Latest MotoGP News
Trouble continues to brew in the Aprilia camp. The Italian company's decision to pull out of Moto2 at the end of November last year looks set to have even more serious repercussions, as the authoritative Italian site GPOne.com is reporting rumors that Aprilia's racing boss Giampiero Sacchi could leave his role as head of the factory's racing program altogether. Sacchi's departure would be a body blow to the Noale factory, as Sacchi has been with Aprilia since the 80s and has worked with all of the great stars that the company has produced, from Max Biaggi to Tetsuya Harada, Valentino Rossi to Jorge Lorenzo.
The root of the problem, according to GPOne.com, is the long-standing rivalry between Sacchi and Aprilia's General Director Leo Mercanti. The high-profile CEO of the Piaggio Group Roberto Colaninno is reportedly tired of the bickering between Sacchi and Mercanti, and has been taking steps to sort the situation out.
Looking back at the two days of MotoGP testing at Sepang throws up only a few surprises. The Aliens continue to dominate, as ever, and Colin Edwards is still firmly in place as #5. Behind, the top 5, the picture is a little more interesting. Loris Capirossi's strong outing on Thursday shows that the Suzuki can be fast, but the GSV-R has a long history of being outstanding in testing, yet falling short during the season. Whether it's business-as-usual for Suzuki or a breakthrough will have to wait until the first few rounds have been run.
Ben Spies continues his methodical improvement, but with the Texan complaining of jet lag and telling reporters that he is still very much just learning, he should soon be edging Colin Edwards out of 5th spot and closing on the top 4. Spies is holding station with Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian improving but still looking for more pace.
The rain that held off yesterday finally came to Sepang on Friday, disrupting testing during the morning and at the end of the day. The rain in the morning combined with the limit on engines to persuade most of the riders to sit in the garage, or restrict their laps to a minimum. The track started to dry out at lunchtime, and from then, all 17 MotoGP riders, along with a couple of Yamaha test pilots, got to work on their testing program. By the time the rain came around 5pm, it was Valentino Rossi who had set the fastest lap, finishing ahead of Casey Stoner and Rossi's Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Dani Pedrosa completed the top four, the Aliens still clearly a breed apart in the MotoGP paddock.
While both Rossi and Stoner finished in the same positions as yesterday, both Jorge Lorenzo and especially Dani Pedrosa made a huge leap forward. Lorenzo jumped from 5th spot to 3rd, though he did not close the gap to his Fiat Yamaha teammate. Dani Pedrosa, on the other hand, closed the gap by over half a second, while working on the all-new Honda RC212V. Given that the bike has new Ohlins suspension, new electronics, a new chassis and a number of swingarms, there would appear to be plenty of room for improvement once the Repsol Honda team find the right setup for the bike.
One of the most heavily-attended press conferences at Sepang was the Yamaha affair, at which Yamaha's MotoGP group leader Masahiko Nakajima, Racing MD Lin Jarvis, team bosses Davide Brivio and Wilco Zeelenberg and the two stars of the show, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo faced questions from the assembled press. The subjects covered a lot of ground, from Wilco Zeelenberg's first day on the job, to Yamaha Indonesia's stepping up with sponsorship, to whether post-race burnouts are things of the past. But more pressing subjects were also covered, such as the end to data sharing between Valentino Rossi's and Jorge Lorenzo's sides of the garage, whether Yamaha thinks they can retain both their riders, and the two riders' impressions of the new YZR M1.
All these and more are covered in the transcript of the press conference, which follows below, thanks to our friends over at Superbikeplanet.com:
Q. To MN: Are you satisfied with the development of the M1?
Masahiko Nakajima: Difficult to say! It's too early to say how the development is but so far, on the first day of the winter test, we have quite good results and we are quite satisfied.
Launching a MotoGP race bike is a tricky prospect. The aim is for it to be as glamorous as possible, but without being too expensive for journalists to cover. Ducati solve this problem by launching at a giant event done together with Ferrari in the Italian Alps, but Yamaha have decided to make use of the opportunity presented by the first official MotoGP test of the year, out in Sepang. The location was especially appropriate this year, as Yamaha Indonesia has stepped up into a sponsor role, capitalizing on the growing interest in the sport in that part of Asia. According to Google Trends, Indonesia provides the largest number of users searching for the term "motogp", outnumbering Italy by nearly 4 to 1.
The rain that threatened to ruin the first day of testing for 2010 luckily decided to stay away, but the session was still disrupted by the weather. Instead of water, it was the oppressive 40°C tropical heat that sapped the strength of the riders, limiting the amount of testing the riders could do. The rain finally came just before 5pm to cool the track from the scorching 50° Centigrade it was at most of the day, though only adding to the humidity.
Valentino Rossi ended the day with the fastest time, a comfortable half a second ahead of Casey Stoner on the Ducati. Stoner had suffered chatter for part of the day, and the hot asphalt made it difficult to judge the difference adjustments to the bike were making. The riders in 3rd and 4th place were a big surprise, Colin Edwards' 3rd spot slightly less so than Loris Capirossi's 4th fastest time. It's clear the Yamaha is good, but even the satellite bikes are so good that on their day, they can match the speed of the factory bikes, Edwards finishing ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and nearly a quarter of a second faster.
MotoGP makes a long-awaited return to action on Thursday, with the 17 official entries all taking to the track at Sepang. For the veterans, it marks the first time they will have ridden a MotoGP bike in nearly three months, their last outing being at the Valencia post-race tests in November last year. Even the rookies, who got extra tests at the end of 2009, have not been been on track since late December, with Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama the most recent to test here at Sepang before Christmas.
Wednesday saw the bikes already on track in the hands of the testers, who gave all of the teams' bikes a shakedown to ensure they are all working properly. This had been agreed as part of the cost-cutting measures limiting testing, allowing test riders an extra day on track to ensure that the teams would not lose any testing time to mechanical problems. Honda's Kosuke Akiyoshi was fastest, in a relatively meaningless 2'04.43, between three and four seconds off the pace the MotoGP riders will be aiming for at Sepang.
Despite the fact the bike is yet to be presented officially, news is all over the internet and elsewhere that Garry McCoy is to be the rider for the FB Corse team in 2010. Just days after hearing that he had been dropped by BE1's factory-backed Triumph World Supersport squad, McCoy is back in the saddle, and back in MotoGP.
The opportunity came about as a result of the maneuvering surrounding John Hopkins. Hopkins was the rider FB Corse had originally planned to sign, but after the team declined to allow Hopper to test the Italian-designed triple before signing a contract, Hopkins decided to play it safe, taking a ride on the Team M4 Suzuki with backing from his personal sponsor Monster Energy. Once Hopkins' intentions were clear, FB Corse went looking for a replacement, and contacted McCoy by phone last Wednesday. The Australian veteran was on a plane to Italy in a thrice, and the deal was done before the weekend was out, rumors of which had been picked up on Friday.
In an unanticipated, if suspected, turn of events, the testing role at the FB Corse project vacated by John Hopkins may be about to filled. The first hint came in a press release from the Italian team, in which they expressed their disappointment at John Hopkins, but also stated their firm intention to continue development of the three-cylinder MotoGP machine designed by Oral Engineering. The statement also said that the team had already signed a new rider to replace Hopper, whose name they would announce at the bike launch in early February. They would not name names, bu they did provide the following clue:
"The new rider has already been found, a top rider with proven experience in all of the most important world championship categories, and an outstanding development rider, but we shall only be revealing his identity at the Team Launch"
MotoGP fans around the world will raise a cheer tonight, as their enjoyment of the 2010 MotoGP season has been assured. Toby Moody announced today on his Twitter account that the golden duo of MotoGP commentary - Moody and Julian Ryder - will be back at Eurosport for the coming season. Ryder and Moody are also to be joined once again by the man with an encyclopedic knowledge of MotoGP technology, writer and journalist Neil Spalding.
The trio will be providing live coverage of practice and qualifying for all classes for British Eurosport, live coverage of the 125 and Moto2 races, and delayed coverage of the MotoGP races, which are due to be broadcast live by the BBC. Though the British Eurosport coverage is due to be broadcast only in the UK, the trio have amassed a huge cult following around the globe, most of whom have found - usually illegal - ways of watching the races over the internet.
Valencia has not so far been a lucky venue for Tech 3's Moto2 team. The team was scheduled to test at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in December, and were confronted with snow, a rarity in this part of Spain. Returning to the track for this week's test alongside some of the World Superbike teams, they were spared snow, but instead had to deal with two days of rain and a cold and wet track. So when the sun came out on Thursday morning, the team breathed a collective sigh of relief. As Herve Poncharal put it: "We got here on Monday and since then we have only had 4 hours on track, but finally we got some work done."
Poncharal was delighted with the way the final day of testing went for Tech 3's own bike. "I am very, very happy, we made a big step forward," the Tech 3 team boss told MotoMatters.com. "We didn't find any chatter with the chassis, which was a problem we had at earlier tests." The chatter had been solved at a previous test with a revised chassis, but the conditions were such that the team hadn't been able to confirm the changes had fixed the problem entirely. In the better conditions - "Not good, only decent," Poncharal qualified - neither Yuki Takahashi nor Raffaele de Rosa encountered the chatter.
The miserable weather which prevented the World Superbike and Moto2 teams from getting much track time at Valencia yesterday continued on Wednesday. All of the teams spent most of the day in the garage, only venturing outside on occasion to test the conditions and conclude that they were still no good.
The weather has left a number of teams facing a dilemma. The weather forecast for tomorrow is sunny and dry, with temperatures warm enough to make testing valuable. But the Aprilia factory team for one has already packed up and is heading back to their base in Noale in Northern Italy, a fact that discombobulated the Italian veteran Max Biaggi. "This could be a problem because we didn't get the confirmation we were looking for," Biaggi said, according to the official World Superbike website. "In addition our rivals will also be testing tomorrow, when it's expected to be sunny."
There was much consternation among Marco Melandri's many fans when the FIM issued the provisional entry lists for MotoGP earlier today. For besides Melandri's name was not the #33 which the Italian has used since he moved up to the MotoGP class in 2003, but instead #24. Had Marco Melandri wanted to put his past behind him and start with a new number? Was he tired of #33 and wanted a change? To the vast majority of Melandri's fans, the idea was akin to blasphemy.
Melandri's fans can all breathe a sigh of relief. A spokesperson for the San Carlo Honda Gresini team told MotoMatters.com that it was all just a mistake by the FIM, Melandri's name filled in the space vacated by that of Toni Elias, while forgetting to remove Elias' number. Melandri will be using #33 after all.
It will not just be the fans who will be relieved. For the many journalists and commentators who follow MotoGP around the globe, the San Carlo Gresini team is going to be confusing enough, with the Two Marcos (Melandri and Simoncelli). For Melandri to have taken a new number would have made the situation infinitely worse.
Last but not least of the entry lists released by the FIM today is the 125cc class. Few surprises here either, but certainly a few names of note. Perhaps the most remarkable name on the list is not that of a rider, but of a bike. The vaunted Italian marque Lambretta is on the grid, fielding a two-rider team. For those over the age of about 40, Lambretta is forever associated with scooters rather than racing motorcycles, in part as a result of popular culture and the film Quadrophenia. But the Lambretta team is actually the remnants of the old Loncin team, the Chinese manufacturer of commuter bikes having pulled out at the end of last season. It is unlikely that the Lambretta team will be racing with vast numbers of lights and mirrors attached to the fairing.
Along with the release of the MotoGP entry lists, the FIM also announced the provisional entry lists for the Moto2 class. Unlike the MotoGP entry list, which is more or less set in stone given the size of the budgets and the importance of the class to Dorna, the Moto2 list is still incredibly fluid. It is unlikely that the starting grid at Qatar will contain all of the names appearing on the list here, as witnessed by the fact that the list also contains two reserves.
The list contains 39 entries plus 2 reserves, a number which even Dorna CEO believes is too many, as he told the official MotoGP.com website. The names on the list have been floating around for some time now, and there are few surprises. The two-rider lineup announced by Michael Bartholemy's Marc VDS racing team has been split into two, with Scott Redding having been accepted as an official entry, while former Superstock 600 Vincent Lonbois is still on the reserve list. Former factory Kawasaki MotoGP rider Ant West is also on the reserve list for the MZ Moto2 project, but the status of that team is currently on hold, as they continue search for funding, like so many other teams.