This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.
So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.
After the bombshell announcement that Bridgepoint was putting Dorna in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series, the media were keen to get a reaction from either of the Flammini brothers, the two men who had helped to grow the series into the success it is today, and who currently run WSBK. After an initial deafening silence, Paolo Flammini finally made an appearance at Magny-Cours on Sunday morning, to explain his, and Infront's, point of view. Our friends at the Italian website InfoMotoGP.com were present to record the press conference on video.
Flammini did not say much - indeed, he started his speech with the words "I don't have much to add to what is written in the press release," - but what he did say helped clarify the situation a little. Starting off with an understatement - "This step represents a very big moment in the history of World Superbikes", Flammini told the assembled media - the Italian was at pains to make clear that World Superbikes would face few changes for 2013. "Many people are worried for the 2013 season, but nothing special will happen," he said, emphasizing that his aim was to keep stability in the series.
Sunday is going to be a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title is to be settled in what could be a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO will speak to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.
That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK's Rolling Stones.
There is some justification to their fears. WSBK, in the person of Paolo Flammini, has been holding out on requests from MotoGP's organizers to impose further restrictions on development of the WSBK machines, bringing them much more in line with the Superstock-style regulations proposed by FIM to harmonize regulations at the national level. He does so with good reason: the manufacturers currently racing in World Superbikes have made it very clear that they have no desire to see any further restrictions on tuning and bike modification put into place. Given WSBK's increasing reliance on manufacturer teams - though blessed with six different manufacturers, teams without some form of manufacturer backing are finding it increasingly hard to survive, leading to shrinking grids and gaps opening between the factory-backed and privateer squads - keeping the factories happy is becoming ever more important. WSBK does at least have the freedom to change the rules without factory interference, something which was until recently unthinkable in MotoGP.
2012 Aragon MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Bitter Rivalries, Exceptional Bravery, Bitter Rivalries And Nicky Hayden's Bizarre Crash
After two days of miserable weather at Aragon, race day dawned dry, sunny, though still a little cool. Paddock regulars who had spent the last two days scurrying from pits to hospitality to shelter from the rain poured out into the paddock to catch the warmth of the sun which they had just about given up on previously.
The blue skies brought out some great racing, at least in Moto3 and Moto2, as well as some fantastic displays of riding in MotoGP, though the excitement in the premier class was to be found in the battle for the final spot on the podium rather than in the fight for victory. But there were also a few signs of improvement in the near future.
The race of the day was undoubtedly Moto2, which turned into a display of what motorcycle racing is supposed to be. The class is currently blessed with three riders who despise each other enough to do almost anything to win, but with the intelligence to understand the very thin line between hard and dangerous riding. Pol Espargaro, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all swapped places and fairing paint in a good old-fashioned barn burner of a race. The action was fueled by the most intense rivalry in MotoGP at the moment, between three young men all hell-bent on winning.
2012 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Soft And Hard Fronts, Gambling On Tires, And Changes To Qualifying
The weather at Aragon is a fickle thing. The weather forecasters had predicted rain all day, but the rain lifted during the morning and stopped falling completely before lunchtime, leaving only threatening skies looming over the track like a slate-grey cloak. The track dried surprisingly quickly, the Moto3 riders going out on rain tires and with a wet set up once pit lane opened for the first of the three qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon, only to return straight away for slicks and stiffer springs front and rear, the dry line appearing on the track now wide enough to push very hard.
It stayed dry for Moto3, MotoGP and Moto2, more or less, but there is more to going fast than just having a dry track. It was cold and overcast, and the chilly track temps caught a lot of riders out, especially on the finicky Bridgestone tires which, while vastly improved, still give problems in very cold conditions. The combination of the track temperature, a stiff breeze and the lack of right handers mean that the right side of the tire soon loses temperature, and the few right handers there are at Aragon are not turns which you spend braking into, loading the tire and generating heat, Andrea Dovizioso explained.
Dark clouds hang over the MotoGP paddock at Aragon, and it's not just the ones from which the rain fell for most of the day. There is a sense of malaise, a black funk which pervades the paddock here, a lack of the usual sparkle and cheer which raises the mood at the racetrack. Maybe it's because all three championships are more or less sewn up; maybe it's because the excitement of silly season is mostly over; maybe it's the location: Motorland Aragon sits in of the most beautiful regions of Spain, if arid desolation is what you seek. Or maybe it's just me.
Most of all, what ails the paddock is a sense of uncertainty and a lack of direction. There is only one topic of conversation, but it is large enough to cast a pall over every discussion. What is uppermost in everyone's mind is the future of MotoGP, more specifically the introduction of a standard electronics package, the effect it will have on the series, and most importantly, when and even whether it will be announced.
That was a chaotic weekend. Two-and-a-half days lost to rain, then a bizarre series of hold ups and incidents on the start of the MotoGP grid that ended up eventually going a long way to deciding the championship. Fortunately for the series, the MotoGP race was preceded by two scintillating support races, and then the MotoGP race itself saw two very popular podiums.
To start with the biggest issue, the start and then the restart of the MotoGP race. There was a lot of confusion and head-scratching over what was going on - the riders had never seen the flashing amber lights on the starting panels, for one - but when the dust settled, it looked like everything had been run almost by the numbers, despite the protests from Dani Pedrosa's camp.
The sequence events seems to have been this: After the first warm up lap, the riders lined up on the grid ready to go, but after the starting lights had been shown, Karel Abraham had a clutch problem and put his hand up to indicate that his bike was not working. Once that had happened, Race Direction had no option to call off the start. They ran this by the book: flashing yellow lights were displayed next to the red lights, and yellow flags were waved. There was as short an interval as possible, before the bikes set off for the second warm up lap, and race distance was reduced by a single lap.
2012 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pedrosa vs Lorenzo, The Battle For 3rd, And Rossi's Helmet Explained
Finally it stopped raining. The light drizzle that has plagued the Misano circuit since Friday morning petered out around lunchtime, making way for the sun to dry the track out. Though the riders were glad to see the back of the rain, it left them with an awful lot of work to do. The set up work from the three lost sessions all had to be squeezed into the single hour of qualifying, leaving space for the mad fifteen minute scramble for grid positions. "It was a pretty tight session," Dani Pedrosa said after qualifying. "We had to test tires, set up, and get a feeling for the bike in just 60 minutes."
It had not been that much of a problem for Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man had looked strong throughout the session, leading for much of it and striking back whenever anyone else had the temerity to better his time. Jorge Lorenzo had come close, but had taken a little longer to get up to speed than Pedrosa, struggling to find his rhythm again after sitting out the first day and then putting in a very few very tentative laps on Saturday morning. In the end, he could not quite match the times of the Repsol Honda man, though Lorenzo's race pace matched that of his championship rival.
The main protagonist in Friday's action was the weather. Like a hormonal teenage girl, the rain simply could not make up its mind whether it was going to fall properly or not, light drizzle blowing in for ten minutes before blowing out again five minutes later. (Hormonal teenage boys, it should be noted, know exactly what they want, and apart from the obvious, what they want is the opposite of whatever they have just been told). The weather left the track in that awful half-and-half condition, too cold and damp for slicks, too dry for wets, and the track conditions left the MotoGP men mostly sitting in the pits.
Dani Pedrosa explained it best. "Too wet, so you cannot push, so the tire cools down immediately after you go out, and in or two laps you have to stop, because there is no temperature in the tire. And with the wets, it's completely the opposite, the tire is immediately out of the working range, and one or two laps and it is gone." Even in the short period you could go out, there was nothing to be learned, Pedrosa said. "If the tire has too much temperature or too little temperature, the bike feels completely different. There's no meaning in going out."
The return to Misano was always going to be an emotional affair, the first time MotoGP has returned to Marco Simoncelli's home circuit - now renamed in his honor - since the Italian fan favorite was killed in a tragic accident at Sepang last October. Though Simoncelli is being remembered in many different ways during the weekend - nearly all of the riders in all three classes joined for a lap of the track by bicycle this evening - the remembrance has been cheerful rather than mawkish, a celebration of his life rather than mourning at his death. Fans, riders, mechanics, photographers, journalists, many have made the pilgrimage to Coriano, Simoncelli's home town just a few short miles from the track, paid their respects and headed to the circuit feeling better for the experience. Simoncelli's ghost may haunt the paddock at Misano, but happily, he does so in the guise of Casper rather than Banquo.
There is more than enough to keep the minds of those present engaged. Uppermost in most people's minds is Ben Spies decision to go to Ducati to race in the Ducati junior team to be run by Pramac. Both of the 2013 factory Ducati riders welcomed the signing of both Spies and Andrea Iannone, with Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden saying it was a good decision by Ducati. Both Spies and Iannone had proven their speed, and Spies experience at the factory Yamaha team would be very valuable to Ducati in helping to develop the bike. There was surprise at Spies' decision - "I thought he would go to World Superbikes" Dovizioso told reporters - and both men were interested to see how he would perform on the Ducati.