photos. The first of his shots come from Thursday's Day of Stars Superkart challenge, where champions young and old took each other on around Laguna Seca, in anticipation of this year's Red Bull US Grand Prix.
Right helmet, wrong suit.
Fast Eddie's hat
Qualifying for Sunday's Catalunya Grand Prix took place in intense heat, making the conditions difficult for both riders and bikes. The riders were thankful that this was the first outing for Bridgestone's asymmetric dual compound tires, for the combination of very high track temperatures and the Barcelona track's endless right handers made a very hard compound necessary on the right-hand side of the tire, but a relatively softer compound on the left-hand side.
The heat meant that the early running was made by the riders on the hardest of the tires available, the extra-hard rear and the hard front, the compounds the teams are almost certain to be using in the race tomorrow. It was Jorge Lorenzo who took practice for the race to the greatest extreme, the Spaniard starting out the session with a monster run of 17 laps, over two thirds of race distance.
It wasn't just a long run, however, Lorenzo also demonstrated he was on race pace, taking the top spot after just a couple of laps, briefly ceding it to Andrea Dovizioso, then snatching it back, the first rider to lap under 1'43, with a time of 1'42.990. A lap later, Lorenzo took another two tenths off his time, setting out a marker of where race pace will be, and following it up with a long string of laps in the high 1'42s and low 1'43s.
The only person capable of following was Lorenzo's Fiat Yamaha team mate, Valentino Rossi. Rossi too ran low 1'43s, taking a provisional 2nd place on the grid with a quarter of the session gone. The other candidates for victory tomorrow were all running mid-1'43s, a couple of tenths off Rossi's pace.
Sete Gibernau is to make his return to the track at the Grand Prix of Catalunya in Barcelona in a week's time. Gibernau broke his collarbone in an awkward highside at Le Mans and was forced to pull out of the race there. The Spaniard was flown to Barcelona, where the collarbone was set in an operation and Gibernau started his recovery.
Gibernau now feels ready to race at Catalunya, though he will not be 100% fit. "I can't promise that I'll be at full fitness, but I'm very motivated to get out there for the first practice," Gibernau said at the official presentation of the Catalunya race.
There is more than a hint of irony in Gibernau's returning to race at the Montmelo track, just outside Barcelona. It was at this circuit in 2006 that Gibernau suffered the injury that would lead to his retirement at the end of that season. The Spaniard suffered a badly broken collarbone in a huge first-corner pile up, when he clipped his brake lever on erstwhile team mate Loris Capirossi's Ducati, sending both men off into the gravel and out of the race.
Many may question the wisdom of Gibernau racing at Barcelona, despite the Spaniard's understandable eagerness to race in front of his home crowd. Gibernau has a long history of collarbone and shoulder problems, and at 36, he doesn't heal as quickly as he did when he was younger. Gibernau's good fortune, if you could call it that, was that at Le Mans he broke his collarbone in a place which had not previously been broken, which allowed the bone to heal better. But having broken his collarbone so many times, he must surely be running out of places where it hasn't been broken.
Sete Gibernau's race weekend is already at an end. With 15 minutes of the second session of free practice remaining, the Spanish veteran highsided at the Dunlop Chicane. He immediately grabbed at his shoulder, and upon examination at the Clinica Mobile, was found to have a double fracture of his left collarbone. The injury means Gibernau will play no further part in the proceedings, and will not race at Le Mans.
The break is bad news for Gibernau, who has a long and painful history of collarbone fractures. Gibernau still has pain from previous shoulder problems, having broken his collarbone at Estoril and in the huge first corner crash at Barcelona back in 2006. Gibernau is scheduled to return to Barcelona as soon as possible, where he will meet with Dr. Ginebra of the Dexeus Institute to evaluate whether the injury will require yet more surgery, or whether it will heal with just rest.
One of the most perplexing issues of the 800cc era has been the question of the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, GP8 and GP9. The remarkable and incredibly innovative motorcycle has one world title and 18 victories to its name from just 39 races, a strike rate impressively close to 50%. But look more closely at those awe-inspiring results and you see a much darker side to the Ducati, a side which makes a nonsense of all those victories.
Of the 18 victories recorded on the 800cc Desmosedici, 17 were taken by Casey Stoner, as was the 2007 world title. Of the 394 points which gained Ducati the constructor's title in 2007, 367 were scored by Stoner, the Australian only beaten by another Ducati three times that year, and beating his team mate Loris Capirossi - the man who had been a title contender in 2006 - by over 200 points, or 11 points a race, on average. In 2008, Stoner could "only" manage to best Toni Elias, the next Ducati rider, by 188 points. So far this season, Casey Stoner has already racked up 54 points, 75% more than the other four (!) Ducati riders combined.
Anyone doubting that the problem is with the bike need only look at the riders who have been teamed with Casey Stoner. Loris Capirossi is a three-time world champion, with two titles in the 125 class and one in 250s; Marco Melandri is another former 250 champ, as well as a MotoGP runner-up; while current team mate Nicky Hayden is one of an elite group of riders - including Casey Stoner - to have beaten Valentino Rossi to the MotoGP title. This is no ragtag crew of journeymen and also-rans, these are among the very best riders in the world, and yet they have all proven incapable of taming the Bologna Beast.
Going into Saturday afternoon's MotoGP qualifying session at Jerez, it was unusually hard to say who was likely to take pole. At Qatar, Casey Stoner had destroyed all-comers, and had also dominated the IRTA test here a month ago. But after two sessions of free practice, any of five men looked possible candidates for pole position. Valentino Rossi had utterly dominated Friday's free practice session, with Loris Capirossi and Casey Stoner some way behind, but Saturday morning was a different kettle of fish. In FP2, it was local heroes Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo who blasted the opposition, with Casey Stoner once again forced to settle for 3rd.
And as the green lights went and the riders rolled out of pit lane and onto the track, it was the two Spaniards who quickly made the early running. Lorenzo took the first shot at pole, but Dani Pedrosa soon took it away from the Mallorcan with a much more serious attempt in the low 1'40 bracket. With times in free practice regularly hitting the mid 1'39s, it was clear that there was plenty left to go.
With so much of practice already scrapped as part of the cost savings measures, the first half of qualifying was set further refining race setup, the teams looking for settings that will work with the hard tires they expect to use in the race. But as the clock ticked down past the 20 minutes to go mark, riders started to sling on the softer of the two compounds available and chase grid positions for the race on Sunday.
As a reminder of what we lost when we lost the special qualifying tires, Randy de Puniet made some of the early running, quickly getting up into 2nd, and then losing out in the final section after registering blazing times through the first three parts of the track. But it wasn't until the 15 minutes to go mark had passed that qualifying began in earnest.
As news, rumor and speculation seep out from Qatar, with news stories contradicting each other appearing almost every minute or so, there is only one thing that we know for sure about the 2009 MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail: That it wasn't run at its scheduled time. The latest state of affairs is that the race is to be run on Monday, at 9pm local time - though by the time you read this, that may have changed.
The story so far: Unseasonal thunderstorms have been plaguing the Qatari peninsula for the past few weeks, causing the loss of a day of testing, and hanging like a sword of Damocles over the practice sessions by spattering thick, heavy raindrops on the paddock's rental cars as they made their way to and from the track. Rain started to fall during the 125 race, causing the race to be shortened to just 4 laps, the shortest race in MotoGP history, with half points awarded to the finishers.
The rain started to clear after the podium ceremony, and the 250 race started 40 minutes later than scheduled, though drastically shortened to just 13 laps so as not to force the MotoGP race to be rescheduled. But Mother Nature had other plans: rain started as the MotoGP bikes sat on the grid, falling in earnest once the grid was cleared ready for the warm up lap. A downpour of almost biblical proportions then ensued, scuppering any chances of running the race later that night.
If the race had been scheduled to take place during daylight, then the rain would not have been a problem. Racing has taken place in similar conditions before, and only the severest of downpours has stopped racing before, and then only if the rain falls once racing begins. But Qatar is held under the floodlights - ironically to avoid the extreme heat that can scorch the desert state at most times of the year - and though the Musco lighting systems are ingeniously designed not to dazzle the riders, the rain turns the track into a mirror, reducing visibility for the riders to zero.
The cancellation of the race caused a veritable whirlwind of activity among staff from Dorna, the teams, the riders, the MSMA and the track authorities. Meetings were held, adjourned for further consultation, held again, adjourned again and then continued. The teams were consulted, the riders were consulted, most importantly of all, the TV companies were consulted, and eventually, the race was rescheduled to take place on Monday, in the early evening.
The decision was not met with universal enthusiasm. A group of riders including Casey Stoner, Sete Gibernau, Chris Vermeulen, Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden and Loris Capirossi were opposed to race being put back a day, with Stoner telling Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, "It's not a good idea to run on Monday. We can't be sure it won't rain tomorrow, and the rain today has washed sand onto the track, so there's a safety risk."
Changing the way that Qualifying works is apparently the latest fashion in motorcycle racing. The World Superbike series did it by dropping the old single-lap Superpole format, and adopting a series of three knockout sessions, shameless copied from Formula One. MotoGP would protest that it has changed its qualifying format - though cost-cutting measures have reduced the length of qualifying from an hour to just 45 minutes - but the adoption of the single tire rule and the disappearance of full-on one-lap qualifying tires left MotoGP followers wondering just how this would affect the way the teams and riders approached Qualifying.
As the session started, at least one thing remained unchanged. Within a few minutes of the green lights, and on his first couple of laps out of the pits, Casey Stoner was laying down a blistering pace. The 2007 World Champion had cracked into the 1'56 bracket, and by his fourth lap, came within 0.009 of equaling the fastest time of the weekend, set by none other than Casey Stoner. The Marlboro Ducati rider was setting the bar for the rest of the field.
Though no one could directly challenge Stoner, he did not enjoy his huge (over a second) advantage for long. Within a few minutes, Valentino Rossi had jumped up to second fastest, just over 3/10ths of a second behind the Australian. Stoner did not wait long to respond: Six minutes later, the Australian was back out on track and cracking another barrier, into the 1'55s, extending his lead to over a second again with a lap of 1'55.504.
Behind Rossi, the fight for third was hotting up, with first Loris Capirossi taking the last front row spot, then Colin Edwards, before Andrea Dovizioso also got involved. Dovi held the spot for five more minutes, before Jorge Lorenzo confirmed his strong form at Qatar by blitzing a lap just short of Rossi's second place time.
The waiting really is over for MotoGP fans, as the MotoGP bikes finally took to the track at Qatar to compete in earnest. First blood in the 2009 campaign went to Casey Stoner on the Marlboro (and at Qatar, it really is a Marlboro) Ducati, a fact that shocked absolutely nobody. As ever, Stoner was fast from the moment he rolled out onto the track, getting down into 1'57 territory within ten minutes, and slashing a further 0.8 seconds off his time with 12 minutes of the session left.
For a long time, Stoner's advantage seemed insurmountable, but in his final run, Valentino Rossi closed the gap from a second to get to within 0.4 of a second, with the potential for more if he hadn't run into traffic on a very fast lap. Though four tenths is a sizable gap, Rossi will feel he is at least in touch with Stoner, and with two more sessions to go, and no qualifying tires to distort the grid, the reigning world champion will be confident of staying with Stoner away from the line.
Third fastest man in the opening session of 2009 was Colin Edwards, the only other rider capable of getting within a second of Stoner, and looking as strong here as he looked last year during practice. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo makes it three Yamahas in the top four, Lorenzo 1.2 seconds behind but with more likely to come.
The session threw up plenty of surprises. Such as Alex de Angelis in 5th, for example, but de Angelis also showed his Mr Hyde by running wide into the gravel during the session, a harbinger of what is to come, perhaps. An even bigger suprise was Mika Kallio finishing 7th, after having been as high as 5th earlier in the session. Though we've only had one 45 minute session of practice to judge him by, Kallio's single fast lap at the IRTA test at Jerez could possible be the rule rather than the exception.
With the IRTA Test behind us, it is an interesting exercise to map out the best times for all of the riders over the entire two-day weekend of testing at Jerez. Unsurprisingly, the best times for most people were set during the BMW M Award session, but the lack of qualifying tires this year, combined with the fact that that 45 minute session was disrupted by both the weather and James Toseland's crash meant that there was not so much in it. Casey Stoner came out of both the M Award and the entire weekend as the clear winner, although both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were closer than these times suggest. Jorge Lorenzo, in particular, made a big step forward, and looks like he could run with Rossi, Stoner and Pedrosa this season, though he is still not ready to challenge for the title. At least, that's what he says.
But the Suzukis are back on track again too. This is the third different track at which Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen have been competitive, and it looks like they could be close to the fight for the podium this year again. Mika Kallio pulled out a single perfect lap for the M Award session, but otherwise, was further off the pace, and the Ducatis which aren't ridden by Casey Stoner seem to be struggling once again. Vito Guareschi, Ducati's test rider, was out with a cast aluminium chassis, suggesting they may be experimenting with a chassis which copes with crashing better, anticipating the single bike rule expected to come into effect in 2010, but the factory riders stayed with the carbon fiber frame. Casey Stoner tried both an aluminium and a carbon fiber swingarm, and ended up on the carbon fiber item.
Honda look to be struggling still, and are badly missing the input of the injured Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso still lacking experience in bike development, though he is learning fast. HRC will have a lot of catching up to do once Pedrosa's knee is healed, and the Spaniard is back in action. While Hayate seem to have solved some of the rear traction problems they were having, at least on a dry track which has some heat in it. Marco Melandri may not end up being 18th everywhere after all, though Qatar could still be a problem, where a cold track could cause him problems.
In two weeks time, all this speculation will end, thank heavens, as the riders hit the track and start racing once again. The time for talking is nearly at an end, and the time for twisting the throttle is almost here.
Casey Stoner did at Jerez what Casey Stoner seems to be capable of at any circuit. The Australian dominated the 45 minute special qualifying session at the official IRTA Test at Jerez, eventually taking the BMW on offer for the fastest lap by over 7/10ths of a second. The Ducati rider took control of the session just 8 minutes in, smashing the 1'40 barrier with a lap of 1'39.176, over a second up on the rest of the field.
The rest of the session saw the other riders edging closer, with Valentino Rossi looking like taking top spot from Stoner, until he was balked by a slower rider. But with just under 10 minutes of the session left, Stoner stomped on any hopes other riders might have been cherishing of bagging the BMW. The Australian slashed half a second off his previous time, putting in a lap of 1'38.646 to claim the special BMW M Award.
A few minutes later, the black clouds which had been threatening the track finally broke over the circuit, drenching the track and halting any chance of riders improving their times. The entire field headed back to the safety of the pits, and with 5 minutes of the official session left, it was effectively over.
Bad luck dogged James Toseland at Jerez. With 16 min to go, the Englishman hit a white line going into to Turn 3, and tumbled through the gravel at high speed. The accident caused the session to be briefly red flagged, as the medics transported Toseland and the remains of his Tech 3 Yamaha from the track. The rider was reported to be OK, but he looked badly banged up. The word so far is that Toseland suffered a concussion, but no official announcements have been made.
Nicky Hayden was slightly luckier than Toseland. The American ran wide into the gravel, but used all his dirt track skills to stay upright as he ran through the gravel at high speed.
Results of the BMW M Award.
The switch from Central European Time to Central European Summer Time meant we lost an hour at Jerez this morning, the clocks going forward. So when practice opened at 10am this morning, the track had barely warmed, and the cold wind made wearing a coat highly advisable. As a consequence, most of the riders didn't hit the track until 10:45, with only the test riders out and circulating.
Casey Stoner was one of the first official riders out, and was apparently entirely unhindered by the cool track temperatures. Within three laps, Stoner was under the existing lap record, and a tenth of a second quicker than his own time yesterday. Behind Stoner were the Fiat Yamaha pair, Jorge Lorenzo leading team mate Valentino Rossi once again, while Suzuki's Loris Capirossi was less than a tenth slower than Rossi, showing that Suzuki mean business this year.
Andrea Dovizioso was 5th fastest, but the Repsol Honda rider was already over a second behind Stoner, and nearly half a second slower than Capirossi.
The Dash For The Car is up next.
Final times from the morning session of testing at Jerez: