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"Hi, my name is Giorgio Lorenzo, I'm 13 years old, and I want to be world champion." Prophetic words indeed. The Spanish website Daily Motos has a fascinating video sent to them by Chicho Lorenzo, father of Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo and produced by the Spanish TV station IB3, with fragments from Lorenzo's past. The Spanish-language video features footage of the Mallorcan prodigy riding as a 13 year old, as well as more recent shots of Lorenzo riding on the kart track that his father Chicho ran, and where Lorenzo learnt the skills that have taken him to being one of the best motorcycle racers in the world. The video was made after Lorenzo returned to Mallorca to stay with his father, the two now having reconciled their differences after the public and slightly acrimonious split when Lorenzo was in the 250cc class.
Since being called up to take the place of Mika Kallio at Pramac Ducati, Aleix Espargaro has made a big impression. So good an impression has the Spanish former 250 rider made that Pramac are looking to keep the Spaniard, even though Kallio will be returning to the satellite Ducati squad now that Casey Stoner will - presumably - be returning to action at Estoril.
As predicted last week, Pramac have now made Espargaro an offer to ride for the squad at Estoril, in place of the disappointing Italian Niccolo Canepa. However, Canepa will not go quietly. According to GPOne.com, Canepa's manager Carlo Pernat met with team principal Paolo Campinoti to discuss the situation today, where Campinoti announced their intention of going with Espargaro at Estoril, an announcement that Pernat met with displeasure. Canepa and Pernat will be holding Pramac to the contract they have for the rest of the year, though that only means that Canepa can be sure of being paid, as the Pramac squad can decide to pay him and let him sit out. If Espargaro continues the strong form he showed at Indianapolis and Misano, the Spaniard could finish out the rest of the season in Canepa's place.
The two men could continue their dispute over seats at Pramac into next year. According to the Spanish news site Motocuatro.com, Canepa is trying to negotiate a Moto2 ride with the Pramac team for next year, but Espargaro could be in the frame for this seat as well. Until the official list of teams and riders is announced at Estoril, and we find out whether Pramac will be fielding one or two bikes in Moto2, speculation over who will get the ride will continue. So far, though, it is Espargaro who is holding the strongest cards.
2007 was a very difficult year for Valentino Rossi. In addition to being outclassed by a blisteringly fast Australian on a Bridgestone-shod Ducati, the Italian faced a gargantuan 112 million euro tax bill from the Italian authorities, who claimed that Rossi had actually been living in Italy while claiming to be resident in London. Early in 2008, Rossi reached a settlement with the Italian tax authorities, agreeing to pay around 30 million euros in back tax, a move which also allowed him to move back to Italy and live in Tavullia amidst his friends and family. Peace and stability had returned to Rossi's existence.
That tranquility is about to be rudely interrupted. According to reports from the Italian press agency ANSA.it, Valentino Rossi is about to be sued by his accountants, the very people who got him out of his previous tax troubles. The accountants firm Cesaroni-Cappellini are claiming that Rossi owes them between 1.7 and 2.5 million euros in fees. The firm claim that their agreement with Rossi include a clause granting them between 1% and 1.5% of the money they managed to save him in taxes. As the reduction in Rossi's tax bill they are claiming to have achieved is around 170 million euros, that would leave Rossi with multi-million euro bills to pay.
The arrival of the Moto2 class to replace the much lamented 250cc bikes has generated a great deal of excitement, both inside and outside the MotoGP paddock, and as the official announcement of the full list of entrants in Moto2 at the Estoril Grand Prix draws nears, that excitement is reaching a crescendo. Many projects have already been announced (which we will cover in a separate story later), and many names have been linked to the series, but little concrete has been announced.
Earlier this week we had what looked like the first announcement: Herve Poncharal of the Tech 3 Yamaha team has made no secret of his admiration for his countryman Jules Cluzel, his latest expression of interest coming during an interview with the motorsports website Crash.net. But even as smart an operator as Poncharal can overstep the mark sometimes, it seems. For after Poncharal told the official MotoGP.com website that he had already signed Jules Cluzel, the young French rider has denied that there is anything official to announce.
No motorcycle has acquired quite such a fearsome reputation as the Ducati Desmosedici GP9. Though there are no doubts about the speed of the Ducati - Casey Stoner has proved the bike is fast over and over again - there are huge question marks about its ridability. Loris Capirossi went from being a title candidate to an occasional podium visitor on the 800, Marco Melandri turned from podium regular to backmarker, and Nicky Hayden is only just starting to turn around his miserable start to the season and make a return to the front half of the pack. Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Jorge Lorenzo all turned down the chance to ride the Bologna Beast.
Yet the bike is not impossible to go fast on. Where others have failed, substitute rider Aleix Espargaro has succeeded fairly spectacularly, posting the 5th fastest race lap at last week's Misano MotoGP round, and finishing ahead of MotoGP regulars Randy de Puniet, Niccolo Canepa and Gabor Talmacsi in just his second race. He also managed to qualify at Misano just over a tenth of a second slower than double World Superbike champion James Toseland on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
So impressive has his progress been that two things happened after the Misano MotoGP round. The first was that the Spaniard - brother of the Indianapolis 125cc race winner Pol Espargaro - was whisked off to hospital on Monday to have surgery for arm pump. The second is that rumors immediately emerged that Espargaro is to be drafted in to replace his team mate Niccolo Canepa for the rest of the season.
With Jorge Lorenzo finally signed up to Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa back at Honda, the next domino to fall in the MotoGP and World Superbike silly season is surely Ben Spies. Shortly before the Misano MotoGP round, Yamaha made an announcement that seemed to tie up Spies' future, were it not for a probably deliberate and certainly unusual choice of words. The press release said that the agreement between Spies and Yamaha "foresees" Spies being in World Superbikes in 2010, but the word "foresees" sent the English-language press reaching for their dictionaries and discussing its many various subtleties in depth and at length worthy of a roomful of Kremlinologists. Did "foresee" mean that Spies would definitely be in WSBK for 2010 and MotoGP in 2011? Could he come to MotoGP a year early? Could it potentially even mean that Spies could decide to stay in World Superbikes for 2011 as well?
The first clue was provided by Roger Burnett, James Toseland's manager. Burnett told the BBC before the race that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss Herve Poncharal had been asked by Yamaha to make Colin Edwards an offer, a fitting reward for a successful season. After the race, Edwards confirmed to journalists that an agreement had been reached, and as Colin Young over at SpeedTV is reporting, Edwards will be staying with the Tech 3 team for 2010. "It's been a great team this year. My crew chief is awesome, the team owner Herve Poncharal is a great guy, so the whole package fits so why change it? Herve wanted me to stay, we just had to get the funding right," Edwards told SpeedTV.
Though Edwards is staying with the same team, the crucial detail here is the subtle change in his position. If Edwards has a contract from Poncharal rather than Yamaha Japan, then he no longer occupies the seat that Yamaha Japan has inside the Tech 3 team, but has been shifted sideways into James Toseland's seat. That would appear to mean that Yamaha is now holding open a seat for someone at the Tech 3 team. And that someone can surely only be Ben Spies, although Lin Jarvis, speaking to the Spanish daily AS.com, would not be drawn on who would be placed there. "Edwards has an offer for another year, and I would prefer not to talk about the fourth Yamaha," Jarvis told AS. "It depends on a series of circumstances." Jarvis acknowledged that out of work Spanish rider Toni Elias was one option for the seat but "He is not our first choice."
The one complaint that has dogged the MotoGP series all this year is the number of bikes on the grid. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta had to use all of his powers of persuasion - including some of the darker arts at his disposal - to keep at least one Kawasaki on the grid and keep the numbers up to 18. All of his hard work went to waste by mid-season, when the fickle construction mogul Francisco Hernando pulled the plug on his eponymous team, leaving Sete Gibernau stranded and the grid down to 17.
Since then, the Grand Prix Commission has been hard at work looking for ways to increase the grid again. Using production engines in prototype chassis was one idea that was mooted, a move the MSMA countered with a proposal to lease engines without chassis at a much more affordable cost. That the MSMA has a different definition of "affordable" became apparent at Indianapolis, where the price for a single engine being bandied about was in the region of 700,000 euros, or about 65% of an entire bike.
Things may not be as bad as they seem, though. For a new team could enter the 2010 MotoGP championship, in the shape of former World Superbike team FB Corse. Today, the team announced that they were aiming to enter the series next season, with a bike built and designed by the Italian team themselves. The bike is an in-line three-cylinder four stroke, designed by Mauro Forghieri of the Oral Engineering Group, an engineer with a history in Ferrari's Formula One program, as well as having designed engines for Bugatti and Lamborghini. According to the published specifications, the engine will produce over 150 kW, or between 200 and 210 horsepower, a number which seems to be around 10% below what the current crop of bikes on the grid are producing. According to GPOne.com, this was the three-cylinder engine that BMW was building its MotoGP project around, before the German company switched tacks and aimed at racing in World Superbikes instead.
The Lorenzo Saga - several weeks of indecision about which factory Jorge Lorenzo would sign for - has deeper implications than we ever suspected. Obviously, if Lorenzo had gone to Honda or Ducati, that would have catalyzed a serious reshuffle among the top riders, but only now are the motivations of the various players coming to light.
Dani Pedrosa - another key player - was brutally honest in the assessment of his choice to sign a new deal with Honda this weekend. It was, he told Italian TV, his second choice, after the option of going to Yamaha fell through. "Put simply, I signed [with Honda] because there was no room at Yamaha, which would have been a good move." With a move to Yamaha no longer possible, Pedrosa was forced to give Honda one more chance. "I have put my trust in Honda for one more year to see if they can build a better bike. Otherwise, if there is no improvement after the year, maybe it will be finished."
Pedrosa's statement to Italian television explains all too clearly why the Spaniard signed just a one-year deal with HRC. Pedrosa has been openly critical of Honda, expressing his impatience at the factory's inability to produce a competitive bike, a fact that was acknowledged by HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki earlier this year. There has obviously been a marked improvement in the past few months, but it has not been enough to challenge Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo on equal terms.
With Pedrosa, Rossi, Lorenzo and Casey Stoner all set to be negotiating new contracts in 2010, and all of the riders expressing some level of dissatisfaction with their current employers, next season could see a huge rider reshuffle during mid-season, with the three major manufacturers spending huge sums of money to attract the available talent. All the cost cutting the factories have engaged in this year is likely to be undone in 2011. They will have to hope that the economic recovery is in full swing by then.
After the official announcement earlier today that Dani Pedrosa had signed a one-year contract with Repsol Honda, we predicted that MotoGP's silly season in 2010 would the most frantic ever, as the contracts of all of the Fantastic Four - Pedrosa, Ducati's Casey Stoner, and Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo - are due to expire at the end of 2010. Little did we realize just how prophetic those words would be, or just how soon the hunt would be opened.
The first hints came in a press conference given by Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, announcing the contract extension of Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. During the session, Nakamoto was asked about Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi. If they were interested in joining Honda, Nakomoto said, HRC would be very happy to have them. A statement that seems obvious at first, but given that both Stoner and Rossi have been rather uncomplimentary about HRC since leaving Honda, still an interesting step.
The press conference discussed more than just Honda's rider choice for 2010 and 2011, though. Nakamoto-san was asked about the Bridgestone tires, to which he replied that Honda was only getting about 70-80% of the maximum performance out of the tires. He admitted, though, that Honda could hardly go running to the other manufacturers for advice. As for the choice of Ohlins or Showa suspension next year, HRC had not yet made a decision. The testers in Japan had provided contradictory data and opinions, so a decision on 2010 would have to wait.
One burning question was the role of Alberto Puig inside the Repsol Honda team. Had it changed? A little, Nakamoto told the press. Mike Leitner was the team manager, he said, but Puig was still Pedrosa's manager, and the rumors about HRC wanting to keep Puig out of the garage were not true. As for their personal relationship, "our relationship is not bad," Nakamoto said," But we are not friends."
Two more crucial pieces of the MotoGP silly season puzzle have fallen into place at Misano, as HRC announced that they have signed new contracts with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso for next season. The deal consolidates the basic agreement which HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki announced at the Brno round in the middle of August, though the terms are different to those in the initial announcement. Neither Pedrosa nor Dovizioso have signed two-year deals, as Mr Suzuki had said they would; instead, Dovizioso has signed a deal for 2010 with an option for 2011, while Dani Pedrosa has penned just a single year deal for 2010.
The basic agreement spoken of at Brno had the paradoxical effect of increasing speculation on the future of Pedrosa in particular. The speculation was fueled by Alberto Puig's denial of an agreement between his protege Pedrosa and Honda, made directly after Mr Suzuki made the HRC announcement. More oil was thrown on the fire when Pedrosa acknowledged he had had talks with Ducati, after the Italian factory had been turned down by Jorge Lorenzo. Stories also emerged that the sticking point in the Pedrosa / Honda negotations was the role of Alberto Puig, and as Pedrosa's manager was the man that HRC were being forced to negotiate with, that made the talks difficult.
One of the main reasons that Pedrosa had held off for so long - and possibly a reason for agreeing just to a single year deal, rather than the two year contract favored by Honda - is the failure of Honda to provide the kind of competitive machinery that the factory built throughout the 990cc era. Recent rapid improvements may have persuaded Pedrosa to give Honda the benefit of the doubt, the RC212V now clearly competitive, as Pedrosa's dominance at Indianapolis proved - at least until he crashed out of the race.
A few weeks ago, there was a flurry of excitement over the prospect of a brand new team and a brand new bike entering MotoGP, when the French site Moto Caradisiac announced that Gil Motorsport boss Jean Christophe Ponsson was about to enter the series. The team would be run using the existing Gil Motorsport structure - previously running in the World Supersport series - and field a new machine currently being designed by Eskil Suter, powered by a brand new V4 powerplant that is said to produce a class-leading 240 bhp.
There was reason to be a little sceptical about the reports - not least because the step up from running a World Supersport to running in MotoGP is a particularly large one, in terms of organization, engineering ability and sheer scale - and yet the consensus was to give the story the benefit of the doubt. Yesterday, however, news emerged that appears to justify the initial scepticism about the project. According to Moto Caradisiac, Gil Motorsport boss Ponsson had told the French site that he had spoken to no one less than MotoGP legend Kevin Schwantz, and that Schwantz had agreed to manage the team for the first two seasons.
This, it seemed to us, was asking us to suspend our disbelief just a little too much, and so we contacted Kevin Schwantz to ask if there was any truth to the reports. A spokesperson for Schwantz initially dismissed the reports as "a PR stunt", and then gave us a statement from Schwantz himself, which reads: "At this moment, I do not currently have an agreement to manage a team, whether in MotoGP, Moto2, or WSBK."
With the future of Ben Spies now apparently settled - though the English-language journalists continue to debate the exact meaning of the word "foresee", and whether it allows for Spies to move to MotoGP earlier than 2011 - half the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team seems to be settled, as Colin Edwards looks certain to keep his seat in the team, especially given the outstanding results he has posted this season. The fate of James Toseland, however, looks a good deal less certain, with team boss Herve Poncharal stopping short of expressing outright criticism of the British rider, but pointing out that Toseland's results have been disappointing, both for Toseland himself and for the team. It is widely accepted that Toseland is likely to remain in MotoGP - the BBC's multi-year multi-million dollar deal with series organizer Dorna would seem to demand that a British rider be in the series - but that does not mean that JT needs to stay at Tech 3.
Indeed, it seems as if that battle has already been fought, and Toseland has lost. The usually well-informed Spanish website Motocuatro.com is reporting that not Toseland, but Alex de Angelis will be riding for Monster Tech 3 Yamaha next year. The deal would be for a single season, with Yamaha taking a look at both Edwards and De Angelis at the end of 2010, to decide who will make way for Ben Spies. De Angelis' run of excellent results since the Sachsenring are believed to have persuaded Yamaha to have given the man from San Marino a second chance to prove himself, and given the proven nature of the satellite Yamaha M1, that should be a challenge De Angelis is up to.
Ever since Casey Stoner decided to pull out of three MotoGP races due to ill health, a tsunami of speculation concerning the state of the Ducati squad has washed over the internet and the written press, with millions of fans and journalists venturing opinions on the subject, while only a few actually had any facts to base those opinions on. None of the protagonists have been particularly easy to reach, nor very forthcoming about the situation.
At Indianapolis, that changed, at least a little. Though we have heard virtually nothing from Casey Stoner, and only brief quotes from the Ducati organization so far, at Indy, Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet sat down with Ducati team boss Livio Suppo for an extended interview. The interview covered many subjects, from the obvious - such as the current state of Casey Stoner's health - to the philosophical - such as the question of whether switching to an 800cc formula made MotoGP more expensive, and raised some interesting points.
Two points were of particular interest, though. The first was the question of why the Ducati is perceived to be such a difficult bike to ride. Suppo denied that a problem existed, pointing out that since Barcelona, the gap between Nicky Hayden's pace on the GP9 and Casey Stoner's was broadly comparable to the gap between Valentino Rossi's and Colin Edwards on the dominate Yamaha M1. Suppo believes that the problem - if you can call it that - is just down to the difference between the four top riders (Rossi, Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa) and the rest of the field. "So in the last seasons, if you don't have one of these top four guys, you don't win races," Suppo told Superbikeplanet.
With Jorge Lorenzo already signed for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa a strong candidate to announce his contract renewal with Honda this weekend, the silly season focus has shifted to the next log damming up the river, the Texan Ben Spies. Spies has been widely expected to stay at Yamaha, but the question mark surrounding the Texan sensation has been whether his future lies in World Superbikes or in MotoGP. Yamaha have made no secret of the fact they'd like to keep the American in World Superbikes for another year, while reports are rife that both Ducati and Suzuki made approaches to Spies to join them in MotoGP.
Yamaha, it seems, have won this particular battle. According to Speedweek's Gunther Wiesinger - about whom a press officer once complained to me that he knew too much - Spies has penned a new deal with Yamaha, signing on for another two years. The first year of the contract would see Spies staying on in World Superbikes, either to defend or to conquer the World Superbike title for Yamaha in 2010, with Spies stepping up to MotoGP in 2011, most likely to take over Colin Edwards' seat in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.
With Spies staying in World Superbikes, this paves the way for more dominoes to fall into place in both MotoGP and World Superbikes. The prime beneficiary will be Colin Edwards, who will get to keep his Yamaha Japan-funded seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though Edwards' partner is still to be decided. In World Superbikes, there will probably only be one seat vacant in the Yamaha Motor Italia squad, which could go to Cal Crutchlow, though reports are placing him in Moto2 with Gresini next season. That Yamaha Superbike seat will be very hotly contested, with the new R1 clearly competitive, and the team highly proficient. If Crutchlow doesn't take the seat, the chances of the man dominating the BSB championship, Leon Camier, is the prime candidate.
These things will start to sort themselves out over the next few weeks. Stand by for a deluge of silly season news from World Superbikes over the coming weeks.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Yamaha Racing have now officially announced the news. The text of the press release follows:
Silly Season is just about over in MotoGP: With the announcement that Ducati have just offered Nicky Hayden a new one-year contract for 2010, the available factory seats are all filled, with the notable exception of Honda. Andrea Dovizioso has admitted he is very close to a new deal with Honda, but most of the media and fan attention has been focused on the future of Dani Pedrosa.
At Indianapolis, Pedrosa acknowledged approaches by Ducati - for a salary thought to be broadly similar to the gigantic sums on offer to Jorge Lorenzo, before he turned the Bologna factory down - but repeated that discussions with Honda were still ongoing, and that no firm conclusions had been reached. The sticking point, it was believed, was the role that Pedrosa's manager and mentor Alberto Puig was to play next season, with HRC pushing for a much diminished role for the former GP winner, and Pedrosa refusing to sign unless he had the man who has done so much for his career by his side.
Reports coming out of Spain earlier today - published by the sports daily Sport.es and reported by the Catalonian radio station Catalunya Informacio - indicate that Dani Pedrosa has already decided to sign a new contract with the Repsol Honda squad, and will make an official announcement this weekend at Misano. According to the reports, Pedrosa will sign a contract for at least one year, but no word has been forthcoming on the role of Pedrosa's manager Puig.