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.
Dani Pedrosa's ill fortune at Sepang continues. His fiery crash at the end of testing on Tuesday resulted in a fractured hand, and is on his way home. As expected, the Repsol Honda rider will miss the remainder of the test in Malaysia, but the situation is looking bleak, as Pedrosa is also highly likely to miss out on the Phillip Island test next week, with the next test at Sepang in the first week of February also looking doubtful.
Sepang has been cruel to Pedrosa over the years, as he injured himself badly there in a practice crash during his rookie season. The excruciating pain from the gaping hole in his leg did not prevent the tough little Spaniard from finishing on the podium, however.
Testing resumed after the long winter layoff for the official test ban, and the so eagerly-awaited first day of testing proved to be a tumultuous and drama-ridden affair. From the start, it was clear that the riders were having a tough first day back at work, with several crashes throughout the day.
Valentino Rossi was the first faller, crashing out around 10 am, having only just gotten started. Rossi later put his fall down to a lack of concentration, a remarkable confession from the Doctor, who appeared at the M1 launch just days previously with a new hair cut and an air of gritty determination. Rossi was lucky to escape comparatively uninjured, as the crash was a fairly nasty highside, as the images from SportsMalaysia.net show:
Rossi was followed into the dirt later in the day by his team mate Jorge Lorenzo, the 250 champion also getting away relatively unscathed. But the big story was Dani Pedrosa's crash at the end of the day. The young Spaniard, who had crashed earlier in the day, fell badly after his 2008 Honda RC212V burst into flames with Pedrosa still aboard, in scenes reminiscent of Colin Edwards bailing from the Aprilia RS3 Cube in 2003. Pedrosa was not as lucky as Edwards, though, the Spanish hope suffering a hand injury, and being taken to a local hospital to be examined for a suspected fracture in his hand. Pedrosa, who had his sights set on conquering the championship this year, is unlikely to take any further part in this week's test, and could be out for several weeks.
As if the events of the day weren't dramatic enough, there was more surprise to come. After Pedrosa had had the fastest time for most of the day, it was the Frenchman Randy de Puniet who ended up topping the timesheets, nearly half a second faster than Pedrosa's fastest time, and 0.7 seconds faster than third fastest man Chris Vermeulen on the Suzuki. De Puniet, who surprised most observers by jumping ship from Kawasaki to join LCR Honda, has clearly settled in well with his new team, helped by being reunited with Lucio Cecchinello, the man he rode for for several years in the 250 class.
World Champion Casey Stoner struggled early in the day with suspected electronic problems, only completing 6 laps by 4 pm. By the time the session completed, Stoner had put in some 36 laps, setting the 5th fastest time behind former team mate Loris Capirossi. Capirossi must be delighted that he left Ducati for Suzuki at the end of last season, as the Suzukis sat in the top 4 times, while the Ducatis, with the honorable exception of Casey Stoner, languished at the bottom of the timesheets, with Marco Melandri once again setting a dismal 18th time.
Testing continues tomorrow, hopefully with less drama than today.
|Pos.||Rider||Bike||Time||Fast Lap||Total Laps|
|1||Randy de Puniet||Honda||2'01.377||65||68|
|14||Alex de Angelis||Honda||2'03.301||47||47|
The seemingly interminable drought of the MotoGP winter test ban is about to come to an end, and masses of die-hard MotoGP fans will draw a collective sigh of relief. For testing resumes at Sepang in Malaysia on Tuesday, with all of the teams slated to attend the 3 day test.
The test will also be the first chance all of the teams get to focus more closely on their 2008 machinery. All of the new bikes should be there, and the teams will be working on getting the bikes up to speed as quickly as possible.
One interesting detail was revealed by the Italian site MotoGrandPrix.it this week: According to Masahiko Nakajima and Lin Jarvis of Yamaha, barring insurmountable reliability problems, the M1 will use pneumatic valves at the first race at Qatar. Nakajima and Jarvis told MotoGrandPrix.it that work on the pneumatic valve engine is complete, and it will be tested alongside the engine using conventional steel springs at Sepang. This will mean that the entire field has abandoned conventional spring valve actuation, with Honda having switched to use pneumatic valves after the end of 2007.
The test also sees several riders returning to full health, and should give a good picture of the relative strengths of the riders. Both Casey Stoner, who suffered a shoulder injury in a crash at the Jerez test, and Valentino Rossi, who broke his hand at the last race of 2007, are fully healed, and raring to get started.
Perhaps the most interesting duel will be to compare the times of Casey Stoner, still as fast as ever, and Dani Pedrosa on the 2008 Honda RC212V. HRC will have built a rocket, to atone for their failures in 2007, and Pedrosa grows stronger with every season. To spice things up further, Valentino Rossi appeared at the launch of the 2008 Yamaha M1 with his head shaven, his former flowing locks cast asunder. The close crop surely signifies that Rossi is determined not to suffer the same fate as in 2006 and 2007, and is as hungry as he has been for several years.
The Sepang test is the first in a series of test leading up to the start of the season. After tests at Phillip Island in Australia, Jerez and Qatar, the season kicks off on March 9th with MotoGP's first ever night race, at the Losail circuit in Qatar.
In the middle of the 2007 season's summer break, MotoGPMatters.com caught up with Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, and talked to him about racing, the tire and engine rules which came in in 2007, and the direction for Suzuki in 2008. With the winter test ban about to end, and the teams getting ready for the 2008 season, it seems like a good time to run the interview with Chris Vermeulen, and whet our appetites for the thrills to come. Take it away, Chris.
You share a background with Casey Stoner and Ant West in dirt track, and you're all here doing very well in MotoGP. What is it about racing dirt track as kids in Australia that makes you all so good?
I don't know, really. Growing up on the dirt gives you a lot of feel for the bike, I find. It gives us a lot of understanding of what's going on underneath us on the Grand Prix bikes, I guess.
Casey Stoner's father Colin says that Casey's such a fast starter thanks to those short dirt track races. You, on the other hand, tend to be slower off the line, but quick once you get into the groove after a lap or two. Is that a legacy of your later experience in Supersport or Superbike?
That should be lap 10 or 20, not lap 1 or 2! No it's got nothing to do with Superbike or dirt track. I guess I just wait, get into a groove, and make sure everything feels fine. I push as hard as I can from the start, but I've got to be comfortable before I can go really quick , I guess.
You say you don't like riding in the rain, but you always go very well when it's wet. Why don't you like racing in the rain?
I don't think anyone likes racing in the rain. It's much more difficult mentally: you have no room for error, and it's very easy to make a mistake. You know, I really enjoy my racing, I do it for fun, and racing in the dry is so much more fun, more speed, more entertaining.
You got your first MotoGP win at Le Mans this season, and have had two podiums. Has the season lived up to your expectations, and were you expecting a win this season?
I didn't really have any expectations. The goal is to try and go out and win every race. Did I expect to win a race this season? Like I said, I didn't really expect anything, I just wanted to do my best. Obviously we just try and win as many races as we can, and the ultimate goal is to be world champion.
What do you think has been the most significant rule change this year, the change in capacity or the changes to the tire rules?
I think the biggest change for the racing has been the change in capacity. I think the bikes should go back to 1000cc and have less electronics, and the racing will be much closer. I think the tire rule has made it difficult in some circumstances, but I don't think that's the biggest difference.
Have the tire rules changed the way you work very much?
It's changed the way we test. We do a lot more tire testing. It's very important because we can't do a lot of it during a race weekend. Other than that, during a race weekend, sometimes you might have to keep a tire in for longer than you would if you had an unlimited quantity, but it hasn't really changed the way we work.
Do you think the tire rules are an improvement, or have they spoiled the competition? Are you using significantly fewer tires this year than last?
The tire rule I don't see it as much different from our point of view, we're not using many fewer tires than we did in 2006. I don't think that rule is the main thing the racing is so spread apart, I think it's more to do with the 800 cc engine.
Did the Suzuki change much between the 990 and 800 bikes? The 990 was already more of a corner speed bike, the 800 just made it more so. Are the two bikes a lot different?
I can't really say about the specific technical differences, but the 800 and the 990 feel very similar to ride. The 800 was a little slower when we first got on it, but yeah, the corner speed did feel higher. As for the difference between the 990 and the 800, development kept going and going on the 990s, and every year they were getting quicker, like the 800 bikes are now. But I think the only difference between the two bikes is you'll see a better rider will shine through on the 990 rather than the 800, with the bike making a difference.
They say that the ideal background for an 800 cc MotoGP bike is the 250 series. You only rode 250s fairly briefly, spending most of your time on Supersport and Superbike machinery. Does that put you at a disadvantage, or did Supersport and Superbike provide any useful lessons which you took with you to the 800 cc MotoGP bikes?
To be honest, I think any rider that can ride any form of road racing bike quickly can be quick on an 800. It's got nothing to do with coming from 250, Superbike or Supersport. Supersport 600 to 800 Grand Prix bikes are very very different, it's hard to compare. Supersport racing it was very important to carry corner speed as we didn't have the horsepower, but so was Superbike, you know, you adapt to whatever bike you're on at the time. And coming from a 250, yes, it's a Grand Prix bike, but still these guys are going to have to adapt to the horsepower of an 800 and it's going to be different as well.
How do you feel about the increasing role of electronics in motorcycle racing, particularly in MotoGP? Does it spoil the show for fans, or is it an inevitable part of prototype racing?
I think we should have less electronics, but that's the way it's going forward. It's prototype racing, and we're developing the bikes further and further all the time. I think at the moment there are a few teams that have a big advantage with electronics and maybe it is spoiling the show for the fans a little bit. I would prefer to race without it but this is Grand Prix racing and that's the way the rules are.
In 2008, you're likely to be the lead rider on the team. Do you have ideas about which direction you want to take the bike? Is it currently developed around John's riding style, or is it flexible enough to suit both of you equally well?
At the moment the bike is not developed around John's riding style. I feel like I've had as much involvement in development as John has, and I feel like Suzuki have already got the direction very well sorted where they want to go. It's great being involved with a factory team from the aspect that I get to put all my development in to improving the bike and hopefully make it suit me and my riding style even more, but I don't think next year's going to be any different to this year.
For many MotoGP fans, especially in countries such as the USA, where motorcycle racing is very much a minority pursuit, the thought of the sport seeing the sort of popularity it enjoys in Spain and Italy is regarded as a kind of idyll to aspire to. But they forget that the flip side of that coin is that such popularity spawns a kind of relentless hunger for news, which in turn generates a vast and entirely unreliable rumor mill, some of which may even turn out to be accurate.
The latest example of this is the rumor in the Italian press that Kawasaki have approached Valentino Rossi, offering The Doctor a 4 year deal worth 72 million Euros. The German motorsports weekly MotorSport Aktuell contacted Kawasaki's Michael Bartholemy for confirmation, but Bartholemy flatly denied it: "I don't know anything about any such offer," the Belgian is quoted as saying.
Although it is almost standard practice for team spokespeople to deny any and all rumors, Bartholemy's denial is extremely plausible. Kawasaki is reportedly paying new signing John Hopkins 2.5 million Euros, and this has just about emptied their war chest. Team Green could only afford it if they managed to secure a very big sponsor indeed.
The moral of the story is, of course, to be careful what you wish for. More coverage for our beloved sport also means more claptrap.
In an interview on the official MotoGP.com website, Claudia Domenicali, CEO of Ducati Corse told reporters what they already knew: that Ducati is most fearful of the new Honda RC212V for the 2008 season. Domenicali made two very obvious and related points: that Honda will want revenge for their miserable performance in 2007, and that HRC have the technological prowess and means to achieve just that. "They can make a mistake once, but it's difficult for them to make a mistake twice," Domencali said.
Former 500cc veteran Randy Mamola backed up much of what Domenicali had to say. Mamola, also present at Ducati's annual press week at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio, had a chance to ride all of the 2007 MotoGP bikes after the final race of the season at Valencia, and had some interesting observations to make, which found a willing audience in Italian site GPOne.com. "Of all the bikes present (at the Valencia postseason test ) the Honda has made the most progress during the season," Mamola said. "It even passed the Ducati down the front straight at the last race." Mamola saw the RC212V's engine as its strong point, after HRC switched from a big bang to a screamer firing order during the season. "Despite the increased power, it still provided plenty of tractability," the American told GPOne.com.
As for the other bikes, Mamola was very complimentary about the Suzuki, saying that it was easy to ride while still developing plenty of power. But the American veteran was damning about the Yamaha: "(it) had several problems, less power and a tendency to wheelie everywhere." Mamola put those problems down to the Yamaha's big bang firing order: "The fact is that this version of the Yamaha ... has too much torque at certain moments." Mamola told GPOne.com that he thought that the screamer configuration was a better solution to the problems of traction for the new generation of 800cc MotoGP bikes.
Whether Mamola is right, and just what Ducati's rivals have come up with to face the 2008 challenge, will be revealed in just under a week's time, when testing resumes in Sepang.