|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'49.149||1.028||0.175|
|18||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'50.158||2.037||0.027|
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|11||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||2'01.683||1.910||0.055|
|17||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||2'03.396||3.623||0.161|
For the past few years, Suzuki has been using the slogan "Own The Racetrack" to market its legendary and long-running GSX-R sports bikes line. Of course, when they use the phrase "own the racetrack" they mean it in a metaphorical sense, of being the best bike out on the circuit, rather than the literal sense of actually paying money to own and operate a racing facility for your own personal use.
Yet that is exactly what a number of manufacturers have chosen to do. Literally owning your own racetrack offers a whole swathe of advantages if you design and produce any kind of vehicle, and so this is a path that several bike makers have elected to follow. Yamaha owns the Sportsland Sugo track, for example, and Kawasaki owns the Autopolis International Racing Course near Hita in Japan.
As befits the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, Honda owns more racetracks than the others, holding the deeds for both the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, site of Sunday's Japanese MotoGP round, and its former location, the Suzuka International Race Course. And Honda's pair of race tracks could hardly be more different: where Motegi is a straightforward stop-and-go track with little to commend it, Suzuka is fast, flowing and challenging, presenting the rider with a series of problems to overcome. Sadly, since Dajiro Katoh's tragic death there in 2003 - the incident which sparked the initial discussions on reducing engine capacity to 800cc - the Japanese Grand Prix is no longer held at Suzuka, and has been switched to Motegi instead.
A Tale Of Two Circuits
Like Suzuka, Motegi was originally built as a test track for developing Honda's range of vehicles. And like Suzuka, Motegi features a mixture of turns, from tight hairpins to long sweepers, taken at a range of speeds. But where John Hugenholtz managed to imbue Suzuka with character and charm, and connect the corners in such a way as to create a kind of racing narrative, Motegi's designers created a track where a series of turns of a given specification were simply connected by the most straightforward means possible.
Even the corner names are uninspiring, simple descriptions of the type of corner involved. Turns such as S Curve, Hairpin, 90 Corner all speak for themselves, with only the merest sliver of imagination going into Victory Corner, the final turn before heading back down the front straight. For the most part, though, the track consists of a series of medium-length straights, most of which are connected by varying radius hairpins.
Fortunately, in addition to the selection of about-face turns, there's a flowing section to add some appeal. After zigzagging back along the 3rd short straight from the starting line, a sharp right leads on to the most interesting part of the track. The fast 130R gives riders a chance to line rivals up through the S Curve, and that left-right flick and the V Curve gives them a chance to pass and get re-passed before the harsh braking for the Hairpin turn, a tight 180 leading on to the long back straight.
The end of the straight sees another opportunity for a pass - though it is all too easy to end in the gravel, as the end of the straight dips slightly downhill just as the riders are hardest on the brakes - before heading back to the final chicane, and then across the line.
Must Try Harder
Ironically, owning Motegi has not allowed Honda to own the racetrack very often in recent years. The Japanese giant has been forced to watch the tiny Italian usurpers Ducati and Loris Capirossi take the glory of victory for the past three years. Even before Capirossi started dominating at Motegi, it was usually the satellite teams who managed to win at Motegi, rather than the factory riders, with 2001 the last time a rider on a full factory Honda won here.
The biggest problem for Honda has been that the track has favored Bridgestones, with bikes on the Japanese tires taking the last 4 races, while the Repsol Honda team have been left to struggle on Michelins. So overwhelming was the Bridgestone domination last year that the first man home on Michelins was Nicky Hayden in 9th, beaten even by Sylvain Guintoli on the Dunlop shod Tech 3 Yamaha.
A New Hope
HRC don't want to have to go through that again, and this weekend, they could finally have the answer. Four weeks ago, after the Misano Grand Prix, Dani Pedrosa made a shock switch to Bridgestone tires, HRC and Bridgestone finally relenting to the pressure put on them by the Spaniard, his mentor Alberto Puig, and Repsol, the Spanish company which has poured a lot of resources into the program over the years, and is desperate for another Spanish champion.
The switch to a single tire in MotoGP is moving from the probable to the inevitable with some alacrity now. There had been rumors that an announcement would be made at Motegi, as discussed earlier, and now, more details are starting to emerge.
One problem with the proposed switch was that Bridgestone, the tire company that the teams and riders preferred, had professed that they weren't interested in providing tires for the entire grid in MotoGP. This would have meant that though the riders would get the single tire that 17 out of 18 of the MotoGP regulars had backed, it would most likely be provided either by Michelin or by Dunlop.
Now, though, it appears that Bridgestone have finally caved in to Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta's pressure. Motorcycle News is reporting that the Japanese tire maker have agreed to submit a tender for the MotoGP tire contract, after Bridgestone senior management met with Ezpeleta at the Valencia Formula 1 Grand Prix.
When the split between the JIR and Team Scot sections of Team Scot JIR was announced at Laguna Seca in July, speculation immediately began on who would get the Honda RC212V the joint team was running. JIR - Japan Italy Racing, run by Luca Montiron - held the contract with Honda for a bike and a start license, while Team Scot brought sponsorship money, an outstanding pit crew, and the extraordinarily talented Andrea Dovizioso.
Though JIR held all the paperwork and contracts, the team had been heading ever more rapidly downhill since they switched from Bridgestone tires to Michelins in 2005, eventually fatally injuring the careers of Makoto Tamada and Shinya Nakano. By joining forces with Team Scot, who have been immensely successful in the 250 and 125 classes despite riding seriously underpowered Hondas, and fielding the extremely talented Andrea Dovizioso, the team had been transformed, with Dovi currently standing 5th in the championship, and the team not far behind the Gresini and Alice teams in the team standings, despite scoring points with only one rider.
So the decision was always likely to come down to Honda's view of the future of the team. JIR's track record of running and managing a team was patchy at best, and though Luca Montiron was rumored to have an option on triple AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies, he looked to have the weaker hand.
The whirlwind that is MotoGP silly season has just about blown itself out after Indianapolis, helped on its way perhaps by hurricane Ike, and as the seats have continued to fill, there are some three riders still left standing, apparently with no immediate future in MotoGP. Shinya Nakano looks likely to replace the aging Tady Okada as HRC's test rider - a role he is to some extent already filling at Gresini Honda, and Kawasaki are still keen to retain Ant West, albeit on either a World Superbike or World Supersport machine. But for Sylvain Guintoli, the prospects for 2009 were far less obvious.
There were rumors, of course, mostly about a possible future in World Superbikes, but the truth of such rumors is always hard to discern. The one rumor that surfaced most frequently linked Guintoli to the vacant seats at Yamaha Italia in WSBK, but with Tom Sykes - currently riding a Suzuki in BSB - signed to replace the departing Noriyuki Haga, and no clear word on whether Troy Corser would be staying or going, even that ride looked uncertain.
Now, though, evidence has emerged that Guintoli could indeed be heading for Yamaha after all. The Italian site Xracer.it spotted the British-based Frenchman testing Noriyuki Haga's Yamaha R1 at Vallelunga after this weekend's recent World Superbike round at the Italian track.
A year on, and the more that things change, the more they stay the same, at least in MotoGP land. Paolo Scalera is reporting that once again, Dorna are threatening to impose a single tire rule at a meeting to be held at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
The problem, according to Dorna, is one of safety. The competition between Bridgestone and Michelin has reached such a peak that corner speeds are increasing almost month by month, and with them, the speeds at which riders are crashing. The only way to reduce corner speeds, or at least stop them from increasing, is to put an end to the competition between tire brands.
The general assumption is that any single tire contract will be awarded to Bridgestone, but Ezpeleta denied this. The contract to supply tires for the series will be opened up for general bidding, with the main stipulation being that all teams will have access to the same tires, and tires will be supplied to the teams for free.
But much to the dismay of Bridgestone's current crop of riders, Bridgestone have repeatedly stated that they have no real interest in being the single supplier for MotoGP. The Japanese tire maker see little advantage in producing tires in a series with no competition, and one which would cost them significantly more money without aiding tire development. Michelin would be the obvious candidate for the role, having currently been forced out of most other motorcycle racing series by the imposition of a single tire rule there.
The news that Toni Elias had turned down offers from both Jorge Martinez Aspar to ride a Kawasaki and initial advances from Ducati to stay with the Alice satellite team left a hole in the MotoGP silly season. The seats at Alice look increasingly certain to go to Mika Kallio, currently chasing KTM's first 250 title, and Niccolo Canepa, the young Italian test rider for the Ducati factory. But Elias' refusal left Aspar with a big problem.
The Valencian team manager - who played a pivotal role in bringing F1 to the streets of his home town - really needs a prominent Spanish rider for the extra factory Kawasaki bike he is to field. He had hoped to announce both rider and official confirmation from Kawasaki at Motegi next weekend, but with Elias out of the equation, Aspar has been forced to seek other alternatives.
After the compulsory mention of Max Biaggi, now signed to Aprilia in World Superbikes, the Spanish press' current favorite to ride for the team is hoary veteran Carlos Checa. After a mediocre year aboard the LCR Honda, Checa made the switch to World Superbikes, joining the Ten Kate Honda team. Checa's move has been relatively successful, getting a double win in Utah, and running close to the top of the title chase, though still a country mile behind Troy Bayliss, the man who continues to dominate World Superbikes in his final year.
Due to personal circumstances - a long-deserved and hard-earned (by my wife) vacation in Spain - there won't be an Indianapolis race report for a week or so. Which is a real shame, as the race had plenty of incidents to talk about.
As a consolation, here's the transcripts of the podium press conference, as well as a selection of quotes from some of the riders involved in the race. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their amazingly efficient PR team for providing the information so quickly and smoothly.
Indianapolis turned out to be the place to make contract announcements, and for Randy de Puniet, things were no different. After Kawasaki confirmed that they had signed Marco Melandri, LCR Honda also announced that they have extended their contract with HRC and Randy de Puniet for another year. The Frenchman will be riding for the team again in 2009, after showing that he can be incredibly fast on his day.
That doesn't solve the problem of his tendency to crash, however. De Puniet is the most crash-happy of the MotoGP field by a significant margin, and this record is holding him back from much better results. If de Puniet can learn to stay on, then it will both save LCR Honda a lot of money, and show just what he is capable of. De Puniet is currently 16th in the title race, but with 6 DNFs, he should have been well within the top 10.
Full results of a dramatic and weather-stricken 2008 Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP Grand Prix:
After a 125cc race which was run mostly in the dry, being red-flagged 6 laps from the end after it started to rain, the rain has begun in earnest. The start of the 250 race has been delayed due to high winds and very heavy rain, and no word yet on how this will affect the rest of the schedule.
Dorna have just announced that the 250 race will now be run at 4:30pm local time, after the MotoGP race. That presumes, of course, that the MotoGP race can take place at a track which is currently being lashed by the remnants of hurricane Ike.
Spanish TV just interviewed a member of Race Direction, and he said that they will be trying to dry the more dangerous parts of the track mechanically, and hope to run the MotoGP race at 3pm local time without problems. The track may well still be wet, but it shouldn't be completely inundated. The weather radar shows that most of the rain is moving to the north of Indianapolis, sparing the track of the worst of the weather.
We will keep you updated as soon as we know more.
To understand American motorcycle racing, you have to understand flat track: large capacity motorcycles running as fast as possible round a mostly oval dirt track without a front brake. The sight and sound is impressive, and seeing crowds of riders firing into a corner with the rear kicked out is one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles on the planet.
It's a spectacle you have to see, and of all the flat track races held in the US, the Indy Mile is the most famous. And fortunately for us, Tim White, one of the most promising motorcycle photographers currently working in the US, attended the Indy Mile, and sent us his photos. Enjoy!
Flat Track Legend Chris Carr during qualifying.
Pink And Fast: Nichole Cheza