The weather has changed overnight here at Assen, the sun hidden behind a thin layer of gray clouds. Temperatures are a good deal cooler than yesterday, and there's plenty of moisture in the air, but it doesn't look like it's going to rain. The 125s have just taken to the track for FP1, and the crowds are already starting to wander in.
The forecast is that it will stay overcast for the rest of the day, but the rain should hold off. Tomorrow is a different story, with a good chance of rain falling some time in the afternoon. Whether that's before, during or after the MotoGP race remains to be seen.
The last lap at Barcelona was one for the ages, with the lead swapping four times before the flag finally fell. In the post-race press conference with Casey Stoner, the subject of that pass almost inevitably came up, as Stoner passed Rossi in exactly the same place in 2007. Ever forthright in his opinion, Stoner was clear about how Rossi's victory came about. "It was a silly mistake by Jorge," Stoner said. "He was just that confident that he had it in the bag, that he braked too early. Even where he braked, I brake later than that. If you get a little bit better run up there, it's so easy just to run it up inside. You saw it was an easy pass."
"Jorge braked earlier than he had been braking all race. I was behind him earlier, and he was braking much later than that then." But Stoner didn't expect Lorenzo to make the same mistake in the future. "He was just thinking about getting a run for the line. But Jorge learns, and he'll learn from this mistake."
Alvaro Bautista took control of the first session of free practice for the 250cc class late on in the session, after Marco Simoncelli stood in top spot for much of the first half of the session. Bautista had to hold off a storming Hector Barbera, Barbera coming up just under 2/10ths short of his fellow Spaniard's time. Mike di Meglio finished the session 3rd fastest, putting the Aspar bikes in 1st and 3rd places on the timesheets. Fresh from his announcement of signing for the Gresini Honda team, Marco Simoncelli could only managed the 7th fastest time, over a second behind his title rival Bautista.
But much of the excitement in the session focused around the Team Toth pit box. After reports of unpaid bills, and promises of bank transfers, the Toth bikes stayed eerily silent for the first half of the session, the bikes stuck firmly inside the garage. It was only at the halfway mark that Pasini took to the track, followed shortly after by team mate Imre Toth, a last-minute deal finally being reached to solve the problem. The episode seemed to provide Mattia Pasini with a great deal of motivation, for the Italian was up into the top 3 within a few laps, finishing the session in 5th spot behind Alex Debon.
Results of the 250cc FP1:
Randy de Puniet was the surprise leader at the end of the first session of practice for the MotoGP class. The Frenchman pipped Valentino Rossi in the final seconds of FP1 to take over the lead, consolidating his run of strong results over recent weeks.
The session had been dominated by the Yamahas from the opening minutes, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo taking it in turns at the top of the timesheets. But just before the halfway mark, an interloper stole the top spot, Colin Edwards bringing the times under the mid-1'38 mark. Edwards' time held for 10 minutes or so, at which point the injured but still fast Dani Pedrosa took over the top spot with a lap of 1'38.194.
With quarter of the session left, Rossi and Lorenzo took to the track again, and dropped under the mark set by Pedrosa, Rossi breaking into the 1'37s. Despite the best efforts of Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, they could not best Rossi's time, and it was left to De Puniet and the LCR Honda to topple Rossi from the top of the standings.
Stoner did manage to beat Jorge Lorenzo's time, taking 3rd spot behind De Puniet and Rossi, but the order of the top 3 is almost irrelevant. Just 0.03 of a second separates De Puniet in 1st from Stoner in 3rd. Less than 2/10ths behind Stoner, Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso are similary very close. In fact, the top half of the field is close, the first 11 riders separated by just 0.653 seconds.
James Toseland had a strong start to the session, and finished a respectable 9th, better than he has done recently, while Nicky Hayden was back as second fastest Ducati, edging out Mika Kallio in 12th place. Fastest Ducati or not, 12th position is not where Hayden really wants to be.
Julian Simon leads the first free practice session for the 125cc class at Assen, as is his custom. But the Bancaja Aspar didn't reach that top spot until the very end of the session. Nicolas Terol, Bradley Smith and Sergio Gadea took it in turns to nudge him off the top every time Simon set the fastest time.
Behind Simon, Gadea, Terol and Smith were closely bunched, with British rider Danny Webb setting the 5th fastest time, a result that will surely please his sponsors, Dutch engineering firm De Graaf. Marc Marquez was first KTM in 6th, his team mate Cameron Beaubier only managing the 21st fastest time, just behind the other British rider in the 125cc grid, Scott Redding.
Results of 125cc FP1:
Good news for MotoGP fans in Australia. From 2010, all MotoGP races will be broadcast live on the ONE channel owned by Network Ten. The deal covers all classes, which means that 125s, the new Moto2 class and MotoGP races will be shown live on Network Ten's free-to-air 24 hour sports channel. ONE will show all MotoGP races, highlights of the 125 and Moto2 races, as well as qualifying practice. The channel will also broadcast a pre-race show hosted by Greg Rust and former 500cc star Darryl Beattie.
The races will also be shown delayed or simulcast on the network's TEN channel, after Sunday night prime time. The deal came about partly as a result of a resurgence in interest in the class thanks to Casey Stoner's world championship and continued success in the series.
The sun is out at Assen this Thursday morning, and the prospects are for good weather. A large crowd of fans have already thronged the pit lane walk, gawking at the bikes put out on display. Identifying the Fiat Yamaha garages or the Repsol Honda garages was simple: They were the ones which you had to squeeze through the crowds. For those with a fetish for two strokes, the pickings were much richer: bikes were out on display and in the pits being fettled.
On the subject of two strokes, the Team Toth pit was open, and Pasini's Aprilia RSA was being assembled. Word in the paddock is that Toth has given Aprilia assurances that the outstanding funds will be paid, and Aprilia will allow the bike to be scrutineered. Whether Pasini will be allowed to race or not depends on the promised bank transfers actually taking place.
The stands are slowly filling up, and hordes of pasty-faced Northern Europeans are working on acquiring that lobster tint which Assen so often seems to produce. The heat and sun is great for the riders, though, as they face the prospect of getting another three full hours of practice in, uninterrupted by rain. The only factor they will have to deal with is the win, as a stiff breeze is coming in from the north east, hitting the bikes fully in the flank as they line up for the GT chicane.
Race day is likely to be different. They say it's going to rain at some point, but the quesion is when. If the riders are lucky, then it will hold off until the race is over, and only rain on the fans as they head for home.
Mattia Pasini has had a few rough years recently, and things don't seem to be getting any better. His last year in the 125 championship with Polaris World was plagued by engine breakdowns and mechanical problems, producing the entertaining spectacle of the Italian administering a thorough kicking to his factory-spec Aprilia. Then at the end his debut 250 year, the Polaris World team folded as a result of the financial crisis, and the demand for holiday homes in Spain collapsed.
2009 was looking much more promising, especially after the Italian took victory at Mugello once Marco Simoncelli had taken both himself and Alvaro Bautista out of the equation. But at Catalunya, trouble emerged, in the shape of money problems. Rumors surfaced of unpaid bills to Aprilia by Team Toth, and that Aprilia would be demanding its Aprilia RSA back. At Assen, the prominent Italian site GPOne.com reported that Aprilia has impounded Pasini's Aprilia RSA over the unpaid fees, and that Pasini will not be riding here on Saturday.
Imre Toth, team manager of the eponymous team, has denied everything to the Hungarian press. His response to the Hungarian website Motogphirek.hu when confronted with the allegations was "Whaaaat!!!" Toth told the Hungarian website that he expected to start the races as normal this weekend.
We at MotoGPMatters.com are very excited about electric motorcycle races, as we wrote just a couple of weeks ago on the subject of the TTXGP. Oil is an incredibly useful resource - almost every object in your home is made using at least some parts made from it - and burning the stuff seems like sacrilege, however satisfying the resulting noise and smell may be. The day is drawing near that oil will become too expensive to burn, and some form of alternative energy supply will have to be found. Racing, in the form of a motorcycle race for electric machines, can help bring that day closer.
Evidently, the FIM agrees. For today, the International Motorcycling Federation announced that they will sanction a race series for electric motorcycles in 2010. The move has been prompted by the success of the TTXGP race which took place during the week of the TT on the Isle of Man, where the winning entry lapped the historic Mountain course at an average of over 87 miles per hour, and three other entries lapped at over 70 miles per hour.
The advent of a series for electric motorcycles was inevitable, as prototypes are only a few years away from hitting mass production. Once that happens, and if they manage to sell enough units, the subject of homolgation for the World Superbike series would have been raised, and the FIM would have been faced with the problem of working out how to compare them with the existing four-stroke Superbikes. By creating a separate series for electric bikes, that problem is neatly sidestepped. And if the rules are similar to those for the TTXGP, this could be the most open motorcycle racing class currently running, and a real hotbed of innovation.
The first part of the 2010 MotoGP rookie puzzle fell into place today at Assen. In a press conference, Fausto Gresini, owner of the eponymous MotoGP team announced that Marco Simoncelli had signed a one-year deal with the team for 2010. Gresini will have one factory RC212V again next year, and Marco Simoncelli must be the odds-on favorite to get that ride. But the competition will be fierce, as Gresini is also said to be pursuing Marco Melandri, while Spanish rider Hector Barbera is believed to be chasing the Gresini Honda rider.
While Simoncelli's talent is undeniable, the press release also highlighted another aspect of the young Italian. Simoncelli is highly marketable in Italy, and the Simoncelli deal was announced together with the extension of Gresini's deal with Italian snack manufacturer San Carlo, who will be staying with the team for 2010 as well. "Marco has shown over the past couple of years that he has the ability to be a major force in the premier class, as well as being a great communicator," Gresini said. Simoncelli's bubbly personality and outlandish hairdo make the Italian instantly recognizable and a huge hit with the fans.
Gresini also underlined that Honda also had a hand in the deal. "Honda rates Simoncelli highly, and believes he is a rider with great potential for the future, so Honda is very pleased that we are welcoming Simoncelli next season," Gresini said. With the so-called rookie rule preventing class newcomers from joining a factory team in their first year, the factories are having to find more indirect ways of securing the services of promising rookies.
Exciting times lie ahead for MotoGPMatters.com. We will be reporting live from the next four rounds of MotoGP, starting with Saturday's race at Assen. David Emmett (aka Kropotkin) will be bringing you news and reports from Assen, Sachsenring and Donington, while Scott Jones will be sending back reports and his magnificent photographs from Laguna Seca.
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Ask someone to describe the landscape of Holland, and they won't usually need more than a single word. "Flat" is the adjective most commonly used in relation to The Netherlands, as anyone who has ever made the trek from Amsterdam up to Assen will acknowledge. Heading southeast out of Amsterdam, past the wooded wealth of Hilversum and 't Gooi, then turning northeast at Amersfoort to head through the heart of Holland's bible belt - Putten, Nunspeet, Staphorst - then past Zwolle, and north to Assen, the countryside may vary - the open fields surrounded by canals east of Diemen, the closely-wooded villas of Hilversum, the thin, sandy soil of the pine woods which form the Veluwe national park - but the inclination rarely does.
The irony is that for most of the trip, you are actually traveling uphill. Along the course of the 180 kilometers from Amsterdam to Assen, you will have gained a full 9 meters of elevation. If you picked up a hire car at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, you can almost double that figure, climbing from 4 meters below sea level to nearly 12 at the TT circuit in Assen. As paltry as that difference may seem, it betrays a fundamental difference between Holland's coastal region and its more ancient northern towns, and the heart of Dutch motorcycle racing.
The area surrounding Amsterdam truly is flat: reclaimed from the sea and inland lakes just a few hundred years ago, the land and will barely trouble a spirit level. But as you head north and east, you leave the reclaimed land behind and venture into The Netherlands' glacial past. To the naked eye the land seems as flat as ever, if a little less neatly ordered, but the soil was dumped here by retreating glaciers many thousands of years ago, and then covered by peat bogs and dissected by a maze of creeks, brooks and channels, trickling water away towards the newly returned North Sea.
The World Is Flat
This long and ancient history has added a richness of texture to the land which is absent further west, a texture which lies at the heart of Assen's TT Circuit. At first glance it too is flat, but as you ride around it, you start to understand, even feel its history. Though the peat bogs and creeks have been drained, they have left their mark indelibly on the landscape. The track rises and falls subtly, sudden dips combining with the harsh camber of certain stretches of the track to generate a synergy aimed at unsettling even the most perfectly setup of bikes and ruining any chance of a smooth line through Assen's many tire-blistering corners.
Those rises and dips are almost entirely absent from the new North Loop, barely just scar tissue over the memory of its former glory, but once out of the horrifically tight Strubben hairpin, you plunge back through time onto the older part of the track, and ancient geology starts nudging and jolting the bike as once it used to. Down the Veenslang (or Peat Snake, though now one pulled taut, its former sinewy course straightened) and into the Ruskenhoek, the track is still smooth, though the camber starts to return. But once through the Stekkenwal and the fast left at De Bult, the old track regains its full vitality and history is made flesh, or rather asphalt again.
The proposal to allow MotoGP riders just a single bike is close to being dropped, according to Carmelo Ezpeleta, head of Dorna. Under the proposal, each MotoGP rider would be allowed to have just one bike prepared and scrutineered for each weekend, instead of the current situation, in which they each have two bikes. Speaking to the Spanish radio station Onda Cero, he said "The idea of the single bike has just about been ruled out, mainly because of the success of the flag-to-flag rule, which we saw again at Le Mans and Mugello. I believe that the riders will have two bikes next season." But, he added, "It's not up to me."
The demise of the single bike proposal has been widely rumored over the past few months. The underlying premise of the idea was that the extra bikes which became available could be used to increase the size of the grid, but none of the manufacturers is inclined to increase their presence on the grid. Both Yamaha and Suzuki have flat out rejected any pressure on them to provide more machines, and Ducati is similarly inclined.
So far, only Honda has given any indication that it may provide more bikes for next season, with the fate of the Scot Honda team, where Yuki Takahashi and Gabor Talmacsi are currently sharing two bikes between them, likely to tip Honda's hand. Scot Honda team boss Cirano Mularoni is currently trying to squeeze at least one extra bike out of Honda for the rest of the season, and the response to his request will be indicative of Honda's attitude to provding more bikes.
The reason for the manufacturers' reluctance to provide more bikes if the single bike proposal were to be adopted is that for the factories, a large part of the costs of supplying bikes is in supplying the accompanying engineers to liaise between the teams and the factories. They may make savings on producing and maintaining extra parts, but these would likely be outweighed by the extra costs in personnel.
Technology is a curious thing. Like a wildly spinning top, it veers in a thousand directions, knocking everything it comes across out of its path and sending them flying off at a million tangents. It is as contagious as the common cold, and just as variable; as easy to control as a herd of eels; and as predictable as a ping-pong ball in a hurricane. Take any given technology and chart its progress, and twenty years later, it is doing something unimaginably different from the aims of the people who conceived.
This is the underlying lesson to be drawn from Mat Oxley's latest book, Stealing Speed. The book tells the story of how the two-stroke engine came to dominate motorcycle racing, and of the two men who brought about that immense change. They both changed the course of history and were swept up in events even more momentous, bringing about the ruin of one motorcycle manufacturer, the rise of another, while driving a third almost to the brink of madness in its stubborn resistance to the tide of history. The tale revolves around two men, Walter Kaaden and Ernst Degner, one the man who turned two-stroke engines from discarded relics into high-powered racing machines, the other the brave recruit who raced them, then turned traitor and sold the technology to the Japanese.
Kaaden took three ideas and combined them into a magic formula for the two-stroke engine. The first, he took from one of the grimmest weapons of the Second World War, the V1 rocket or doodlebug. The rocket used a pulse jet engine, basically a series of controlled explosions in a specially-shaped chamber producing thrust, and Kaaden's time spent at the German rocket base of Peenemunde at the end of World War II as a test engineer laid the germ of an idea which he used when he returned to producing motorcycles with IFA (formerly the DKW factory, before it was taken over by the communists after German partition). Here, Kaaden discarded the old megaphone exhausts previously used on two strokes, and set about designing and building the expansion chamber, using the same physics of resonant harmonics he had learnt while working on the V1's rocket propulsion.
The World Superbike circus came to Misano on Italy's Adriatic coast hoping for sun, sea and speed, but this weekend, they got plenty more than that. The heat and humidity was scorching on Friday, turning showery on Saturday, only to start with a downpour on race day.
The rain had fallen heavily all morning, but as the riders headed out at noon for race 1, the rain had just about stopped and the World Superbike series was set to see the first time its flag-to-flag rules would be put into effect. The dash into the pits to swap bikes always guarantees plenty of spectacle, but the action started even before the race had gotten underway. Johnny Rea's Ten Kate Honda developed a fueling glitch on the sighting lap, and the Ulsterman was forced to hitch a lift back to the pits from his team mate, Ryuichi Kiyonari, an act which would cost them both a ride-through penalty later on, and forced Rea to start from pit lane. Then on the warm up lap, an electronics glitch caused Troy Corser to flip his BMW S1000RR, ruling himself out of the race before it had even started.
When the red lights did finally dim it was Shane Byrne who led into Turn 1, taking Jakub Smrz and Ben Spies with him. Byrne, who has had a difficult year so far on the Sterilgarda Ducati, was clearly in his element in the wet, and was rapidly heading off into the distance. By the end of the first lap, the reigning British Superbike champion had a lead of over 2 seconds which had grown to nearly 17 seconds by the halfway mark.
Behind Byrne, Jakub Smrz was also at ease in the wet conditions, not able to match Shakey's blistering pace but faster than those that followed, leaving Ben Spies and Michel Fabrizio trailing in his wake. Spies was clearly less comfortable in the wet conditions, Fabrizio quickly getting past the Texan in the very wet early laps, but as the track started to dry, the Texan picked up his pace and got back on the tail of the Xerox Ducati.