Brno, Czech Republic
The FIM today released an updated version of the provisional calendar it put out four weeks ago. The changes are few and far between, and though one round has been dropped, generally, the calendar is good news for fans. The round tentatively scheduled to take place on March 4th has been dropped, but that should hardly come as a surprise, as Infront, the WSBK series' organizers, were in talks with the Sepang ciruit in Malaysia to stage that race. Cost and a lack of agreement scuppered plans for an Asian round of World Superbikes. The second round marked To Be Announced on the provisional calendar has been confirmed, and as expected, it will take place at Imola, always a fan favorite.
The final change to the calendar is the rescheduling of the Portimao round of World Superbikes. No longer will the season end at the Portuguese circuit in late October, but instead, Portimao has been moved four weeks earlier to September 23rd. This means that the season will end two weeks earlier at Magny-Cours, but the advantage is that the final rounds are all much closer together, with Moscow, the Nurburgring, Portimao and Magny-Cours taking place every second weekend.
Below is the official calendar released by the FIM:
FIM Superbike & Supersport World Championships
FIM Superstock 1000cc Cup
Motorcycle racing fans can finally start to plan their vacation time for 2012. Just 10 days after the provisional 2012 MotoGP calendar was announced, today, the FIM issued a press release containing the provisional 2012 schedule for the World Superbike series.
Like the MotoGP schedule, the WSBK dates are still rather tentative. The calendar contains two rounds marked TBA or to be announced; one in Europe and one unmarked altogether. The March 4th TBA is widely rumored to be a return to Asia for the WSBK series, with negotiations believed to be underway with the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The second TBA is most likely Imola, the track having once again been dropped from the provisional schedule, just as it was initially for 2011 before being added again.
The FIM today announced the provisional dates for the 2012 MotoGP schedule. The season kicks off in Qatar on April 15th, with a fortnightly schedule of races until Assen, when the Dutch, German and Italian rounds take place on consecutive weekends. The series then heads across the Atlantic for two US rounds at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis, before returning to Europe for three more races. A triple-header in Asia and Australia follows, before the season wraps up at the traditional final round at Valencia on November 11th.
Reading the notes on the calendar, it is clear that the schedule really is very provisional indeed. The rounds at Jerez, Estoril and in Germany are all labeled "Subject to contract," with doubts especially strong about the Portuguese and German rounds of MotoGP. Estoril has still to sign a contract with Dorna, and given the extreme austerity measures in place in Portugal, the circuit is unlikely to receive much assistances from the Portuguese government. Attendance at the circuit is also one of the lowest of the year, meaning gate receipts fall well short of being able to cover the sanctioning fee.
If anyone was in any doubt about the pivotal role that the spec Bridgestone tires play in MotoGP, this year will have made their significance abundantly clear. The stiff tires offer unbelievable levels of grip, but only once up to temperature, feeling vague and distant while still cold. That presents riders with a paradox: to go fast, the tires have to be warm, but to get heat into the Bridgestones - the front especially - you have to push it hard to make it work.
Championship leader Casey Stoner has proven to be a master at handling this dilemma, seemingly achieving astonishing levels of lean angle and getting his Repsol Honda RC212V turned faster than anyone else on the grid. When asked about the method he uses for getting heat into the tires, Stoner has spoken several times about using the throttle to load the front.
To an untrained observer - and even to people who do have the training - this doesn't seem to make sense. After all, use of the throttle makes the front wheel want to lift, doing the polar opposite of loading the front Bridgestone. To understand exactly what Stoner means by "using the throttle to load the front," we turned to the man who knows exactly what the Australian is doing when he rides the bike: Stoner's long-time crew chief Cristian Gabbarini. Gabbarini, who worked with Stoner at Ducati, and joined HRC when the Australian moved to Honda, took time at Brno to answer our questions. Here's what he had to tell us:
HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto does not address the press collectively very often, and so when he does, he faces a lot of questions. Nakamoto-san held a press conference on the afternoon of the Brno MotoGP test, on the Monday after the race, convened to discuss Honda's RC213V MotoGP bike for next season, as it was being tested at that moment by Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa at the Brno circuit. Naturally, journalists took the opportunity to quiz Nakamoto on the situation around Motegi. Nakamoto's response was seemingly clear, as you can see from the transcript: though the HRC boss preferred Suzuka to Motegi as a race track, racing at Suzuka was simply not an option. The Suzuka circuit did not have the required safety clearance from the FIM, and the number of changes they would have to make to obtain homologation for MotoGP were simply not possible.
MotoGP Engine Usage Analysis Prior To Indianapolis: Honda, Yamaha And Suzuki Comfortable, Ducati Faces A Dilemma
As MotoGP heads into the final stretch of the season, with just over a third of the races left to go, it's time to have another look at the engine situation in MotoGP. With each rider now well into their allocation of 6 engines to last the season, the trends are becoming clear. So who is in trouble, who has engines to spare and which manufacturer has done the best job of producing an engine that works. Below is a run down of each factory, subdivided by team and rider.
As expected, Honda's RC212V engine is virtually bulletproof, especially in its factory configuration. The four full-fat factory Hondas on the grid (Marco Simoncelli is also riding a factory Honda RC212V, along with the three Repsol men) have seen 3 motors withdrawn (for an explanation of the terms used, see the legend at the bottom of the page) between them, and all of those engines had around 30 sessions on them and at least 4 races. The satellite spec RC212Vs of Hiroshi Aoyama and Toni Elias have not stood up quite so well, though Elias has also had to share his engine allocation with Ben Bostrom during the US round at Laguna Seca.
HRC Boss Shuhei Nakamoto Debrief Transcript: On The 1000, Fuel Limits, HRC's Budget, Motegi And Suzuka
The Brno MotoGP test gave journalists the rare opportunity to speak at length with two of the driving figures behind MotoGP. As well as Ducati's Filippo Prezioso (the transcript of which you can read here), we also got the chance to question HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto. Nakamoto fielded questions on a number of subjects, sometimes with a healthy dose of humor. He naturally spoke about Honda's new 1000cc RC213V, and the development direction HRC have pursued, but he also talked about the effect that fuel limits have on bike developments, including the opportunities they offer for developing new technologies.
Nakamoto-san spoke about the effect that the earthquake and tsunami has had on Honda's production and consequent budgets, and the knock-on effect that this will have on the level of support being offered. He revealed that HRC expected to supply 6 bikes for next year, but only 2 factory machines, and he also spoke about the possibility of a switch from Motegi to Suzuka. Though he personally liked Suzuka, the track has not been approved by the FIM and would be unlikely to receive FIM approval for MotoGP.
Ever since Valentino Rossi ended the first Valencia MotoGP test in lowly 15th place on the Ducati Desmosedici, one-and-three-quarter seconds behind fastest man and former teammate Jorge Lorenzo, there have been calls for radical changes to Ducati's MotoGP machine. Those calls have only intensified as the season has progressed, the switch from the GP11 to the GP11.1, the destroked version of Ducati's 2012 MotoGP machine, having brought little improvement until a few key parts were introduced at Brno.
The focus of much of the fans' anger and the paddock's scepticism has been Ducati's monocoque carbon fiber chassis. Ducati's radically different design has been pinpointed as the obvious culprit for the problems with the Desmosedici, with critics pointing to the success the Japanese factories have had with an aluminium twin spar chassis, as exemplified by Yamaha's Deltabox concept. If Ducati had an aluminium twin spar frame, the argument goes, they would at least be confronting the Japanese on equal footing.
Crucially, the criticism has come not just from outside of Ducati, but both Valentino Rossi and his long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess as well. Both Rossi and his crew chief have called for Ducati to run a parallel project to design an aluminium chassis to test whether such a chassis would bring an improvement. By running two different projects in parallel, the argument runs, the pace of development of the Desmosedici could greatly increased as the data from the two projects is analyzed.
Bridgestone issued their usual post-race press release, wrapping up the race and the test which followed on Monday. The press release had plenty to cover this time, as the new tire regulations were introduced (complete with a third choice of front tire), and a new, less stiff tire for 2012 was tested on Monday. The press release follows below:
Shortly after lunchtime at the MotoGP test at Brno, journalists were given an opportunity to talk to Filippo Preziosi, Director General of Ducati Corse and the engineering genius behind Ducati's MotoGP project. Naturally, the question of a traditional twin spar chassis came up, as well as what Ducati was testing on Monday, both questions that Preziosi deflected rather gracefully. But he also talked about the role of the Bridgestone tires in development, and why he would dearly love to be able to race a twin in MotoGP.
A transcript of the press conference follows, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber, who transcribed it for us:
Q:What were you testing?
The test of today was based on understanding what are the main directions for the future, for the mid-term and long-term future. So we tested very different setups in order to check the preferred weight distribution, center of gravity, stuff like that for Vale. For the mid-term. So, in order to give the design people the targets for the new bikes.
Q:When you say mid-term, how far out is that?
Q:Are you testing these changes with the existing components, or are there any new parts on the bike?
We'd been waiting for it for a long time - longer than we had initially hoped for, after the planned 1000cc test at Mugello morphed into an 800cc test, the Brno test taking its place - but finally, we got to see the 2012 MotoGP bikes out on track, in public and undisguised. Honda and Yamaha pitted their latest creations against one another in full view of the public, and the results were not quite as expected beforehand.
That a Honda RC213V - that's twenty-one three, not two thirteen, for the superstitious among you - should be fastest at the test was expected, Casey Stoner posting a time of 1'56.168 in the final hour before the test finished. Stoner had already had two days of testing on the 2012 bike, and the times being bandied about the paddock - about as reliable as any gossip from inside a small and deeply political community, i.e. not at all - was that Stoner had been two seconds faster than the 800s at the track earlier in the year, though the conditions for the 1000cc test were much more favorable.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the test of the 1000cc and 800cc MotoGP bikes at Brno:
Casey Stoner was the fastest of the 1000cc riders at the end of the one-day test at Brno, the Repsol Honda rider putting in a fast lap at the end of the day to get close to the pole record of the circuit, but coming just a couple of hundredths short. Stoner was expected to be fast - this is his third day of testing on the 2012 Honda RC213V - but the big surprise came from the Yamahas, both Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies getting within a couple of tenths of Stoner's time on their first outing on Yamaha's 1000cc MotoGP machine. Dani Pedrosa was the slowest of the 1000cc riders, setting a time not much faster than the time he set during the race. The feedback from all of the 1000cc riders was positive, with the Spies and Lorenzo being especially impressed by the work that Yamaha had done to make the bike so competitive so early.
Jorge Lorenzo was the fastest of the 800cc riders, the Yamaha riders sharing their time between the new 1000 and the 800cc bike with an uprated engine. Ben Spies finished just under half a second behind his teammate on the 800, but Spies did only limited testing, still suffering with the pinched nerve in his neck. The new engine was an improvement, both riders said, boosting power throughout the rev range, though Lorenzo was at pains to point out it as just a small step.
The timesheet at the MotoGP test at Brno has seen few changes since this morning, with most teams now working on a general development direction rather than trying to post a fast lap. Ben Spies was immediately faster on the 1000 than he was on the 800, can came off the bike seriously impressed at the work that Yamaha had already done. Nicky Hayden is very pleased with the GP11.1, finding it a great improvement over the GP11, and was nearly two-thirds of a second faster on the new bike than on his old bike. The biggest improvement of the test so far has come from Toni Elias, the LCR Honda rider posting much more respectable times and improving on his race lap by over a second.
The test is due to end at 6pm local time
Test times from 4pm at Brno:
Times at 1pm local time: