As reported yesterday, Marco Melandri will be on the grid at Qatar for the start of the 2009 season. Melandri will be riding a Kawasaki, with support provided by the Akashi factory. The company issued a statement earlier today, stating that the agreement to provide support for the team had come because of "the necessity to come to constructive solutions for all related parties."
Given the amount of public pressure Dorna had placed on Kawasaki, it seems reasonable to interpret this to mean that Dorna had placed severe pressure on Kawasaki to honor the contract which the Akashi factory had with MotoGP's organizers, after Carmelo Ezpeleta had made veiled - and not-so-veiled - threats to take Kawasaki to court for breach of contract. Although this seems to have solved Dorna's problem in the short term, Kawasaki are likely to be very wary of ever returning to the series once the economy recovers, afraid of finding themselves once more stuck in a series they cannot get out of without spending a lot of money.
Meanwhile, Dorna's own legal difficulties with the FIM look to have been solved, as the minimum quota of 18 riders has been met, which it is believed is stipulated by the private contracts between the FIM and Dorna. MotoGP remains a world championship. Just.
In times of crisis, drastic measures are necessary. That has been the thought behind many of the cost-cutting measures put forward to help MotoGP tackle the global financial crisis which has threatened to engulf the series since late last year. Yet the sense of urgency engendered by the seriousness of the situation can lead to hasty decisions, and cause those gathered round the table to jump to conclusions which, upon closer examination, turn out to have the opposite effects to what was intended.
According to none other than Masao Furusawa, head of Yamaha's MotoGP program, that is exactly what has happened with the proposals to extend engine life. According to Motorcycle News, the head of the Japanese giant believes that the new rules will force the factories to redesign the existing engines for more durability, raising development costs. "If we decide to use one engine for two or three races, with the current engine you can’t do that," Furusawa said.
Redesigning the engine will lead to bigger costs, Furusawa said. He added that in the long term, costs could be cut, once the teams start seeing savings from the reduced maintenance cycles required by the more durable engines. But before they get to that stage, the factories will have to invest.
From the moment that the cost-cutting measures were rumored, we here at MotoGPMatters.com have argued that this was exactly what was going to happen. The option of limiting revs was dismissed out of hand by Furusawa, for the obvious reason that this could hand their rivals a potential advantage. And so to extend engine life, the first thing that the engineers are going to do to redesign the engine for more robustness without sacrificing horsepower. That redesign, we argued, would lead the factories to spend more money, rather than less.
Episode 673 in the Kawasaki saga, as Marco Melandri used his Facebook profile once again to announce his intentions to the world. According to the Italian press, Melandri wrote "for the moment, we will test the bike at Losail, we will see whether it's going to be worth racing the bike after the test: if the bike's a disaster, we will all go home."
More interesting news about just which bike Melandri will be testing. GPOne.com is reporting that the Italian will be riding the updated 2008 version of the bike at Qatar, which was tested at Valencia and Phillip Island earlier. Melandri had previously rejected trying to race this bike, but the prospect of a year on the sidelines may have persuaded him to give the bike one more chance.
Whether this is just idle speculation or a genuine plan, we will see soon enough. The Qatar tests take place this weekend, and if Melandri is there on a Kawasaki, we will finally get an inkling of how this story is to end.
Fascinating news from Italy. According to a post on the Oberdan Bezzi's blog, Yamaha are building a Moto2 bike, ready to compete when the series replaces the 250 class, either in 2010 or 2011. Bezzi, an Italian motorcycle designer, has a stunning mockup of what the bike would look like, named, appropriately enough, the YZR 600 M2.
According to Bezzi, Yamaha has decided that the new Moto2 class could offer a good return on investment, as a way of providing production racing motorcycles to buying customers at an affordable price. In line with this thought, the bikes would be sold in Yamaha's traditional red and white production livery, much as the old TZ bikes were back in the 1980s. The bikes would be offered for sale, and not provided on a lease basis, as the bikes in MotoGP are.
Should the story be true, and Yamaha be genuinely interested in producing equipment for the Moto2 class, it would mark a turning point for the series. So far, the entries have been almost entirely from chassis specialists such as Moriwaki, Suter and BQR, building prototype chassis around production engines - mostly Honda's popular CBR600RR powerplant. But a manufacturer producing bikes would change the game significantly. What's more, Yamaha producing limited run racing motorcycles for sale would not violate the terms of the contract which the Flammini brothers have with the FIM for production-based motorcycle racing. Although the powerplant would undoubtedly be similar to Yamaha's R6 engine, changes would have to be made for it to comply with the current set of rules. The R6 is already close to the rev limit enforced under the Moto2 regulations, and the engine would likely be modified for torque, rather than power.
More troubled times for the combination of Hungary and MotoGP. This time, the financial crisis is hitting Gabor Talmacsi, former 125 Wold Champion, and about to make his debut in the 250 class, with support from the Aspar team. In an interview, Talmacsi's manager, Stefano Tavaro to Hungarian radio station Inforadio that one after another of Talmacsi's smaller sponsors were pulling out, leaving the Hungarian team with a growing hole in the budget. The team has been trying to fill this hole by cutting back on travel costs, according to Tavaro.
But not everyone had abandoned Talmacsi: The Hungarian oil company MOL is standing firm behind the former champion, and will continue to sponsor the team. Meanwhile, Talmacsi's extended network is hard at work trying to drum up new sponsorship, and given his status in his home country, fresh money may yet come in to replace the sponsors which have left. But this will not be easy in Hungary: business has been hit hard by a double whammy of a declining economy and falling currency. Hungarian companies and individuals were holding a lot of loans in either Euros or Swiss Francs, taking advantage of the drastically lower interest rates. But since August last year, the value of the Hungarian Forint has fallen against the Euro by around 30%, vastly increasing debt levels, and pushing a lot of businesses into financial problems.
With racing just a few days away, dedicated motorcycle racing fans are preparing for the 2009 season by going over last year. They find themselves thumbing through the official Motocourse 2008 annual or Julian Ryder's 2008 MotoGP season review, or perhaps even Michael Scott's book 60 Years of MotoGP, and contemplating the season ahead. But as outstanding as those publications are, sometimes, race fans want a little something different, something that they can put beside their favorite chair and thumb through, reliving some of the most remarkable moments of 2008.
For those discerning fans, here's something to tickle their palates. Eminent motorcycle racing photographer Andrew Wheeler, responsible for some the outstanding images fans see in motorcycle publications around the world, has produced his own coffee table book, containing his favorite photos from 2008. The book, a 10"x10" glossy hardback, is not cheap, but the quality of the photos and the sumptuousness of the production makes you soon forget the purchase price.
This is a book to covet. And though Wheeler's review is worth having every year, the 2008 version is even more special, as it contains That Pass, a sequence of photos following Valentino Rossi's spectactular dive through the gravel to pass Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca. Three seconds of racing history captured in exquisite detail, to be examined at leisure.
The final test before the World Superbikes season commences wrapped up at Phillip Island today, and it was the turn of the Ducatis to take a step forward. After losing their near iconic leader Troy Bayliss to retirement last year, Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga stepped in to show that they are ready to defend Bayliss' crown in his absence. Fabrizio ended the day fastest, his 1'32.19 the fastest lap of all of the tests done here over the past couple of weeks, and well under Bayliss' winning lap time from last year's race. Team mate Haga was not far behind, just fractionally ahead of new boy Ben Spies. The American took a second off his time from yesterday, on only the second day of riding at the track.
Yesterday's fastest man Max Neukirchner could not improve his time, and dropped to 4th on the timesheet. The day also saw more crashes, with both Britons Johnny Rea and Tom Sykes hitting the dirt, both fortunately uninjured. Yesterday's victim Carlos Checa chose to sit out today, in order to recover for the race here due to start next weekend. But the big victim on Saturday was BMW's Troy Corser. The Australian hit a seagull, not an unusual occurrence at the racetrack at the edge of the sea, but the force was such that he was advised by medical staff not to take any further part in the session. Up until that point, Corser had been making good progress on the BMW, closing the gap on the front runners. In the end, he finished the day with the 6th fastest time.
The final World Superbike test before the season commences in under 7 days time started today, and it was another Max topping the timesheets at Phillip Island. This time, it was German Suzuki man Max Neukirchner who was fastest, just dipping underneath the time set by Max Biaggi on the Aprilia last week. Neukirchner led the factory Ducati of Michel Fabrizio and his Suzuki team mate Yukio Kagayama, with British rider Johnny Rea coming in 4th. The Yamaha riders were both new to the Phillip Island track, and were 7/10ths off Neukirchner's pace.
But the day was marked by crashes, with Fabrizio, Nori Haga and Troy Corser all hitting the dirt. Most serious of all, though, was Ten Kate Honda's Carlos Checa, who was taken to hospital for examination after apparently losing his memory of the crash. He was later released from hospital, but his participation in testing tomorrow is in doubt.
Local hero and former GP legend Garry McCoy was quickest of the Supersport riders, and 3/10ths quicker than his compatriot Ant West here last week. The BE1 Triumph rider finished ahead of the factory Yamahas of Cal Crutchlow and Fabien Foret. Ten Kate's two champions - and joint favorites for the title - Andrew Pitt and Kenan Sofuoglu were a couple of tenths behind McCoy's pace.
Testing continues tomorrow.
On Wednesday, we reported that Sino-British Maxtra squad would be forced to change their name, after a French company claimed exclusive use of the name. The story, first published on the German website Motorsport-Magazin, also reported rumors that two-stroke engineering genius Jan Witteveen had also parted company with the British team, reputedly over disappointment with the results of the bike so far.
Speaking to Motorcycle News yesterday, team manager Garry Taylor both confirmed and denied the story. The former head of Suzuki's MotoGP team conceded that they were likely to have to change their name, after an administrative oversight missed the fact that the Maxtra name was being claimed. But Taylor denied outright that Witteveen would be leaving the project. "I don't know where that came from," he told MCN, "Jan is on board."
Should the rumors of Witteveen's departure turn out to be true, his shoes could quickly be filled. After running the story, MotoGPMatters.com was contacted by a leading engineering firm, eager to take his place.
Sete Gibernau has been forced to miss the upcoming test at Qatar due to take place in early March. The Spaniard damaged a ligament during training, and has been advised by doctors that he needs four weeks of rest for the injury to recover properly. Gibernau was already recovering from an earlier operation on his shoulder, and the doctors felt that the injury needed complete rest if Sete is to be fit for the start of the season.
The injury will come as a double blow for Gibernau: The Spanish veteran has suffered a long litany of injuries to the shoulder, and had only just had a plate removed which had been put in place to fix a collarbone injury Gibernau had suffered in his final year of MotoGP in 2006. But of more immediate concern, it would have been Gibernau's first chance to ride under the lights at Qatar. While the rest of the field - with the exception of Niccolo Canepa - have all already raced under the lights, the experience would have been extremely useful to Gibernau, if the Spaniard is to feature during the first race of the season.
Instead, Gibernau will make his reappearance at Jerez, at the official IRTA test at Jerez, at the end of March. By that time, he should be fully fit once more.
For a long time now, the question of Rizla's sponsorship has been hanging over Suzuki like a sword of Damocles. Rumors that the cigarette paper manufacturer would not extend its contract have been rife, especially in the Spanish and Italian press. And after the team turned up in traditional factory colors, it looked like their could be some substance to those rumors.
Fortunately for Suzuki, all those reports appear to wrong. Loris Capirossi told GPOne.com today that Rizla have signed a new contract with Suzuki for 2009. According to Capirex, the deal was done after the Sepang tests, where the Italian and his Australian team mate Chris Vermeulen set some outstanding times.
When contacted by MotoGPMatters.com, Tim Walpole, the press spokesman for the team denied that a deal had already been done. "Loris is probably jumping the gun on this one," he said. "We're still in discussions with Rizla, but no deal has been signed. The discussions are taking place in a very positive atmosphere, and we're pretty sure we'll come to an agreement." When asked whether the positive air to the talks was down to Suzuki's excellent showing at the recent Sepang tests, Walpole replied, "Well it can't have hindered, but the talks were already very positive before we went to Malaysia."
News is starting to come in from Hungary that the Grand Prix due to be run there on September 20th at the Balatonring has been canceled. According to our sources, the Hungarian minister announced officially that the Grand Prix would not go ahead.
The reason is almost certainly a delay in getting the track finished, but until we get further news, this will have to remain speculation. More news when we get it.
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
It seems our sources were running way with themselves. Further research, and a kind note from Hungarian TV commentator Ádám Haraszti, turned up no confirmation of this story. It seems that this was merely the same story that we ran 10 days ago, in which the Hungarian Minister for Sport expressed his doubts that the track would be finished in time. Should any new statements from Hungary turn up, we'll be sure to check them first.
As we reported earlier today, the Grand Prix Commission has announced a slew of new rules for MotoGP, supposedly aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. The measures contain a mixture of news for MotoGP fans, some good, some bad, and some seemingly incomprehensible. Let's go through the measures one by one, and examine the possible impact.
First up is the revised weekend schedule, which sees the Friday morning practice dropped, and the other practice sessions severely shortened. A race weekend will now look as follows:
|13:05-13:45||125cc Free Practice 1|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Free Practice 1|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Free Practice 1|
|09:05-09:45||125cc Free Practice 2|
|10:05-10:50||MotoGP Free Practice 2|
|11:05-11:50||250cc Free Practice 2|
|13:05-13:45||125cc Qualifying Practice|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Qualifying Practice|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Qualifying Practice|
|08:40-09:00||125cc Warm Up|
|09:10-09:30||250cc Warm Up|
|09:40-10:00||MotoGP Warm Up|
Starting a brand new team with a brand new bike is hard at the best of times, but to do so in the midst of the biggest economic slowdown the world has seen for 80 years is brave beyond reason. There was a good deal of interest when former Suzuki team boss Garry Taylor presented the new Maxtra Racing project back at the Shanghai Grand Prix in May of last year, before the crisis struck, and that interest has continued as the project has progressed.
But according to Dutch website Racesport.nl, trouble has hit the team, and in a stroke of bitter irony, it is not even related to the global financial crisis. First of all, the team is likely to have to change its name, after a French company has laid claim to use of the name Maxtra. Since the rumors emerged on Racesport, the Maxtra Racing website has been inaccessible, any attempts to access it requiring a username and password. The team is likely to switch to using the name of the Chinese motorcycle company funding the team, Haojue, dropping the disputed Maxtra moniker. But a rebranding exercise is never cheap, and everything, from team shirts to race trucks to letterheads will have to be reprinted, repainted or recycled.
Worse news comes from the engineering department, however. Jan Witteveen, the brilliant Dutch engineer responsible for designing championship-winning engines for Aprilia, is rumored to have withdrawn from the Maxtra project, reportedly due to his unhappiness at the performance of the bike. Fear that his reputation could be tarnished by its lack of pace is believed to be the motivating factor for pulling out.
Just where all this leaves the new team remains to be seen, but they should still have sufficient funds to field both British rookie Matt Hoyle and the more experienced Michael Ranseder.
Testing concluded for the penultimate time at Phillip Island, with only one more batch of riders due to test at the Australian circuit before the season commences in just over a week's time. Where Shinya Nakano had been quickest yesterday, today, it was the turn of his Aprilia team mate Max Biaggi to top the timesheets. The Roman Emperor just pipped Regis Laconi to the post, the DFX Ducati rider lapping only one hundredth of a second slower. Nakano was third fastest, ahead of an unleashed Broc Parkes on the Kawasaki. The Akashi factory may have pulled out of MotoGP, but they have stepped up support for some of the other series, posting a huge contingency in the AMA, and promising much more support in World Superbikes. By the look of Parkes' performance today, they may have got it right.
Of the World Supersport bikes, it was a former Kawasaki rider who topped the timesheets. Ant West repeated his performance from yesterday, setting the fastest lap on his Stiggy Motorsports Honda.
The next test will be this weekend, and then racing begins in earnest.