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 first day of the extra two-day test for the CRT teams laid on to allow the teams using the new Magneti Marelli spec ECU has been almost entirely wasted. A lack of parts and above all, a lack of data with the new system meant that the day was spent mostly in the garage, with very few laps turned out on the track.
Only CAME Ioda's Danilo Petrucci got in any serious track time, the Italian posting a total of 27 laps. All of those laps were set without any assistance from the electronics, however: with no data, the team had no base set up to work from, and Petrucci was lapping without any electronic aid. "It's really hard to ride a bike without any electronic controls," Petrucci posted on Twitter afterwards, a fact that is borne out by his times. Petrucci's fastest lap was a 2'06.841, two seconds slower than his best time from the race weekend at Sepang, and four seconds behind the best CRT time set back in October of last year.
The MotoGP off-season training regime has taken its usual toll. On Friday, Blusens Avintia rider Hiroshi Aoyama crashed while training at a motocross track, fracturing a bone in his wrist in the processs. Aoyama was examined by Dr Xavier Mir at the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, which treats many of the Europe-based motorcycle racers, where a minor fracture in Aoyama's left wrist was found.
Though painful, the injury should not prevent Aoyama from taking part in the first MotoGP test due to start at Sepang on February 5th. Injuries to the left wrist are easier to manage than those to the right, for the obvious reason that the right hand is needed for braking and controlling the throttle. Aoyama has been instructed to rest the wrist for a full week, to allow the wrist to recover.
Marc Marquez was heaped with praise in the media after his first laps on the Repsol Honda at Valencia on Wednesday. So much praise that some MotoGP fans grew sceptical, questioning whether ending the test over a second behind his new teammate and fastest man Dani Pedrosa was the great result that was being touted by the press. After all, Marquez had finished just 7th, behind all of the prototype riders from last year, and that was without the presence of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamahas.
So who is right? Are the media right to be excited about the times Marquez posted on Wednesday, or are they still blinded by his performance on Sunday, winning the Moto2 race from the back of the grid? Are the fans correct to point to his position, behind the satellite bikes despite being on a factory Honda? One answer may lie in the times.
As the Grand Prix paddock heads to Valencia to assemble for the last race of the year, the rider line ups are starting to be finalized for the 2013 season. The MotoGP line up is drawing very close to completion, with just a few CRT seats remaining to be filled. Today it was confirmed that Hiroshi Aoyama has officially signed to race with the Avintia Blusens team in MotoGP, taking the place of Colombian rider Yonny Hernandez. The move had been anticipated for some time, but a press release was issued today formalizing the situation. Aoyama will line up alongside Hector Barbera in the BQR team, both men continuing to contest a Kawasaki-powered, FTR-built CRT machine in the MotoGP class.
Yonny Hernandez looks set to miss the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, as the Colombian continues his recovery from injury. Hernandez suffered a dislocated collarbone in a crash during the race at Motegi, an injury which forced him to miss both the Malaysian and the Australian rounds of MotoGP.
The place of Hernandez in the BQR Avintia team is to be taken at Valencia by Hiroshi Aoyama. The last ever 250 World Champion suffered a difficult 2012 season in World Superbikes with the Ten Kate Honda squad, Aoyama never getting comfortable with the Pirelli tires used in WSBK. Aoyama has been looking to return to MotoGP since the latter part of this season, the Japanese rider spotted in serious talks with a number of teams at the Aragon round of MotoGP at the end of September. Aoyama now looks set to take the place of Hernandez in the BQR Avintia team permanently in the 2013 season, according to Spanish website Motocuatro.com.
The Honda World Superbike team has long led the way in taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the internet in promoting their team and their sponsors, and they have just launched another innovative and interesting series of videos aimed at giving the fans a better understanding of what riding a WSBK machine entails. The Classic Corners series takes a look at five of the most spectacular corners that WSBK visits, with riders Jonathan Rea and Hiroshi Aoyama explaining what is required to get through the corner fast, and their crew talking about the demands they place on the bikes and the electronics.
The first video in the series takes a look at Turn 12 at Phillip Island, the last corner before the long straight. Below is the video from the Honda World Superbike team, and their press office's introduction to the video:
SBK Classic Corners - Episode 1
It's with great pleasure that the Honda World Superbike Team presents episode one of its exclusive, five-part SBK Classic Corners series.
This short film looks in detail at the demanding and challenging Turn 12 at Phillip Island in Australia - the long, long, LONG left-hander just before the downhill start-finish straight, which is so critical for a quick lap of the picturesque 4.448km circuit.
A press release issued by the Ten Kate Honda squad after their recent test at Assen ahead of the upcoming World Superbike round there:
The Honda Racing press office issued a press release and video after the Ten Kate World Superbike squad tested the 2012 CBR1000RR at Phillip Island. The video follows below, after the press release:
Press releases announcing that riders are going testing is the first sign of motorcycle racing's equivalent of spring. Today, Honda (no longer Castrol Honda, though Castrol remain as a "key secondary partner") announced that their World Superbike riders Johnny Rea and Hiroshi Aoyama are to go testing at Phillip Island this week, in the run up to the first WSBK round there at the end of February. The long wait is nearly over for race fans.
Below is the official press release from Honda:
Despite the loss of the factory Yamaha team, the World Superbike series is still in relatively good health, considering the financial crisis. Though the days of 30+ rider grids are gone, grid size has stabilized at around the 22 rider mark, 1 up from last year, while there are still 6 manufacturers present, Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki in an official capacity, Honda unofficially via Ten Kate, and Suzuki absent, with Crescent working with Yoshimura on their own bikes.
The field has seen some changes, though most of the title favorites are staying with the teams they were with in 2011. Carlos Checa remains with Althea Ducati, though the effort expands to include 2011 Superstock champ Davide Giugliano, while Max Biaggi is in the second year of his 2-year contract with Aprilia, and Johnny Rea is staying with the Ten Kate Honda squad. Championship runner up Marco Melandri has been forced to move, joining Leon Haslam at BMW, while his erstwhile teammate Eugene Laverty has been paired with Biaggi in the factory Aprilia squad. The factory Kawasaki rider contingent is cut from 3 to 2, Chris Vermeulen losing his slot, while Tom Sykes remains alongside Joan Lascorz.
Provisional rider entry list for the 2012 World Superbike series: