Latest World Superbike News
Rumors concerning the future of Yamaha's World Supersport team have been running rampant for a while, with speculation that the team could be handed over to Stiggy Racing circulating in the motorcycle racing press. Today, however, MotoMatters.com has received confirmation that Yamaha is indeed to withdraw from World Supersport from next season and the team is to be disbanded.
Sources have revealed to MotoMatters.com that Yamaha Motor Europe has decided to cease running the team due to the severe financial situation that Yamaha finds itself in as a result of the global economic crisis. Yamaha is expected to post losses of 182 billion yen this year, with turnover declining by over 30% from 2008, and all expenses are being examined rigorously. World Supersport, it seems, does not justify the expense that YME invests in it, despite the popularity of the 600cc category among road riders.
Sadly for the current team members, most of them will have their contracts terminated at the end of the season. No one is exempt from the attrition at Yamaha: Even former racer, long-time racing consultant and team manager Wilco Zeelenberg is likely to be out of a job, though according to our sources, his position is currently "under consideration." Only one member of the team is certain to be retained to help develop and maintain the engines.
The first outlines of the 2010 World Superbike calendar are starting to emerge, and so far, it bears a remarkable resemblance to this year's schedule. Though nothing has been announced officially by the FIM and InFront Motor Sports, Motorcycle News' Michael Guy is reporting that the biggest change to the calendar will be the dropping of the Qatar round of World Superbikes and moving the Kyalami round up to take its place, to limit the expense of the flyaway rounds.
According to MCN, the season is due to kick off at Phillip Island on February 28th, with all the teams due to fly out early for testing at the glorious Australian circuit. From there, the WSBK circus will fly to South Africa to race at Kyalami, just outside of Johannesburg, before heading back to Europe for the rest of season, with one more trip overseas to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The series will visit Italy three times and Spain once, and hitting the UK at Donington - if the track is ready, of course.
The loss of Qatar is hardly a surprise, with attendance being at a minimum and the event not attracting the kind of media interest that the MotoGP night race freak show tends to generate. The World Superbike event is hampered by the fact that the MotoGP race is just a month after World Superbikes, making potential spectators choose between the two. Attendees who have been to both say that the atmosphere at the World Superbike race is better, possibly due to the night race being such an alienating experience, but the local economy - admittedly consisting mainly of expats with a love of bike racing - cannot bear two events in such close proximity. With the QMMF prepared to foot the bill for the MotoGP extravaganza, there was never any doubt as to which event would lose out.
To say that John Hopkins has had a torrid season would be the understatement of the year. First, he lost his ride in the Kawasaki MotoGP team, after the Japanese factory decided to pull out of MotoGP. He was fortunate to find a new seat alongside Leon Haslam in the Stiggy Racing Honda team in World Superbikes, but that only lasted a couple of rounds, before a huge crash at Assen saw him break his hip, forcing him to miss four World Superbike rounds. Once back to reasonable fitness and able to race again, he got involved in a huge first-corner pile up at the Nurburgring, and had another bike ride over him completely.
At first, it seemed that Hopkins had got away with it completely, but that would break a streak of bad luck that has dogged the American all year. Upon further investigation, it turned out that in addition to some minor injuries to his wrist and shoulde, and a further aggravation of the hip injury he suffered earlier this year, Hopkins had also suffered some very slight bruising to the brain. The bruising was sufficient cause for concern for Dr Ting to have a specialist look at it, and there was good news and bad news. The good news is that the bleeding from the hemorrhage has stopped, and the bruise is very small, meaning Hopper won't require surgery.
The bad news, though, is that Hopkins will be kept under observation for the next 6 weeks, after which the American will undergo a further scan to check whether the bruising is still there. That basically means that Hopkins will not be able to ride for all that period, which ends - Hopkins' terrible luck again - right after the final World Superbike round at Portimao in Portugal in October.
With Jorge Lorenzo finally signed up to Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa back at Honda, the next domino to fall in the MotoGP and World Superbike silly season is surely Ben Spies. Shortly before the Misano MotoGP round, Yamaha made an announcement that seemed to tie up Spies' future, were it not for a probably deliberate and certainly unusual choice of words. The press release said that the agreement between Spies and Yamaha "foresees" Spies being in World Superbikes in 2010, but the word "foresees" sent the English-language press reaching for their dictionaries and discussing its many various subtleties in depth and at length worthy of a roomful of Kremlinologists. Did "foresee" mean that Spies would definitely be in WSBK for 2010 and MotoGP in 2011? Could he come to MotoGP a year early? Could it potentially even mean that Spies could decide to stay in World Superbikes for 2011 as well?
The first clue was provided by Roger Burnett, James Toseland's manager. Burnett told the BBC before the race that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss Herve Poncharal had been asked by Yamaha to make Colin Edwards an offer, a fitting reward for a successful season. After the race, Edwards confirmed to journalists that an agreement had been reached, and as Colin Young over at SpeedTV is reporting, Edwards will be staying with the Tech 3 team for 2010. "It's been a great team this year. My crew chief is awesome, the team owner Herve Poncharal is a great guy, so the whole package fits so why change it? Herve wanted me to stay, we just had to get the funding right," Edwards told SpeedTV.
Though Edwards is staying with the same team, the crucial detail here is the subtle change in his position. If Edwards has a contract from Poncharal rather than Yamaha Japan, then he no longer occupies the seat that Yamaha Japan has inside the Tech 3 team, but has been shifted sideways into James Toseland's seat. That would appear to mean that Yamaha is now holding open a seat for someone at the Tech 3 team. And that someone can surely only be Ben Spies, although Lin Jarvis, speaking to the Spanish daily AS.com, would not be drawn on who would be placed there. "Edwards has an offer for another year, and I would prefer not to talk about the fourth Yamaha," Jarvis told AS. "It depends on a series of circumstances." Jarvis acknowledged that out of work Spanish rider Toni Elias was one option for the seat but "He is not our first choice."
With Jorge Lorenzo already signed for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa a strong candidate to announce his contract renewal with Honda this weekend, the silly season focus has shifted to the next log damming up the river, the Texan Ben Spies. Spies has been widely expected to stay at Yamaha, but the question mark surrounding the Texan sensation has been whether his future lies in World Superbikes or in MotoGP. Yamaha have made no secret of the fact they'd like to keep the American in World Superbikes for another year, while reports are rife that both Ducati and Suzuki made approaches to Spies to join them in MotoGP.
Yamaha, it seems, have won this particular battle. According to Speedweek's Gunther Wiesinger - about whom a press officer once complained to me that he knew too much - Spies has penned a new deal with Yamaha, signing on for another two years. The first year of the contract would see Spies staying on in World Superbikes, either to defend or to conquer the World Superbike title for Yamaha in 2010, with Spies stepping up to MotoGP in 2011, most likely to take over Colin Edwards' seat in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.
With Spies staying in World Superbikes, this paves the way for more dominoes to fall into place in both MotoGP and World Superbikes. The prime beneficiary will be Colin Edwards, who will get to keep his Yamaha Japan-funded seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though Edwards' partner is still to be decided. In World Superbikes, there will probably only be one seat vacant in the Yamaha Motor Italia squad, which could go to Cal Crutchlow, though reports are placing him in Moto2 with Gresini next season. That Yamaha Superbike seat will be very hotly contested, with the new R1 clearly competitive, and the team highly proficient. If Crutchlow doesn't take the seat, the chances of the man dominating the BSB championship, Leon Camier, is the prime candidate.
These things will start to sort themselves out over the next few weeks. Stand by for a deluge of silly season news from World Superbikes over the coming weeks.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Yamaha Racing have now officially announced the news. The text of the press release follows:
While silly season has been at boiling point over in MotoGP, things have been fairly quiet in the World Superbike paddock. Three factors have held up movement in the series: Firstly, the Lorenzo Saga, which had a direct bearing on the future of WSBK title candidate Ben Spies, who was in line to move up to the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team to await his turn at Fiat Yamaha. Secondly, the incipient arrival of the Moto2 class has a host of riders in both the World Superbikes and World Supersport series thinking about switching, seeing the new class as a possibly entry to MotoGP, which remains the series that almost every rider wants end up in at one point or other. And thirdly, despite the fact that the World Superbikes series is considerably cheaper than MotoGP, the global economic crisis has struck the World Superbike paddock just as hard as it has hit the MotoGP series, and a host of teams are holding off on the 2010 plans, and even struggling with finishing out the year.
With the rider line up in MotoGP starting to take shape, there are signs of movement in the World Superbike series as well. Perhaps the most though-provoking switch is not one that a rider will be making, though, but rather the switch by the Stiggy Racing team from Honda to Yamaha. According to the Italian magazine MotoSprint, the Sweden-based team run by former 250 GP star Johan Stigefelt is disillusioned with the level of support the team has received from Honda this season, and as we predicted earlier in a column for the American magazine Road Racer X, the team will make a dramatic switch to Yamaha.
It was both expected and inevitable. After Carmelo Ezpeleta introduced a proposal to run prototype bikes powered by 1000cc production engines to the Grand Prix Commission meeting held at the Sachsenring last weekend, in an attempt to cut the astronomical costs in MotoGP, a response was sure to come from InFront Motor Sports, the body that owns the rights to World Superbikes.
It took just a week, but today, at the Brno round of World Superbikes, the Flammini brothers issued a statement to the effect that they would fight any such move with all the legal means at their disposal. The statement issued reads:
With reference to several declarations published recently by daily newspapers and weekly magazines, according to which the organizer of the Grand Prix World Championship is reported to be evaluating the possible participation of bikes equipped with production based 1000 cc engines in the MotoGP class, Infront Motor Sports wishes to make the following statement.
Infront Motor Sports does not consider a similar idea either to be realistic or feasible in view of the existing contracts between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports itself and in view of the specific characteristics of the World Superbike and MotoGP championships.
We believe therefore that such a project will not have any follow-up. Nevertheless, wherever future developments should render necessary any action of defense of the rights of Infront Motor Sports, as well as those of all the teams, manufacturers, riders, sponsors and media who have invested in the Superbike and Supersport World Championships, such action will be immediately set in motion at all levels.
Kenan Sofuoglu made strong progress during the second day of testing for the World Supersport field, to finish the test on top of the timesheets. Sofuoglo took over 2 seconds off his time from Wednesday to just edge out Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow. Crutchlow's main title rival, Eugene Laverty, closed the gap with Crutchlow from the first day to just under two tenths of a second.
Overall times after two days of testing:
The second day of testing saw more drama than had been hoped, with Max Neukirchner highsiding off during practice and suffering fractured vertebrae. But it also saw surprises in the timesheets as well. At the end of the day, it was not Michel Fabrizio who was fastest, as on the first day, but Jonathon Rea, the Ten Kate Honda rider getting faster throughout the session, taking over the lead as the end of the test approached. Rea's resurgence saw Fabrizio forced into second place, ahead of the Texan title rival Ben Spies. But Spies had to rely on his time from Wednesday for his standing in the times, as the Yamaha rider had been unable to improve on his time from the first day of testing.
Spies was beaten on Thursday by Lorenzo Lanzi, the Italian who has taken over the DFX Corse Ducati of Regis Laconi who was seriously injured in a crash at Kyalami, but Lanzi's time on Thursday was not good enough to edge out Spies' faster time from Wednesday.
John Hopkins finished the day sixth fastest, but the American was in some trouble. A near highsider on Wednesday afternoon left the American in pain during the night, and after riding in pain during the Thursday morning session, Hopkins decided to have an X ray done to see if he had caused any more damage to his leg. The X ray revealed that calcium was not building up correctly around the bones injured in his hip, and his doctors in the US diagnosed osteoporosis after receiving the X rays by email. The injury leaves Hopkins in doubt for next weekend's Brno round of World Superbikes: If Hopkins decides to ride and crashes, the consequences of a crash could be much more severe.
Overal times from both days of testing:
Max Neukirchner started the 2009 World Superbike season full of hope, and widely tipped as a potential title candidate. But 2009 has been uncommonly cruel to the Alstare Suzuki rider, and his season has been plagued by injury. A horrific first-corner pile up at the Monza round in May saw the German break bones all the way down his leg, and after a lengthy recovery, Neukirchner made a return to riding at the official Imola World Superbike test this week.
His return was not to be long-lived. Neukirchner crashed heavily on just the second day of testing, losing control of his Brux Alstare Suzuki as he exited the Tamburello corner and highsiding on to his back. Neukirchner was examined at the Clinica Mobile, then taken off to a local hospital for further examination. At first he thought he had escaped relatively uninjured, saying "that was a proper crash, but nothing like Monza." But X-rays revealed fractured vertebrae, further endangering his season.
According to the UK's Motorcycle News, Neukirchner's injuries mean that he will be out for either a month or for the rest of the year, depending on the treatment. Given that Neukirchner has already missed over half the season, it may make more sense for the German to have surgery to correct the problem fully, without risking further injury. But riders being riders, he is more likely to want to return to racing as soon as possible, and get back into racing rhythm.
Cal Crutchlow continued his dominance of the World Supersport class in the searing heat of the Imola test. The Yamaha rider set a time over 6/10ths faster than the second fastest man, Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu. Crutchlow's main title rival, Eugene Laverty was a tenth behind Sofuoglu, and another tenth ahead of Crutchlow's Yamaha team mate Fabien Foret.
Testing continues tomorrow.
Michel Fabrizio topped the timesheets after the first day of testing for the World Superbike field at Imola, edging out Yamaha's Ben Spies in the final laps. Fabrizio and Spies were followed by a brace of Hondas bracketing a BMW, Johnny Rea finishing the day ahead of BMW's Ruben Xaus, who was in turn just a few thousandths faster than Rea's Ten Kate Honda team mate Carlos Checa.
The test took place in searing conditions, as the typical summer heat of the lower Po valley took its toll on men, machinery and the tires which Pirelli have brought along for testing. Slightly cooler conditions are expected for tomorrow, for which the Superbike riders will be most grateful.
While most of the attention this week will be on the 9th round of the MotoGP championship at the Sachsenring in Germany, the World Superbike paddock will also be back in action, though on a much more modest scale. This week, the series will be holding its official test at Imola, as part of the familiarization process for the return of the classic Italian track to the calendar.
The track is not completely unchanged, however. A new chicane has been put in in front of the pit garages, the New Variante Bassa, replacing the fast left kink which was there before. Further alterations are expected after the test has completed, moving fencing back and creating extra run off.
The first day of the test on Tuesday will be given over to the two Superstock classes, the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup and the European Superstock 600 Championship. The World Superbike and World Supersport field will be in action on Wednesday and Thursday. So should you happen to be in the vicinity of the Imola circuit, it will be worth your while to drop in and see just how hard the teams and riders have to work outside of race weekends.
In all the discussion of silly season, there are a few names which keep cropping up and are starting to form the bottleneck preventing the rider line-up from shaking itself out. One of those names, Marco Simoncelli, cleared his part of the deck by announcing he had signed for Gresini Honda for 2010. That move also cleared the way at Yamaha, as both the Gresini and the Tech 3 Yamaha rides are the most keenly sought after in the paddock.
With Simoncelli out of the way, that leaves Ben Spies and Alvaro Bautista as the other main stumbling blocks. Spies had previously told the press that he already knew where he would be going next year, but declined to share that information with the press. But the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport is now claiming to know just what Spies has signed up to.
According to a story in today's edition of the paper, Ben Spies has signed a new two-year deal with Yamaha. Under the terms of the deal, Spies will stay in World Superbikes for one more season, and will then move up to MotoGP in 2011. According to La Gazzetta, Spies has a guarantee of a ride in MotoGP for 2011, but also has an option to move up earlier, if he wins the World Superbike title this year, or if Jorge Lorenzo leaves Yamaha. The new rookie rule prevents Spies from going straight to the factory team, but the deal is said to guarantee full factory support for Spies in any satellite structure, making a mockery of the rookie rule, as has been predicted here and elsewhere.
Noriyuki Haga seems to have had a lucky escape at Donington, after his huge crash at Coppice Corner saw him being slammed multiple times by his tumbling Ducati 1198F09. The cracked vertebrae he was suspected of suffering turned out to have been older injuries which had already healed, and scans in the local hospital in Derby revealed just a broken arm and a fractured shoulder blade. The Japanese star had surgery today to fix his arm, and looks set to rejoin the series at Brno to defend his championship lead against Ben Spies. The silver lining to Haga's crash is the four-week break between the Donington round and Brno, which should allow his injuries to heal sufficiently for Haga to race well enough to limit any points damage to Spies in the Czech Republic.
The details of Haga's surgery and expected recovery were released in a press release from Ducati, which follows:
At 5pm this afternoon Ducati Xerox rider Noriyuki Haga underwent successful surgery at the Derby City Hospital. Having fractured the ulna in his right arm in yesterday's crash at Donington Park, Noriyuki today had a plate and screws inserted to set the bone. The surgical team deemed the surgery a success and there were no unforeseen complications.
Prior to the operation, medical staff took a closer look at his right shoulder blade and an x-ray unfortunately confirmed that he has multiple fractures to his left scapula. The scapula will not necessitate surgical intervention and the bone should knit itself back together in time; this complication should not prolong Noriyuki’s recovery time. The Japanese rider should be discharged from hospital tomorrow (Tuesday) and he and his family will fly back to Italy so that Noriyuki can begin the necessary physiotherapy treatment.
The Ducati Xerox rider will not participate in the next tests at Imola but it is foreseen that he will compete in the next round at Brno.