October 25th, 2008
Opinions about the proposal for a single tire manufacturer are still divided among the riders, but there is one thing that all of them agree on: They are going to miss the breathtaking sensation of pushing the astonishingly grippy qualifying tires to their very limits. Nicky Hayden has said the tires are so good, that "you get off the bike and you're shaking." For riders so used to being right on the edge to be shaking takes something quite remarkable.
So there was some disappointment when the weather on Saturday started off as gray and wet as it had been on Friday. It looked like the last chance to use qualifiers might be gone, but as the afternoon started, the rain stopped, and the track started to dry out.
The track filled quickly once qualifying started. With the race expected to be dry, teams and riders were anxious to find a race setting that might work on Sunday. After three drenched sessions of free practice, they had learned more than they needed to know about riding in the wet.
The track was still cool, and spotty in patches, so times came down slowly. It took 5 laps before the times even got into the 1'34s, Randy de Puniet the first to crack that barrier on his LCR Honda. De Puniet was joined seconds later by Loris Capirossi, then Shinya Nakano, the Japanese Gresini Honda rider taking half a second off the Frenchman's time, with a lap of 1'34.437.
Three minutes later, Nakano's time was beaten, Nicky Hayden taking over the top spot with a 1'34.351. The Kentucky Kid had been fastest in all three wet sessions, and was showing he was quick in the dry too. Hayden was on a strong run, going on to take 3/10ths off his time on the next lap, with a time of 1'34.009.
His team mate, with whom Hayden had been engaged in a war of words by proxy, was not about to let Hayden run away with the session, and with 15 minutes gone, set the 2nd fastest time with a lap of 1'34.195.
Full results of the official qualifying practice session of the Parts Europe Grand Prix of Valencia
Central European Summer Time ends at 3am Sunday morning, and while that means an extra hour in bed for most Europeans, it could end up confusing the many MotoGP fans who live elsewhere. For with the clocks going back an hour in Europe, that could throw the schedules of fans based in the US or Australia into disarray.
The final round of MotoGP in Valencia, Spain, is due to start at the regular race start time of 2pm. But that is 2pm CET, or Central European Time, rather than CEST, Central European Summer Time. Clocks in the US and most of Australia aren't due to change for another week, so for fans there, the race may be an hour later than they thought it would.
It goes beyond the scope of this website to list the race start time in every possible time zone - the official MotoGP.com website has a nifty time zone checker for that - but by using the invaluable tools on the Time And Date website at http://www.timeanddate.com/, we can calculate that the race will start at 9am EDT or 6am PDT in the US, and midnight at EDT in Australia, for fans in Sydney.
If you want to see what time the race will start in your time zone, then check this page on the Time And Date website.
Hayden was quickest once again in the morning session, but the big surprise was Marco Melandri. The Italian, who has an inconceivably appalling season as he struggles with the Ducati, has found something in his setup, and regularly topped the timesheet. The track dried out during the last 10 minutes of the session, generating a frantic rush of activity, with the lead swapping several times a minute.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|10||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'46.068||2.128||0.559|
|12||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'46.721||2.781||0.265|
Two things dominated the first day of practice at the final MotoGP round in Valencia: Rain, and Nicky Hayden. Rain has lashed the circuit all day, turning the adjacent campsite into a mudbath, and making the going treacherous around the circuit.
Added to the rain was the cold, temperatures hovering around 14 degrees Celsius, or the high 50s Fahrenheit. So not only is the rain causing grip problems, but the chill conditions are reducing grip even further. As a consequence, and rather unsurprisingly, a lot of people have been off into the gravel.
Casey Stoner got away with just a scare. Though his crash in FP1 looked scary, coming as it did at a fair speed round Turn 13, the Australian landed luckily, and didn't injure himself. Valentino Rossi also came away unscathed from a lowside in Turn 14. One of the slowest corners on the track, Rossi almost managed to catch the rear as it went away from him, but couldn't quite lever the bike back up onto the fat part of the tire.
Unluckiest team of the day were the Alice Ducati men. Toni Elias came off after a semi-highside, and has had a generally miserable day, finishing bottom of the pile and 6 seconds off the pace. But while Elias was relatively unharmed, Sylvain Guintoli is battered and bruised, after banging his knee and his behind in a big highside during FP2.
The other constant factor was Nicky Hayden. The American was fastest in both morning and afternoon sessions, and was clearly at home both on the track and in the rain. Hayden is just a few hundredths faster than his team mate Dani Pedrosa, but he was unlucky not to be much further ahead. Coming round on a very quick lap with a few minutes to go, Hayden nearly overcooked Turn 12, and pulled into the pits for new tires, after having been half a second up at the third intermediate checkpoint.
The FIM announced a minor change to the 2009 MotoGP calendar today. The Misano round of MotoGP will be held a week earlier than previously scheduled, moving it to the week after the Indianapolis MotoGP round.
|May 17th||France||Le Mans|
|July 5th***||United States||Laguna Seca|
|July 26th||Great Britain||Donington Park|
|August 16th||Czech Republic||Brno|
|September 6th||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Misano|
|October 18th||Australia||Phillip Island|
|November 8th||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo - Valencia|
* Evening race
** Saturday race
*** Only MotoGP class
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|7||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'46.807||1.030||0.285|
|12||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'48.015||2.238||0.395|
The news that Sete Gibernau would be making a return to MotoGP aboard a Ducati run by the Onde 2000 team has been so long in coming that it barely figures as news at all. Gibernau's return had been mooted as early as June, after the Spaniard started testing the Ducati at Mugello. That news triggered a wave of speculation that Gibernau could make an early return to the series, with rumors that Marco Melandri was being retained on a race-by-race basis.
That switch never materialized. Many explanations were posited: Ducati were afraid that if they let Melandri go, he'd do better on a Kawasaki than he did on the Ducati, possibly even beating Gibernau; Gibernau's times, though good, were not good enough to take the risk; or that the Spaniard had simply made too many demands in terms of salary, and a guarantee of a contract for the factory ride in 2009. The official announcement that Nicky Hayden would be joining Casey Stoner at Ducati for 2009 finally killed any remaining speculation about Gibernau's return to the factory Marlboro Ducati squad.
But by then, most of the details of Gibernau's new project had been finalized. And on Thursday night, the Onde 2000 team, currently active in the 125 class, presented their MotoGP program for 2009. To the surprise of nobody, Sete Gibernau was introduced as the rider, while Pablo Nieto, the 26 year-old 125 racer who announced his retirement from racing at the end of the season at Sepang, will take on a management role alongside his brother, Gelete.
The team was expected to be sponsored by Onde 2000, a Spanish construction company owned by Fernando "Paco El Pocero" Hernandez. But at the team introduction, the team was introduced as the Grupo Fernando Hernandez Onde 2000 Guinea Ecuatorial team. Which suggests that Fernando Hernandez is putting his own money into the project, rather than funding it through Onde 2000. This is hardly a surprising step, as the Spanish construction industry, once one of the main pillars of the Spanish economy, is in a tailspin, suffering from both the implosion caused by the financial crisis, and the collapse of the Spanish housing bubble, which had grown to almost Herculean proportions over the past 10 years.
The question is, why did Gibernau come back? The Spaniard was widely believed to be mentally broken by Valentino Rossi during the 2005 season, Gibernau never winning another race after being bumped off track on the final lap of the Jerez season opener. Then, a string of injuries during 2006, aggravating a collar bone injury suffered previously, prompted Gibernau to retire.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|15||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'52.960||5.266||0.162|
|18||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'54.199||6.505||1.080|
There is always something bittersweet about the Valencia round of MotoGP. The final race is at once both apogee and perigee, zenith and nadir, as befits the culmination of any experience which marks its fans as deeply as MotoGP does. The last chance to party with fellow fans, and the last chance to watch, hear and feel the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of the 18 fastest, loudest, most technologically advanced motorcycles in the world tear around a racetrack at dizzying speeds. Valencia is always part birthday celebration, part funeral wake, as fans and followers celebrate the passing of another astounding season.
For many people, this year's end-of-season party at Valencia will be more like a wake than at any time in recent history. Sure, there were tears of nostalgia when the two strokes went, to be shed once again at the demise of the 990s. But on each of those occasions, there was also hope and curiosity, waiting to see what the new bikes that replaced them would bring.
2009, though, will be different. For once the bikes pull into the pit lane after the race on Sunday, MotoGP will cease to be a purely prototype series and will open the door to spec equipment and standardization. The imposition of a single tire manufacturer with the authority to dictate which tires the teams will use marks the end of an era. Once, anyone with the desire, the ability and the funds could manufacture whole motorcycles or individual components, and as long as they complied with certain basic rules and specifications, any team sensing an advantage could use them. But that is now gone.
Waving The Flag
Supporters of the change quite rightly point out that tires, while incredibly important, are the least interesting part of a racing motorcycle to the vast majority of fans. They say that merely instituting a single tire rule can hardly be construed as an assault on the principle of prototype engineering, and that the tires are the part of the racing machine which the motorcycle manufacturers are least associated with. Nobody was ever a fan of a tire company, they say, a claim which Bridgestone and Michelin might publicly decry, while privately admitting.
But concerns over safety and cost have prevailed, and in an attempt to at least slow up the ever-increasing speeds the 800cc bikes were capable of, Dorna felt it had to act. The deal was done at Motegi, Bridgestone were awarded the contract at Sepang, and at Valencia, after 20 years of dominance, Michelin tires will roll out onto a MotoGP race track for the last time, never to return.
At least they will be in with a chance of bowing out in style. The Valencia track has always been kind to Michelin, and Bridgestone have only beaten them here once, when Troy Bayliss romped to victory on a wildcard Ducati after taking his 2nd World Superbike championship in 2006. Even last year, the year in which Michelin had their worst season for decades, Dani Pedrosa took a resounding win on French rubber, showing that Michelin could be competitive when they wanted to, and helping rekindle faith in the company.
This Looks Familiar
Pedrosa's win was in part down to the experience the tire companies have at the track. The Ricardo Tormo circuit always kicks off the winter test season on the day after the final race, and being situated near Spain's temperate Mediterranean coast, has a climate which is mild and dry enough to allow testing to take place in early spring.
While the climate makes it perfect for testing, the location makes the Circuito Ricardo Tormo perfect for racing. Just half an hour from Valencia, Spain's third largest city, and three hours from Madrid and Barcelona, the numbers 1 and 2 in that league, the circuit is a Mecca for the crazed Spanish racing fans.
And the physical geography of the track makes it a fantastic spot for those fans to spectate at. The track sits in a bowl of low hills which form a natural amphitheater where MotoGP's gladiators gather to do battle. Seated upon the slopes of the hills overlooking the circuit, spectators can see almost the entire track, and follow all of the action no matter where it takes place.
The first point of engagement is Turn 1, at the end of the surprisingly long front straight. If you've been hearing the roar of another bike behind as you race down the straight, this is the place they will pull out of your draft and try to bump past you on the brakes. But passing here is risky: Turn 1 is not quite 90 degrees and very wide, and as a consequence, pretty fast. Carry too much speed into the corner trying to get past somebody and you risk a very fast and very painful tumble, as you run wide and hit the gravel at high speed.
Too Cool For School
After a short straight, the first hairpin looms, followed by a left kink, the third left hander in a row. But more danger lurks at Turn 4, the first right hander since halfway round the track on the previous lap. By the time you turn in for the corner here, the right-hand side of your tire is starting to cool and grip levels can be deceptively low. Coming off a series of turns which have gotten the left side of your tire nice and sticky, it's all too easy to go in too hot expecting grip, only to contemplate your miscalculation in the gravel trap after lowsiding off.
Another slow right brings you up to Turn 6, and on towards the most technical and most interesting section of the Valencia circuit. Out of 6, you enter the short back straight, short-shifting up to 150 mph, before leaning the bike over for the left hand kink and getting hard on the brakes for Turn 8.
After the tight right-hand hairpin, the track doubles back on itself, and you flick the bike left and right, ready to enter the slowest corner on the track and a place where those brave enough will try to come underneath you on the brakes. If you get through Turn 11 unscathed, then it's on to the most spectacular part of the circuit.
Just when we thought the soap opera over the third Kawasaki was finished, after Jorge Martinez and Kawasaki agreed to drop the project over the choice of riders, rumors are emerging that the project is back from the dead. The Aspar project was killed off officially at Sepang, after Aspar's Spanish sponsors insisted on a Spanish rider, while Kawasaki demanded that Shinya Nakano be given the ride.
Martinez faced a choice of either a rider but no money, or money but no bike. With Kawasaki demanding 3 million euros for a factory machine, Martinez decided that he simply could not afford to run the team Kawasaki wanted without financial support from the factory as well.
Kawasaki, however, appear to have warmed to the idea of having a third bike on the grid. Recognizing that they are in a very deep hole with the current iteration of the ZX-RR Ninja, a bike recently slated by Ant West in an interview with the Italian magazine Motosprint, the factory were pushing hard to have Shinya Nakano join the team to speed development along. But once Aspar pulled out, they were left empty-handed.
Now, rumors are emerging from Italy that Kawasaki have changed tack. According to the RacerGP.com website, unnamed sources supplying the factory team have received orders for extra parts, sufficient to field a third factory bike, the site concludes. No details are known about who would run the team, but with Aspar reportedly talking to Suzuki again for 2010, the factory Kawasaki Racing team could well include a third bike in their program, run from a separate garage and without the Monster Energy branding.
After the success of the MotoGP silly season roundup page, we thought it would be useful to draw up a similar list for the 250cc class. The class is looking rather shaky for 2009, as KTM have pulled out of the class due to the impending rule changes due to come into effect in 2011. If Dorna have not secured 15 entries for this championship, then they will be forced to cancel the series, as the FIM rules require a minimum of 15 competitors for any series to be called a world championship.
|Gilera||The Gilera is basically just a rebadged Aprilia, as Piaggio own several brands they can compete on|
|Marco Simoncelli||The 2008 World Champion was reputedly offered a lot of money to make the step up to MotoGP, but then Piaggio offered Marco even more money to stay.|
|Mattia Pasini? Simone Corsi?||After the withdrawal of Polaris World due to the collapse in the Spanish housing market, Mattia Pasini was suddenly available. Pasini has reputedly asked for a lot of money to sign for a team, though his manager has said that he "now acknowledges market realities." |
Simone Corsi is currently 3rd in the 125cc championship race, and has been strong all season.
|Team Aspar||The dominant team in 125 and 250 racing. Missed out on moving to MotoGP, so will be doubly committed to winning the 250 crown.|
|Alvaro Bautista||The favorite to take Simoncelli's crown. Incredibly talented, but can occasionally lose his head.|
|Hector Faubel? Mike Di Meglio?||The second seat is wide open. Faubel is currently under contract to Aspar, but has hardly set the world on fire. He is Spanish though, something Aspar's sponsors like. Di Meglio isn't and is arguably a bigger threat, and so may not find favor with the Valencian.|
|Aspar '2'||The B team, reportedly to be run with Hungarian money.|
|Gabor Talmacsi||The reigning 125 champion had too many problems to defend his title this year, and will be too old to take another shot in 2009. Is clearly extremely able, and should suit a 250 better than the 125.|
|WRB-Pons||Sito Pons returns to the grid at last, to the joy of many. Pons last managed a team in MotoGP, losing out by his association with Max Biaggi.|
|Hector Barbera||Very fast, and very wild. A permanent fixture in 250s, and a permanent title challenger.|
|Axel Pons?||Axel is Sito's son, who suffered a horrific crash in the Spanish 125 championship, and is now nearly back to full fitness. Question marks remain over whether he can jump straight into the 250 class from the Spanish series, despite the very high level of competition.|
|Lotus Aprilia||Run by Dani Amitriain, which fielded Alex Debon this year, and was Jorge Lorenzo's former team.|
|Mike Di Meglio? Hector Faubel?||See above|
|Aleix Espargaro?||The brother of teenage 125 sensation Pol Espargaro, Aleix is a decent mid-pack rider.|
|Thomas Luthi||Luthi was brilliant in the 125s, and has been competitive in the 250s too. Not as strong as Bautista, but has had some bad luck, and a few bad crashes too.|
|Karel Abraham||The Czech rider has had this team built around him by his father, who owns the medical equipment company which sponsors both the team and the Brno MotoGP round. A mid-pack rider.|
|Ratthapark Wilairot||Great to see riders from outside Europe, the US or Australia. Wilairot has done very well considering the equipment he has been on. Consistently one of the fastest privateers, doubly handicapped by being on a Honda.|
|Esteve Rabat?||Rabat is currently riding for Repsol KTM in the 125 class, and is another product of the Puig stables. But Rabat has yet shown the promise of Puig's other proteges.|
|Repsol Derbi?||The team to be run by Alberto Puig. Puig initially wanted KTMs, but after KTM pulled out, Puig approached Aprilia. Repsol, however, were unhappy at racing Aprilias, and so Puig persuaded them to accept Derbis instead. Despite the fact that a Derbi is a rebadged Aprilia.|
|Esteve Rabat?||The most likely backup rider, as Rabat is already working with Puig|
|Mike di Meglio?||See above. De Meglio would be Repsol Derbi's number 1 rider, as reigning 125 champion, but Repsol may prefer a Spaniard.|
Rides and teams in bold are definite, others are speculation and unsure.
The long and desperate history of Jorge Aspar Martinez and his attempts to enter MotoGP reached at least a temporary conclusion in Malaysia. The deal the Spaniard had with Kawasaki to run a third factory bike finally foundered on Kawasaki's insistence on Shinya Nakano as the rider, while Aspar's Spanish sponsors wanted a Spaniard. Martinez told Kawasaki that he would run Nakano if Kawasaki shared the costs, but the Akashi factory demanded that Aspar pay the full costs of the project.
But this had been the last page in an extended history: Aspar had turned to Kawasaki after his rider Alvaro Bautista refused to ride a Ducati, and the team had only examined Ducati as an option after a potential deal with Suzuki fell through. In the end, and with the Kawasaki in the shape it is in in 2008, the deal falling through may well be a good thing for the project.
For the Spanish sports daily Marca is reporting that Aspar is back talking to his first choice of motorcycle supplier. According to Marca, Aspar's Spanish sponsors have acquiesced to provide sponsorship for the factory Suzuki MotoGP team - currently Rizla Suzuki - on the condition that Aspar gets a third factory bike to run in MotoGP from 2010. That new team would then see Alvaro Bautista step up from 250s to move into the premier class, hopefully after wresting the world title from Marco Simoncelli.
There is some substance to this deal, as since Rizla withdrew sponsorship from the team run by Crescent Racing in British Superbikes, speculation has been rife that the manufacturer of cigarette rolling papers might withdraw - or reduce its involvement - from the MotoGP team as well. If Martinez can bring money to the factory Suzuki team, that would give him a very strong claim to a bike for 2010.
Though it really is far too early to even be thinking about the 2010 MotoGP silly season, it seems that reality is starting to intervene. The 2010 roundabout starts here ...
Motorcycle racing - in case you hadn't noticed - is an outdoor activity. And despite the Herculean efforts of the organizers to attempt to control as many aspects of the sport as possible in the name of safety, cost and spectacle, that still leaves motorcycle racing at the mercy of the elements.
That does not prevent them from trying. At Qatar, a vast forest of lighting masts lit up the night, turning night into something not far from being day, and allowing the race to be held in the cool of the evening, rather than under the blistering heat of the Arabian sun.
That dazzling display of technological hubris did not go unpunished, however. Though MotoGP escaped the heat of the day, the exceptional chill of the desert night made racing a difficult and dangerous task with no sun to warm the track. And since then, there has barely been a date on the calendar in which the elements have not had a major role to play. From cold to rain to the tail of a hurricane, the weather has been a factor at just about every weekend of the season.
Same Ol' Same Ol'
As the MotoGP circus arrived at Sepang, this weekend looked like being no different. Dark clouds pregnant with rain threatened from the Malacca Strait, and every day would dump their contents onto the circuit whenever the fancy took them. The weather would play its part, no matter what we thought of it.
The consequences of that interference were felt most during Qualifying. While a light drizzle had disrupted practice on Friday, a proper downpour threatened on Saturday. It broke just as the morning's sessions ended, justifying the Kawasaki riders' decision to go out on qualifiers in the hope of bagging a decent grid position if the afternoon's official qualifying session should be canceled. As qualifying practice approached, though, the skies lightened and the threat of cancellation receded.
But with overcast skies and high humidity, the track took a long time to dry, compressing the usual frantic last half hour into just 15 minutes. The last few minutes of the session turned even more manic than normal, adding an extra helping of chance into the job of securing a decent grid position.
Some were luckier - and cannier - than others. Valentino Rossi looked to have timed his final run perfectly, crossing the line to start his final flying lap with a minute to go. But he was outfoxed by Dani Pedrosa, who started his pole lap with just seconds in the session remaining. Though Rossi crossed the line just a tenth off Pedrosa's pole time from last year, the Spaniard struck back, snatching pole by nearly half a second.
Where Pedrosa had got it right, Casey Stoner - or rather, his crew - had gambled and lost. A mix-up in pit lane over tires saw Stoner leave the pits with just under two minutes to the flag. Too late to make it round in time for a flying lap, Stoner was forced to settle for 7th, and a place on the 3rd row of the grid.
The Same, But Different
After two days of damp practice, the MotoGP paddock awoke fearing what the vagaries of the elements might bring for them on race day. Their worries were justified: As the teams arrived at the track, it was clear that once again, the weather would play a role, but not quite the one they had been expecting.
One of the last pieces of the 2009 MotoGP puzzle has just fallen into place. The satellite Ducati team have just announced that Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa will be competing for the team next year.
The move is no real surprise, as rumors had been around that Kallio and Canepa would be joining the team for over a month. And it also underlines the role Ducati sees for the satellite team run by Paolo Campinoti. The Pramac team is very much the Ducati junior team, a place where up and coming riders can be groomed and tested.
Both Kallio and Canepa are interesting prospects. Kallio was twice runner up in the 125cc championship, his chances of a title in 2005 controversially ruined when he was beaten over the line by his team mate Gabor Talmasci in Qatar. Now in his 2nd season in the 250 series, he has looked like a title contender ever since moving up. The Fin is a promising talent.
His team mate is another interesting prospect. Niccolo Canepa was the 2007 FIM Superstock champion, aboard the brand new Ducati 1098. He so impressed Ducati's technicians that the Italian was hired to work as their main test rider for 2008, helping to develop both Ducati's GP8 and GP9 Desmosedici MotoGP bikes, as well as the 1098R which carried Troy Bayliss to his 3rd World Superbike title. Canepa's times at Mugello have been very impressive, the only man on a Ducati capable of getting within shouting distance of Casey Stoner's times there.
Another item of note in the press release is that the team, currently racing under the Alice Ducati name, refers to itself only as Pramac Racing. There has been talk that Alice, the Italian-based telecom provider, could reduce its sponsorship of Ducati's race program, and this press release would seem to confirm that suspicion. The financial crisis has bitten deeply in all aspects of life this fall, and now it's starting to sink its teeth into motorcycle racing. Let's hope it loses its appetite soon.