The first qualifying practice for the World Superbike class saw Michel Fabrizio take provisional pole, the Italian Ducati rider continuing his run of form in practice. Unlike previous sessions, however, Fabrizio did not dominate the session entirely. Fabrizio stood atop the timesheets for the first 40 minutes, but with 18 minutes to go, Johnny Rea leapt ahead of the Italian, the HANNSpree Ten Kate rider the first man to dislodge the Xerox Ducati from the top spot.
It did not last, however, as 10 minutes later, Fabrizio was back again, and half a second faster than his previous best. Fabrizio would not be bested again during the session. Johnny Rea hung on to 2nd, but on his very final lap, Yamaha's Ben Spies shot up the standings from 16th to set the 3rd fastest time. The Yamahas had been languishing outside the top 10 for nearly all the session, but in the dying minutes both Spies and team mate Tom Sykes found a serious improvement. While Spies' time was good enough for a provisional front row, Sykes advanced from 15th up to 8th.
Leon Haslam occupies the last place on the provisional front row, the Stiggy Honda man much improved from Monza. Shinya Nakano heads up the 2nd row on the Aprilia, ahead of Xerox Ducati's Nori Haga and Jakub Smrz on the Guandalini Ducati, with Tom Sykes finishing up the row. Haga is still not at 100%, and has not yet made much of an impression during practice, but he still has two days to go before the race, and he is comfortably on course to make it into Superpole.
The replacement riders were a little more off the pace during the afternoon session, Sheridan Morais the best of them in 12th place, and well ahead of his temporary team mate Broc Parkes, while Gregorio Lavilla finished in 13th, 0.001 behind Morais.
The first session of free practice at Le Mans was eagerly awaited by a lot of the MotoGP riders, as it would see a return to the full one hour length. The original decision to cut practice to just 45 minutes was reversed at a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Jerez, and Le Mans was to be the first chance to take full advantage of the extra practice time. The weather gods thought otherwise, though, the rain and drizzle making conditions difficult for the last 25 minutes of the session, the track too dry for a wet setup, and too wet for slicks. The rain eased up slightly with 10 minutes to go, only to start again a couple of minutes later.
At the end of the confused session, it was Andrea Dovizioso who topped the timesheets, deposing Casey Stoner with half the session left. But it had taken Casey Stoner 25 minutes to take the top spot, the Australian going out for very short runs before coming back into the pits. Local boy Randy de Puniet made his bid for immortality by leading the session early on, finally finishing in 3rd place.
With the rain disrupting so much of the session, it is hard to draw any conclusions from the times set so far. We shall have to wait until tomorrow, and a couple more full hours of practice and qualifying before we know just how the relative strengths of the field stand.
Results of MotoGP FP1 at Le Mans:
|3||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'36.293||0.157||0.099|
|16||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'38.323||2.187||0.291|
Free practice for the World Supersport class saw a return to the pattern we expected before the start of the season, with the Ten Kate riders at the top of the timesheets. Benefiting from being the only Supersport riders to have tested here back in December, Kenan Sofuoglu led the first half of the session, relieved by team mate Andrew Pitt in the second half of the session. Behind the Ten Kate riders, Cal Crutchlow was 3rd fastest, taking over the position from Eugene Laverty in the last third of the session. Once again, the local riders were impressive, with South African Rob Portman setting the 12th fastest time of the session. And Eugene Laverty's brother Michael had a solid debut, beating one of his team mates, but still 0.7 behind the other. Practice continues this afternoon.
Results of World Supersport FP1 at Kyalami
Result of the first session of free practice for the 125 class at Le Mans:
Practice started on a damp track, the overnight rain not yet having cleared, but the sun and wind soon dried out the track, leaving only a couple of puddles, one of which caught Nico Terol out, crashing as he passed under the Dunlop Bridge, the shade just enough to leave standing water.
The usual suspects ended the session on top, Andrea Iannone leading the Aspar bikes of Julian Simon and Sergio Gadea. Bradley Smith struggled for some of the session, before finishing in 5th spot, while fellow Brits Scott Redding and Danny Webb finished in 11th and 16th respectively. American Cameron Beaubier was two places behind in 18th.
The Haojue bikes continue to struggle, neither Michi Ranseder nor Matthew Hoyle managing to qualify. The paddock also welcomed a female rider, French wildcard rider Ornella Ongaro. Ongaro was just outside the qualifying time, but should be able to find enough to get on the grid. Ongaro is the first of a pair of female wildcards in world championship series, with Melissa Paris due to run at Miller Motorsports park as a wildcard in two weeks' time.
Results of FP1:
Results of the World Superbike FP1 session at Kyalami:
The session got off to a bad start, with Regis Laconi crashing on the first lap, causing the session to be red flagged. Once the session got underway again, Michel Fabrizio picked up where he left off, almost immediately taking the lead with a big gap back to the next man, team mate Noriyuki Haga. Haga chipped away at Fabrizio's lead, but the Italian stood very firmly at the top of the standings.
It was only towards the end of the session that riders started to make an impression on Fabrizio, with Carlos Checa, Johnny Rea, and Leon Haslam all getting within 1/10th of a second of the Italian. Shane Byrne finally started setting results more in keeping with his status as BSB champion, the Briton finishing 6th fastest, just 0.431 off Fabrizio. The replacement riders did pretty well too, Gregorio Lavilla taking the 8th fastest time on Brendan Roberts' Guandalini Ducati, and South African rider Sheridan Morais putting the Kawasaki of Makoto Tamada 7th fastest, both men profiting from previous experience here.
The Yamahas are some way off the pace, Ben Spies never better than 5th fastest, and finishing the session in 12th, two places behind team mate Tom Sykes. But the field is pretty close, with less than three quarters of a second between Fabrizio in 1st and Ryuichi Kiyonari in 14th.
Results of FP1:
This weekend, MotoGP moves from the site of one great motorcycle racing party to the location of another. But while MotoGP is at the center of the party at Jerez, in Le Mans, the party was over four weeks ago and lasted the entire duration of the race. The contrast illustrates the difference between France and its more southerly neighbor: both countries are mad about motorsport and motorcycle racing, but the Spanish love sprint racing, while for the French, if the race lasts less than 8 hours it's barely worthy of the name.
France is truly the home of endurance racing. Two of the two-wheeled discipline's greatest events take place here, the Bol d'Or, a 24 hour race currently held at Magny-Cours, and the Le Mans 24 hour race, as well as the biggest car endurance race in the world, the 24 Heures du Mans. The cars use the glorious 13.6 kilometer long Circuit de la Sarthe - including the once terrifying Mulsanne Straight, to which two chicanes have been added to slow the cars down - but that vast track is considered unsuitable for motorcycles, the bikes unlikely to last being thrashed down the Mulsanne Straight at full throttle too many times.
So the bikes run the shortened 4.2 kilometer Bugatti Circuit, a much more restrained, some might even say boring, affair. The track layout vaguely resembles a giant clothes peg, with the two prongs of the Chappelle and Garage Vert corners separated by the Musee hairpin, and a simpler section leading through Garage Bleu to the final turn at Raccordement, before hitting the front straight again.
Stop And Go
Like Motegi, which it also resembles, the track is mostly about stability under braking and hard acceleration out of corners. The front straight leads into the Dunlop Curve, and then the Dunlop Chicane, the Curve being the brave part, while the Chicane is the corner where the first lap pile ups tend to occur. It's then a matter of hard-on-the-gas, hard-on-the-brakes through La Chappelle, Musee, Garage Vert and the straights that connect them, before the long back straight down to Chemin aux Boeufs, a faster chicane which caught Nicky Hayden out so badly in 2007.
The World Superbike series returns to Kyalami in South Africa for the first time since 2002, and through no particular fault of Infront Motor Sport, the series couldn't have chosen a worse time to visit such a physical and technical track. A large part of the field is either injured or has been replaced due to injury, leaving the injured and unfamiliar to struggle to get the bike round the difficult circuit. What's more, Kyalami is located on the high plain of South Africa's eastern plateau, and the elevation takes its toll on both bikes and riders. At Monza, an injured rider could rest a little down the long straights. At Kyalami, that's virtually impossible.
The track is new to some, and all too familiar to others. The manufacturers designated teams tested here back in December last year, and a number of the veterans have raced at Kyalami in the past. Perhaps half the riders on the World Superbike grid will have ridden here previously, while a far smaller proportion of the World Supersport grid will have seen the South African track before.
With little previous form to go on, this leaves the race a rather unpredictable affair, apart from the pattern which has dominated the season so far. The races are likely to be shared between Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga again, Spies so far managing to maintain his 50% win ratio, while Haga continues to finish either 1st or 2nd. But Haga's mask of reliability slipped at Monza, if through no fault of his own.
Troy Bayliss concluded the three-day test at Mugello today, and the question on everybody's lips has finally been answered: How fast would Bayliss go? 1'51.2 is the answer.
Of course, 1'51.2 is fairly meaningless without any context. Bayliss' lap was faster than regular Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi, who improved his own lap record with a time of 1'51.4, but beating a test rider, while impressive, is not that significant. More important is to compare it to the times set during the dry sessions here last year:
A whole range of factors make it very hard to compare times from a race weekend to times set during testing: Troy Bayliss has not ridden a motorcycle since the launch of the 1198 at Portimao last year; Bayliss has not ridden the 800cc Ducati before; And Bayliss hasn't ridden at Mugello for a while. On the plus side, Bayliss gets three full days aboard the Ducati on a relatively empty track, and a chance to put a significant number of laps on the bike.
In the world of 125 and 250 racing, there is one team that is the nearest thing to a guarantee of a world title on offer: The Aspar team, run by Jorge Martinez. Hungarian veteran Gabor Talmacsi has been with Aspar since 2007, and has reaped the rewards, taking the 125cc world championship for the team in 2007.
So it must considered a truly remarkable step that the Hungarian has decided to sever his relationship with the team that helped win him the title. In a statement on his personal website, Gabor Talmacsi announced that has split from the team, and that he won't be riding at Le Mans. Talmacsi also explained the reasons for the split:
As I'm sure most of the readers of this site are aware, James Toseland can not only ride a MotoGP bike at a brisk pace, but he also plays a mean piano and sings pretty well too. As his day job at MotoGP will be taking the weekend off on May 24th, Toseland will get to do a little moonlighting with his band, Crash. That weekend, the British Superbike series will be racing at Donington Park, and Toseland will be appearing in the Assembly Rooms in Derby on Saturday, May 23rd, with part of the proceedings will be going to help the excellent charity Riders For Health. So if you want to combine a fantastic weekend of racing with a chance to meet a bona fide MotoGP rider, head on up to Derby on May 23rd, then Donington the day after. Details below:
One of the most perplexing issues of the 800cc era has been the question of the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, GP8 and GP9. The remarkable and incredibly innovative motorcycle has one world title and 18 victories to its name from just 39 races, a strike rate impressively close to 50%. But look more closely at those awe-inspiring results and you see a much darker side to the Ducati, a side which makes a nonsense of all those victories.
Of the 18 victories recorded on the 800cc Desmosedici, 17 were taken by Casey Stoner, as was the 2007 world title. Of the 394 points which gained Ducati the constructor's title in 2007, 367 were scored by Stoner, the Australian only beaten by another Ducati three times that year, and beating his team mate Loris Capirossi - the man who had been a title contender in 2006 - by over 200 points, or 11 points a race, on average. In 2008, Stoner could "only" manage to best Toni Elias, the next Ducati rider, by 188 points. So far this season, Casey Stoner has already racked up 54 points, 75% more than the other four (!) Ducati riders combined.
Anyone doubting that the problem is with the bike need only look at the riders who have been teamed with Casey Stoner. Loris Capirossi is a three-time world champion, with two titles in the 125 class and one in 250s; Marco Melandri is another former 250 champ, as well as a MotoGP runner-up; while current team mate Nicky Hayden is one of an elite group of riders - including Casey Stoner - to have beaten Valentino Rossi to the MotoGP title. This is no ragtag crew of journeymen and also-rans, these are among the very best riders in the world, and yet they have all proven incapable of taming the Bologna Beast.
The first-corner carnage at Monza had created a host of opportunities for replacement riders, with so many of the regulars injured. Kawasaki's Makoto Tamada was among the injured, fracturing a wrist bone and unable to ride at Kyalami this weekend. Unlike the other injured riders, Kawasaki had not planned on replacing Tamada, but a last-minute opportunity forced a change of heart.
South African Superbike champion Sheridan Morais will be riding the PBM Kawasaki bike instead of the injured Tamada this weekend, after the team reached a deal with Morais some time last night. The South African was already scheduled to ride at the meeting as a wildcard in the Supersport class, but that wildcard will instead go to his team mate Rob Portman.
Morais, South Africa's youngest ever Superbike champion when he first took the title in 2005, already has experience in the WSBK paddock, having previously ridden for Team Pedercini in the FIM Superstock 1000 championship. The South African managed a podium at Brands Hatch in 2008, a track he was familiar with from BSB, and so at his home track, a circuit he is very familiar with from racing in the South African championship, Morais should prove to be a formidable replacement.
Thanks to reader Bentley Mtafu for the tip off.
The World Superbike field for Kyalami just lost another regular. We reported earlier that Nieto, Lavilla and Laverty would be in for Neukirchner, Roberts and Harms, and just a few hours later, we learn that Troy Corser is to sit out the South African round of World Superbikes as well. The Australian was already riding with a hand injury, but the first-corner pile-up at Monza added a nasty bang to the head as well. After another tumble through the gravel in the restarted race one, Corser decided that caution was the better part of valor and sat out race two.
Now the team has decided that it would be better for Corser to miss the Kyalami round as well. "Kyalami is a very physical track, very bumpy in places and this would've not have helped Troy's hand get any better," the press release stated. Taking Corser's place will be World Superbike veteran, Le Mans 24-hour victor and BMW test rider Steve Martin.
Hopefully, this will be the last of the replacements, and the physical nature of Kyalami won't produce any more injuries. With two weeks between South Africa and Miller Motorsports Park, at least some of WSBK's regular riders may be fit enough to make a return.
For months now, rumors have swirled around the MotoGP paddock about Dani Pedrosa's future at Repsol Honda. According to the gossips, Pedrosa had been issued with an ultimatum: win the championship this season, or look elsewhere for a ride. With both Pedrosa's contract with Honda and Repsol's contract to sponsor the factory HRC team up at the end of the season, the rumors looked fairly credible.
To investigate just how much truth there was to such talk, Manuel Pecino of the respected Spanish magazine Solo Moto spoke to Repsol's new corporate director of sponsorship, Begona Elices at Jerez. Elices was very clear about Repsol's goals and expectations, and the reason they spend so much money on MotoGP. "Our priority is to be world champion," Elices told Solo Moto.
Repsol are also behind Dani Pedrosa, but Elices' support for the Spaniard was not quite wholehearted. "Dani has done what could be expected of him. In this respect, we are happy with him, but we have to keep moving forward. Our demand is that we have to keep giving the maximum." Elices also made it clear where Repsol thought the problems lie, telling Solo Moto "Our focus is on improving the competitiveness of the bike. We have to listen to Pedrosa, he's an experienced rider who we believe is capable of providing the information necessary to develop a winning machine. Our primary objective is to be fighting for victory."
As for the rumors about Repsol getting Jorge Lorenzo in to replace Pedrosa, Elices dismissed them, but once again, left room for interpretation: "That is not a scenario were are currently examining."
Monza's Disney-style first chicane has decimated the World Superbike field after the multi-rider crash at the start of race one last weekend. Makoto Tamada seemed to clip Brendan Roberts' back wheel, sending the Australian's Guandalini Ducati up the rode to take out the Alstare Brux Suzuki of Max Neukirchner, while Tamada's Kawasaki veered off to hit Tommy Hill's Althea Honda, which in turn took out the BMW S1000RR of Troy Corser. After the dust had settled, Neukirchner was left with a broken femur and broken bones in his foot and ankle, Tamada suffered a fractured wrist, and examination in the local hospital found that Roberts had come away without broken bones, but was very severely bruised.
And so the World Superbike series heads to Kyalami with a host of new - or rather, different - faces filling a range of seats. For in addition to Neukirchner, Tamada and Roberts, Veidec Res Software's Robbin Harms didn't make it out of the first free practice session for the World Supersport class at Monza, and will also be missing in South Africa.
The biggest loss to the series is undoubtedly Max Neukirchner. The German was tipped as a prime candidate for the title before the season began, and entered Monza in 5th place in the World Superbike championship. The severity of Neukirchner's injuries will mean that in addition to Kyalami, the German is likely to miss the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and even a return at Misano in mid-June must be considered doubtful.