While the purists - and there are many - are still lamenting the loss of the two-stroke 250cc bikes, now reduced to scrap metal in crushers in Italy and Japan, the pace of developments in the world of Moto2 is starting to pick up.
Tuesday sees the Tech 3 team debut its long awaited Moto2 bike, which features a chassis designed and built by the team under the watchful eye of chief engineer Guy Coulon. The bike is due to hit the track for a shakedown test at the Ledenon circuit in the south of France, though some confusion over who is due to ride the bike. The original reports over on Crash.net made it clear that Tech 3 would not be flying their Japanese rider Yuki Takahashi back from Japan to ride the bike, leaving Raffaele de Rosa as a possibility. According to the French site Caradisiac.com, however, Tech 3 team boss Herve Poncharal has granted the young French rider Florian Marino the honor of being the first man to ride the bike, after promising him that reward if the former Red Bull Rookie finished on the podium this year. At Brno, Marino did even better, winning the race and claiming his prize.
The faltering global economy continues to take its toll on motorcycle racing paddocks around the world. Today, the GSE Racing team announced that unless they can find a title sponsor, they will be forced to close up shop and quit BSB next season. Despite winning the last two BSB titles - with Shane Byrne in 2008 and Leon Camier in 2009 - GSE lost their title sponsor Airwaves (a brand of chewing gum) at the end of the 2009 season, and GSE boss Colin Wright has so far failed to find a replacement. The failure to find funding has meant that the team has been forced to notify all of their current staff that they are likely to lose their jobs at the end of the year.
The World Superbike schedule underwent a serious shakeup at the start of the 2009 season. The introduction of the new Superpole format had already meant that part of Saturday had been changed, but further cuts, including the scrapping of all on-track activity on Friday morning, were introduced as part of the cost-cutting measures introduced to help WSBK face up to the financial crisis.
Now that the situation has calmed down a little, that schedule has once again been revised. The changes are fairly small, consisting mostly of slight adjustments to the timing of events. The biggest change for the World Superbike class is that the timing of Superpole has been changed. Instead of three 12 minute sessions, the sessions will be different lengths. Superpole 1 will be 14 minutes, Superpole 2 will be 12 minutes and Superpole 3 will be just 10 minutes long. In addition, there will be a 25 minute break between the end of Free Practice 2 and Superpole, instead of the current 15 minutes.
With the announcement that the Pedercini team will be back on the grid for 2010, the World Superbike paddock is starting to fill out. The addition of Pedercini brings the total number of entries up to 20 which, while well down on the nearly 30 which started the season in 2009, is still a reasonable size given the current economic climate. One factor that is both heartening and vaguely worrying is that 14 of those riders have been entered by factory (or factory-backed) teams, with 7 manufacturers fielding two-man teams. Having 7 manufacturers in the series is a demonstration of the rude health of the liter sportsbike market, but just 6 privateer entries shows the difficulties in raising sponsorship for teams wishing to take part in the series.
The other factor of note is the very high number of British or British-based riders in the series. Johnny Rea, Cal Crutchlow, James Toseland, Leon Camier, Leon Haslam, Tom Sykes and Shane Byrne are all British citizens, while Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli lives in the UK with his British wife. Add in the three Australians - Chris Vermeulen, Troy Corser and Broc Parkes - and the paddock has an incredibly Anglophone feel to it.
After a difficult 2009, the World Superbike paddock is slowly starting to fill up. Although generously endowed with factory-backed entries, with 7 manufacturers submitting 14 full-factory (or nearly full-factory, in the case of Ten Kate Honda) supported riders, beyond that the pickings are rather slim, with just the Althea Ducati team, Echo CRS and Guandalini Aprilia adding 4 more riders.
To their numbers can be added the Pedercini Kawasaki team. Rumors floating round the WSBK paddock had previously hinted at Pedercini being forced to pull out of the series for 2010 due to a lack of funds, but Dutch exhaust manufacturer Laser has stepped in to help. Laser Exhausts will be taking the place of previous partners Akrapovic, and providing financial support to allow the Pedercini team to field two riders in the World Superbike class and two in the FIM Superstock 1000 class. No rider signings have yet been announced.
In the second of the separate rookie testing sessions, Hector Barbera and the Aspar team wrapped up a rain-hit program of testing yesterday at Jerez. The test was run in conjunction with Ducati's test team, consisting of Vito Guareschi and newcomer Franco Battaini, contracted to take some of the strain from Guareschi as he takes on his new role as Marlboro Ducati team manager.
After being rained off on day one, the second day of testing took place under sunny skies and mild temperatures, and Barbera spent the day running back-to-back tests between the Ducati Desmosedici GP9 and GP10, putting in stints of ten laps to adapt to the bike and test some engine and traction control settings. The team emphasized that the purpose of the test was not to chase lap times, but to learn more about the Ducati and make the switch from a 250 to a MotoGP bike.
"At the end of the day, I put in twenty really good laps, and I'm happy," Barbera said in a press release afterwards. "The times were not outstanding, but I can feel that we are definitely on the right road." Barbera ended the test with a fastest time of 1'41.7, some 1.9 seconds off Valentino Rossi's lap record set during the race in May this year. That time would have put him near the bottom of the fastest race laps, but the conditions at the race were considerably more favorable.
As we were working our way through the backlog of administration and other horrors which fill the off-season at MotoMatters Towers, we stumbled across some more photos kindly contributed to us by our good friend Tammy Gorali. Tammy was fortunate enough to have a grid pass for the 125cc race, as well as pit lane access for the post-race tests. So just to tide you over through the start of a long dark winter, here's a few of her photos.
One name keeps cropping up amidst all the speculation about still open seats in the various race series. Alex de Angelis has been linked with a range of options since the late summer, all of them revolving around sponsorship by the tourism agency of San Marino, the tiny Italian republic from whence De Angelis hails. It started with the Scot Honda MotoGP program, and when that was abandoned, went on to a second Aprilia World Superbike team, as well as several options in Moto2, including the Hayate Moto2 team.
It is not that easy, though, it seems. According to San Marino's state broadcasting corporation, De Angelis' options are quickly drying up. The Scot Honda MotoGP ride fell through when San Marino could not provide the necessary (and necessarily sizable) sponsorship to fund the program. The protracted negotiations with Honda also ended another intriguing possibility, that the Scot team had been offered a Ducati GP10, expanding the Bolognese factory's presence on the grid from 5 to 6 bikes according to Italian broadcaster Sportmediaset. Unfortunately for De Angelis, by the time the negotiations with Honda had failed, Ducati had withdrawn their offer.
Aprilia's shock decision to cease development on its Moto2 project created many victims, but the team worst affected are probably Team Aspar. The Valencian team, run by Jorge "Aspar" Martinez, have probably been Aprilia's closest partners in their years in the 125 and 250 class, and have invested a great deal in both the relationship and in helping the Italian factory to develop their motorcycles. This cooperation had been extended into the new Moto2 class, with Aspar signing both 125 World Champion Julian Simon and the Frenchman Mike di Meglio to race the Aprilia framed entry in the series.
Aprilia's withdrawal has left Aspar high and dry, and the team needs to quickly find a solution if they are to compete next season. To this end, Martinez and team manager Gino Borsoi is to fly to Italy next Tuesday to meet with Aprilia to discuss possible ways of finding their way out of the situation. "It would be best if we could find a solution with Aprilia," the team management told the Spanish press agency EFE, "but if we don't, we will look for the most competitive of the many existing options, to allow us to pursue our objective of fighting for the championship."
As has been widely supposed here on MotoMatters, and nearly everywhere else in the racing press, 2009 BSB champion Leon Camier has signed to race alongside Max Biaggi on the Factory Aprilia Racing Team in 2010. Aprilia's recent withdrawal with extreme prejudice from Moto2 to concentrate on WSBK and the proposed 1000cc 2012 MotoGP regulations, leaves open the possibility that the Noale based manufacturer will field a satellite team in WSBK in 2010 with MotoGP refugee Alex de Angelis as a possible rider next to Guandalini Ducati/Aprilia's Jakub Smrz.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Austalian Broc Parkes has reportedly signed with CRS Echo Team Honda Racing to contest the 2010 World Superbike championship. Parkes, the second place finisher in the 2007 WSS championship, had a season to forget in 2009, winding up in 18th place in WSBK racing a factory Kawasaki ZX10 for Paul Bird Motorsports. CRS Echo, who fielded Michael Laverty in WSS in 2009, has acquired Stiggy Racing's 2009 CBR1000RR superbikes. It is thought that there is an outside chance that Stiggy (Johan Stigefelt ) himself may come over to the team to run the superbike effort, but Stigefelt is still trying to secure funding to run his own team in 2010, a prospect that he admits faces an uphill battle in today's tough economic climate.
Now that the 2009 season has come to a close, and Toni Elias has signed with his current team boss to move down a class for 2010, there will be a temporary ebb in the debates about who this man is and where he belongs in the sport. There is a long-developing opinion espoused, subscribed to, or at least tacitly accepted by a growing number, that Toni Elias takes the first half of a season to lazily absorb his life in the top tier of motorcycle racing before beginning a mid-season panic where he must suddenly show results good enough to secure a job for the subsequent season. I don't know when this line of reasoning began, but since it seems to pass for critical thinking these days, I, for one, have had enough.
I'll save you some time and give you the punchline up front: Toni Elias has never been on the same bike two years in a row since entering the MotoGP class. How good would your first half of the season be?
Doubts about the future of Aprilia's Moto2 project have been growing for some time now. Reports first emerged on Friday that the factory was considering rerouting its investment in the class, and directing it towards a return to MotoGP when the new engine regulations come into force in 2012. Since then, things have moved very swiftly, so swiftly in fact that the Piaggio Group has issued a press release announcing that it is ceasing all Moto2 activities with immediate effect. The press release, translated from Italian, reads as follows:
The Piaggio Group wishes to communicate that Aprilia will not participate in the Moto2 Championship, nor will they supply motorcycles to private teams participating in that Championship. In the vision of the Group, the Moto2 Championship does not possess the technological and competitive characteristics which would make participating in this kind of competition a positive strategic choice for Aprilia.
The Group believes that it would be unnecessary and damaging for a major Italian and European motorcycle manufacturer - one which has 43 World Championships in both road and off-road racing to its name - to take part in a competitive series based on the engine technology of a rival manufacturer.
When news broke a couple of days ago that Yoshimura Suzuki team was to abandon the All-Japan Superbikes championship to run in World Superbikes, speculation immediately turned to the fate of Yoshimura's US program, featuring the veteran Tommy Hayden and young challenger Blake Young. Would this decision mean that Yoshimura would also turn its back on the AMA Pro racing series in the USA and redouble its efforts in World Superbikes?
The answer to that question is almost certainly no, according to the authoritative US journal Roadracing World. The American magazine had a meeting with Fujio Yoshimura, head of the Japanese specialist parts manufacturer, in which Yoshimura told the magazine that the decision by the company to withdraw from the Japanese series would have no effect on the current American racing program. The decision, according to Roadracing World, was based entirely on dissatisfaction with the direction of the Japanese Superbike series, and is independent of the events going on in the DMG-run AMA Pro series - despite their apparent similarity.
It has long been rumored, but now comes as close to something like confirmation as we are going to get, for the meantime. The very well-informed Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Leon Camier has signed with Aprilia, to run alongside Max Biaggi in the Noale factory's World Superbike squad. The manner of the announcement is somewhat unusual, however. GPOne.com spoke to the head of Aprilia's racing activities, Leo Mercanti at Bangkok Airport, where he was on his way to participate in a Rally Raid in the Middle East, where the Italian confirmed that Camier had been given the job after a couple of impressive rides substituting for the injured Shinya Nakano.
Speaking of Camier, Mercanti told GPOne.com "I think he's a good choice, the guy did well in the races he ran with us." So far, though, no official press release or announcement has been issued by the factory, the news is not 100% certain, merely 99.999%, given that Mercanti is the person with the final say in Aprilia's racing program.