Latest MotoGP News
The MotoGP race at Qatar brought more than just controversy over night races, and rain in the desert; It also brought some good news too. At the event, Yamaha announced that it had clinched a sponsorship deal with the Malaysian oil giant Petronas, due to last for three years. The deal sees the Petronas name appearing on the team clothing, and on the belly pan of both Fiat Yamaha M1s.
Ever since it was realized that any attempt to field modified road bikes in Moto2 would be scuppered by a nuclear strike from Infront Motor Sports, the organization that runs World Superbikes and has an exclusive contract with the FIM to race production motorcycles, Dorna, the FIM and the teams have been casting about for a solution. What they came up with to avoid the confrontation with the Flammini brothers was for the the engines to be supplied by a single supplier, thus handily sidestepping the "production" problem altogether.
The contract for the spec engine was to open to public tender, and would last for three years. But ever since the proposal emerged at the IRTA Test at Jerez, there have been murmurings that the deal to supply the series had already been stitched up behind closed doors, and the open tender process would be a mere formality.
According to Visordown's MotoGP mole - an anonymous but often well-informed source - this is precisely what has happened. Visordown is reporting that the Moto2 engine deal will be awarded to Kawasaki, as a way of keeping them in the series without the Japanese manufacturer burning through cash in the way that their MotoGP program did.
Here at MotoGPMatters.com, we are not given to recycling press releases. They are freely available both on the teams websites, and on many other news websites (though some make the effort to turn the press release into a story, and others state baldly that the information is just a press release). But sometimes, we are sent a press release that we are sure our readers would be interested in as well.
One such release landed in our inbox this morning: A background story from Ducati explaining a little bit about the Desmosedici GP9's carbon fiber monocoque chassis, and some of the design decisions which lay behind it. We hope you enjoy it:
THE DESMOSEDICI GP9 MONOCOQUE CARBON FIBRE FRAME
As news, rumor and speculation seep out from Qatar, with news stories contradicting each other appearing almost every minute or so, there is only one thing that we know for sure about the 2009 MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail: That it wasn't run at its scheduled time. The latest state of affairs is that the race is to be run on Monday, at 9pm local time - though by the time you read this, that may have changed.
The story so far: Unseasonal thunderstorms have been plaguing the Qatari peninsula for the past few weeks, causing the loss of a day of testing, and hanging like a sword of Damocles over the practice sessions by spattering thick, heavy raindrops on the paddock's rental cars as they made their way to and from the track. Rain started to fall during the 125 race, causing the race to be shortened to just 4 laps, the shortest race in MotoGP history, with half points awarded to the finishers.
The rain started to clear after the podium ceremony, and the 250 race started 40 minutes later than scheduled, though drastically shortened to just 13 laps so as not to force the MotoGP race to be rescheduled. But Mother Nature had other plans: rain started as the MotoGP bikes sat on the grid, falling in earnest once the grid was cleared ready for the warm up lap. A downpour of almost biblical proportions then ensued, scuppering any chances of running the race later that night.
If the race had been scheduled to take place during daylight, then the rain would not have been a problem. Racing has taken place in similar conditions before, and only the severest of downpours has stopped racing before, and then only if the rain falls once racing begins. But Qatar is held under the floodlights - ironically to avoid the extreme heat that can scorch the desert state at most times of the year - and though the Musco lighting systems are ingeniously designed not to dazzle the riders, the rain turns the track into a mirror, reducing visibility for the riders to zero.
The cancellation of the race caused a veritable whirlwind of activity among staff from Dorna, the teams, the riders, the MSMA and the track authorities. Meetings were held, adjourned for further consultation, held again, adjourned again and then continued. The teams were consulted, the riders were consulted, most importantly of all, the TV companies were consulted, and eventually, the race was rescheduled to take place on Monday, in the early evening.
The decision was not met with universal enthusiasm. A group of riders including Casey Stoner, Sete Gibernau, Chris Vermeulen, Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden and Loris Capirossi were opposed to race being put back a day, with Stoner telling Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, "It's not a good idea to run on Monday. We can't be sure it won't rain tomorrow, and the rain today has washed sand onto the track, so there's a safety risk."
Just as happened to the 125cc race, rain has disrupted the MotoGP race. But luckily for the MotoGP riders, the rain started to fall before the race started, and before the riders had a chance to get hurt. Just minutes before the race was due to start, as the track was cleared ready for the warm up lap, rain drops got heavier, then started to fall in earnest, prompting race direction to delay the start of the race. The rain then started in earnest, drenching the track and making the race look very unlikely.
The problems with the race point to the absurdity of running a race at night. Environmental aspects aside, the threat of rain always meant that the events were susceptible to disruption, as the reflection of the light off a wet surface reduces visibility to zero and makes racing impossible. Having moved the start of the season back to April, so that the temperature would be warmer during the night races, after complaints that the track was too cold and starting to get damp in the colder temperatures of March, perhaps it is time to reconsider, move the race back to March, and just run it during the day. If it rains during the day, at least the race can continue as normal, the riders using wet tires as at every other track.
The lighting at Qatar is remarkable achievement, and the running of the race under the floodlights a triumph of technology. But it is also unnecessary and pointless, serving no purpose other than doing so because we can. As is so often the case when human hubris gets the upper hand, nature is quick to slap us back into place. Better to be practical, and run during the day, rather than try to solve a problem that doesn't really exist in the first place.
A sudden deluge has put an end to the 125cc race at the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Normally, rain is not a problem for the bikes, and the race would be restarted once the bikes had been fitted with wet tires. But the problem with the Qatar race is that it is a night race, run under the spotlights. And despite Musco lighting's remarkable and ingenious lighting system, once the rain starts falling, the light reflects off the surface water, the reflections start dazzling the riders, making it very difficult to see, let alone race.
Racing has been suspended, and there's no news at this time about when the race will resume. Dorna and the organizers will be under a lot of pressure to ensure the MotoGP race starts on time, due to TV commitments in Europe, so if the track does dry out, the races will be rescheduled to give priority to the MotoGP riders. We will keep you updated as and when we learn any more.
Nicky Hayden has spent his first weekend racing the Ducati MotoGP bike embodying the phrase "inauspicious start". Electrical problems, engines blowing up, nothing would go right for the American, hoping for a new start after years at Repsol Honda. Then, at the very end of qualifying, Hayden added a huge highside to his run of misfortune.
So severe was the crash that it was feared Hayden had suffered serious injury. The American stayed on the ground, barely moving, for a long time. Fortunately, he was quickly able to sit up under his own steam, and was taken first to the Clinica Mobile, and then to a local hospital for further checks. Even better news for the Kentucky Kid was that both checks turned up no fractures, and only a minor wound on his neck, according to GPOne.com.
Though Hayden immediately told his team that he wanted to race, team boss Livio Suppo, was a little more cautious. The team will wait to see how Hayden's condition is on Sunday before making a decision about whether to allow the American to race. As the Qatar race would mark his 100th start in MotoGP, Hayden is highly motivated to be on the grid.
Just a single throwaway line, yet so full of meaning. The FIM today issued a press release with the outcome of deliberations of the Grand Prix Commission:
The commission unanimously accepted the proposition of the MSMA to have a “One Make Engine Regulation” in the Moto2 class. The name of the manufacturer will be announced later."
What this means is that, as expected, the Moto2 class will use a spec engine. And there are a lot of good reasons to do so, not least the history of conflict between Dorna, the Flamminis and the FIM over the definition of a prototype. By requiring a spec engine from a single supplier, any teams being tempted to use an engine out of a road bike, and thereby incurring the wrath of the Flamminis and Infront Motor Sports, the organization which runs World Superbikes, would have to think again.
Of course the ostensible reason - and a very good one - is that by removing the need to compete on the basis of engine development, the costs of running a Moto2 bike will be drastically reduced. This is a perfectly valid line of reasoning, though the fact remains that teams go racing to win, and will spend whatever money they can rustle up to try and do so. Though the bikes may not end up costing as much as the Aprilia RSA 250s they are meant to replace, they are unlikely to be cheap.
The one question left is who will be awarded the engine contract. MotoGPMatters.com has already been contacted by one engine supplier, desperate to submit a tender for the contract, but unable to find the proper channels to approach the FIM through. Knowing the FIM, the process will be open, transparent and honest. But it would help if they published the guidelines for application somewhere publicly.
Changing the way that Qualifying works is apparently the latest fashion in motorcycle racing. The World Superbike series did it by dropping the old single-lap Superpole format, and adopting a series of three knockout sessions, shameless copied from Formula One. MotoGP would protest that it has changed its qualifying format - though cost-cutting measures have reduced the length of qualifying from an hour to just 45 minutes - but the adoption of the single tire rule and the disappearance of full-on one-lap qualifying tires left MotoGP followers wondering just how this would affect the way the teams and riders approached Qualifying.
As the session started, at least one thing remained unchanged. Within a few minutes of the green lights, and on his first couple of laps out of the pits, Casey Stoner was laying down a blistering pace. The 2007 World Champion had cracked into the 1'56 bracket, and by his fourth lap, came within 0.009 of equaling the fastest time of the weekend, set by none other than Casey Stoner. The Marlboro Ducati rider was setting the bar for the rest of the field.
Though no one could directly challenge Stoner, he did not enjoy his huge (over a second) advantage for long. Within a few minutes, Valentino Rossi had jumped up to second fastest, just over 3/10ths of a second behind the Australian. Stoner did not wait long to respond: Six minutes later, the Australian was back out on track and cracking another barrier, into the 1'55s, extending his lead to over a second again with a lap of 1'55.504.
Behind Rossi, the fight for third was hotting up, with first Loris Capirossi taking the last front row spot, then Colin Edwards, before Andrea Dovizioso also got involved. Dovi held the spot for five more minutes, before Jorge Lorenzo confirmed his strong form at Qatar by blitzing a lap just short of Rossi's second place time.
Marco Simoncelli's season got off to a bad start before it even began, when the reigning 250cc World Champion broke his wrist last Sunday riding a motocross bike. Determined to defend his title, he had the fractured scaphoid pinned in an operation on Tuesday, before flying out to take part in the first free practice session at the season opener at Qatar. It was a very short time for the wrist to heal, and was going to be an uphill struggle for Simoncelli to take part in the first race.
It was too much to ask. The Italian announced this evening that he wouldn't be trying to race at Qatar, and would be going home to concentrate on his recovery in time for the next race at Motegi in two weeks' time. Simoncelli had tried running fast laps at Qatar, and had put in respectable, if now world-shattering times, but after just a couple of laps, his wrist was becoming too painful to concentrate. Simoncelli took the wiser course, and withdrew.
Simoncelli's withdrawal leaves Alvaro Bautista in the ideal spot to gain maximum advantage in the 250cc title chase. To do that, of course, he'll have to win the race. And with a surprisingly strong Gabor Talmacsi, that may not be as easy as it sounds. Qualifying for the race is due to take place later tonight.
As you have surely already noticed, MotoGPMatters.com photographer Scott Jones is at Qatar (funded in part by your generous donations and the support of our carefully selected advertisers), sending back interviews and the fantastic photos which make him our favorite shooter. He's starting to send us some of his fantastic photos, which we have shared with you below. All images should link to high-res versions of the photos. Enjoy!
One of the biggest mysteries of the past few years in MotoGP has been Honda's fall from grace. Throughout the 990 era, the Honda RC211V was the motorcycle to beat, with only Valentino Rossi capable of achieving that feat. Since the switch to the 800s - a move believed to have been made under pressure from Honda - HRC has struggled to produce a bike that is even competitive, the RC212V outclassed by Yamaha's 800cc M1 and Ducati's Desmosedici. This failure has had knowledgeable people both inside and outside scratching their heads in incomprehension. HRC has both the manpower and the brains to produce title-winning equipment, so where have they gone wrong?
Valentino Rossi believes he knows what's wrong with HRC - at least this season. In an interview on GPOne.com, Rossi stated his belief that the problem lay with the riders, rather than the bike. "It's a question of riders," Rossi said. "With me or Stoner in the saddle, HRC would be at the front."
However, Rossi was careful to point out that HRC's current riders could hardly be blamed for the situation. "Pedrosa, the lead rider, is injured; Dovizioso, with a little more experience, is a potential world champion. And on the track, he gives gas, believe me. But right now, he hasn't made the kilometers necessary to develop a bike."
The waiting really is over for MotoGP fans, as the MotoGP bikes finally took to the track at Qatar to compete in earnest. First blood in the 2009 campaign went to Casey Stoner on the Marlboro (and at Qatar, it really is a Marlboro) Ducati, a fact that shocked absolutely nobody. As ever, Stoner was fast from the moment he rolled out onto the track, getting down into 1'57 territory within ten minutes, and slashing a further 0.8 seconds off his time with 12 minutes of the session left.
For a long time, Stoner's advantage seemed insurmountable, but in his final run, Valentino Rossi closed the gap from a second to get to within 0.4 of a second, with the potential for more if he hadn't run into traffic on a very fast lap. Though four tenths is a sizable gap, Rossi will feel he is at least in touch with Stoner, and with two more sessions to go, and no qualifying tires to distort the grid, the reigning world champion will be confident of staying with Stoner away from the line.
Third fastest man in the opening session of 2009 was Colin Edwards, the only other rider capable of getting within a second of Stoner, and looking as strong here as he looked last year during practice. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo makes it three Yamahas in the top four, Lorenzo 1.2 seconds behind but with more likely to come.
The session threw up plenty of surprises. Such as Alex de Angelis in 5th, for example, but de Angelis also showed his Mr Hyde by running wide into the gravel during the session, a harbinger of what is to come, perhaps. An even bigger suprise was Mika Kallio finishing 7th, after having been as high as 5th earlier in the session. Though we've only had one 45 minute session of practice to judge him by, Kallio's single fast lap at the IRTA test at Jerez could possible be the rule rather than the exception.
Marco Simoncelli arrived at Losail with a cast still on his right hand, and had it removed in the medical center just before he and was to report to the starting grid for the group photo.
The other 250 riders waited for several minutes with one spot open in the front row until Simoncelli appeared in the distance, walking slowly from the direction of the garages. He held his right hand carefully as he walked, still in apparent discomfort from his operation on Tuesday to repair the scaphoid bone he broke in a motocross crash on Sunday.
When he’d taken his seat in the front row, the skin discoloration from disinfectant was still clearly visible. At one point he answered questions from the pit wall with a wince and a careful cosi-cosi gesture with the recently liberated hand.