Silly Season is just about over in MotoGP: With the announcement that Ducati have just offered Nicky Hayden a new one-year contract for 2010, the available factory seats are all filled, with the notable exception of Honda. Andrea Dovizioso has admitted he is very close to a new deal with Honda, but most of the media and fan attention has been focused on the future of Dani Pedrosa.
At Indianapolis, Pedrosa acknowledged approaches by Ducati - for a salary thought to be broadly similar to the gigantic sums on offer to Jorge Lorenzo, before he turned the Bologna factory down - but repeated that discussions with Honda were still ongoing, and that no firm conclusions had been reached. The sticking point, it was believed, was the role that Pedrosa's manager and mentor Alberto Puig was to play next season, with HRC pushing for a much diminished role for the former GP winner, and Pedrosa refusing to sign unless he had the man who has done so much for his career by his side.
Reports coming out of Spain earlier today - published by the sports daily Sport.es and reported by the Catalonian radio station Catalunya Informacio - indicate that Dani Pedrosa has already decided to sign a new contract with the Repsol Honda squad, and will make an official announcement this weekend at Misano. According to the reports, Pedrosa will sign a contract for at least one year, but no word has been forthcoming on the role of Pedrosa's manager Puig.
What was expected at Indianapolis appears to have been delayed a week to Misano. MotoGP's silly season, blocked for so long by Jorge Lorenzo, is starting to move again, with a spate of riders slotting into place for next season. The biggest (official) news so far is that Ducati have decided to exercise the option they have on American rider Nicky Hayden, extending his contract for another year through the 2010 season. Hayden's contract is a reward for the solid progress the Kentucky Kid has made throughout the season, gradually overcoming the difficult start the American made at the start of the year. That progress reached a provisional peak last week, when Hayden finished in 3rd place at Indianapolis, his first podium in a year, and his first on the Ducati.
Hayden has also been a huge marketing success for the Italian motorcycle manufacturer. The likable American helped sell out the limited edition Ducati 848s with Hayden's 2009 Laguna Seca livery almost immediately after release, and Hayden's face adorns the walls of Ducati dealerships around the world, but especially in the US, a key market for Ducati.
But there's another reason for the Ducati announcement. Spanish media sources are reporting that Dani Pedrosa has renewed his contract with the Repsol Honda team (see separate story), taking the last of the Fantastic Four off the market, and leaving Ducati with just the "humans" to select from. Hayden has repeated proven himself to be among the best of the rest, and with a string of solid results in recent races, he will help Ducati score valuable points in the manufacturers standings, a championship that has always been important to the Borgo Panigale factory.
An interesting press release has just dropped into our mailbox, one which highlights how the lack of testing is impacting the teams and their efforts at developing the bikes. Repsol Honda has just announced that Andrea Dovizioso is to switch from Showa suspension to Ohlins at Misano, and to continue using the Swedish forks and shocks for the rest of the season.
Both Dovizioso and Repsol Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa tested the Ohlins suspension units during the post-race test at Brno in mid-August, but as it rained for a couple of hours during the one-day test, Pedrosa in particular lost a lot of his opportunity to test the new suspension. As a consequence, it appears that Repsol Honda have decided to take a different tack, with Pedrosa sticking with Showa while Andrea Dovizioso - who is out of the running for a top 3 finish in the championship - running Ohlins, partly with a view to gaining enough data for both riders to use the new Ohlins suspension next year.
The problem is of course with testing now drastically reduced, it has become significantly more difficult to test major changes such as this, but during the season and in the pre-season testing. It is likely that we will see more of these kind of changes taking place mid-season, using the remaining races as testing in preparation for the following year. Dani Pedrosa's mid-season tire switch from Michelin to Bridgestone was a case in point. The Spaniard arrived at the start of this season much better prepared to use the Japanese tires than other Michelin runners who had to wait until the end of the 2008 season.
At last weekend's Red Bull Indianapolis GP, along with the usual vendor shows, stands, test rides and other activities, a rather special demonstration was being given in the media center. The oscar-winning special effects director John Bruno - responsible for the effects in some of the best special effects movies of all time, such as Titanic, Terminator 2, The Abyss, X-Men The Last Stand and a host of others - was showing footage from his latest 3D projects, which included a three-minute highlight reel from the previous race in the US, the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca.
I was intrigued by the thought of watching motorcycle racing in three dimensions, and decided to go and take a look. I am old enough to remember some of the previous 3D projects, which required the wearing of cheap cardboard classes with different colored lenses (Jaws 3D anyone?) and had failed to impress me even at a fairly tender age. I was lucky enough to walk in on a special presentation being given to the Tech 3 Yamaha team by John Bruno himself, just as the standard (non-motorcycling footage) was finishing.
The MotoGP footage started with an opening shot of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, and from the off, I was hooked. Choosing the Corkscrew to open on was a stroke of brilliance, as that most iconic of turns is famed for its incredible drop, and for the first time on a TV screen, the elevation change just leapt off the screen at you. Perhaps even more impressive was the bump at the top of the turn: Though it has been flattened off in recent years, the ridge at the top where the track drops down is suddenly blindingly obvious. It really was just like being there, whereas every other time I have seen the Corkscrew - either on TV or in photos (even the fantastic shots by our very own Scott Jones), the pictures have failed to do justice to the turn.
Since the announcement of the new engine limits, which permit each rider to use 5 engines for the last 7 races of the season, to be cut to 6 engines for the entire 18-race season next year, we at MotoGPMatters.com have been wondering just how this is going to work out. After quizzing Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Guy Coulon on Thursday, who told us it shouldn't be a problem for them, we put the same questions to Andrea Dovizioso's Repsol Honda crew chief Pete Benson. Here's what he had to say on the subject:
MGPM: I wanted to ask about the engine limits. How's it going so far, it's only been one race, but have you run into any problems?
Pete Benson: No, this year it's absolutely no problem, because you've got 5 engines to the end of the season. We've still got five new engines in our allocation. It's very, very easy at the moment. Next year, basically the engine mileage itself is not a problem, but you crash a bike and damage the engine, that's when it becomes a problem. Because then there's a very good chance we'll get to the end of the year and you'll, say, get to the last race and only have one engine left without taking a penalty. It's not something I'm really in favor of, but they say they [the MSMA] need to do it so they're going to do it.
MGPM: What happens when you crash the Honda engine? Is it susceptible to damage? Does it let gravel in through the airbox?
PB: Well,you know, generally no, but if you fire things into a gravel trap hard enough things are going to break. They've got good filter systems and everything on them, but if you tear all the fairings and everything off them, then there's always that chance, you know? And it's not just that, if you crash a bike hard enough, you can break the crankcase or punch a hole in the end of the cases. It doesn't happen very often, but it can happen.
After his impressive victory at Indianapolis - in a race which he described as "boring" once Rossi had crashed - Jorge Lorenzo spoke briefly to the English-language press about the race and how it affected the championship. Here's what he had to say:
Q: Now that your future is settled, you've made your choice for Yamaha over Ducati, was it easier to concentrate?
JL: No I don't think so. I think I was riding quite well in Donington, I was leading the race, by one and a half seconds, but I pass the white line and I crash. I couldn't do anything about it. Maybe I was wrong in my line, but nothing more. Maybe in Brno I did a mistake in this corner, because I wanted to open a gap between me and Valentino, and maybe I had to be following him not to pass him. Maybe you are right in Brno, but not in Donington.
Q: Every time you crash you learn very quickly, you never make the same mistake twice. Was your plan to get ahead of Valentino or stay behind him?
JL: You know, now that I win, it is very easy to say I don't make mistakes, that I am the best, but it could happen again to me that I crash. So, today has been good, but you don't know in the future.
Q: Have you started to believe in the championship again, or is 25 points still too much?
Results and summary of Indianapolis MotoGP race:
The news that the MSMA is moving closer to allowing engines to be leased has been received with enthusiasm both inside the paddock and out. The move is aimed at reducing costs and expanding the grid, and word from inside the paddock is that it might just work. The proposal is due to come into force in 2011, but rumors are rife that it could happen before then.
It seems that Yamaha could lease one engine to a team in 2010. That team would be Hayate, allowing the plucky little team which has done so outstandingly with so few means to stay in MotoGP, and bring the grid size up to 18. The news was reported by GPOne.com, and discrete enquiries around the paddock have confirmed the report, though no one would speak on the record.
The idea of the Hayate team running a Yamaha engine in 2010 makes a huge amount of sense. According to the reports, the new bike would use the existing Hayate / Kawasaki frame, and drop the Yamaha engine into it. Given that the man who designed the Yamaha M1 is Ichiro Yoda, who left Yamaha to redesign the Kawasaki, and is still in charge of the Hayate team, the bikes and the configuration are unlikely to be vastly different. The engine should fit without too much work, as both the Yamaha and Kawasaki engines are inline fours.
By running the engine in 2010, the members of the Grand Prix Commission - and especially the manufacturers and the IRTA - can test out in practice just how well such a proposal would work. And with restricted engine numbers, it should be relatively affordable for the cash-strapped team. Unfortunately - if somewhat understandably - Hayate have lost their star rider, Marco Melandri having signed for San Carlo Gresini. But with so many riders likely to be out of a job and offering their services for free to stay in the series, it shouldn't be hard to find a rider capable of surprising the field once again.
Results of the morning warm up session for the MotoGP class:
MotoGP's biggest problem right now is the number of bikes on the grid. The withdrawal of Kawasaki, leaving just a single bike in the Hayate team cut the grid down to 18 bikes, and once Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulled out, the field was cut just to 17. With Kawasaki almost certain to withdraw the last remaining bike from the Hayate team next year and the return of the extra Ducati for the Aspar team, the grid is likely to stay at 17, though it could increase to 18 if Honda does add an extra bike, as HRC has hinted it might.
To deal with this problem, and drastically reduce the costs of participation, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta suggested that the rules be altered to allow production-based 1000cc engines in prototype chassis to run against the existing 800cc full prototypes. As a serious suggestion, it was almost certainly doomed from the start, but as a bargaining gambit, it has been a stroke of genius. The suggestion immediately jolted MSMA into action, and at the Sachsenring, the manufacturers organization offered a counter proposal to lease just 800cc prototype engines on their own, rather than entire bikes. They asked the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, for some time to come up with a more detailed proposal, which they promised to present at the meeting scheduled for this weekend at Indianapolis.
That proposal was presented this morning to the Grand Prix Commission - sort of. After the Grand Prix Commission met, the press release issued contained only a few minor detail changes to the 2009 tire regulations, so MotoGPMatters.com tracked down Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and IRTA's representative inside the Grand Prix Commission and asked him just what the MSMA's proposal had consisted of. The answer, it appears, is a little more complicated than just a straight proposal.
Result and summary of the 250cc qualifying practice at Indianapolis:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class: