The whirlwind that is MotoGP silly season has just about blown itself out after Indianapolis, helped on its way perhaps by hurricane Ike, and as the seats have continued to fill, there are some three riders still left standing, apparently with no immediate future in MotoGP. Shinya Nakano looks likely to replace the aging Tady Okada as HRC's test rider - a role he is to some extent already filling at Gresini Honda, and Kawasaki are still keen to retain Ant West, albeit on either a World Superbike or World Supersport machine. But for Sylvain Guintoli, the prospects for 2009 were far less obvious.
There were rumors, of course, mostly about a possible future in World Superbikes, but the truth of such rumors is always hard to discern. The one rumor that surfaced most frequently linked Guintoli to the vacant seats at Yamaha Italia in WSBK, but with Tom Sykes - currently riding a Suzuki in BSB - signed to replace the departing Noriyuki Haga, and no clear word on whether Troy Corser would be staying or going, even that ride looked uncertain.
Now, though, evidence has emerged that Guintoli could indeed be heading for Yamaha after all. The Italian site Xracer.it spotted the British-based Frenchman testing Noriyuki Haga's Yamaha R1 at Vallelunga after this weekend's recent World Superbike round at the Italian track.
A switch back to Yamaha would be a logical move for Guintoli, as the Frenchman still retains good ties with the company through his former Tech 3 Yamaha team boss Herve Poncharal. And as Guintoli has proven, he is capable of being more than fast enough given the chance, as some strong, if sporadic, results have demonstrated in the last two years.
Guintoli's test would also seem a tacit admission by Yamaha that Troy Corser will in fact be leaving the Yamaha Italia World Superbike team at the end of the season, most likely to join the fledgeling Superbike effort at BMW. The German factory are keen to shake off their image of building rather staid touring bikes, and the S1000RR is their weapon in this struggle. But to develop a completely new bike needs an experienced veteran, and the former World Champion Troy Corser fits that bill absolutely perfectly.
No official announcements have been forthcoming about the test, or the future of either Corser or Guintoli at the team. While MotoGP silly season is nearly over, it is still in full swing over in World Superbikes. The caroussel continues...
A year on, and the more that things change, the more they stay the same, at least in MotoGP land. Paolo Scalera is reporting that once again, Dorna are threatening to impose a single tire rule at a meeting to be held at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
The problem, according to Dorna, is one of safety. The competition between Bridgestone and Michelin has reached such a peak that corner speeds are increasing almost month by month, and with them, the speeds at which riders are crashing. The only way to reduce corner speeds, or at least stop them from increasing, is to put an end to the competition between tire brands.
The general assumption is that any single tire contract will be awarded to Bridgestone, but Ezpeleta denied this. The contract to supply tires for the series will be opened up for general bidding, with the main stipulation being that all teams will have access to the same tires, and tires will be supplied to the teams for free.
But much to the dismay of Bridgestone's current crop of riders, Bridgestone have repeatedly stated that they have no real interest in being the single supplier for MotoGP. The Japanese tire maker see little advantage in producing tires in a series with no competition, and one which would cost them significantly more money without aiding tire development. Michelin would be the obvious candidate for the role, having currently been forced out of most other motorcycle racing series by the imposition of a single tire rule there.
What's more, the motorcycle manufacturers are opposed to the switch as well. For them, MotoGP is a technology showcase, a chance to demonstrate their engineering prowess, and hopefully, superiority. For the promotor, Dorna, MotoGP is an entertainment product, a way of generating income by stimulating public interest. In short, the manufacturers want the races decided by tens of seconds, while Dorna wants the races decided by tenths of seconds.
Worse could be to come for the manufacturers, as Dorna is also rumored to be ready to submit proposals to ban the use of electronic suspension, and limit the development of electronics used in engine management systems. Since much of modern engine development for street use revolves around electronics, this would render MotoGP even less useful as a technology showcase, and is likely to hasten the day that the World Superbike machines - essentially hopped-up street bikes - start outperforming the pure racing prototypes which the FIM's MotoGP regulations demand.
Any moves to adopt a single tire and to limit electronics would be likely to find favor among a sizable chunk of MotoGP's fan base. But whether these moves would help achieve the closer and fairer racing the fans desire is questionable.
In the case of a single tire rule, we need only look at a leading Superbike series. In theory, everyone is eligible to receive the same tires, but according to anonymous sources in the series' paddock - anonymous, because of the reputed 6 figure fine hanging over the heads of anyone making negative remarks about the spec tires - sometimes, tires returned after a race unused are not destroyed, but taken out of the tire warmers, thrown in the back of the truck, and reused again at the next race meeting, much of their grip gone from being heat-cycled. According to those same anonymous sources, these essentially junk tires somehow never end up fitted to the teams which win week in, week out, but turn up surprisingly often on second-tier bikes.
Of course, this is all just an anonymous rumor, with no one willing to break cover and make these claims openly, and so their veracity has to open to question at the very least. But in the light of a series which costs the tire maker money, and is sure to see the podium all wearing caps bearing the name of the tire maker, regardless of the way tires are distributed, the pressure to cut costs must be considerable. And reusing tires is potentially a way of saving money.
As for controlling electronics, the lessons of the Yoshimura Suzuki team in the AMA series are clear. The AMA tried to outlaw electronic traction control, and did so by banning front wheel speed sensors. While other teams struggled to find a way round the rules, Yoshi ran away with the series using cleverly designed electronics from Bazzaz performance, which replaced the measurement of speed sensors with well-crafted algorithms. The outcome was the same: traction control in clear violation of the spirit of the rules, while passing every single inspection they were subject to, as they operated clearly within the confines of the letter of the rules.
Anyone who has spent any time working with programmable electronic systems, and especially with the people who program them, has learnt one lesson very early on. Any system is capable of being hacked, of being twisted and bent in such a way as to do the programmer's bidding, rather than the bidding of the person who designed it. Any attempt by an organization whose primary task is organizing and promoting motorcycle races to impose rules which cannot be bent, at the very least, is doomed to failure. After all, if Microsoft, IBM, NASA, and every single banking organization around the world are incapable of building a system which can't be hacked, what makes you think that Dorna will do any better?
The news that Toni Elias had turned down offers from both Jorge Martinez Aspar to ride a Kawasaki and initial advances from Ducati to stay with the Alice satellite team left a hole in the MotoGP silly season. The seats at Alice look increasingly certain to go to Mika Kallio, currently chasing KTM's first 250 title, and Niccolo Canepa, the young Italian test rider for the Ducati factory. But Elias' refusal left Aspar with a big problem.
The Valencian team manager - who played a pivotal role in bringing F1 to the streets of his home town - really needs a prominent Spanish rider for the extra factory Kawasaki bike he is to field. He had hoped to announce both rider and official confirmation from Kawasaki at Motegi next weekend, but with Elias out of the equation, Aspar has been forced to seek other alternatives.
After the compulsory mention of Max Biaggi, now signed to Aprilia in World Superbikes, the Spanish press' current favorite to ride for the team is hoary veteran Carlos Checa. After a mediocre year aboard the LCR Honda, Checa made the switch to World Superbikes, joining the Ten Kate Honda team. Checa's move has been relatively successful, getting a double win in Utah, and running close to the top of the title chase, though still a country mile behind Troy Bayliss, the man who continues to dominate World Superbikes in his final year.
But according to Motociclismo.es, Checa's first priorities lie in World Superbikes, and staying with the Ten Kate team. Checa left MotoGP disillusioned, and has been revitalized by running in World Superbikes, a series in which he feels he can be competitive. For Jorge Martinez Aspar, this would be a serious blow, as Checa is still a big name in Spain, and has a vast amount of MotoGP experience
So Aspar may be forced to turn elsewhere. And two other options keep popping up in this respect. One is the man who replaced Jorge Lorenzo in 250s, Alex Debon. Like Checa, Debon has plenty of experience, but unlike Checa, Debon's ability is open to question, having never quite made it in the smaller classes. The other option is the current leader in the highly competitive Spanish Supersport series, Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez previously rode for Aspar in the world championships, but has since returned to compete in Spain, where he has regained much of his hunger for competition. Whether he can make the leap from racing a restricted Supersport-spec machine at national level to the pinnacle of motorcycle racing is a big question, though.
Aspar's biggest problem is that he needs a Spanish rider to please the Spanish sponsors he has lined up, and all the very best Spanish riders are already taken. He will need to work fast to secure a deal before the end of the year.
For those just awakening from time under a rock, the leakiest secret of the season was released to the world today...
Due to personal circumstances - a long-deserved and hard-earned (by my wife) vacation in Spain - there won't be an Indianapolis race report for a week or so. Which is a real shame, as the race had plenty of incidents to talk about.
As a consolation, here's the transcripts of the podium press conference, as well as a selection of quotes from some of the riders involved in the race. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their amazingly efficient PR team for providing the information so quickly and smoothly.
Podium Press Conference:
MODERATOR: OK, ladies and gentlemen, what a performance, what a day it's been for all three. In second place, Nicky Hayden. The winner here of the inaugural Indy Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi. And for the second race in succession, on the podium, Jorge Lorenzo. (Applause)
OK, obviously we'll start with the race winner, Valentino Rossi. Valentino, I just heard the television interview, you said without a doubt it's the worst conditions you've ever ridden in in a Grand Prix race, and it really did look treacherous out there.
VALENTINO ROSSI: Yes. So it was, for sure, very difficult. And it was a pity because it was a normal race, you know. They did I think a great job on the track. They throw up all the water and is possible to ride the bike in quite good speed and with quite good angle. So at the beginning was quite scared, but anyway, a good race, a good battle. I go in front, I need some lap for overtaking Nicky because at the same point I lose a bit. When I go in front, I was a bit faster. But from that moment, the condition becoming very bad and start to rain strong. So the amount of water going up on the racetrack, but the bigger problem was the wind and become all dark like in the night, all the beer cans, glass pass in front of the bike in the circuit or the grass, also. Was very, very bad, especially because the wind was so unconstant and very strong. You never know what's happen. In the straight you take all the straight from left to right for try to go straight.
Seriously, I have to, I think I have to raise my hand before, but I was in front and I say -- I see that my advantage remain good and going up. So I try to go and every lap I wait for the red flag, red flag, and after arrive I think is the right decision because like this is too dangerous.
MODERATOR: It was just a little doubt. You thought you won the race, everything was fine, then there was a little doubt, the result wasn't confirmed, was it, you might have to go out there again. I could see people were thinking, ‘Oh, my God, we'd never be able to do it.’
ROSSI: Yes, for sure. In my mind, I think when I see the red flag, no way to restart, especially because the wind remain very strong. So the condition was very bad. And restart for eight laps all together with this condition is like when you put one bullet in the gun and you make, "trrrrr," like this, and you try, you know. It was dangerous; I think it was the right decision. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: One big moment, I think you got the tire onto the white line at one point.
ROSSI: Ever some slide for sure, especially at the beginning. Because the condition of Friday was very bad in the wet. Today I think is better but, you know, if you make one mistake in the race, the race is over, so I try to understand the limit. When the wind start to be very strong, I have a wheelie exit from Turn 9, I go a bit wide, I cross the white line and lose control of the bike. I was quite lucky, also, yes.
MODERATOR: Good lead in the championship, we go to Motegi in two weeks time, on the Yamaha, home of Honda. You could clinch the title there, couldn't you?
ROSSI: Yes. Now we have 87-point advantage, and we have the first match point in Motegi in two weeks. In 2005, I have the match point in Motegi for the championship, but unfortunately I make a mistake, and they take Melandri and we crash. So I have a bad memory of this. But I am able to arrive behind Stoner and lose also 11 points. So it is important and also because we lose the championship last year in Motegi. So it is good, and we try for sure.
MODERATOR: Apart from the weather, Indianapolis, they've done us proud, haven't they? It's been a very, very special weekend.
ROSSI: Yes, I love this track because I make the hat trick; pole position, fast effort lap and victory. I was very fast in the dry and the wet. So I like. It is a good track; it is a good place. Unfortunately today the weather is very bad, and I hope for the next year is better weather and more crowd.
MODERATOR: Valentino, congratulations and thank you.
We go to Nicky Hayden, ladies and gentlemen, his first podium this season. What a place to do it on the Repsol Honda. You dug deep for that, Nicky.
NICKY HAYDEN: Yes, it felt good to be out front. It's been a long time since I've been near the front, much less led a race. Man, it felt really good to be in the lead. Felt quite good and comfortable there. And I was thinking, you know, this only happens in the movies, you know, your home race with missing the last two to come back and win in the rain. But I was able to stay focused, but Valentino came past and had a little bit more speed than me, especially through Section 3. But then when he touched the line on the back straight away and I think: ‘You know what? Maybe I'm OK,’ and I was able to make up a little more ground. Then when it started raining heavy, I was in trouble because when it dried, I used a lot of tire and I had no tread left on part of the left side of the tire. When it started to rain heavy again, it was so gnarly. But I held on. Sure, home race, you think, sure, you dream about winning but, honestly I shouldn't be too greedy with how things have went, t
ake this second and enjoy it. A big thanks to my team, all my guys, my friends, my family, everybody who sticked with me and through tough times, and that's important. We came here, and I gave the maximum. I can't say I left much on the table today. That's how it's supposed to be. All in all, I need to try to enjoy this one.
MODERATOR: There's no way you could have gone out there again, was there?
HAYDEN: Well, no -- well, because the air fence, no. It was pretty treacherous. Part of me thought, hey, let's line back up and try again because in the beginning when it was really wet, I'm not leading the championship, so I don't have nothing to worry. I thought, you know, just give one more try at it. But it was the right thing to do. It was really tough conditions, especially with the wind. Because you would be on a dry line and all of a sudden it would hit you and blow you off onto the wet spot. It was tough, I think that's why you see three world champions or four of them in the top four when things get tough.
Big thanks to the fans, we only had to be out in the wet for an hour, they've been out there a lot of them since Thursday, and for everybody for making this thing happen, Indy, Red Bull. A lot of people worked really hard and for me to be able to race so close to home is a great feeling. I enjoyed it.
MODERATOR: Indianapolis has done a tremendous job for MotoGP, haven't they?
HAYDEN: Yeah, they have. It's not something that just happened. A lot of people worked hard to make it happen. The fans came out and supported it. Sure, maybe we can make some things better but actually, I like the track. In those conditions earlier, it didn't matter where we was at, we wasn't going to be able to start the race. You know, it was just too much water. But yeah, maybe sure, work on the draining and a few things to improve. But, yeah, big thanks to everybody who made this happen.
MODERATOR: Four more races for you with Honda. I think you showed today whatever happens at the end of the season, you're going to be riding very hard indeed until the change comes.
HAYDEN: Oh, yeah. I mean, no doubt about that. I think anybody who knows me knows that. I'm not going to give up. I mean, I would just be hurting myself. It's not like, like I said the other day, I'm planning on finishing the season strong. You know, I owe it to Honda. They have been a big part of my career, and I've been with them for a long time, especially my mechanics. I mean, I think they certainly have not given up on me one bit, know what I've done. It would be real easy for them to slack off early and get on out of here, you know, pretty quick after the session, hurry up, hurry through the bikes and go for a cold beer. But they've just worked as hard now as they did in the middle of 2006. I'm really grateful for that.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Nicky. Congratulations. Good to see you back on the podium.
HAYDEN: It's good to be here.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Third place, ladies and gentlemen, his second podium in succession, Jorge Lorenzo. Jorge, first time you've been on the podium in the wet your whole career.
JORGE LORENZO: Yeah, it is true. It is true because also in the Spanish Championship I haven't got any podium, European Championship, also, no podium in the rain. And I think in the Balioto Championship, also, no podium. (Laughter)
I was so, personally I didn't want to race before the race because I was so safe in my motor home and so hot with Hector that I thought I prefer not to race. The organization has done a big work, and the track was quite good at the first sector. I was surprised all the race because in the start I got a good start, so I thought, ‘OK, I know how to start, no?’ Is good. And after in the second lap, I pass Dani and I know I can go fast in the rain, and also in the third I passed Dovizioso, and I thought, ‘Good, no?’ After I passed Valentino, it's amazing in the rain. (Laughter)
But then Valentino passed me again, and I wanted to follow him, was impossible. Also, Nicky was fast. And the race has been complicated at the middle. The wind has come and the rain, also, raining more. And was OK. Was not perfect because I wanted to finish second, but it's OK because Yamaha is, again, have two people on the podium and we are leading the World Championship constructor. And I'm fine.
MODERATOR: Michelin tires, they've taken a real bashing this year, haven't they? But Nicky second, you third, they did very well, didn't they, in the rain?
LORENZO: Yes, I said yesterday Michelin is a good tire. But the problem is that Bridgestone is a very good tire in this moment. So to be at the same level or to pass them, we have to work, Michelin have to work harder. I know they are working hard, but harder, more harder. So I don't know, at the end of the season if we can do more podiums or even better. But come on, Michelin. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: Motegi coming up, after what has happened today, you may want a wet race in Motegi over a dry race.
LORENZO: What? (Laughter)
MODERATOR: You may want a wet race in Motegi now you've done so well in the rain.
LORENZO: In Motegi, I hope not to rain. Rains is better now because I have the one podium.
MODERATOR: Congratulations, Jorge, on the podium second week in succession.
Ladies and gentlemen, questions from the floor. Put your hand up and we can get a mike over to you.
Q: Nicky, I wonder if you could talk about what went through your mind as Valentino was catching you, and did you know how close he was? And did you know that he was pressuring you for that long?
HAYDEN: Well, yeah, I have a pit board that tells me that information. So, I mean, I knew who it was. But I was on the limit pretty good, but also I knew I had a little bit soft -- actually, I changed tires after the sighting lap. I had on a little bit harder. I mean, I knew the rain was supposed to stop, but in a lot of places on the oval, the water was still draining across the track. I mean, we last minute put in one a little bit softer. I have too many times in my life thought, ‘I'll wait and let it come in,’ and the rain is so important to just get your position early and then go for it. So I knew he was coming, but I tried to be smooth and not just destroy my tire. You know, there's a few places on this track you can hear quite easy when somebody is behind you. And, you know, I mean Vale, he likes to put that pressure on, but I held my line. Once he closed up on me a little bit, I changed a few things to try to make sure I was getting all the corners good and at least making him work for it.
Q: Valentino, what does it mean to you now to be the winningest rider in MotoGP history?
ROSSI: So I'm the first one in 100 years. It is quite special, yes. This track, the real track, the real oval is for other type of race, but racing in the, in this track with MotoGP, I hear that Indianapolis have just the top class of all the motorsports. So from Indy to NASCAR and now in motorcycle we have MotoGP. So it's important. It is something right on the history. But especially I'm so happy because I like the track, and I think in the next years we can make, we come back, so is important to have another good track instead of a bad track. I learn the track during the weekend very early, so especially I'm so happy for this.
Q: The question for Jorge. I am from Argentina. Did you find something special or you have an inspiration today? Because in the last laps you was following Nicky very hard but very solid riding, no crazy riding. So you find something in the setup or was it a good day on the bike?
LORENZO: Yeah, special day, I think. (Laughter) I don't know, you think it's a special day?
Q: No, I am asking you if you find the setup --
LORENZO: For sure, it's close to a special day because it is my first podium in the rain in all my career.
Q: OK, because, you know, it's --
LORENZO: No, I think I was getting closer to Nicky because he was -- increase his pace very much, no, Nicky? Because the tire --
HAYDEN: Don't remind me. (Laughter)
Q: OK, thank you.
LORENZO: Thank you.
Q: How about the record?
ROSSI: Is a lot better than equal for sure. (Laughter) But yes, anyway, 69 is a great number. (Laughter) Because he (Hayden) have it. (Laughter) No, no, just for it means a long time at the top level, but I want to try to make a bit better, make a better number, yes.
Q: Valentino, can you talk about racing with Nicky that was kind of a special thing, especially here under these circumstances?
ROSSI: It is great. I always enjoy with Nicky and looks like we do good times. Like three, four years ago we did a lot of great battle. So Nicky, growing up very close to me because the first year he was my teammate at HRC Honda, and I remember him coming first time from U.S., and he was very desperate. I say Nicky, Nicky, quiet, quiet. (Laughter)
It is like this, it is a bit different compared to U.S. But he is always strong and a great battle guy and for overtaking -- I mean a lot of lap, I say already to him the brake was very strong because everybody want to stay in front, so we stayed together very close and for I think 50 meters and is possible because anyway Nicky is very wide, very aggressive but also very clean. So I enjoy.
Q: Valentino, Agostini's record held for a very long time, more than 30 years. Was he an influence or hero of yours growing up?
ROSSI: I don't want to say my hero because I don't remember Ago race, so I never seen, just 20 years later in television. But he was the No. 1, somebody say is Agostini, somebody say Mike Hailwood. But anyway, about numbers, Ago is the greatest and have some other record of Ago like 122 victory and especially 15 championship that for me maybe is impossible, but beat him in the number of race in the premier class is great. I hope this record remain for another 30 years, yes. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: Anybody else, ladies and gentlemen? One here.
Q: Nicky, did your heel give you any trouble on the bike today at all?
HAYDEN: No, zero. I mean in the rain in front of that crowd and here at home, I mean, honestly I never felt it. And even here qualifying, I can't say it really, I mean slowed me down one bit. Sure, it's probably going to feel pretty good in the morning, but for now no problem.
Q: Do you have any sort of prognosis in terms of how long you're going to be with a cane or crutches?
HAYDEN: You know, I'm a rider, so I'm about over the crutches. So as long as my trainer is not around, crutches are getting pretty old. Really, I could put pressure on it but when you put pressure on it, like I explained the other day, it pushes right into where the brake is and it's just going to take longer and longer. So I feel like a fool walking around like I'm trying to make a big show because normally you see people -- yeah, I'm sure it looks kind of silly, but as long as I hurry up and heal and be done with it, I'll be happy. But I don't want to use it as an excuse or nothing because in the rain I had plenty of strength and it's not an issue.
Q: Valentino --
Q: That's all right. I don't want to interrupt if you guys want to talk. Even though the race ended early, eight laps early, did you feel like you still earned it based on the conditions?
ROSSI: I don't understand, sir.
Q: Even though the race ended early, eight laps, because of all you had to deal with, did you feel like it was a grueling 20 laps to have to get what you got?
ROSSI: Yes, I think I deserve because I was very fast in the normal conditions. Like I say, it was a great battle with Nicky, but maybe was a bit faster than him in the normal wet. Anyway, I growing up my advantage, also, when the condition become very, very strong. So for sure, I think for me it's possible to make another eight laps without a problem but become very, very dangerous.
Q: Nicky, can you talk about what it was like to race in front of another home crowd and also what you think this race, having a second GP race in the United States means for MotoGP's success in this country?
HAYDEN: You know, I've really enjoyed racing in front of the crowds, people think extra pressure and it's hard. But I always try the maximum. It's not like you can give more at other races, but it seems like at home it's always something special. And I really through my career felt like I've done better under a lot of pressure. Laguna has always been good to me, Daytona, some of the bigger races. I feel like I can rise up to the challenge, not always, but I enjoy racing in front of my crowd. I've got family here I don't think ever seen me road race. So that's pretty cool, and I think it's huge for MotoGP in America. This is a big market. I mean, California and Laguna Seca is kind of cool, but we're in the heartland here. There's a big audience around this area even though Indianapolis is not so big, there's a lot of major cities in the area. Yeah, I mean, I think it's a big, big opportunity for our sport, and I think it's important. There is a lot of bike fans in America but also a lot of sponsorship dollars here in America that I think we need to get into. So hopefully it will help attract some of the sponsors.
Q: Question for Valentino. There's been very many disappointed girls because you said if you won the race you were going to run naked down the home straight.
HAYDEN: Yes, yes, I do remember, also. (Laughter)
Q: I just wonder what happened after that Thursday comment.
ROSSI: The idea was from Colin (Edwards), I remember. (Laughter) And Friday night they say to me, and they say maybe it's better for everybody that if I win my umbrella girl get naked on the straight. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: Another one here.
HAYDEN: Or all of them.
Q: Nicky, you've all talked about the danger of the wind but could you just describe a little bit more what you feel on the bike in those kind of gusty conditions?
HAYDEN: The gusty is certainly the problem. I mean, one time through Turn 5 I was right online pretty good, and I hit a big gust and it blew me out just immediately into the deep spots. So, I mean, we're riders, we've all ridden in the rain before. I mean, you just couldn't use the edge of the track. Like braking at the end of the back straightaway, you had to leave a little bit of extra room because when we would go past the guardrail, it would get you in a little bit of room. More I was looking out of the corner of my eye for the air fence, you can deal with the beer cans and the bags, but there's a lot of stuff out there that was moving and flags and trees. I was just keeping an eye up and make sure nothing too big came up there. Because, I mean, it probably felt stronger than it was, I don't know. I thought at times it was blowing pretty good.
Q: Nicky, yesterday night you were enjoying the mile dirt track. How did it feel to return to the place that you grew up as a rider?
HAYDEN: Yeah, I've ridden a lot more -- I've never ridden Indianapolis road race; this is the first time for us. So yeah, I enjoyed the dirt track last night. That was the first Grand National I've seen in a lot of years. It was a good show. I didn't -- yeah, I enjoyed it, you know. But I'm a racer, I don't like to be at a race watching even though they were getting it on pretty good last night. But I would have liked to have rid own but with this whole X Games things, it's probably not a good time to ask. (Laughter) Asking for extra riding right now is probably not going to go over real well. So I better just focus on my job.
MODERATOR: Any more, ladies and gentlemen? No? Everybody is happy? OK, hit the road. Want to get those leathers off and get in the dry. Congratulations, everybody. See you in Japan. Thank you. (Applause)
Quotes From Other Riders:
BEN SPIES (Rizla Suzuki MotoGP): “It was good. Obviously, it was raining. The first 10 laps were good. The last 10 laps, I couldn’t see anything. I caught up to Dovizioso, and I tried to stay right on him so he could tow me around. I just followed everything he did. Then the race was over. The last five laps were pretty hectic with the wind kicking up. It was definitely pushing the bikes around. It was a good race for us, though. We qualified fifth and finished sixth. It’s a great result.”
JOHN HOPKINS (Kawasaki Racing Team): “Yeah, we’re moving up a little bit, but the conditions were absolutely treacherous. I mean, it's a shame to have to end the race like that since we are at Indianapolis for the first time. The winds were just treacherous.” (Have you raced in worse weather conditions before?): “No, no, that is the worse riding conditions I have ever been in in my life. The start was good. We got off to a decent start and made up quite a few positions and got into a decent rhythm, and that is when it all went upside down. The wind was absolutely crazy.” (Is there something to grow here in Indy?): “Yeah, the only downfall was the force of nature. I mean, it was just a shame that it was like this for the fans, but next year it will be twice as good.”
COLIN EDWARDS (Tech 3 Yamaha): “It was wacky, man. It was. It was bad. All right, thanks for coming out.”
CASEY STONER (Ducati Team): “With this wind, it’s literally unrideable. The rain wasn’t a problem in the race; it was actually the wind issues. You would glance a good 2 or 3 meters offline, and going into the back straight your front wheel is literally just moving a meter every time you change gear. It became very dangerous. It was ridiculous. The safest option was to stop. We’re happy with the race today, but I would rather go home in one piece. Even in dry conditions, I don’t think it’s safe (because of the wind). It is literally unbelievable. I don’t think you can keep your bike online, and I think there would be a few nasty crashes. You know, it’s not anybody’s fault. I lost a load of my confidence in the wet conditions. We started off OK, and I needed a few laps to warm the tires up because we just weren’t getting temperature. I destroyed the tire after that. We were actually quite lucky it started to rain toward the end there. I don’t think we could have kept up if it hadn’t rained.”
ANDREA DOVIZIOSO (JiR Team Scot MotoGP): “It was very difficult because the conditions were not easy. The first 10 laps were quite normal. After 10 laps, a lot of rain. The main problem was the wind. It was so difficult to ride and choose a line. In the middle of the corner came the wind, and it is always easy to crash. I’m not so happy about the fifth position. We mistook the rear tire. Under the dry conditions, we were very fast. Fifth position in this condition is OK, but I am not happy, 100 percent.”
CHRIS VERMEULEN (Rizla Suzuki MotoGP): “The conditions were incredible. It’s just a shame for the whole Indianapolis crowd that we got the left over bit of the hurricane. We’ll be back next year, and it should be better. The race was tough starting from 15th place. We got through into a reasonable position like ninth or 10th and were fighting there. We had some good speed, but the front guys had already got away by that stage.”
TONI ELIAS (Alice Team): “Yes, crazy. We finished the race safely. It was not bad, but I think if the race was in great condition, I could've made a very, very good result today. I hope I have another opportunity like yesterday. I think I could be fast the rest of the season. I need to try to make more podiums and, if it's possible, try to win some races.”
RANDY DE PUNIET (LCR Honda MotoGP): “All of it was very difficult. It was one of the most hard GPs for me. In these conditions, it was very difficult to ride, and also my fitting was not so good with the bike. I finished 13th, and honestly I’m very disappointed about this position.” (On the tires working in the conditions): “Maybe I use too hard a compound, and that’s why my fitting was not so good. And when the rain was coming more and more, it was worse and worse.”
Indianapolis turned out to be the place to make contract announcements, and for Randy de Puniet, things were no different. After Kawasaki confirmed that they had signed Marco Melandri, LCR Honda also announced that they have extended their contract with HRC and Randy de Puniet for another year. The Frenchman will be riding for the team again in 2009, after showing that he can be incredibly fast on his day.
That doesn't solve the problem of his tendency to crash, however. De Puniet is the most crash-happy of the MotoGP field by a significant margin, and this record is holding him back from much better results. If de Puniet can learn to stay on, then it will both save LCR Honda a lot of money, and show just what he is capable of. De Puniet is currently 16th in the title race, but with 6 DNFs, he should have been well within the top 10.
After a 125cc race which was run mostly in the dry, being red-flagged 6 laps from the end after it started to rain, the rain has begun in earnest. The start of the 250 race has been delayed due to high winds and very heavy rain, and no word yet on how this will affect the rest of the schedule.
Dorna have just announced that the 250 race will now be run at 4:30pm local time, after the MotoGP race. That presumes, of course, that the MotoGP race can take place at a track which is currently being lashed by the remnants of hurricane Ike.
Spanish TV just interviewed a member of Race Direction, and he said that they will be trying to dry the more dangerous parts of the track mechanically, and hope to run the MotoGP race at 3pm local time without problems. The track may well still be wet, but it shouldn't be completely inundated. The weather radar shows that most of the rain is moving to the north of Indianapolis, sparing the track of the worst of the weather.
We will keep you updated as soon as we know more.
To understand American motorcycle racing, you have to understand flat track: large capacity motorcycles running as fast as possible round a mostly oval dirt track without a front brake. The sight and sound is impressive, and seeing crowds of riders firing into a corner with the rear kicked out is one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles on the planet.
It's a spectacle you have to see, and of all the flat track races held in the US, the Indy Mile is the most famous. And fortunately for us, Tim White, one of the most promising motorcycle photographers currently working in the US, attended the Indy Mile, and sent us his photos. Enjoy!
Flat Track Legend Chris Carr during qualifying.
Pink And Fast: Nichole Cheza
Henry Wiles during practice
Chris Carr during the heat
Ken Coolbeth leads the pack.
Chris Carr leads his heat
Chris Carr leads Sam Halbert
Nicky Hayden has unfinished business at the mile: he needs to win one to achieve a grand slam.
Harley-Davidson still make racing motorcycles, and Willie G. came to take a look.
Kawasaki have finally officially announced the news that had been unofficially made public since Brno, that Marco Melandri will be riding for the factory next year. The team issued an official press release today, announcing that Melandri has signed a two-year deal to ride for Kawasaki for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Although Melandri will be glad to see the back of the apparently terrifying Ducati Desmosedici GP8, the Kawasaki has hardly been the hot ticket to success this year. Ant West has consistently propped up the timesheets, unless the rain gods happened to help the Australian along, and when not absent due to injury, John Hopkins has been almost entirely anonymous in midfield. Where the Ducati is fast but hard to ride, it seems the Kawasaki is much easier to ride, but completely lacking in grip front and rear.
The first chance that the general public will get to see whether the move has been a good one or not will be immediately after the final race of the season at Valencia at the end of October. Melandri is due to test the Kawasaki for the first time officially then. Paddock rumors run that Melandri has already tested at Kawasaki's private test track at Autopolis, and broke the track record. Whether that is true or not, we will see soon enough just how fast Melandri can be in green.
For most of this year, qualifying has followed a reasonably predictable pattern. A couple of laps after his out lap, Casey Stoner would seize pole position, gradually turning the thumbscrews on the rest of the field. About halfway through the session, Randy de Puniet would be the first rider out on qualifying tires and snatch pole from Stoner. His glory would be short-lived, however, lasting only until Stoner threw on the first set of qualifiers, then the process would repeat itself, the only real question being how big Stoner's margin would be over the rest, and whether Valentino Rossi would manage to qualify on the front row.
The inaugural Indianapolis MotoGP race was anything but predictable, and turned into one of the most fascinating and thrilling sessions of the entire year. This may have been due to the fact that the session was the first truly dry outing of the weekend, with both Friday's sessions having been held in torrential rain, and Saturday's morning free practice session starting off damp, and only really drying out towards the end. And so for most teams, the first 20 minutes of the session were spent searching for some kind of dry weather set up, before they could even think about qualifying.
The session started much as expected, with Casey Stoner the first rider to crack into the 1'43s, but just 10 minutes into the session, the fast laps were flying thick and fast. Ben Spies, Sylvain Guintoli, Nicky Hayden, Jorge Lorenzo, Randy de Puniet and Toni Elias all held provisional pole at one point, as the times edged towards the mid-1'43 mark, and beyond.
But with 20 minutes of the session gone, the really fast times started to shake out. Naturally, the first of the fastest was Casey Stoner, the Australian shaving nearly 3/10ths off Elias' time with a lap of 1'43.105, but he wasn't to be the only quick man. Just a couple of minutes later, Valentino Rossi took 8/100ths off Stoner's provisional pole, improving to 1'43.021.
Rossi wasn't finished there: his provisional pole was just the first in a sequence of fast laps, eventually taking pole down to 1'42.945. But Rossi wasn't the only rider capable of running fast on race tires. Nicky Hayden was running low 1'43s, smoking his rear tire in crowd-pleasing fashion through some of the long left handers, while Toni Elias was also getting quicker. So quick, in fact, that the Spaniard took his Alice Ducati to provisional pole with an impressive 1'42.741, 2/10ths quicker than Rossi's previous time.
But Elias' time on race tires was sure to go once the qualifiers appeared, and shortly after the halfway mark, Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was the first to give it a shot. Surprisingly, the Australian could only improve to 3rd, falling well short of Elias' pole time, but by now, a whole mess of riders were in for soft qualifying rubber. Ben Spies, Alex de Angelis and Colin Edwards were all out on qualifiers, but only Edwards put his tires to the best use, taking provisional pole with a 1'42.412. De Angelis could only manage 4th, while Ben Spies was suffering from his lack of experience with qualifiers, improving only to 7th.
Not everyone was out on qualifiers, and Casey Stoner has always managed to be plenty fast on race rubber. With 23 minutes of the session left, Stoner took 1/10th off Elias' fastest time on race tires, and a full 3/10ths off Rossi.
But by now, the qualifying tires were flying thick and fast. First Nicky Hayden took back provisional pole, before the Frenchman Randy de Puniet got close to the 1'41 mark, with a lap of 1'42.027. With a quarter of the session left, de Puniet took another shot, and this time hit his mark firmly between the eyes, with a lap of 1'41.570.
Valentino Rossi also took a shot, and though he got into the 1'41s, he could not get close enough to take pole from the LCR Honda rider. A minute later, his Fiat Yamaha team mate did just that, setting the fastest time with a 1'41.488.
As the session entered the final 10 minutes, the already hectic pace exploded. Everyone and anyone was going quickly, but 4 names kept popping up at the front. Nicky Hayden took pole first, with a 1'41.271, before Valentino Rossi took it back with a 1'41.031, while Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner followed very closely behind.
The dying minutes saw the riders taking their final shot on soft rubber, with Valentino Rossi the first to cross the line for the final time, in a blistering time of 1'40.776. At first he looked like being threatened by Nicky Hayden, but the American lost out in the third section, as his smoking rear tire got the better of him. In the end, only Casey Stoner was capable of following Rossi into the 1'40s, coming up a tenth short to take pole, while Jorge Lorenzo consolidated his strong performance at Misano by taking 3rd, 4/10ths behind Rossi, and just ahead of Nicky Hayden.
Ben Spies finished the session in 5th, fastest of the Suzukis by far, and an impressive showing by the young American, considering his limited time on qualifying tires. Spies sits ahead of Randy de Puniet, showing once again that he is capable of putting in incredibly fast laps when needed, though whether he can hold that pace during the race remains to be seen.
Andrea Dovizioso heads up the third row of the grid, ahead of his (probable) team mate for next year, Dani Pedrosa, now on the pneumatic valve engined Honda RC212V and Bridgestone tires, while Toni Elias was unlucky to finish only 9th. Elias was incredibly quick on race tires, but suffered a crash in the last 20 minutes of the session, and lost valuable time trying to qualify. James Toseland rounds out the top 10, just ahead of his team mate Colin Edwards.
Valentino Rossi's pole snaps Casey Stoner's string of 7 poles in a row, but the picture remains the same. Both Stoner and Rossi are the fastest of the bunch, with a sizable gap back to the following group. Stoner is 3/10ths ahead of 3rd place man Jorge Lorenzo, while less than 8/10ths covers 3rd to 12th.
More importantly, qualifying is a poor reflection of times on race tires. On harder rubber, it was Casey Stoner who was fastest, ahead of Toni Elias, Valentino Rossi and Alex de Angelis. Both de Angelis and Elias are too far down on the grid to be a feature, so it's likely to be down to Stoner and Rossi once again. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden were quick on race rubber, but though they are close on the grid, they are just too far off the pace of the two men chasing the title to be likely to snatch victory.
But the race may well turn out to be completely different to all expectations anyway. Though today's session was dry, rain is forecast for tomorrow, and what's worse, the tail of hurricane Ike could cause a torrential downpour during the afternoon. The race could be moved forward to be run in the morning, or it could even be canceled, if the conditions become too diluvian. Only tomorrow will tell, but it has all the makings of a fascinating spectacle nonetheless.
Full results of the Indianapolis MotoGP qualifying practice here.