Autosport.com is reporting that the MotoGP tire companies are to meet to discuss the impact of the tire regulations on MotoGP. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who has publicly criticized the rules claiming they have "ruined the spectacle of MotoGP", is to chair the meeting where representatives of Bridgestone, Dunlop and Michelin are to discuss possible changes to the existing tire regulations. Unsurprisingly, tire makers and teams are split down the middle on the impact of the rules, with Ducati and Bridgestone perfectly happy with the rules, while Michelin and their teams want to see the rules changed.
The most likely outcome is a small increase in the number of tires permitted, possibly only affecting rear tires. But the most telling quote came from Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's Director of Motorcycle Racing. Weber told the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, "our working method hasn't worked. We've already started thinking about 2008 by planning a bigger effort with a bigger budget. We must improve our method and gather more data to be transformed into input for our products." This seems to be a tacit admission that for too long, Michelin have been relying too heavily on the data gathered during a race weekend, and not building on data gathered at previous visits to tracks.
Chaz Davies had an interesting weekend at Laguna Seca. Expecting only to compete in the AMA races, before the morning of the first day was over, he was riding the injured Alex Hofmann's Pramac d'Antin Ducati. He had a lot to learn in a short time: He had never ridden at Laguna Seca before; He had never ridden a MotoGP bike before; He had never used the Bridgestone tires before; He had never used carbon brakes before. Despite that, he managed to post the 14th fastest lap during the race after just 4 sessions on the bike. An awful lot of people were very impressed indeed, especially as at the beginning of the season, Davies was seen as a privateer who'd never made it in 250s.
Now, it seems his performance at Laguna Seca is about to pay off. Toby Moody over at Autosport.com is reporting that Ducati are very interested in getting Davies back on the bike for a full-length test. Ducati's team boss Livio Suppo is trying to line up a test for Davies at Mugello together with Ducati's regular test rider Vittoriano Guareschi, with a host of senior Ducati engineers in attendance. And Suppo hinted that if Davies were to be as impressive at the test as he was at Laguna, a MotoGP ride on a Ducati could possibly be on the cards. "I'm pushing to see if he is a good rider. It makes no sense to sign him for next year just on Laguna," Suppo told Autosport.com.
Although both factory Ducatis are occupied for the foreseeable future, it is believed that Ducati want to turn the Pramac d'Antin team into a junior team, where young riders can be given the chance to prove themselves and possibly grow into a ride with the factory team. D'Antin's signing Sylvain Guintoli to a pre-contract is thought to be a precursor of exactly this shift.
Images are starting to appear of Friday's downpour at Misano, and the track is truly awash. It will be a worry whether the track officials can get the track dry and cleared of mud by the time practice starts tomorrow morning.
First of all, a link to some photos over at Racesport.nl. Here's an example of the conditions:
As so often, Superbikeplanet.com also has some outstanding images of the deluge at Misano.
Misano is a brand new track for most of the MotoGP paddock, and to help the riders learn the track, an extra hour of practice had been scheduled for Friday afternoon. The weather gods had other ideas, however, and after heavy rainfall on Thursday evening and Friday caused the track to be flooded, the afternoon practice sessions were called off.
To compensate for the time lost to the weather conditions, Saturday morning's free practice sessions have been extended, from one hour to two hours in length, for the MotoGP class. Qualifying will then run as normal in the afternoon. The organization's generosity did not extend to extra time on track for the smaller classes, both 125 and 250 riders having to make do with their normal allotment of practice on Saturday, despite also missing out on Friday afternoon's sessions.
The weather conditions have gotten so bad at Misano that all further action has been called off, with both pit lane and sections of the track under several inches of standing water, and pit crews fighting pitched battles with the elements to avoid flooding in the garages. The event organizers are currently meeting to discuss the remainder of the weekend's schedule, in order to allow more practice time for what is a new track for the riders. More news as it becomes available, but there's a little more information at Autosport.com and at Racesport.nl.
The practice sessions scheduled for Misano have been delayed due to a torrential downpour, flooding the pit lane and parts of the track. The rain started on Thursday, and has continued through Friday, throwing the practice schedule into chaos. Ironically, an extra session had been scheduled for the MotoGP class, with extended sessions scheduled for the other classes, to give the riders a chance to learn what is for most of them a new track. More updates as and when they become available.
The redoubtable Toby Moody over at Autosport.com is reporting that the FIM and Dorna will announce today that the Qatar MotoGP round, set to be the season opener for next year, will be run under floodlights as a night race. This option had been discussed previously, with Valentino Rossi, Loris Capirossi and Kenny Roberts Junior running a few laps under floodlights in 2006 as members of MotoGP's safety commission. The trio were less than impressed, however, and are unlikely to be thrilled by the prospect of night racing.
So if there is resistance from among the riders, why do it? Qatar's climate is at the heart of the problem, with the desert heat making circumstances difficult for both racers and fans alike. The Qatar round has already been moved to March, to take advantage of the cooler conditions in the early spring, but it still can get very hot there, even so early in the year. Whether the riders will actually agree to race under floodlights remains to be seen.
The speculation earlier this week has finally been confirmed. Today, Kawasaki announced that Ant West will join John Hopkins at Kawasaki for the 2008 season. West had been getting closer to clinching the deal over the past weeks, his position getting even stronger after current team mate Randy de Puniet announced that he would be joining LCR Honda. The Australian has impressed many people inside MotoGP, both with this performance and his level of technical feedback, and his signing for 2008 caps a run of hard work, smart choices and lucky breaks which started earlier this year. With a full season to run next year, West will finally get a chance to prove himself starting on equal footing, and not just being drafted in halfway through a season.
West's luck is Shinya Nakano's misfortune, however, as that ends any hopes Nakano may have had of a return to the Kawasaki fold for next year. The Japanese rider has struggled miserably since leaving Team Green to join Konica Minolta Honda, suffering both with the uncompetitive Honda RC212V, and finding it hard to get to grips with the Michelin tires, running into the same problems his predecessor, Makoto Tamada had switching from Bridgestones to French rubber.
With Tamada certain to be out of MotoGP in 2008, and Nakano's position looking ever more precarious, the series looks to be without a Japanese rider for the first time since 1992. Whether this situation is acceptable to the Japanese manufacturers remains to be seen. Should both Nakano and Tamada disappear from the grid, the Land Of The Rising Sun's only hope would be that Hiroshi Aoyama would move up from the 250 class to take a ride in MotoGP. But with MotoGP rides disappearing like snow in sunshine, he would have to move fast.
Motorcycle News is reporting that Ant West is very close to securing the second seat at Kawasaki, alongside John Hopkins, whose signing was announced last month. According to MCN, West's signing will be announced on Thursday, on the eve of the Misano grand prix. West has been singularly impressive since joining Kawasaki after the Catalunya round in June, with constantly improving results (apart from a blip at Brno) and providing excellent technical feedback to his crew. Now it seems that this hard work is starting to pay off.
If the MCN story is correct, this would come as a body blow to Shinya Nakano. Nakano has struggled terribly since leaving Kawasaki at the end of 2006, and has failed to get to grips both with the disappointing Honda RC212V and the Michelin tires. So poorly has Nakano fared, that the Japanese ace is currently trailing Ant West in the points standings, despite having ridden 12 races to West's 4. If Nakano fails to secure the Kawasaki ride, the influx of young talent and new names into MotoGP will almost certainly mean the end of Nakano's MotoGP career, as Nakano's current team, Japan Italy Racing, running in the Konica Minolta colors, look likely to sign 250 star Andrea Dovizioso for next year, in a joint effort with the Dovi's current team, Scot Kopron Honda.
Another piece of the MotoGP puzzle fell into place today, with the news that Randy de Puniet has signed a deal with LCR Honda for two years. The move is something of a surprise, as the Kawasaki has been very impressive this year, in stark contrast to the Hondas, and especially the satellite bikes run by teams such as LCR. However, de Puniet and Lucio Cecchinello have a long history, the Frenchman having ridden for Cecchinello in the 250 class back in 2003 and 2004, to great success, winning 4 races and finishing 4th and 3rd in the championship.
De Puniet replaces Carlos Checa, the Spanish veteran who seems to be on the way towards retirement from active racing, despite a revival of his fortunes last year aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Checa has been offered a contract as a test rider with Ducati, but although he has made it clear his main goal is to continue competing, either in MotoGP or in World Superbikes, his future as a test rider is looking more and more likely.
With de Puniet leaving Kawasaki, the field for the final bike at Team Green is starting to narrow. Current favorites are Ant West, who has been very impressive in the few races he has run so far this year, and Kawasaki's prodigal son Shinya Nakano, who has had a miserable time aboard the Konica Minolta Honda ever since leaving Kawasaki. There have also been reports in the Spanish media that Dani Pedrosa is in talks with Kawasaki, but Kawasaki have denied this so far. Kawasaki are due to make an announcement about their rider line up after the next Grand Prix at Misano.