One thing that loyal readers may have noticed is that MotoMatters.com does not usually carry press releases. This is a conscious choice, as most press releases are a little too bland to be of much great interest, albeit for a number of very good reasons.
There are always exceptions, however, and the outspoken Parkalgar Honda World Supersport team manager Simon Buckmaster is very much one of them. In his latest Simon Says column, which the team sends out as a press release, Buckmaster covers a number of extremely interesting points. He discusses the reasons the World Supersport grid is so thin this year, the options the Parkalgar team is considering for 2011, and the strange qualifying schedule that has been foisted upon the World Supersport class. A very interesting read indeed.
Two unrelated themes dominated the 2009 MotoGP season: Cost-cutting and the Rise of the Aliens. Drastic reductions in testing, a limited number of engines and the dropping of Friday morning practice were all aimed at turning the Niagara Falls of cash the series consumes into a more manageable torrent. Meanwhile Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner took a near whitewash of podiums, cleaning up 44 of the 51 rostrum spots available during the year.
2010 is likely to continue where 2009 left off, but these two different aspects are on a collision course, due for impact around midsummer this year. For though the manufacturers and teams continue to meet in the Grand Prix Commission, to discuss further ways of trimming the costs of racing, the fact that the contracts of the four finest riders of their generation all expire at the end of the season will unleash a bidding war unlike anything ever seen in MotoGP.
The Aliens, as Loris Capirossi has dubbed them, already command the lion's share of rider salaries in the series. Numbers are hard - if not impossible - to come by, but Valentino Rossi alone probably earns more than all of the riders except the Aliens combined, and Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner will each earn many times the salary of any of the other Mortals. It may not be fair, but given that the Aliens won every race but one and hogged 86% of podiums this year, it is the only guarantee of getting your bike and your sponsors onto TV. Success sells, and without an Alien on your bike, success is a very scarce commodity indeed.
Since the rumblings began emanating from the machinations of Colin Edwards’, Hervé Poncharal’s, and Lin Jarvis’ closed-door meetings to figure out how to get Ben Spies and Tom Houseworth into MotoGP in 2010, and the subsequent announcement last Fall, one of the most popular ways to cast the story (and indeed, one of the few speculative avenues that doesn’t automatically involve Silly Season 2011) is to suggest that the tensions between Colin Edwards and James Toseland will somehow be amplified in the arrival of the superior abilities of Ben Spies. I realize magazines and newspapers need to manufacture material in the off-season to sell copies, and we who post on The Web need to draw traffic when potential advertisers don’t care that the sport is on hiatus. But I am here to tell you that this particular road is a dead end street. Headlines of “Tension at Tech 3”, “Monster Battle Brewing”, and “Trouble in Paradise” (a city in Texas, but not home to either rider), can be summarily ignored.
After a long, cold, lonely winter, the World Superbike racing season is finally upon us again. With 26 machines on the grid, the series is down a bit in participation, but considering the depressed world economic climate, it could be a lot worse. Despite the drop in sheer numbers, there are seven manufacturers with factory (or the equivalent) teams. There has been some shuffling of marques and talent on privateer teams, but participation is fairly strong on that level as well.
Reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies has abdicated his throne for the theoretically greener pastures of MotoGP and there are a crop of both familiar and new faces eager to claim his title. There doesn't appear to be someone who is going to grab the series by the throat and make it his own in his rookie year like Spies did, but then no one could have predicted that at the beginning of last season either.
The Empire Strikes Back
Now that the 2009 season has come to a close, and Toni Elias has signed with his current team boss to move down a class for 2010, there will be a temporary ebb in the debates about who this man is and where he belongs in the sport. There is a long-developing opinion espoused, subscribed to, or at least tacitly accepted by a growing number, that Toni Elias takes the first half of a season to lazily absorb his life in the top tier of motorcycle racing before beginning a mid-season panic where he must suddenly show results good enough to secure a job for the subsequent season. I don't know when this line of reasoning began, but since it seems to pass for critical thinking these days, I, for one, have had enough.
I'll save you some time and give you the punchline up front: Toni Elias has never been on the same bike two years in a row since entering the MotoGP class. How good would your first half of the season be?
On his Twitter page Ben Spies has the saying "Put in the time....It will pay off someday.." This statement is more than an aphorism to the young Texan, it's a reflection of the philosophy that has brought him 3 AMA Superbike championships and has brought him to the brink of seizing a World Superbike crown. Spies never seems to get overly excited (well, except after being forced out of a race by an equipment failure or a fellow competitor's bonehead move) and approaches racing in a seemingly workmanlike manner, solving problems and moving step-by-step to the desired end. This calm and methodical system has led to Spies capturing a record-tying 10 Superpoles and winning 13 races so far in his rookie season.
Three points. Three miserable stinkin' little points. That's what the World Superbike championship has come down to coming into the penultimate round at Magny Cours, in central France. Despite being the final round in the series from 2003 to 2007, Magny Cours has somehow never been one of those places where legendary battles to the finish happen. The closest that the the French circuit has came to deciding a title was in 2007 when this year's point leader Noriyuki Haga doubled to come as near as he ever has to winning a world championship, a mere two points behind James Toseland.
Haga is in the catbird seat, albeit just barely, after winning race 1 and taking second in Race 2 at Imola. Haga and Ducati have historically done well at the mostly flat French track, with 4 wins and eight podiums for Haga and 7 wins and 10 podiums for Ducati. Haga's showing at Imola confirms that the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro is recovered from his mid-season shoulder and arm injuries, or at least well enough that they don't matter much.
To paraphrase pole-setter Michele Fabrizio, it's good to see three young guys at the top. Fabrizio, who said at the post-race press conference that he used his anger at being mis-timed on a previous lap as motivation, set his first pole in the Superbike class on the back of a blindingly fast last lap. Fabrizio is in the enviable position of being an Italian rider on an Italian bike on an Italian track, which should provide him with ample motivation for Sunday.
Ben Spies looked a bit chagrined at being pipped by Fabrizio, wryly noting that he would have thought that Fabrizio would have let the American take the pole in repayment for Fabrizio taking him out in Brno. Spies claimed to have made a few mistakes on his fast lap that cost him a few tenths, not that the casual observer could detect any errors. Spies was his normal smooth unflappable self, in contrast to Sterilgarda Yamaha teammate Tom Sykes, who looked at times like the Urban Cowboy riding the mechanical bull at Gilley's, his R1 bucking and snorting through the corners.
Third-place man Jonny Rea also claimed errors on his best lap but was happy overall, citing a number of new parts that needed to be evaluated over a shortened practice schedule.
Noriyuki Haga elevated himself up from the depths of midpack to come fourth, which isn't a bad place to be for an old guy. Haga has always had the ability to summon forth a bit of extra speed on race day, so he should be able to hang with the kids at the front.
Ducati mounted Shane "Shakey" Byrne and Jakob Smrz have been fast all weekend, but have been unable to muster the extra couple tenths necessary to stay with the front-runners. Smrz might have some splainin' to do to Team manager Frankie Chili, who looked livid after Smrz' last lap crash.
At every press conference, in every interview, in fact just about any time Valentino Rossi answers questions in public, the same question comes up again and again: "Why do you stick your leg out when you're braking for a corner?" And every time, Rossi shrugs and explains that he doesn't really know; "it just feels natural to do" is the answer he usually gives.
The move - taking his foot of the footpeg, dangling it as if almost preparing to slide it on the ground dirt-track style, before finally picking it up and putting it back on the footpeg, ready to help tip the bike into the corner - has become Rossi's trademark, but he is no longer alone in his leg waving. One by one, the rest of the grid have taken on the move, and it has spread to riders in every class, from MotoGP to 125s to World Supersport. First Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi followed Rossi's example, then Max Biaggi, then the current generation of Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. Now, just about everyone is doing it, all the way down to club racers.
With no explanation forthcoming from the originator of that distinctive dangle - usually dubbed "the Rossi Leg Wave" - observers have turned to a mixture of speculation and the other riders for an answer to the puzzle. Other proponents of the leg wave such as Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa claim that it helps them balance the bike as they approach the corner on the brakes, and armchair pundits follow a similar line, offering a range of theories grounded only very vaguely in physics concerning balance, leverage and weight transfer. It is clear that the debate over the subject has entered that most dangerous phase, the point where speculation based on science ends and darker, more occult attribution begins.
Dorna, the body responsible for organizing, promoting and marketing the MotoGP series, has traditionally done a fantastic job in selling the series to television broadcasters, making the series the second biggest form of motor racing on TV, behind only Formula One, with TV viewing figures not far off the numbers for F1, and hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the sport online. Unsurprisingly, Dorna has come to think of its job as selling TV broadcast rights.
The tragic consequence of this concentration on old media is that they have singularly failed to grok the internet, as the expression has it. To Dorna, the internet is a threat, a force they can neither understand nor control, and what's worse, a medium without an obvious method of generating an income from. Exacerbating the problem is the rise of peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent and video sharing websites like Youtube. Torrents of MotoGP races appear online within minutes of the events finishing, while clips of the most exciting and controversial parts of MotoGP races likewise flood onto Youtube almost immediately after they happen.
Youtube, in particular, has been a target of Dorna, the site's reputation for taking material subject to copyright claims down first, then asking questions about it later - effectively reversing the burden of proof - making Dorna's job a lot easier. Videos of MotoGP footage on Youtube tend to disappear within a few days of going up, with Dorna firing off takedown notices at a vast rate.
The reasoning behind the heavy-handed action is simple, and to some extent understandable. Dorna earns many millions of dollars in revenue from TV broadcasters, who do not take kindly to seeing the material they paid so heavily for being available online for free. But what is interesting about the blocked videos on Youtube is that the copyright claims are all issued by Dorna, rather than the companies actually broadcasting the material. Footage can be found on Youtube from the German broadcaster DSF, the Italian broadcasters Italia 1 and Mediaset, the BBC, Eurosport, in its many national incarnations, but each time these videos are removed, it is always at the behest of Dorna, not the broadcaster.
This heavy-handedness is pointless, foolish and self-defeating. The pointlessness of taking down the videos is obvious from the fact that despite the long and growing list of takedowns issued, a 1 minute search turned up 20 other versions of the race still online, from radio commentary versions with stills, videos of people's home TVs showing the broadcast, high-quality wide-screen versions of the last few laps, and even a clip of the big screens at the track showing the final laps.