Honda is caught between a rock and a hard place. Like all of the other manufacturers, Honda has been hit hard by the recession, and is looking to cut costs wherever it can. However, the factory is also desperate for another World Championship, having had only one since Valentino Rossi left the factory in 2004 after winning nine out of the previous ten. The factory has to find a way to win another MotoGP title without breaking the bank.
The way they have selected to marry those two very different objectives is simple yet efficient. As of this season, all of the teams, whether satellite or factory, will be given the same bike. The only difference between the two machines will be the electronics, which control the performance of the bike to a significant degree.
The move marks a huge change in direction for Honda. In previous years, HRC supplied two different specifications of machine: A factory spec RC212V provided to the factory Repsol Honda team and a few selected satellite riders; And a satellite spec for the other satellite teams. The different spec of these machines could be significantly different, with different chassis, engines, fairings and exhaust systems. Even the factory spec machines were not identical, the Repsol bikes always at least a few iterations ahead of the bikes supplied to satellite rider.
Trouble continues to brew in the Aprilia camp. The Italian company's decision to pull out of Moto2 at the end of November last year looks set to have even more serious repercussions, as the authoritative Italian site GPOne.com is reporting rumors that Aprilia's racing boss Giampiero Sacchi could leave his role as head of the factory's racing program altogether. Sacchi's departure would be a body blow to the Noale factory, as Sacchi has been with Aprilia since the 80s and has worked with all of the great stars that the company has produced, from Max Biaggi to Tetsuya Harada, Valentino Rossi to Jorge Lorenzo.
The root of the problem, according to GPOne.com, is the long-standing rivalry between Sacchi and Aprilia's General Director Leo Mercanti. The high-profile CEO of the Piaggio Group Roberto Colaninno is reportedly tired of the bickering between Sacchi and Mercanti, and has been taking steps to sort the situation out.
Looking back at the two days of MotoGP testing at Sepang throws up only a few surprises. The Aliens continue to dominate, as ever, and Colin Edwards is still firmly in place as #5. Behind, the top 5, the picture is a little more interesting. Loris Capirossi's strong outing on Thursday shows that the Suzuki can be fast, but the GSV-R has a long history of being outstanding in testing, yet falling short during the season. Whether it's business-as-usual for Suzuki or a breakthrough will have to wait until the first few rounds have been run.
Ben Spies continues his methodical improvement, but with the Texan complaining of jet lag and telling reporters that he is still very much just learning, he should soon be edging Colin Edwards out of 5th spot and closing on the top 4. Spies is holding station with Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian improving but still looking for more pace.
The rain that held off yesterday finally came to Sepang on Friday, disrupting testing during the morning and at the end of the day. The rain in the morning combined with the limit on engines to persuade most of the riders to sit in the garage, or restrict their laps to a minimum. The track started to dry out at lunchtime, and from then, all 17 MotoGP riders, along with a couple of Yamaha test pilots, got to work on their testing program. By the time the rain came around 5pm, it was Valentino Rossi who had set the fastest lap, finishing ahead of Casey Stoner and Rossi's Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Dani Pedrosa completed the top four, the Aliens still clearly a breed apart in the MotoGP paddock.
While both Rossi and Stoner finished in the same positions as yesterday, both Jorge Lorenzo and especially Dani Pedrosa made a huge leap forward. Lorenzo jumped from 5th spot to 3rd, though he did not close the gap to his Fiat Yamaha teammate. Dani Pedrosa, on the other hand, closed the gap by over half a second, while working on the all-new Honda RC212V. Given that the bike has new Ohlins suspension, new electronics, a new chassis and a number of swingarms, there would appear to be plenty of room for improvement once the Repsol Honda team find the right setup for the bike.
One of the most heavily-attended press conferences at Sepang was the Yamaha affair, at which Yamaha's MotoGP group leader Masahiko Nakajima, Racing MD Lin Jarvis, team bosses Davide Brivio and Wilco Zeelenberg and the two stars of the show, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo faced questions from the assembled press. The subjects covered a lot of ground, from Wilco Zeelenberg's first day on the job, to Yamaha Indonesia's stepping up with sponsorship, to whether post-race burnouts are things of the past. But more pressing subjects were also covered, such as the end to data sharing between Valentino Rossi's and Jorge Lorenzo's sides of the garage, whether Yamaha thinks they can retain both their riders, and the two riders' impressions of the new YZR M1.
All these and more are covered in the transcript of the press conference, which follows below, thanks to our friends over at Superbikeplanet.com:
Q. To MN: Are you satisfied with the development of the M1?
Masahiko Nakajima: Difficult to say! It's too early to say how the development is but so far, on the first day of the winter test, we have quite good results and we are quite satisfied.
Launching a MotoGP race bike is a tricky prospect. The aim is for it to be as glamorous as possible, but without being too expensive for journalists to cover. Ducati solve this problem by launching at a giant event done together with Ferrari in the Italian Alps, but Yamaha have decided to make use of the opportunity presented by the first official MotoGP test of the year, out in Sepang. The location was especially appropriate this year, as Yamaha Indonesia has stepped up into a sponsor role, capitalizing on the growing interest in the sport in that part of Asia. According to Google Trends, Indonesia provides the largest number of users searching for the term "motogp", outnumbering Italy by nearly 4 to 1.
The rain that threatened to ruin the first day of testing for 2010 luckily decided to stay away, but the session was still disrupted by the weather. Instead of water, it was the oppressive 40°C tropical heat that sapped the strength of the riders, limiting the amount of testing the riders could do. The rain finally came just before 5pm to cool the track from the scorching 50° Centigrade it was at most of the day, though only adding to the humidity.
Valentino Rossi ended the day with the fastest time, a comfortable half a second ahead of Casey Stoner on the Ducati. Stoner had suffered chatter for part of the day, and the hot asphalt made it difficult to judge the difference adjustments to the bike were making. The riders in 3rd and 4th place were a big surprise, Colin Edwards' 3rd spot slightly less so than Loris Capirossi's 4th fastest time. It's clear the Yamaha is good, but even the satellite bikes are so good that on their day, they can match the speed of the factory bikes, Edwards finishing ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and nearly a quarter of a second faster.
MotoGP makes a long-awaited return to action on Thursday, with the 17 official entries all taking to the track at Sepang. For the veterans, it marks the first time they will have ridden a MotoGP bike in nearly three months, their last outing being at the Valencia post-race tests in November last year. Even the rookies, who got extra tests at the end of 2009, have not been been on track since late December, with Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama the most recent to test here at Sepang before Christmas.
Wednesday saw the bikes already on track in the hands of the testers, who gave all of the teams' bikes a shakedown to ensure they are all working properly. This had been agreed as part of the cost-cutting measures limiting testing, allowing test riders an extra day on track to ensure that the teams would not lose any testing time to mechanical problems. Honda's Kosuke Akiyoshi was fastest, in a relatively meaningless 2'04.43, between three and four seconds off the pace the MotoGP riders will be aiming for at Sepang.
After the rumored link-up of Garry McCoy and the FB Corse MotoGP team was finalized over the weekend, the details of the deal left plenty of room for questions. We caught up with Garry McCoy at his home in Andorra to put some of those question to him. Here's what he has to say, about his expectations for the 2010 season, when he expects to be racing, and how his previous experience will work to his advantage.
MotoMatters: Are you pleased that you've finally got a deal in place?
Garry McCoy: Yeah, for sure. What can I say? The World Supersport ride [with Triumph] was looking good there for a while up until mid-January, and then I thought I had nothing there for a moment. Then the GP deal popped up with FB Corse.
MM: Did they contact you or were you phoning them?
GM: They were chasing me down. I hadn't contacted them at all.
MM: I understand you were getting getting ready to go back to Australia when the deal happened.
GM: Yeah, I was planning to go out at 9 o'clock in the morning and we were still doing the deal at about 3am.
MM: The deal is for two years, do you know how many races you'll be doing this year?
Despite the fact the bike is yet to be presented officially, news is all over the internet and elsewhere that Garry McCoy is to be the rider for the FB Corse team in 2010. Just days after hearing that he had been dropped by BE1's factory-backed Triumph World Supersport squad, McCoy is back in the saddle, and back in MotoGP.
The opportunity came about as a result of the maneuvering surrounding John Hopkins. Hopkins was the rider FB Corse had originally planned to sign, but after the team declined to allow Hopper to test the Italian-designed triple before signing a contract, Hopkins decided to play it safe, taking a ride on the Team M4 Suzuki with backing from his personal sponsor Monster Energy. Once Hopkins' intentions were clear, FB Corse went looking for a replacement, and contacted McCoy by phone last Wednesday. The Australian veteran was on a plane to Italy in a thrice, and the deal was done before the weekend was out, rumors of which had been picked up on Friday.
After a month of intense speculation about the fate of John Hopkins, and whether the American would be joining the brand new FB Corse MotoGP project or heading back to the US to ride for John Ulrich's Team Hammer in the AMA Pro series, Hopkins' destiny is finally sealed. Last night, the newly christened Team M4 Monster Suzuki issued a press release announcing that John Hopkins will be riding for the team in the American Superbike class in the US in 2010.
This announcement confirms the news reported by MotoMatters.com earlier this week that Hopkins would be going back to the US. Hopper himself had told the crowd at the Anaheim Supercross meeting that he was intending to race in the AMA. This was then reported on MotoMatters.com, to the apparent annoyance of John Hopkins' mother Linda, who posted a waspish rebuttal over on Hopper's own website.
As a warm up for the coming US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park on Labor Day, May 31st, John Gardner, Media Manager for the Utah circuit hosted a telephone press conference with Roger Lee Hayden, the youngest of the Hayden brothers. Hayden is signed to race in the World Superbike series in 2010 aboard a Pedercini Kawasaki, and given that the last American to cross the pond from the AMA was Ben Spies - who came in and took the title at the first time of asking - he has a tough act to follow. In the press conference, Hayden covered a huge amount of ground; from how the World Superbike ride with Pedercini Kawasaki came about, how he nearly went to Moto2, the parlous state of the AMA, and his expectations for the 2010 season. Here's what he had to say:
John Gardner: Good afternoon, everybody. This is John Gardner. I'm the media manager at Miller Motorsports Park, and this is the first of what we hope are going to be regular teleconferences with riders from the HANNspree Superbike World Championship.
Garry McCoy's unseemly ejection from the Triumph World Supersport team has cast a shadow over Jason DiSalvo's arrival at the team. This is unfair on the young American, who had nothing to do with McCoy's dismissal, and even thought that he would be partnering McCoy at Triumph. The excellent OnTheThrottle TV took the opportunity to talk to DiSalvo after he returned from his first test on the Triumph 675 at Portimao, and asked him about the situation in the team, how he found the Triumph, and his experience of the outstanding Portimao circuit.
In an unanticipated, if suspected, turn of events, the testing role at the FB Corse project vacated by John Hopkins may be about to filled. The first hint came in a press release from the Italian team, in which they expressed their disappointment at John Hopkins, but also stated their firm intention to continue development of the three-cylinder MotoGP machine designed by Oral Engineering. The statement also said that the team had already signed a new rider to replace Hopper, whose name they would announce at the bike launch in early February. They would not name names, bu they did provide the following clue:
"The new rider has already been found, a top rider with proven experience in all of the most important world championship categories, and an outstanding development rider, but we shall only be revealing his identity at the Team Launch"
MotoGP fans around the world will raise a cheer tonight, as their enjoyment of the 2010 MotoGP season has been assured. Toby Moody announced today on his Twitter account that the golden duo of MotoGP commentary - Moody and Julian Ryder - will be back at Eurosport for the coming season. Ryder and Moody are also to be joined once again by the man with an encyclopedic knowledge of MotoGP technology, writer and journalist Neil Spalding.
The trio will be providing live coverage of practice and qualifying for all classes for British Eurosport, live coverage of the 125 and Moto2 races, and delayed coverage of the MotoGP races, which are due to be broadcast live by the BBC. Though the British Eurosport coverage is due to be broadcast only in the UK, the trio have amassed a huge cult following around the globe, most of whom have found - usually illegal - ways of watching the races over the internet.