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Now Team KR Say Ducati Is First Choice, Ahead Of Ilmor

In response to news yesterday that Team KR were talking to Ilmor about supplying them with engines, today, Motorcycle News is saying that their first option is still to lease Ducati GP7s for 2008. The deal with Ducati would be part of a huge motorsports package including Nascar and Indy Car teams in the US, all backed by the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas.

The deal has two possible drawbacks: Firstly Team KR would only get GP7s from Ducati, not 2008 bikes. But seeing as the GP7 bike has cleaned up in MotoGP, taking rider, team and constructors championships, that would still give Team KR a fighting chance of competing with the field, although the competition, most notably Honda and Yamaha, are expected to come back a lot more strongly next season.

The second problem could be Kenny Roberts' insistence that he will only do the deal if he is allowed to develop parts for the bike, and will look elsewhere if he is forced to leave the bikes more or less untouched. Roberts' main interest is in engineering, and a substantial part of the team's income comes from designing and selling parts, mainly to other race teams in the AMA and WSBK, though they have now moved into selling exhausts and other parts to consumers. Consequently, just leasing a bike they couldn't build any parts for would both stifle their natural urges and not help their racing business. It is unknown how keen Ducati is to allow third parties, such as Team KR, to alter their machinery, but this could well cause a real stumbling block.

What is clear, however is that Team KR will not be using Honda engines. The deadline to renew the contract with Honda has already passed, and Kenny Roberts Sr didn't make the call to renew. Roberts is understandably disappointed at the level of support the team has received from Honda this year, and with HRC only offering enough engines to run a single rider, he passed on the opportunity of being on the receiving end of the same treatment again.

Déjà Vu - Biaggi To Return To MotoGP Again?

The rumor that Max Biaggi will be making a return to MotoGP has been floating around almost from the moment Max left the paddock under a cloud at the end of the 2005 season. Any time a seat became vacant, the name Biaggi was almost always the first one on the tips of everyone's tongues. So our initial reaction to the reports emerging from various sources (most clearly at Autosport.com) that Biaggi could return to MotoGP for the 2008 season is take it with a sizable pinch of salt.

This time, however, it could be different. Two pieces of news emerged today which point towards Biaggi actually making the switch back to MotoGP. First came the news that Biaggi won't be riding for Alstare Suzuki in World Superbikes in 2008. The press release talks about sponsorship problems — Alstare lost Corona, their sponsor of many years at the end of this season — being at the root of the split, which translates into Alstare not being able to pay Biaggi's salary demands, which are likely to be nearer 7 figures than 6.

Then, it emerged that Gresini Honda have already been in talks with Biaggi about a ride for next year. Gresini is keen for a big name to ride for the team next year, as that would help attract big-name sponsors, and keep the team competitive, after Marco Melandri decided to leave for Ducati earlier this year.

There is, however, a very large fly in the ointment regarding Biaggi joining Gresini. It is rumored that after the acrimonious break up of Biaggi and Repsol Honda, during which Biaggi rained a torrent of criticism on HRC and the Honda RC211V, after suffering from chatter all season, HRC secretly swore never to allow Biaggi to race a Honda again. As a consequence, HRC may simply refuse to supply Gresini with bikes for next season. On the other hand, Honda may be willing to do anything to get competitive riders on their machines after their dismal 2007 season.

MotoGP could be Biaggi's last chance. With the Roman's exorbitant salary demands, MotoGP could be the only racing series which can afford to pay his wages. Rumors persist that Biaggi would like to race in the US, as he has a winter home in California, and he is said to love the life in America. But the only teams which could afford him are Yoshimura Suzuki, which is already full up for next year, or perhaps Jordan Suzuki, owned by ex-basketball star Michael Jordan.

If Biaggi is to sign for Gresini, he will have to move quickly. Testing begins after the Valencia Grand Prix in 2 weeks time, and the teams will want to get started as soon as possible.

Ilmor Could Return To MotoGP - With Team KR

The arrival of the Ilmor 800 cc X3 bike was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the last days of the 2006 season, and many people had high hopes for the outfit, with an engine designed by Formula 1 genius Mario Illien, and a chassis created by Eskil Suter, the man behind the original Kawasaki ZXRR MotoGP bike, as well as the MuZ 500 cc two stroke racer. And so the disappointment was great when Ilmor made the shock announcement that they would be withdrawing from the MotoGP series after only the first race of the 2007 season. Staff were laid off, and Mario Illien announced that although bike development would cease, for the most part, engine development would continue.

Now, it looks like that choice is could pay off. The Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Team KR are in talks with Ilmor to supply engines for the 2008 season. The news comes at a moment when the future of Team KR was looking more and more uncertain, after Honda refused to supply the team with enough engines to run two bikes for 2008, with speculation running rife about which of the other manufacturers would be willing to supply Kenny Roberts with engines. The deal is said to be dependent upon Team KR getting enough money out of their current main sponsor, MGM Grand Hotel Treasure Island, to run two bikes for next year. And according to GPOne.com, the team has already tested a new chassis and Ilmor engine, with Ilmor's former rider Andrew Pitt at the controls.

A switch to Ilmor would several advantages for Team KR, but it also carries a number of risks. On the plus side, Ilmor's base is just a few miles up the road from Team KR's home in Banbury in the UK, in the middle of Oxfordshire's Formula 1 valley, making collaboration and communication fast and easy. And the Ilmor engine was said to have plenty of power, as some of the top speeds it recorded showed.

But the problem with the Ilmor is reminiscent of Team KR's former forays into engine building, when they constructed a 990cc V5 with the help of Formula 1 guru John Barnard. The complaints heard about the Ilmor bike were that the engineers had designed it to generate horsepower, with no regard to the way that horsepower affects the handling of a motorcycle, with Ilmor's data technicians telling riders to hold the engine at high revs through corners, a process which is both very difficult and totally unnatural for a motorcycle racer.

The success of such an operation will come down to how much control Team KR will have over the electronics, and engine management system. If the team can use an electronics package which will allow a KR / Ilmor hybrid to be ridden like a conventional MotoGP bike, then the project could have a chance of success. If not, it could lead to yet another demise of a project emanating from Formula 1 engineers. Time will tell.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

Since posting this, this site has learned that Ilmor were testing the X3 in Jerez last week, and the team has recently rehired staff it had previously laid off. So bike development is continuing, and may even be picking up pace.

Ilmor Could Return To MotoGP - With Team KR

The arrival of the Ilmor 800 cc X3 bike was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the last days of the 2006 season, and many people had high hopes for the outfit, with an engine designed by Formula 1 genius Mario Illien, and a chassis created by Eskil Suter, the man behind the original Kawasaki ZXRR MotoGP bike, as well as the MuZ 500 cc two stroke racer. And so the disappointment was great when Ilmor made the shock announcement that they would be withdrawing from the MotoGP series after only the first race of the 2007 season. Staff were laid off, and Mario Illien announced that although bike development would cease, for the most part, engine development would continue.

Now, it looks like that choice is could pay off. The Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Team KR are in talks with Ilmor to supply engines for the 2008 season. The news comes at a moment when the future of Team KR was looking more and more uncertain, after Honda refused to supply the team with enough engines to run two bikes for 2008, with speculation running rife about which of the other manufacturers would be willing to supply Kenny Roberts with engines. The deal is said to be dependent upon Team KR getting enough money out of their current main sponsor, MGM Grand Hotel Treasure Island, to run two bikes for next year. And according to GPOne.com, the team has already tested a new chassis and Ilmor engine, with Ilmor's former rider Andrew Pitt at the controls.

A switch to Ilmor would several advantages for Team KR, but it also carries a number of risks. On the plus side, Ilmor's base is just a few miles up the road from Team KR's home in Banbury in the UK, in the middle of Oxfordshire's Formula 1 valley, making collaboration and communication fast and easy. And the Ilmor engine was said to have plenty of power, as some of the top speeds it recorded showed.

But the problem with the Ilmor is reminiscent of Team KR's former forays into engine building, when they constructed a 990cc V5 with the help of Formula 1 guru John Barnard. The complaints heard about the Ilmor bike were that the engineers had designed it to generate horsepower, with no regard to the way that horsepower affects the handling of a motorcycle, with Ilmor's data technicians telling riders to hold the engine at high revs through corners, a process which is both very difficult and totally unnatural for a motorcycle racer.

The success of such an operation will come down to how much control Team KR will have over the electronics, and engine management system. If the team can use an electronics package which will allow a KR / Ilmor hybrid to be ridden like a conventional MotoGP bike, then the project could have a chance of success. If not, it could lead to yet another demise of a project emanating from Formula 1 engineers. Time will tell.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

Since posting this, this site has learned that Ilmor were testing the X3 in Jerez last week, and the team has recently rehired staff it had previously laid off. So bike development is continuing, and may even be picking up pace.

2008 GSV-R Suzuki To Debut At Sepang

In their usual pre-race press release, Rizla Suzuki announced today that they would be running a third motorcycle at the Sepang MotoGP round on a wildcard entry. Nothing unusual in that, as they have previously run wildcards at both Jerez and Motegi. But one look at the name of the rider is enough to pique any fan's interest: The third Suzuki will by ridden by official factory test rider Nobuatsu Aoki. And the machine he will be riding is the 2008 version of Suzuki's GSV-R 800.

The Suzuki is the first of the '08 bikes to break cover, and sees Suzuki once again getting a head start on their rivals for bike development. Suzuki spent much of the 2006 season developing the bike for 2007, a strategy which has paid off with their best season of the four-stroke era. With work already well advanced on the 2008 machine, the 2008 season is getting off to a strong start.

All eyes will be both on the machine itself, as paddock observers try to spot the technical differences between the old and the new machine, and on Aoki's times. But Aoki, at 36, has been out of top-level racing for several years now, and so his times are likely to be more difficult to judge, as a lack of recent racing experience can add a second or more to lap times, as Olivier Jacque found out earlier this year, when he switched from Kawasaki test rider to factory racer.

Nonetheless, the Suzuki will be setting a marker for the 2008 season. But the rest won't be far behind: The 2008 season starts just a couple of days after the 2007 season finale at Valencia, when official testing starts all over again.

Five Riders To Test Floodlight Racing In Qatar

Progress is being made on the night race due to be run under floodlights at Qatar in 2008, as the American company Musco Systems has been hard at work at the Losail track for the past month. Now, according to the Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es, 5 riders, one from each manufacturer, have been selected to test the track conditions under the floodlights. The test will take place after the final Valencia round of MotoGP, and will see Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Honda), Casey Stoner (Ducati), Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) and John Hopkins (Kawasaki) ride the track and evaluate the efficiency of the lighting, as well as ensure that they can ride without being blinded by any of the floodlights.

Get Your Name On Team KR's Bike At Valencia

While Team KR's results on the track have been disappointing, their innovative approach to sponsorship and marketing has really helped them stand out. So the news that Team KR will be printing the names of fans and supporters on their bike gives their marketing campaigns yet another interesting twist.

The deal is that if fill in your name and e-mail, then the team will add your name, or a name of your choice, to the list which will be used to create the Team KR logo on the tailpiece of the KR212V at Valencia. The offer is free, the only price you pay is agreeing to let Team KR use your e-mail address for marketing campaigns. And if you were hoping to be able to see your name on the TV, you'll be needing a magnifying glass, as the Team KR logo will most likely be made up of hundreds of names in small print, at the very least. And Team KR reserve the right to refuse names, just in case someone decides to use the name Joseph Stalin.

You can sign up for the deal over on the Team KR website.

What Will Replace The Single Tire Rule

The tire issue just won't go away, and tonight, yet more news comes on the issue. Dennis Noyes of SpeedTV.com is reporting that a new consensus has been reached on the tire rules, which will avert the need to go to a single tire. According to Noyes, the new rules will be as follows:

  • The number of tires made available to each rider will be raised from 31 to 40. Noyes has no details on how that will be split between front and rear, but it is likely to be either 17 fronts and 23 rears, or 18 fronts and 22 rears;
  • Tire selection will no longer have to be made on Thursday afternoon, before anyone has set foot on track, but after the first free practice session, giving the riders and their engineers some data to base tire selection on;
  • Michelin has agreed not to press for the right to fly tires in overnight;
  • Tire makers will supply any team that asks them, and tires will be supplied at "a reasonable price," whatever that may mean.

Noyes goes on to discuss some of the machinations which went on (or may have gone on) behind the scenes to reach this situation. Some of the issues he discusses are well known, such as Pedrosa, and his mentor Alberto Puig, imposing the condition that Pedrosa would only sign a new two year deal with Honda on the condition that Honda provide him with Bridgestone tires, a demand that appears to have shifted to the background. But Noyes' discussion of the open market principle behind the new rules, and the impact it could have on satellite teams is very enlightening, and well worth the read.

Rossi Could Switch To Bridgestone For 2008

It seems that the tire issue is going to be with us for a long time to come yet. At the front row press conference, after qualifying at Phillip Island, Valentino Rossi hinted that he still had the option of switching to Bridgestone tires for 2008. Rossi was highly critical of Michelin, whilst conceding that the French tire company is hard at work to correct the situation for next year. At the same time, he hinted that the decision to switch to Bridgestone tires for next season was up to him and his team.

"So, we have to decide also, because we don't know exactly if it's possible to have Bridgestones. So the situation is in progress now, and also for us, we have to decide".

Rossi's comments are remarkable, as Bridgestone has already ruled out being able to supply the Yamaha and Honda factory teams with tires. His words have reignited speculation that some kind of switch could be possible, with just Rossi running Bridgestone tires in the Fiat Yamaha garage next season, while his new team mate Jorge Lorenzo sticks with Michelins. And if Rossi makes the switch, then that could also mean that the other man most vocal in his demands for Bridgestone tires, Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, could also be on Japanese rubber. Despite the speculation, Pedrosa was noncommittal about the situation during the press conference, saying that "everybody has to make their own way", and that any decision about tires would have to wait until after the Grand Prix Commission meets at Malaysia.

The prospect of both the Fiat Yamaha and Repsol Honda garages using both Michelin and Bridgestone is not entirely unthinkable. According to MCN, Bridgestone's Hiroshi Yamada said that increasing Bridgestone's capacity by one rider was achievable, which presumably means they could run to two more riders as well, at a stretch.

If Rossi and his crew did decide to move to Bridgestone tires, then this could conceivably cause more problems than it solves. Firstly, the switch would deeply upset Rossi's new team mate Jorge Lorenzo, who signed with Yamaha on the condition that he would get full factory support, and be on the same equipment as Rossi. Usually, that phrase would be taken to refer to the bike, but in this case, Lorenzo could claim a breach of contract if Rossi were to be on different rubber. But more importantly, Rossi would be the only Yamaha on Bridgestone tires, and would therefore face the dual task of learning to use the new tires, and developing them to work for the Yamaha. And not having a team mate on the same rubber would mean that Rossi would have no one to compare his data with, something he currently does with team mate Colin Edwards. It is quite possible that such a move could generate more work, and more disadvantages than benefits.

Ironically, no such obstacles exist for Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard would be the third Honda rider to switch to Bridgestones, with Gresini Honda expected to continue on the Japanese tires next year, and so much of the development work has already been done. The move could therefore be much easier for Pedrosa than for Rossi.

Casey Stoner, when asked about the tire situation, was his usual unflappable self.

"I feel a little bit disappointed with some riders with the fact that they've won a lot of races with Michelin, they've won some world championships and as soon as something doesn't go correctly they want to change the tire brand. Kawasaki and Suzuki have stuck with Bridgestone, Ducati have stuck with Bridgestone, they've worked very hard in these years, and finally, Bridgestone have come stronger every season, and they did a great, great job this year".

Stoner neglected to specify who he meant by the phrase "some riders."

Dennis Noyes Explains The Background To The Single Tire Proposals

The threatened introduction of a control tire in the MotoGP series has raised more commentary and debate, or should that be argument and invective, than any issue in recent history. The proposal's supporters have welcomed the prospect of closer racing, its opponents have denounced the switch as abandoning the principles of a prototype series and darwinian competition, and raised the specter of innovation grinding to a halt. So when the debate becomes so intensely heated, it is good to inject a little calm and reasoned analysis, and to place the move into some kind of context.

For that, we can turn to Speed TV's Dennis Noyes. In a column over on the SpeedTV.com website, Noyes lays out some of the reasoning behind the proposed switch, and discusses the experience of World Superbikes once they moved to a control tire. But by far the most important part of the article, and the reason behind the move, is where Noyes talks about why such a move would even be considered.

The answer, as everyone already knows, is money, but what people don't quite realize, especially in the English-speaking part of the world, is just where that money comes from. Three times this season, the podium has been Australians and Americans only. In five other races, two out of three were either Australian or Americans. This presents a huge problem for Dorna, the TV rights holder, as much of their TV audience, and therefore money, is in Spain and Italy, and those audiences tune in to watch their local heroes doing the conquering, not being vanquished by foreign foes.

"So what?", I hear you cry, "They should just learn to suck it up like we've had to!" A fair point, until you consider the viewing figures involved. In the UK, where bike racing is reasonably popular, the BBC's coverage regularly attracts over 1 million viewers, while in the US, the figures are nearer the hundreds of thousands. Contrast this with Italy, where MotoGP races regularly reach TV audiences of over 6 million, or Spain, where upwards of 4 million people regularly tune in. And those millions of Italians and Spaniards represent a 25% to 35% audience share, from a total population of 60 million souls for Italy, and 40 million for Spain.

To put that into perspective, a random MotoGP race will gain the same total audience numbers as the average Nascar race, in Italy alone. When you make the comparison in terms of audience share, it makes the numbers look even stronger: The average MotoGP race will outperform Sunday night football on prime time US television.

Motorcycle racing is a very expensive pursuit. When interviewed about a potential move into MotoGP, Ronald ten Kate, head of the championship-winning Ten Kate World Superbike team, said that he'd been told he would need 10-12 million euros to run a MotoGP team, although, with all the shrewdness of a typical Dutch businessman, he reckoned he could do it for about 6 million. When you look at advertising dollars, a couple of hundred thousand Americans, or even a million British fans are unable to generate that kind of income. But average audience figures of 6 million in Italy can generate very serious interest from sponsors selling to the Italian market, and very large sums of revenue from TV rights.

If audiences drop in Spain and Italy, because a bunch of English-speaking guys are on the podium every week, and their local heroes are chasing around at the back trying to steal the last few points, that would not just be bad for Italian and Spanish race fans. The attendant fall in income for Dorna and for the teams would leave a huge scar on MotoGP, decimating the grid, and leaving the series looking very threadbare indeed. Until audience figures around the world start picking up the slack, MotoGP will be at the whim of Spanish and Italian fans for the foreseeable future.

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