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.
Donington Ventures Leisure Limited - the company that holds the lease to operate Donington Park - entered administration, it was announced on the Donington Park website today. The announcement came as the latest in the long saga of financial woes which started after DVLL was awarded a 17 year contract to host the British Formula One Grand Prix last year. That plan required raising a staggering 135 million pounds sterling, an ambitious prospect at the best of times, but nigh on impossible in the financial crisis which has engulfed the world since the contract was awarded. The failure of the debenture plan announced some three weeks ago, and the company's future has been in doubt since them.
The statement on the company website makes no mention of the events - such as the World Superbike round due to be held there on August 1st, 2010 - but yesterday, before the announcement was made, a company spokesperson told MotoMatters.com that the World Superbike event was still on the calendar and that it should go on as scheduled. Paolo Flammini, who runs the World Superbike series, also told GPOne.com that they were monitoring the situation and had no reason to believe the race would need to be moved or cancelled.
A variety of sources are reporting that 2009 British superbike champion Leon Camier has or will shortly sign a deal that will see him ride alongside Max Biaggi on the factory Aprilia team in the World Superbike championship. Camier will test with the team at Misano Wednesday and Thursday and some sort of announcement may be made by the team at that time. The young Brit has been considered a front-runner for the vacant seat after riding for the team at Magny Cours and Portimao. At Portimao, Camier finshed a creditable 6th and 7th after mechanical issues sabotaged his French appearance.
San Marinan Alex de Angelis had also been considered as a leading candidiate for the ride but his reportedly high salary demands allegedly tipped the balance in Camier's favor. de Angelis is a contender for a ride on an Aprilia satellite team that will reportedly be a mash-up of the Guandalini and Sterilgarda Ducati teams but his ability to bring funding to the team is thought to be a prime factor in whether he gets that ride.
Ever since the news started filtering out of the Grand Prix Commission that the MSMA was prepared to accept the use of production engines in prototype MotoGP bikes, all eyes have been on Infront Motor Sports, where the Flammini brothers run the production-based World Superbike series, awaiting their response. The last time a bike using an engine based (to a very basic extent) on a production engine - the WCM machine, which you can find out about in our interview series with Peter Clifford, the man behind that project - the FIM put a stop to that project, claiming it violated the rules requiring that all bikes be prototypes. Though the Flammini brothers have always denied it and no evidence has ever been produced to support the accusation, suspicion still lingers in the MotoGP paddock that the former FIM president Francesco Zerbi came to the ruling after pressure from FGSport, the company that held the rights for the World Superbike series before the Flamminis sold a majority holding to the Infront group.
Since then, a number of things have changed. Firstly, the Grand Prix Commission is discussing a change to the rules which would explicitly allow the use of production-based engines, and making them legal for use. Secondly, the current FIM President, Vito Ippolito, is regarded as being considerably more independent than his Italian predecessor, and has a history as a team owner in the Grand Prix series. A charge of breaching the rules - which is how WCM was disqualified - would no longer stand, nor would it find political support from FIM headquarters in Switzerland.
But the Flamminis are still determined to halt any attempts by the Dorna-run MotoGP series onto what they perceive as their own territory. Paolo Flammini reiterated this standpoint again today, in an interview with the Italian website GPOne.com, telling the veteran journalist Claudio Porrozzi that they are prepared to defend their rights. "I repeat what I said earlier," Flammini told GPOne.com, "We have had assurances from the President of the FIM, Vito Ippolito, that these new rules would not be approved. So far, he has been true to his word, and I hope that this will continue in the future." The consequences of Ippolito not holding up what Infront Motor Sports regards as his end of the bargain would be dire, Flammini warned. "We are ready to take whatever action is necessary to defend the contract we have with the FIM, which, let us not forget, also covers the 600cc class based on production bikes."
At the end of every season, a few lucky souls get to ride the current year's crop of World Superbike machines. The caliber of the journalists varies enormously, from rank amateur to professional racers, and while accounts such as Jim McDermott's hilarious Walter Mitty-style ride report over at Superbikeplanet.com (part 1 & part 2) provide a great deal of entertainment, I'm sure even my good friend Jim would hesitate to claim he was finding the limits of the 2008 World Superbikes.
To do that, what you need is a bona fide racer. Spanish CEV Formula Extreme racer Kenny Noyes and Canadian Superbike rider Brett McCormick were among the professionals out testing the 2009 pack for various magazines, but the Italian site GPOne.com went one better: In association with Actioncameras.it, they sent former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner out to test the machines, and recorded it all on video. You can here his candid opinions on the bikes that contended the 2009 World Superbike championship in the videos below:
Rumors filtering in indicate that Team Guandalini will switch from Ducatis and field a much-rumored Aprilia satellite team in the World Superbike series in 2010. Some reports indicate that the only thing left unattended in this alleged agreement is an official announcement. Reportedly, the team will be managed by current team majordomo Frankie Chili with invovement from Team Sterilgarda's Marco Borciani. Speculation that Aprilia would run 2 additional bikes in 2010 had been rampant for the better part of the 2nd half of the season, with Aprilia head of communications Alain Roger in a September interview with Caradisiac. com revealing that Aprilia would field another 2-bike team. It has been reported that Guandalini, along with other Ducati satellite teams (including Sterilgarda) were unhappy with the level of support that they had received from Bologna this past season. Additionally, it has been widely assumed that Sterigarda sponsorship for the Borciani-led squad would evaporate in 2010 given the Italian firm's renewed support of the factory Yamaha team. Given that background, one would assume that the opportunity to field Aprilia's RSV4, which had a stellar maiden season in the hands of Max Biaggi, would be an attractive proposition indeed. Guandalini currently has Jakob Smrz under contract while the factory Aprilia team has reportedly been dithering between former Gresini Honda rider Alex De Angelis and newly-crowned British superbike champion Leon Camier. Maybe both will find an Aprilia under their Christmas tree this year.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Althea Ducati has announced that Shane "Shakey" Byrne will team with Carlos Checa on the squad in the World Superbike championship in 2010. Althea ended a relationship with Honda at the end of the 2009 season that had lasted the last two years in favor of the Bologna based manufacturer. Byrne brings extensive experience with the 1098 Superbike to Althea, having won the 2008 British superbike championship and placing eighth in the 2009 WSBK season astride the Italian machine. Byrne had been previously thought to be in contention for a factory ride with Kawasaki and Aprilia, but Kawasaki opted to sign Chris Vermeulen and Tom Sykes. Aprilia is thought to be considering Leon Camier and Alex De Angelis to team with Max Biaggi.
The momentum behind a return to 1000cc for the MotoGP class has been building throughout the year. On Saturday, news emerged from the Grand Prix Commission that the manufacturers had dropped their opposition to the plan, making backing for the 1000cc formula unanimous inside MotoGP's rulemaking body. As a consequence, the proposal is almost certain to be adopted for the 2012 season of MotoGP.
Under the new proposed rules, the current requirement that four-stroke motorcycles must be prototypes will be either dropped or defined far more loosely. This would allow both teams and manufacturers to use engines based on production powerplants, greatly reducing the cost of research and development and paving the way for new teams to enter the class. The aim is to cut the cost of running a team roughly in half, from around 10 million euros for a two-rider satellite team down to between 5 and 6 million euros. Using production-based engines and allowing more engineering and maintenance to be done by the teams should be a major contributing factor in making this happen.
Shockwaves are running through both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks today, as news of further management shakeups in Ducati's World Superbike and MotoGP teams is leaking out. We reported yesterday that Livio Suppo would be leaving the MotoGP team at the end of the season, but now it has emerged that Davide Tardozzi, head of Ducati's World Superbike team is also to leave.
The reasons for each departure, though, are different. Suppo, according to GPOne.com and the Corriere dello Sport, has been lured away by Honda to run their racing program. Suppo's decision will have been made easier by the rumors of discord in the Italian factory. The appointment of Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi to the position of Ducati MotoGP Team Manager was widely seen as evidence of trouble, with Ducati and Phillip Morris unhappy at the handling of Casey Stoner's surprise absence from three races in the summer, and Suppo's departure is likely to be related to this to a greater or lesser extent.
Tardozzi, on the other hand, handed in his resignation without any alternative destination to go to. Tardozzi told GPOne.com that his reason for leaving was that he felt he had lost the drive he needed to keep him motivated at this level, at least with the Ducati team. He had not yet thought about alternatives, he told GPOne.com, but he was open to offers, if they were interesting enough. "Racing is still my world," Tardozzi said, "and if something interesting comes my way, I'm sure to stay."
The final times from testing at Portimao.
MotoMatters.com Andy Doggett is enjoying a few days in the Portuguese sun after attending the World Superbike race at Portimao on Sunday, and was kind enough to send us some of his excellent photos from the first day of testing. He's an amateur, with a consumer DSLR, but he also has an excellent eye. Here's his images:
After just a day's rest after the end of the 2009 World Superbike championship, the Superbike field - old and new - are back in action at Portimao. Johnny Rea was the fastest on the first day of the two-day test, finishing a couple of tenths ahead of Michel Fabrizio. Cal Crutchlow was 3rd fastest, confirming that his World Supersport title was no fluke by finishing ahead of Noriyuki Haga on Crutchlow's first time out on the Yamaha World Superbike machine.
A variety of sources are reporting that "Super" Shinya Nakano wiil announce his retirement from competition at a press conference in Japan tomorrow. Nakano, who raced for the Factory Aprilia team in WSBK this past season, had some good finishes but was plagued by injuries in the latter portion of the year. The highlight of Nakano's twelve year career on the world scene was probably his 2000 season on the Chesterfield Tech 3 Yamaha 250, where he narrowly lost the 250cc world championship to teammate Olivier Jacque in a near photo finish at the season-ending race at Phillip Island.
One of the big moves in the World Superbike paddock for next season is Max Neukirchner's move to the Ten Kate Honda team. Now that the first test of the 2010 World Superbike season is underway at Portimao, the Ten Kate team have released a video featuring the Ten Kate riders in action at the Portuguese track. Here's how Max Neukirchner's first day in his new team went.