Hector Barbera continues to lead the way in the 250cc class at Estoril, but only by a hair's breadth. The Spaniard is three hundredths ahead of the remarkable Ratthapark Wilairot, who is in turn four hundredths ahead of Mike di Meglio. The Frenchman is a similar distance ahead of his Mapfre Aspar team mate and title contender Alvaro Bautista, while the man that Bautista is trying to beat in the title race, Hiroshi Aoyama, was 6th fastest, an improvement from yesterday's practice.
Ben Spies has been confirmed as a wildcard entry for the final round of MotoGP at Valencia. A press release has just been issued stating that Spies is to ride in Valencia for Yamaha. The news had broken earlier, with Motorcycle News' Matt Birt reporting that an entry has already been submitted to Dorna and IRTA for the Texan to ride in the last MotoGP round of the season, and Autosport's Toby Moody correctly predicting that the wildcard entry would be confirmed today by Yamaha.
It was originally expected that Spies would ride in Yamaha's corporate blue colors, in the same vein as HRC's wildcards have done in previous years. But the BBC's Matt Roberts has just posted on social networking site Twitter that former NBA legend and motorcycle racing nut Michael Jordan is to sponsor Spies' one-off ride. Jordan has his own brand of sportswear, and has run a team in the AMA Superbike series to promote the brand previously.
Yesterday, news broke that Aprilia had once again pulled the plug on Team Toth, refusing to hand over the ECUs of their leased RSA 250s over payments which have not been made. This left Mattia Pasini sitting helpless in the pits, while Imre Toth Jr went out on a completely uncompetitive 2001 spec Aprilia which the team still owns. But Pasini's season may have been rescued by the Caffe Latte team, which runs Swiss rider Thomas Luthi. Pasini is currently out circulating on a bike fielded by Caffe Latte, but currently without any stickers. The sponsor's colors are due to be added before qualifying, the deal only just having been cemented. And according GPOne.com, Daniel Epp, owner of the Caffe Latte team, has picked up Pasini's contract, and could field the Mugello race winner for the rest of the season, with equipment support from Aprilia.
Jorge Lorenzo continues to set a scorching pace in Estoril, already lapping over half a second under the lap record, and doing so constantly. The only man anywhere near the extraterrestrial Lorenzo is Casey Stoner, and even the Ducati man is over three tenths back. Lorenzo's Fiat Yamaha team mate is nearly three quarters of a second off Lorenzo's time, and will not be happy, as the man leading the World Championship is only a couple of tenths faster than Colin Edwards on the satellite Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. The last of the Fantastic Four is in 5th, another couple of tenths behind Edwards, and over a second behind Lorenzo.
The championship leaders all improved their times during the second session of qualifying, with Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga leapfrogging over Jonathon Rea to sit behind Michel Fabrizio on the timesheets. British Superbike Champion Leon Camier improved as well, moving up to 16th and into Superpole. Kawasaki replacement rider Sheridan Morais is struggling at Magny-Cours though, failing to qualify for Superpole with 23rd fastest time.
Since the introduction of the new engine durability rules, aimed at cutting costs in the series, much debate has centered on the punishment to be meted out to anyone using an extra engine. In the original rules introduced earlier this year, punishment for any rider forced to use an extra engine outside of their allocation of 5 for the last 7 races of the season would be to have 10 points deducted. This has met with much resistance from the riders, who were all in favor of being put to the back of the grid, rather than having points deducted, as they felt it would at least give them a chance to compete.
The FIM, it seems, has listened. Today, the announcement was made that the rules are to be changed. Any rider using an extra engine outside of their allocation is to be punished by being made to start from the back of the grid. The manufacturers will be punished further by having 10 points deducted from the constructors championship, ensuring that they would not benefit by having another rider score points for them instead of the rider being punished.
Julian Simon continues in the 125cc class as he started yesterday: leading the pack by a second. The Spaniard has dominated proceeding so far, and there is no reason to believe this won't carry on into qualifying. Behind Simon, the field is much tighter, Sandro Cortese finishing 2nd, ahead of Nicolas Terol and Pol Espargaro. British rider Bradley Smith recovered from a horrific highside in which he badly injured his foot to end up in 9th, while Danny Webb end up in 15th, and Scott Redding finished down in 24th, behind American rider Cameron Beaubier.
Joan Lascorz was fastest in Saturday morning's session of free practice for World Supersport, engaged in a close battle with Kenan Sofuoglu once again. Cal Crutchlow made a huge gain to leap up to 3rd, ahead of Garry McCoy, while Crutchlow's title rival Eugene Laverty remained way down in 8th place, six tenths off Crutchlow's pace.
As the MotoGP paddock reassembles in Portugal after the enforced layoff of the canceled Hungarian round, all of the talk in the paddock will be of one subject: the return of Ducati's prodigal son. And that's a terrible shame.
For the place where MotoGP finds itself is at Estoril, one of the finest circuits on the calendar. The track is a mass of contradictions and ambiguities, best summed up by the old PERL programmer's motto, TIMTOWTDI: There Is More Than One Way To Do It. For the track is both the slowest circuit on the calendar and yet boasts some of the highest top speeds of the year. It has the slowest corner of the season, and a treacherously fast right-hand flick along the back of the paddock.
And it's not just that the corners are so diverse; it's also the lines through them. Three corners truly exemplify this: Turn 4, the Curva VIP; Turn 6, the Parabolica Interior; and the chicane at Gancho, comprising Turns 9 and 10. Turns 4 and 6 are very long hairpins, so long that there are two distinctly different lines through them: the classic out-in-out route through the apex, or the berm route so admirably demonstrated by Toni Elias over the past few years, whereby you hug the outer rumblestrip, maintaining corner speed to fire out onto either the back straight or the run into Orelha, carrying more pace than the riders you were behind when you entered the corner.
The chicane, however, is a beauty, one of the finest of its kind. You can either flick left then right, attempting to maintain momentum, or you can stuff your bike up the inside of the man ahead and execute that fan favorite, the block pass. If you're ahead, on the other hand, you can slam the door on anyone attempting to get under you, forcing them almost to a standstill if they wish to remain on the track.
A completely unfounded rumor on the French site Caradisiac indicates that Ben Spies may be given a wild-card ride at the season-ending round at Valencia. If true (or even if it isn't) this makes a lot of sense. The SBK season will be long over, it would give Spies a chance to ride the M1 in a race setting on a track he knows and, with testing time extremely limited in 2010, it would give him a jump-start on the apres-race test. If Yamaha isn't actually considering this, maybe a little fan chatter will get them thinking...
Michel Fabrizio leads the first session of World Superbike qualifying at Magny-Cours, just edging out this morning's fastest man Jonny Rea, while Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies are fractions behind Rea. Less than two tenths separate the top four, while Spies has nearly half a second lead over the 5th placed man Carlos Checa. Reigning BSB champion Leon Camier ended his first qualifying session in 17th place, a position which would qualify him for Superpole tomorrow afternoon.
Hector Barbera leads the way in the 250 class at Estoril, putting over half a second on 2nd place man Alex Debon. The Frenchman Mike di Meglio was 3rd fastest, while Karel Abraham once again surprised the field with a strong 4th place. The two men in the title race had a less successful start to the weekend, with Alvaro Bautista getting the best of it with the 6th fastest time, just behind Marco Simoncelli. Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama struggled, ending the session four tenths behind Bautista and nearly a second and a half off Barbera's time.
As reported here yesterday, Chris Vermeulen and Paul Bird Kawasaki were on the verge of inking a deal that would see the personable Australian race the Green Machines for the next two years. According to Colin Young, writing on the SpeedTV website, the deal is done, the contracts signed and will be announced later today.
The 250 riders are out for their first session of free practice at Estoril, and once again, they are doing so without Mattia Pasini. Pasini's Team Toth have fallen behind for the umpteenth time on their lease payments to Aprilia for the factory-spec RSA's they are using, and Aprilia have pulled the plug, refusing to hand over the control units that allow the bikes to function.
Unless Team Toth come up with the money, Pasini's weekend - and perhaps his season - is over. According to GPOne.com, the team is waiting for "a knight in shining armor" to ride to their rescue. In the meantime, the team's second rider, Imre Toth Jr, is out on a 2001-spec Aprilia, which team boss Toth Sr. owns outright. Such an old bike is completely uncompetitive, however, and Pasini is unlikely to be willing to go out and fight for 22nd spot.