The MotoGP schedule for the 2012 season has been tweaked a little, and there is some good news for fans: the season starts seven days earlier, with the Qatar MotoGP round having been moved up a week to April 8th. The move is in response to the Formula One calendar, which sees the Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 15th, the date originally planned for Qatar, and so the decision was taken to start the MotoGP season a week earlier.
The other changes to the calendar are merely confirmations of what had been widely expected. The German GP is now officially set to take place at the Sachsenring, although as the contracts are yet to be completed, the date is still listed as being subject to contract. Those contracts are a mere formality, however, as the ADAC and the regional government came to an agreement earlier this month to keep the German round of MotoGP at the circuit in Hohenstein-Ernstthal. The Jerez round has also been confirmed, with the mayor of the circuit stepping in to ensure the 2012 date. Beyond 2012 is another matter, however, as the circuit is still in financial turmoil, stemming from alterations made back in 2001, and with new rounds in Argentina and Texas scheduled for 2013, Jerez could well be dropped after that date.
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
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.
The internet has been ablaze with news and rumors from Ducati's test at Mugello, where Valentino Rossi, along with test rider Franco Battaini, tested the new chassis for the Ducati GP12. Times were not issued, though the Italian sports broadcaster Sportmediaset is reporting that Rossi posted a 1'48.05, albeit without knowing which chassis was used to set that time. In comparison, Casey Stoner set a 1'47.326 on Honda's RC212V during the test in July, while Rossi set a 1'49.301 on the GP11.1 during the race.
After the event, they issued the following press release, which is a very tame affair compared to the rumors, though still leaving plenty to the imagination. Make of it what you will:
VALENTINO ROSSI CONCLUDES SIXTH GP12 TEST DAY, AT MUGELLO
For the final day of a three-day test at Mugello, Valentino Rossi joined the Ducati Test Team to work on developing the 2012 race bike. In doing so, he utilized the sixth of eight days during which factory riders may participate in such outings. The Italian turned a total of 82 laps in conditions that were sunny but not overly hot.
If you head down to Mugello today (Thursday, September 8th), you will be lucky enough to hear the mighty sound of Ducati's 2012 Desmosedici GP12 engine pounding out the laps around the classic Italian circuit. And unless you are very lucky - or highly ingenious - that is all you will get to see. The test of the GP12 is being held behind firmly closed doors, with observers extremely unwelcome.
All this just adds to the mystery of exactly what Rossi and Ducati are testing on the Desmosedici GP12. When asked about it at the Misano round of MotoGP, Rossi remained vague: "Something for the front, and to help turning." The manner in which he casually dismissed the parts to be tested was meant to suggest that the test was of only limited significance for the moment, Rossi adding that the goal of the test was to work for 2012. Of course, Rossi's brilliance as a communicator - both in the positive sense of getting across his point with humor and insight, and in the negative sense of hiding information that he or the team wish to keep a secret - makes it impossible to evaluate the sincerity of the claim. After all, "something for the front," could be a new set of triple clamps, a revised offset, a new subframe, or a completely new chassis.
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.
Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati was a match made in marketing heaven, the combined selling power of the world's most famous motorcycle racer and the world's most iconic motorcycle brand would surely prove to be a veritable sales steamroller. Casey Stoner had already proven that the bike was capable of winning races - though it clearly had a problem with the front end - and with a seven-time MotoGP champion and the crew that helped him win those titles, success would be quick to come.
If sales of merchandise are anything to go by, then the move was definitely a success, MotoGP circuits coloring red as Rossi fans stocked up on Ducati gear, the red still tinged with Rossi's traditional yellow. But a look at the results sheets tells a different story altogether. Though the Italian is 5th in the championship standings (and just 2 points off 4th), Rossi has consistently crossed the finish line between 25 and 30 seconds after the winner took the checkered flag. So far, Rossi has taken just a single podium - arguably gifted to him, with Dani Pedrosa being taken out by Marco Simoncelli, and then Simoncelli being punished with a ride-through - and has found himself in the battle for 5th or 6th. By any measure, Rossi's move to Ducati must be counted a disaster, the combination a massive disappointment to fans, followers and even fellow riders.
The announcement of circuit contract extensions have been coming at regular intervals over the past few months. The latest in the batch were press releases detailing the extension of the Mugello circuit's contract with Dorna for another 5 years, ensuring that the Italian Grand Prix will be run at the spectacular Tuscan circuit, and a press release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing the completion of the work to repave Indy's road course, the infield section that comprises most of the layout used by MotoGP when it visits the IMS facility for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at the end of August.
The Mugello extension came very much as expected: the track is a huge favorite with the fans, riders and teams, its fast, flowing layout making it a challenge and a thrill to ride. It is also very popular with sponsors: in the heart of Tuscany - or "nestling in the Tuscan hills" as every press release previewing the event appears obliged to describe it - and just an hour north of the Renaissance splendor of Florence, it makes an ideal destination for taking sponsors for a spot of pampering, in an attempt to loosen up their wallets. It was almost inconceivable that Mugello would disappear from the calendar.
The gap was huge: 6.342 separated Mika Kallio on the BMW-powered Suter 1000cc MotoGP machine from Casey Stoner on the 800cc Honda RC212V at the Mugello test on Monday, a difference that would have seen the Suter lapped by a large portion of the field had the bike raced on Sunday. And that was when measured against the factory 800s: Ducati have calculated that the increased capacity of their 2012 machine (the new rules for next season allow a capacity hike to 1000cc) will lap Mugello half a second quicker faster than their current 800cc bike. So does the deficit between the Suter BMW and the factory prototype 800s make the idea of CRT entries a dead duck, or is it a concept still worth pursuing?
On the face of it, things don't look good for the Claiming Rule Team machines. The concept behind the CRT rules is simple: allow teams to build bikes using engines from any source (including production machines) as long as they are housed in a prototype chassis and running gear. The hope is that WSBK engines - or even more heavily tuned than that, the rules imposing few restrictions on engine modification - housed in a Suter, FTR or Kalex chassis would provide a relatively competitive (meaning the ability to regularly score points) basis for a lot less money than leasing a factory prototype machine. Given that at most circuits that host both World Superbikes and MotoGP running the same layout, the WSBK machines are only a couple of seconds off the pace at most, making a CRT machine competitive should be an achievable objective without pouring millions into research and development.
Bridgestone issued the following press release discussing the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, and the findings from the one-day test on the Monday following Mugello:
Press releases after the MotoGP test at Mugello, from the Repsol Honda team and from Karel Abraham's Cardion AB team: