Archive - Mar 2009

March 31st

Dani Pedrosa - Will He Or Won't He Be At Qatar?

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.

Fagerhaug Fastest At Red Bull Rookies Test In Jerez

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

March 30th

2009 IRTA Test Jerez Overall 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.

March 29th

Steve Bonsey Absent At IRTA Tests

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. 

2009 IRTA Test Jerez - Day 2 - Final Session A Washout

After heavy rain and thunderstorms disrupted the final minutes of the BMW M Award session, a wet track and overcast skies kept most of the field off the track for the final session. Only those still with testing to do took to the track, and only then after the rain had finished. Andrea Dovizioso was among the hardest working of the riders, and saw his hard work rewarded with the fastest time, ahead of Chris Vermeulen, once again demonstrating both his prowess in the wet and the progress of the Suzuki, and Marco Melandri, who has less to worry about the rear of the Hayate / Kawasaki when grip is down anyway.

Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda, IRTA Test Jerez 2009

Despite the dismal weather, groups of diehard fans sat scattered around the track, waiting for the occasional bike to pass. They stuck it out all the way to the end, proof that MotoGP is still alive and well in Spain, no matter the problems which surround the series. We'll be back here in five weeks time, but before that, MotoGP heads for the freak show that is the MotoGP night race opener at Losail, Qatar. In two weeks' time, we'll be actually racing.

Times of the final session of testing from Jerez

Dominant Stoner Takes BMW As Rain Stops Play At Jerez

Casey Stoner did at Jerez what Casey Stoner seems to be capable of at any circuit. The Australian dominated the 45 minute special qualifying session at the official IRTA Test at Jerez, eventually taking the BMW on offer for the fastest lap by over 7/10ths of a second. The Ducati rider took control of the session just 8 minutes in, smashing the 1'40 barrier with a lap of 1'39.176, over a second up on the rest of the field.

The rest of the session saw the other riders edging closer, with Valentino Rossi looking like taking top spot from Stoner, until he was balked by a slower rider. But with just under 10 minutes of the session left, Stoner stomped on any hopes other riders might have been cherishing of bagging the BMW. The Australian slashed half a second off his previous time, putting in a lap of 1'38.646 to claim the special BMW M Award.

A few minutes later, the black clouds which had been threatening the track finally broke over the circuit, drenching the track and halting any chance of riders improving their times. The entire field headed back to the safety of the pits, and with 5 minutes of the official session left, it was effectively over.

Bad luck dogged James Toseland at Jerez. With 16 min to go, the Englishman hit a white line going into to Turn 3, and tumbled through the gravel at high speed. The accident caused the session to be briefly red flagged, as the medics transported Toseland and the remains of his Tech 3 Yamaha from the track. The rider was reported to be OK, but he looked badly banged up. The word so far is that Toseland suffered a concussion, but no official announcements have been made.

Nicky Hayden was slightly luckier than Toseland. The American ran wide into the gravel, but used all his dirt track skills to stay upright as he ran through the gravel at high speed.

Results of the BMW M Award.

2009 IRTA Test Jerez Day 2 - FP2 Final Times

The switch from Central European Time to Central European Summer Time meant we lost an hour at Jerez this morning, the clocks going forward. So when practice opened at 10am this morning, the track had barely warmed, and the cold wind made wearing a coat highly advisable. As a consequence, most of the riders didn't hit the track until 10:45, with only the test riders out and circulating. 

Casey Stoner was one of the first official riders out, and was apparently entirely unhindered by the cool track temperatures. Within three laps, Stoner was under the existing lap record, and a tenth of a second quicker than his own time yesterday. Behind Stoner were the Fiat Yamaha pair, Jorge Lorenzo leading team mate Valentino Rossi once again, while Suzuki's Loris Capirossi was less than a tenth slower than Rossi, showing that Suzuki mean business this year.

Andrea Dovizioso was 5th fastest, but the Repsol Honda rider was already over a second behind Stoner, and nearly half a second slower than Capirossi.

The Dash For The Car is up next.

Final times from the morning session of testing at Jerez:

Those MotoGP Rule Changes In Full - GPS Ban Slips Under The Radar

The FIM today sent out a press release containing the full details of the rule changes announced by Carmelo Ezpeleta and Vito Ippolito at Jerez yesterday. Most of these have been discussed yesterday, but a few changes appear to have been missed by Ippolito when he made the announcements, and these are things which are certainly worthy of our attention.

Some of these had already been announced, such as the ban on electronic suspension and ceramic composite materials for brake disks. But others are new, and rather puzzling. Potentially useful technologies such as variable valve timing and variable valve lift is essentially old technology, and available on a number of road vehicles, including Honda's VFR800 sports tourer. But more mysifying is the ban on variable exhaust systems. The question is, will this ban mean that systems like Yamaha's EXUP system - going on for 20 years old - would not be permitted?

Another incomprehensible rule is the ban on electronic steering dampers, available on Honda's CBR1000RR superbike for the past several years, and hardly either expensive or technically complicated.

But the rule which is likely to prove least effective is the ban on GPS systems. The rules state that as of 2010, the only GPS equipment allowed on the bike will be that placed there by Dorna for TV purposes, and that GPS system may not be connected to the bike's ECU or any other control system. While the aim is laudable, the workaround is both simple and expensive: A track map can be recreated in software based on the input of the wheel speed sensors, lean angle sensors, and brake sensors, and the system recalibrated every lap by the transponder as the bike crosses the line. The system won't be quite as accurate as using GPS data, but it will be good enough to continue the work that the teams are doing on variable engine maps for different parts of the track. And it will require a lot more work and a lot more data analysis to get it working properly, rather than the simple input of GPS data. 

The Dictator Disappears - Gibernau Loses The Equatorial Guinea Link

Sete Gibernau's team revealed its new livery here at Jerez yesterday, a rather handsome blue, green, white and red color scheme, vaguely reminiscent of the special livery Gibernau ran in 2006 at Mugello when he was partnered with Loris Capirossi at Ducati. But one thing was prominent by its absence from the bike - a reference to Equatorial Guinea, the small African nation run by the 14th worst dictator in the world, according to Parade Magazine. This is something of a surprise, for the team was originally entered under the banner of Guinea Ecuatorial, the Spanish name for the country, where Francisco Hernando, the man funding the team, is engaged in building a holiday resort complex.

Further research reveals that the whole team has been quietly rebranded. Any association with the dictator is gone, replaced instead by Grupo Francisco Hernando and Nueva Edificacion 2000, another - and less tainted - project run by the Spanish construction group. Even the team has been renamed: Instead of the Guinea Ecuatorial team, it is now called the Grupo Francisco Hernando team.

Over the years, MotoGP has had some sponsors of debatable ethical standards, and discussions have flared up from time to time as to whether it's good for motorcycle racing to be linked to products like tobacco. But while we can argue about the choice of people to use tobacco products or not, brutal dictatorships which routinely engage in torture are not the kind of association that MotoGP needs. Good riddance. 

March 28th

The Rookie Rule, A Paper Tiger

 

At a press conference held today at Jerez, FIM president Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced a range of rules aimed at two goals: Cutting costs and making the sport more attractive as a spectacle. We have been over the oxymoron of changing rules to cut costs ad nauseam here, so we will not continue to flagellate that particular moribund equine any more than is necessary - and frankly, that horse probably does need a little more flogging, just to make sure it is truly dead. Instead, we shall concentrate on another change, one aimed at helping the private teams in the series.

That rule is of course the ban on new entrants into the series joining factory teams. Under the new rule, any rider eligible for Rookie of the Year - that is, any rider who has not previously been entered as a full-time rider at the start of a MotoGP season - will not be allowed to join a factory team in their first year of MotoGP, and will instead have to serve an apprenticeship at a private or satellite team, before stepping up to the very top step of the very top series. The rule, drawn up at the behest of IRTA, is aimed at helping out the private and satellite teams by giving them a shot at signing the big, marketable names which will help them attract sponsorship.

On paper, this is an excellent idea. In theory, big name entries into MotoGP such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Ben Spies would help the private teams find the sponsorship they need so that they can afford to stay in MotoGP. It stops the factory teams from poaching the top talent, and means that the private teams will get the publicity they so badly need, and quite frankly, broadly deserve.

But like all ideas which sound excellent on paper, this one is unlikely to survive its meeting with cold, hard reality. For the fact remains that the factory teams call the shots in MotoGP, for the simple reason that they pay the piper. The budgets which the factory teams have - between 2 and 10 times the size of a typical satellite team, mean that not only can they afford to pay whatever it takes to sign the big name rookies, but also, they can afford to circumvent the rules by setting up their own "satellite" teams which are all but factory in name. 

2009 IRTA MotoGP Test Jerez Day 1 - Final Times

Final times from day 1 of the IRTA test at Jerez:

Pos No. Rider Bike Time Diff Fast lap Total laps
1 99 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1'39.791 0.000    
2 46 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1'39.861 0.070    
3 27 Casey Stoner Ducati 1'39.906 0.115    
4 7 Chris Vermeulen Suzuki 1'40.572 0.781    
5 5 Colin Edwards Yamaha 1'40.579 0.788    
6 65 Loris Capirossi Suzuki 1'40.650 0.859    
7 4 Andrea Dovizioso Honda 1'40.821 1.030    
8 15 Alex de Angelis Honda 1'40.900 1.109    
9 69 Nicky Hayden Ducati 1'40.987 1.196    
10 24 Toni Elias Honda 1'41.049 1.258    
11 52 James Toseland Yamaha 1'41.122 1.331    
12 33 Marco Melandri Kawasaki 1'41.160 1.369    
13 14 Randy de Puniet Honda 1'41.168 1.377    
14 36 Mika Kallio Ducati 1'41.226 1.435    
15 72 Yuki Takahashi Honda 1'41.362 1.571    
16 59 Sete Gibernau Ducati 1'41.737 1.946    
17 88 Niccolo Canepa Ducati 1'41.851 2.060    
18 64 Kosuoke Akiyoshi Honda 1'42.286 2.495    
19 22 Vito Guareschi Ducati 1'42.324 2.533    

Lap Record: Valentino Rossi, 2005, 1'40.596

KTM's KERS System Banned In 125s

The news that KTM was testing a KERS system for their 125cc race bikes was something of a eureka moment for those who follow any form of motorsport. If there is one place that a KERS system makes sense, it is on a small capacity motorcycle - the relatively small power gain available through KERS is of more use to a bike which starts off with relatively little power to begin with. It was obvious that KERS on a 125cc bike is an absolute no-brainer.

That very realization that KERS was a no-brainer has proven fateful for the system. In a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission held today, the body ruled that the KERS system as it was being used by KTM should be declared illegal under the current wording of the rules, which state that the bikes must be "propelled by an internal combustion engine." 

This point could be argued either way. The KERS system obtains its energy from the speed lost during braking, speed gained as a result of the internal combustion engine. But it is unarguably a supplemental system, which of itself does not operate using the principle of internal combustion. Long and expensive lawsuits could have been fought over this, such is the vagueness of the rules.

2009 IRTA MotoGP Test Jerez Day 1 - 3:30pm Update

Times shortly at 3:30pm

New MotoGP Rules - 6 Engines And 1 Bike In 2010, And No Rookies On Factory Teams

In a press conference held today during the IRTA tests at Jerez, Vito Ippolito, the president of the FIM, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, announced a series of measures aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. More details to follow, but here are the rule changes:

  • At the end of the 2009 season, teams will only be allowed to use 5 engines for the last 7 races. This leaves the previous rule unchanged, answering speculation that the number of engines could be reduced after the Hungarian MotoGP round was dropped from the calendar, which would have meant 5 engines having to last for 8 races.
  • For 2010, each rider will have 6 engines to last the entire 18 race season. The engines will be sealed, and Dorna will be able to monitor remotely which engines are being used as the riders exit the pit lane.
  • The penalty for any infraction of this rule is that the rider will be docked 10 points from his championship points total. The manufacturer will also have 10 points deducted in the manufacturer standings, regardless of whether the rider was on a factory bike or a private bike.
  • Testing will be limited to 8 days in total next year, with just 2 tests during the season after the races at Catalunya and Brno.
  • As of 2010, only one bike per rider will be permitted. Teams will be allowed to scrutineer one machine for each rider. If a rider damages a chassis, a replacement chassis will have to be offered for technical inspection.
  • Friday is under discussion. Talks are still ongoing about whether the Friday afternoon practice session will be dropped.
  • Wheel rim widths are to be limited to two different sizes for front wheels, and one different size on the rear.
  • Only 5 technicians will be allowed to touch the bike during practice sessions. Once practice sessions are over, more people will be allowed to work on the bike, but this number will be limited to 5 during practice.
  • The minimum weight will be increased by 2kg for all engine configurations.
  • In 2010, no rider eligible for Rookie of the Year will be allowed to go straight to a factory team. Instead, they will have to go to a private or satellite team for at least one year, after which they will be eligible to join a factory team.

2009 IRTA MotoGP Test Jerez Day 1 - 1pm Update

The track is drying at Jerez, though more due to the wind than the sun, the skies are still cloudy, if not quite leaden. But the times are now definitely starting to drop. So far, Loris Capirossi is topping the timesheets, finally emerging from the pits to prove that the Suzuki genuinely looks fast. James Toseland is currently second, ahead of the Playboy LCR Honda of Randy de Puniet.

Valentino Rossi was the last of the late wakers, finally entering his pit garage shortly after 1pm.

Times shortly after 1pm

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