Latest MotoGP News
With the announcement at Estoril that Hiroshi Aoyama is to ascend to the MotoGP class aboard a Honda RC212V in a team run by Daniel Epp, the man behind the current Caffe Latte team in the 250 class, the number of Hondas on the grid for 2010 increased from six to seven. The team is to be sponsored in part by the Swiss iced coffee company Caffe Latte, but the effort is also to be heavily supported by Honda. HRC have a long tradition of keeping a Japanese rider in the MotoGP class and were keen to find a replacement for Yuki Takahashi, who was muscled out at Team Scot and replaced by Gabor Talmacsi, the Hungarian bringing a badly-needed injection of funds to the cash-strapped team. With Hiroshi Aoyama edging ever closer to becoming Japan's first World Champion since the much-lamented Daijiro Katoh in 2001, and doing so on board an aging Honda RS250RW, the Japanese rider seems not only the logical choice, but also a highly deserving one.
The Caffe Latte RC212V will be an additional Honda on the grid, but the final line-up for the marque is still not entirely finalized. Honda expect to field seven bikes, and six of them have been settled: The factory Repsol team will see Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso return - though Dovizioso's current crew chief Pete Benson is believed to have been ousted, and is looking for work elsewhere; The San Carlo Gresini team will field the two Marcos, Melandri aboard a factory and Simoncelli riding a satellite spec bike; Randy de Puniet will make a return at LCR Honda, riding the new pseudo-factory satellite spec RC212V; And Aoyama's Caffe Latte bike will make 6.
The Estoril MotoGP round saw the long-awaited announcement of the list of teams whose entries for Moto2 have been accepted. Among the expected candidates was a name which raised one or two eyebrows in the press room: The Hayate team, formerly the factory Kawasaki team, had been granted not one but two entries for the Moto2 class next season.
Despite the fact that the rationale for the Moto2 class is to make racing affordable again, the expense of running two riders in the class alongside a MotoGP entry would seem to be the Hayate team extending themselves beyond their current means. The team has gone almost entirely unsponsored, apart from the funds provided by Dorna and Kawasaki as part of the agreement to allow Kawasaki to leave the series before the end of their contract, which was due to expire at the end of 2011. The chances of Hayate procuring the necessary 5-6 million euros in sponsorship the team would require to run a MotoGP team next season, in addition to the extra million or so euros a two-rider Moto2 team would cost, seem fairly remote.
There have been a host of riders who have tried to ride the Ducati Desmosedici, and apart from Casey Stoner, they have been at best only moderately successful. This struggle, combined with Casey Stoner's unexpected illness, has prompted Ducati to mount a search for someone - anyone - else who showed any aptitude at all for riding the GP9.
So when Aleix Espargaro was given the opportunity to replace Mika Kallio at Pramac Ducati, who had in turn been promoted to the factory Ducati team to take the place of Casey Stoner, nothing much was expected. Espargaro had been given the ride mostly because he was available, the Spaniard and brother of 125cc star Pol finding himself out of a 250 ride and forced to take a ride in the Spanish CEV championship while waiting on better times. But Espargaro impressed immediately. With no experience of MotoGP, the Spaniard finished 13th at Indianapolis and 11th at Misano, and surprised the paddock even more by setting the 5th fastest race lap behind Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso.
Casey Stoner returned to the MotoGP paddock at Estoril amidst a blaze of the publicity he so obviously loathes. The eyes of the motorcycle racing world were upon him, and the question was just how would he hold up once he got back on the bike?
The answer was emphatic: remarkably well, actually. The 2007 MotoGP World Champion taking a podium at his first attempt, comfortably beating both Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa, and only a broken footpeg preventing him from running with Jorge Lorenzo and challenging for victory. After the race, Stoner spoke to the press about the race, his time away, and some of the criticism he has faced, and as so often, he had some fairly pithy things to say about the press and his critics. A transcript of what he said follows below:
Q: You said yesterday after practice, you knew the problem was gone. Was there no point in the race that you worried?
Casey Stoner: No, because this morning in warmup I went out and did some laps, and because it had been so consistent over the past five races, in my head I knew that I was going to get to that point and go, OK that's it, I'm buggered again, I have to come in. And then I felt just that little bit of tiredness come on, but it didn't increase. So I was just like, that's it, it's gone, it's finished, and so we continued through the warm up competitively, and still set my quickest lap at the end and we knew we were rid of it then.
When news came that the 250cc class would be abandoned in favor of the four-stroke Moto2 formula, the first question that everyone raised was whether the 125cc class would be next. The 125cc single cylinder bikes are the last bastion of the two stroke engine, and two-stroke fans both inside and outside the paddock fear that the writing is on the wall for the engine which came to dominate motorcycle road racing for such a long time.
The good news is that the 125cc class is here to stay, at least for a while. The German magazine Motorsport-Magazin spoke to Carmelo Ezpeleta at Estoril, and the Dorna CEO assured them that as far as he was concerned, the 125cc class should be left as it is, at least for the moment. The class serves as an excellent training ground for the champions of the future, Ezpeleta told Motorsport-Magazin. "Young talent gets their first chance to cut their teeth in the class and learn," Ezpeleta said. "The past has shown that nearly all of the riders at the front in MotoGP now were also very strong in the smallest class."
When Yuki Takahashi was dropped from Team Scot at the Laguna Seca round, it saw a period of over 17 years in which a Japanese rider had been in the premier class come to an end. Since then, speculation has raged about how long the Japanese factories - and Honda in particular - would be willing to tolerate this state of affairs.
The situation was made worse by the current outstanding form of Hiroshi Aoyama, who is leading the 250cc World Championship on a bike that has seen virtually no development since 2007, and is barely changed since 2003. Surely, the thinking went, Honda will want a Japanese rider in MotoGP, and surely Hiroshi Aoyama has proved that he is the right man for the job?
Honda agrees, apparently. The well-informed magazine Speedweek is reporting that Hiroshi Aoyama is to move up to the MotoGP class with a new team to be run by the Caffe Latte team. The team had originally planned to make the step up to MotoGP with their current 250cc rider, Thomas Luthi, but the 2005 125cc World Champion is having a mediocre year in the 250cc class and has conceded that he is simply not ready to make the move into the premier class.
The FIM has announced the list of teams which will be granted start licenses for the Moto2 teams. The teams now have until November 2nd, 2009 (the weekend before the final Grand Prix at Valencia) to enter riders officially, though the names of the riders will be provisional. More information on teams and riders as we get it.
The FIM press release is shown below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
- Moto2 class 2010 FIM World Championship announcement -
Ben Spies has been confirmed as a wildcard entry for the final round of MotoGP at Valencia. A press release has just been issued stating that Spies is to ride in Valencia for Yamaha. The news had broken earlier, with Motorcycle News' Matt Birt reporting that an entry has already been submitted to Dorna and IRTA for the Texan to ride in the last MotoGP round of the season, and Autosport's Toby Moody correctly predicting that the wildcard entry would be confirmed today by Yamaha.
It was originally expected that Spies would ride in Yamaha's corporate blue colors, in the same vein as HRC's wildcards have done in previous years. But the BBC's Matt Roberts has just posted on social networking site Twitter that former NBA legend and motorcycle racing nut Michael Jordan is to sponsor Spies' one-off ride. Jordan has his own brand of sportswear, and has run a team in the AMA Superbike series to promote the brand previously.
Yesterday, news broke that Aprilia had once again pulled the plug on Team Toth, refusing to hand over the ECUs of their leased RSA 250s over payments which have not been made. This left Mattia Pasini sitting helpless in the pits, while Imre Toth Jr went out on a completely uncompetitive 2001 spec Aprilia which the team still owns. But Pasini's season may have been rescued by the Caffe Latte team, which runs Swiss rider Thomas Luthi. Pasini is currently out circulating on a bike fielded by Caffe Latte, but currently without any stickers. The sponsor's colors are due to be added before qualifying, the deal only just having been cemented. And according GPOne.com, Daniel Epp, owner of the Caffe Latte team, has picked up Pasini's contract, and could field the Mugello race winner for the rest of the season, with equipment support from Aprilia.
Since the introduction of the new engine durability rules, aimed at cutting costs in the series, much debate has centered on the punishment to be meted out to anyone using an extra engine. In the original rules introduced earlier this year, punishment for any rider forced to use an extra engine outside of their allocation of 5 for the last 7 races of the season would be to have 10 points deducted. This has met with much resistance from the riders, who were all in favor of being put to the back of the grid, rather than having points deducted, as they felt it would at least give them a chance to compete.
The FIM, it seems, has listened. Today, the announcement was made that the rules are to be changed. Any rider using an extra engine outside of their allocation is to be punished by being made to start from the back of the grid. The manufacturers will be punished further by having 10 points deducted from the constructors championship, ensuring that they would not benefit by having another rider score points for them instead of the rider being punished.
A completely unfounded rumor on the French site Caradisiac indicates that Ben Spies may be given a wild-card ride at the season-ending round at Valencia. If true (or even if it isn't) this makes a lot of sense. The SBK season will be long over, it would give Spies a chance to ride the M1 in a race setting on a track he knows and, with testing time extremely limited in 2010, it would give him a jump-start on the apres-race test. If Yamaha isn't actually considering this, maybe a little fan chatter will get them thinking...
The 250 riders are out for their first session of free practice at Estoril, and once again, they are doing so without Mattia Pasini. Pasini's Team Toth have fallen behind for the umpteenth time on their lease payments to Aprilia for the factory-spec RSA's they are using, and Aprilia have pulled the plug, refusing to hand over the control units that allow the bikes to function.
Unless Team Toth come up with the money, Pasini's weekend - and perhaps his season - is over. According to GPOne.com, the team is waiting for "a knight in shining armor" to ride to their rescue. In the meantime, the team's second rider, Imre Toth Jr, is out on a 2001-spec Aprilia, which team boss Toth Sr. owns outright. Such an old bike is completely uncompetitive, however, and Pasini is unlikely to be willing to go out and fight for 22nd spot.
The consequences of the dramatic last lap incident at the Misano 125cc race are going to be severe for Ongetta ISPA's Andrea Iannone. After punting Pol Espargaro into the gravel in a no-hope dive into the final corner, Iannone then dished out a headbutt to the Spaniard, after Espargaro smashed Iannone's screen in retaliation at being slammed off into the dirt.
At Estoril, the Ongetta team issued a press release announcing that two sponsors had withdrawn their support for the Italian over his actions at the previous round, and demanded that their stickers be removed from the bike. The press release states that the sponsors "have expressed their disappointment over the behavior of Andrea Iannone," and that they "do not wish to be associated with this type of behavior."
The two big stories this weekend - at least so far - have been the return of Casey Stoner to MotoGP and the rearranging of the seats at Yamaha. Anticipating the media interest in Casey Stoner's return, Ducati put on a press conference for the returnee. A video summary of that press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website, or for those without a MotoGP.com subscription, we have a summary transcript of the press conference.
The other news has received less coverage, mostly because Ben Spies is hard at work trying to regain the lead in World Superbike championship this weekend at Magny-Cours. Fortunately, Dean Adams over at Superbikeplanet.com got Spies on the phone, and recorded an interview with the Texan which he has put up as a Soupkast, Superbikeplanet.com's podcast series. In the interview, Spies talks about why he decided to go straight to MotoGP, instead of spending another season in World Superbikes, what his expectations are of his rookie year in MotoGP, and how Team Texas is going to work out. It's well worth a listen.
As expected, Casey Stoner's return to the MotoGP paddock at Estoril generated a genuine media storm. Wisely, the Marlboro Ducati team chose to put on a special press conference in the team hospitality unit, to field questions from the press and provide an explanation of the current situation.
Press debriefs in the Marlboro hospitality unit usually involve a couple of handfuls of journalists and the odd stray photographer, but not so on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon. Almost everyone with a press pass and twenty or so TV crews packed into the shiny red unit, as Livio Suppo, Casey Stoner and Filippo Preziosi faced the media.
Team boss Suppo opened the session, welcoming the prodigal Stoner back to the Ducati fold. "Today is a very good day for us. Casey's back." Suppo said. He then went on to express his support, saying "We understood the situation and we totally support Casey."
Suppo then turned to his rider, and Casey Stoner - looking fairly healthy and much more relaxed than he did at Donington in July - proceeded to explain what had happened, and why he had chosen to miss three full rounds of MotoGP. Stoner made it clear from the outset that it had not been easy: "For me it was a very difficult decision to make," Stoner told the media. "Basically we went back to Australia after Donington just to get an understanding of what's going on, to see some more doctors and hopefully go in the right direction. We were planning to come back after Brno, but unfortunately we didn't find any solutions in the short time available. And we had many recommendations from my doctors, and my wife, my father said enough, you've got to have a time out. So the decision was made just to spend three races away. There was never going to be more races away than those three, and already for me, missing those three was a really tough decision. It was a decision that I wasn't forced into but was highly recommended to take by everyone."