September 5th, 2008
Going in to Indianapolis, we already knew that big changes were ahead for Dani Pedrosa. The shock tire switch announced by Pedrosa and the Repsol Honda team, which saw Pedrosa dumping Michelin to use Bridgestones, meant that Pedrosa would race at Indianapolis on just one day of testing and a couple of days of practice on the Japanese rubber. It was a risk, but also an investment in the future.
With today's announcement, Pedrosa looks like he has decided to forget all about this season, and put all his cards on 2009. For today, the Repsol Honda team announced that Dani Pedrosa would not only be using Bridgestone tires at the Brickyard in Indianapolis, he would also be running the pneumatic valve engine which his team mate Nicky Hayden has been using since the British Grand Prix back in June.
Pedrosa had previously rejected using the air valve motor, as he was uncomfortable with the engine's more fierce power delivery, preferring the smoother steel valve spring engine. But after setting a lap of 1'34.652 during the post-race test at Misano, the Spaniard has decided to make the switch to the more powerful air valve bike.
With both the pneumatic valve engine and the Bridgestones underneath him, Pedrosa has already embarked on his preparations for the 2009 season. Both Repsol and Pedrosa are tired of waiting for the first Spanish champion since Alex Criville. Ten years, it seems, is enough.
We all need to take time off, from time to time, and that's no different for the staff here at MotoGPMatters.com. And by staff, I mean me.
So I am heading off for a hard-earned break for a couple of weeks. The bad news is that due to intermittent Internet access, I will be unable to update the site as often as usual. The good news is that I will be heading to Spain, spiritual home of MotoGP, and so should have a lot more information at my disposal when I do report.
This also means that I will not be writing a race preview. But don't despair, as a replacement is in place: Rusty Bucket will be providing you with an outstanding introduction to Indy, and a preview of the race.
What's more, we have a special feature planned for the eve of the race. Check back here on Sunday for something very special from Indy.
After we return from vacation, we will more than make good for our absence. There will be big news to announce, and MotoGPMatters will only get better from then on.
Thanks for staying with us, and our apologies for the disruption to our service.
With all of the rumors floating around during MotoGP's traditional silly season, it's nice to get some official news of actual contracts. And the first announcement is the least surprising. In an official press release from Rizla Suzuki, the team has confirmed that both Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen are to stay with Suzuki for 2009.
Capirossi's contract had been all but confirmed over the past few weeks, but Vermeulen's future was less certain. The Australian had offers from a number of other teams, including a rumored option to be Troy Bayliss' replacement at the factory Ducati team in World Superbikes, but wanted to stay in MotoGP, and with a factory team.
The question on everybody's lips, but the question least likely to be answered, is whether Vermeulen was forced to take a pay cut. There were strong rumors that part of the delay in reupping with Vermeulen was due to the Australian missing a performance clause in his existing contract which would have seen him automatically extend his contract on similar terms. Suzuki was believed to want to cut his salary in half, but it is unlikely that Vermeulen would have settled for this.
Ever since Sete Gibernau turned up at the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona, and spent a lot of time in both the Kawasaki and Ducati garages, rumors have grown increasingly stronger that the Spanish former GP star would be back in MotoGP next year. After testing the Ducati at Mugello, and the problems which Marco Melandri had been having, it was even suggested that Gibernau could have made a reentry into MotoGP after the Summer break.
So prevalent were the rumors, that eventually, it seemed as if Gibernau had taken over the role of "default rider" from Max Biaggi: Whenever the possible riders for an empty seat in MotoGP were discussed, it became almost compulsory to mention Gibernau's name as well. And each time Gibernau was automatically linked with a ride, the plausibility of his return diminished.
Now, though, it seems we were wrong to doubt him. The Dutch magazine MOTO73.nl is reporting that Sete Gibernau has signed a contract to race next season with Ducati. Details are sketchy at the moment, and it is unclear which team Gibernau will actually be riding for, but with the factory Marlboro Ducati team full up - Nicky Hayden's switch to Ducati is not yet confirmed, but seems almost inevitable - that would seem to imply that he will be riding for the satellite Alice Ducati team.
The Misano race may have seen plenty of action on track, it is as nothing compared to the flurry of activity which seems to have gone on behind the scenes. In the shadow of the absolute bombshell announcement that Dani Pedrosa was switching Bridgestones effective immediately, a good deal of business went on as riders and teams sorted out more details of who as to go where.
The latest news to come out of Italy will cheer the hearts of a lot of MotoGP fans: Toni Elias will be back in MotoGP next year. He won't be on a Ducati, however. According to GPOne.com, the Spaniard will be riding for Jorge Martinez' Aspar team aboard a Kawasaki. The Alice Ducati team had told Elias he was free to find another ride, but after two successive podiums, that is a decision they are starting to regret. No details of the deal with Martinez have been announced, which means it is far from finalized, but Elias looks like a strong bet to be on a third Kawasaki.
Another deal which is said to be signed, but not yet officially announced, is the renewal of Alex de Angelis' contract with Gresini Honda. Fausto Gresini has had a tough time signing riders recently, as every time he looked to be close to signing one, they upped and signed with another team. First it was Marco Melandri who went on to join Kawasaki. Then, Toni Elias, whose impressive recent form had made him another strong candidate for the Gresini seat, went the way of Melandri, and headed over to Team Green.
The Misano MotoGP round saw the paddock dive into the very heart of silly season, with contracts close enough to being signed for details to leak out, but still so many rumors muddying the water that news taken as hard fact could still easily turn out to be complete fiction.
The latest news from the Spanish sports daily AS.com is a case in point. AS is reporting that Ducati is prepared to supply a 5th bike next year for Sete Gibernau to ride. The bike would be run by the Onde 2000 team, which is currently running in the 125cc class, with Pablo Nieto and Raffaele de Rosa aboard KTMs.
Just how much fact there is in this news item is extremely hard to say. Sete Gibernau has certainly been working very closely with Ducati over the past couple of months, testing for the factory at Mugello, and rumors had emerged that Gibernau would already be aboard Melandri's bike. With Melandri now signed for Kawasaki, but showing improved form, Melandri is almost certain to see out the rest of the season, leaving Gibernau without a ride. It is not unthinkable that Ducati may want to compensate the Spanish star for his hard work in mid-season.
But there is still plenty of room for doubt in this story. Firstly, there's the sponsor: Onde 2000 is a Spanish construction company, involved mainly in residential housing. With domestic house prices in Spain going through the floor, the result of a credit and investment bubble combining with a construction boom, Spain's construction companies, once flush with cash, are struggling to make ends meet, and even going out of business. But with many of the firms in private hands, which companies are suffering and which are surviving is hard to tell. As a general rule, though, the Spanish building industry is not a solid foundation for building long term sponsorship relationships.
Everybody loves a story. A story can capture our imagination, and transport us beyond the realms of our daily lives. A story can move us and put us in touch with our deepest feelings. And a story can teach us, by allowing us to walk a mile in another person's shoes and understand their point of view. Stories help us organize and explain the world around us, and make sense of the endless stream of seemingly random events which fill it.
For stories are at the heart of what makes us human: Every culture, every creed, every people has its tales, myths and legends to help it make sense of the world. It is how we keep track of our history, both on the global scale, and at the level of the personal narrative which we construct from our lives.
So deep-seated is this instinct that we also tell stories that may not even be there. We draw together isolated incidents, related only by their proximity in time or in geographical location, add our own correlations and interpretations, and build a logical and coherent story that sounds completely plausible. That such stories do not necessarily bear any resemblance to reality, present or future, tends to be completely disregarded.
Tell Me A Story
The Misano MotoGP round, or the Gran Premio Cinzano di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini, to give it its full, keyboard-eroding name, was a case in point. So many separate possibilities came together at this race that the fairy tale was being written before anyone had turned a wheel on the track.
As so often in motorcycle racing fairy tales, the character at the heart of the story was Valentino Rossi. Rossi's story, already embroidered so broadly across the rich tapestry of MotoGP, was poised to see more chapters added at Misano.
For Misano was the very first track that the Italian had ever raced at as a teenager aboard a 125, yet at the same time, it was the only track that he had not yet won a MotoGP race at. The Doctor had already scratched Laguna Seca from that ever-dwindling list six weeks ago, and had announced his attention that Misano should go the same way.
The History Man
Added to this was the fact that a win here would bring Rossi's total of premier class wins up to 68, equal with the legendary Giacomo Agostini. Agostini had dominated the sport in the 1960s and early 1970s, making a habit of winning every race until he secured a title, then taking the rest of the season off. To draw level with Agostini in an era of much more closely fought competition would brighten Rossi's star still further beyond it's already blazing brilliance.
As if this were not enough, Rossi would have the opportunity of achieving this incredible milestone less than 10 miles from his home town of Tavullia. In fact, almost the entire population of Tavullia had turned up at the track to cheer Rossi on, and watch him enter the history books. They had even gone so far as to hold a town council meeting at the track, with one of the items of business the appointment of Valentino Rossi as honorary mayor for a day.
The scene was set, the actors had taken the stage, all that was needed was a deft storyteller to allow the tale to unfurl as the fans and followers had scripted it in their minds. A thrilling race-long battle with his archrival Casey Stoner, followed by a final pass for the lead at the final hairpin, with Rossi courageously holding the Australian champion off for the win over the line. Everything was in place for a repeat of the Laguna Seca race, with the same intended outcome. They just needed to roll the film, and let it all play out.
Times from the post race test at Misano, courtesy of GPOne.com
|1||Dani Pedrosa||Honda||1'34.652||76 laps total, best time on air valve engine|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda||1'35.555||spring valve engine|
|4||Randy de Puniet||Honda||1'35.972||28|
|6||Alex de Angelis||Honda||1'36.120||37|
Pedrosa's best lap during the race was 1'35.479, and his qualifying time was 1'34.398. The best lap set on the pneumatic valve engine was probably a lap on qualifying tires, considering the pace.
Full results of the Grand Prix of San Marino and the Riviera di Rimini at Misano:
Motorcycle News' Matthew Birt is reporting that Dani Pedrosa will be switching to use Bridgestone tires effective immediately after the Misano race. It was widely anticipated that the Repsol Honda team - or at the very least, Dani Pedrosa's side of the garage - would be switching to the Japanese rubber for next season, after Pedrosa expressed his disgust with Michelin's failures in no uncertain terms after the Brno round. Pedrosa's unhappiness went so far that his manager, Alberto Puig, even tried to organize a boycott of the Brno GP by the Michelin riders, on the rather questionable grounds of safety. Michelin dismissed this claim, saying that the tires may have been off the pace, but there were no safety issues. MCN also revealed that HRC's manager Masumi Hamane was actually behind this attempt.
Now, in a shock and unprecedented move, Pedrosa will switch tire brands in the middle of the season. Pedrosa and Repsol Honda organized the deal with Bridgestone and Dorna to allow the Spaniard to make the move immediately. Dorna needed to be involved, as the rules state that the FIM and Dorna must be informed if teams decide to switch tire makers mid-season. Again, according to MCN, only Pedrosa will switch to Bridgestones, with Pedrosa's ostensible team mate Nicky Hayden remaining on Michelins.
Nicky Hayden is to skip Sunday's race at Misano. After skipping Sunday morning's warmup, the American elected to skip the race. Hayden is still suffering too much pain from the heel injury he sustained at the X Games Supermoto event, and was a couple of seconds off the pace.
Hayden is hoping that skipping the Misano race will allow him to heal more quickly, leaving him in a better position to contest the next event, the Indianapolis GP. Hayden regards this as his home GP, being the nearest race to his native Owensboro, Kentucky, and is determined to do well there.
Nicky Hayden took no part in proceedings during warmup, electing to sit out the session to spare his heel injury. He is likely to race. Casey Stoner was in obvious pain from his wrist, but that didn't stop him from stomping all over the opposition again.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|7||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'35.658||1.014||0.054|
|11||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'35.825||1.181||0.002|
The fact that four MotoGP races are being broadcast on network television in the US is great for the profile of the sport, but not so good for regular fans. For it means searching about on schedules to find exactly when the race is going to be broadcast.
Fortunately, there's the TV Racer website, which was evidently created to cope with exactly this kind of problem. And it tells us that the Misano MotoGP round is to be broadcast in the US on Speed, rather than on CBS. Broadcast time is 11pm EDT. So set your DVRs accordingly.
The weather has been a factor at just about every race so far this season, usually by being treacherous, changeable and unreliable, so the relief with which several days of calm, predictable and warm weather is being greeted is entirely understandable. With no exceptionally cool mornings, or dry days followed by wet days, teams and tire makers are glad to be able to work consistently on a setup, and getting ready for the race.
Casey Stoner would probably be fine without the setup time. Stoner was back to his old tricks in the free practice sessions, taking just 4 laps to get onto the top of the timesheets, and relinquishing that position only very briefly during all three sessions. So it was hardly a surprise to see Casey Stoner taking provisional pole on his 3rd lap out of the pits, and cracking into the 1'34 bracket - faster than anyone but himself had been so far this weekend - on the next lap.
By the end of his first run, Casey Stoner held provisional pole with a lap of 1'34.763, nearly half a second ahead of the rest of the field. Stoner was once again exerting his authority on the rest of the field, and setting the mark to measure the rest of the field by.
Behind Stoner, things were a good deal more interesting. Fortunately for Michelin, their tires were working well at the circuit, as Jorge Lorenzo and Randy de Puniet were mixing it up near the top of the timesheets, and were obviously competitive with the Bridgestones. With quarter of the session gone, Lorenzo held the 2nd fastest time on his Fiat Yamaha, while Alice Ducati's Toni Elias showed that his good result in Brno was a sign of more to come, with the 3rd fastest time, ahead of Valentino Rossi.
But the times were pretty close. Apart from Casey Stoner, who was over 0.4 seconds ahead as the session approached the halfway mark, just half a second covered the 2nd to 10th spots on the grid. It was clear that once the qualifiers went on, a tenth of a second could be the difference between being on the front row or the third row of the grid. The wait was on for the first rider to go out on soft rubber.