Here's a good way to start an argument, whether you're gathered over a few beers with some race-loving friends or on a internet message board or chat room. Just ask what the most important race in the world is. Within minutes, you'll have a list as long as your arm and a couple of violent disagreements to go with it, with everyone arguing the merits and faults of their own personal favorites.
Is it the Dakar, that ultimate test of man (or woman) and machine, pushing navigation skills, machine reliability and human endurance? Or perhaps it is the Monaco Formula 1 race, the event that is followed around the world, spreading the cult of motorized racing as entertainment to a global audience of casual viewers. How about the Le Mans 24 hour races, another event where either cars or motorcycles are pushed to the limits of their performance, and of their endurance, for 24 hours without rest, a real test of durability? Perhaps it's the Qatar MotoGP race, the race that marks the start of the MotoGP season, and the commencement of battle in motorcycle racing's premier class. Or maybe the Dutch TT at Assen, or the World Superbike round or Formula 1 race at Monza, putting motorcycle racing in its historical perspective. If history is the key, then surely the Isle of Man TT, the 102 year-old race around the Mountain Course, 37-odd miles of public roads. The track is too long for riders to memorize completely, and with long stretches where the bikes are held wide open over bumpy mountain roads, it tests both riders and machines to their limits.
But in my view, there can be only one answer to the question of which race is the most important in the world: The inaugural running of the TTXGP, the self-styled "world's first zero carbon, clean emission Grand Prix." The race, a single lap of the Isle of Man circuit, was held today, Friday, June 12th 2009, and was won by Rob Barber on the Team Agni bike, basically the skeleton of a Suzuki GSX-R 600 powered by a couple of Agni electric motors and 16 kWh of battery power, at an average speed of 87.434mph, or 140.711 km/h.
So why do I think that a two-wheeled golf buggy cruising around the Isle of Man just a smidgeon faster than a 1966 50cc Honda is the most important race in the world? Well, because unlike any other race currently being held, the TTXGP harks back to the very raison d'etre for racing: To improve the breed. MotoGP, World Superbikes, Formula One, Le Mans, Endurance racing; all have provided important advances for ordinary road users, and have helped push automotive technology forward on both two wheels and four. But the number of truly significant advances from these series has been dwindling for a long time now, with progress coming in the shape of ever-increasing refinement of existing concepts and ideas, rather than earth-shattering new ideas.
After the collapse of the Hoegee Suzuki team, the question was how long Barry Veneman would go without a ride. The answer, it seems, is not long: As we reported earlier this week, the Dutch Supersport veteran has secured Ten Kate Hondas to allow him to continue in the World Supersport championship for the rest of the season. And not just any old Ten Kate Hondas, but the two 2008 model CBR600RRs which Andrew Pitt used to win the World Supersport championship on last year, and which Pitt and Sofuoglu started the season on.
But though he will be supported by Ten Kate, Veneman will not be part of the Ten Kate team. The Dutchman has enough support to compete in the next three races, and is currently engaged in gathering sponsorship for the rest of the year. With a long history of personal sponsorship from electronics giant Pioneer and Shoei helmets, he should be able to raise the funds to keep the team running. Having Ten Kate donate both the bikes and providing support will help keep the racing affordable.
Gerrit ten Kate, owner of the Ten Kate team together with cousin Ronald, made it clear that they felt obliged to help Holland's best active motorcycle racer get back on the grid. "After we heard that Barry Veneman was without a ride, we put a plan together quite quickly to provide him with competitive material," Gerrit told Racesport.nl. "The news may come as a bit of a surprise to many people, but Barry has been successful on Ten Kate Hondas in the past, winning the Dutch Championship in 2003. We parted ways shortly after that, after Barry decided to ride for another manufacturer, but that's behind us now, and we want to concentrate on the future."
Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, has made his desire to field a team in MotoGP almost deafeningly clear. The former 80cc and 125cc World Champion has been trying for the past two years to line up a team in the premier class, coming tantalizingly close at the end of 2009 with Kawasaki, the deal finally falling through over arguments about what nationality the rider would be.
But in 2010, Martinez will finally achieve his ambition. After a press conference held with Mapfre, the Spanish insurance giant which sponsors the 250cc team, Martinez told the Spanish sports daily El Mundo Deportivo that he will definitely be in MotoGP with one machine in 2010, and a two-bike team in 2011.
Taken at face value, that's good news, but there is reason to treat the announcement with a sizable pinch of salt. Martinez told El Mundo Deportivo that he wanted to make the announcement here in Barcelona, even though he did not yet know which manufacturer he will be leasing bikes from next year. Going through the list of possibilities, even a single bike for Aspar's MotoGP project looks ambitious, if not entirely impossible. Honda has repeatedly said it will not provide any more than the 6 machines it already has on the MotoGP grid; Suzuki has said it cannot afford to increase its involvement, even admitting that they had come close to pulling out of MotoGP during the winter; Ducati has already expanded its delegation from 4 to 5 bikes, and that was only because of the demise of the Bridgestone test team after the introduction of the single tire rule; and Kawasaki has already withdrawn from the series, leaving just the rump of Hayate - despite Marco Melandri's outstanding results on the underdeveloped machine.
Alex Debon set the fastest time in the first session of free practice for the 250cc class at Barcelona, but he only did so in the last few seconds of the session. Debon had swapped the lead earlier in the session with Alvaro Bautista and Mattia Pasini, but the Spanish veteran eventually came out on top with his last-lap flyer.
Alvaro Bautista finished the day in 2nd, after showing strongly all through FP1, while Hiroshi Aoyama took the opposite approach, building pace slowly before eventually ending up in 3rd. Winner of the Mugello round Mattia Pasini rounds out the provisional front row. Bautista's main challenger for the title, Marco Simoncelli, could only manage the 7th fastest time, despite leading very early in the session.
Practice continues tomorrow.
Results of the 250cc FP1 session:
If there is one subject that will get MotoGP fans arguing, it is how much of Casey Stoner's success is down to his almost symbiotic relationship with the Ducati Desmosedici, and whether the Australian would be as fast on any other bike. Unfortunately for the fans, that questions looks like it will continue to go unanswered, as according to the German magazine Speedweek, Stoner is close to extending his current contract with Ducati for 2010.
According to the intervew in Speedweek, Stoner, together with his father and manager Colin, is close to reaching a deal which would see him stay with Ducati for next season. The deal would only be for one more season, though Stoner warns not to read too much into that. "I don't want to pin myself down contractually for any longer," Stoner reportedly told Speedweek.
Stoner's decision to stay with Ducati was not for a lack of interest from elsewhere, but the Australian made it plain that he has not forgotten past refusals. Both Honda and Yamaha declined to offer Stoner a factory bike at the end of the 2006 season, and that refusal still smarts with Stoner. "It's going to be quite a while before we're ready to talk to the people from Yamaha or Honda," Stoner told Speedweek.
That does not necessarily mean that Stoner will be staying with Ducati until the end of his career. "Nothing is forever," he said, but he added that he had no desire to switch either team or manufacturer. "I definitely want to win another title with Ducati," Stoner told Speedweek.
Valentino Rossi set the fastest time in a fascinating and surprising first session of free practice, but that was one of the least surprising aspects of the whole weekend. Rossi and Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo swapped the lead a number of times, but Rossi comfortably took the top spot by firing in an incredibly fast lap with 5 minutes of the session left. Lorenzo closed the gap in the final minutes, from half a second to just over 3/10ths, but could not match the Italian's pace. Casey Stoner was 3rd fastest, going fast despite a crash with a quarter of the session left, lowsiding out unhurt at the tight La Caixa corner.
A top 3 of Rossi, Lorenzo and Stoner is hardly a surprise, but behind them, things were hugely shaken up. Andrea Dovizioso in 4th is to be expected, but Randy de Puniet's 5th spot is an impressive showing on the LCR Honda, while Nicky Hayden's 6th fastest time is almost downright shocking. Prior to the MotoGP round at Barcelona, Hayden told the press that he would be trying a radically revised setup to his Ducati GP9, and it looks like it has worked. Hayden was well inside the top 10 for most of the session, and was seen with a broad smile on his face in the pits after the session, the first time that's happened for a long time. It's very early days to be passing judgment, but so far the changes seem to have worked for Hayden.
Loris Capirossi continued his run of decent form, finishing 7th ahead of Colin Edwards, while Edwards' Tech 3 Yamaha team mate James Toseland built on his strong result at Mugello, taking 10th place.
Julian Simon dominated the first session of free practice for the 125cc at Barcelona. Simon was quickest for most of the session, only briefly ceding the top of the timesheets to Marc Marquez and Nicolas Terol before snatching the fastest time back again. Fellow Spaniard and Aspar team mate Sergio Gadea was second, nearly half a second off, ahead of Nicolas Terol and Pol Espargaro.
Scott Redding was the first British rider in 8th, while Bradley Smith was 11th, just behind fellow title candidate Andrea Iannone in 10th. Danny Webb managed only the 21st fastest time, but had a nasty fall, which he got up from holding his wrist and looking in serious pain. Practice continues tomorrow morning.
After Gabor Talmacsi made the shock announcement prior to the Le Mans Grand Prix that he would not be riding for the Aspar team in the 250 class any longer, the rumors began about where the Hungarian would go for the rest of the season. There was no doubt that a rider as talented as the 2007 125cc World Champion would spend too long without a ride, but the question was, where? There were rumors of a ride in World Superbikes, as well as talk of the Hungarian taking the place of the injured Sete Gibernau, at least temporarily.
But the strongest rumor revolved around Team Scot Honda. After a brilliant 2008 season with Andrea Dovizioso at the helm, the team has been struggling badly, newly promoted Japanese rider Yuki Takahashi scrambling just to score points. The team has also been suffering with a lack of sponsorship, after Dovizioso jumped ship to join the factory Repsol Honda squad.
It turns out that there is no smoke without fire: Motorcycle News is reporting that Gabor Talmacsi will be riding for the Scot Honda squad at Barcelona, starting this afternoon. According to MCN, Talmacsi has only just been given clearance by HRC to use Takahashi's 2nd bike, and will make his MotoGP debut in this afternoon's first session of free practice at the Barcelona circuit. The report is confirmed by Talmacsi's name appearing on the official entry list for the MotoGP class at Catalunya.
The logic is simple: Team Scot needs funds, and as one of Hungary's biggest sports stars, Gabor Talmacsi will bring much needed cash into the team. And with the weather forecast to be clear skies all weekend long at Barcelona, the question of what to do in a wet race need not be addressed.
The Catalunya Grand Prix, to be held at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit, is one of the most anticipated events on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit, just a few kilometers outside Barcelona, Spain's second largest city, lies in the heart of Catalunya, the most industrious of Spain's autonomous regions and the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Three of the four Spanish riders currently in the MotoGP class are from within a thirty minute drive from the Montmelo circuit, Dani Pedrosa almost able to see the track from the window of his apartment.
And it's not just the riders. Dorna - or at least, the part of Dorna that concerns itself with MotoGP - has its offices in Barcelona. Spain's motorcycle industry, such as it is, is still based around Barcelona, as were the historic brands such as Ossa and Bultaco which were once produced not far from the city. The city is home to several of the country's major motorcycle magazines, and the surrounding region is studded with the homes of racers old and new.
So for a huge section of Spain's multitude of race fans, the Catalunya Grand Prix is their nearest race. Last year over 110,000 turned out on race day, and this year is likely to be the same, recession or no recession. All of Spain has been hit incredibly hard by the economic crisis, though the problem has been the bursting of the housing bubble rather than problems in the financial sector. But while the Catalonians have a reputation for being more serious and more dour than the rest of Spain, the fans at Barcelona still know how to throw a party. The atmosphere may not reach the levels of abandon that you see at Jerez, where the Andalusian fans party as if there's no tomorrow; at the Montmelo circuit, the fans are prepared to accept the possible existence of tomorrow, though more in theory than in practice.
The fans may be looking forward to the MotoGP round at Barcelona, and a chance to forget about their problems, however briefly, but even their anticipation cannot match that of the riders and teams. The irony is, though, that while the teams are looking forward to race day on Sunday, the riders cannot wait until the Monday after the race. Not to relax after having survived the second of the three Spanish Grand Prix, but rather so that they can get to work testing.
For the Monday after the race sees the first day of MotoGP's very limited testing program, most testing having been scrapped in an attempt to save money. Together with the reduction in practice from four sessions to just three, all of the teams have been crying out for a chance to spend some time seriously evaluating new parts for the factory teams, or just running through setup options trying to find the best setup for the satellite teams.
Of all the riders desperate for test time, none has longed for a chance to do some uninterrupted testing more than Nicky Hayden. The 2006 World Champion has been suffering with the Ducati curse, an affliction which struck down Marco Melandri last year. For the Ducati Desmosedici continues to be impossible to ride fast for everyone but Hayden's Marlboro Ducati team mate Casey Stoner, it seems. Just like last year, the bikes regularly split the field, Casey Stoner leading at the front, while Hayden, Sete Gibernau and the Pramac Ducatis bring up the rear.
On the eve of the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona comes disturbing news from Spain. Dani Amatriain, the former manager of Jorge Lorenzo and the Espargaro brothers Pol and Aleix, has been arrested by local police for issuing a series of death threats, for extortion and for obstruction of justice. The former racer had been sacked by Lorenzo in October of last year, and had withdrawn from the Grand Prix scene, saying at the time that he would have to "consider, analyze and reflect on my next steps in all aspects of my life, both professionally and my family life."
But it seems that Amatriain had a difficult time letting go. Amatriain is alleged to have threatened Jorge Lorenzo, the Espargaro brothers and several other Grand Prix riders with death and physical harm, to have demanded financial compensation, and to have demanded that certain riders sign with specific teams. The allegations were that the Spaniard had been making the threats for several months, but that the threats had intensified over the past few weeks. Amatriain is alleged to have made the threats both by telephone, in calls made in the very early hours of the morning, and also face to face. According to reports in the Spanish press, Amatriain spent the night in prison, before being released after questioning.
There are two things that people missed the most after the demise of the 500cc two strokes, and their replacement with the 990cc four-stroke MotoGP bikes: The noise and the smell. You can still experience the sweet smell of burning two-stroke oil by standing as close as possible to the track as the 250 and 125 classes howl by, but as fantastic as the smaller bikes sound, they're still no match for the crackle of the 500cc four-cylinder two-stroke machines.
Fortunately, Honda have a solution: On their historic website, they are offering brief sound clips of the championship-winning Honda NSR500 machine. The files are in MP3 format, and can be downloaded to a modern mobile phone for use as a ringtone, for example, or just for the sheer enjoyment of hearing an old NSR500 on full song. The NSR500 MP3 files can be downloaded from this page on the Honda website, part of the larger NSR500 history site at Honda.
The demise of the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team left Barry Veneman in a difficult situation. Veneman has very strong links with Suzuki, having worked for the company in Holland for several years, as well as having ridden for Suzuki in World Supersport and the Dutch ONK national championship since 2004, limiting his options for finding a ride for the rest of the season. Hoegee Suzuki were the only team running Suzukis in the World Supersport series, meaning that Veneman would either have to switch series or leave the Suzuki connection behind.
Veneman's name had been linked to a number of rides: Alstare Brux Suzuki in World Superbikes, as well as Crescent Suzuki in the British Superbike series; but there had also been rumors linking the Dutchman to the Spanish Holiday Gym team in World Supersport, riding a Yamaha.
But word is now emerging that Veneman is to stay in World Supersport after all. According to the well-informed Dutch magazine MOTO73, the Ten Kate Honda team will be fielding a third Honda CBR600RR for Veneman for the rest of the season. No further details are currently available, but this would not be the first time that the Ten Kate team fielded three bikes. In 2007, Andrew Pitt was given an extra bike for the Assen round of World Supersport, after having replaced Sebastien Charpentier in the previous race.
After Dani Pedrosa fractured the greater trochanter of his right thigh during practice at Mugello, his chances of racing at his home Grand Prix at Barcelona looked to be slim. But after a week of complete rest, things have turned around for the Spaniard, and he announced today that he will be racing at Barcelona after all.
Pedrosa was examined by Dr. Mir and Dr. Ribas at the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona today, and after a trial with painkilling injections, was given the all clear to race in the Catalunya Grand Prix. In a press release issued by the Repsol Honda team, he said "I'm really looking forward to my home Grand Prix even though the build-up has hardly been perfect. For the past week I've just been resting and that's pretty boring. But today I went to see the doctor and the results of the new scan have been quite positive. They decided to give me a trial pain-killing injection so that I can judge how it will feel ahead of the weekend. And today's scan really helped them pinpoint the best location for the injection so it can have the maximum effect, which was something they weren't able to do in Mugello. The feeling was good, so it looks like I'll have an injection before riding each day."
"Obviously it's still not going to be comfortable riding the bike but I'm feeling positive that we can go into the weekend and aim for the best possible result. In spite of the problems, my motivation for my home race is still the same. I've been waiting for this race for a long time and I want to get the best possible result for all the fans who will be there to support me. I hope I can give them a good weekend," Pedrosa said.
Last year's Red Bull US GP was unforgettable, featuring one of the most incredible races of the modern era, as Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner slugged it out in a no-holds-barred scrap for glory. This year promises to be just as good a race, but an even bigger event. The race has been scheduled to be held on the July 4th weekend, making this year's US GP a huge festival of racing.
Part of the celebrations will help do some good too. On July 2nd, Riders for Health, the organization set up by former GP star Randy Mamola together with Barry and Andrea Coleman, will be holding the Day of Stars, a unique opportunity to spend some time with some of the greatest names in motorcycle racing history. For a contribution of just USD 500, you get the chance to take a motorcycle tour of the scenic Carmel Valley wine country, have lunch with Randy Mamola, Wayne Rainey, Don Emde and a host of current and former GP stars and other celebrities, take part in the Parade Lap around the spectacular Laguna Seca circuit, and then take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the MotoGP paddock.
The Day of Stars is a chance to spend an unforgettable day with the people at the heart of MotoGP, while at the same time, doing a huge amount of good in helping provide primary health care to Africa's more remote regions. There are still a limited number of tickets available, and so you'll have to be quick if you are to join the select few who will be spending time with MotoGP's biggest names. You can find out more about the Day of Stars from the Riders for Health Day of Stars website, and you can book tickets through the Laguna Seca website, ticket code BB19WRFH-MC. Better hurry, before they're all gone.
After two promising years in the 125cc class, young American rider Stevie Bonsey was set to make his debut in the 250 class at the start of the 2009 season. Tragically, the financial crisis put an end to that, his Aprilia Madrid team forced to withdraw at the start of the season. Since then, Bonsey has been sat on the sidelines of Grand Prix racing, keeping his racing eye in by competing in flat track events back in the US.
Fortunately, Bonsey has been thrown a lifeline. The American will return to the 250 class, this time aboard an Aprilia LE with the Milar - Juegos Lucky team. Bonsey will be joining the Milar - Juegos Lucky team for the remainder of the season, along with half of the Aprilia Madrid team. Though the step marks an important return for Bonsey, too much should not be expected of the American, as he returns to racing on an Aprilia LE, with a massive power and handling disadvantage over the factory-spec RSAs. And so far, the Milar- Juegos Lucky team has failed to make much of an impact, their best results a pair of 18th places for Spanish rider Aitor Rodriguez. Rodriguez, currently injured, will be losing his place to Bonsey, though the native of Madrid has been offered a wildcard ride by the team as compensation.
Though Bonsey's results are likely to be modest at best for 2009, his move to the Milar - Juegos Lucky team is in part a strategic move. The team has already submitted an entry for the new Moto2 class, due to replace the 250s from next season. According to Motoworld.es, the rider they submitted the entry for is Stevie Bonsey. At Barcelona, the team will find out whether their submission has been successful or not, as the FIM is due to announce the list of entries which have been accepted for the new class at the Catalunya Grand Prix.