The fears that the MotoGP grid would once again be short of full strength at Estoril have been allayed, at least for the time being, with the news that Loris Capirossi is to attempt to race in Portugal, despite the pain from his fractured foot. The veteran Italian is far from healthy, with a torn adductor muscle in his leg and multiple fractures in his right foot, but Capirossi heads to Estoril hoping that he will be able to race despite his injuries. In a statement in the Rizla Suzuki press release, Capirossi said that the fractured cuboid and metatarsal in his foot should not be an issue, as he had ridden with the injured foot at Phillip Island. The bigger question mark is over the Italian's thigh muscle, which ruled him out of the race in Australia.
With the 2010 season already over, the 2011 World Superbike grid is gradually starting to take shape, with most of the seats filled, despite a host of riders involved in WSBK's version of musical chairs. One name who appeared to have been left standing as the music started to wind down was double WSBK champion James Toseland. The British rider had returned to World Superbikes this season from MotoGP with the factory Sterilgarda Yamaha squad, but Toseland had not adapted fast enough to WSBK to retain his seat for next season, and was looking to be out of a job for 2011.
The perilous state of the MotoGP grid has long been a topic of conversation among MotoGP fans. The grid threatened to drop to just 15 bikes earlier this year, but intervention from Dorna allowed Pramac to keep running two machines instead of dropping to one, and a sponsorship boost from Repsol helped Honda field three riders in its factory team, freeing up space at Gresini for Hiroshi Aoyama.
That still leaves the grid at just 17 bikes, however: six Hondas (three Repsols, two Gresinis and one LCR), six Ducatis (two Marlboro factory bikes, two Pramac bikes, one Aspar bike and one Cardion bike for Karel Abraham), four Yamahas (the factory squad and Tech 3) and a solitary Suzuki, Rizla having pulled out and the factory unwilling to run two machines. This is a long way from Dorna's ideal grid size of 24 bikes, but as long as the manufacturers control the technical rules, there is little hope that this might change any time soon.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Moto2 championship has been the rise to the forefront of some complete unknowns, in terms of riders, teams and manufacturers. While 2010 champion Toni Elias was the rider most widely tipped for the title at the start of the season, very few people expected Simone Corsi, Jules Cluzel or the sadly lamented Shoya Tomizawa to be such a regular feature at the front of the grid. Likewise, the Aspar and Gresini teams were expected to do well, while the names of Marc VDS Racing and Technomag were completely unheard of.
Likewise, the names of many of the bikes on the grid were unfamiliar. Though Suter's name was known from the Swiss designer's work on the Kawasaki and Ilmor MotoGP bikes, and Moriwaki is a very famous name in Superbikes and Endurance racing, the likes of FTR and Kalex were virtually unknown. For FTR, their relative obscurity belied their long involvement in the sport, the Buckinghamshire-based engineering firm having produced parts for teams in MotoGP and World Superbikes for many years, but with Andrea Iannone winning on a rebranded FTR, and Alex Debon and Karel Abraham scoring podiums on the bike, the British firm has put its name firmly in the spotlights.
Preparations for next year are starting to get into gear, with testing for 2011 already underway. After wrapping up his World Superbike season, Cal Crutchlow got his first outing on Yamaha's MotoGP bike at the Fukuroi test track in Japan, as he got ready to move into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad for 2011. The elements did not look kindly on Crutchlow, however, most of the test taking place in the wet, though the young Briton also got a few laps in under relatively dry conditions. Crutchlow will be hoping for better conditions at Valencia, for the first official outing on the Yamaha M1. He will not be alone, as the Valencia post-race test will also see Valentino Rossi's first outing on the Ducati and Casey Stoner's first test on the Honda.
2010 World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu is also preparing for his move to Moto2 next year, by testing the Technomag Suter machine at Albacete in Spain on Monday. The Turkish rider will be competing in the last two races of the year, at Estoril and Valencia, before making a full-time switch for next season. Sofuoglu is believed to be close to a permanent deal with the Technomag squad for 2011, though several other teams have also shown an interest in the Turk.
Further confirmation - if any was needed - that Valentino Rossi will be taking his entire crew with him to Ducati when he leaves. After Jeremy Burgess told Henny Ray Abrams at Phillip Island that he will be leaving Yamaha with Rossi, Rossi's mechanic Alex Briggs finally came clean on his Twitter page: "Next year I will be working at Ducati with the rider & all the gang. The choice was easy & made months ago."
Briggs had spent the last couple of months fending off a barrage of questions about his future on Twitter, as the amiable Australian has been a fervent and fascinating user of the social networking site, interacting eagerly with his 6000+ followers. Once Burgess had finally let his guard slip, Briggs could no longer keep up the pretense. In a further post, Briggs added some more detail about his decision to move:
The dates of the official tests for the World Superbike series were announced today by Infront Motorsports, the organizers of WSBK. The locations of the two official tests are no surprise: the first three-day test is to be held at Portimao, on Portugal's Algarve coast, from January 26th through 28th, 2011. The Portimao circuit is a favorite with most of the riders, and a big backer of the series, supporting the Parkalgar Honda team in World Supersport. The second test will take place at Phillip Island, on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd of February, two days before the 2011 season opener at the Australian circuit.
The two official tests will not be the only times at which the World Superbike teams will be able to test, however. An unofficial test is scheduled for later in the month, from October 27th to the 29th, at which a large part of the grid is due to take place. New Sterilgarda Yamaha signing Marco Melandri will have to wait for another two weeks, though, as the Aragon test falls directly before the Portuguese MotoGP round at Estoril. Melandri will test the Yamaha at Valencia, on the Thursday after the MotoGP round.
MotoGP's silly season is almost at an end, with only a few loose ends left to tie up. The names of the riders are all known now, though contracts remain to be signed and announcements to be made, as the final details of deals are hammered out among the various parties.
While Honda's factory line up has been known for a couple of months now, the exact line up and organization has remained unclear. HRC had three riders under contract to ride in the factory team, with Casey Stoner joining Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa for 2011, but there was some doubt about the way the trio would be organized. At Aragon, HRC Marketing Director Livio Suppo told MotoMatters.com that there would be four factory Honda riders for 2011: Stoner, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, who also has a contract with HRC directly. After talks failed to tempt another sponsor in to run Casey Stoner in a separate team, Honda put pressure on Andrea Dovizioso to take a seat in the San Carlo Gresini Honda team alongside Simoncelli, with the promise of full factory support in the Gresini squad.
The three flyaway races at Motegi, Sepang and Phillip Island on three consecutive weekends have taken their toll on the grid, with Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa missing all three races after fracturing a collarbone at Motegi, and Rizla Suzuki's Loris Capirossi ruled out of the Phillip Island MotoGP race due to a torn muscle suffered during qualifying, adding to a fractured foot and ankle from a crash at Sepang. Pedrosa is almost certain to rejoin the grid at Estoril in 10 days' time, but Loris Capirossi is now looking doubtful for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Reports from Italy are saying that further injuries have been discovered in Capirossi's injured ankle. The Italian veteran underwent a medical examination on his return home to Monaco, where an MRI scan revealed a fracture in his heel as well as microfracture in the 4th metatarsal bone in his foot. Though Capirossi is said to be determined to do whatever it takes to race in Portugal, the injuries are such that racing that soon could be impossible. Capirossi will undergo another examination by the medical staff of the Estoril circuit, who will decide whether Capirossi is fit to race or not.
If the news that Valentino Rossi was going to switch to Ducati for the 2011 MotoGP season was the worst-kept secret in the paddock, the fate of Jerry Burgess and the rest of Rossi's pit crew was probably the best-kept secret. Although it was widely expected that Burgess would follow Rossi to Ducati, all questions on the subject put to the Australian and the rest of the crew were met with a positively sphinx-like silence. Even hardened paddock veterans couldn't get a straight answer out of Burgess, Briggs, Ansiau, Stephens or any of the other members of Rossi's entourage.
Until now, that is. In a forthright interview with veteran US journalist Henny Ray Abrams over on the website of Sport Rider magazine, Burgess finally comes clean about his intention to move to Ducati along with Rossi. His reasoning was simple: the timeframe for Rossi's career fits in perfectly with Burgess' own plans. Rossi, currently 31, is likely to race in MotoGP for another 3 to 4 years, before moving off to race elsewhere, most probably in the World Rally Championship. Burgess is currently 57, and Rossi's retirement from the sport would come at about the time that Burgess himself would be looking at retiring.
When the 125cc class is replaced by the 250cc Moto3 class in 2012, the last of the two strokes will disappear from the Grand Prix paddock. The demise of the 125cc two-strokes was largely down to lack of manufacturer interest: KTM had pulled out at the end of the 2009 season, Honda has not supported a factory effort for several years now, leaving only Aprilia on the grid, along with the Derbi-badged clones. In the hope of reducing costs and attracting more manufacturers to the class, the decision was made to switch to 250cc four-stroke singles, with a cap on the price the engines are to be sold for.
So far, the change has aroused the interest of the Japanese manufacturers, with Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki all rumored to be building a Moto3 engine, and now, Austrian manufacturer KTM could be interested in making a return to the smallest Grand Prix class, with Belgian MX magazine MotocrossMag reporting that KTM is looking at producing a specially tuned version of its SX-F 250 engine for use in Moto3. In its current form, as used for motocross racing, the engine produces in the region of 40hp, and with the addition of several specially lightened parts, the engine could be made to rev higher and produce more power, while still staying under the 10,000 euro maximum selling price.
Although at first glance, the most important motorcycle racing even taking place over the weekend was the Australian MotoGP round at Phillip Island, a far more significant race was taking place in Macau, China. There, 98 of the 101 federations that compose the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme, motorcycling's governing body) met to elect a new president. The choice facing the assembled national federations was between the current president Vito Ippolito and French candidate Jean-Pierre Mougin. The final election saw Ippolito collect 55 votes to Mougin's 41, gaining reelection for another four-year term.
After a seemingly endless holdout, and countless rumors of an imminent signing, Aprilia have finally announced a new deal with 2010 World Superbike champion Max Biaggi. The deal had been long anticipated, and the announcement was expected to come at Aprilia's special championship celebration, which took place at Noale on Saturday, but was delayed until after the weekend so as not to get snowed under in a deluge of news from this weekend's MotoGP round at Phillip Island. And so the announcement finally came on Monday.
The deal sees Biaggi remain with Aprilia for the next two season, meaning that the Roman Emperor intends to be racing until he the age of 41. There had been some speculation that Biaggi had decided to retire, but the most important factor behind his decision to renew is the fact that Aprilia are keeping the team together, which is based around the team that helped the Roman to his four 250cc World Championships. If Biaggi wins the title again in 2011, it would make him the oldest World Superbike champion ever, taking that honor from Troy Bayliss.
Below is the text of the press release from Aprilia:
It was an open secret for some time, but now it has been officially announced: Mika Kallio is to leave the Pramac team with immediate effect, and miss the last two races of the season at Estoril and Valencia. Speculation has been rife all year about problems for Kallio, including reports of personal problems in the Finnish media. The press release and Kallio put the Finnish rider's problems down to a nagging shoulder injury that Kallio picked up in a crash at Le Mans, earlier this year. Kallio is to return to Finland from Australia and seek treatment for his shoulder, in preparation for next season, which will probably find him in Moto2.