The approaching demise of the 250cc class has claimed its first victim. With the two cylinder two stroke formula to be replaced by a 600cc four stroke class in 2011, KTM has decided to withdraw from the 250cc class from 2009.
Both KTM and Aprilia had voiced their deep opposition to the proposed rule changes, made in an effort to reduce costs in the 250 class. And now, KTM have turned their words into deeds, citing the fact that there is no future for the class as a reason to withdraw from 250s and concentrate their efforts in the 125 class, which is not expected to see major rule changes for the foreseeable future.
In the press release announcing the move, Winfried Kerschhaggl, head of KTM Racing said "We have decided for the GP 125 cc class because contrary to the 250 cc class, its existence is secured in the medium to long term." KTM's withdrawal will leave Aprilia as the only major manufacturer still active in the class, Marco Simoncelli's Gilera being basically just a rebadged Aprila RSA 250.
There may have been other motives behind KTM's withdrawal as well. 2008 was to be the year that KTM finally secured the world title they have been chasing in the series since they entered in 2005. Everything was in place: the bike had proven to be a race winner; Mika Kallio was in his second year in the class, and ready to challenge for the title; and Kallio would be assisted by Japanese veteran Hiro Aoyama, who had already shown himself capable of winning races and getting podiums, and could assist Kallio in taking points from his rivals.
But circumstances intervened. Some bad luck, an improved Aprilia and Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista pushing each other to greater heights in pursuit of the title left Kallio just short of the title. KTM's bosses had previously been heard muttering that the lack of return on investment from their 250 project, and the imminent demise of the class will have forced a decision.
KTM will now focus on the 125cc class. The team will field the tiny and talented Spanish youngster Marc Marquez alongside American rider Cameron Beaubier, a graduate of the MotoGP Academy program, who has shone in the Spanish 125 championships this year.
The rumblings continue over Jorge Aspar Martinez' MotoGP project, to field a third Kawasaki for the 2009 season. Although the deal for the bike is already done, arguments are still going on between Aspar and Kawasaki over who is to ride for the team.
Martinez has already made clear that his sponsors want to see a Spanish rider on the bike, and he underlined this point again this week in an interview with the Spanish press, saying bluntly "Our sponsor will only accept a non-Spanish rider if they are a proven winner."
Without sponsors, entry into MotoGP is difficult. "The costs of running in MotoGP are high, " Martinez said. "Without doubt, we will need Spanish sponsors, and their priority is having a Spanish rider."
Without Spanish sponsors, the team will need Kawasaki to make a considerable contribution towards funding the team. "If (the rider) is Nakano, the project can still go ahead if Japan can pay around 50%. They insist that they would really like to see him as a rider, and we are insisting that if the rider is to be Nakano, they will have to pay."
In an effort to change the Japanese factory's mind, Martinez has been emphasizing the potential of his rider of choice, Alex Debon. Debon has already shown his skills at developing a bike by helping develop this year's Aprilia RSA 250, and winning two races this year, and Martinez believes Debon can bring a lot to the factory. "One of the things I have tried to convince the Japanese of is that Debon could help them a lot. The other two riders, Marco Melandri and John Hopkins, are very fast, but in terms of providing technical help, they fall a long way short of Debon."
Though the project still looks certain to go ahead, the argument about the rider for the third Kawasaki ZXRR - and indirectly, about the funding of the project - look set to continue.
Colin Edwards' season started with a bang, starting on the front row of the grid, and kept on improving, bagging the Texan two podiums at Le Mans and Assen. But almost by magic, once Edwards had signed his new contract, his results took a nosedive, his best finish a 7th place at Motegi.
This performance, much remarked upon by MotoGP fans all around the world, has not escaped the notice of the bosses of Yamaha's racing division either. Various sources are reporting that Colin Edwards has been brought in and given a stiff talking to by Yamaha's bosses, and told that if his results don't improve, he could find himself riding an R1 rather than an M1. If Edwards' doesn't get his act together, Yamaha may decide to swap one Texan for another, pushing Edwards into World Superbikes, and bringing Ben Spies, already signed to race for Yamaha Motor Italia in World Superbikes, up into MotoGP to ride alongside British superstar James Toseland.
Though the move may be a little harsh, there is plenty of reason to believe this could actually take place. With Michelin now out of MotoGP, Edwards' role as a test rider for the French tire company has disappeared, and his long experience with the Michelins is no longer a reason to keep the Texan in MotoGP. What's more, with all of the Yamahas in MotoGP now on the same tires, and Jorge Lorenzo and James Toseland both heading into their second year in the series, development can be shared out between four riders, rather than leaning heavily on Edwards for data from the Michelins.
And Edwards' long years of experience testing may well be more useful in World Superbikes than in MotoGP. The World Superbike team currently has Ben Spies and Tom Sykes signed, two class rookies, neither of whom has much familiarity with the tracks to be used, in addition to fielding a brand new motorcycle with a revised 'long bang' firing order. There's a lot of development work to be done, and at least one experienced hand on the team may help speed the process along. So Edwards has a few more worrying days ahead of him before he will be sure where he'll be riding next year.
The first day of the new MotoGP season traditionally starts on the day after the last day of the current season. On the Monday after the final MotoGP race at Valencia, testing begins for the new season, with new machinery being rolled out, and old riders wandering around looking strange and slightly uncomfortable in different colored leathers. Once the journalists leave the track on Monday afternoon, testing starts in earnest, and continues until evening falls on Wednesday.
It won't quite be happening like that this year, however. For a start, the teams have finally managed to put up a collective front against the horde of journos who come to wobble around the Valencia track, and will be severely limiting the number of motorcycle scribes who will get to lap the circuit. But the other development is a good deal more worrying. Bridgestone has already told the teams that it will not have sufficient tires for all of the teams to test at the Valencia test for the full three days, according to MotoGP veteran reporter and Motocourse stalwart Michael Scott in the free online magazine GPWeek.
This poses a fairly significant problem for both teams and riders. Firstly, everyone swapping to a new bike - including Nicky Hayden, Marco Melandri, Yuki Takahashi, and the Alice Ducati team - will want to get as many miles under their belts on their new mounts as possible. Then there's the pile of new parts and bikes waiting to be tested, including the carbon-fiber framed Ducati GP9, which Casey Stoner is putting off having surgery to test. And last but very much not least there are the former Michelin riders keen to get as many laps as possible on the new rubber to collect data for the teams to digest over the winter.
The problem is mostly one of timing, with the decision to go to a single tire manufacturer taken less than a month ago, and followed hot on the heels by the tender process and the contract award. And even though it was blindingly obvious the contract was going to go to Bridgestone, the official announcement is only due to be made at Sepang, just one week before the Valencia test is due to take place.
Just to make a complicated situation even more difficult, Bridgestone has already announced they will be restricting the numbers of tires available to the teams next year. How close these tires are to the current rubber supplied by Bridgestone is as yet unknown, but as Bridgestone will only be producing three or so different tire types, any testing done on the current tires is not likely to be helpful.
The decision will be hardest on Casey Stoner. Stoner has already postponed a vital operation on his left scaphoid so he could test the new Ducati GP9. Stoner is expected to lose 8-12 weeks recovering after the operation, and so any reduction in testing time will leave Stoner much further behind the curve than he would have hoped.
Guido is dead. News that a dog has died does not generally make it onto the front page of websites about motorcycle racing, but as with every rule, there's always an exception. And in motorcycle racing, exceptions to the rule generally mean that Valentino Rossi is involved somehow.
The reason that Guido's death is garnering so much attention - even meriting a mention in Italy's most prestigious sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport - is that Guido is Valentino Rossi's dog.
But Guido was more than just a pet. The white bulldog was also Valentino Rossi's mascot, appearing on Rossi's helmet and his bike, as much lucky charm as household pet. Indeed, such was Rossi's attachment to the dog that Guido even starred in Quarantasei, a graphic novel produced by Milo Manara containing a fictional account of Valentino Rossi's adventures and eventual triumph in motorcycle racing. It must be said that Guido was very much the co-star of the book, the star of the show being Rossi's M1 motorcycle.
So, it is a sad day for Valentino Rossi, and our thoughts, and most likely the thoughts of thousands of Rossi fans around the world, go out to the Italian superstar. May Guido spend the rest of eternity chasing rabbits across the Elysian Fields.
Photo: Scott Jones, Turn2Photography
Unlike Laguna Seca, where we were fortunate enough to have sent Scott Jones to represent MotoGPMatters.com officially and provide us with some spectacular images, at Indianapolis, we were unable to arrange a press pass.
Luckily, there are other ways of obtaining photos from Indianapolis. Jules Cisek, whose work we have featured previously on MotoGPMatters.com, attended Indianapolis with an ordinary general admission ticket, and still manage to shoot some fabulous shots. Here's a selection:
Friday, in the rain
The strokers were back in the USA. Scott Redding shows everyone how to ride a 125 in the pouring rain.
Mike di Meglio didn't need that many lessons.
Hugo van den Berg, paddock giant.
The Champ, in The Wet
Scott Redding and Kris Turner, full pelt
Steve Bonsey. Ready.
"So then, she turned around and said ..."
The ritual worked this time.
Dean, on it.
I don't think we're in Kansas any more.
This man doesn't do slow.
Ben Spies carefully conserves his tires.
Which way next?
Saturday, and it dries out
Pablo Nieto, Lost In Space
Nicky Hayden, going fast and turning left
Randy de Puniet, warming up for the Indy Mile
Spies and Guintoli get ready to go
Because sometimes, the track just isn't wide enough
Those Crazy Stroker Kids
Marco Simoncelli, Human Broccoli
Vermeulen hates it when it rains.
That's why they call it a "wheelstand"
Bautista leads the charge in Warmup
Racing crouch, Bradley style
This was not the result Talmasci was looking for
Two tornadoes blew into Indy from Texas on Sunday
Nicky Hayden's Honda doing its best Colts impersonation
Battle is joined
Start your engines!
Scene of the crime
The Real Stars
JB, Moto Genius
Jim Allen, rubber genius
Toby Moody, commentating genius
Kevin Cameron, genius wordsmith
The people who made this event possible
And the people who don't get paid enough.
See the rest of Jules' great photographs over on his website.
It was universally acknowledged that you were unlikely to find a happy, family atmosphere in the Repsol Honda garage. But just how bad things were is only now starting to appear, as the end of a long and unhappy marriage looms at the end of three years. For now, the partners involved are starting to speak out.
Nicky Hayden has been the most reticent of the two sides of the garage so far, refusing to criticize Honda for their treatment of him since he won them their last world title. But in a recent interview with the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, Hayden spoke out about what he believed was a fundamental flaw in the Repsol Honda setup.
Hayden felt that the team wasn't functioning as a team, with each side of the garage functioning independently and not sharing data to help develop the bike. "I don't like the fact that there's a wall separating the garages and that we're not sharing information," he told El Pais. "We're both on the same team, and we should be working together."
The problem, Hayden said, was not Pedrosa, but his manager. "[Alberto] Puig has too much influence on the team. In theory, he works for Dani, not Honda, but ..." he told El Pais. When asked how much credit Pedrosa still has with Honda, Hayden replied "Dani is great rider, with a lot of talent. But Puig is the guy with all the power at Honda, not Dani. Unfortunately, it's Puig who runs Honda. I know I'm not supposed to say so, but that's the truth."
It seems that Alberto Puig was not at all pleased after this interview appeared in the Spanish press. For today, Puig has struck back in an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, blasting Hayden with some damning comments. When asked about Hayden's objections to the wall dividing the garages, Puig told MotoGP.com "all I can say is that Hayden may be bothered because now he can't access information and telemetry data from Dani's bike. With this information he was able to improve his riding, as he had all of Dani's references and now he can't use that any longer. He was simply copying as he never knew how to set-up a bike."
He also accused Hayden of being a hypocrite in saying he has no problem with Pedrosa. "That's not the case. Everything changed with the incident in Portugal (in 2006), where Dani made a mistake during the race and apologised for it afterwards. Nicky eventually won the title and Dani did what he had to do in Valencia, which was to help him. But from that point -even if Hayden denies it- all he's been doing has been talking about how Dani was 'weird' and bringing the people around Pedrosa into the subject. He shouldn't act like a hypocrite and say that he doesn't have a problem with Dani, because since that incident in Portugal I think he has talked to him about twice."
Puig rejected the claims by Hayden - and repeated by other sources inside the paddock - that it is Puig who pulls the strings at Honda. "In my opinion, those who say that just lack respect to Honda and the work that they do. All I can do is bring my experience of racing like Honda has asked me to do, as I've been working for a long time with Pedrosa and Honda, forming the 125cc and 250cc teams and winning three titles with them. If you refer to Hayden saying that I'm the one who's in charge or used to be in charge, then he has to understand that in this job and in this paddock, anyone who believes he is in charge of anything is simply wrong. Nobody has control over things or is in charge of anything -results decide everything and put the people in the place they are."
And in a sign of what Andrea Dovizioso can expect when he joins the team next year, Puig made his position absolutely clear. "It is a logical step for a rider who has ridden for Honda his entire career, through 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP. He has shown loyalty to the factory, and now he gets a perfect move for him. As for how it will affect us? It really won't change much and won't affect our way of working. He will be another rival on the track."
Clearly, there is a clash of ideologies at work here. For Nicky Hayden, a team is a team, and should stick together. In his vision, everyone on the team, including the two riders, should be working together to improve the motorcycle and make it more competitive. Hayden's views are borne out by his work during 2006, when he was both chasing the world title he eventually won, whilst simultaneously developing the bike that was to become the basis for Honda's 2007 RC212V.
Puig, on the other hand, believes that each rider is an individual, and competes on his own merits. The team structure is a flag of convenience, a tool to help sponsors promote their products, and ensure that the team has everything it requires. Puig believes that a team is just a manner to achieve economies of scale, and that each side of the garage is on their own in terms of setup and data.
The two very different visions provide an interesting pointer to how Repsol Honda's two current riders will fare in the future. Nicky Hayden is heading off to Ducati, a team which has a lot of the family atmosphere he craves, and which has helped Casey Stoner become so competitive on the Italian machine. Dani Pedrosa stays where he is, and if we are to believe Puig's claims that their way of working won't change for next year, then we can expect to see the wall remain in place in 2009, despite both riders being on the same tires. Andrea Dovizioso is likely to receive the same treatment from Puig and Pedrosa that Hayden had to endure.
But Puig's words may yet turn out to be prophetic. "Results decide everything," he told MotoGP.com, and so might they decide the future of Dani Pedrosa and Alberto Puig. Paddock rumblings that Dani Pedrosa and Alberto Puig have one more year to win a championship are getting louder. The mid-season switch to Bridgestones cost a good portion of Pedrosa's paddock capital, and is as yet unproven.
What's worse is the pressure coming from Repsol, the Spanish sponsor of the factory Honda team. Repsol also applied pressure on Honda to force the switch to Bridgestones at Misano, and gave us the remarkable - and unique - spectacle of a major sponsor giving a press conference at a MotoGP race explaining why they wanted the change to be made.
For Repsol is getting increasingly desperate for a Spanish MotoGP champion, and may be mulling over the wisdom of their current investment in the series. Just how desperate Repsol are is clear from an advertising campaign currently running on Spanish TV, shown below.
In it, Dani Pedrosa is seen taking to the track, with a line of former Repsol champions behind him, pushing him on. A powerful image, but one which makes Pedrosa's failure painfully obvious. All of the bikes behind Pedrosa's all bear the #1 plate. Pedrosa's bike bears his current number, #2. Just how long Repsol are prepared to tolerate that situation remains to be seen. And with a rejuvenated Valentino Rossi, and Casey Stoner still in imperious form, Pedrosa's chances are looking frankly rather slim.
When Ant West signed up as a factory Kawasaki rider to race in MotoGP, he could hardly have suspected just how miserable his life was about to become. The Australian had spent years trying to get into racing's premier class, accepting some extremely questionable rides in 250s just to get a chance at MotoGP. Tragically for West, his arrival coincided with a sharp decline in Kawasaki's fortunes, and after some promising results in 2007, West's career has been on a downward spiral, propelled by the dismal performance of the Kawasaki.
After hoping for a long while to somehow stay in MotoGP, Ant West seems finally to have accepted his fate. The German motorsports site Motosport Total is reporting that Westy is in talks for a ride on "a competitive Honda in World Supersport." "Practically my only option is the World Supersport championship. On a Honda," West told Motorsport Total.
Although there are a number of teams fielding Hondas in the World Supersport series, Motorsport Total says that paddock whispers say West's manager is talking to Ten Kate about riding for the team. West wouldn't confirm that rumor, though he admitted "I know the team, and I'd love to ride for them."
With Ten Kate having previously announced their 2009 lineup, a seat at the Dutch team which has dominated World Supersport seems highly unlikely. However, Andrew Pitt, the man who won the World Supersport title for Ten Kate, is known to be unhappy with the team, as he had hoped that a title would see him making a return to the World Superbike championship. But Pitt has been forced to watch his young team mate Johnny Rea move up to World Superbike, while he remains in Supersport to defend his title.
So Pitt could well be looking for an exit. If he does leave Ten Kate, then that would open the way for Ant West. And on previous evidence, that would not be a bad move for either Ant West or Ten Kate. In the three races that West rode in the series for Yamaha in 2007, West finished 3rd in one race, and won the other two. The bikes seem to suit West's style, and on board a Ten Kate, the Australian could end up being almost unstoppable.
Whether he ends up at Ten Kate or not, Ant West surely deserves a ride aboard competitive machinery somewhere. Kawasaki's failure has robbed West of confidence, and disguised the talent he has. On decent equipment, we may see the real Ant West emerge once again.
The good news for MotoGP and Dorna at Phillip Island was that Kawasaki confirmed that they would provide a third ZXRR to compete in the 2009 MotoGP season. The announcement meant that MotoGP's rather thin grid would be filled out a little for 2009, taking the total up to 19 bikes, with a possible fifth Ducati raising that to 20.
The bad news was the conditions that Kawasaki was imposing on the deal. KHI in Japan is very keen for Shinya Nakano to return to the fold at Kawasaki, the Japanese rider having ridden for the team from 2004 to 2006. But Jorge Aspar Martinez, the man who is to run the team, doesn't want Nakano as a rider, as a Japanese rider would cause him problems with his sponsors.
"With all due respect to Nakano, he is not a rider I can sell to my sponsors," Aspar told Spanish magazine Solomoto. "I want to choose the rider, and I want a Spaniard."
The problem Aspar has is the amount of money Kawasaki wants from the team. Martinez is believed to have a Spanish telecom company lined up to sponsor the team, but because the effort would be promoting a product on the Spanish domestic market, he needs a Spanish rider to help the sponsors sell their product at home.
Aspar's preferred option is Spanish veteran Alex Debon, who is currently campaigning the Lotus Aprilia in the 250 class. Debon would be on development duty, helping to get the bike competitive enough for 2010, when Aspar hopes to bring Alvaro Bautista into MotoGP.
Martinez has not ruled out the option of Nakano completely, though. It's a small matter of finance: If Kawasaki is prepared to reduce their asking price, then Aspar may yet run the Japanese veteran.
As we reported earlier, Michelin has decided not to submit a bid to become the sole supplier of tires for MotoGP. The press released announcing the move read as follows:
"Michelin has decided not to submit a bid to the governing body of the MotoGP World Championship. At the same time, Michelin regrets not being able to contribute to the organizers' important discussions to improve rider safety and reduce costs.
The spirit of competition has always been central to Michelin. Motor sports at the highest level are useful because competition among several tire manufacturers is a valuable stimulus for developing increasingly high-performance tires that will one day equip customer vehicles. Tires play a key role in a vehicle's performance and can make a considerable difference. This competition among manufacturers helps to make racing exciting.
The radial tire, which was invented by Michelin, has been improved through racing, and the improvements have since been passed on to consumers. Michelin's dual compound technology for motorcycle tires was first tested in MotoGP racing and is today integrated into premium products for the brand's customers. The MotoGP Championship organizers have decided to use a single tire supplier for the coming seasons, which effectively eliminates the competitive environment that has led to so much progress.
The R&D resources allocated for MotoGP racing will be redeployed to support innovation, which is at the heart of Michelin's customer-focused strategy."
Michelin's decision leaves Bridgestone as the only bidder for the contract, and barring a revolution, certain to be awarded the contract. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the reason Michelin decided not to submit a proposal is because they knew they did not stand a chance of winning the contract anyway.
If the French tire maker had been awarded the contract, then open rebellion would have broken out among the riders currently contracted to Bridgestone, and riders such as Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa would have put pressure on Dorna to reverse the decision. Michelin may have decided to withdraw with honor, rather than go through the motions for what was essentially a sham.
Michelin's withdrawal also shifts the balance of power between Dorna and Bridgestone. As Dorna insisted that any tire manufacturer submitting a bid must already have experience in the premier class, that left only Bridgestone, Michelin and Dunlop. With both Dunlop and Michelin refusing to submit a proposal, Dorna is forced to accept the terms demanded by Bridgestone, rather than being in a position to put pressure on a tire supplier by threatening to switch to another manufacturer.
Just what that change in the balance of power might mean was hinted at in an interview which appeared on the official MotoGP.com website with Hiroshi Yamada, Bridgestone's Motorcycle Sport Unit Manager. When asked what effect being a single tire supplier would have on their ability to provide all of the riders and with tires and on the current allocation of 40 tires for each race weekend, Yamada replied: "We cannot continue with the current regulations, because we will have double the number of riders. These detailed conditions we put in our proposal. (...) I believe they can accept our proposal."
Although he did not say so in so many words, it seems fairly clear that Bridgestone will want to limit the number of tires supplied to the riders each weekend. Though the riders were almost unanimous in their support for a single tire supplier in MotoGP, once confronted with the ramifications of such a choice, they may well be less happy.