Latest MotoGP News
Rumors that this is Dani Pedrosa's make-or-break year at Repsol Honda have haunted the MotoGP paddock since Pedrosa not only failed to win the championship last year, but even finished a placer lower at the end of the 2008 season than he had in 2007. It is said that Repsol, the Spanish petroleum giant that funds a large part of the factory team's budget, is growing impatient at the lack of a Spanish world champion which they can use to sell to their home market, and if Pedrosa doesn't deliver this season, Repsol could look elsewhere.
So far, much of the speculation surrounding Pedrosa's potential replacement has centered on Alvaro Bautista, the genial 250cc title candidate regarded as both highly talented and very media friendly. Bautista is helped by the fact that he seems to have a smile permanently fixed to his face, a much more attractive prospect for sponsors to use than the stern countenance Dani Pedrosa usually shows to the world.
There are two serious impediments to this possibility however. One is proposed "rookie rule" which would prevent riders new to the MotoGP class from going straight to a factory team. The rule, designed to help satellite teams secure talent and sponsors, would prevent riders such as Bautista, Marco Simoncelli and Ben Spies joining a factory team without first spending an apprenticeship year at a satellite or junior team, and would rule out Bautista joining the Repsol Honda squad if he moved to MotoGP in 2010.
With a final decision expected on who will supply engines to the Moto2 series expected at the Jerez MotoGP race, just a few days from now, word is starting to emerge of the candidates for the position. Initially, it was thought that Kawasaki would be awarded the contract, but today, Motorcycle News is reporting that the Moto2 contract will go to either Yamaha or Honda.
According to MCN's Matthew Birt, Kawasaki had declined to bid for the contract, but both Yamaha and Honda had submitted formal proposals to supply the contract. Under the proposals, the winning bidder would sell the engines to Dorna, who would then provide them to the teams. A crucial point in the discussions centers on the ability of the factories to provide spare parts and engineering backup to the teams, to ensure the continuity of the series.
This point is probably the reason that the contract was only open to the major Japanese factories. As a known quantity with proven track records in building and supplying race-ready engines, the risk of awarding the Moto2 contract to Honda or Yamaha is limited. But the fact that this deal was hammered out in the Grand Prix Commission, which has the MSMA, representing the manufacturers actively involved in MotoGP, as one of its members, makes it hard to escape the suggestion that this was a deal which was never going to be open to outsiders.
The fates have been incredibly cruel to the MotoGP series since the 2008 season ended. First, a manufacturer withdraws, then a flurry of rule changes hastily enacted in a bid to cut costs in response to the financial crisis received widespread criticism, and finally, the first race of the season has to be postponed due to rain - in the desert, of all places. Of course, much of the blame for this misfortune can be firmly laid at the door of governing body of the series, the Grand Prix Commission: The switch to 800cc made the bikes radically more expensive; The rule changes were discussed and agreed within a matter of a few weeks, leaving the suspicion of not being fully thought through; And though it may not rain in the desert, Qatar has a wet (well, damp) season too, and running the race at night means that even a small amount of rain can cause the race to be postponed.
But the events at Motegi on Saturday are arguably beyond the power of Dorna to control. Rain had been forecast for Saturday, but that so much water would fall that rivers would start flowing across the track is an unusual event indeed. In the end, Race Direction waited for an hour to see if the weather would improve, and when it didn't, it canceled qualifying. A wise move, all things considered, as the occupants of the safety car sent out to examine the track declared the circuit too dangerous to even drive around, let alone try to ride a motorcycle at race pace on.
Ever since the Grand Prix Commission announced that the new Moto2 class would be contested by 600cc four strokes, the new class has been surrounded by controversy and argument. And argument continues to dog the class at Motegi, but this time, the argument is much more positive. A decision was expected from the Grand Prix Commission on who would be awarded the contract to supply the spec engine to the class at the Japanese Grand Prix, but the members of the commission face a problem.
According to Motorcycle News' Matthew Birt, the problem is that while it was expected that there would be only a single tender submitted, it seems that more than one manufacturer is interested in the class. As a consequence, the bids will have to be studied in more detail before the contract can be awarded, and that therefore the decision will have to wait until the next race at Jerez in a week's time.
Rumors had previously emerged that Kawasaki would be awarded the contract, but the news that other parties are interested complicates the situation. No news is available on who those other bidders might be, although several companies, including the US-based Cosentino Engineering had expressed a firm interest in the class. But the most likely party to be awarded the contract will be one of the major Japanese manufacturers, if only because they already have the capacity in place to supply the 100+ engines such a class is likely to require.
One of the accusations leveled against the much-criticized night race at Qatar - run a day late because of the rain - was that it need never have been postponed if it had been run during the day, as the rain would not have been a problem in daylight. But as if under instruction by Dorna, the weather gods have decided to prove those critics wrong, to show that just because there's daylight, it doesn't mean there will be any racing.
For the rain is falling so heavily in Motegi - in the middle of the afternoon - that all the qualifying sessions planned for this afternoon were first delayed due to water on the track. After inspection by the Safety Commission, who went out for a lap of the circuit in a safety car, the Commission pronounced that there was so much water around the track that the conditions were too dangerous even in a car. Sandbags have been located around the circuit to try and hold back the water flowing across the track, but to no avail.
Initially, the decision was taken to wait for an extra hour, to assess whether conditions would improve enough for qualifying to be run later. But as the rain was falling just as hard at the end of that hour as at the start, there was nothing left for Race Direction to do but to cancel the qualifying sessions for all three classes.
With qualifying canceled, grid positions will now be determined based on the combined free practice times set so far. In practice, this means the results of FP1, as times in the wet FP2 sessions were 13 and more seconds slower than FP1 for the MotoGP class, and similar margins for the 125 and 250 classes. Where this leaves the riders who failed to make the qualifying time in the 125 and 250 classes also remains to be seen, though in the past, Race Direction has tended to err in the direction of leniency.
There's an interesting guest at Assen this weekend: Giampiero Sacchi, VP Racing for the Piaggio Group, here to watch the progress of Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano aboard Aprilia's latest superbike, the RSV4 Factory. But what is surprising the Italian journalists is that the otherwise talkative Sacchi is so uncharacteristically silent. Sacchi's reticence to talk is generating rumors, also emerging from Motegi that Aprilia is about to make a big announcement in the very near future about their vision on motorcycle racing.
What the rumors are predicting, according to two different stories on GPOne.com, one from the World Superbike round at Assen, the other from the MotoGP round at Motegi, is that Aprilia is on the verge of announcing its complete withdrawal from the 250 class from next season. The rumors have some credibility to them, as Aprilia have made no secret of their disgust at the way the decision to dump the two-stroke 250s in favor of a 600cc four-cylinder four-stroke engine was taken, with no regard for either the interests of or the suggestions made by Aprilia. But the rumors must very much be regarded as just rumors, as one of the key pieces of evidence put forward by Claudio Porozzi of GPOne.com is Sacchi's very refusal to discuss the matter.
Just a few hours after news emerged that Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the company that operates Britain's Donington Park circuit, was being sued for back rent and the forfeiture of its lease to the track, DVLL has acted to quash rumors that it stood to lose all racing at the circuit. The issue is complex, but if the Wheatcroft family, who own the track, have the lease returned for the non-payment of the GBP 2.47 million they claim they are owed, then DVLL would no longer be allowed to operate the track, and unless a company could be found to take DVLL's place, the World Superbike, MotoGP and British Superbike rounds would be in jeopardy of being canceled.
This evening, Donington Park issued a statement on the website denying that any racing would be canceled, and saying that they expected to be running "business as usual". Significantly, the statement quotes "Donington Park staff" as saying that they would be operating the track normally, and the racing would be going ahead. Normally in cases like this, such a statement would come from the CEO or Managing Director of a company, and so two possibilities exist: The most likely is that CEO Simon Gillett may have felt that a statement from himself may have created legal complications should he have to appear in court to defend the claims against the company; But an alternative - and completely unfounded, it must be said - explanation is that the staff themselves are determined to organize the racing however they can, and no matter what the management does.
It is still too early to say which side of the argument will prevail. But with Bernie Ecclestone making significant noises about withdrawing the Formula One contract from Donington, then all bets would be off, and DVLL's chances of securing an investor to stump up the estimated GPB 100 million it would require to fund the project would seem to be very remote indeed.
Practice at Motegi commenced earlier today for the MotoGP series, starting under cool and cloudy conditions. The combination of the cold temperatures and rain expected on Saturday and possible on Sunday meant that most of the teams sent their riders out on the hardest of the compounds that Bridgestone had brought to the track, as this is the tire which is thought will last race distance. The 45 minute session - the proposed return to one hour is yet to be agreed, with lap totals not settled yet - was once again dominated by Casey Stoner from the start, but the Australian Ducati rider didn't have it all his own way.
Throughout the session, Valentino Rossi whittled away at Stoner's lead, taking over top spot after the flag had fallen. But Rossi's margin was only very small, just 0.056 seconds, though it remains to be seen just how sensitive a blow the loss of top spot is to the Australian.
Yamaha and Suzuki were clearly the bikes to have, with Jorge Lorenzo taking 3rd, while Suzuki men Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi took 4th and 6th respectively, sandwiching Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards between them. James Toseland recovered some of his form, ending the day in 10th spot, slowly getting his confidence back.
Marco Melandri was once again the surprise package, setting the 8th fastest time on the Hayate / Kawasaki. If the purpose of the Hayate's form is to impress upon the Kawasaki bosses the magnitude of their mistake in pulling out of MotoGP, then Melandri's performance so far has to be rated a success.
To many MotoGP fans, the news that Donington was to lose the British Grand Prix was bad news, as many prefer Donington's flowing layout - at least, the first half of the track, before the notorious car park section - to Silverstone's relatively flat circuit. It was seen as a loss, with another classic track disappearing from the calendar.
But it may not be such a loss after all. Ever since Donington embarked upon the project to redesign the track to make it suitable for Formula One, a stream of bad news has emerged from the circuit. First of all, the track had to reschedule and postpone a number of events after complaints about the construction. The new paddock access tunnel being built between Macleans and Coppice had meant run off in that area had been severely compromised, and the situation was only rectified after Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd promised to address the problems.
Now, Donington has an even bigger problem: The owner of the track, Tom Wheatcroft, has started legal proceedings against Donington Ventures Leisure Limited for unpaid rent. Wheatcroft claims that they are owed GBP 2.47 million by DVLL, which has a 150 year lease for the track, and are demanding payment of the arrears, which dates back to September 2008. Even worse news for DVLL is that Wheatcroft is also demanding that the lease be forfeited, effectively regaining control of the circuit.
Ever since the announcement that Donington would be hosting the British Formula One Grand Prix from 2010, there have been doubts about the feasibility of the project. DVLL needed to raise GPB 100 million to fund the massive construction planned for the new track, something many people believed would prevent a challenge at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a recession.
One of the biggest changes made to the MotoGP series as a result of the cost-cutting measures introduced over the winter has been the reduction in the length of practice. The Friday morning sessions have been scrapped, and the three remaining sessions have been cut from 1 hour in length to just 45 minutes. The aim was to reduce the number of miles put on the engines, reducing the amount of maintenance the engines would require.
But the reduced practice time came under a lot of criticism at Qatar, the first time this was tried in practice. The short sessions left the riders - especially the rookies - much less track time to get used to the bikes, and put huge pressure on the teams and riders to hurry through changes to settings, without enough time to think them through properly. The Grand Prix Commission was sympathetic to these concerns, and studied proposals to fix the issues.
Now, a compromise has been found, according to Motorcycle News. The Grand Prix Commission is due to meet prior to the Motegi Grand Prix, and will approve the sessions will be extended to one hour again, to give the riders more time to get the bikes sorted out. But to enforce the object of the rules - reduced engine mileage, making the bikes last longer between engine rebuilds - a limit will be placed on the number of laps the riders will be allowed to do, depending on the length of the track, ensuring that more time does not equal more laps.
The transition from 250cc two strokes to 600cc four-stroke Moto2 bikes has been nowhere near as smooth as the move from 500cc two-stroke GP bikes to the 990cc MotoGP machines. The main culprit for the difficulty is a question of semantics, and arguments about how to define production racing. To avoid a confrontation between Infront Motor Sports, who run the World Superbike series, and Dorna, who run MotoGP, a decision has been made to make the series a single engine manufacturer series, getting round the problem of production engines altogether. Hopefully.
But while Dorna and the Grand Prix Commission examine the practicalities of the series, in the Spanish Championship (the CEV, coincidentally - or perhaps not - also run by Dorna), the Moto2 bikes have already taken to the track in anger. The LaGlisse YM2, based on a Yamaha R6, and the Blusens BQR bike, using a Honda CBR600RR powerplant, both took part in qualifying for the Formula Extreme race - a class most akin to Superstock 1000 - at the CEV season opener at Albacete, and acquitted themselves highly respectably. The LaGlisse YM2 qualified in 5th, just over 1.3 seconds off Ivan Silva's pole time, set using a Kawasaki ZX10R, while the Blusens bike set the 6th fastest time just a tenth slower than the LaGlisse bike.
Sadly, we are coming to the end of the fantastic photos Scott Jones took for MotoGPMatters.com at the opening round of MotoGP in Qatar. So enjoy the final shots, as the next race Scott will be attending will be the World Superbike round at Miller Motorsport Park in Utah at the end of May, before he makes it to the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca on the 4th of July weekend.
Colin Edwards had a strong weekend, finishing fourth in the delayed race
The photos from Qatar taken by Scott Jones have been extremely popular, just as we expected. And luckily for us, Scott still has plenty more where they came from. Below are some of Scott's photos taken during practice and qualifying, and over the next couple of days, we'll put up some more from race day. Enjoy, and stay tuned!
Nicky Hayden had an awful weekend, including a blown engine during practice
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.