The start of the 2010 season finds MotoGP in a deeply schizophrenic state. The MotoGP class remains sparsely populated, with just 17 riders on the grid - despite prospects of one new manufacturer running wildcards and another looking to enter the series full time once the paddock returns to Europe. Meanwhile, in the brand new Moto2 class which replaces the 250cc two strokes, 40 riders are scheduled to take to the start at Qatar.
This year sees a bumper crop of rookies enter MotoGP, bringing some much-needed fresh blood into the class, along with a healthy dose of excitement. At the same time, the podium lineup at every race is as good as fixed, with the Fantastic Four almost certain to claim the lion's share of the silverware, leaving the rest of the field to pick over what remains.
The announcement a couple of days ago that I was attending Qatar as a guest of the Fiat Yamaha Team and the Fiat on the Web team drew one comment drawing into question whether I could maintain my journalistic integrity in the face of such generosity. The first day of the Fiat Yamaha Team's road trip to Losail shed some light on that question, and on the question of motorcycle racing in general.
The day started at the hotel, where we were picked up by Aref Akhal, the Fiat Group's importer for Qatar, and a pearl white Fiat 500. The crew immediately started the process of transforming it into an Official Team Vehicle.
The latest in the long line of World Superbike riders to be interviewed by the assembled press in the run up to the US round of WSBK at Miller Motorsports Park at the end of May was Max Biaggi. Unfortunately, MotoMatters.com was not able to participate, as we were on a flight to Qatar at the time the call was scheduled. We weren't missed, and the people who could attend came up with some pretty interesting questions for Biaggi to answer. In the interview, Biaggi talks about his two wins at Portimao, evaluates the relative strengths and weaknesses of the top teams in World Superbikes, explains why he decided against switching to F1 despite having had a test in a Ferrari, and admits that he still misses the two-stroke 500cc Grand Prix bikes. Well worth a read:
Moderator: Good morning, everybody. I'm John Gardner, the Media Manager at Miller Motorsports Park. This is the fourth in our series of teleconferences with riders in the HANNspree World Superbike Championship leading up to the Utah USA round, which will take place here at Miller Motorsports Park on Memorial Day weekend, May 29th to the 31st.
We are very pleased today to have with us Max Biaggi, who rides for the Alitalia Aprilia team and swept both rounds of the recent race in Portugal. He's currently second in the championship and is a legend in this sport. We're very honored to have you here, Max. Welcome.
Max Biaggi: Hi. Thank you.
Moderator: It was a big weekend for you in Portugal. How are things looking for you coming into Valencia this weekend?
Max Biaggi: Well, first of all, I'm very, very happy with the result we did in Portugal. And Valencia, I think, is going to be a good weekend for us. We'll be competitive with everybody there and possibly in the top three all the time. So, I'm quite confident for that.
The official MotoGP.com website is both a goldmine of information and the bane of many MotoGP fans' lives. The video section features literally thousands of fascinating video interviews, clips and of course, the live video feed of each race. True, the content is only available to paying subscribers, but the value offered for the €99.95 (or €79.95 for standard quality) is actually rather good.
The one gripe that everyone had about the site and video subscription was that if you missed the live race - not uncommon for US or Australian subscribers, for example - and went to website to watch the recorded race, it was impossible to do so without running across spoilers, telling you the outcome of the race before you had a chance to view it. MotoGP.com received a barrage of complaints about this problem, and have finally come up with a solution: A no-spoilers page.
If there's one experience that every red-blooded race fan craves, it's to actually a World Championship-spec machine. Tragically, fans can only sample these delights vicariously, through the experiences of the lucky few journalists who get to ride these things. Both teams and riders complain about these tests, rightly pointing out that the journos lucky enough to ride these bikes usually lack the skill to fully understand the bikes, and use them to their full potential. While that may be true - with a few notable exceptions - it is still a useful exercise, for it is as close to the reality of most ordinary bike fans as you can get.
Seen from outside, getting to follow the MotoGP circus around and flying from race to race sounds immeasurably glamorous. But just as any seasoned business traveler will tell you, the glamor soon wears thin. The day for me started out at the crack of dawn (and I'm not a morning person), traipsing off to Amsterdam airport, submitting myself to the ritual humiliation that is international air travel nowadays - nine parts theater, one part security - before boarding a short flight to Frankfurt, chasing around with just 40 minutes to transfer onto a Qatar Airways flight, being shouted at by the woman at the gate for attempting to board without a boarding pass, before finally settling into my (surprisingly roomy) economy class seat for the 5 hour flight to Qatar. The delay due to "technical problems" (not a phrase you are keen to hear before the plane has even taken off) kept us on the apron for an extra thirty minutes, but we were soon underway, and off to the sands of Arabia.
Whenever I meet readers and friends of MotoMatters.com, I am invariably asked the same question: What's it like in the paddock? Since earning entry to that hallowed ground, I have often wanted to share some of the experiences and the atmosphere in the MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks, but had never found - or never got round to finding - the appropriate outlet for such musings. MotoMatters.com is focused intently on news, analysis and background of MotoGP and World Superbikes, and fitting random observations into thenews and interviews we do would merely detract from what the core of our work. It was clear that MotoMatters.com needed some kind of blog, but with a million other things to do (mostly trying to raise money), the idea of a blog kept slipping down our list of priorities.
In the runup to the 2010 MotoGP season starting, now less than 7 days away, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, due to host the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix on August 29th of this year, organized a teleconference with Team Texas, or as they are officially known, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies of the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. With Colin Edwards as a guest, the conversation is always lively and interesting, though Spies held his own throughout, the conference covering a whole host of questions, such as the atmosphere in the team, whether Edwards is likely to stop helping Spies the moment Spies starts beating him, how close the satellite bikes are to the factory bikes this year, and who is going to get the first win, Spies or Edwards. It was an interesting 45 minutes, in the highly capable hands of Paul Kelly, Communications Manager over at IMS. Here's what Edwards and Spies had to say:
Chris Vermeulen's crash at his home World Superbike round at Phillip Island is having more serious consequences than he at first thought. The PBM Kawasaki rider badly damaged his knee in the incident, and has faced a long road to recovery ever since. Vermeulen's plans to make a return at Portimao were thwarted after just one lap, after the Australian tried to ride, but found he couldn't put any weight on the pegs. He pulled back into the pits after one lap and pulled out.
With just two weeks between Portimao and Valencia, the Australian had hoped to return to racing in Spain, but after consulting with doctors recommended by former Motocross World Champions Joel Smets and Stefan Everts, Vermeulen has been forced to pull out of Valencia as well. In a video posted on his Youtube channel, Vermeulen explained that the arthroscopic surgery Vermeulen had performed turned up a lot more damage than had been previously spotted, ruling out any chance of racing at Valencia. So serious is the damage that it is likely to require major surgery to repair fully, which Vermeulen hopes to put off until he finishes racing. But the Australian still has high hopes that the damage will repair itself naturally.
Just a few days before the season is about to begin, and the Moto2 class is to take to the track for the very first time, a new provisional entry list for Moto2 has been issued by the FIM. The new list contains two changes, one minor (Stefan Bradl changing his number from 4 to 65), and one major. The big change is the dropping of Belgian rider Vincent Lonbois by the Marc VDS Racing team, which is also fielding British rider Scott Redding, and his replacement with former 125 and 250 star Hector Faubel.
Faubel had originally been signed to ride for the SAG team alongside Ratthapark Wilairot, but financial differences left the Spaniard out in the cold. Faubel then looked to the 125cc class, where he was lined up to take a third Aspar bike alongside Bradley Smith and Nico Terol, but that too foundered on a lack of funds. Faubel has finally found a home with the Marc VDS Racing team run by former Kawasaki MotoGP manager Michael Bartholemy, but this has come at the cost of Bartholemy's compatriot Lonbois.
The entry list for Moto2 still carries the "Provisional" tag, though few changes are likely in the 6 days before the bikes finally hit the track at Qatar. After that, though, there could well be more changes.
Moto2 entry list:
Every year, as the MotoGP season commences, a veritable jungle of MotoGP Fantasy Leagues springs up around the internet, give fans the chance to test their skills in running a MotoGP team against like-minded individuals. Although we're big fans of those kinds of games, MotoMatters.com wouldn't be MotoMatters.com if we didn't do things just a little bit differently.
When the cancellation of the Hungary round was finally officially confirmed, and the race scheduled for the Balatonring was awarded to the spectacular Motorland Aragon circuit, Dorna faced a barrage of criticism that the race had gone to another circuit in Spain. The Iberian nation is undoubtedly the beating heart of MotoGP, but to have four of the eighteen races there was far too much of a good thing, it was felt.
Dorna has taken this criticism to heart, it seems, as a brand new nation is to be added to MotoGP's international character. Today, speaking exclusively to MotoMatters.com, Dorna's head of Scandinavian Racing Promotion Pablo Inocente confirmed that a round is to be added to the calendar in Iceland, as part of an offensive to promote the sport in Europe's northern reaches. The race is to take part at a brand new track, to be built at Grímsvötn, east of the capital Reykjavik.
When HRC announced last year that they would be switching to Ohlins suspension for the 2010 MotoGP season, it was widely seen as a determination to win back the MotoGP crown which Honda has chased so long and so hard. Since making the switch, Andrea Dovizioso's lot has greatly improved, but the man Honda intend to win the championship has not fared so well. Dani Pedrosa has struggled in testing so far this preseason, ending the final MotoGP test of the year at Qatar in lowly 13th position, over a second down on his Repsol Honda teammate and even behind the satellite LCR Honda of Randy de Puniet.
In an interview with the website of the Spanish magazine Motociclismo.es, Pedrosa expressed his despair about the situation telling the magazine: "I have had problems before in my career, but they have never lasted for such a long time." When asked exactly what the problems were, Pedrosa pointed to the difficulty of making the bike more stable. "The bike is moving around a lot," Pedrosa told Motociclismo, "with a lot of pumping at the rear. The whole bike is shaking and the front wheel is moving around because I can't feel the tires gripping the tarmac."
The guys over at OnTheThrottle have another video up in their series of conversations with former 500GP star Kevin Schwantz. The Suzuki legend was at Auto Club Speedway, Fontana last weekend, attending the second round of the AMA championship held there. OTT's Dave Williams talked to Schwantz about riding in windy conditions, about the final MotoGP test at Qatar, about Ben Spies' expectations for the first year of MotoGP, about the difference between Grand Prix bikes and production bikes, and about how the differences between tires can affect your riding. Here's what Revvin' Kevin had to say:
Another season of MotoGP approaches, and as every year, the fans (and far too many journalists) will spend the first race struggling to pick out which rider is which, after the traditional off-season merry-go-round and livery change. The wise heads over at Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es have anticipated this problem, and thoughtfully snagged all of the riders at the last Qatar MotoGP test and got them to hand over their helmets for a quick snapshot. The result is an overview of the helmets of all 17 MotoGP riders, as they are going to be used in MotoGP for 2010. The one exception ('t was ever thus) is Valentino Rossi, who as always is using his "Old Chicken" helmet throughout testing, but is likely to return to a more traditional design once the flag drops.
Nicky Hayden's 2010 helmet. For the rest of the helmets, head over to Motociclismo.es and see all 17.