Great things were expected of Marco Melandri when he switched to Ducati's MotoGP team for the 2008 season. The Italian has been a rising star on the Gresini Honda, finishing 2nd to Valentino Rossi in 2005, and scoring three victories in 2006. In the first year of the 800s, 2007, Melandri had struggled along with the rest of the Honda riders, after HRC, like the other Japanese factories, realized they had got their 800cc bikes completely wrong when faced with the raw power of the Ducati. If Casey Stoner could win so convincingly on the bike, the reasoning went, then Melandri would surely clean up completely once he got on the bike.
Rarely has a manufacturer switch turned into such a disaster. Melandri's time at Ducati was a nightmare almost from day one, the low point coming after a series of crashes at Jerez. Melandri failed completely to get to grips with the Desmosedici, despite his teammate racking up 6 victories on the machine. The Italian ended the season in 17th, and terminated his contract a year early, leaving the Ducati seat to Nicky Hayden.
That the marriage between two of the strongest brands in Italy, Valentino Rossi and Ducati, should turn into a marketing goldmine comes as no surprise. Even before Rossi's signing with Ducati was officially announced, rumors among paddock insiders suggested that Ducati had sponsors lining up to back their MotoGP program, and now that the new season is approaching, Ducati is starting to pick the fruits of that.
For yesterday, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, AMG - a high-performance subsidiary of the Mercedes Benz brand - announced that they are to enter into a marketing partnership that will see the German car manufacturer support Ducati's MotoGP project. The partnership will not produce much in the way of visible sponsorship on the bikes, for Mercedes is to be "Official Car Partner" to the program, rather than any form of main sponsor. The pair will engage in joint marketing activities, including allowing selected Mercedes owners to test ride Ducati's new Diavel machine at AMG events, while selected Ducati owners will be given the opportunity to test Mercedes vehicles.
After the debacle at Donington, where an overly ambitious plan to raise 130 million Pounds Sterling to modify the track to host Formula One was launched shortly before the credit crunch sent the global economy on a downward spiral, it was feared that international motorcycle racing would never return to the Leicestershire track. The company that was running the track was basically penniless, parts of the track had been already dug up, and East Midlands airport, which sits at one end of the track, was eying the track for extra space to expand into.
But with the track lease now back in the hands of the Wheatcroft family, who own the circuit, things have turned around at Donington. The Midlands' circuit has been brought quickly back up to standard, hosting several local car and motorcycle events, and is now ready to make a return to the international stage. That will take place on March 27th, 2011, when the World Superbike series returns to Donington for the European round of the 13 weekend series. The Wheatcroft family and Infront Motor Sports signed an agreement which will see WSBK race at Donington for the 2011 season, giving the UK two rounds of World Superbikes, along with the Silverstone round on July 31st.
Almost 7 months to the day since Valentino Rossi dislocated his shoulder in a motocross training accident, damaging vital ligaments connecting his humerus (arm bone) to his scapula (shoulder blade), the Italian has finally had surgery to correct the problem. Rossi today underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder at the Cervesi di Cattolica hospital near his Tavullia home to repair damage to the supraspinatus tendon (part of the rotator cuff group of muscles and tendons) and the glenoid ligament (the ligament that surrounds the shoulder socket and keeps the humerus or arm bone in place).
If there's one subject that makes a MotoGP fan's blood boil, it's electronics. Electronic rider aids have removed a lot of the spectacle that formerly characterized the series, controlling wheelspin and managing tire wear, turning MotoGP into a series where the front wheel is paramount and the winner is the rider who can carry the most corner speed.
The electronics consist of a battery of sensors, monitoring the location and state of the bike on the track. GPS tracks the precise position of the bike as it travels round the track; gyroscopes monitor its attitude; accelerometers measure the forces being exerted through corners; and a range of engine and wheel sensors monitor wheel speed, engine speed, throttle position and a multitude of other parameters. All this data is fed into (for Yamaha and Ducati, at least) the Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 ECU, which then translates all that information into an engine mapping perfectly matched to the conditions on the track.
While the crash at Motegi in which Dani Pedrosa broke his left collarbone was unfortunate, the aftermath has turned out to be much more difficult than expected. Pedrosa flew home from Japan on the Saturday, and underwent surgery to have a plate fitted to his collarbone. The Spaniard then attempted to race two weeks' later at Phillip Island, but that proved too much to ask of his recently repaired shoulder.
More worryingly, when Pedrosa tried to race at both Estoril and Valencia, a month after breaking his collarbone, the Repsol Honda rider was still reporting problems with his left arm. Pedrosa reported losing both strength and sensation in the arm, his arm going numb after a number of laps racing, but also even when he was asleep. The worst case scenario could have been that Pedrosa had suffered nerve or artery damage during the accident, and this was causing him the problems. Nerve damage, in particular, could potentially have ended his career.
Pedrosa underwent two days of tests to check for such damage earlier this week, and the good news is that no damage was found. The numbness and weakness that Pedrosa reported were merely the result of swelling from the damage caused by his injury. The Spaniard should not require any further surgery to correct the problem, with a period of rest and recuperation prescribed to solve the problem.
With the 2010 season now long gone, the line up for the next World Superbike season is nearing completion. The biggest gap in the line up so far was the empty seat in the Ten Kate Honda garage, alongside Ulsterman Johnny Rea. There had been some speculation that Ten Kate would field only a single bike in the 2011 WSBK championship, after HANNSpree pulled out of the title sponsorship role, but that speculation appears to have been premature.
For Ten Kate announced yesterday that Ruben Xaus is to take the second ride for the Dutch Honda team, taking the place of Max Neukirchner, who departs to ride the MZ in Moto2. Xaus had been dropped from the BMW squad after a difficult year full - rather unsurprisingly, given Xaus' reputation - of crashes. Reading between the lines of the press release, it is clear that Xaus has been brought in to a development role, helping to bring on a Honda CBR1000RR that many observers believed had suffered a lack of development during the 2010 season.
... But it's going to cost you! Fortunately, your hard-earned cash will end up doing untold good for Riders for Health.
For the past 18 months or so, Don Emde has been building a unique Yamaha YZF-R1. With the assistance of Valentino Rossi and his designer Aldo Drudi, as well as a host of motorcycling greats such as Roland Sands Design, Yamaha USA, Ohlins, Akrapovic, AGV and many more (see this page for a full list of the people behind the project), the former Daytona 200 winner has created a one-off Yamaha painted with Valentino Rossi's "Five Continents" helmet design. To top it all, the bike has been signed by Valentino Rossi himself.
To get one important question out of the way first (I'll come to The Big Question later), Ducati will be running a big bang engine next year. Nicky Hayden said he preferred the feel of it, Filippo Preziosi said that the Screamer had "good potential" - code, in case you haven't guessed, for being very rough around the edges - but the big bang does what it is supposed to do: give the rider great feedback.
The Screamer vs Big Bang decision was what the Valencia tests were ostensibly about before Valentino Rossi turned a wheel on the track, but with the Italian legend ending day one in 10th, and day two in 15th, all that changed. While the man who had left Ducati to ride for Honda was scorching around on day one, then setting the fastest time on day two, Valentino Rossi, who had taken Casey Stoner's place in Ducati, was wobbling around at the rear.
Just as we did yesterday, here's the round of press releases from the official test at Valencia, the final day of the test. As both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner are under contract to teams other than the ones they were riding for, there's no rider quotes from them. Stoner spoke to the press separately afterwards (more on that later), while Filippo Preziosi reported on Rossi's feeling on the Ducati Desmosedici. Below are the press releases, and a full list of times is here:
LORENZO AND SPIES WRAP UP SUCCESSFUL VALENCIA OFFICIAL MOTOGP TEST
Day two of the Valencia test started under better conditions than yesterday, allowing Yamaha Factory Racing riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies a full morning's riding in the Spanish sunshine. Both riders had completed their testing schedule by the lunchtime break, giving the Yamaha engineers enough data to work over the winter break for the first of the 2011 tests in Sepang at the end of January.
Combined times from both days of the Valencia MotoGP test:
Final times from testing at Valencia:
Times from 2:50pm, with a large amount of work already done on the test: