Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of the 2013 season opener at Qatar:
Every year, about now, there is one phrase which you will hear over and over again. With MotoGP testing behind us, and the start of the season imminent, every race fan chants the same mantra: "This could be the best MotoGP season ever!" Reality tends to intervene rather quickly, and the races never seem to pan out the way race fans had been hoping. Intriguing? Yes. Entertaining? Often. Thrilling? Not nearly as often as hoped.
And yet there is a genuine chance that this year could be different. Events inside MotoGP have been converging to a point which promises to see a return to the thrills of a previous era in MotoGP, one in which epic battles were fought out on the old 990cc machines. Though the days of tire-smoking action are long gone - killed off forever by the insistence of the factories that electronics must continue to play a major role in premier class racing - the battles could be back.
The ingredients which will spice up MotoGP? Two men, well matched in talent and in equipment - though both would dispute the latter claim, saying the other bike holds the upper hand. A grand old champion, returning to a bike he understands and knows he can ride and keen to prove he has not lost his edge. A fast young upstart, a fearless - some would say reckless - challenger, brimming with self-belief, overflowing with talent, and spoiling to make his mark. A talented underdog, a bull terrier desperate to get his teeth into the front runners, and bristling with resentment at the lack of factory support he believes he deserves. A stricken factory, fallen from its former glory, and determined to make amends, starting on the long road to recovering what it believes is its rightful place at the front. And a gaggle of young riders - some younger than others - determined to claim their place in the spotlights, and preferably on the podium.
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. While discussions about the future of the World Superbike series are ongoing, there are no proposals at the current time to switch to naked bikes. The sales trend of the sport bike market segment is true, as are the numbers for bike sales in Belgian (I wrote a column for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder on this very subject, which is to appear in the April issue). The idea was sparked both by the current market trends in motorcycle sales, and by pictures of former greats like Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer muscling Kawasaki Z1000s and Honda VF750s around the track. For another year at least, all of the stories on the website will be as accurate as possible. Normal service has now been resumed...
The news that Dorna had been handed control over the World Superbike series struck terror into the hearts of WSBK fans around the globe. The fear was Dorna would use their position of controlling both World Superbikes and MotoGP to widen the technical gap between the two series in an attempt to cut costs. With Dorna having so often complained that World Superbikes was encroaching on MotoGP territory, and with MotoGP's technical regulations becoming ever more restrictive, the logical step would appear to be to severely restrict the level of machinery used in WSBK.
Over the winter, and during the first round of the 2013 World Superbike series, talks between Dorna, the Superbike teams and the manufacturers involved in the series failed to make much headway. The factories could not agree among themselves what level of modification to allow, while the teams were unimpressed by Dorna's demands that a WSBK machine should cost 250,000 euros a season, stating that the money saved in the bike would only be spent elsewhere.
Talks had continued at the IRTA test at Jerez, with Dorna's new World Superbike boss Javier Alonso present, and engaged in private discussions with the bosses of HRC, Shuhei Nakomoto, Yamaha Motor Racing, Shigeto Kitegawa, and Ducati Corse, Bernhard Gobmeier. MotoMatters.com has learned that since then, further telephone discussions have taken place with Kawasaki boss Ichiro Yoda and Suzuki's Shinichi Sahara, while Alonso had previously spoken to Aprilia Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna at the Jerez circuit, during their test there.
Press releases after the final day of testing at the IRTA MotoGP test at Jerez:
Following the surprising comment that NGM Mobile Forward Racing's boss, Giovanni Cuzari is in talks with Kawasaki about their potential MotoGP return, I've requested an official statement from the Japanese brand.
Asked to comment, Kawasaki Motors Europe spokesman, Martin Lambert, said: "There is no intention to re-join MotoGP. The Kawasaki MotoGP team, equipment and infrastructure were disbanded. The KHI [Kawasaki Heavy Industries – Ed.] intention is to concentrate on the official factory team in WSBK and also offer support in WSS. By missing the championship by just 0.5 of a point last year, Kawasaki has the energy to try even harder to a Superbike Championship win in 2013."
Kawasaki left MotoGP at the end of 2008 with the remaining team running the ZX-RR in 2009 with Marco Melandri under the Hayate banner and with Dorna's funding. Headed by Andrea Dosoli, and rebranded to Forward Racing, the structure then stepped down to the Moto2 class for 2010, before Dosoli left to join Melandri at Yamaha World Superbike, leaving Cuzari fully in charge of the now Italian team.
The NGM Forward racing team were pioneers of the CRT concept. It was the NGM Forward team who were the first to present their plans to race the bikes presented as an alternative to the cripplingly expensive factory prototypes, launching their 2012 campaign with Colin Edwards at Misano in 2011. Edwards had an excruciating year aboard the Suter BMW, jumping ship to the Kawasaki-powered FTR for the 2013 season.
Now, Forward is preparing the ground for its 2014 campaign even earlier. In an interview with GPOne.com, NGM Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari revealed that the team is already in talks with several manufacturers for the season after this one. Cuzari said he had had a recent meeting with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to discuss 2014, when major changes will take place in MotoGP, with the dropping of the CRT category and the introduction of a new division, between the MSMA entries and the non-MSMA entries. Cuzari told GPOne that he had discussed the projects proposed by Honda (production version of the RC213V) and Yamaha (leasing M1 engines for use in custom-built chassis), but he also said he had had contacts with both Suzuki and Kawasaki.
The NGM Forward Racing team issued the following press release after their team launch in Milan:
After an absence of some three weeks or so, the MotoGP teams once again return to action at Sepang for the second official test of the preseason. The intervening period has seen a flurry of activity in the factories in Japan and Italy, and at CRT team headquarters around Europe. The data accrued on the first visit to the Malaysian circuit has been analyzed, assessed, and more modifications made and ideas worked out for the second Sepang test. So what can we expect to see in Malaysia for the next three days? And what are the key details to keep an eye on?
The results of the first visit to Sepang went much as expected: Dani Pedrosa continued on the upward path that saw the Repsol Honda rider dominate the second half of the MotoGP season in 2012. Jorge Lorenzo kept Pedrosa honest, the factory Yamaha man sticking close to Pedrosa on all but the last day of the first test. Valentino Rossi demonstrated that he is still competitive, though he conveniently left the question of whether that is going to be good enough for podiums, wins or championships up in the air. Marc Marquez lived up to expectations, though given just how high those expectations were, that is an impressive enough feat on its own. Cal Crutchlow confirmed that he is the best of the rest, though Stefan Bradl ran him close; Bradley Smith made the kind of transition to MotoGP that validated his team boss' faith in the young Briton; and the Ducatis proved just how deep a hole they find themselves in, by finishing the test two seconds or more off the pace.
Times dropped for the MotoGP men on the second day of testing at Sepang, much as you might expect once the riders have had a night's sleep to assimilate what they have learned from the previous day's testing. Comparing the times between the first and second days of testing provides an interesting view of where improvements were found, and who had gained the most between the two days.
The average improvement for all of the riders was around seven tenths of a second between the first and second days, but there were a few truly notable exceptions. The gains - or in some cases, losses - are shown in the two tables below, the first sorted in order of the fastest times set on the second day of testing, the second table sorted by improvement.
Biggest winners of the day are Ben Spies and Colin Edwards, both gaining over two seconds over their times from Tuesday, but as both are suffering with injury - Spies is still coming back from major shoulder surgery at the end of last year, while Edwards suffered a recurrence of a neck problem - there are extra factors at play here.
With the first full day of MotoGP testing behind us, we can start to compare times between this year and last year. Conditions were broadly similar, though as the CRT bikes had done a few laps over the past couple of days, there was slightly more rubber on the track than at the end of January in 2012. But discarding the difference in conditions between the two tests, a pattern emerges from the relative improvement or decline of the various riders.
The rider who improved most between 2012 and 2013 is a bit of a surprise: Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi made a huge leap of over 4 seconds between this year and last, but other than the occasional wildcard, Akiyoshi will take no part in 2013, and so not too much should be read into those times.
Stefan Bradl made a huge leap forward: unsurprisingly, given that Sepang in January last year was the first time the German got to ride the 1000cc version of Honda's RC213V, having only tested the 800cc bike at Valencia three months' earlier. Much of the improvement comes from Bradl himself; the LCR Honda man has learned a lot in his rookie year, and will clearly be a factor in 2013. Cutting nearly 1.9 seconds off his time between 2012 and 2013 is a very positive achievement.
It's nearly time. In a few short hours, the full MotoGP field will roll out onto the track for the first time this year, and the 2013 MotoGP season will officially get underway with preseason testing.
That, at least, is the hope. For testing to truly get underway, MotoGP needs the weather to cooperate, something it has been reluctant to do for the past couple of days during the two days of extra testing laid on for the CRT teams using the new Magneti Marelli ECU. Part of Sunday and just about all of Monday were lost to rain, and the forecast for the next three days is for more rain than usual in this part of the world. Fortunately, the mornings look like being dry, so the fans will at least get to see some action on track.
And there is plenty to look forward to. The biggest topic of conversation among fans, unsurprisingly, is Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha. The Italian got off to a false start upon leaving the Ducati garage and heading a few doors down to Yamaha, when the weather at the Spanish track made conditions tricky and comparisons difficult. Yamaha then decided to up sticks and head to Aragon, in the hope of finding some dry track time. They were disappointed.
So Sepang should be the first real test of just how competitive Rossi still is once he is back on a bike which he understands and has a front end which provides him with the feedback he relies on to go fast. Rossi has seen his career come to a standstill for the past two years at Ducati, while the men he will have to beat this year have grown in stature and experience, and are now at the peak of their careers. The Italian will have to hit the ground running if he is to catch Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
The second day of the special CRT test at Sepang, laid on to allow the teams using the brand new Magneti Marelli spec ECU, was as beset by problems as the first day. If technical problems and a lack of parts had been the bane of day 1, it was the weather which dogged the teams, though technical problems persisted. Heavy rain in the morning meant that only Danilo Petrucci went to put in a few laps before running into an electrical issue with a coil left the engine running on two cylinders. The rain stopped in the afternoon, but the track remained wet, leaving the riders present to do only a few laps.
The (still) provisional entries for the 2013 World Superbike season:
The (still) provisional entry list for the 2013 World Supersport class: