Hiroshi Aoyama came into MotoGP as the last ever 250cc World Champion. But the likable Japanese rider did not get long to savor his title, or just 24 hours later, Aoyama was out on track with a new challenge, learning to ride the Honda RC212V MotoGP bike with the Interwetten Honda team. MotoMatters.com wanted to hear just how hard that challenge has been, and so we caught up with Aoyama and his crew chief Tom Jojic on the Friday morning before FP1 at Silverstone. Interviewing both rider and crew chief together gave a fascinating perspective into the interaction between the two, on how much alike - and how different - they must approach the race, and the difficulties of entering MotoGP with so little testing and practice.
MotoMatters: I'd like to start with you, Hiroshi. The last time I interviewed you was at Indianapolis last year when you were still chasing the 250cc title, which you won later in the year. Then you come into MotoGP, and last year is completely gone. How is that? How is that change from fighting for the win every weekend, fighting for the championship, to focusing on just trying to learn and trying to grow as a MotoGP rider?
After reporting yesterday that a deal between Alex de Angelis and Interwetten Honda to replace Hiroshi Aoyama was near, events are moving quickly. Today, the Interwetten team announced the deal was done, and the Team Scot Moto2 rider will be filling in for Aoyama until the Japanese rider's return in September. De Angelis' experience in MotoGP and the strong relationship De Angelis still has with HRC made the deal relatively easy to put together. The replacement for De Angelis in Team Scot's Moto2 team is as yet unknown, but the names of Andrew Pitt and Lorenzo Savadori are currently doing the rounds.
Below is the press release issued by the Interwetten Team announcing the deal:
While finding a replacement for Valentino Rossi turned into a search of near epic proportions, taking nearly a month to finalize, a replacement for the unfortunate Hiroshi Aoyama was found within almost a day. The Japanese test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi was slotted into the Interwetten Honda team directly after Aoyama's crash during the Warm Up at Silverstone, and made his appearance on the RC212V at Assen. This was just to be a temporary measure, as was explained when the announcement was made, until a more permanent replacement for Aoyama can be found, who will be out for two or three months with a fractured T12 vertebra.
It appears that such a replacement may have been found. Various press sources are reporting that Alex de Angelis is to step back up to MotoGP and take Aoyama's place. The Italian would substitute for Aoyama for the next 4 to 6 races, depending on the duration of Aoyama's recovery, at which point he would return to the Scot Moto2 team.
With MotoGP now one third through its 18 race season, the effect of the engine-life regulations - restricting each MotoGP rider to just 6 engines throughout the entire season - is starting to become clear. The latest engine information list - assembled by IRTA and MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb, and distributed (if you can call it that) by Dorna - provides an interesting perspective on the impact the regulations are having, and how the factories have approached the problems posed by limited engines.
The clear winner that emerges from the list is surely Honda. Of their six riders, three (Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, and San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli) have used just two engines, and not had to have a third engine officially sealed. Dovizioso and Simoncelli have distributed their races equally, with three races on each of the two engines, while Dani Pedrosa has four races on his number 1 engine, and just two on his number 2 engine.
Hiroshi Aoyama's horrible highside at Silverstone saw just 15 MotoGP riders take to the grid last Sunday for the race. And now that Aoyama has been examined more thoroughly, and the Interwetten Honda rider ruled out for at least two months with a fractured T12 vertebra, the prospect of just 15 riders on the grid for Assen, and 16 at Barcelona (by which time, the Fiat Yamaha team will have to replace the injured Valentino Rossi) was too much for the organizers, and measures have been taken to avert the declining numbers. From this weekend, Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi has been drafted in to take Aoyama's place aboard the Interwetten Honda RC212V. Akiyoshi will also ride at Barcelona, filling the MotoGP team's immediate needs.
Hiroshi Aoyama's vicious highside during the morning warmup at Silverstone is to have consequences which reach further than the British Grand Prix. After landing very heavily on his back in the crash, the Interwetten Honda rider was examined in the Clinica Mobile in the Silverstone paddock, where the decision was taken to move him to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for further examination. A CT scan found a suspected fracture of the T12 vertebra.
After a night of rest, Aoyama underwent another CT scan this morning, which confirmed yesterday's diagnosis. The Japanese rider is to be flown back to Barcelona, where he will undergo another examination, and where a course of treatment will be decided upon.
One day after the last-lap thriller of a Spanish Grand Prix, the MotoGP riders were back on track for a one-day test at the Andalucian track, the first of two scheduled for the season. As on Saturday during qualifying, it was the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa which was fastest, finishing ahead of the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Differences were small, however: the top 12 riders finished inside 1 second, and just 1.5 seconds covered the entire field.
The riders had plenty to test. Yamaha were testing minor chassis modifications, some electronics and a revised engine which provides improved acceleration, which both Rossi and Lorenzo declared a slight improvement. Lorenzo spent a lot of time working on his starts, which have so far been his weak point, while Rossi also found some setup changes which solved a rear grip problem.
Every year, as the MotoGP season commences, a veritable jungle of MotoGP Fantasy Leagues springs up around the internet, give fans the chance to test their skills in running a MotoGP team against like-minded individuals. Although we're big fans of those kinds of games, MotoMatters.com wouldn't be MotoMatters.com if we didn't do things just a little bit differently.
Another season of MotoGP approaches, and as every year, the fans (and far too many journalists) will spend the first race struggling to pick out which rider is which, after the traditional off-season merry-go-round and livery change. The wise heads over at Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es have anticipated this problem, and thoughtfully snagged all of the riders at the last Qatar MotoGP test and got them to hand over their helmets for a quick snapshot. The result is an overview of the helmets of all 17 MotoGP riders, as they are going to be used in MotoGP for 2010. The one exception ('t was ever thus) is Valentino Rossi, who as always is using his "Old Chicken" helmet throughout testing, but is likely to return to a more traditional design once the flag drops.
Nicky Hayden's 2010 helmet. For the rest of the helmets, head over to Motociclismo.es and see all 17.
Overall times from both days of testing at Qatar:
Casey Stoner finally managed to break Valentino Rossi's stranglehold on testing on the final day at Qatar, the Australian putting his Marlboro Ducati on top of the timesheets early on, and only occasionally ceding the lead to the Fiat Yamaha man. The Australian was fast throughout the session, not even a minor crash slowing Stoner down.
Despite finishing half a second down to the rider he has annointed as his main challenger, Rossi pronounced himself happy with the way the test went, telling GPone.com that he believed the new Yamaha M1 had proved it was competitive at Qatar. The Italian also tested some tires for the 2011 season; after testing a hard front in Sepang, Rossi tried the softer compound 2011 front tire at Qatar, but revealed he did not believe it represented a huge leap forwards.
The first day of the final test for the MotoGP class before the season commences saw Valentino Rossi continue his domination of testing, ending the session three tenths ahead of his nearest rival Casey Stoner. The Fiat Yamaha rider was constantly at the top of the timesheets, only really ceding the top spot when he paused for dinner late on in the evening. Despite the track cooling and the evening dew which started to form, Rossi took another half a second off his best time to stamp his authority on the session.
Casey Stoner found himself demoted to second, at a track where he has won three years in a row, but the Australian pronounced himself happy with the test, telling GPOne.com that the bike was working really well, especially on used tires. The Ducati Marlboro rider did comment that he would like some more power with the long-life engines, as would everybody, but he praised the new engine character, which made the Ducati much easier to ride.
Honda is caught between a rock and a hard place. Like all of the other manufacturers, Honda has been hit hard by the recession, and is looking to cut costs wherever it can. However, the factory is also desperate for another World Championship, having had only one since Valentino Rossi left the factory in 2004 after winning nine out of the previous ten. The factory has to find a way to win another MotoGP title without breaking the bank.
The way they have selected to marry those two very different objectives is simple yet efficient. As of this season, all of the teams, whether satellite or factory, will be given the same bike. The only difference between the two machines will be the electronics, which control the performance of the bike to a significant degree.
The move marks a huge change in direction for Honda. In previous years, HRC supplied two different specifications of machine: A factory spec RC212V provided to the factory Repsol Honda team and a few selected satellite riders; And a satellite spec for the other satellite teams. The different spec of these machines could be significantly different, with different chassis, engines, fairings and exhaust systems. Even the factory spec machines were not identical, the Repsol bikes always at least a few iterations ahead of the bikes supplied to satellite rider.
Looking back at the two days of MotoGP testing at Sepang throws up only a few surprises. The Aliens continue to dominate, as ever, and Colin Edwards is still firmly in place as #5. Behind, the top 5, the picture is a little more interesting. Loris Capirossi's strong outing on Thursday shows that the Suzuki can be fast, but the GSV-R has a long history of being outstanding in testing, yet falling short during the season. Whether it's business-as-usual for Suzuki or a breakthrough will have to wait until the first few rounds have been run.
Ben Spies continues his methodical improvement, but with the Texan complaining of jet lag and telling reporters that he is still very much just learning, he should soon be edging Colin Edwards out of 5th spot and closing on the top 4. Spies is holding station with Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian improving but still looking for more pace.