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The one place that everyone wants to be at a MotoGP race is in the paddock. Simultaneously, it is one of the most difficult places to get into, as, quite simply, Dorna does not sell passes into the paddock. The usual way - other than in a professional capacity, or working as a marshal - is to purchase a VIP package through one of the very few specialist travel companies authorized to issue paddock passes, such as our friends over at Pole Position Travel.
But now, MotoGP's (and MotoMatters.com's) official charity organization Riders For Health are providing an extra route into the paddock. Today, the charity announced that they will be auctioning off pairs of paddock passes for each of MotoGP's 18 races this season, with the money raised going towards Riders' outstanding work providing primary health care in Africa. If you want to get into the paddock and have a chance of meeting your own personal hero (be it Valentino Rossi, Bradley Smith or even Jerry Burgess), then read the press release below carefully, and dig deep for Riders.
Exclusive MotoGP paddock pass auction for Riders
Whenever fans talk of their dreams of being a world famous motorcycle racer, they have in their minds the image of travelling from circuit to circuit, and focusing on nothing but racing. Of course, life isn't like that, and one of the duties of a factory World Superbike rider is to turn up at motorcycle shows, corporate PR events and a host of other occasions to help market the brand helping to pay their wages. James Toseland understands this, and performs this task admirably, taking advantage of the situation to practice his second passion, playing the piano, at such affairs.
Toseland is currently in Rome for the MotoDays exhibition, helping Yamaha to launch their brand new FZ8 naked bike. While he was there, our friends over at GPOne.com took the opportunity to catch up with him, and did a short video interview with the Sterilgarda Yamaha rider. In the interview, Toseland talks about the transition from MotoGP to World Superbike, his expectations of Portimao, and why so many British riders are in the World Superbike series. Here's the video from GPOne.com:
Ask some of the veterans of the MotoGP paddock who the greatest racer of all time was, and you'll get a fairly short list of names, usually including Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Kevin Schwantz. But the answer to that question is almost always followed up by the words "And then there's Freddie Spencer, of course..." Spencer's career was cut short by a wrist injury, but before he was forced to retire, the young American shocked the world by being the only man to win both the 500cc and 250cc World Championships in the same year. Fast Freddie was precocious, sensitive and blindingly, mind-bogglingly fast.
Since retiring from racing, Spencer's fortunes have been very mixed. The Louisiana native ran a successful riding school and was the motorcycle racing commentator for the US SpeedTV channel, but both of those ventures have gone sour. Spencer's riding school was forced to shut down at the end of 2008, after financial problems saw the instructors go unpaid and the bikes repossessed. Spencer's commentary work also dried up, with Daytona legend Scott Russell taking his place in the commentary booth.
Rain once again ruined testing for the Moto2 test at Jerez, the bad weather chasing the class all over Spain throughout its off-season testing program. Hopes that the weather might brighten up for Monday's session were dashed, the rain falling on and off all day. "These three days at Jerez have been pretty much a waste of time," Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal told MotoMatters.com, "Even on Sunday, the track was never really dry, there were wet patches still in places."
Ant West took advantage of the wet conditions in the morning to set the fastest time of the mixed session, ahead of Alex de Angelis and Mike di Meglio, but in the 50 minute qualifying simulation at 4pm, De Angelis moved easily ahead of the rest of the field, ending the session and the day with three quarters of a second advantage over his competitors. Toni Elias confirmed his role as favorite for the title, finishing the day in second spot, the Gresini rider having been at or near the top at every test held so far.
Testing continued for the Moto2 and 125cc class at Jerez today under considerably better conditions than prevailed yesterday. The morning saw the best of the weather, the sun coming out to dry a still damp track, but the afternoon saw intermittent rain making the track damp from time to time, and complicating testing.
Toni Elias was the rider who best used the conditions to his advantage, setting a strong lap in the early afternoon of 1'45.024, about 1.7 seconds off the fastest time set during last year's 250 race here, in much sunnier, hotter conditions. Elias was half a second faster than the Colombian Yonny Hernandez, and nearly seven tenths quicker than American Kenny Noyes, who had led during the morning. Alex de Angelis continued his strong form from yesterday, setting the 4th quickest time, ahead of the Forward Racing Team of Jules Cluzel and Claudio Corti. Julian Simon, the fastest man at the previous test at Valencia, crashed early in the session, but walked away unhurt, and could manage only the 10th fastest time.
After a brief respite at Valencia, the rain was back in full force at the Jerez test for the Moto2 and 125cc class, so bad that it was causing flooding in the nearby towns of Cadiz, Conil and Chiclana. The handful of kilometers that separated the Jerez circuit from the flood-affected areas were sufficient to spare the assembled riders most of the problems, other than being cold and wet for much of the session.
The rain dried up in the afternoon, though the track remained tricky, and by the end of the day it was Alex de Angelis who proved best at mastering the difficult conditions for the Moto2 riders, his time of 1'55.835 still over 13 seconds off track record pace. De Angelis finished the day ahead of Tech 3's Raffaele de Rosa and Gresini's Toni Elias, with Swiss rider Thomas Luthi in 4th position.
De Rosa's 2nd place is remarkable turnaround for the Italian, as at Valencia and Barcelona he had been outclassed by his teammate Yuki Takahashi. De Rosa wasn't the only rider whose relative standing changed on a wet track: Heroes of the previous test at Valencia Julian Simon and Kenny Noyes dropped down to 10th and 12th respectively in the wet, two seconds off the pace set by Alex de Angelis.
The weather gods, having given the Moto2 class its first break at Valencia, have struck back with a vengeance at Jerez. The first morning of the three-day test has so far been rained off, with only Toni Elias and Sergio Gadea having braved the conditions, and lapping well over the 2 minute mark, over 20 seconds off the pace. With the wet weather expected to continue for the remainder of Saturday at least, not much is likely to happen today, and the teams will have to hope for better conditions tomorrow.
When the riders are out on track, you can follow the action via live timing, which is available online, and shown embedded below:
The status of the FB Corse project has been shrouded in mystery ever since the Italian team announced they would be contesting the 2010 MotoGP season. Though the bike has been officially presented, and details about the three-cylinder MotoGP machine widely circulated, the bike has yet to turn a wheel in public, and no one knows whether the bike is even capable of achieving race speeds. This latter point has caused some concern inside IRTA, the organization representing the race teams and charged with ensuring the quality of the teams involved. IRTA boss Mike Trimby told MCN last week that FB Corse would not be allowed to take part in MotoGP until the bike had demonstrated its competitiveness, by lapping at a Grand Prix circuit within three seconds of race pace.
FB Corse has now risen to that challenge. Today, the team issued a press release stating that Garry McCoy is to test the FB01 at Valencia on the 15th and 16th of March, before running a timed test in front of Franco Uncini, who will be watching the test on behalf of Dorna. A representative from IRTA will also be present to monitor the test, to ensure the team is proficient enough to be allowed into the MotoGP paddock.
As much as they will be missed, there was one very clear reason the 250s were replaced by the Moto2 class: Cost. The virtual monopoly that Aprilia had in the 250cc class meant that the Italian factory could ask whatever it liked for a competitive bike, and could pick and choose the riders to bless with competitive material. If you wanted to win races and have a shot at the title, you had little choice but to stump up the million plus euros that Aprilia was asking for a factory-spec RSA 250. It was possible to compete on the cheap - a privateer LE spec machine could be had for as little as 250,000 euros, though engine and chassis upgrades were still extremely expensive - but the only chance of success (and therefore publicity) would come in the rain, when the power advantage of the top bikes disappeared.
Julian Simon was the fastest man over the three full days of testing at Valencia, the first time the Moto2 bikes had been on track with the official spec engine. The Mapfre Aspar rider topped the timesheets on Tuesday, finishing ahead of Kenny Noyes on the Banderas Jack&Jones bike and Toni Elias on the Gresini Moriwaki. The top ten was virtually unchanged from Tuesday, only Alex de Angelis improving his time, though not his position.
Where previous tests have provided little comprehensible information due to poor weather and wildly differing engine specs being used, Valencia offered a prolonged period of dry track and the introduction of the spec Honda CBR 600 engine, meaning that for the first time, it is possible to make some comparisons and draw some conclusions. And there are certainly some interesting perspectives being opened up. The fact that springs most prominently to your attention is the dearth of 125 riders at the top of the timesheet, the sole exception being the reigning 125cc World Champion Julian Simon. But to call Simon a 125 rider is to do him an injustice, Julito spent two years racing 250s before making the step into Moto2, and has clearly lost none of his experience of bigger bikes.
The final day of testing started a washout, with the overnight rain continuing into the morning, and leaving the track soaked. For about half the field, this was the signal to pack up and head to Jerez, where the Moto2 class will continue to test from Saturday, but a sizable group remained. Only a few braved the wet conditions of the morning, Ant West topping the timesheets early, the Australian renowned for wet weather riding, having taken his only 250cc victory in a downpour in 2003.
Once the track dried up in the afternoon, the track saw more action, but few riders bettered their times from Tuesday. Alex de Angelis was one exception to the rule, and the three tenths of a second he took off yesterday's time put him firmly atop the timesheets, exactly half a second quicker than Monday's fastest man Toni Elias, and nearly nine tenths faster than Tech 3's Yuki Takahashi.
The second day of testing at Valencia saw some fairly big shakeups in the timesheets, with some riders making big steps while others barely improved, but at the end of the day, the same bunch of names sat at the top of the timesheets that had been there at the end of Monday. The order, though, was slightly different, with Julian Simon the fastest man of the day, the Aspar rider getting stuck just outside the 1'36s, his best time a lap of 1'37.156, which would have qualified him in 7th place at the last 250cc race here at Valencia.
Simon's progress was matched by Kenny Noyes of the Banderas Jack&Jones team, both men improving their times by some three tenths of a second, despite considerably cooler temperatures at the Cheste circuit. Yesterday's fastest man, Toni Elias, could not go any faster on Tuesday, ending the day with a time a hundredth slower than his best lap yesterday. Claudio Corti of the Forward Racing team - the remnants of last year's Hayate squad - once again finished 4th, while Tech 3's Yuki Takahashi improved to 5th place, less than half a second off Simon's best time.
The first day of testing with the official Honda engine is over for the Moto2 class, and finally we have some kind of indication of both what the lap times and what the relative strengths of each rider, team and chassis are. And those indications are throwing up some very interesting surprises.
The name at the very top of the timesheet is very far from a surprise: Ever since it was clear that Toni Elias would be returning to MotoGP's middle class, he has been favorite to take the title. Elias got his campaign off to a good start, lapping in the mid 1'37s, a respectable pace which would have put him in 12th on the grid for the last ever 250cc race here just over 4 months ago. The name of Julian Simon, reigning 125cc World Champion is no real shocker either, the Mapfre Aspar rider also being hotly tipped by both fans and insiders.
Places 3 through 5 are more of a surprise, though they range from an insiders' tipped rider to a complete wildcard. Kenny Noyes in 3rd may come as a surprise to MotoGP fans, but anyone who has kept half an eye on the Spanish CEV Formula Extreme championship in recent years will know the American's name, and will know that he is fast. Noyes has had some experience on Moto2 bikes already, having tested immediately after the race at Valencia.
The waiting is over, and the Moto2 bikes are finally out on track at Valencia on equal terms, with equal engines. At last we can start comparing times properly, as everyone is now using the official standard Moto2 engine. Using the spec Honda engine, Kenny Noyes is so far quickest, confirming the form the Antonio Banderas Racing rider has shown at all of the Moto2 tests so far. The American - son of US journalist and Spanish TV commentator Dennis - leads the Gresini squad, with Russian newcomer Vladimir Ivanov surprisingly ahead of the championship favorite, Toni Elias. Yuki Takahashi, who has also been fast throughout Moto2 testing, sits in 4th, the Tech 3 rider currently about eight tenths off Noyes' pace.
But the times so far don't mean too much, as no one has put in a great many laps yet, and a sizable group of riders are still in the pits waiting to get underway. Some of the teams are suffering the consequences of - unsurprisingly - the economic crisis: One such is Scot Honda, who according to GPOne.com were forced to wait until this morning before receiving their Moto2 engines, as the team still has unpaid back payments for their MotoGP adventure last season. The team, which is to field Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa, has been given a reprieve for this test, but could still be in trouble before the season starts.
After a very long wait, the official Moto2 engines have finally been delivered to the Moto2 teams. The teams, assembled at Valencia for testing over the next three days, have had to wait for the engines since November last year, but reliability issues have prevented Honda from supplying them to the teams earlier.
Each rider has been issued with one engine, assigned at random by IRTA officials, which they will have to make last for the upcoming two official IRTA tests and the first three races of the season. The engines are numbered and marked, the numbers unrelated to the numbers the riders use, though Andrea Iannone of the Speed Up team will be using engine number 73, the reverse of the number he will be running on his FTR Moto2 bike this season.
With the engines now being fitted into the chassis, the riders and teams are preparing for tomorrow's test. And for once, the weather gods appear to have looked kindly on the Moto2 class, for though the northern part of the Iberian peninsula has just been lashed by storms, the weather at Cheste looks like being largely dry and relatively warm for all three days, with rain forecast to fall only when the bikes aren't on track.