Though Toni Elias had already leaked details of the deal at Indianapolis, today, Gresini Honda officially confirmed that the Spaniard would be joining the team for 2009. And the specifics of the deal seem to justify Elias' decision to make a return to the team he left at the end of 2007.
For Elias is to be provided with a factory-spec Honda RC212V to campaign in the 2009 MotoGP season. This will bring the total number of factory Hondas on the grid to 3, alongside the 2 bikes which the Repsol Honda team will have for Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso.
With the amount of progress that Honda has made on their 800cc machine since its introduction, the factory-spec RC212V should be the best machine on the grid next year. With rumors rife that Dani Pedrosa has been given one more year to win a championship for Honda, or else seek gainful employment elsewhere, there can be no doubting that Pedrosa and his personal manager Alberto Puig will be putting as much pressure as possible on Honda to produce a bike capable of dominating the competition.
In the press release confirming Elias' signing, the Gresini team also confirmed a few other details. Alex de Angelis will be riding the satellite spec version of the Honda RC212V, though it remains unclear whether de Angelis would be given the factory spec bike should Elias be injured during the season. Gresini also announced that San Carlo, an Italian manufacturer of potato chips and other snack products, will be sponsoring the team again next year.
Gresini also confirmed its position as a key strategic partner with HRC. Fausto Gresini has worked very closely with Honda for several years, especially when Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri were with the team. The relationship suffered a setback during 2007, after HRC switched its resources to focus completely on the factory Repsol Honda team, after it became painfully apparent that Honda had completely misjudged what it would take to produce an 800cc bike capable of winning races. Any new parts which became available went straight to the factory teams, and satellite teams were left with a very mediocre bike for a long time, a position they weren't used to being in.
That period saw Marco Melandri grow increasingly disillusioned with Honda, and may have been the catalyst which led the Italian to jump ship to Ducati. After that proved to be a positively disastrous move for Melandri, his experience with HRC during 2007 may also have made him reluctant to return to the Honda fold, despite their proven record of winning, and take a chance with Kawasaki.
The coming of a third Kawasaki to the grid has been talked about for a long time. But over the months, the option has gone from being a racing certainty, to off the table, to having a reasonable chance of success.
The uncertainty has arisen as a result of differences between Kawasaki and Jorge Martinez Aspar, the manager of the 125 and 250 Aspar teams, who was slated to run the project. Martinez had sponsorship to fund the project, but the sponsors were all Spanish, and demanded a Spanish rider to use to sell to their home market. Spanish media sources even intimated that just being Spanish wouldn't be enough, but that Martinez would be required to run a rider from the Valencia Autonomous Community (a region equivalent to a US state) to help promote the region to tourists.
At Motegi, the deal looked to be almost dead in the water, but now, Motorcycle News is reporting that it's back on again, with a surprising amendment. Matthew Birt's report states that Kawasaki is demanding that Shinya Nakano be given the ride over any Spanish riders.
There is no word as yet of Martinez' reaction to these demands, but an announcement is due before the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. It remains to be seen whether Martinez can hang on to the sponsors for this project if they don't get a Spanish rider, which would put the project in jeapordy again unless the factory can come up with the money to fund it.
As for Nakano, this would most likely be a very positive move. The Japanese rider, once regarded as one of the most promising riders to enter the class, has seen his performance suffer since leaving Kawasaki to ride a Honda. Returning to Kawasaki would at the very least give Nakano a psychological boost.
It could help Kawasaki as well. Both Nakano and Hopkins like to carry a lot of corner speed, and place a lot of emphasis on the front of the bike. With two riders with similar styles on the Kawasaki, progress in developing the ZXRR could be accelerated.
After months of speculation, finally the deal is done. Ben Spies will not be riding in MotoGP in 2009. But the triple AMA champion will be leaving America: as reported earlier, Spies will be joining the factory-supported Yamaha Motor Italia team in the World Superbikes championship.
The move has been in the air for a while now. After Suzuki failed to secure Spies the ride in MotoGP he longed for, it was increasingly likely that Spies would look elsewhere for a ride. The American was linked for a while with JiR Honda in MotoGP, but once it became clear that Luca Montiron would not be given an RC212V to contest, that deal imploded.
Spies' motivation in the press release announcing the move is interesting, and worthy of note. Spies says "after considering my offers it became obvious to me that Yamaha would be a great home. Yamaha was excited about the possibility of me joining them and they just made me feel like I was coming into a great family. You look at how Yamaha treats its riders and how, even after their careers are over, they’re always part of the Yamaha family. That was really important to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge at hand and to work with Yamaha to produce a winning team and ultimately a World Superbike Championship."
These sentiments are very similar to those of Jorge Lorenzo, when he signed with Yamaha to ride in MotoGP. The Japanese factory has shown itself to be extremely astute when it comes to rider signings over the past years, carefully cherrypicking talent away from other factories. The signing of Spies is one such example.
But Yamaha's World Superbike team has taken a risk with the signing of Spies. The team will be fielding two rookies aboard a brand new racebike in the championship, and both BSB star Tom Sykes and AMA champ Ben Spies have a lot of circuits to learn. Any hopes the team may have had of lifting the WSBK crown in 2009 have probably been sacrificed for a long-term strategy, hoping that investment next year will pay off in 2010.
There was some speculation that Spies could still make it into MotoGP, taking Colin Edwards' seat at Tech 3 Yamaha, with Edwards switching to World Superbikes to take a shot at a third title in the series, and help develop Yamaha's new long bang firing sequence R1. Clearly, Edwards was not keen on this scenario this year, but that doesn't mean the move is off indefinitely.
For it seems only a matter of time before Ben Spies finally ends up in MotoGP. Yamaha's Racing Division Manager Laurens Klein Koerkamp hinted as much in the press release, saying "we believe he’s got a long future ahead of him at the highest levels in motorcycle racing". But it will be a few more years yet.
After earlier speculation that Ben Spies was to take Colin Edwards' place at the Tech 3 Yamaha team, with Edwards moving back to the World Superbike championship where he won two titles, it looks like the swap is off. The British racing publication Bikesport News is reporting that Spies will be going to World Superbikes after all, joining the factory supported Yamaha Motor Italia team to ride the new long bang Yamaha YZF R1.
Yamaha's World Superbike team had already confirmed to MotoGPMatters that the team was interested in Spies, but BSN is quoting "sources close to Spies" that the American triple AMA champion has inked a deal to join Tom Sykes in World Superbikes. The official announcement is expected this week.
The move would still leave the door open for a swap. In Sykes and Spies, the Yamaha team would have two class rookies, neither of whom knows the bike or the tracks. Having Edwards move into the WSBK team, and pushing Spies forward into the MotoGP team would allow both Spies and Sykes to be partnered by men with experience of the tracks, making finding a setup for the bike that little bit easier.
For the moment, though, that's just speculation. That Spies will be on a Yamaha next year is virtually certain. That he will be riding in World Superbikes is extremely likely. But either way, Spies will finally have the chance to show what he is capable of on the world stage.
Since Colin Edwards finally wrapped up his contract to ride for Tech 3 Yamaha again next year, there's been little discussion of the situation at Yamaha, with all 4 seats firmly settled.
Or so it seemed. While the situation at Yamaha in MotoGP looked settled, the same could not be said for World Superbikes. The Yamaha Motor Italia team lost both its big name riders for next season, with Noriyuki Haga going to Xerox Ducati and Troy Corser joining BMW's fledgeling World Superbike effort. And so far, the team has only signed the British Superbikes star Tom Sykes to fill one of the seats.
So obviously, speculation has been rampant on who is to fill the other seat at the Yamaha factory Superbike team. Though Sylvain Guintoli tested for the team a week ago, the name that keeps popping up in this regard is the American Ben Spies. After Suzuki failed to provide him with the MotoGP ride he thought he had in the bag, Spies has been looking elsewhere, and specifically to other manufacturers, to provide him with a ride on the world stage.
But along with all the rumors linking Spies to the Yamaha World Superbike ride comes some even more intriguing speculation. During the BBC broadcast of the Motegi MotoGP round, commentator Matt Roberts mentioned that there was a strong rumor that Yamaha were trying to persuade Colin Edwards to give up his Tech 3 Yamaha seat and switch to World Superbikes to ride their brand new R1.
If this is true - and it would certainly make a lot of sense, given that the new R1 uses virtually the same firing sequence as Yamaha's M1 MotoGP bike - then the road could be cleared for Ben Spies to take Edwards' Tech 3 seat, and move into MotoGP.
Though unsubstantiated, the rumor has an irresistible logic to it. The Tech 3 team has struggled to obtain sponsorship in recent years, and Spies would be capable of bringing in a big name sponsor to the team. Tech 3 would again have 2 former Superbike champions on the Yamaha, with James Toseland able to help Spies make the transition to MotoGP, much as Edwards did for Toseland. And Yamaha would get the acknowledged bike development skills of Colin Edwards for their brand new R1 superbike, something they will need if they are to make the bike competitive quickly.
When contacted, Yamaha's World Superbike team would only confirm that they were interested in having ride the new R1, and expected to make an announcement about their 2nd rider later this week.
Now that it has been made official, and before the contract is awarded, which will undoubtedly containing a clause silencing any criticism of the tires or tire company, reaction to the announcement of a single tire rule from figures directly involved in the paddock is starting to emerge.
The racing websites Autosport.com and GPOne.com have one such response, from no less a figure than Jeremy Burgess, the technical genius behind both Mick Doohan's and Valentino Rossi's 11 combined world championships. Burgess is emphatic: in JB's opinion, the move to a single tire rule is a mistake.
"I'm against it, this is a prototype championship and you need as many prototype factors in it, driving it forward, as possible. If it's dumbed down, we could very easily end up as a pseudo Superbike championship."
Burgess doesn't think the switch to a single tire supplier will make the racing any closer, either. "The cream will always rise to the top" he said on Autosport.com. Burgess also pointed out that in his opinion, the best battle at Motegi was between Lorenzo on Michelins and Pedrosa on Bridgestone tires.
The full text of a statement released by Valentino Rossi after the Motegi race. Contains details of the race.
Yamaha Racing issued a press release with an interview with Valentino Rossi after he clinched his 6th MotoGP world title. It offers a fascinating insight into the mind of a world champion, and hints at his future. Here it is, in full:
Further information World Title Valentino Rossi
“I think it’s difficult to say, but maybe this is even better than the first championship with Yamaha in 2004. In 2004 I arrived after three championships in a row; the change was very big and no one expected me to win then, not even us to be honest! But this year is great too because I didn’t start as the number one favourite after losing for two years. The taste of this is something special.
“In 2006 I lost because of bad luck; I still won the most races and was the fastest on track for most of the time, but in 2007 Stoner was a lot faster than us and so we got to the end with a big of disadvantage. Winning this championship was very difficult but also very, very important.
“The decision to change to Bridgestone tyres, which I took together with Jeremy, my team and all the Yamaha crew, was very important, as were the changes to the bike because the first 800cc M1 last year was not competitive enough. We spoke a lot during last season and I remember a strange meeting in Valencia last year, me with a broken hand, speaking with Furusawa about 2008. From then we started to work on the improvements for this season. It’s also been important to have the right people in the right place and this year everything has been correct. It’s been step-by-step.
“I think I have made a lot of good decisions this year and we have been competitive from the start. Qatar was the worst race of the season but I knew our potential was good so, although we were a bit worried at that point, we weren’t desperate because we knew if we fixed a few problems we could try to win.
“I grew up a lot in the last two years, because at the end of 2005 I had a great career and I had won all the important targets so far. 125, 250 and then five titles in a row in MotoGP with two different bikes – I felt unbeatable. But in 2006 and 2007 I learnt to lose and this has been very important. I came out much stronger and my level of concentration and effort to win this championship has been higher than ever before.
“This season has had some different periods. At the beginning of the year we had some important results when Bridgestone wasn’t the strongest: Jerez, Portugal and others, and in that period we took a big advantage from Stoner. After Barcelona Casey started to ride like a demon and dominated three races in a row, and then we went to Laguna which was the turning point of the season. Laguna was a real battle and from then on we have flown.
“The show after the race was one of my friends pretending to be a ‘notary’, signing and certificating the eighth championship ‘deed’. It was very exciting to be planning the championship t-shirt and celebration once again with my friends and fan club and the one we came up with is funny I think, it says ‘I’m sorry for the delay!’
“I am very content at Yamaha and this is why I signed for two more years. I had some good offers at other factories, but I already changed bike once and proved everything I wanted to and so there is no need to do that again. Also I am no longer 20 years old and I need a good atmosphere in my team in order to keep me focused and happy, and I have this at Yamaha. The atmosphere in our team, from the Japanese all the way down to the garage is fantastic and this is what makes me want to stay.
“I think 2009 will be even more difficult than this year. Now I am the world champion again and I have demonstrated that I am still very fast; I think I rode the best of my career this year apart from the mistake in Assen, but next year is another story, it depends on how the winter is and how Stoner, Pedrosa and also Lorenzo are next year, as well as the other riders because there are many fast people in this championship. I think it will be a great championship and I’m looking forward to it, but first I want to finish this year and try to win the final three races!
“As I said, there are many strong riders but of course I hope that in the future nobody will win like Valentino Rossi! Maybe my brother Luca will be as strong as me…I wanted to take him on my bike on the celebration lap, but they did not allow it. Maybe I will wait for him to be a MotoGP rider before quitting, then I will beat him in the first year, and then I will stop riding!
“When you are 20 or 22 yrs old, you live everything in a different way. It’s different… In 2000, maybe, I could have won on my debut, but I underestimated myself! In 2001 it was the last chance for me to win in 500, so I gave it my best and did that. In 2001 it was the year of the battle with Biaggi, in 2002 it was the year when everybody said that I won because of my bike, then 2003 was the year of Gibernau, it was hard until the end. They were fantastic years but with Yamaha it is different. I enjoy it more.
“During 2003 I started thinking about Yamaha. Of course I was scared about the new challenge, it was a big question mark. This year, when I tested the new bike and the new tyres, I understood that I could win. In 2004, however, when I tested the new bike I understood we had to work a lot. Sincerely, the feeling of winning in Welkom in 2004 was the strongest emotion of my career; more so than in Laguna Seca this year. The 2005 the M1 was very fast and that one and the 2008 one are the best Yamaha bikes ever.
“I think Stoner next year will be back stronger again, so maybe he is the hardest rival I have ever had, more than Gibernau and all the others I fought against in the past. Last year I was sorry that after so many successful years, some people thought Valentino was finished and Casey was the new Valentino. As I said, until I stop riding a bike, my objective will always be to win. I like this life and I always try to do my best in it.”
Statistiscs on Valentino Rossi's career
In becoming only the second rider ever to win the MotoGP World Championship following a two-year gap, Valentino Rossi has cemented his place amongst the legends of motorcycle racing. A return to the form that won him five consecutive premier-class titles between 2001 and 2005 has seen the Italian reinstated at the very pinnacle of the sport, with a host of career milestones reached along the way.
Here is a full list of Rossi’s historic MotoGP achievements in 2008:
Rossi has joined Giacomo Agostini as one of only two riders to have taken six or more premier-class World Championships.
Rossi is only the second rider to regain the premier-class title after a two year gap – the other rider to do this was also Agostini.
This is Rossi’s eighth world title across all classes. Only Agostini with 15, Angel Nieto, with 13, Mike Hailwood and Carlos Ubbiali, with nine each, have won more.
Rossi is the first rider to win the premier-class title on four different types of motorcycle: 500cc 4-cylinder two-stroke, 990cc 5-cylinder four-stroke, Yamaha 990cc 4-cylinder four-stroke and a Yamaha 800cc 4-cylinder four-stroke.
It is eleven years since Rossi’s first World Championship success in the 125cc class in 1997. The only rider with a longer period between his first and last titles is Angel Nieto, who won the 50cc crown in 1969 and the 125cc equivalent in 1984.
With his 69th career MotoGP win at Indianapolis, Rossi broke Giacomo Agostini’s record for the most premier-class victories; a record that has stood since the legendary Italian’s final victory at the West German Grand Prix in 1976.
With 37 wins, Rossi has had more success with Yamaha than any other factory in his career
Rossi is also Yamaha’s most successful rider, having scored 13 more premier-class wins for the factory than Kenny Roberts.
With three races to go he is the only rider to have scored points in every round of the 2008 season.
Rossi’s sequence of five straight race wins since Laguna Seca is his longest run of wins since 2005, when he also scored five successive victories.
Other facts about Rossi’s career.
In 1997 Rossi became the second youngest ever 125cc World Champion after scoring 321 points and eleven wins.
Two years later, he became the youngest ever 250cc World Champion with nine wins.
In 2001 Rossi joined Phil Read as one of only two riders ever to win the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc titles.
Rossi’s debut victory for Yamaha at the opening race of 2004 in South Africa made him the first rider in history to take back-to-back wins for different manufacturers.
After winning the MotoGP World Championship three times with Honda, Rossi took his fourth premier-class title with Yamaha in 2004 and became the only rider other than Eddie Lawson to win consecutive premier-class titles for different manufacturers.
Valentino Rossi - Career
Born: 16th February 1979 in Urbino, Italy
World Championships: 8 (6 x MotoGP/500cc, 1 x 250cc, 1 x 125cc)
GP victories: 96 (70 x MotoGP/500cc, 14 x 250cc, 12 x 125cc)
GP podiums: 148 (112 x MotoGP/500cc, 21 x 250cc, 15 x 125cc)
GP Pole Positions: 51 (41 x MotoGP/500cc, 5 x 250cc, 5 x 125cc)
First GP: Malaysia, 1996 (125cc)
First GP win: Czech Republic, 1996 (125cc)
GP starts: 207 (146 x MotoGP/50cc, 30 x 250cc, 30 x 125cc)
After all the speculation, machinations and backroom dealing, the deed is finally done. This morning, 9am Japanese time, the Grand Prix Commission, the body in which teams, manufacturers and organizers decide on the rules which goverrn MotoGP, decided unanimously to switch the series to a single tire supplier. The Commission issued a timetable for the switch, which requires proposals from tire manufacturers to be submitted by October 3rd, the Friday of the Phillip Island Grand Prix, with a decision on those proposals from the Grand Prix Commission due on October 18th.
Michelin has already announced that they are considering submitting a proposal, and Dunlop Racing's Jeremy Ferguson told Eurosport commentators Toby Moody and Julian Ryder during the broadcast of the 250cc race that Dunlop was not interested in being the supplier for the MotoGP series. However, the favorite to get the contract is Bridgestone, as any other outcome would be unpalatable for the big name riders who have publicly switched to the Japanese tires in recent years.
The change will also mean the end of qualifying tires. With the FIM and Dorna effectively having control over the supply of tires, they will be able to restrict the types of tires available, and ensure that soft tires which only last a single lap will not be made available to the teams. According to Ezpeleta, the qualifying format will stay as it is, a single, hour-long session on Saturday, but qualification will be done on race tires.
The reasons cited for the change were safety and costs. While costs will reduce for the teams, as they will be given tires for free, the safety aspect is less obvious. The decision is aimed at stopping corner speeds increasing so quickly, but that can only really be achieved if development effectively stops on the tires. It seems more likely that additional measures will have to be taken at some point, but the problem arises if the change doesn't achieve the desired effect.
If corner speeds continue to rise - and as the corners are the slowest part of the track, there is more to be gained by increasing speeds there - then the temptation to introduce more regulation will be overwhelming. The first change is likely to be the reintroduction of treaded tires, as predicted by Alan Cathcart over a year ago in an interview with Dean Adams on the Superbikeplanet.com podcast, Soupkast. But if that doesn't help, then further tinkering, in the form of restrictions on electronics, a single ECU, further reductions in fuel capacity, etc are now more likely to be introduced than before.
We will bring you further news as and when it emerges.
Since the damp start to the race weekend on Friday morning, the weather at Motegi has cleared up nicely, and Saturday's qualifying practice session started under warm sunshine and with a hot track. Fortunately for the riders, they had already had two dry sessions to work on their dry setups, and the fastest laps were soon coming thick and fast.
As we have come to expect, Casey Stoner quickly shot to the top of the timesheets, taking fastest lap on his very first complete lap, but he was pushing a little harder than the bike was up to. As he braked for the hairpin on his 3rd lap, Stoner overcooked it, and ran off the track into the gravel. He quickly rejoined, and was back up to speed within a couple of laps.
For the first 8 minutes, the fastest time changed relentlessly, with Randy de Puniet, Shinya Nakano and Valentino Rossi chipping away at the lead to get into the low 1'48s. But once Rossi hit his stride, he took a much firmer grasp of the lead, setting a lap of 1'47.581, and going on to circulate in the 1'47.7 bracket.
After his initial off-track excursion, Stoner soon joined Rossi in the 1'47s, along with Jorge Lorenzo, and with a quarter of the session gone, took over provisional pole with a 1'47.484. There was clearly nothing wrong with Stoner's race setup, but unusually, the Australian was not yet breaking lap record pace, a feat he has managed during practice almost effortlessly at almost every racetrack since Barcelona.
If a 1'47.484 was outside the lap record, there could be no doubt that it would not be good enough for pole, and it was just a matter of waiting for the first qualifying tire to come out to get an idea of what it would take to secure the front spot on the grid. Fortunately, and in a return to something resembling tradition, the Frenchman Randy de Puniet broke the tension just after the mid-point of the session, squeezing his LCR Honda to a lap of 1'47.172.
For a minute, de Puniet made us wonder, though, as the satellite Honda man held on to his fast times through the first couple of sectors, but as he headed into the final section, heading under the bridge to turn back onto the front straight, it became clear that though the Michelin qualifiers were good, they weren't good enough to use for two full laps. Not quite, anyway.
De Puniet's fast lap was the signal for a general charge by the grid, with a host of riders out on qualifiers, but on their first qualifier, most people are just getting used to the increased levels of grip, and trying to wrap their minds around just how much later they can brake, and how much earlier they can get on the gas. De Puniet's time would stand for while.
In fact, it would stand for just 5 minutes. Colin Edwards was the first to take pole from de Puniet, taking just under a tenth of a second from the Frenchman, but clearly that wouldn't be enough to last either. A couple of minutes later, and there were two men chasing Edwards time, and on track to break it.
The first man was Loris Capirossi, the winner of the last three races at Motegi. With just over 22 minutes of the session to go, Capirossi streaked across the line in 1'47.002, but his provisional pole would be very short lived. Two seconds later, the man who had followed him round smashed his time, Nicky Hayden hitting a more respectable 1'46.666, the first man to crack into the 1'46s.
But clearly not the last. A couple of minutes later, the factory Honda was forced to make way for the factory Yamahas, as Jorge Lorenzo took a tenth off Hayden's time, then Valentino Rossi shaved another few hundredths off, taking pole with a 1'46.542.
The times were still a long way off a likely pole time. Loris Capirossi's 2006 pole record was three quarters of a second faster, and despite their reduced capacity, the 2008 bikes should have been capable of getting close, at the very least. The question was, could anyone crack into the 1'45s?
The answer was not entirely unexpected. Casey Stoner, so often the fastest man on the planet on two wheels, staked his claim to that title once again with just over a quarter of the session to go. And he did so emphatically, taking nearly 7/10ths of a second off Rossi's pole time, with a lap of 1'45.831. This was much more like it.
Stoner's Bridgestones were undoubtedly quick, especially at a track where Bridgestone has done well for the past few years, but the Michelins weren't so bad either. Three minutes after the Australian had taken pole, Jorge Lorenzo was back, and quicker. The Spaniard snatched pole back from Stoner with a furious lap of 1'45.750, the Fiat Yamaha man clearly having refound his form.
As the clock ticked down, the action on track hotted up, as everyone went back out for their final attempts to secure a spot on the front row. Nicky Hayden was the first to manage that, taking 3rd with a 1'46.196, before seeing it taken away again by Valentino Rossi, coming up just short of the 1'45 bracket.
Casey Stoner was also back out, but came straight back in again, his tire failing to work as expected. He was out again straight away, but uncharacteristically, was off the pace, not capable of cracking Lorenzo's record pace. He crossed the line with just under 4 minutes to go, plenty of time, but not enough for an in lap, and then another out lap, and so any hopes of taking pole were gone. It would later transpire that Stoner had had a bug hit his visor as he started his fast lap, and he had been unable to see the apexes properly, slowing him down. A little bit of bad luck, and a niggle, but the sort of thing that has conspired against Stoner lately, luck having seemingly deserted him recently.
He was not alone in that fate. Just as Nicky Hayden rounded the final corner to start on his fast lap, a gaggle of riders pulled out of pit lane on their out laps. With so many people on track, it was bound to go wrong, and sure enough, Ant West got in Hayden's way as he rounded the second hairpin. To be fair to West, that is a difficult corner, and a place where you are always going to be in the way at some point or other, but Hayden's lap was gone.
Luckily for Hayden, the Michelins had some endurance, as de Puniet's earlier two-lap run had shown. Hayden slowed, and ran the rest of the lap just fast enough to keep the heat in his tires, then set off once again. The Kentucky Kid's luck held, and his proven prowess on qualifiers took him back into the 1'45s, and back onto the front row.
As the clock ticked down, there was no one left to challenge Jorge Lorenzo's pole time. Except, that is, Jorge Lorenzo. In the dying seconds of the session, the Spaniard took another 2/10ths of his existing pole time, shattering the pole record with a lap of 1'45.543, and securing his first pole since Portugal early in the season, and confirming the form of his previous couple of races.
Even Casey Stoner had been unable to do anything about Lorenzo, and was forced to settle for 2nd. Things had not gone the Australian's way, but a front row start should be good enough to give him the start he needs.
Stoner starts ahead of Nicky Hayden, who is undergoing something of a revival. The Honda gets off the line very quickly, and a front row start could give him the chance to lead the race again for at least a couple of laps.
Hayden's fast lap pushed Valentino Rossi back down into 4th, and onto the 2nd row. Rossi has stated for most of the year that a front row start is vital if he is to challenge for the win, as he simply can't afford to let Stoner get away. But spending too much time on their race setup left the team with too little time on qualifiers, and Rossi paid the price.
Besides Rossi sits Dani Pedrosa, still coming to grips with the Bridgestone qualifiers. Though 5th is not where he hoped to start from, the speed of the Honda off the line could work in Pedrosa's favor.
Three-time winner Loris Capirossi rounds out the second row, fast as always on the track he is so strong at. During the last few minutes of qualifying Capirossi looked like he could get onto the front row, but the Suzuki man came up short in the second half of the track, and was left back in 6th.
Colin Edwards heads up the third row, taking 7th place ahead of Randy de Puniet, the early polesitter. Shinya Nakano took his Gresini Honda to 9th, while Edwards' team mate James Toseland rounds out the top 10, 1.3 seconds back from Lorenzo's pole.
With Casey Stoner on the front row, Valentino Rossi must be worried. Both men are on similar race pace, Rossi maybe 0.1 seconds off Stoner's pace, but having to start from the second row will severely hamper The Doctor's race strategy, which is to get with Stoner and harass him.
Rossi will have to hope that either Lorenzo or Hayden can get off the line quickly and hold Stoner up until he can catch up with them. Hayden is certainly a good starter, and should be capable of matching Stoner off the line, though his race pace is a little short of Stoner's and Rossi's.
Unlike Lorenzo's. The Spaniard is decent off the line, but his race pace is close to Rossi's and he could once again feature in the race. Dani Pedrosa, at a track which suits him down to the ground, is still coming to terms with the Bridgestones, and is a fraction slower than Jorge Lorenzo, but a fraction faster than his team mate Hayden. Like Rossi, Pedrosa needs to get a blistering start, to stay with Stoner at the front, and try to get ahead.
The outsider here is once again Loris Capirossi. Capirex has a race pace not far off Lorenzo's, and given a bit of luck, could make the break and go on to win his 4th race in a row here. It all depends on how quick he is into the first corner.
With Rossi on the 2nd row, the Italian may decide to concentrate on the podium, and securing the title, instead of taking risks to try and catch and beat Casey Stoner. If someone can get in Stoner's way, then that may change things around, but for now, Rossi is surely focused mainly on getting back the title. It has eluded him for the past 2 years, and now it is so close again, he is unlikely to let it slip from his grasp once more. Little could be sweeter for Rossi and for Yamaha than to take the MotoGP crown in Honda's home.
A crucial meeting is due to be held at Motegi on Saturday afternoon. During this meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, a proposal is to be submitted to allow only a single manufacturer to produced tires for MotoGP. Bridgestone is the favorite to be awarded the contract, which would end nearly 60 years of open competition in motorcycle racing's premier class. The general expectation is that the proposal will be adopted without too much argument.
Or at least, that was the general expectation up until a few hours ago. Now, Spanish television is reporting that Ducati, the team that has taken Bridgestone to its dominant position in the MotoGP paddock, is in talks with Michelin to supply tires to all 5 Ducatis expected to be on the grid for next year. The deal, if it were to come off, would immediately scupper any chances of a single tire proposal being pushed through, and blow the tire war wide open again.
At first glance, the proposal may seem to be beyond bizarre: Why would a company who have built up such an incredible record of success with Bridgestone suddenly dump the tire company who helped them to win world title this year, and whose tires are certain to win the championship again in 2008? What's more, why drop what is considered to be one of the key ingredients in the magic recipe that has turned Casey Stoner from being a fast kid with a tendency to crash to arguably the most dominant rider in MotoGP?
When you study Ducati's history in MotoGP, however, the move suddenly makes a great deal of sense. Ducati's successful partnership with Bridgestone started as a result of a strategic decision taken by the Borgo Panigale factory to switch away from the then dominant brand Michelin. This decision seemed as bizarre then as any proposal to switch to Michelins does now, but at its core is the same astute piece of analysis. If you want to beat Valentino Rossi, the leading candidate for the title of greatest motorcycle racer ever, you need to obtain some kind of advantage.
At the end of the 2004 season, Ducati made the switch to Bridgestone, arguing that they had more chance of getting Bridgestone to build a tire that would work specifically for their bikes than with Michelin. The French tire giant, then utterly dominant in MotoGP, was also supplying both Yamaha and Honda, and Ducati rightly surmised that with their needs were likely to come a long way down the list, after the demands of the then reigning multiple world champion and the factory that has been the driving force behind motorcycle racing's premier class since the late '80s.
Though the switch brought limited success in 2005 - at that point in time, Bridgestone were a long way behind in tire development - 2006 saw Loris Capirossi in with a legitimate shot at the title until his season was wrecked in the monster crash at Barcelona, and the story of Casey Stoner's domination in 2007 is all too familiar.
In the light of this history, and recent moves which have seen all of the major players in MotoGP either switch to Bridgestone, or demand that they switch for 2009, a move to Michelin starts to look like the smartest course of action. With Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa already on Bridgestones, and likely to be joined next year by Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati's influence with the Japanese tire maker is certain to wane, leaving them in a similar position to the one they found themselves in when the Italian factory first entered MotoGP in 2003.
By selecting Michelin as their tire suppliers, Ducati would once again become the major influence in tire development within Michelin as the only major factory team on French rubber. They could work together with Michelin to have tires tailor made to their own specifications, and once again, be in with a chance of getting an advantage over the competition.
The stumbling block to such a proposal would appear to be Casey Stoner. The reigning World Champion has in the past been very negative about Michelin tires, but there is an important distinction here. Stoner was negative about the tires he was given to race with, as the Australian was way down the Michelin pecking order on board the satellite LCR Honda. But his main complaint about the French tire company was that they favored the top teams over his smaller team.
If Ducati are either the sole factory on Michelins, or at least, the most important team on Michelins, this objection disappears. Michelin is determined to restore its reputation in MotoGP, and you can be absolutely certain that the French tire maker will do everything it can to provide Stoner with tires capable of winning. And by having 5 Ducatis to supply, the incentives to get the tires to suit the bike are further increased.
Proof, if proof were needed, of Michelin's commitment to regaining its former dominant position in MotoGP can be seen by the French company's efforts at persuading other teams to join it. Michelin is said to be talking to both Gresini Honda and Rizla Suzuki about using their tires, and dropping Bridgestones. For Suzuki, as for Ducati, the argument of much greater input into tire development is an extremely persuasive one, and worth taking very seriously indeed.
And so, at a stroke, Ducati have helped sweep the single tire proposals from the table, a proposal that was indirectly a result of their dominance of last year. For such a small factory - and their entire factory could probably fit inside just the race departments of some of the major Japanese manufacturers - Ducati have managed to have an inordinate amount of influence over the MotoGP series.
Thanks to Jim Race and Jules Cisek of Rideontwo.com for the tip.