Ben Spies confirmed his form by taking provisional pole position at Valencia this morning, putting him in prime position for Superpole this afternoon. But Spies took top spot by just a fraction, Regis Laconi getting his DFX Corse Ducati to within 5/1000ths of a second of Spies' Yamaha, and pushing Max Biaggi's Aprilia down to third.
The session was a difficult one for the Aprilias, with Shinya Nakano's Aprilia blowing a seal and spewing oil all over the track, causing the session to be red flagged briefly to clean it up. Even worse for Nakano, the oil on his back tire caused the Japanese rider to highside nastily, breaking his left collarbone in the process and ruling him out of the rest of the weekend. Biaggi fared little better, being sidelined twice with technical problems.
The BMWs, on the other hand, showed some signs of improving, Troy Corser jumping up to 6th place in the standings, ahead of Ducati's Noriyuki Haga, who was unable to improve his time from yesterday.
The problem is that the times are so close that a couple of hundredths can move riders up or down the standings several places. Team Pedercini's David Salom is the first rider to be over a second behind Spies' time, but this leaves him down in 21st place, and out of Superpole. Series newcomer John Hopkins is just 0.847 off Spies, and has only just scraped into Superpole. But on a new bike and new tires, and after having ridden the bike for little more than an hour before arriving at Valencia, that's not bad going, especially as he is just over 1/10th behind his team mate Leon Haslam.
The final grid positions will be determined by this afternoon's Superpole session, scheduled to kick off at 3pm.
Aggregate World Superbike result after QP2:
Joan Lascorz continued his domination at Valencia during the second session of free practice. In the cool of the morning, the Spanish Kawasaki man led for much of the session, but Britain's Cal Crutchlow kept Lascorz honest, taking over the top spot for the latter part of practice. Lascorz then pulled out a record-breaking lap in the last minutes of practice to take back top spot. Lascorz finished a third of a second ahead of Crutchlow.
But the Kawasaki rider and the Yamaha man were way ahead of the rest of the field. Ant West was 3rd fastest, over a second behind Lascorz, while behind West, the field was a good deal closer. Michele Pirro was a creditable 4th on the Lorenzini Yamaha, while Eugene Laverty took 5th spot on the Parkalgar Honda. Barry Veneman was top Suzuki rider in 7th, as ever, while the Ten Kate Hondas continued to struggle with setting up their 2009 Honda CBR600RRs, Kenan Sofuoglu finishing in 8th, well ahead of series leader Andrew Pitt down in 12th.
The sole qualifying session will take place this afternoon at 1pm.
Full times from the World Supersport FP2 session at Valencia:
When the Moto2 class was announced, the purpose behind the series was immediately clear. The introduction of a 20,000 euro engine claiming rule and the emphasis on a prototype chassis was aimed at tempting private companies into the series to build chassis for lightly tweaked production engines. After years of Aprilia being able to pick and choose winners by deciding who to supply with factory-spec 250s, and often ending up with the highest bidder, something had to be done about reducing the price of competing in MotoGP's support class.
And after the rules were announced, a number of teams and chassis builders showed an interest in the class, just as Dorna and the FIM had predicted and hoped. There was, however, a rather large fly in the ointment. The elephant in the room during all these announcements was the agreement that FGSport - now Infront Motor Sports - claims to have with the FIM, giving them the monopoly on world championship racing with production motorcycles, and allowing Dorna to race with prototypes.
At the IRTA tests in Jerez, the FIM and Dorna shocked the motorcycle racing world by announcing a possible solution to this thorny problem: the MSMA had proposed that a single engine supplier be appointed for the class, eliminating the most costly part of running a bike in the class. A sensible proposal, and realistically the only way around the problem of using production engines, but the proposal has also had the unfortunate effect of scaring off the very people the class was intended to attract.
The Ten Kate team, for example, had previously indicated that they were very interested in the series. But the single engine proposal had changed their minds. MotoGPMatters.com cornered Ronald and Gerrit ten Kate of the Ten Kate Honda team about the new proposals, and asked their opinion.
The track had clearly warmed up for the first qualifying session of World Superbikes at Valencia, and the times dropped considerably. Not only were the times a lot different, but the timesheet was completely shook up as well. Max Biaggi topped the Friday afternoon qualifying session on the Aprilia RSV4, with Yamaha's Ben Spies having much improved his times, up from 17th in the morning session just over a tenth behind. Spies took second place by the narrowest of margins, edging out Xerox Ducati's Noriyuki Haga by just one thousandth of a second.
The front three had a comfortable margin to the rest of the field, but the difference between Michel Fabrizio's 4th place and Ryuichi Kiyonari in 10th was just over one tenth of a second. New boy John Hopkins dropped two places from the morning session, finishing qualifying in 18th. But he improved his time, and after the session, Stiggy team boss said "John started to understand the bike in this session". Hopper's 18th place would at least put him in the frame for Superpole.
The second qualifying practice session takes place tomorrow morning, with the final grid to be settled in Superpole at 3pm.
Results for the first qualifying session of practice at the Valencia World Superbike round:
Joan Lascorz continued where he left off from last year at Valencia today, dominating in practice at the track where he won a convincing victory last year. The Lascorz was light years ahead of the rest of the field, with Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow the only rider to get within a second of the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki. Katsuaki Fujiwara's third fastest time suggests that the Kawasakis are pretty fast here at Valencia, though Lascorz is over a second faster than his team mate.
From third place, the field tightens up considerably, with 9/10ths covering third through fifteenth. Kenan Sofuoglu is fastest of the title contenders in fourth spot, while his team mate and championship leader Andrew Pitt is down in tenth, behind Ant West, who was eighth fastest, but ahead of the winner at Qatar Eugene Laverty, who is way down in 14th.
Practice continues tomorrow, with the single qualifying session under the new event schedule due to take place tomorrow at 1pm.
Full results of first session of World Supersport free practice at Valencia:
After the Ducatis dominated the early part of the first session of free practice, they were eventually ousted by the Hondas at the end of practice. Ten Kate's Ryuichi Kiyonari was fast for much of the session, but it was Carlos Checa who eventually took top spot, ahead of the Suzuki of Yukio Kagayama and the Aprilia of Max Biaggi.
The two title protagonists fared much less well during the session. Though Nori Haga was at the top of the timesheets early on, he later dropped down to 9th position, while Ben Spies finished way down in 17th place, as he learned his way round the track. Spies was 6 places behind his Yamaha team mate Tom Sykes, who finished 11th.
Newcomer to the class John Hopkins finished the session reasonably well, finishing in 16th, 4 places behind his Stiggy Racing team mate Leon Haslam, and just under a second off the pace. Practice continues this afternoon, with the first session of qualifying.
Full times from the first free practice session of World Superbikes at Valencia:
Once upon a time, what seems like an age ago now, there was fictional oil company sponsoring a motorcycle racing team. The sponsor - Venture Petroleum - was part of the back story for a movie being made set against the background of MotoGP, and their - rather handsome - livery featured on Kenny Roberts' KR211V bike. News of the movie sparked a flurry of interest from hardcore motorcycle fans, but tragically, the film never materialized, disappearing in an argument over image rights between the production company and Dorna. The fans heaved a sigh of disappointment, and went back to hoping that one day, somebody somewhere would make a motorcycle racing film to rival the legendary Grand Prix.
That day may be closer than they think. Much to everyone's surprise, the Guandalini Racing Team turned up with their trailer sporting the following logo:
Frankie Chili, team manager told us "we put the sticker on the bike from now on. We have some details to discuss, but they have already signed the contract with Infront Motor Sports." Asked when he thought the movie would be out, Chili said "It's hard to say for me, but we hope next year to be ready. This year we make some shots, and next we show the movie."
With Infront Motor Sports seemingly more willing to help media companies than Dorna, maybe this time the movie will finally get released. It's one event that fans have been waiting for for a long time.
There is a long and healthy history of international rivalries in motorcycle racing, and these rivalries change with each generation. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a clash of East vs West, as the Japanese manufacturers entered, then dominated the world championship series, forcing out the European makes. In the 1970s and 1980s came the clash of the Americans versus the British, which culminated - and was exemplified by - the Transatlantic Challenge.
In the 21st Century, the chief rivalry has been more provincial. It is a rivalry between two countries separated not by a continent or an ocean, but just a few hundred miles of scenic coastal road. But it is a rivalry perhaps more intense than ever, as it encompasses not just riders or manufacturers, but entire World Championships.
The MotoGP series is a strongly Spanish, or perhaps even strongly Catalan affair, the organizer being based in Barcelona and the series full of Catalan teams and riders. The World Superbike series, on the other hand, is an almost entirely Italian affair, the organizers, the teams, the riders, even the dominant bikes to a large extent Italian. A walk through the World Superbike paddock is like taking a stroll through a small Italian village, with groups of men gathered in small groups talking and gesticulating furiously in that unmistakably Italian style.
So inevitably, there is friction when World Superbikes encroaches on Spanish territory. The Spanish national TV broadcaster, TVE, barely rates the series worth a mention, having splashed a considerable portion of its outside broadcast budget on MotoGP - though the fact that a rival broadcaster has the rights to the series may also have something to do with the lack of interest from TVE.
There was a flurry of excitement in the Italian media a little over a week ago over the parts being used by the Ten Kate Honda Supersport machines. The Italian website Motocorse.com reported that the Ten Kate CBR600RRs had been forced to remove a crankcase pump by the scrutineers after the practice session at Qatar, and that this was what had made it possible for Eugene Laverty to beat Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt's Ten Kate bikes on the Parkalgar Honda.
The story was right in all particulars, except for one. The Ten Kate Hondas had practiced with an electric crankcase pump (used to reduce the pumping losses created by the pistons going up and down in the crankcase), and after practice, it had been declared illegal by the scrutineers, despite protests. But this wasn't the reason that the Parkalgar Honda wasn't competitive. For the Parkalgar bikes had had exactly the same thing happen: They too had practiced with exactly the same part, and been forced to remove it by the scrutineers.
Speaking to MotoGPMatters, Parkalgar's Eugene Laverty said, "We had something on for the practice, but we were told to take it off for the race. It wasn't illegal but we had to do it anyway. We didn't run it in the race." If the removal of the pump meant Ten Kate were down on power, the same applied for the Parkalgar team. Laverty's victory over World Supersport title favorites Sofuoglu and Pitt had nothing to do with the loss of an artificial advantage for Ten Kate, and more with the strength of Laverty and the Parkalgar team.
The atmosphere at the official IRTA tests at Jerez was rather subdued. The global financial crisis has had a palpable impact on the paddock, not least of all the disappearance of the Kawasaki team, now reliant on crates being shipped from place to place, rather than having their own transporter. In an effort to respond to the worsening financial crisis, the FIM and Dorna announced a swathe of measures aimed at cutting costs in the series.
The measures announced varied from eminently sensible (adding 2kg to the minimum weights), to currently unnecessary (the ban on variable exhaust systems and composite ceramic brakes, which nobody is using anyway), to the completely pointless (the ban on GPS, which is easy but more expensive to circumvent). But the one rule change that is exercising people the most is the "rookie rule" - a rule which some people are calling the "Ben Spies rule" but which could just as easily be called the Alvaro Bautista rule or the Marco Simoncelli rule.
Under the proposal - which came from IRTA, which represents the teams, rather than the manufacturers - riders eligible for the Rookie of the Year award (basically anyone doing their first full season of MotoGP) would not be allowed to go straight to a factory team, but would have to spend at least a year on a satellite or private team. The reasoning behind the rule is that this would give the satellite teams a shot at signing riders with the publicity value to attract proper sponsorship.
Of course, in practice, the rule is likely to work completely differently. As Paolo Scalera of GPOne.com pointed out in the press conference announcing the rule, a factory wishing to sign a big name rookie will simply set up their own "satellite" team, leaving the existing satellite teams in the cold, just as happened when Honda set up the "satellite" Nastro Azzurro team with all of Mick Doohan's former crew for Valentino Rossi in 2000.
MotoGPMatters.com is coming to you live from Valencia this weekend (thanks in part to your generous donations, and our kind sponsors), to report on the third round of the World Superbike Championship. We arrived in the area yesterday, dropping off Spain's central Meseta to enter the coastal plain around the city of Valencia. On the drive up from Jerez, the weather had been getting gradually worse, with rain finally greeting us as we headed east from Madrid.
The weather here recently has been fairly dismal, with rain and even snow at higher altitudes in the east of the Iberian peninsula, but the sun is out, with only light cloud protecting the pasty occupants of the press room from serious sunburn. As always on Thursday, the paddock is a hive of activity, as teams assemble their hospitality suites and the late arrivals roll in.
The forecast for the rest of the weekend is good - comfortably warm, dry, yet with occasional clouds to keep off the worst of the sun, and there's every chance of a fascinating couple of races ahead. Will Ben Spies continue to close the gap on Noriyuki Haga, or will he struggle, as some of the European contingent believe he will now that the circus has hit Europe? Stay tuned for news and updates as they happen.
Ask any well-informed race fan who has a shot at the MotoGP title this year, and just about every single one of them will give you three names: Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. In an ideal world, we would have been able to judge their relative strengths during testing, but all three have had injury problems of one kind or another, making comparison difficult. Casey Stoner had surgery to fix a broken scaphoid at the end of last year, and although he has been his usual blisteringly fast self, he has not yet run a race simulation with his newly fixed wrist. Valentino Rossi went to Qatar and Sepang with stitches in his foot, after falling over on a glass table, but his injuries have barely slowed him down.
The most unfortunate of the bunch so far has been Dani Pedrosa. After surgery over the winter to fix a problem with his knee, a horrific highside at Qatar saw him break a bone in his wrist and open a huge gash in his newly-operated knee. Pedrosa's wrist will fix quickly, but the knee problem caused the Spaniard to miss the crucial IRTA test at Jerez, and could even endanger the start of his season. Pedrosa's problem is that the skin graft required to close the gash in his knee means that his knee has had to be immobilized, the smallest movement threatening to reopen the wound, which would be both painful and potentially dangerous, with the threat of infection. The knee is continuing to heal, but recovery from such an injury is slow and difficult.
After testing previously at Estoril, the Red Bull Rookies took over the track from the MotoGP riders at Jerez on Monday and Tuesday. The tiny Japanese rider Daijiro Hiura had dominated in Portugal, but at Jerez, it was the turn of the - in Red Bull Rookie terms - veteran rider Sturla Fagerhaug to take the top spot, two tenths of a second ahead of Spaniard Daniel Ruiz, with Hiura half a second off Fagerhaug's time of 1'52.223. With the times they set today, Fagerhaug and Ruiz would have been ahead of the last two official 125 World Championship riders, and 5 seconds behind Julian Simon's best time of 1'47.318.
The original 24 riders have had their numbers swelled by a few riders jumping over from the canceled US series, including American's Benny Solis, Jake Gagne and Australian dirt track ace Josh Hook. All 27 entries will race 8 races this year, at 6 MotoGP rounds, making their debut at the first European round of MotoGP back at Jerez on the first weekend of May.
Red Bull Rookie Times:
With the IRTA Test behind us, it is an interesting exercise to map out the best times for all of the riders over the entire two-day weekend of testing at Jerez. Unsurprisingly, the best times for most people were set during the BMW M Award session, but the lack of qualifying tires this year, combined with the fact that that 45 minute session was disrupted by both the weather and James Toseland's crash meant that there was not so much in it. Casey Stoner came out of both the M Award and the entire weekend as the clear winner, although both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were closer than these times suggest. Jorge Lorenzo, in particular, made a big step forward, and looks like he could run with Rossi, Stoner and Pedrosa this season, though he is still not ready to challenge for the title. At least, that's what he says.
But the Suzukis are back on track again too. This is the third different track at which Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen have been competitive, and it looks like they could be close to the fight for the podium this year again. Mika Kallio pulled out a single perfect lap for the M Award session, but otherwise, was further off the pace, and the Ducatis which aren't ridden by Casey Stoner seem to be struggling once again. Vito Guareschi, Ducati's test rider, was out with a cast aluminium chassis, suggesting they may be experimenting with a chassis which copes with crashing better, anticipating the single bike rule expected to come into effect in 2010, but the factory riders stayed with the carbon fiber frame. Casey Stoner tried both an aluminium and a carbon fiber swingarm, and ended up on the carbon fiber item.
Honda look to be struggling still, and are badly missing the input of the injured Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso still lacking experience in bike development, though he is learning fast. HRC will have a lot of catching up to do once Pedrosa's knee is healed, and the Spaniard is back in action. While Hayate seem to have solved some of the rear traction problems they were having, at least on a dry track which has some heat in it. Marco Melandri may not end up being 18th everywhere after all, though Qatar could still be a problem, where a cold track could cause him problems.
In two weeks time, all this speculation will end, thank heavens, as the riders hit the track and start racing once again. The time for talking is nearly at an end, and the time for twisting the throttle is almost here.
The progress of the young American rider Steve Bonsey is being followed closely by some people in the paddock. Having been brought straight into GPs from dirt track at the behest of Kenny Roberts Senior, a bright future was ascribed to Bonsey. After two years in 125s, Bonsey was set to move up to 250s this year, the logical progression in the "European" school of motorcycle racing.
Unfortunately for the young American, he joined the Aprilia Madrid team right at the wrong time, just as the financial crisis hit the world economy. At the IRTA tests earlier this week, Bonsey's Aprilia Madrid were a no-show, with no evidence that the team would turn up at any point. The rumors in the paddock suggest that the team has folded, leaving the American without a ride. Whether Bonsey will get a ride with another team is as yet uncertain. There were suggestions linking him to another Aprilia team, but so far, nothing more reliable has appeared.
Bonsey's manager is in the paddock, and told reporters that he was talking to teams, but nothing had been sorted yet. It would be a shame if the American should fail at the second step on the path to MotoGP.