After several long, dark months of near silence on racetracks around the world, motorcycle racing fans can ready themselves for a feast of on-track action. For 10 of the next 14 days will see every international race class on track testing, with the bonus of the opening round of the World Superbike championship to top it off.
First up is a major outing for the Moto2 and 125cc classes at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit. A total of 42 riders are expected to take to the track, including the cream of the 125cc crop and some of the major players in Moto2.
In the 125cc class, the four favorites for the title will face off for the first time. The Derbis of Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez will be up against the Aprilias of Bradley Smith and Nico Terol, as the teams and riders prepare for the championship.
Smith returns to the Aspar fold, after failing to find a place in Moto2. In compensation, however, Smith will start the season with the best chance of becoming the first British World Champion since Barry Sheene in 1977. He knows the bike and the team, and his biggest challenge may come from his still growing body, as he inches north of 5'8, outgrowing the ideal size for a 125 racer.
A cursory glance at sales of new motorcycles provides an interesting insight into exactly where the future of motorcycling lies. Though its traditional home is Europe, North America and Australia, those markets are rapidly becoming just a tiny part of total motorcycle sales, with Asia claiming a rapidly expanding share of the global market. The recent marketing tours by Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi around India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand underline exactly how important these markets are to Yamaha and the rest of the Japanese manufacturers.
It is a truism that motorcycle racing fans love to collect items connected to their favorite sport. If your budget can't quite stretch to a genuine FTR Moto2 bike, then Indianapolis Motor Speedway can help you out, while helping to do good. The legendary US racetrack is auctioning off a collection of various memorabilia for an excellent cause, the American Red Cross' relief effort in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
Jorge Lorenzo's challenge for the 2010 MotoGP title suffered a minor setback this morning, when the Spanish star fractured his right hand in a motocross accident. Lorenzo was taken to hospital for treatment, where he underwent surgery to rectify the problem, having a titanium plate fitted in his hand. Lorenzo will miss the next test at Sepang at the end of the month, but should be fit in time for the following test prior to the MotoGP season opener at Qatar.
The press release shown below contains full details of the incident, but the accident reveals the problems faced by motorcycle racers. That racing is dangerous is universally acknowledged, but the very act of practicing machine control, only possible on some form of motorcycle or other, whether it be motocross, supermoto or track bike, exposes the rider to the risk of injury. At least the nature of Lorenzo's injury mean that he will not miss any of the season.
JORGE LORENZO INJURES HAND IN TRAINING ACCIDENT
Fiat Yamaha Team rider Jorge Lorenzo has undergone surgery in his right hand following an accident whilst training near his home in Barcelona yesterday, Thursday 11th February.
After months of speculation and controversy, the FB Corse Team finally unveiled their MotoGP machine and team at the offices of a radio station in Milan today. At the official launch, which had been delayed from the end of January, the team presented their FB01 three cylinder 800cc MotoGP bike, designed and built by Oral Engineering, as part of a project originally started for BMW several years ago.
After being dropped by the German manufacturer, development of the bike has continued on the test bench. But the FB01 is yet to turn a wheel on track. "We will continue to test on the dyno, and expect to take to the track towards the end of February," Mauro Forghieri, the bike's designer, told MotoCorse.com. The reason the bike had not been tested was because it was unclear how such testing would be viewed by Dorna and IRTA. The team is still not officially entered into MotoGP, though FB Corse say that this is just a formality. Once the team is entered with Garry McCoy as the official rider, McCoy would be subject to the same testing regulations as the rest of the field. The other teams and manufacturers would have to agree to allow FB Corse do private testing with McCoy before the Australian could safely take to the track.
MotoGP's 2011 Silly Season - the period during which contracts are negotiated and hammered out for the 2011 season - got underway a little early. In fact, it got underway shortly after the 2010 Silly Season was over, some time around early September 2009, shortly after Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa signed one-year contracts with their current employers, Yamaha and Honda respectively. Their signings effectively meant that the contracts of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner will all finish at the same time, at the end of the 2010 MotoGP season, leading to a feeding frenzy of speculation, rumor and argument over who will be going where for 2011.
Most of this speculation has surrounded Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been linked with a switch to Ducati, an extension of his Yamaha contract, a return to Honda, a career jump to Formula One with Ferrari, and even retirement to go race in WRC. Most of it has come from the ever-industrious Italian media, but Rossi himself has not been shy of using the media to his own ends on occasion. He has himself hinted both that he has offers from Ducati and that he will end his career at Yamaha, two seemingly mutually exclusive possibilities, as well as flirting cautiously with both Formula One and retirement. Any and all such pronouncements have been pounced upon by the press and sliced, diced and analyzed for any indication of what The Doctor's true intent might be.
The fact that Kevin Schwantz believes Ben Spies will win a race in his first season, as we reported over the weekend, should hardly come as a surprise, given Schwantz' long association with the young Texan. Spies excellent times at the first test of the year at Sepang confirmed that the Texan is making the necessary progress towards that goal, but most observers regard it as a little too early to tell.
To get the view of Ben Spies' team manager on the question, MotoMatters.com spoke with Herve Poncharal, and put Schwantz' bold claim to the Frenchman. The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 manager was much more cautions than Spies' mentor and former world champion Schwantz. "Kevin obviously has a lot of confidence in Ben," Poncharal said. "Obviously you can never rule out the possibility of a win. Colin came very close to winning at Donington last year," Poncharal said, but the task ahead was not simple. "I really hope Kevin is right, but winning on a regular basis is not easy."
Before Spies can beat the Fantastic Four, he first has to catch them, Poncharal pointed out. "The first step is to stay with top four, then to try and beat them. But to stay with them is already tough," the Frenchman told MotoMatters.com.
One of the big questions MotoGP fans have this year is just how well Ben Spies will do in his first full season of MotoGP. The Texan has already impressed Europeans and outperformed the expectations of Americans by winning the World Superbike title at his first attempt, but so far, World Superbike champions have had a rather patchy record of success in MotoGP. Consequently, fans are fishing about for any data they can find from experts and former riders, to help them make their own minds up.
Knowing this, the excellent US-based video website OnTheThrottle.com cornered former 500 GP champion and racing legend Kevin Schwantz at the testing session for the AMA Pro Racing test at Fontana, and asked him for his opinion of Spies' chances in MotoGP. Schwantz was pretty clear in his reply: "I think Ben will win a race in his first season for sure." Watch the full video for why he comes to that conclusion, and to hear what Schwantz has to say about the DMG series, his own plans for 2010 and the Red Bull Rookies.
The news that MotoGP is set to change capacity and formula again for the third time in 10 years has caused as much concern as it has joy. Almost everyone concerned has welcomed the return to 1000cc, not least the riders, and many people also expressed the commonly-held opinion that the switch to 800cc was the worst thing to happen to the class. But many observers also pointed out that the change of formula, though aimed at cutting costs in the long term, meant yet more expenditure in the short term as the factories would be forced to develop a brand new engine once again.
That criticism is shared by the MSMA, the association representing the manufacturers in MotoGP. According to MCN's extremely well-informed MotoGP reporter Matthew Birt, the MSMA is pushing for the 800s to get a reprieve in 2012. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told Birt that 2012 regulations will allow two separate formulas to run side by side, as in the first year of the MotoGP four strokes in 2002. Having invested so heavily in their 800cc machines, the factories could continue to run the smaller capacity bikes against the 1000cc bikes, with the liter bikes restricted to a maximum bore of 81mm and four cylinders, as announced in Geneva at the end of last year.
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.
The rain that held off yesterday finally came to Sepang on Friday, disrupting testing during the morning and at the end of the day. The rain in the morning combined with the limit on engines to persuade most of the riders to sit in the garage, or restrict their laps to a minimum. The track started to dry out at lunchtime, and from then, all 17 MotoGP riders, along with a couple of Yamaha test pilots, got to work on their testing program. By the time the rain came around 5pm, it was Valentino Rossi who had set the fastest lap, finishing ahead of Casey Stoner and Rossi's Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Dani Pedrosa completed the top four, the Aliens still clearly a breed apart in the MotoGP paddock.
While both Rossi and Stoner finished in the same positions as yesterday, both Jorge Lorenzo and especially Dani Pedrosa made a huge leap forward. Lorenzo jumped from 5th spot to 3rd, though he did not close the gap to his Fiat Yamaha teammate. Dani Pedrosa, on the other hand, closed the gap by over half a second, while working on the all-new Honda RC212V. Given that the bike has new Ohlins suspension, new electronics, a new chassis and a number of swingarms, there would appear to be plenty of room for improvement once the Repsol Honda team find the right setup for the bike.
One of the most heavily-attended press conferences at Sepang was the Yamaha affair, at which Yamaha's MotoGP group leader Masahiko Nakajima, Racing MD Lin Jarvis, team bosses Davide Brivio and Wilco Zeelenberg and the two stars of the show, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo faced questions from the assembled press. The subjects covered a lot of ground, from Wilco Zeelenberg's first day on the job, to Yamaha Indonesia's stepping up with sponsorship, to whether post-race burnouts are things of the past. But more pressing subjects were also covered, such as the end to data sharing between Valentino Rossi's and Jorge Lorenzo's sides of the garage, whether Yamaha thinks they can retain both their riders, and the two riders' impressions of the new YZR M1.
All these and more are covered in the transcript of the press conference, which follows below, thanks to our friends over at Superbikeplanet.com:
Q. To MN: Are you satisfied with the development of the M1?
Masahiko Nakajima: Difficult to say! It's too early to say how the development is but so far, on the first day of the winter test, we have quite good results and we are quite satisfied.
Launching a MotoGP race bike is a tricky prospect. The aim is for it to be as glamorous as possible, but without being too expensive for journalists to cover. Ducati solve this problem by launching at a giant event done together with Ferrari in the Italian Alps, but Yamaha have decided to make use of the opportunity presented by the first official MotoGP test of the year, out in Sepang. The location was especially appropriate this year, as Yamaha Indonesia has stepped up into a sponsor role, capitalizing on the growing interest in the sport in that part of Asia. According to Google Trends, Indonesia provides the largest number of users searching for the term "motogp", outnumbering Italy by nearly 4 to 1.
The rain that threatened to ruin the first day of testing for 2010 luckily decided to stay away, but the session was still disrupted by the weather. Instead of water, it was the oppressive 40°C tropical heat that sapped the strength of the riders, limiting the amount of testing the riders could do. The rain finally came just before 5pm to cool the track from the scorching 50° Centigrade it was at most of the day, though only adding to the humidity.
Valentino Rossi ended the day with the fastest time, a comfortable half a second ahead of Casey Stoner on the Ducati. Stoner had suffered chatter for part of the day, and the hot asphalt made it difficult to judge the difference adjustments to the bike were making. The riders in 3rd and 4th place were a big surprise, Colin Edwards' 3rd spot slightly less so than Loris Capirossi's 4th fastest time. It's clear the Yamaha is good, but even the satellite bikes are so good that on their day, they can match the speed of the factory bikes, Edwards finishing ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and nearly a quarter of a second faster.