In part 1 of this series, we discussed the new 1000cc rules for 2012, especially those for the so-called Claiming Rule Teams, the privateer teams which will be allowed to use engines from production bikes if they so wish. In part 2, we discussed Infront Motor Sports' objections to those new rules as organizers of the World Superbike series, and why their objections are likely to fail. In part 3, we turn our attention to the reasoning behind these new rules, the politics which surround them, and the circumstances which have served to put the changes into high gear.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, is one of the most vilified men among many fans of MotoGP. He is blamed for the many changes that have altered the face of MotoGP, not least for killing off the 990s and bringing in the 800s, which have robbed the sport of so much of its spectacle. Ezpeleta gets the blame for each new rule change, charged with fiddling while Rome burns.
Sepang looks like being a Repsol whitewash this weekend, with Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso spread across the front row of the grid for Sunday's race, and FP3 the only session where there wasn't a Repsol 1-2-3 on the timesheets, Marco Simoncelli getting in among the orange, red and black bikes. On Friday, it looked like being a Pedrosa runaway, but his teammates have closed the gap considerably since then. Only the most contrarian investor would risk betting against a Honda victory - and only the brave would take the very long odds on offer for a Honda 1-2-3 - but Pedrosa is not quite the certainty that he was after the first day of practice.
The Spaniard was blisteringly fast out of the box, but as the weekend has progressed, the rest of the pack has closed up, with little to choose between the three Repsols after qualifying. Part of this has been down to tires: Pedrosa has immediately taken a shine to the softer tires, while Stoner has been working with the hard tire all weekend, always his preferred option as a race tire. The problem that Stoner has had has been an inability to get the bike to both turn and grip, sacrificing one to obtain the other. Sepang looks like being one of the surprisingly few weekends when Stoner and his crew have not been able to find a good setup from the start, and the Australian will have his hands full with both Pedrosa and Dovizioso for the win.
The timesheets at the end of day one at Sepang are telling. This is a track at which the teams spent six days testing back in February prior to the start of the year, much as they have done every year, and so they have enough data on the track to fill every iPod Steve Jobs ever sold. They should know how to set up a bike to go around this track, despite everyone complaining of a lack of grip, as is often the case in the hot October weather.
With that variable removed, the timesheet is a pretty good reflection of the state of MotoGP: Four factory Hondas sit at its head, the three Repsols followed by San Carlo's Marco Simoncelli; Hiroshi Aoyama on the satellite Honda follows, with the first Yamaha in 6th position, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards happy on the setting they found during the pre-season tests. Alvaro Bautista is 7th, the Suzuki thriving in the Malaysian heat as it always has done, and Randy de Puniet on a satellite Ducati is in 8th. That, in a nutshell, is a pretty good summary of the 2011 MotoGP season.
2011 Sepang MotoGP Thursday Round Up: On Marquez' Big Mistake, And MotoGP's Silly Season Winding Down
After an eight-hour flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, the MotoGP circus has rolled up at the Sepang circuit ready to do it all again a week later. Fortunately for most of the teams, they have had a day or two in Kuala Lumpur to acclimatize to the sweltering Malaysian heat, quite a contrast to the blustery cool of Phillip Island.
The climate inside the air-conditioned rooms where negotiations are taking place over 2012 is just as fevered as the hot and sweaty conditions outside, however. The spare time forced on the paddock has given riders, their managers and teams time to try to reach agreement over next season. With just two races of 2011 next to go, and with all of the major pieces having slotted into place, the final seats on the grid are starting to shake out.
The biggest announcement came on Thursday afternoon at the circuit, and had held much of the Spanish press in its thrall throughout the week. Marc Marquez finally announced that he will be staying in Moto2 for another year, and not moving up to MotoGP as many had hoped he would. For the full details, see this story here, but part of the decision was down to Marquez' personal backing from Repsol. The Spanish petroleum giant is getting an unprecedented bang for their buck at the moment, with Casey Stoner dominating in MotoGP on the Repsol Honda - and Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso picking up the baton on the rare occasions that Stoner falters - while Marc Marquez is storming up the field in Moto2. Repsol is getting massive exposure in their home market from having the two championship favorites on their books, and will be hoping to capitalize with a brace of #1 plates in both MotoGP and Moto2 next season.
It is a subject we keep returning to, but Sunday's events at Phillip Island just serve to underline Nicky Hayden's truism on racing. "That's why we line up on Sunday," he said memorably ahead of the final race of the 2006 season, in which he clinched the championship, "you never know what's gonna happen."
There was never any real doubt that Casey Stoner would win the race at Phillip Island on Sunday. The Repsol Honda rider had dominated as usual, topping every session of practice and setting a pace that no one else could follow. Nor was there much doubt that Stoner was on his way to his second MotoGP championship; the Australian had a 40-point lead, and looked certain to pick up more points at Phillip Island, and clinch the title at Sepang. On Saturday, he told reporters that he wasn't thinking about the championship, rating his chances of lifting it on Sunday - on his birthday, at his home race - as very slim indeed.
There is a storm brewing in the MotoGP paddock. The cause is well-known, and has been debated to death over the past three years: MotoGP is too expensive, for both teams and for factories and the grids keep getting thinner every year. After the departure of Aprilia, Ilmor and Kawasaki, it now looks as if Suzuki is on the verge of pulling out. And it's not just factories withdrawing, the number of satellite bikes available is reducing just as fast. While Honda has maintained six bikes on the grid almost every year since the introduction of the four-strokes, in 2012 they look likely to cut back to just four. Ducati, fielding a whopping six bikes for such tiny factory, a commendable effort, could see its participation cut back to just three bikes for 2012. This, though cannot be laid entirely at Ducati's door; the Bologna factory have kept their lease prices reasonable when compared to the massive price rise that HRC have pushed through for next year, but the miserable performance of the Desmosedici this season has combined with the growing poverty of the race teams to see Aspar split with Ducati, and Pramac holding out, possibly to withdraw altogether.
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.
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.
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
2011 Motegi MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: On Championships, Incident-Filled Races, And The Importance Of Set Up
It was a long and very full weekend of motorcycle racing, and to call it eventful would be one of the more obvious understatements of the year. In the 125c class, Johann Zarco finally got the win he has been chasing for so long, and did so in convincing style. In Moto2, Andrea Iannone produced the kind of display that everyone knows that he is capable of, but that he manages a little too sporadically. In the MotoGP class, Honda finally got a win at Motegi after seven years of having to watch their rivals come to their home track and triumph, but that was actually the least remarkable thing about the premier class race.
At Magny-Cours, at the penultimate round of the World Superbike series, two new champions were crowned, to general acclaim that their titles were fully deserved. The titles were clinched in contrasting manner, Carlos Checa becoming World Superbike champion in the dominant style that he had displayed all season, taking victory in both races, while Chaz Davies rode much more cautiously, crossing the line in 6th but still ahead of Fabien Foret, his only rival to the 2011 World Supersport championship. Davies had opted for the glory approach a week earlier in Imola, leading the race by a wide margin and enough points to clinch the title there, but a blown engine with five laps to go put paid to his ambition, and saw him choose the conservative route at Magny-Cours to his first World Championship. The title is just as sweet.