There had already been plenty of speculation, but now there's yet more confirmation: Ben Spies is getting ready to make the switch to MotoGP. On Thursday, he told Roadracing World that he'll be racing both US MotoGP rounds, at both Indianapolis and Laguna Seca. He also told Roadracing World that he hopes to have two tests lined up on the Suzuki GSV-R MotoGP bike before the races. This would allow Spies to arrive at the races reasonably well-prepared, and given that Laguna Seca is one of Spies' favorite tracks, and a track he is nigh on unbeatable at, it raises hopes that Spies could actually be competitive there.
Spies has a contract with Yoshimura Suzuki until the end of 2008, and plans to move to MotoGP in 2009, reportedly in a team to be run by Spies' friend and mentor Kevin Schwantz. But as he told Roadracing World, "nothing's signed yet."
Once upon a time, it was pretty easy to see who the fast guys were and who the slow guys were. The fast guys all had low numbers, taking the numbers allotted to them by virtue of the championship performances in the previous year, while the guys with the high numbers were privateers, or rookies, or people heading towards the tail end of their careers. Then, after a young British champion insisted on using his lucky number instead of the #1 plate he had earned by winning a title, riders, teams and sponsors saw the power of marketing, and numbers became a part of a rider's identity.
Since then, riders have increasingly held on to a single number to use, regardless of their performance the previous season, and the grid was awash with increasingly individual, and increasingly illegible, stylized number plates, with the number becoming the brand. As a consequence, we now all know that #3 is Max Biaggi, #33 is Marco Melandri, #100 is Neil Hodgson, #15 is Sete Gibernau, and #21 is John Hopkins (or Troy Bayliss, depending on the series we're watching).
This trend reached its pinnacle with Valentino Rossi, with the 5-time world champion from Tavullia stubbornly refusing to take the #1 plate, and keeping hold of his beloved #46. Such is Rossi's superstition, and his shrewd sense for personal marketing, that all around the world, #46 is instantly associated with Rossi's name, by both fans and non-fans alike. The cult of 46 goes so far that even other riders using the same number, such as Graves Yamaha's Josh Herrin in AMA Supersport, self-consciously style the numerals and their leathers to match Valentino Rossi's.
But now, something remarkable seems to be happening. It started last year, after Nicky Hayden dropped #69, the number he'd been using for many years, to wear the #1 plate after becoming world champion. And this tradition continued into this year, with Hayden's successor, Casey Stoner, also electing to drop his usual #27 in favor of the #1 plate. But Stoner wasn't the only one: Chris Vermeulen also announced that he would be abandoning the number 71 which he had used for the last 2 years in MotoGP, in favor of the number 7, a number he'd wanted to race with for a very long time, in honor of the man who started this whole trend off back in the 1970s.
So the news that Dani Pedrosa has announced that he will be dropping his #26 plate in favor of the #2, which he earned the rights to by finishing 2nd in the MotoGP series last year, is perhaps less surprising than we might expect. And yet it remains an unusual move to make: there is a lot of pressure from teams and sponsors for riders to take the #1 plate, as it makes for such magical marketing material, but the same cannot be said for the number 2. What's more, Pedrosa is sacrificing a lot of branding built up over the years he spent coming up through the 125 and 250 classes, before reaching the pinnacle of motorcycle racing in MotoGP.
So why is he doing this? There are two explanations, both of them psychological, one for internal consumption, and one for external consumption. The external reason is perhaps the easiest to expound: By taking the #2 plate, Dani Pedrosa is rubbing Valentino Rossi's nose in the fact that he beat the Italian into 3rd place in the championship in 2007. Pedrosa, who has been at the receiving end of Rossi's mind games, particularly during his rookie season in 2006, and serving The Doctor up a dose of his own medicine. Every time he passes Rossi, he wants Rossi to be reminded of the fact that Pedrosa beat him, and can beat him again.
The internal reason is slightly more complex, and perhaps darker. 2007 was supposed to be Dani Pedrosa's year. He'd spent a year learning the bikes, and the tracks, and being the top Honda rider after a rules change, was generally regarded, and regarded himself, as the heir apparent, and the man who would bring the MotoGP title back to Spain. The pressure in the Spanish media was unbelievably intense, and Pedrosa's every move was watched, scrutinized, and criticized extensively. Pedrosa was under as much pressure from the media as the front runner in a US presidential race, and no room left for maneuver. So for Pedrosa to fail in 2007 was a disaster, for himself, and for Spain. And it wasn't even Pedrosa's fault: HRC made a dog's breakfast of the 800cc RC212V, and only managed to make the bike competitive as the season approached its close.
Now, Dani Pedrosa is taking the #2 plate as a form of castigation, of self-flagellation, to remind him that he failed last year, and to ensure that he will not fail in 2008. Like Valentino Rossi's stark, military haircut, Dani Pedrosa taking #2 is a sign that the playing is over. Pedrosa means business, and if you thought Dani Pedrosa was good last year, this year he is going to be even better.
The final day of testing at Sepang saw an already depleted field thin out even more, with Nicky Hayden electing to head for home yesterday. That left only the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo and the Gresini Hondas of Shinya Nakano and Alex de Angelis running laps, with the Kawasaki and Yamaha test teams making up the numbers.
Rossi spent much of the day concentrating on long runs on race tires, which produced evidence of significant progress in the Yamaha garage. The Italian site GPOne.com has an interesting comparison of the times set by Rossi and Casey Stoner at this test and the previous test at Sepang. For the sake of readability, I have reproduced them here:
Rossi's fastest lap of 2'01.190 led the timesheets for much of the day, until Jorge Lorenzo started to test qualifying tires, the Spanish rookie quickly getting up to speed on soft rubber and coming within a tenth of a second of the existing pole record. On race tires, however, the 250 world champion was doing less well, only occasionally dipping into the 2'02 bracket.
The Gresini Honda men finished the test behind Rossi, still some way off the pace, with Shinya Nakano once again beating his rookie team mate Alex de Angelis.
Of the test teams, it was Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque who managed the most impressive times, taking half a second off his fastest time on Thursday, and getting within spitting distance of genuine race pace. The remaining riders were at least 2 seconds off the pace, with Yamaha's test riders significantly slower than the Kawasakis.
Testing resumes in just over a week's time, with the official IRTA test at Jerez. All of the teams will be present at that test, which will include the official qualifying session, where the fastest rider will win a BMW sports car. That qualifying session will be broadcast live on TV channels in some parts of the world, especially in Europe. Check your local listings for more details.
|Pos.||Rider||Bike||Time||Fast Lap||Total Laps|
|4.||Alex de Angelis||Honda||2'02.193||12||20|
|7.||Yamaha Test Team P||Yamaha||2'06.000||26||27|
|8.||Yamaha Test Team T||Yamaha||2'06.040||28||44|
On the second day of testing at Sepang, it was once again Valentino Rossi who was fastest, dipping below the official pole record for the second day running, although not as fast as the time he set yesterday. Rossi was also fast on race tires, dipping into the 2'01 bracket for 19 of the 70 laps he put in today.
Until Rossi set his fast flying lap, it was Nicky Hayden who had his name at the top of the timesheets, trying out some qualifiers earlier in the day, recording a fastest time of 2'00.900. Hayden was his usual hard-working self, racking up a total of over 300 miles riding at full intensity. His times on race tires were less encouraging, running in the high 2'02 bracket for the most part.
Shinya Nakano was the fastest of the rest aboard the Gresini Honda, ahead of Rossi's team mate Jorge Lorenzo and Nakano's own team mate Alex de Angelis. The test teams followed at some distance, with only Olivier Jacque getting close to the race riders teams.
The three-day test at Sepang concludes tomorrow.
|Pos.||Rider||Bike||Time||Fast Lap||Total Laps|
|5.||Alex de Angelis||Honda||2'02.646||54||57|
|7.||Yamaha Test Team T||Yamaha||2'05.647||41||65|
|9.||Yamaha Test Team P||Yamaha||2'06.244||52||53|
Testing resumed at Sepang today with a much-depleted field, with only the Fiat Yamaha team and the Gresini and Repsol Honda teams testing, along with test teams from Yamaha and Kawasaki. Honda was further restricted by the temporary absence of Dani Pedrosa, currently recovering from a broken hand in Spain, and forced to leave the development work of the 2008 RC212V to Nicky Hayden, a fact Pedrosa has been complaining bitterly about. After all, the last time Nicky Hayden developed a bike, it won a championship.
In the morning, it was the young Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo who was fastest, but the rivalry in the Fiat Yamaha garage meant that this result was unlikely to stand for long. By the end of the day, Valentino Rossi had smashed his own circuit pole record by 3/10ths of a second, edging close to the magic 2 minute barrier at the Malaysian track. Even on race tires, The Doctor was flying, setting a sequence of laps under the 2'02 mark.
Nicky Hayden was also quick, setting his fastest time on race tires, under the existing race lap record. Shinya Nakano edged out Jorge Lorenzo at the end of the session, slashing a second off his fastest time until that point. Alex de Angelis, the only other MotoGP starter testing, was the slowest of the regulars, finishing ahead of the testers, but 3/4 of a second behind Lorenzo.
Testing continues tomorrow, and will end on Thursday.
|Pos.||Rider||Bike||Time||Fast Lap||Total Laps|
|5.||Alex de Angelis||Honda||2'03.231||33||41|
|7.||Yamaha Test Team||Yamaha||2'06.356||65||66|
|9.||Yamaha Test Team||Yamaha||2'07.319||32||58|
The Yamaha test team consists of Japanese superbike riders Wataru Yoshikawa and Norihiko Fujiwara.
Any hope John Hopkins may have had of getting his 2008 season off to a better start than in 2007 were dashed today, after Hopper crashed in damp conditions during the second day of testing in Phillip Island. The American Kawasaki rider suffered a torn abductor muscle in his groin, after a highside at turn one flicked him off the bike.
The only consolation for Hopper is that the injury, while painful, is less serious than the broken hand he suffered testing at Qatar prior to the 2007 season. Hopkins was scheduled to fly back to California as soon as possible, to receive treatment from the renowned sports physiologist Dr Ting.
Hopkins will hope to return to testing at the official IRTA test at Jerez in mid-February.
In a boost to the profile of MotoGP in Australia, Casey Stoner won the Young Australian of the Year award for 2008. Stoner's award was announced at a special ceremony in Canberra, Australia, part of celebrations for Australia Day, the country's national holiday. The awards were presented by Australia's newly-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Stoner edged out Australian teenager Daniel Adams, who organized Australia's first Make Poverty History day.
The operation on Dani Pedrosa's hand has left him in a bit of a quandary. With an injury which would keep ordinary mortals away from motorcycles for at least six week, Pedrosa has been told by his doctors that he could be back riding within 3 weeks, which would be just in time for the official IRTA test at Jerez from February 14th. That, however, is a risk: If his hand isn't healed properly, then riding early could aggravate the injury, endangering the start of his season. On the other hand, if he waits until the test at Qatar the end of February, that would leave him just those two days of testing to develop and prepare his 2008 Honda RC212V before the start of the season.
So far, the Spanish triple world champion seems to be erring on the side of caution. At a press conference in Barcelona, Pedrosa told journalists "for now, my priority is to work on recovering (from the injury) quickly." He was reticent his plans for returning to testing: "we'll see over the next few days whether we can attend particular tests or not".
In the summer of 2007, John Hopkins made two separate, but unrelated announcements: That he was leaving Red Bull, and would be sponsored by Monster Energy; and that he was leaving Suzuki, and would be joining Kawasaki. Almost immediately the second announcement was made, MotoGP followers put two and two together, and speculation was rife that Monster Energy (whose corporate colors are black and green) would be sponsoring the Kawasaki MotoGP racing team (whose corporate colors are green, with some black) for the 2008 season. Of course, Kawasaki refused to comment on such speculation.
Until now. Today, Kawasaki announced that MotoGP followers had correctly surmised that two and two equals four, and that the Kawasaki MotoGP team will be sponsored by Monster Energy for the '08 and '09 seasons. The deal is for two years, with an option for becoming a title sponsor in 2009.
A major non motorcycle-related sponsor entering the championship must raise hopes for other teams. So far, Gresini Honda is still without a title sponsor, and Team KR has been forced to withdraw from the MotoGP series while waiting to finalize a major deal with a Las Vegas casino and resort company. MotoGP desperately needs new cash, and this is a start.
The resumption of MotoGP testing brings welcome relief to fans starved of news over the long winter break, but it usually causes more questions than answers. For although the fans finally have some times to pore over and speculate about, the published times are usually just for a single lap for each rider, with no indication of whether the times were set on race or qualifying tires, with a full or nearly empty tank, with the bike in race trim or not. Genuinely useful times, which include long sequences of laps are hard to come by, and like all rare commodities, highly prized.
Fortunately for MotoGP fans, sites like the Italian stalwart GPOne.com manage on occasion to lay their hands on more detailed timesheets. As they have today: GPOne has a comparison between long runs by Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. Rossi's 21 lap run was done with the new Yamaha M1 engine with pneumatic valves, running 2'02 second laps consistently, with a couple inside the 2'01 bracket, which is well inside the existing race lap record. But as impressive as those times were, they pale in comparison to Stoner's long run: the Australian managed to run 7 of 8 laps in the 2'01s on his Ducati GP8, with just a single slower lap in between.
The tentative conclusion of these times must be that once again, Casey Stoner is going to be the man to beat. But looking at The Doctor's times, he is getting closer every outing, as he gains more experience with the Bridgestones and the Yamaha improves.