One of the specters currently haunting MotoGP is the question of when the series' biggest audience puller, Valentino Rossi, will retire. After losing the title now for two years in a row, speculation had been mounting that Rossi would leave MotoGP sooner rather than later, possibly as early as the end of the 2008 season.
In a recent interview with the Italian magazine MotoSprint, Rossi put an end to that speculation, claiming that he is likely to stay in MotoGP for another 5 years, which could see The Doctor remaining in MotoGP until 2012. Those 5 years are not definite, however, as Rossi has said in earlier interviews that the age he is likely to retire at is around 31, which would mean 3 more seasons in MotoGP for the 28 year old.
What is certain is that Rossi will race in 2009, "unless I win every race next year", according to MotoSprint. Who Rossi will be racing with is the next area of conjecture, with the Italian's contract with Yamaha due to end after the 2008 season. Rossi has already made veiled threats about leaving Yamaha if the Japanese factory doesn't up its game and regain most of the deficit it conceded to Ducati this year, leading to yet more speculation that The Doctor could end up riding for the Bologna factory in 2009, in a dream marketing matchup for Ducati and for Dorna in their key Italian market. But we shall have to wait until at least mid-season before we learn what Rossi's plans are for 2009. With The Doctor in his current capricious mood, anything could happen.
More details of the MotoSprint story are over on Autosport.com.
On Tuesday, the final MotoGP test of the 2007 season will start at Jerez before the long winter test ban sets in. And the Spanish track will see some of the most significant pieces of the 2008 season puzzle make their debut, and giving MotoGP fans a first taste of what next year is likely to hold.
Probably the most eagerly awaited event is Valentino Rossi's first outing on Bridgestone tires. Rossi already believes he has some idea of what to expect after spending all season watching how the Japanese tires react at close quarters. And being in a position to watch the tires so closely is probably what convinced Rossi to make the switch: after all, if you're ahead of your opponents, you can't see what their tires are doing.
And Rossi's debut on Bridgestones will also see the first outing of the Split Yamaha Garage, with Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo's garages and pit crews carefully shielded from each other, despite the assurances made to Lorenzo before the Spanish prodigy signed for Yamaha. Any notion of learning from The Doctor and sharing data which Lorenzo may have cherished is likely to be comprehensively dismissed from Tuesday.
The other big news is the introduction of what are likely to be 2008's most competitive machines: The Ducati GP8 and Honda's 2008 RC212V. Ducati's brilliant engineer Filippo Preziosi has already discussed some details of the GP8 in an interview with MCN, revealing that Ducati's main targets now focus on achieving greater rideability, and a more user-friendly throttle response for the rider. Of particular note is Preziosi's contention that little more power can be squeezed out of the combination of 800cc engines and 21 liters of fuel, forcing engineers to explore other avenues for improving the new bikes. Just what Ducati have achieved in this area will be for world champion Casey Stoner to display over the next three days.
But let us not forget Honda. Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden will continue their work on the 2008 RC212V, Pedrosa returning to testing after choosing to sit out the Sepang tests once it became clear that significant upgrades to the bike would not be available in Malaysia. With the Spaniard back in action, the bike should have some serious changes as well.
The Yamaha, on the other hand, will not be much changed from its final 2007 incarnation. The version being tested at Jerez will be an improved version of the bike which Valentino Rossi raced at the final round at Valencia earlier this month. Rossi has had his demand that the head of Yamaha's MotoGP project, Masao Furosawa become more closely involved with the project, with the Japanese boss also due to put in an appearance during the Jerez test. It seems a fair bet that Yamaha's racing division will be a very busy place over the winter break.
The Jerez test should give a fair idea of just how much progress is being made, with 14 of the 19 riders likely to contend the 2008 series present in Spain. The major absentees will be Rizla Suzuki, who are waiting for major upgrades to the GSV-R, Pramac d'Antin Ducati, and Team KR, who are still waiting for a sponsorship deal to be finalized before making an announcement on their plans for next year.
As for what to look out for, the times set at the IRTA test in February and at the race in March are all around the high 1'40 to low 1'41 mark on race rubber, with times in the mid-1'39s on qualifying rubber, in conditions only slightly warmer than are likely over the next few days. But all eyes will be on Valentino Rossi, and how he is faring on the Bridgestone tires he raised such a ruckus to get. By the time the test ends on Thursday, Rossi should be running competitive times. But the key comparison will be with Colin Edwards. The Texan will be on similar machinery on Michelin tires. Rossi's target must be to be setting times which are within spitting distance of Edwards lap times, and are preferably faster. Coming back from a broken hand, and on brand new rubber, that could be a big ask.
The MTV show about Nicky Hayden's 2006 and 2007 season, The Kentucky Kid, generated a lot of interest throughout the world, but so far, viewers outside the US were out of luck. Now, MTV have put the show on their website, so that international viewers can see it as well.
Special thanks to regular reader Synnae for bringing that to our attention. Synnae also writes that the online feed only seems to work for continental Europe and Australia, but won't work for Canada, the UK and Ireland.
This will likely appear to be a paid commercial for a video game. Sorry for that, but I assure you, it isn't. Rather, I beg your indulgence to consider one of the best ways to keep your mind racing while the sport is on its long hiatus. As I sit to write this, the game is at least a year-and-a-half old, and it was probably considered outdated when I started playing it just under a year ago. I insist that you trust me: this is much more than simply a video game with which you can avoid reality and otherwise escape being productive.
Tourist Trophy was a product developed, in conjunction with the last generation of Gran Turismo for the PlayStation 2 platform. GT4, like its predecessors, was the best vehicle dynamics simulation available (prior to PS3 and GT5) without a race team contract or a manufacturer's super-computer. This point alone, could be labored over for an entire column, and certainly has been elsewhere, so I will not do that here. Suffice to say, Tourist Trophy picks up in the GT4 world with a physical model for motorcycles that hasn't existed anywhere in the public. Said another way: to be any good at this, you must actually know how to ride and race at a rather cerebral level.
If you are already familiar with Gran Turismo, then I don't have to sell you any more than this. Better yet, if you are familiar with GT4, then you are already prepared for much of the circuits you will see in Tourist Trophy. And, if you are already a veteran - or even a novice - of TT, please read on and consider if there isn't more to do.
In the simplest of overviews, you begin the game with choices of "Arcade Mode", which I have never tried, and "Simulation Mode". Simulation Mode gives you choices of a "Garage" to choose a bike to ride or race and look more closely at settings for your bike and rider, a virtual rider's wardrobe, "Challenge" races where you try to win more bikes to race, racing series for competition against computerized opponents, and a "Photo Lab" where you can create surprisingly interesting JPEGs for populating your screensaver or sharing with friends or posting on a Web board, and studying just how much detail was put into the artwork of this game.
How does this enhance your viewing of the MotoGP races when they start next Spring? To advance in this game, it seems to me, you have to have, or acquire, some fundamental understandings of motorcycles and Physics. I brought with me a considerable number of hours playing GT4 and am a road rider who has been to racing school. It took me a painfully long time to adjust my mind to the concept of controlling a motorcycle with a game controller. This is much less difficult in an auto racing simulation, since steering wheel controls abound and are easily adapted to. Since they did not develop this game with a handle-bar controller, I grudgingly logged countless hours just trying to incorporate the basics into my instincts while struggling to pass the licensing tests which allow advancement in the game and the acquisition of better equipment. As tiresome and seemingly fruitless as this appears while going through it, it is a necessary and rewarding foundation.
Once you begin to develop competence with the game, pass license tests, acquire better equipment, and win races, you begin to grasp what kind of mental discipline it would take to be really great in this sport (to say nothing of the physical demands and talent requirements). You can begin to feel what it might be like when Rossi says "...after a few laps, I take my reethym and have good pace...". If you have any musical inclinations, you can begin to feel like each circuit has a song and each lap is a verse; that straight-aways build to a certain exact pitch and then drop and sustain, or build again through corners, and each track has its own precise melody. With longer races, you need to consider taking care of your tires and make adjustments to that rhythm accordingly. You can imagine what Stoner feels like to back off just a bit too much and make mistakes almost as costly as those from being over-aggressive. You can realize that once you have the "song" right for your feel of a certain bike on a certain track, relatively small departures can be disastrous.
Naturally, some corners are more forgiving than others, and this provides you the other great insight into the beauty of motorcycle racing: multiple racing lines. In great contrast to automobile racing, where a car often uses up all the physical space in a corner, motorcycles use considerably less, so racing circuits can often "feel" much bigger. This opens up a rich palette for artistic interpretations of a corner that can be tailored for your preferences, the behavior of the bike you're riding, and the activities of a virtual competitor that needs to be passed.
As you progress further in the game, you arrive at the "Racing Modified" versions of bikes you've already seen, or even pure race-bred machines like the TZ250. Once on machines like these, another more intellectual set of features in the game opens up: suspension settings and gearing, among other things. In real-life racing, this is where the communication between rider and engineer is so important. Trying both aspects of this on your own should help appreciate just what must be going on in the pit garages during testing and practice. You may also be able to appreciate how a setup just right for one rider may be torture for another.
Amidst all this, you will eventually be riding around highly accurate renditions of 3 of the circuits currently on the MotoGP schedule, plus a couple from the recent past, and a couple more that figure prominently in auto racing. Spending time on these circuits pays invaluable rewards when you watch the on-bike shots during real race broadcasts. You will find that you already have an instinctive feel for what comes next on the track and how well the rider is going. You develop a feel for just how demanding Laguna and Suzuka are, and how insufferable Motegi is. You can instantly relate to riders' comments about Valencia being almost all 2nd and 3rd gear corners, and get a sense of just how other-worldly the last corner must be. Of course, there are other games that would offer this particular insight for all the circuits in the series, but none are this realistic.
As I began playing this game, while grappling with learning the controls, I was completely intimidated by the prospect of going up against the likes of a Ducati 999 and being embarrassed by a series of programmed electrons. Later I began to toll for hours just to gain another .002 seconds in a license test so that I could get past "Silver" and qualify for the "Gold" status. Eventually, I arrived at the point where I simply could not lose to the computerized opponents without making a tragic mistake of my own. My latest experiments have me racing in the superbike series events with the slowest bike I think I can win with. (Individual races are one thing, a whole points series is quite another!) All the while, I spend countless hours pouring over virtual still shots the game offers after each race; looking at whether the bike and rider look right in each corner, and saving my favorites to populate my screensaver.
So, if you don't already have a PlayStation 2 and the TT game, and if you have the discretionary income and - more importantly - the time for a new addiction, I implore you to make the investment. If you want to advance to the "next level" of being a fan of motorcycle racing, buy Tourist Trophy. Since this game is not new, it can be had at a very reasonable price. And, while you're logging countless hours in front of your television playing a game, you will not be out spending money on other, more expensive things.
Why write this article? First, for all the reasons listed above. Second, to offer a little insight into me and the kinds of perspectives I will share. Third, seriously, 5 months is a long time to wait and only daydream about the greatest sport on Earth. And Fourth, I'm wondering - if not hoping - if there's enough interest to even start a a thread in the Forum where we can discuss things like best lap times on each track, strategies for setups, and sharing the wildest pictures. But even if not, I still hope that I've planted some seeds to ponder over the dark, quiet months of Winter.
Over the past couple of months, we have had a little help from guest writers. First, Mike did a fantastic job filling in for me while I was away on vacation, and later, The Duke from Rumblestrip Radio sent us an excellent article on the single tire situation. And now, another writer will be contributing to MotoGPMatters.
He will be writing under the pseudonym Rusty Bucket, and I first started corresponding with him over a year ago. His e-mails to me have always been thoughtful and interesting, and offer fresh perspectives on things that I have missed, or just plain got wrong. As a consequence, I asked him if he would like to write for the site, and he has kindly agreed. His first piece is a discussion of the Tourist Trophy game, and how it helps him understand MotoGP, while later on, Rusty will be examining the Musco lighting company, the company responsible for the floodlights at MotoGP's first night race in Qatar. I hope you enjoy his contributions, I know I will.
As a prelude to the screening of The Kentucky Kid, the MTV show following his 2006 and 2007 seasons, Nicky Hayden is due to make an appearance on MTV's TRL on Wednesday to talk about the show. TRL is a video request show featuring interviews with people making the news on MTV. You can catch TRL on MTV in the US at 3:30pm Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, November 14th, and watch The Kentucky Kid, the documentary about Hayden, on Friday November 16th.
We fervently hope the show will be a hit, as major exposure for MotoGP and motorcycle racing can help to bring in more fans, and consequently more money and more coverage, across the US.
When Dorna first announced that the opening round of the 2008 MotoGP season in Qatar was to be run at night, they were met with a great deal of skepticism. The fear was that the race would be too dangerous, with riders either being blinded by the floodlights, or else not being able to see the track well enough to race safely. To allay those fears, Dorna and the FIM, together with the MotoGP Riders Safety Commission, agreed to organize a test under night conditions at Qatar once the floodlighting had been completed.
That test has now been completed, and the verdict is unanimously positive. Loris Capirossi, Ant West, James Toseland, Marco Melandri and Alex de Angelis, representing each of the manufacturers, ran several laps of the track on roadgoing supersports bikes, concentrating on the first section of track for which the floodlighting has already been completed by the American company Musco Lighting. All of the riders were very impressed by the floodlighting, and happy to give their approval, meaning that the Qatar race will be the first World Championship motorsports event to be run at night when the season opens on March 9th.
The TV schedules have been posted on MTV's website for Friday, November 16th, and the Hayden real life show, The Kentucky Kid, will be screened at 10pm Eastern Standard Time, and repeated a few hours later at 2am on Saturday, November 17th Eastern Standard Time. If you were intending to watch it, then better set your VCR / DVR / TiVo to record. If you want to a taster of the show, then check out the trailer for The Kentucky Kid.
Reports emerged from Australia yesterday that the Phillip Island circuit has become a possible future venue for the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix. The option was mooted by Andrew Fox, managing director of the Linfox Property Group, the circuit's owners. Linfox are already planning an 18 hole golf course and a 5 star hotel at the facility, and are trying to lure Australian Formula One Grand Prix to the circuit, which is currently run on a street circuit around Albert Park in Melbourne.
Fox suggested the move in an interview with a chain of Australian newspapers, after complaints in Victoria, the Australian state of which Melbourne is the capital, that the current street course in Albert Park cost local taxpayers some AUS $35,000,000 to stage. He told News Ltd that all it would take is for Ron Walker, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, to pick up the phone and make the call. If a 10 year deal could be reached, then Fox could see no problem making the investment required. The deal to host the Formula One Grand Prix could start in 2011, after the current contract with the Melbourne street circuit runs out.
The prospect of a Formula One race at Phillip Island will make motorcycle racing fans shudder in horror. The most worrying part of the plan is Fox's statements that they would "have a lot of work that would be required to make it an F1 standard." In the past, changes made to race tracks to make them suitable for Formula One races have completely ruined them for motorcycle racing, as the two disciplines have completely different requirements. Where motorcycles favor fast, flowing layouts with linked combinations of turns, Formula One requires long straights and tight corners, to allow the cars to overtake in the braking sections. Phillip Island is one of the last old-fashioned road courses left in the world, consisting mostly of fast, flowing corners which play to the strengths of great riders, and makes for spectacular racing. If the track layout had to change, much of the charm and character of the track would disappear, jeopardizing the future of motorcycle racing there.
At the moment, though, all this is speculation. Victoria Premier John Brumby told reporters that the authorities are not looking to move the race at the moment, so there is no guarantee that the race will move to Phillip Island at some stage. Brumby is due to sit down with the owners of Formula One early next year, to discuss the future of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix once the current contract expires. Only after those negotiations are completed will we get a clear picture as to whether changes will be made to Phillip Island, and what such changes might entail.