Wherever racing paddocks assemble, rumors accumulate. The latest piece of gossip to hit the racing grapevine concerns Casey Stoner, and is emerging from the paddock he has just entered - the Australian V8 Supercars series - and revolves and the paddock he has just left, MotoGP. According to the V8 gossip*, Casey Stoner is to wildcard in at least two MotoGP races in the 2013 season, aboard a Honda RC213V.
The paddock gossip was picked up by the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, who contacted Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo for confirmation. Suppo denied any knowledge of such an agreement, though he did state that Stoner would be more than welcome to race as a wildcard for Honda, should he wish to do so.
The rumors do not exist only in the V8 Supercar paddock. The rumors are also doing the rounds among those with connections to Honda in the MotoGP paddock as well. Anonymous sources suggest that Stoner has been signed to do all three flyaway races - Sepang, Phillip Island, and Motegi - as well as private testing for HRC.
With Casey Stoner preparing to take the next step in his sporting career - the long-expected switch to racing in the Australian V8 Supercars series - the two-time MotoGP champion is facing increasing scrutiny over the exact timing of his future plans. An announcement is expected soon confirming that Stoner will be racing in the Dunlop V8 Supercar Series, the support class to the main series, with Triple Eight racing and full Red Bull backing. On Sunday, the Australian newspaper the Sunday Mail reported that Stoner had already signed to race in the series, a report which Stoner immediately denied on his Twitter feed.
The Sunday Mail story draws at length from an interview to be published in the official program for the Clipsal 500 Adelaide race to be held in March. In the cited interview, Stoner also repeated that he had no intention to return to motorcycle racing at any point, despite the extremely generous offers he had received to keep him there. "I've got no thoughts whatsoever at this time of ever even thinking of coming back to grand prix racing,'' the Sunday Mail quotes Stoner as saying.
With the kickoff to the 2013 season growing ever closer, those involved in motorcycle racing are starting to look back at 2012 and look ahead to 2013. After yesterday's review from Bridgestone, Honda are the next organization to issue a press release interview with a senior management figure. The press release interview with HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto makes for fascinating reading, providing an insight into the 2012 season and expectations of 2013.
The interview covers the preparations for the switch to 1000cc, and the confidence with which HRC went into the new era. However, Honda soon ran into trouble, with the increase in the minimum weight added in December 2011, and the revised construction of Bridgestone tires supplied for the 2012 season, both the softer rear tire and the revised front tire (for additional detail into why the weight increase was announced so late, see the editor's note below the interview). Nakamoto provides some interesting details on how HRC dealt with the extra weight and the revised tires, revealing that it cost them half a season to solve the problems they had created. The HRC boss also explains why he believes that having multiple tire manufacturers is a better solution for all involved, creating more competition and allowing multiple solutions for different bikes. Nakamoto states that he believes this is one of the reasons why MotoGP racing has become so predictable.
Nakamoto also has very high praise for both Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez, the man brought in to replace him. His compliments on Marquez approach and talent are telling, Nakamoto revealing that at the HRC test in Sepang, Marquez was already lapping at the same pace that Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner were running. Nakamoto also provides insight into why he will miss Casey Stoner, and exactly how important the Australian was to Honda's racing program. Nakamoto rates Stoner above any other rider in the MotoGP paddock.
There is no rivalry in MotoGP more bitter than that between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, more bitter even than the one between Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz. It has been a constant element in their relationship since Stoner won his first MotoGP title in 2007 (ironically, Stoner named Rossi as one of his heroes on the t-shirt he wore to celebrate that championship), though hardly a surprise, as the two men are polar opposites in almost every respect, except for their prodigious talent. The rivalry has intensified over the years, stoked by a series of incidents (nicely outlined by the peerless Italian website GPOne.com recently), including the booing of Stoner by Rossi fans at Donington in 2008, the epic battle at Laguna Seca in 2008, and the war of words between the two in 2010, ahead of Rossi's move to Ducati.
The rivalry does not just polarize the two riders, it also polarizes their fans. The comments section of almost any news story featuring the two men is riddled with posts by people blinded by fanaticism, with logic and calm consideration nowhere to be found. This polarization leaves the media with a dilemma: on the one hand, events concerning the two, and verbal exchanges between them need to be treated as newsworthy, and due consideration given to covering them as such. On the other hand, the media operate in the certain knowledge that covering the dispute is sure to sell more newspapers and magazines, generate more traffic to a website, and grab more viewers for a TV show. Reporting on these stories leaves journalists open to charges of sensationalism, but not reporting on them means they can be accused of not doing their jobs.
What does it take to be a world champion? A little bit of luck, certainly. A whole heap of talent, for sure. But above all, it takes preparation: physical, mental and mechanical. That, most of all, is the lesson of Jorge Lorenzo's 2012 MotoGP championship. The 2010 champion came better prepared to the title chase, and ground down his opponents with his sheer consistency.
Lorenzo's assault on the 2012 championship started in Yamaha's racing department in 2011. The new 1000cc M1 may have been visually almost identical to the 800cc 2011 machine, but beneath the similarities was a very different machine. Yamaha's engineers had made the bike longer to cope with the extra torque and horsepower, and completely redesigned the engine to cope with the new rules. Modified electronics improved traction, while better wheelie control meant the bike lost less time in acceleration. The improved wheelie control alone cut a tenth of a second from the lap time.
It was obvious to Lorenzo that the 2012 bike would be competitive as soon as he rode it for the first time during the post-race test at Brno in August 2011. Where on the 800cc bike, he had been nearly half a second slower than Casey Stoner during Sunday's race, the day after, on the 1000cc M1, he was immediately within a tenth of the Australian on the Repsol Honda. Yamaha had done their homework, and Lorenzo knew that the rest was down to him.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: On Marquez' Talent, Pedrosa's Gamble, Lorenzo's Crash, And A Debt Left Open
So the 2012 MotoGP season is over, and someone with a great deal of courage and a little bit of money to wager could have ended the year rich beyond their wildest dreams. If you could have found someone to take your bet seriously, you would have got a very, very good return on one race being won from the back of the grid, and the other from a rider starting from pit lane. Just one of those events is highly unusual, having both of the happen on the same day is unheard of.
The odds on Marc Marquez winning from the back of the grid were probably disappointingly short. By now, every bookmaker in the world will have seen the onboard clip of Marc Marquez after stalling his bike on the grid at Motegi, and the way he disposed of twenty Moto2 competitors in the space of half a lap. The first lap at Valencia is likely to create as much of a sensation - or at least it would, if Dorna would either resist the temptation to take down Youtube videos before they go viral to keep their TV rights holders happy, or make the videos available free of charge on the MotoGP.com website so that they can go viral while retaining control - as Marquez passed another twenty riders in the space of five corners.
Press releases from the teams, from the single tire supplier and from Honda after Sunday's dramatic MotoGP race at Valencia:
2012 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Lap Records, Hunger For Success, And Giving Factories Enough Rope
The last of the 990 pole records finally went at Valencia, along with the last record held by Valentino Rossi at any of the tracks currently on the calendar. Dani Pedrosa's astonishing last lap was inch perfect, and put him 0.158 seconds faster than Rossi's time, set in 2006 at the infamous season finale in which Rossi got a dismal start, then fell off trying to catch Nicky Hayden, handing the American the world championship in the process. Pedrosa's lap really was something special, though the Spaniard was not as impressed as the onlookers. He had had a few good laps in his career, he told the press conference, and this was definitely one of them. Pedrosa has looked ominous all weekend - actually, since Indianapolis - and if it were going to stay dry, then you would be hard put to think of anyone who could beat the Repsol Honda man.
Jorge Lorenzo is keen to try, and is fast all the way round the circuit to the final sector, but is losing a couple of tenths just in the acceleration out of the final corner and towards the line. The Hondas dominate there, good round the long left before the final corner - both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were hanging the rear out all round that turn, showing a hint of the old tire-smokin' 990 days - but absolute missiles on acceleration. That has been Lorenzo's complaint all year, not sufficient acceleration and not the wheelie control which the Hondas appear to have. If Lorenzo arrives at the final corner with a Honda behind him, he will fear for his position.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Dr Marquez And Mr Hyde, Bumpy Tracks, And Leasing Yamaha Engines
If there is one rider in the entire MotoGP paddock who recalls the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it is Marc Marquez. Around the paddock, speaking to the press, at public appearances, the Spaniard is soft-spoken, polite, friendly. When he speaks, he speaks only in commonplaces, his media training having expunged any trace of opinion or controversy from his speech (in either English or Spanish). Put him on a bike, however, and the beast is unleashed. He is merciless, in his speed, in his ownership of the track, and in his disregard of anyone else on the track.
So it was unsurprising that the Spaniard should find himself in trouble once again. During the afternoon practice, Marquez slotted his bike underneath an unsuspecting Simone Corsi going into turn 10, sending the Italian tumbling through the gravel in the process. The move was reminiscent of the incident at Motegi, where Marquez barged past Mika Kallio with similar disregard for the consequences, but unlike Motegi, this time Marquez received a penalty from Race Direction, for contravening section 1.21.2, a section Marquez by now must know almost by heart. That part of the Sporting Regulations which governs 'riding in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors'. For his sins, Marquez is to start from the back of the grid on Sunday, regardless of where he qualifies.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and single tire supplier after a rained-out day of practice at Valencia:
2012 Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Of Anticipation, Determination, Preparation, And New Rules For 2014
The atmosphere in the paddock at Valencia is an odd mixture of fatigue, excitement and anticipation. Fatigue, because it is the end of a long season, and the teams and riders are barely recovered from the three back-to-back flyaway rounds; excitement, because this is the last race of the year, and the last chance to shine, and for some, the last chance to impress a team sufficiently to secure a ride next year; and anticipation, because with so many riders switching brands and classes, they are already thinking about the test to come on Tuesday.
Or in Casey Stoner's case, thinking about a future outside of MotoGP. As his departure from the championship grows near, it is clear that he has had more than enough of the series. Asked if he was worried about the politics in V8 Supercars, where he is headed in the near future, he said he wasn't, because he understood that V8 Supercars is a different kind of championship. MotoGP, though, was supposed to be a professional championship, and in his opinion, it was 'a joke'. Four races in Spain, another just over the border in Portugal, this was not a truly world championship, Stoner said. Instead, MotoGP is too much of a European championship, and it needed to rediscover its roots.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and the single tire supplier ahead of this weekend's season finale at Valencia: