You would think that the secrets of how to make a MotoGP bike go faster would be kept under lock and key at all times. Not so if you're Yamaha: On Friday night, Yamaha's technical leaders Masao Furusawa and Masahiko Nakajima gave their annual presentation on what they did to the YZR-M1 to ensure that they won the championship again in 2009.
The first thing they did was identify the changes to the 2009 regulations that would be key to the development direction. They highlighted three rule changes they needed to deal with to maximize the performance of the bike:
- The tire restrictions, with just 20 slicks in two compounds and 8 wets available at each race;
- The reduction in practice, with the Friday morning session scrapped;
- The engine limits, with just 5 engines available for the final 7 races of the season.
They then pinpointed three goals that would allow Yamaha to adapt to these rule changes, and get the best out of the 2009 bike. An improvement in the chassis, to allow them to get the maximum performance out of the tires; increased reliability, while sacrificing as little performance as possible; and a refinement in the engine management system, to allow them to control what they called the vehicle dynamics.
Hector Barbera won the battle of the Valencians on the first day of practice for the 250cc class. The local hero relegated Alex Debon to 2nd place, Barbera leading Debon by over three tenths of a second. Alvaro Bautista was another three tenths behind in 3rd, ahead of championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama. Aoyama usefully put his team mate Raffaele de Rosa between himself and the only man capable of challenging him for the title, Marco Simoncelli.
Casey Stoner continued his domination of the MotoGP class during the first session of free practice at Valencia, coming in fresh from victory at Sepang to top the timesheets during practice. The Ducati rider took his time, though, spending most of the session as 2nd fastest behind Jorge Lorenzo. With 5 minutes to go, the Australian finally found the extra pace he was looking for, putting nearly four tenths of a second between himself and Lorenzo.
Lorenzo only just hung on to 2nd, Dani Pedrosa getting within five hundredths of the Fiat Yamaha man's time to take 3rd, while Valentino Rossi's mediocre run at Valencia continues, setting the 4th fastest time nearly seven tenths behind Stoner.
Ben Spies got off to a cautious start, improving on his times slowly as the session progressed. At one point, he climbed all the way up to 11th, only to drop towards the end of the session, finishing the day in 15th. But the Texan wasn't too far off the pace, just two tenths of a second behind Marco Melandri in 12th, and just over half a second outside the top 10.
Julian Simon took the first session of free practice for the 125cc class at Valencia, seizing on the opportunity to celebrate his title in front of his home fans. The Spaniard took over from the German wildcard Marcel Schrotter, who had led for much of the session, surprising almost everyone, given that he is riding a Honda as a wildcard. Schrotter eventually finished the session 3rd, with Nico Terol also lapping faster than Schrotter in the last minutes of practice, while Sergio Gadea was the 4th quickest of the 125 riders.
The British contingent got off to a slow start, Bradley Smith only managing the 13th fastest time. Scott Redding ended the session in 16th place, while the De Graaf team struggled to get their Aprilias to go, Danny Webb finishing well down the order in 24th.
Ever since its inception, the 800cc MotoGP formula has been unpopular with both the fans and the riders. The high state of engine tune has made the formula extremely expensive, as well as requiring the extensive use of electronics just to make the bikes ridable. This, in turn, has taken much of the spectacle out of the riding, requiring an incredible precision of style to get the best out of them, and making passing very difficult indeed.
The biggest problem, though, is the expense. With the cost of leasing a satellite MotoGP bike upwards of 2 million euros a year, grids are shrinking with little prospect of that trend being reversed. Something clearly needs to be done, but with the manufacturers already heavily invested in the 800cc formula, getting any change in engine capacity through the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, is a very difficult task.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is determined to try, however. In an online chat with visitors to the website of the Spanish TV broadcaster RTVE, Ezpeleta explained that he intended to push forward his previously discussed plans for a return to 1000cc at this weekend's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia. When asked if he would like to see a return to 1000cc in 2011, he replied "Right now, it is not going to be possible to switch in 2011, because the agreement with the manufacturers means that we could only make that change before the end of the 2011 season if there was unanimous agreement among the manufacturers. But we are thinking about a return to a 1000cc capacity from the start of the 2012 season, and we will start discussing it this weekend."
There is always a strange atmosphere at the final MotoGP round at Valencia. It is probably the biggest party of the season, but a sense of sadness permeates the party atmosphere, making it feel more like the wild and desperate abandon of the night before the world is due to end than the joyous celebration of racing it could be. The Valencia MotoGP round is as much parting as it is party.
That sense of loss will be even more real this year, for MotoGP fans are once again about to lose one of the great triumphs of motorcycle racing. After the 500s made way for the 990cc four-strokes, then the 990s were cast aside for the 800s, at Valencia, the 250cc bikes are due to make their final ever outing, before being consigned to the dustbin of history, pushed aside for the 600cc four-stroke Moto2 machines.
There are many perfectly rational and sound reasons for the switch from two strokes to four, not least the question of cost. With Aprilia having a virtual monopoly on the class, the Italian manufacturer could pick and choose its winners and set the price of the factory-spec RSA250 at whatever rate it wanted. And with the other manufacturers having pulled out several years ago - though Honda still has a lingering presence - that meant that competition in the class was effectively dead.
More Is Less
But despite all of their shortcomings, the 250s are going to be sorely missed. The magical combination of light weight and decent power made the bikes more than fast enough, yet still incredibly nimble. As Andrea Orlandi, crew chief to Mapfre Aspar's Alvaro Bautista put it so succinctly: "100 kilo. 100 horsepower. Perfect."
Ever since Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would be making a wildcard appearance at the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, message boards across the internet have been abuzz with the question of how many engines the Texan would have for his Yamaha. The rules for the regulars - contracted riders, to use the jargon of the FIM rulebook - state that each rider has 5 engines to last the final 7 races, from Brno onwards. But how did this affect Spies? Would he have all 5 engines for the weekend? Would he have just 1 engine, as the minimum of 5 divided by 7? How were you supposed to the math to work it out?
To settle the matter, we went straight to the person who should know: Mike Webb, MotoGP's Technical Director and the man charged with enforcing the rules. We chased him down here at Valencia, and asked him what the score was. "There are no rules for wildcards," Webb told us. "So in theory, Spies could have as many engines as he likes." The problem is that the rules make no provision for wildcards, Webb explained. This had been discussed in the Grand Prix Commission when the engine limits were debated, but the MSMA - the manufacturers' organization who put forward the engine limit proposals - didn't think it important enough to cover at the time.
Now it's official: Ducati have announced officially that Livio Suppo is to leave Ducati, as we reported yesterday. Suppo is to embark on "a new professional adventure," according to the press release. His position is to be split in two, with Vito Guareschi taking over as team manager, while Ducati Corse's marketing manager Alessandro Cicognani is due to take over as the project manager. The official Ducati press release is shown below:
LIVIO SUPPO LEAVES THE DUCATI MOTOGP TEAM. NEW MANAGEMENT OF THE 2010 SQUAD IS ANNOUNCED
Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), 5 November 2009 – The last race of the 2009 MotoGP season will also be the last race in Ducati MotoGP Team colours for Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager. The Italian manager will leave Ducati to embark on a new professional adventure.
In Ducati since 1999, Suppo was involved in this challenging and ambitious project from the very beginning, contributing with his intuition, perseverance and enthusiasm to the world title victory of 2007 and to the many podiums and successes that have characterised the life of the Ducati Desmosedici from its debut in 2003 up until today.
Stunning news from the MotoGP paddock at Valencia. According to the well-informed Superbikeplanet.com website, Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager, is to leave the Ducati team at the end of the season. The news follows on from earlier reports that current Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi is to be promoted to Team Manager, a position which would be much more hands on between the riders and management than Suppo has been.
Suppo's departure, if it is confirmed, would mark a huge break with the past of Ducati's MotoGP program. To a very large extent, Suppo IS Ducati's MotoGP program, as the Italian has run the program from the very start. With Suppo out of the way, Ducati's MotoGP team would be likely to undergo a radical shakeup.
The reasons for this change are unclear, but the rumor mill has been in overdrive since September that these are all the first steps in a courting dance aimed at tempting Valentino Rossi to join the Italian factory. The conspiracists say that Suppo and Rossi have no real affection for each other, and that Suppo has been arguing against signing Rossi, as he is believed to fear it would disrupt Ducati's MotoGP project too much. Guareschi and Rossi get on very well, on the other hand, and the removal of Suppo and the arrival of Guareschi is merely preparing the ground for the arrival of the world's most popular motorcycle racer.
When Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would make a wildcard appearance at Valencia, there was some speculation about whose logos would adorn the Texan's Yamaha M1. The early rumor was that Michael Jordan may step in and run a one-off livery for Spies, as the former NBA superstar continues to promote his clothing brand through the AMA Superbike series, or what is left of it.
Those rumors were wrong, it now appears. Yamaha today announced that Sterilgarda, the Italian dairy giant who backed the Yamaha Motor Italia team in World Superbikes, would also be sponsoring Spies for one more outing, this time during his wildcard appearance at Valencia. Yamaha also released photos of the new livery, and we have to say it actually looks very good. Judge for yourself below, and clicking on the image will bring up an image large enough to use as a desktop.
It has not been Niccolo Canepa's season. After a long and difficult year struggling with the Pramac Ducati, the Italian is to miss the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, leaving the series without a final chance to prove his mettle. The Valencia round will be the third race in a row that Canepa has been forced to miss, as he is still recovering from the skin transplant necessitated by his crash in practice at the Australian Grand Prix a month ago.
Canepa's place will once again be taken by Aleix Espargaro, something the Spaniard was due to do anyway as of Monday after the Grand Prix. Espargaro will now get another couple of days extra time on the bike to familiarize himself before testing for the 2010 season starts in earnest after the Grand Prix is over. The Spaniard has shown good progress in his time on the bike replacing both Canepa and team mate Mika Kallio, and is hoping to put on a good show for the Spanish fans.
Canepa, meanwhile, will be concentrating on finding a ride in Moto2 for the 2010 season. The full list of riders is due to be announced at Valencia, though financial problems continue to dog some of the teams, meaning that at least some of the teams with a reserve entry are likely to be given a full time slot on the grid.
The motorcycle racing season is winding down, and is due to reach its conclusion at the final race of the season, the Valencia MotoGP Round. Should you have any funds squirreled away for a rainy day (and here in Northern Europe, it is a VERY rainy day), then traveling to Valencia to celebrate the season's end with 130,000 crazed MotoGP fans is not a bad way to spend it.
While you're there, you can also help do some good. Thursday sees the traditional Riders for Health Experience, where you can do a lap of the circuit, pick up a souvenir at the celebrity auction, watch James Toseland and his band Crash play, or wander through the paddock and gawp at the bikes, teams and riders as they prepare for Sunday's race. Friday night sees another charity event, with friends and supporters of MotoMatters.com Pole Position Travel organizing a charity auction and party to benefit the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity. World Supersport runner up and former 250cc rider Eugene Laverty will be the star of the event, and some fantastic items will be going up for auction, including a pair of paddock passes, a weekend for two at next year's Silverstone GP, a very rare Laguna Seca 2009 poster - the banned version featuring Valentino Rossi vs Casey Stoner - signed by Valentino Rossi himself, as well as various items bearing a host of signatures from the MotoGP paddock. Pole Position has outstanding contacts inside the paddock, and various prominent figures are likely to turn up on the evening, including Julian Ryder, Dr Martin Raines, and possibly even the editor of an obscure motorcycle racing website.
Ben Spies has been confirmed as a wildcard entry for the final round of MotoGP at Valencia. A press release has just been issued stating that Spies is to ride in Valencia for Yamaha. The news had broken earlier, with Motorcycle News' Matt Birt reporting that an entry has already been submitted to Dorna and IRTA for the Texan to ride in the last MotoGP round of the season, and Autosport's Toby Moody correctly predicting that the wildcard entry would be confirmed today by Yamaha.
It was originally expected that Spies would ride in Yamaha's corporate blue colors, in the same vein as HRC's wildcards have done in previous years. But the BBC's Matt Roberts has just posted on social networking site Twitter that former NBA legend and motorcycle racing nut Michael Jordan is to sponsor Spies' one-off ride. Jordan has his own brand of sportswear, and has run a team in the AMA Superbike series to promote the brand previously.
A completely unfounded rumor on the French site Caradisiac indicates that Ben Spies may be given a wild-card ride at the season-ending round at Valencia. If true (or even if it isn't) this makes a lot of sense. The SBK season will be long over, it would give Spies a chance to ride the M1 in a race setting on a track he knows and, with testing time extremely limited in 2010, it would give him a jump-start on the apres-race test. If Yamaha isn't actually considering this, maybe a little fan chatter will get them thinking...
In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.