Latest World Superbike News
As a rule, the official pre-race media events on both World Superbike and MotoGP tend to be rather bloodless, even dull affairs. A select group of big name riders participate in a local tradition in a picturesque setting, as a tribute to the culture of the country the series is visiting, and to help publicize the race. In Valencia the riders helped cook a giant Paella dish, and in Qatar, they rode camels.
Normally, when visiting Assen, the organizers would try to do something typically Dutch and eminently forgettable, such as visit a wooden shoe factory or a windmill, or go and watch cheese being produced. Fortunately, this year the organizers of the World Superbike round at Assen came up with something a little less obvious, and far more entertaining: They organized a Solex race through the streets of the city of Assen. The Solex - a type of moped with a small petrol engine mounted directly over the front wheel, which it drives using a rubber wheel - has a cult following in Holland, after becoming vehicle of choice for Holland's first '60s youth cult, the Nozems. So the bikes are still hugely popular, and a surprisingly common site on the streets and cycle paths of Dutch cities.
The atmosphere of the Solex race was heightened by dressing the riders - Noriyuki Haga, Ben Spies, Johnny Rea and local Supersport men Barry Veneman and Arie Vos - in 1960s helmets and full-length leather overcoats. And luckily for us, the Dutch motorcycling blog Oliepeil was there to capture the whole occasion on film:
Intrigue haunts the World Superbike paddock at the moment, after rumors emerged that British rider Tommy Hill was to be replaced at Althea Honda. There was a quick response from the Althea Honda team, who issued a press release officially denying the story. The press release stated: "With reference to reports on several websites and forums regarding the substitution of our Superbike rider Tommy Hill with Lorenzo Lanzi, the Honda Althea Racing team wishes to deny this news, which is considered to be totally groundless."
A comprehensive denial. So what is fueling the rumor? Part of the problem is the replacement rider being named: Lorenzo Lanzi is an undeniably talented rider, and a winner at Valencia last year. The Italian started the season riding for Stefano Caracchi's KTM Scuderia Corse team in the Italian Superbike championship, but on the eve of the first round of the season, Caracchi and Lanzi have issued a joint statement announcing that Lanzi had been released from his contract to allow him to pursue opportunities in World Superbikes.
That press release is one of the things fueling the speculation, for it is refreshingly honest in why Lanzi is being released:
Times from the second day of the World Superbike test at Monza:
Times from the first day of the World Superbike test at Monza
|1||Michel Fabrizio||Ducati Xerox||1'45.7|
|2||Noriyuki Haga||Ducati Xerox||1'45.8|
|3||Ben Spies||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|4||Tom Sykes||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|5||Max Neukirchner||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.3|
|7||Yukio Kagayama||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.8|
|8||Karl Muggeridge||Suzuki Celani||1'47.1|
When the Moto2 class was announced, the purpose behind the series was immediately clear. The introduction of a 20,000 euro engine claiming rule and the emphasis on a prototype chassis was aimed at tempting private companies into the series to build chassis for lightly tweaked production engines. After years of Aprilia being able to pick and choose winners by deciding who to supply with factory-spec 250s, and often ending up with the highest bidder, something had to be done about reducing the price of competing in MotoGP's support class.
And after the rules were announced, a number of teams and chassis builders showed an interest in the class, just as Dorna and the FIM had predicted and hoped. There was, however, a rather large fly in the ointment. The elephant in the room during all these announcements was the agreement that FGSport - now Infront Motor Sports - claims to have with the FIM, giving them the monopoly on world championship racing with production motorcycles, and allowing Dorna to race with prototypes.
At the IRTA tests in Jerez, the FIM and Dorna shocked the motorcycle racing world by announcing a possible solution to this thorny problem: the MSMA had proposed that a single engine supplier be appointed for the class, eliminating the most costly part of running a bike in the class. A sensible proposal, and realistically the only way around the problem of using production engines, but the proposal has also had the unfortunate effect of scaring off the very people the class was intended to attract.
The Ten Kate team, for example, had previously indicated that they were very interested in the series. But the single engine proposal had changed their minds. MotoGPMatters.com cornered Ronald and Gerrit ten Kate of the Ten Kate Honda team about the new proposals, and asked their opinion.
Once upon a time, what seems like an age ago now, there was fictional oil company sponsoring a motorcycle racing team. The sponsor - Venture Petroleum - was part of the back story for a movie being made set against the background of MotoGP, and their - rather handsome - livery featured on Kenny Roberts' KR211V bike. News of the movie sparked a flurry of interest from hardcore motorcycle fans, but tragically, the film never materialized, disappearing in an argument over image rights between the production company and Dorna. The fans heaved a sigh of disappointment, and went back to hoping that one day, somebody somewhere would make a motorcycle racing film to rival the legendary Grand Prix.
That day may be closer than they think. Much to everyone's surprise, the Guandalini Racing Team turned up with their trailer sporting the following logo:
Frankie Chili, team manager told us "we put the sticker on the bike from now on. We have some details to discuss, but they have already signed the contract with Infront Motor Sports." Asked when he thought the movie would be out, Chili said "It's hard to say for me, but we hope next year to be ready. This year we make some shots, and next we show the movie."
With Infront Motor Sports seemingly more willing to help media companies than Dorna, maybe this time the movie will finally get released. It's one event that fans have been waiting for for a long time.
There was a flurry of excitement in the Italian media a little over a week ago over the parts being used by the Ten Kate Honda Supersport machines. The Italian website Motocorse.com reported that the Ten Kate CBR600RRs had been forced to remove a crankcase pump by the scrutineers after the practice session at Qatar, and that this was what had made it possible for Eugene Laverty to beat Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt's Ten Kate bikes on the Parkalgar Honda.
The story was right in all particulars, except for one. The Ten Kate Hondas had practiced with an electric crankcase pump (used to reduce the pumping losses created by the pistons going up and down in the crankcase), and after practice, it had been declared illegal by the scrutineers, despite protests. But this wasn't the reason that the Parkalgar Honda wasn't competitive. For the Parkalgar bikes had had exactly the same thing happen: They too had practiced with exactly the same part, and been forced to remove it by the scrutineers.
Speaking to MotoGPMatters, Parkalgar's Eugene Laverty said, "We had something on for the practice, but we were told to take it off for the race. It wasn't illegal but we had to do it anyway. We didn't run it in the race." If the removal of the pump meant Ten Kate were down on power, the same applied for the Parkalgar team. Laverty's victory over World Supersport title favorites Sofuoglu and Pitt had nothing to do with the loss of an artificial advantage for Ten Kate, and more with the strength of Laverty and the Parkalgar team.
The atmosphere at the official IRTA tests at Jerez was rather subdued. The global financial crisis has had a palpable impact on the paddock, not least of all the disappearance of the Kawasaki team, now reliant on crates being shipped from place to place, rather than having their own transporter. In an effort to respond to the worsening financial crisis, the FIM and Dorna announced a swathe of measures aimed at cutting costs in the series.
The measures announced varied from eminently sensible (adding 2kg to the minimum weights), to currently unnecessary (the ban on variable exhaust systems and composite ceramic brakes, which nobody is using anyway), to the completely pointless (the ban on GPS, which is easy but more expensive to circumvent). But the one rule change that is exercising people the most is the "rookie rule" - a rule which some people are calling the "Ben Spies rule" but which could just as easily be called the Alvaro Bautista rule or the Marco Simoncelli rule.
Under the proposal - which came from IRTA, which represents the teams, rather than the manufacturers - riders eligible for the Rookie of the Year award (basically anyone doing their first full season of MotoGP) would not be allowed to go straight to a factory team, but would have to spend at least a year on a satellite or private team. The reasoning behind the rule is that this would give the satellite teams a shot at signing riders with the publicity value to attract proper sponsorship.
Of course, in practice, the rule is likely to work completely differently. As Paolo Scalera of GPOne.com pointed out in the press conference announcing the rule, a factory wishing to sign a big name rookie will simply set up their own "satellite" team, leaving the existing satellite teams in the cold, just as happened when Honda set up the "satellite" Nastro Azzurro team with all of Mick Doohan's former crew for Valentino Rossi in 2000.
MotoGPMatters.com is coming to you live from Valencia this weekend (thanks in part to your generous donations, and our kind sponsors), to report on the third round of the World Superbike Championship. We arrived in the area yesterday, dropping off Spain's central Meseta to enter the coastal plain around the city of Valencia. On the drive up from Jerez, the weather had been getting gradually worse, with rain finally greeting us as we headed east from Madrid.
The weather here recently has been fairly dismal, with rain and even snow at higher altitudes in the east of the Iberian peninsula, but the sun is out, with only light cloud protecting the pasty occupants of the press room from serious sunburn. As always on Thursday, the paddock is a hive of activity, as teams assemble their hospitality suites and the late arrivals roll in.
The forecast for the rest of the weekend is good - comfortably warm, dry, yet with occasional clouds to keep off the worst of the sun, and there's every chance of a fascinating couple of races ahead. Will Ben Spies continue to close the gap on Noriyuki Haga, or will he struggle, as some of the European contingent believe he will now that the circus has hit Europe? Stay tuned for news and updates as they happen.
If you're reading this, then you already know the kind of job MotoGPMatters.com does in providing in-depth coverage of the MotoGP and World Superbikes championships. But as ever, it is our aim to keep making the website better, bringing you more news and better analysis from the world of motorcycle road racing. To achieve this aim, we will be providing coverage from track side at a number of events this season, keeping you up to date with the news as it happens.
The season kicks of with David Emmett (Kropotkin) reporting live from the IRTA Tests at Jerez starting from Friday, followed by coverage from the third round of the World Superbike series at Valencia in a week's time. A week after that, Scott Jones will be heading to Qatar to bring you some more of his stunning photos live from the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. More coverage is to follow, as we will also be reporting live from several other MotoGP and World Superbike rounds.
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With Ben Spies tearing up the World Superbike paddock and already being hotly tipped for the championship, talk has already started of a possible future in MotoGP. Though such talk is perhaps a little premature, just two rounds in the WSBK season, but it is clear that Spies has made a devastating impact, and looks almost certain to end up in MotoGP at some point in the future.
The question is, of course, just where he'll go. That he will stick with Yamaha goes without saying: In recent years, Yamaha has shown itself very astute at selecting riders with championship potential, but this very adroitness leaves the factory with something of a problem. With Valentino Rossi set to stay in MotoGP with Yamaha for at least two more years, and Jorge Lorenzo already his annointed successor, Yamaha's embarrassment of riches leaves them no room for Spies in the factory team.
Knowing that Yamaha will want to keep Spies on board, Tech 3 Yamaha boss Herve Poncharal has already launched a bid for the Texan's throttle hand. In an interview with the French automotive portal Caradisiac.com, Poncharal stated his hope of obtaining Spies' services for next season. "Frankly, Ben Spies has astounded me," Poncharal told Caradisiac.com. "It's obvious that he's an exceptional rider. I want to have him for 2010! We talked to him last year, just as we did with Simoncelli. Ben Spies has made a big impression so far, he has more than earned a place in MotoGP. It's obvious to me that he'll be there in 2010, and I hope it will be with us."
When John Hopkins announced that he would be joining the Stiggy Racing Honda team, it was generally assumed that this would mean the American would be riding alongside the existing riders, Leon Haslam and Roberto Rolfo. Hopper, it was thought, would bring enough money along in sponsorship to allow the team to run a third bike, allowing the team to expand.
It seems we were wrong. Today, Rolfo announced on his website that he would be leaving Stiggy Racing, due to "reasons beyond his control." Those reasons, the Stiggy team made clear, were to do with sponsorship issues: Clearly, John Hopkins had established sponsorship in place, and offered funds which Roberto Rolfo simply couldn't match.
Added to this were health worries over Rolfo's condition - the Italian broke a shoulder at the end of last year, and was advised by doctors to have surgery to correct the problem, advice he chose to ignore, preferring to go racing in 2009 - though Rolfo himself was adamant that these had not played any part in the move. "This has nothing to do with my physical condition, which is perfect at the moment," Rolfo stated.
But if Rolfo's condition was "perfect", his results were anything but. The Italian had scored just three points from the four races so far this season, and was yet to look like posing a challenge for the podium. The move leaves Rolfo without a ride, and with little prospect of one for 2009.
Hopkins arrival at Stiggy Honda, and Rolfo's departure, may have been messy, and rather uncomfortable for all parties concerned, but it can hardly have come as a surprise. The World Superbike field may be healthy with some 31 entries, but the financial crisis has hardly left the field untouched. Even in the relatively affordable world of WSBK, if you can afford to pay the piper, then you get to pay the tune. From Valencia onwards, it's John Hopkins, rather than Roby Rolfo, calling the shots.
During the deluge of stories about the Kawasaki catastrophe and the fate of Marco Melandri with the Hai-Karate, sorry, Hayate bike, there was always one question left unanswered: What about Hopper? For though the news was full of the fate of Kawasaki, Michael Bartholemy, Marco Melandri, Jorge Martinez, Carmelo Ezpeleta and a host of other characters, the one name that seemed always to be missing was that of John Hopkins.
That was mystifying for more than one reason, but most of all, because of money. Though Melandri is a big name in Italy, it was unclear what the Italian's role was in bringing sponsorship to the Kawasaki project. As for Hopper, on the other hand, it was an open secret that the Monster Millions came to Kawasaki through the link to the American. Though it was also said that once you took Hopkins' salary away, there wasn't a whole lot left to fill Kawasaki's coffers. It seemed that the combination of the more marketable Melandri and Hopper's PR faux pas at Misano last year - where the American went missing for a day - had swung the scales in Melandri's favor, leaving Hopkins out in the cold.
Fortunately for Hopkins, he wasn't left entirely out in the cold. There was one rumor that emerged a couple of times, and that was that Hopper was about to make the switch to World Superbikes. There were rumblings that Hopkins would replace Makoto Tamada at Paul Bird's Kawaski WSBK team, but as this flew in the face of Kawasaki's traditional demand for a Japanese rider, this was widely disregarded. But the one rumor that proved more difficult to quell was talk of Hopkins' joining Stiggy Racing, to ride a Honda alongside Leon Haslam.
More news from the ever-expanding cost cutting front. At the Phillip Island World Superbike round, the Superbike Commission followed in the steps of the Grand Prix Commission, heading down the road of rule changes aimed at reducing expenditure. And like MotoGP, the first casualty was Friday morning practice. As of the Valencia round of World Superbikes in early April, Friday morning practice will be scrapped for the Supersport and Superstock 1000 Cup, while free practice for the Superbike class will be moved to the afternoon. Technical inspection has also been moved from Thursday to Friday morning.
Unlike MotoGP, where the savings came mainly in the form of fewer engine rebuilds, the savings for Superstock and Supersport will come mainly in fuel, tires and crash damage. Both Superstock and Supersport engines regularly last multiple races, with some even lasting for an entire season. And though fuel and tires are fairly low budget items, in the low budget racing format of Superstock and Supersport, these measures could provide real savings.
More drastic than the changes announced at the meeting in Phillip Island is the subject of discussions for the next meetings of the Superbike Commissions. The FIM press release states that practice restrictions and engine limitations are to be discussed next. With limited potential for tuning and parts development, extended engine life for World Superbike machines may not produce the need for extra durability development that it is doing in MotoGP. But it remains to be seen whether such limitations will produce actual savings, or merely lead the teams to spend their money in other areas instead.
The World Superbike season has barely started, and already the controversy has started. The first blow was landed before the first race had even started: Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta complained to the Italian press that the Aprilia RSV4 that Max Biaggi used to grab the runner up spot in Superpole was illegal. "The Aprilia is a prototype, and as such, is not allowed to race here in SBK. We will wait until after the race to make a formal complaint," he told the Italian broadcaster La7.
In the hours since the race, word of any official protest being lodged is yet to emerge, and so the statements made by Batta should probably be put down to the flamboyant Belgian's hot temper, rather than a genuine statement of intent. And given the results of Sunday's two Superbike races, where both Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano finished outside the top 10, Batta may have decided to keep his powder dry, and wait for a more opportune moment.
But even if the Alstare boss does go ahead with his complaint, it is likely to fall on deaf ears. The Aprilia RSV4 1000 Factory has been homologated and approved by the FIM, making them officially legal in World Superbikes. According to Twowheelsblog.com, Batta's complaints center around the Aprilia's fuel injection system, which Alstare mechanics are claiming is the system as homologated. According to the FIM rules, the race bikes must use the same fuel injection system as used on the homologated machine. But any violation would be immediately apparent once the scrutineers get their hands on the machines at the technical inspection.