Archive - Apr 10, 2009
The waiting really is over for MotoGP fans, as the MotoGP bikes finally took to the track at Qatar to compete in earnest. First blood in the 2009 campaign went to Casey Stoner on the Marlboro (and at Qatar, it really is a Marlboro) Ducati, a fact that shocked absolutely nobody. As ever, Stoner was fast from the moment he rolled out onto the track, getting down into 1'57 territory within ten minutes, and slashing a further 0.8 seconds off his time with 12 minutes of the session left.
For a long time, Stoner's advantage seemed insurmountable, but in his final run, Valentino Rossi closed the gap from a second to get to within 0.4 of a second, with the potential for more if he hadn't run into traffic on a very fast lap. Though four tenths is a sizable gap, Rossi will feel he is at least in touch with Stoner, and with two more sessions to go, and no qualifying tires to distort the grid, the reigning world champion will be confident of staying with Stoner away from the line.
Third fastest man in the opening session of 2009 was Colin Edwards, the only other rider capable of getting within a second of Stoner, and looking as strong here as he looked last year during practice. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo makes it three Yamahas in the top four, Lorenzo 1.2 seconds behind but with more likely to come.
The session threw up plenty of surprises. Such as Alex de Angelis in 5th, for example, but de Angelis also showed his Mr Hyde by running wide into the gravel during the session, a harbinger of what is to come, perhaps. An even bigger suprise was Mika Kallio finishing 7th, after having been as high as 5th earlier in the session. Though we've only had one 45 minute session of practice to judge him by, Kallio's single fast lap at the IRTA test at Jerez could possible be the rule rather than the exception.
Results of Free Practice 1 for the MotoGP class at Qatar:
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'58.452||1.399||0.180|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'58.771||1.718||0.014|
Results of Free Practice 1 for the 250 class at Qatar:
|11||63||Mike DI MEGLIO||APRILIA||2'02.836||0.934||0.054|
|13||35||Raffaele DE ROSA||HONDA||2'03.159||1.257||0.311|
Results of Free Practice 1 for the 125cc class at Qatar
Times from the second day of the World Superbike test at Monza:
On Thursday afternoon as the teams were setting up their garages, MotoGPMatters spoke for a few minutes with Colin Edwards’ Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief, Guy Coulon about some of the challenges presented in the 2009 MotoGP season.
MGPM: My first question is about the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone tires. Has Rossi’s team shared much of their data from last year?
Guy Coulon: Yes, of course, because Yamaha already had good experience last year with Bridgestone, and quite early last year we knew that Bridgestone would be used by everyone in 2009. So Yamaha designed the 2009 bike with the Bridgestone specification. Last year Valentino used a bike at first mostly designed for Michelin, and as the season went on, his team started to understand how to modify his bike to suit the new tires. So I believe at the end of last season they had designed a proper chassis for Bridgestone tires. It’s not so different than before. It’s only some small details. So for all Yamaha riders, it’s easier to start on Bridgestone tires this year because Valentino already used them last year.
MGPM: Given that all teams are on Bridgestone this year, how will this affect your approach at Tech 3?
GC: It’s difficult to say, because this year we have regulation changes in addition to one tire maker: Tire allocation has also changed. We have only two kinds of front tires and two kinds of rear tires for each race. Last year there was much more difference between front tires and also between rear tires, and there were two brands of both. Valentino is able to compare both makers because he used Michelin when they brought many kinds of tires, and Bridgestone also before the new rules. But for Tech 3, we can only compare last year with Michelin’s many kinds of tires, and this year, with Bridgestone’s two fronts and two rears. So it’s difficult for us to compare.
Marco Simoncelli arrived at Losail with a cast still on his right hand, and had it removed in the medical center just before he and was to report to the starting grid for the group photo.
The other 250 riders waited for several minutes with one spot open in the front row until Simoncelli appeared in the distance, walking slowly from the direction of the garages. He held his right hand carefully as he walked, still in apparent discomfort from his operation on Tuesday to repair the scaphoid bone he broke in a motocross crash on Sunday.
When he’d taken his seat in the front row, the skin discoloration from disinfectant was still clearly visible. At one point he answered questions from the pit wall with a wince and a careful cosi-cosi gesture with the recently liberated hand.
The talented Scott Jones, MotoGPMatters.com's photographer, is out at Qatar covering the race for us, and is already sending back some fantastic photos, and more. But just to get the season off to a good start, here's his shots from the grid presentation earlier today. All of the pictures should link to larger, desktop-sized images.
Valentino Rossi's Fiat Yamaha M1
MotoGP faces the 2009 season assailed from all sides. On the sporting front, they face a rejuvenated and growing World Superbike series, as well as a Formula One season full of intrigue and - gasp - overtaking; On the financial front, budgets are shrinking as sponsors tighten their purse strings to deal with the global economic crisis; On the technical front, rule changes are being hastily introduced in the hope of cutting costs, to loud protest from fans and press alike; And on the manufacturing front, the series lost a major manufacturer and gained a private team, after Kawasaki decided that spending over 50 million euros a year to circulate at the back of the pack was not a wise investment. With criticism rising at emptying grids and a lack of overtaking, and the prospect of MotoGP's Sun King retiring in the not too distant future, the sense of crisis that pervades the series is almost palpable.
And yet there is so much to be optimistic about this year. The series fields arguably the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, still at the height of his powers and being pushed to the limits of his exceptional talent by the fastest motorcycle racer on the planet. It features a brace of Spaniards with the talent to usurp the two men who dominated the series last year. A veteran star returns to the grid bringing the promise of excitement, to add to the improved chances of series veterans switching to more competitive equipment. In their third year, development on the 800cc machines is starting to plateau, the performance differences between the machines now less painfully obvious. The single tire rule introduced for this season looks like confounding the naysayers - including your humble correspondent - by proving to be perfectly workable and as fair as can be expected.
So despite the crisis, and the complaints that MotoGP is growing boring, there is every reason to hope that the racing will be closer this year, and some of the excitement that has been mostly absent for the past two seasons could make a welcome return to the series. For as much as the series looks familiar this season, there have been some radical changes since the teams last packed away their bikes at the end of the Valencia Grand Prix in October.
First and foremost of these is the switch to a single tire supplier. The move was made in an attempt to cut costs and reign in the relentless pace of tire development, to stop the bikes from smashing lap records year on year, and to level the playing field. Drawing up the balance of preseason testing, it has only been partially successful.
Costs have definitely been cut, but only for the teams. With Bridgestone now paying for development and production out of its own pocket, the series now acting more as a marketing opportunity rather than a development test bed. So far, lap times have been anything but cut, with lap records falling over the winter on the new tires, but this is hardly a surprise, given the strength of Bridgestone's tires at the end of last season.
An unintended consequence of having everyone on the same tires is that the level playing field only accentuates the differences in rider skill, meaning Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi are leading the rest by an even bigger margin than before. Ironically, the more you emphasize rider skill, the bigger the gaps between the great riders and the merely good, and the less close the racing gets.
Times from the first day of the World Superbike test at Monza
|1||Michel Fabrizio||Ducati Xerox||1'45.7|
|2||Noriyuki Haga||Ducati Xerox||1'45.8|
|3||Ben Spies||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|4||Tom Sykes||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|5||Max Neukirchner||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.3|
|7||Yukio Kagayama||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.8|
|8||Karl Muggeridge||Suzuki Celani||1'47.1|