May 9th, 2009
Ever since the concept of the Moto2 class was announced, all eyes have been on the Flammini brothers for their reaction to a set of rules which seemed to be on a direct collision course with Infront Motor Sports and the World Supersport class. The temperature was raised even further last week, when the Permanent Committee, consisting of Dorna and the FIM, announced that Honda had been awarded the contract to supply engines to the Moto2 class, and that the engine would be loosely based on Honda's roadgoing CBR600RR unit.
So far, all our attempts to obtain a response from the Flamminis and IMS have been unsuccessful, but where MotoGPMatters.com has failed, the extremely well-connected GPOne.com website has had more success. GPOne.com asked Paolo Flammini directly whether he believed that the new Moto2 class as it currently stands conflicts with the World Supersport class run by Paolo and his brother Maurizio, and Flammini said it did not: "The philosophy in Moto2 is correct, in my opinion, because it does not conflict with our Supersport. It's a prototype motorcycle, at least the chassis is prototype and the engine is unique to the class: So it has no relation to our philosophy of motorcycles directly related to those freely available to the public, for use on the roads. In other words, the Honda CBR600RR races in the World Supersport series ... and above all, it races against bikes from four other manufacturers."
The issue is not yet completely settled, though. Flammini made it clear that IMS would be keeping their options open for a while yet. "We may examine the new rules more carefully, to evaluate whether there are points which conflict with our rules and our contracts." It may not quite be a green light from IMS for Moto2, but it's a lot closer to it than it has been for a long time.
Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio made it four sessions out of four during the second free practice session. Ben Spies stood atop the timesheets for most of the session, looking like he might finally break Fabrizio's hegemony, but the Italian put in a flying lap with just a couple of minutes to go to reaffirm his authority. Spies ended the session in 2nd spot, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari and Noriyuki Haga.
Results of World Superbikes FP2 session at Monza:
World Supersport Qualifying Practice results and summary:
Michel Fabrizio continued his reign of terror at Monza, the Italian setting out his intentions in no uncertain manner. The Ducati man has topped all three sessions so far, and there are few challengers to stop him. The morning qualifying saw Max Neukirchner finish 2nd fastest, ahead of Johnny Rea on the Ten Kate Honda, Rea finally looking like a contender again.
Fabrizio's team mate and championship leader Noriyuki Haga was 4th quickest in the second qualifying session, ahead of Max Biaggi on the Aprilia and Yamaha's Ben Spies. The final grid will be settled during this afternoon's Superpole sessions.
Combined World Superbike qualifying result from QP1 and QP2, riders in bold go through to Superpole:
Cal Crutchlow continued to impose his will on the World Supersport field at Monza, leading the second session of free practice by half a second. Yamaha team mate Fabien Foret was 2nd fastest, ahead of the rapidly improving Mark Aitchison in 3rd. Joan Lascorz was again near the front in 4th, while Eugene Laverty made a serious improvement in his lap times to vault up to 5th spot, from 11th yesterday afternoon. The grid will be settled during qualifying this afternoon.
Results of World Supersport FP2 at Monza:
Michel Fabrizio was once again fastest during the first official qualifying practice at Monza this afternoon. But unlike in free practice earlier today, Fabrizio's hegemony went completely unchallenged. Fabrizio was up to half a second faster than his nearest rivals for most of the session, only surrendering a couple of tenths towards the end. Fabrizio is in sparkling form at Monza, and with an advantage of over 0.3 seconds over the 2nd place man, is very much the rider to beat at Monza.
Xerox Ducati team mate Noriyuki Haga was the nearest rider until the final few minutes, when British Yamaha rider Tom Sykes jumped in to take second place. Sykes has been in the shadow of his team mate so far this season, but the cheery Brit took a big step out forward at Monza, consistently near the top of the timesheets. Sykes' fast lap pushed Haga down into 3rd, just 3/100ths off Sykes' time.
The Hondas had been mostly invisible throughout qualifying, until Johnny Rea put in a fast lap in the dying seconds of the session to take 4th place. Rea's position was at the expense of the two Suzukis, Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama forced down to 5th and 6th, though both the German and the Japanese rider had been fast earlier in the session.
Ben Spies finished uncharacteristically far down the field, only managing to set the 7th fastest time on his Yamaha Motor Italia YZF-R1. But given the tiny difference between 4th and 9th, Spies could have been further forward or further back if he had been just a couple of hundredths faster or slower. Spies did finish ahead of Max Biaggi, which will have disappointed the Italian veteran. Leon Haslam, the man who has been the fastest Honda rider so far this year, could only manage the 12th quickest time, while the privateer Ducatis are pretty far down the field, Shane Byrne the first of them in 10th, and Jakub Smrz just managing 13th.
Cal Crutchlow was the quickest rider out of the traps in the first session of free practice at Monza this afternoon on his very first race at the circuit. Crutchlow took a while to learn the track, but was up into the top three by halfway through the session, and taking 1st with 20 minutes to go. Crutchlow shared first place with Fabien Foret, and Joan Lascorz for the second half of FP1, before setting his fastest lap on his last lap around the track.
Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz ended the session 2nd fastest, ahead of the surprising Mark Aitchison on the Althea Honda. Aitchison has been making quiet progress this season, and is now starting to get himself noticed. Crutchlow's team mate Fabien Foret finished the session in 4th spot. Biggest surprise of the session was the local boy Danilo Dell'Omo, who is normally lucky to get inside the top 15, but the Italian was near the top of the timesheets all afternoon, finally ending up in 6th spot.
The Ten Kate riders finished best of the pre-race favorites, but Andrew Pitt and Kenan Sofuoglu could only managed the 8th and 9th times, while Eugene Laverty was 11th fastest on his debut at Monza. Ant West, on the podium here in his first ever Supersport race two years ago, had a miserable start to the weekend, ending up 21st in the standings.
Full result of the World Supersport FP1 session at Monza:
Michel Fabrizio finished top of the timesheets in the first session of Free Practice at Monza for the World Superbike class. Fabrizio and Ben Spies swapped places for the lead throughout the session, both men much faster than the rest for most of practice, but Fabrizio pulled a gap that proved to be unbridgable with 8 minutes of the session left.
The Yamahas are clearly working well at Monza, as Spies' team mate Tom Sykes took 3rd spot, just behind his team mate, with the Suzukis of Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama next in 4th and 5th. Noriyuki Haga was 6th fastest in the session, making it three teams sharing the top 6 spots.
Full results of World Superbikes FP1 session at Monza:
If Assen is the Cathedral of motorcycle racing, then Monza is its Hoover Dam - a track built with a grand purpose, steeped in history, and as impressive today as it was when it was first conceived and completed. The circuit is located on the outskirts of Milan, Italy's industrial capital, in a huge park that was once part of the Villa Reale, a palace that belonged to the Habsburg dynasty. And so the casual visitor can find themselves wandering through the Arcadian beauty of the heavily wooded park only to find the peace abruptly shattered by the bark of a Ducati Superbike, or the shriek of a Ferrari Formula One car, or the massed howl of Monza track day.
Originally built in 1922 as a test track for testing for prolonged periods at high speeds, the circuit is still renowned for its very fast nature. It is basically series of high speed corners interrupted by a handful of chicanes, and topped off by the Parabolica, one of the great and frightening spectacles of racing, the corner opening up as the bikes head back onto the front straight. The brave just pin the throttle and change up through the gears, but the corner is so fast that you can draft the rider ahead of you, pulling out just before you cross the line to take a spectacular last lap victory.
As you might expect of a nation which is happy to locate a race track in the middle of a city park without complaining, winning is important for the Italians at Monza, and nothing could make the Italians happier than to see an Italian rider on an Italian bike take victory at the fifth round of the World Superbikes series here this weekend. Luckily for the Italians, they have two real chances of that happening at Monza on Sunday.
Both candidates have their problems, though. Max Biaggi got off to an excellent start aboard the Aprilia RSV4, bagging a pair of podiums at the Qatar round, but since then, he has struggled a little. Biaggi's particular problem is the new Superpole format, where the Italian has been caught out a couple of times and left to start a long way down the grid. But if there's one thing the Aprilia is, it's fast, regularly being the fastest bike through the speed traps. Monza is a track where that could well pay off, as long as Biaggi isn't stuck behind traffic for too long.
As much as Ducati's Michel Fabrizio would like to win at Monza, he still has question marks hanging over his consistency. The Italian is certainly stronger this year than last, and has been on the podium twice and just off it twice more. But he also has a 9th place and a couple of DNFs to his name. Fabrizio had a mostly indifferent weekend at Monza last year, and though he should do better this weekend, he is still more likely to finish in the top 5 rather than on the top step.
A remarkable press release from Italy. Ducati have just announced that Troy Bayliss is to test Ducati's Desmosedici GP9 at Mugello next week, at a private Ducati test from May 12th to May 14th. Bayliss is to test Ducati's MotoGP bike alongside regular tester Vittoriano Guareschi, in pursuit of improvements to the difficult Desmosedici. The press release puts it as follows: "The test has been planned for a while and will be repeated during the year at future official sessions of the Test Team. Ducati can thus count on the feedback of a three times world champion, whose talent and experience will contribute to the continuous development work carried out on the Desmosedici GP9 and GP10."
Rumors of Bayliss riding the GP9 had been floating around the internet for a couple of weeks, ever since spy shots of a set of leathers with MotoGP, Baylisstic and Marlboro Ducati logos surfaced on a couple of racer websites. The shots were allegedly taken by someone picking up a set of leathers from the Arlen Ness factory from their racing department, and had unsurprisingly generated a lot of speculation about the legendary Australian Superbike star making a return to racing. Bayliss is preparing to compete in Australia's V8 Supercars series, but is known to still have both close links to Ducati and and a hankering for motorcycle racing - despite an explicit veto by his wife.
The likelihood of Bayliss ever racing in MotoGP has to be fairly slim. After his victory in the final race of the 990 era, Bayliss proclaimed himself done with MotoGP, having gained the revenge on Ducati's MotoGP team that he had sought after being unceremoniously dumped by the squad at the end of the 2004 season. Together with his World Superbike pit crew, specially shipped in as a condition of Bayliss taking Gibernau's ride as a wildcard at the 2006 Valencia Grand Prix, he came in and took victory almost from the very first corner.
Now that the rules for the Moto2 series have been finalized - all except the small matter of actually producing the spec Honda engine, that is - the teams interested in the class can finally get on with developing the bikes. To this end, Dorna and the RFME (the Royal Motorcycling Federation of Spain) had initially announced that the class would be allowed to race in the Spanish CEV championship, partly to allow the teams to work on their bikes, and partly to monitor how the class would work out.
Unfortunately, due to the lateness of the announcement and confusion over the rules, only two teams entered the Spanish Moto2 championship, and so the separate races had to be scrapped. Instead, LaGlisse's Yamaha R6-based bike and the Blusens BQR Honda-based bike took part in qualifying for the CEV Formula Extreme championship, in which 1000cc bikes compete under rules which are similar to Superstock spec. The Moto2 bikes were not unsuccessful: The bikes qualified in 5th and 6th place, just over a second off of pole.
With the Moto2 rules now finalized, and new entries from teams such as Inmotec and FTR Moto on the cards, the RFME and Dorna have decided to allow the Moto2 bikes to race. As there will still not be enough entries to field a separate race, the Moto2 bikes will race alongside the Formula Extreme bikes, starting from the next round of the CEV at Jerez on June 6th and 7th. The bikes will not score points for the Formula Extreme championship, but will instead score points for a separate Moto2 championship, not unlike the separate privateer championship in the CEV's Formula Extreme class.
With the withdrawal of the Spanish Banco Santander as the sponsor of the Yamaha Motor Italia World Superbike squad last year - despite the relative health of the Spanish banking system - and the signing of the American Ben Spies, one of the major questions around the paddock was who would be funding what is obviously one of the best-run and most expensive World Superbike programs. Whoever decided to step in would surely be getting a return on their investment, given the fact that Ben Spies has won a race at each of the four World Superbike rounds held so far.
This fact has not been lost on Sterilgarda, as the Italian food giant has decided to step in to take a major sponsorship role for the Yamaha World Superbike team. Starting from Monza, the Sterilgarda brand will feature large on both the fairings of the Yamaha R1 race bikes, as well as the leathers of Tom Sykes and Ben Spies. In a press release, Yamaha boss Laurens Klein Koerkamp said "It's very positive to have such a well known brand in the paddock recognize how successful the Yamaha World Superbike Team is and want to be part of it. We're looking forward to working together and this being the start of a long term relationship," while Nando Sarzi, owner of Sterilgarda Alimenti said "We are really happy to be able to link our brand with The Yamaha World Superbike Team. We're really excited to be able share the racing emotions and success with the team, starting with Monza this weekend, the home race for both the team and our company."
The new Superpole format introduced in World Superbikes - three sessions of 12 minutes, with 12 riders eliminated during the first two of those sessions - has generally been met with much enthusiasm. The sessions are much more exciting than the former single-fast-lap format, and have thrown up several surprises. Most of those surprises have been caused by the tire rules: In a twist to the format, the riders are only allowed to use two super-soft qualifying tires. With two tires to spread over three sessions, qualifying has been a bit of a gamble, with riders as prominent as Max Biaggi and Max Neukirchner finding themselves knocked out of the first session, and forced to start from the fifth row of the grid.
The qualifying tire rule has come in for a lot of criticism, from fans, teams and journalists alike, who point to the fact that slower riders have been able to get through the early superpole sessions by throwing in a qualifier at the start, while nominally faster riders who choose to save their qualifiers for an attempt at the front row are being knocked out.
As manager of the Alstare Brux Suzuki team, the flamboyant Francis Batta has also railed against the qualifying tire rule, and according to Motorsport Aktuell, he will be tabling a proposal to change this at Monza. "Superpole has been a lottery," Batta told MSA, who has also complained of the top riders being knocked out. "My proposal is this: the soft qualifying tires will only be given to the last eight riders in the third Superpole session. That way, the top riders will be able to fight with equal equipment."
After Assen disrupted John Hopkins' career for the second year in succession, the Stiggy Racing team was left looking for a replacement for the man who had only just joined the team. Hopkins' injury - a dislocated hip with a fractured femur - leaves the American out of racing for at least two, and maybe three rounds.
First of these is magnificent Monza, a jewel of a track set in a huge park on the outskirts of Milan. At that legendary track, another American, Jake Zemke, will ride Hopkins' CBR1000RR. Zemke is the reigning AMA Formula Xtreme champion, a class that has now been replaced by the incomprehensible Daytona Sportbike class in the AMA Pro Racing Championship, and is currently riding for Erion Honda's Daytona Sportbike entry. Zemke previously rode a Honda CBR1000RR for American Honda in the AMA Superbike series alongside Miguel Duhamel.
This will be Zemke's second attempt at Monza. Previously, Zemke was scheduled to substitute for Roberto Rolfo aboard the Althea Honda here in 2008, but last-minute paperwork problems with the AMA prevented Zemke from taking part. This weekend, Zemke will be replacing Hopkins - who replaced Rolfo, though over results, not injury - at the Italian track. Hopkins will also be out at Kyalami in two weeks' time, but that event clashes with the next AMA round at Infineon Raceway, or Sears Point as it was known, ruling Zemke out there. Both Hopkins and Zemke share a manager, a contributing factor to Zemke's taking the ride, but like several American racers, Zemke has indicated an interest in joining the World Superbike paddock permanently.