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What was expected at Indianapolis appears to have been delayed a week to Misano. MotoGP's silly season, blocked for so long by Jorge Lorenzo, is starting to move again, with a spate of riders slotting into place for next season. The biggest (official) news so far is that Ducati have decided to exercise the option they have on American rider Nicky Hayden, extending his contract for another year through the 2010 season. Hayden's contract is a reward for the solid progress the Kentucky Kid has made throughout the season, gradually overcoming the difficult start the American made at the start of the year. That progress reached a provisional peak last week, when Hayden finished in 3rd place at Indianapolis, his first podium in a year, and his first on the Ducati.
Hayden has also been a huge marketing success for the Italian motorcycle manufacturer. The likable American helped sell out the limited edition Ducati 848s with Hayden's 2009 Laguna Seca livery almost immediately after release, and Hayden's face adorns the walls of Ducati dealerships around the world, but especially in the US, a key market for Ducati.
But there's another reason for the Ducati announcement. Spanish media sources are reporting that Dani Pedrosa has renewed his contract with the Repsol Honda team (see separate story), taking the last of the Fantastic Four off the market, and leaving Ducati with just the "humans" to select from. Hayden has repeated proven himself to be among the best of the rest, and with a string of solid results in recent races, he will help Ducati score valuable points in the manufacturers standings, a championship that has always been important to the Borgo Panigale factory.
An interesting press release has just dropped into our mailbox, one which highlights how the lack of testing is impacting the teams and their efforts at developing the bikes. Repsol Honda has just announced that Andrea Dovizioso is to switch from Showa suspension to Ohlins at Misano, and to continue using the Swedish forks and shocks for the rest of the season.
Both Dovizioso and Repsol Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa tested the Ohlins suspension units during the post-race test at Brno in mid-August, but as it rained for a couple of hours during the one-day test, Pedrosa in particular lost a lot of his opportunity to test the new suspension. As a consequence, it appears that Repsol Honda have decided to take a different tack, with Pedrosa sticking with Showa while Andrea Dovizioso - who is out of the running for a top 3 finish in the championship - running Ohlins, partly with a view to gaining enough data for both riders to use the new Ohlins suspension next year.
The problem is of course with testing now drastically reduced, it has become significantly more difficult to test major changes such as this, but during the season and in the pre-season testing. It is likely that we will see more of these kind of changes taking place mid-season, using the remaining races as testing in preparation for the following year. Dani Pedrosa's mid-season tire switch from Michelin to Bridgestone was a case in point. The Spaniard arrived at the start of this season much better prepared to use the Japanese tires than other Michelin runners who had to wait until the end of the 2008 season.
At last weekend's Red Bull Indianapolis GP, along with the usual vendor shows, stands, test rides and other activities, a rather special demonstration was being given in the media center. The oscar-winning special effects director John Bruno - responsible for the effects in some of the best special effects movies of all time, such as Titanic, Terminator 2, The Abyss, X-Men The Last Stand and a host of others - was showing footage from his latest 3D projects, which included a three-minute highlight reel from the previous race in the US, the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca.
I was intrigued by the thought of watching motorcycle racing in three dimensions, and decided to go and take a look. I am old enough to remember some of the previous 3D projects, which required the wearing of cheap cardboard classes with different colored lenses (Jaws 3D anyone?) and had failed to impress me even at a fairly tender age. I was lucky enough to walk in on a special presentation being given to the Tech 3 Yamaha team by John Bruno himself, just as the standard (non-motorcycling footage) was finishing.
The MotoGP footage started with an opening shot of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, and from the off, I was hooked. Choosing the Corkscrew to open on was a stroke of brilliance, as that most iconic of turns is famed for its incredible drop, and for the first time on a TV screen, the elevation change just leapt off the screen at you. Perhaps even more impressive was the bump at the top of the turn: Though it has been flattened off in recent years, the ridge at the top where the track drops down is suddenly blindingly obvious. It really was just like being there, whereas every other time I have seen the Corkscrew - either on TV or in photos (even the fantastic shots by our very own Scott Jones), the pictures have failed to do justice to the turn.
After his impressive victory at Indianapolis - in a race which he described as "boring" once Rossi had crashed - Jorge Lorenzo spoke briefly to the English-language press about the race and how it affected the championship. Here's what he had to say:
Q: Now that your future is settled, you've made your choice for Yamaha over Ducati, was it easier to concentrate?
JL: No I don't think so. I think I was riding quite well in Donington, I was leading the race, by one and a half seconds, but I pass the white line and I crash. I couldn't do anything about it. Maybe I was wrong in my line, but nothing more. Maybe in Brno I did a mistake in this corner, because I wanted to open a gap between me and Valentino, and maybe I had to be following him not to pass him. Maybe you are right in Brno, but not in Donington.
Q: Every time you crash you learn very quickly, you never make the same mistake twice. Was your plan to get ahead of Valentino or stay behind him?
JL: You know, now that I win, it is very easy to say I don't make mistakes, that I am the best, but it could happen again to me that I crash. So, today has been good, but you don't know in the future.
Q: Have you started to believe in the championship again, or is 25 points still too much?
The news that the MSMA is moving closer to allowing engines to be leased has been received with enthusiasm both inside the paddock and out. The move is aimed at reducing costs and expanding the grid, and word from inside the paddock is that it might just work. The proposal is due to come into force in 2011, but rumors are rife that it could happen before then.
It seems that Yamaha could lease one engine to a team in 2010. That team would be Hayate, allowing the plucky little team which has done so outstandingly with so few means to stay in MotoGP, and bring the grid size up to 18. The news was reported by GPOne.com, and discrete enquiries around the paddock have confirmed the report, though no one would speak on the record.
The idea of the Hayate team running a Yamaha engine in 2010 makes a huge amount of sense. According to the reports, the new bike would use the existing Hayate / Kawasaki frame, and drop the Yamaha engine into it. Given that the man who designed the Yamaha M1 is Ichiro Yoda, who left Yamaha to redesign the Kawasaki, and is still in charge of the Hayate team, the bikes and the configuration are unlikely to be vastly different. The engine should fit without too much work, as both the Yamaha and Kawasaki engines are inline fours.
By running the engine in 2010, the members of the Grand Prix Commission - and especially the manufacturers and the IRTA - can test out in practice just how well such a proposal would work. And with restricted engine numbers, it should be relatively affordable for the cash-strapped team. Unfortunately - if somewhat understandably - Hayate have lost their star rider, Marco Melandri having signed for San Carlo Gresini. But with so many riders likely to be out of a job and offering their services for free to stay in the series, it shouldn't be hard to find a rider capable of surprising the field once again.
MotoGP's biggest problem right now is the number of bikes on the grid. The withdrawal of Kawasaki, leaving just a single bike in the Hayate team cut the grid down to 18 bikes, and once Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulled out, the field was cut just to 17. With Kawasaki almost certain to withdraw the last remaining bike from the Hayate team next year and the return of the extra Ducati for the Aspar team, the grid is likely to stay at 17, though it could increase to 18 if Honda does add an extra bike, as HRC has hinted it might.
To deal with this problem, and drastically reduce the costs of participation, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta suggested that the rules be altered to allow production-based 1000cc engines in prototype chassis to run against the existing 800cc full prototypes. As a serious suggestion, it was almost certainly doomed from the start, but as a bargaining gambit, it has been a stroke of genius. The suggestion immediately jolted MSMA into action, and at the Sachsenring, the manufacturers organization offered a counter proposal to lease just 800cc prototype engines on their own, rather than entire bikes. They asked the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, for some time to come up with a more detailed proposal, which they promised to present at the meeting scheduled for this weekend at Indianapolis.
That proposal was presented this morning to the Grand Prix Commission - sort of. After the Grand Prix Commission met, the press release issued contained only a few minor detail changes to the 2009 tire regulations, so MotoGPMatters.com tracked down Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and IRTA's representative inside the Grand Prix Commission and asked him just what the MSMA's proposal had consisted of. The answer, it appears, is a little more complicated than just a straight proposal.
Ducati are in trouble, and they know it. Just how deep that trouble is has become apparent from the factory's actions over the past couple of weeks: First, there was the monster salary offered to Jorge Lorenzo to make the switch, then came news that Ducati had approached both Dani Pedrosa and Loris Capirossi, asking them to ride the Desmosedici. Casey Stoner's absence has made it painfully clear just how dependent they are on the Australian's brilliance.
Ducati boss Livio Suppo explicitly acknowledged that fact in an interview with the German website Motorsport-Total.com. "When Casey isn't here, then we don't have a rider who can race at the front," he told the German language site. Suppo underlined just how important a part of the package a top rider has become, pointing out that Stoner and Rossi had taken the bulk of the victories in the 800cc era, with the others having just a handful of victories between them. "The rider can make a huge difference," he told Motorsport-Total.com, "It's just incredible how Valentino, Jorge Dani and Casey are in a league of their own."
Suppo also stated bluntly that he did not believe that Nicky Hayden was the answer to their problems. "Nicky's results are disappointing, he is below our expectations of him," Suppo said. But the Ducati factory team boss also pointed out that Hayden was making progress. "He was sixth in Brno, which is very good - especially when you realize that his lap times were almost good enough to be on the podium. Now we will wait and see what happens at Indianapolis, last year he did a good job. We will watch what happens and take it from there."
Suppo refused to be drawn on whether Ducati would be exercising the option the factory has on Nicky Hayden this weekend. "I cannot tell you anything more. Not because I don't want to, but because quite simply there is nothing to tell," he told the German website.
Since Mika Kallio crashed Casey Stoner's Ducati GP9 twice at the last race at Brno, one of the things that we at MotoGPMatters.com have been interested in is how the crashes will affect the way the teams view the new rules limiting engine numbers. Now that we are here at Indianapolis, we have an opportunity to ask the people who should know, the crew chiefs and engineers.
The first person we buttonholed was Colin Edwards' Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief Guy Coulon. How has the engine rule worked out so far, we wanted to know. "It's too early to say," Coulon said. "We have only had one race. When we have had three races, then we will know more." Coulon emphasized that he was not particularly worried, and that the work on engine durability was being done at Yamaha, and was not something that the Tech 3 satellite team had much input on.
As for crashes, they were unlikely to be a problem. "Crashes are not a problem for us," he said. During practice, the engines are fitted with a special cutoff, which kills the engine immediately in the event of a crash, and even then, for the Yamaha at least, the design and layout of the air intake means that getting any gravel or dirt in the engine is extremely unlikely. The airbox has an air filter fitted, and the airbox itself is located in such a place that it is very unlikely to be ripped off in the event of a crash.
Casey Stoner has finally spoken out on his forced absence from the MotoGP paddock. In an exclusive interview with the Italian magazine MotoSprint, he spoke of his frustration at not being able to ride the the best of his ability, about his illness and about his recovery. The authoratitive website Autosport.com has a comprehensive summary of the interview in English, in which Stoner had some very interesting things to say about his condition.
Stoner had felt forced to stop racing after he was no longer recovering from the draining effort that racing a MotoGP bike for 45 minutes requires. That difficulty almost drove the Australian to despair, and forcing him to rethink what he was doing. "At one point I started having a bad feeling: I felt vulnerable, and I found myself in the position of someone doing something he hates. It's like finding yourself doing a job you can't stand, but that you have to do anyway," he told MotoSprint. The worst thing for Stoner was the feeling that however hard he felt he was trying, he was incapable of competing. He knew that he was able to match the speed of his rivals, but he simply could not sustain it for long enough, ending up off the podium at races he felt he should be able to win.
The Australian is now on the road to recovery, however. According to MotoSprint, Stoner has changed his diet and his training regime, and initial results seemed to show it is paying off. According to Stoner's father and manager Colin, Stoner is recovering more quickly from training, and should be able to return to racing at Estoril, as planned.
As widely expected, Suzuki today announced that Loris Capirossi would be staying with the Rizla Suzuki team for 2010. Capirossi himself had dropped hints over the past couple of weeks that he would be renewing his contract with Suzuki, tacitly acknowledging that he had signed in both the Italian and English-speaking press.
Capirex' new contract is just for a single year, to act as the lead development rider on the Suzuki and as a mentor to Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista. 2010 is likely to be Capirossi's final season in the series, as the 36-year-old Italian has hinted that his retirement is now not far off. Capirossi had previously threatened to either retire early, or jump ship to another manufacturer, while development of the Suzuki seemed to languish. But with the new parts the bike has received over the past few weeks, the performance of the GSV-R has improved, taking it much nearer to being a competitive proposition.
The announcement of Capirossi's signing contained an acknowledgement that this meant the end of the line for Suzuki and Chris Vermeulen in MotoGP. The press release thanked Vermeulen for his commitment and his hard work, but Vermeulen's results have failed to impress Suzuki's bosses this season, and the decision to drop Vermeulen in favor of Bautista was a relatively simple one to take. The decision is rather painful, however, as Vermeulen remains the only rider to win on a four-stroke Suzuki in the 8 years of competing.
Vermeulen will now redouble his efforts to remain in the class, and is hoping to secure a ride with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though he faces some very stiff competition for the ride there. If that fails, he is certain to find a very good seat on a factory machine in World Superbikes.
To many hardcore US MotoGP fans, the fans in Europe are absolutely spoiled. In most European countries, the MotoGP race is broadcast live on a free-to-air channel, and the 125cc and 250cc races are also usually shown either in full or as highlights. US fans, on the other hand, are forced to either wait until the race airs on Speed, usually later on the same day, and stay away from the internet all day to avoid finding out the race results; or fork out their hard-earned cash for a MotoGP.com subscription, and watch the races as streamed live over the internet, hoping that their internet connection and Dorna's streaming media servers are up to the task at hand.
Fortunately, this won't be the case for Sunday's Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP race. To the joy of MotoGP fans based in the US, Sunday's MotoGP race from Indy is due to be screened live on Fox. According to that most excellent resource the TV Racer website, the race is due to be screened live at 3pm ET. You can find your local broadcaster through the Fox network / TV Guide listings page, though not being a resident of the US, deciphering the intricacies of cable TV providers was a little beyond me. Qualifying will be shown on Speed TV as usual, at 7pm ET.
UK-based MotoGP fans should be aware that though the BBC is due to show the race live, it will not be shown on BBC 2, which is MotoGP's usual home, but on the digital channel BBC Three instead, from 7:45pm (British Summer Time). So if you don't already have a Freeview or Sky+ receiver, you need to get your hands on one before Sunday. You can check the BBC schedule on the BBC's website.