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Hayden Waves Goodbye to HRC

by Scott Jones

For those just awakening from time under a rock, the leakiest secret of the season was released to the world today...

Nicky Hayden Waves

 

According to the Ducati website, Nicky Hayden will be joining Casey Stoner on the second GP9 next season. Perhaps the worst-kept secret in the MotoGP paddock for the past several months, Hayden’s move to Ducati should be a new lease on life for the 2006 World Champion, who has been more or less abandoned by HRC since Dani Pedrosa completed his rookie MotoGP season.
 
From the press release: "We are really happy to have Nicky join us," declared Claudio Domenicali, Ducati Corse CEO and Ducati Motor Holding Product Director. "We are certain that his never-say-die attitude, riding style and character will be great additions to our team in 2009. I would like to thank HRC for allowing Nicky to start testing our bike immediately after the Valencia Grand Prix. I would also like to thank Marco Melandri for his professionalism during a difficult year, which was below all our expectations. Unfortunately his feeling with the Desmosedici was never good enough to allow him to ride as well as he can. We wish him all the best for the future."
 
The timing of this announcement must be particularly sweet to Hayden, who finished second in the rain-soaked Indianapolis round, showing the pace he had before being forced to ride a bike developed for someone with a different riding style and of considerably smaller stature.
 
Hayden’s dirt track background is thought to be the key to his expectations of coming to terms with the Ducati, as Marco Melandri been unable to do, since American dirt-trackers learn to race without even the presence of a front brake.
 
Ducati is likely very pleased to have a second competitive rider on their factory team, as well as an American to help street bike sales in the world’s largest market. Hayden’s move leaves Honda without an American rider in MotoGP, and with the uncertainty of how next season’s AMA Superbike class will sort out. HRC may be left with no Americans on a competitive Honda in either series, if there are no successful attempts at getting Ben Spies aboard a satellite machine.
 
As long as Hayden can tame the GP9, he will certainly be going to a better situation than the one he’s leaving. On the Thursday press conference at Indy, he had some very candid remarks about what it has been like in the HRC garage recently. When asked if he was going to complete the season with Honda, given everyone’s expectation of the Ducati announcement, and rumors that Hayden would leave early, he replied, “…I owe it to Honda to go out. I think they know that, at least the guys on my team know I’m not going to lay down until the very end, until Valencia. So, no, I fully plan on doing the whole season unless they lock the door over there on me… That could happen. I mean, you know, there’s probably people in that box that if I didn’t show up probably would never notice.”
 
Though these comments drew laughter from the crowd, the stage, and even a smile from Pedrosa, they make clear that Hayden has been largely written off by HRC management this season. Livio Suppo, Ducati Team Manager, has gone on record many times as having wanted Hayden for his team even before the 2008 season.
 
Even amidst this bittersweet situation, some interesting quotes have come from HRC brass, and it bears pointing out that this sort of language is rare, even for departures under the best of conditions:
 
HRC president Masumi Hamane: "We wish to thank Nicky for all he has achieved for Honda both as a rider and a man. Nicky and Honda have shared much success and a few disappointing days but in each case Nicky has always behaved cheerfully and has led the team in a positive way. His warm-hearted character has been much loved by all who have worked with him. Together we have won two AMA titles and the most important title of all, the MotoGP World Championship. Nicky raced the 990cc RC211V with great success but since the technical regulations reduced MotoGP engine capacity to 800cc, both Nicky and HRC have tried our best but we have been unable to find the best balance between rider and machine necessary for Nicky to show his full potential, so we have decided to part company at the end of the season. We want to thank Nicky who always tried positively under tough conditions. We respect him for his brave challenging spirit. We wish Nicky good luck for the future with his new challenge. Nicky is a good guy loved by all, but also he is a tough competitor and I am sure he will be tough to beat next season."
 
And from Repsol Honda team manager Kazuhiko Yamano, speaking for HRC's hands-on racing personnel: "On behalf of HRC employees past and present, both engineering and software staff, I wish to thank Nicky for all he has done for Honda and our racing teams. The success he has brought to Honda is well recorded but has also made a valuable contribution to our race development projects. Nicky has been an excellent ambassador for Honda, his genuine polite and friendly personality has made him a favourite with racing people, the media and race fans wherever he goes. Nicky is a racer, a tough man on track and always a gentleman with whom it has been a pleasure to work. He always gives 100 per cent to everything he does. He won two AMA national roadrace titles for Honda before joining the Repsol Honda MotoGP team to race the 990cc RC211V. Nicky and the RCV were the perfect rider/machine combination and together they won the 2006 MotoGP World Championship. We all wish Nicky good luck and success with his new challenge he will be a fierce rival for our team in 2009."
 
This is high praise of character, even if not for a world famous road racer. Given Hayden’s outstanding work ethic and loyalty, it will be good to see another World Champion in a garage where his talent and professionalism are a bit more appreciated.
 
Now, if someone with some American cash would just step forward into the Alice Ducati offices with a phone number for Ben Spies…

 

No Race Report, So Here's Press Conference Transcripts Instead

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  --

ROSSI: Sorry.

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.”

De Puniet To Remain At LCR Honda For 2009

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.

Weather Throws Indy Schedule Into Disarray - 250cc Race Delayed Until After MotoGP Round

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. 

Images From The Indy Mile - A Piece Of American Racing Heritage

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!

Chris Carr at the Indy Mile

Flat Track Legend Chris Carr during qualifying.

Nichole Cheza at the Indy Mile

Pink And Fast: Nichole Cheza

Henry Wiles at the Indy Mile flat track

Henry Wiles during practice

Chris Carr at the Indy Mile

Chris Carr during the heat

Ken Coolbeth at the Indy Mile 

Ken Coolbeth leads the pack.

Chris Carr leads heat at Indy Mile

Chris Carr leads his heat

Chris Carr ahead of Sam Halbert at Indy Mile\

Chris Carr leads Sam Halbert

Nicky Hayden at the Indy Mile

Nicky Hayden has unfinished business at the mile: he needs to win one to achieve a grand slam.

Willie G. Davidson at the Indy Mile

Harley-Davidson still make racing motorcycles, and Willie G. came to take a look.

Kawasaki Confirm Melandri Move Officially

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.

2008 Indianapolis MotoGP Qualifying Report

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

Hurricane Ike Could Make Indy Race Time A Complete Gamble

With the broadcast schedule of the Indianapolis MotoGP race already confusing US fans, as the race is due to be shown on NBC rather than Speed, now it's the turn of the rest of the world. Hurricane Ike, which has already devastated the charming Texan port town of Galveston, as well as causing huge damage in Houston, looks set to turn its vicious hand to the infinitely more trivial task of upsetting the schedule of the inaugural Indianapolis MotoGP round.

The remains of Ike are due to pass over the Indianapolis area tomorrow afternoon, right in the middle of the race schedule. And after the experience of riding in semi-flooded conditions on Friday, the MotoGP safety commission have decided that riding in similarly underwater conditions would make racing far too dangerous. If the rain was as bad as Friday, the riders could simply refuse to race.

So far, no decisions have been made, with a spokesperson for IMS saying that so far, any talk of changes would be "just speculation", but one possible option, if the forecasts are for torrential rain in the afternoon, is to move the race to the morning. The safety commission is due to examine the forecast this evening, and a decision could be taken by then. 

If the weather did force the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to change or even abandon the schedule, it would be both tragic and ironic in equal measure. The IMS is probably the best-run and incredibly efficient organization to have a MotoGP round, and to be floored by the one thing that they couldn't control - the weather - would be very cruel indeed.

TV Schedule For Indianapolis MotoGP Round In The US - It's On NBC

Though the coverage of MotoGP on network television will be incredibly useful for raising the profile of our favorite sport among casual viewers in the USA, it has confused the DVRs of many regular MotoGP fans. In vain do they search the Speed TV schedules for broadcast times for the season's second US GP.

The reason for their confusion is the fact that Speed is not showing the MotoGP race from Indy. Instead, the race will be shown by NBC, as the last instalment of a four race package the network secured prior to the start of the season. The race will be shown live, at 3PM EDT. Check your local NBC affiliate for more details, or keep an eye on the incredibly useful TV Racer website.

The good news - if such it can be called - is that all will be back to normal after Indy, and Speed TV will show the rest of the season's MotoGP races, usually on the same day, but mostly not live. 

Remember to tip off any friends you have who may have missed out on the news that NBC will be carrying the Indy race. The return of motorcycle racing to The Brickyard after 99 years is not something they will want to miss.

Toni Elias To Return To Gresini Honda?

The fall from favor of Luis d'Antin has done the team he previously ran nothing but good. Since the Spanish former GP star was forced out of the team, the team's fortune has improved vastly.

This is especially true for Toni Elias. The Spaniard has had two podiums in a row, at Brno and Misano, and has gone from being the man most likely to leave MotoGP to one of the premier class' hottest tickets.

For the past few weeks, Elias has been most closely linked with the extra Kawasaki that Jorge Martinez is likely to be running next year. Martinez, who runs the extremely successful Aspar teams in the 125 and 250 classes, is keen to step up to the MotoGP class, and having secured a bike to run, as well as likely sponsorship from a Spanish backer, now needs a Spanish rider to keep the sponsors happy. Toni Elias would have fit that bill perfectly.

The downside to any Kawasaki deal, however well funded, was always going to be the Kawasaki. From the most improved bike on the grid last year, this year's green bike has been a complete disappointment, with Ant West continually propping up the timesheets - unless there's a downpour - and John Hopkins stuck firmly in mid-pack.

And so according to sources in the Spanish press, Toni Elias has decided to take the safe option: Instead of gambling on a Kawasaki, Elias is said to have signed a contract with Gresini Honda for next year, and will make a return to the team with which he took his first and so far only race win.

The reason for Elias' return to Gresini is simple: The team have promised him a factory-spec Honda for next season, and in light of Shinya Nakano's dramatic improvement in results at Brno, after receiving a factory RC212V to test while functioning as a test mule for Dani Pedrosa's dramatic switch to Bridgestones, that is a very attractive prospect indeed.

The only minor problem is HRC's recent record of reneging on deals which involve factory support. And it is a record which Elias will know almost from first hand. During his previous stint at Gresini, Marco Melandri was promised a factory-spec RC212V in 2007. However, once Honda found out just how far Ducati had moved the goal posts during the switch to the 800cc formula, all previous deals were off, while HRC concentrated on fixing the factory bikes. Or more accurately, the factory bike that Dani Pedrosa was riding.

Official confirmation of the deal is yet to be forthcoming, but a return to Gresini would make a great deal of sense for Elias. Even if the factory support falls through, it is inconceivable that Honda would get the bike wrong three years in a row. The Honda lane is sure to open again at some point, and history shows that it is more likely to be sooner than later. And once it does, then a satellite Honda will be a great place to be.

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