The aim of Public Relations is to generate publicity for the brand you are representing. Some PR firms are better than others, and in motorcycle racing, Yamaha certainly seem to be gaining the upper hand. Their latest offering is a rather silly but nonetheless entertaining look at what Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Colin Edwards and James Toseland do in between races. Colin Edwards in a uniform? Who knew?
At Laguna Seca, Hayate Team Manager Andrea Dosoli confirmed what we all already knew. Kawasaki is history, and won't be back in MotoGP in 2010. According to reports in the Italian press, Dosoli said that he didn't expect Kawasaki to return next season. "I don't think that Kawasaki will be here [in MotoGP] next year: The decision to pull out was taken at a very high level, and coming back into MotoGP would be an admission that they made the wrong decision," GPOne.com reports Dosoli as saying.
Dosoli was proud of what the Hayate team has achieved with limited means: "With a budget of 25% of what it was last year, I think we've done pretty well," he said. Members of the team are doubling up - Dosoli is both team manager and crew chief to Marco Melandri, for example - and the savings even go so far as not to produce and distribute press releases. Meanwhile, the team has a mass of equipment which is surplus to requirements and up for sale, including a hospitality unit, transporters and a host of other items.
With Hayate / Kawasaki definitely out of the series for 2010, the MotoGP grid will once again be reduced to under the magic 18 rider mark. Dorna have an almost indefinite contract with the FIM to organize the series, but it is believed that one of the stipulations in that contract is that Dorna will ensure there is a minimum grid of 18 riders. Kawasaki's withdrawal would reduce the grid to 17, and question marks remain over the future of Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando effort. Former championship runner-up Gibernau must find it hard to remain motivated to run around at the back of the field, while the construction company that is funding the team has taken some severe financial blows from the collapse of the Spanish housing and construction market.
At heart, every motorcycle race starts fundamentally the same: A group of riders of similar talent on similar equipment line up on the grid with the intention of crossing the line ahead of their rivals at the end of the race. Yet despite its simplicity of concept, once the flag drops, each race develops in a unique direction, taking on a distinctive character all of its own.
That character is often dictated in large part by the nature of the class: in recent years, MotoGP races have tended to resemble a high-speed version of chess, each move carefully considered and rehearsed and several laps in the preparation. World Superbike races, on the other hand, often look more like a bar room brawl than a motor race, with riders wading in wildly more in hope than in expectation, and emerging surprisingly unscathed. And more often than not, races in the 125cc class turn into the nearest thing to a pack of hyenas fighting over a bone, bikes and bodies shooting in every direction, with no order or decorum, and even less chance of making any sense of the fight.
Sometimes, though, a motorcycle race can transcend the ordinary limitations of the class imposed by the nature of the bikes involved, and take on a uniqueness of character that leaves it burned into the collective memory of race fans for many, many years to come. The 2008 Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca was just such a race. No high-speed chess here, no careful premeditation or long-rehearsed moves, the race between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner was a fight to the death, mortal combat between two highly-trained assassins using any and every means at their disposal to inflict a fatal blow on their opponent.
Stone Cold Killers
Their combat was assisted, perhaps even encouraged, by the nature of the Laguna Seca track itself. For the first 24 laps of the race, both Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi used every inch of the track to gain an advantage over the other. Along Laguna's short front straight, it was Stoner's Ducati that had the edge, its better drive and horsepower allowing Stoner to catch Rossi.
But too often, it was not quite enough to get past Rossi before heeling over for the most terrifying corner on the track, the 170mph left kink of Turn 1. Rossi got caught out there a couple of times, but on most laps, as they rolled the bikes left over the crest of the hill, The Doctor held the perfect line, in the middle of the track and drifting right. Rossi was leaving the door open for Stoner, but the route it led to was the hardest route of all, the outside line over the rumblestrip, as dangerous as the North Face of the Eiger. Brave as a mountaineer, Stoner accepted the challenge, even passing there on lap 24.
Yesterday we reported that Yuki Takahashi would not be racing at Laguna Seca, today the news is even worse. In a statement issued jointly by Team Scot and Honda, the team announced that Takahashi has been dropped for the rest of the season, in favor of Gabor Talmacsi. The reasons for the decision were simple, and stated plainly: It was a matter of money. Team Scot needed the income provided by Gabor Talmacsi and their new sponsor, Hungarian oil company Mol, but couldn't afford the extra bikes needed to allow them to run both Talmacsi and Takahashi. And so Takahashi had to go, as the Japanese rider's results so far had been very disappointing.
The withdrawal of Takahashi leaves the MotoGP class without a Japanese rider for the first time since 1992, a situation the Japanese factories - and especially Honda - have struggled to avoid for many years. But the flow of talent coming out of Japan recently has dropped to just a trickle, with fewer Japanese rider entering through the 125 series and working their way up through the ranks. The question is now whether next season will see the return of a Japanese rider, with 250cc championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama the current favorite to make the step up to MotoGP.
Below is the text of the press release issued by Team Scot concerning the release of Yuki Takahashi:
Earlier, we reported on a story on usually reliable GPOne.com that Yuki Takahashi was out of Team Scot, to be replaced by Gabor Talmacsi. But after MCN reported seeing Takahashi in California at the rental car pick up desk, we contacted Team Scot to get the official story on Takahashi's future in the team.
The Team Scot press officer confirmed to MotoGPMatters.com that Takahashi will not be riding at Laguna seca, but denied that Takahashi had been dropped altogether. "Yuki has a slipped disc and his results on track are conditioned by this problem," Stefano Bedon told us. "The team would face a lot of extra costs to line up two riders but without the possibility to improve the results. The solution is to wait for his recovery and to defer a decision later."
Ever since the old North Loop at Assen was removed, emasculating the glorious old track, the scarcity of fast left hand corners have made those remain potentially lethal. So far, since the track was shortened prior to 2006, the MotoGP race at Assen has claimed at least one victim forced to miss a race every year: Toni Elias in 2006 and 2007, John Hopkins in 2008, and now Mika Kallio in 2009.
The Finn crashed on the very last lap of the race, grinding his ring finger on his left hand and suffering friction burns severe enough for him to lose the fingernail on that finger for good. As a result of his injuries, Kallio has elected to miss the Laguna Seca round this Sunday, preferring to make his return at the Sachsenring. After Donington, to be run a week after the German Grand Prix, Kallio will undergo surgery to have a skin graft placed over the affected area, but until then, the young rookie will race with artificial skin protecting the affected area. As Kallio will only be missing a single race, the Pramac team have elected not to replace him at Laguna Seca.
Numbers are funny things. On their own, they are meaningless, just abstract inventions, a way of keeping track, of measuring and quantifying objects. There is no intrinsic difference between the numbers 1, 4, 7, 12, 666 and 26017 other than their size. Yet stop someone on the street and ask them about those numbers and you will hear a host of opinions on those numbers, their meaning and whether they are good or bad, depending on who and where you happened to have stopped.
In most countries, the number 7 is greeted with enthusiasm, being considered lucky almost everywhere round the world. In Europe and America, the number 4 will barely register, but stay in a hotel in Asia, and you'll notice that there's no 4th floor, nor 14th or 24th for that matter. For the number 4 is considered very bad luck in Asia, as it sounds like the word for "death" in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The number 666 will be greeted with fear in the more religious parts of the American Deep South, but go unnoticed in Cambodia. As for 26017, it will almost certainly be met with blank stares, unless the person you should stop to ask happens to be a mathematician, and immediately recognizes it as a prime number, a class of numbers math geeks tend to get terrifically excited about.
As these numbers attach themselves to events, their significance is magnified. One cold, dark winter night a few years ago, the entire world got caught up in a fit of festive abandon celebrating one number being replaced with another. Convention dictates that a new year begins on January 1st, and on that day 9 years ago, the most significant digit of the number used to designate years was incremented, increasing from 1999 to 2000. The 48 hour period spanning that moment saw very few major climatic, social or historical changes, yet almost the entire population of the planet attached a huge significance to that change, speaking endlessly of a new century, a new age and a new era.
That sense of anticipation, of foreboding almost, hung over Valentino Rossi at Assen. Thirteen days previously, the Italian had taken the 99th victory of his career, and speculation about the 100th had started literally seconds after he had crossed the line at Barcelona. He was getting used to it, for the storm had been brewing for a while.
Victory at Jerez had put him in line to take his 100th win at Mugello, if he could just win at Le Mans first. But a disastrous flag-to-flag race put paid to that plan. Another flag-to-flag race at Mugello saw his seven-year winning streak there dashed by the rain. Since then, talk of 100 victories abated a little, until Rossi crossed the line to take victory number 99 at Catalunya.
The manner of Rossi's victory at Barcelona helped mitigate some of the pressure. The breathtaking last lap and final corner pass over his team mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo had the fans and followers full of the excitement of that race, rather than its significance as a stepping stone for Rossi's century. Even the questions at the pre-race press conference focused more on whether Assen would see a repeat of that blood-curdling last lap than on whether Rossi expected to take his 100th win here.
Rossi downplayed both possibilities. When asked about his 100th victory, he said his focus was on the championship, not winning a particular race. And he concurred with Jorge Lorenzo, who pointed out that Barcelona had been the exception rather than the rule, and that this was the first race since the switch to the 800cc formula that had come down to the last lap.
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.
From the moment Gabor Talmacsi confirmed the rumors of a ride with the Team Scot Honda squad in MotoGP by turning up at Barcelona with a new sponsor and a contract, the writing has been on the wall for Yuki Takahashi. Despite the denials and promises from the team to try and find a way of accommodating both riders, in reality, it was merely a question of time before the Japanese rider would be forced to make way for the Hungarian, who was bringing a much-needed cash injection into the squad.
That time, according to the authoratitive Italian site GPOne.com, is now. Takahashi, it is being reported, has been withdrawn from the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, ostensibly to allow surgery to be performed for back problems Takahashi suffered in his crash at Barcelona. The surgery will require a recovery period of 3 months, leaving Takahashi sidelined for the rest of the season. Just how badly Takahashi required surgery remains open to speculation, but his back injury is extremely convenient.
Team Scot manager Cirano Mularoni was open about the problems faced running two riders without spare bikes. "It was a difficult situation," he told GPone.com," because contrary to what I had read, extra spares were not available for the RC212V, a situation which would have gotten worse after Brno, with the limit on the numbers of engines. Not to mention the problems we would have faced in a flag-to-flag race, where we would have been forced to change wheels instead of bikes." Just where Mularoni read that Honda had extra RC212V parts lying around is a bit of a mystery, for HRC have made no secret of their aversion to supplying any more bikes, especially since sales slumped in aftermath of the global financial crisis.
The previous round of World Superbikes at Misano looked to have been a pivotal point in the season. After another dominant win in race 1, Ben Spies lost championship points he could ill afford in race 2, suffering with mechanical problems for the third time this year. For every three steps that Spies took towards Haga, mechanical problems seemed to force him two steps back.
So Ben Spies arrived at Donington with extra help in the garage, in the shape of Greg Wood, his former mechanic with Yoshimura Suzuki, a team where he never suffered a single mechanical DNF in all his time there. The arrival of Woody was meant to put an end to all the costly mistakes that had been sucking the life out of Spies' rookie title challenge.
Spies laid out his statement of intent during qualifying, taking pole for the 8th time in 9 races, and marking Jakub Smrz' pole at Misano out as an aberration rather than a feat likely to be repeated. And off the line in race 1, Spies underlined his determination to turn the title chase around by leaping into Redgate corner first and ahead of the pack, and attempting to make his escape. His plan was only partly successful, in that he left the pack behind him, but he brought Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga trailing in his wake.
Like Spies, Biaggi had been vociferous in his complaints about the Aprilia RSV4, the competitiveness of the bike being extremely unpredictable. At Donington, there was no doubt about its performance, Biaggi following Spies early with relative ease.
Behind Biaggi, Haga was having a little more trouble following. The Xerox Ducati rider was on Biaggi in the early laps, and probing for a way past and on towards Spies, but his efforts were not to last, fading after 6 laps and dropping off the back of the leaders.
So far this year, Noriyuki Haga has been praised for his consistency, finishing every race but one until Donington, his one DNF so far down to a bird strike rather than rider error. But in the UK, his run of consistency came to an unfortunate end. Haga scored good points in race 1, unable to match the pace of Ben Spies and Max Biaggi, but in race 2, Haga was not so lucky. The Japanese Xerox Ducati rider crashed out in race 2, falling at Coppice in a crash which was all too reminiscent of Troy Bayliss' horrific crash there two years before. But Haga's crash was even worse than Bayliss', as Haga's Xerox Ducati tumbled through the gravel with him, landing on top of him at least once before coming to a standstill.
After the incident, Haga was seen walking away, and was thought to have come away relatively unharmed, though clearly very beaten up. Sadly, this was not to be the case: Examination at the trackside medical revealed a suspected fractured vertebrae, and Haga was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital in Derby. At the hospital, Haga was stabilized and had fluid drained from around the injury as a preventative measure. Initial reports indicated that the Japanese rider had indeed suffered a fractured vertebra, and would be out for at least 2 to 3 months.
A CAT scan later revealed more promising results. The scan did not find any indication of recent fractured vertebrae, meaning that the worst of the danger has probably passed for Haga. However, the scan confirmed the results of earlier examinations, which showed that Haga had fractured his left shoulder blade and broken his right ulna, one of the two long bones in the forearm. Haga is due to have surgery to fix the broken arm, while the fractured shoulder blade is still being examined at the time of writing (10pm CET, Sunday 28th June).
Results and summary of World Superbike race 2 at Donington:
Results of the Superstock 600 race at Donington: