This is the second part of our two-part series on how the silly season for next year's MotoGP rider line up may play out. If you missed the first part, you can catch up with the situation in the Honda and Yamaha factory teams here.
Up until late in the 2013 season, change in the rider line up for Yamaha and Honda's MotoGP squads looked to be limited. Though all four riders will technically be on the open market at the end of 2014, the most likely scenarios for 2015 and beyond looked fairly settled. Either the line ups of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams would remain identical, or Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa might swap seats. The biggest question mark, it appeared, hung over whether Valentino Rossi would continue racing after 2014.
Two major shake ups changed all that. For Valentino Rossi, the replacement of Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera – and the increased role for electronics engineer Matteo Flamigni – has helped him find at least some of the time he was losing to the three Spaniards who dominated MotoGP last year, making it more likely he will stay on at Yamaha for another couple of seasons. That leaves the situation at Yamaha look more stable than before.
It is going to be a busy – and lucrative – year for the managers of MotoGP riders. With almost everyone out of contract at the end of 2014, and with Suzuki coming back in 2015, top riders will be in high demand. The signs that competition will be intense for both riders and teams are already there, with the first shots already being fired.
Silly season for the 2015 championship kicked off very early. At the end of last year, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto made a few casual remarks expressing an interesting in persuading Jorge Lorenzo to come to Honda. He repeated those comments at the Sepang tests, making no secret of his desire to see Lorenzo signed to an HRC contract.
Lorenzo has so far been cautious, ruling nothing out while reiterating his commitment to Yamaha. He is aware of the role Yamaha have played in his career, signing the Spaniard up while he was still in 250s, and bringing him straight into the factory team alongside Valentino Rossi in 2008, against some very vigorous protests from the multiple world champion. Yamaha have stuck with Lorenzo since then, refusing to bow to pressure to the extent of letting Rossi leave for Ducati, and in turn, Lorenzo has repaid their support by bringing them two world titles, 31 victories and 43 other podium finishes.
Towards the end of the 800cc era, MotoGP looked to be in dire condition. Grids were dwindling, factories were reducing their participation, and teams were in difficult financial straits indeed. By the end of 2011, there were just 17 full time entries, Suzuki was down to a single rider, and were about to pull out entirely for 2012.
How different the situation looks today. The CRTs have served their purpose - to persuade the factories to help fill the grid, and supply the teams with (relatively) affordable equipment - and the reduction in costs brought about in part by the spec electronics is enticing factories back to MotoGP. Suzuki is in full testing mode, and getting ready to return to racing full time in 2015, and Aprilia is working towards a full-time return in 2016.
The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is a difficult track to get right. The track features a mixture of both flowing and tricky sections, as well as fast straights with hard braking corners. To help give fans an insight into both setting up a bike for the track and the right approach to riding the circuit, the Marc VDS Racing team issued a press release in which Moto2 rider Mika Kallio explains his approach to the track. A fascinating look at this still relatively new circuit:
Mika Kallio: It’s all about compromise at the Circuit of Americas
Gosselies, Belgium – 5 April 2014: The Circuit of the Americas, situated on the outskirts of Austin in Texas, plays host to round two of the Moto2 World Championship next weekend.
The track, the first purpose built Grand Prix facility in the United States, runs in an anti-clockwise direction and features 11 left-hand and nine right-hand corners within its 3.4 mile or 5.5 kilometre length
The track made its debut on the Moto2 calendar in 2013 and Mika Kallio finished the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas on the podium in third place, after a race long battle with Dominique Aegerter and Tito Rabat, who joins him this season in the Marc VDS team.
While much of the media attention at Qatar was focused on his brother Aleix, Pol Espargaro made a quietly impressive debut in the premier class. The 22-year-old Spaniard posted competitive times all weekend, but was forced to pull out of the race with a technical problem. Before the weekend started, MotoMatter.com's Scott Jones sat down with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider to talk to him about how he viewed the season. The conversation ranged over Espargaro's broken collarbone, injured at the test just 10 days before the weekend started, adapting to a MotoGP machine after years in Moto2, and racing against his brother Aleix. A fascinating conversation with a rising star.
Q: First of all, let's talk about the collarbone. How does it feel?
Pol Espargaro: The collarbone feels better. Sure doesn't feel perfect, but for sure I have to be happy, because ten days ago I had the collarbone fixed, the pain is not big. So for sure I have to be happy because we are good.
Q: Pushing on the handlebars, it's OK?
Press releases from some of the World Superbike teams after the latest test at Jerez:
The final day of testing for the World Superbike teams was disrupted by the rain, as predicted by the weather service. But the wind and sun between the rain helped dry the track, meaning that the remaining riders still managed to put in a few useful laps at Jerez, though it rendered the times set meaningless.
Sylvain Guintoli was the fastest man on the day, but the Frenchman was over 2 seconds slower than Davide Giugliano's best time from Tuesday. The factory Aprilia rider was half a second quicker than Alex Lowes on the Voltcom Suzuki and a second faster than Jonathan Rea on the Pata Honda. Guintoli's teammate Marco Melandri posted his times in the wet, and was 22 seconds slower than Guintoli.
Along with the World Superbike teams, Ducati's MotoGP team were also testing at Jerez, taking advantage of the unlimited testing allowed under the late MotoGP rule change. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow spent two days at the Andalucian track, working on electronics and shooting a promotional video for the team. The riders now pack up and head to Texas, for the Austin GP on the 13th April. The press release issued by Ducati appears below:
Ducati Team testing at Jerez conditioned by bad weather
Two days of testing planned by the Ducati Team at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Andalusia, Spain concluded this afternoon earlier than scheduled.
Today’s changeable weather conditions, following overnight rain, did not allow the track to dry out completely, and as a result the riders and the team were unable to take full advantage of the time available in preparation for the Jerez MotoGP race, which will be held on this circuit from 2 to 4 May.
Bridgestone Press Release - Bridgestone Europe Launches Competitions To Win Chance To Meet Valentino Rossi
Bridgestone Europe have launched a new series of competitions for MotoGP fans. Branded 'Club46', the competitions are being run in conjunction with Bridgestone's brand ambassador Valentino Rossi. Six competitions are to be held throughout the year, giving fans a chance to win a range of prizes, with the top prize of a trip to a MotoGP race to meet Valentino Rossi. More details in the press release from Bridgestone shown below:
BRIDGESTONE EUROPE LAUNCH CLUB46 IN PARTNERSHIP WITH VALENTINO ROSSI
- Bridgestone to run six competitions throughout the 2014 season; 46 winners each draw!
- For each competition two of the lucky winners will receive the ultimate, money-can’t-buy prize – a VIP MotoGP experience and a meet and greet with Valentino Rossi
- Fans can enter competition at www.bridgestoneclub46.eu
The weather held for the second day of the World Superbike private test, the threatened rain failing to materialize, and just as on day 1, it was Ducati's Davide Giugliano who was fastest. The Italian destroyed the existing pole record, taking half a second off the time set by Eugene Laverty during last year's Superpole. Loris Baz set the second fastest time, also well under Laverty's official pole record, both Baz and Giugliano having set times on soft qualifying rubber. Tom Sykes' time was also very fast, but the reigning world champion rode without a transponder, his time merely reported.
Jonathan Rea was 4th fastest, the Honda showing clear improvement as the Pata Honda team continue to work on software. Rea ended just fourteen thousandths ahead of the second Ducati of Chaz Davies, who was just under six tenths slower than his Italian teammate. Davies was the last rider to get within a second of Giugliano's time.
With heavy rain forecast for Wednesday, the final day of the test, the riders got most of their work done in the first two days. If the heavy rain does arrive, the teams are likely to pack up and head to Aragon, ready for the second round of World Superbikes scheduled for 13th April.
HRC are to have a get a new president. After five years, Tetsuo Suzuki is to step down as present of Honda's racing department, and move back towards the production side of the business. He is to be replaced by Yoshishige Nomura, a man with a long history in HRC. Nomura was involved in the engineering of some of Honda's most classic engines, including the NR750, the RC30 and RC45. He also had a role in the 990cc V5 RC211V MotoGP machine. Nomura will oversee all of Honda's racing activities, while HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto will look after the day-to-day running of Honda's involvement in MotoGP.
The HRC press release issued announcing Nomura's appointment appears below:
Yoshishige Nomura introduced as new HRC President
Today, Honda Racing Corporation have announced a new President to take the reins from Tetsuo Suzuki.
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. Though Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz has made vague threats to pull out of F1 over the new rules, as quoted in the Kurier story, there are no signs that Red Bull is looking to expand its presence inside MotoGP, beyond expanding the number of riders it backs. Red Bull's strategy continues to be to back individual athletes in motorcycle racing, as fans tend to follow riders rather than teams. However, that Bridgepoint will at some point sell its remaining stake in Dorna is a certainty. The question is, who they will sell it to, and at what price. Private equity firms are always seeking large returns on medium-term investments. Bridgepoint have owned Dorna now for 7 years, and so a sale is likely in the next two or three years. In the meantime, both the MotoGP and World Superbike series must be made as profitable as possible, which means cutting costs and raising revenues. The shift to pay-per-view broadcasting deals is possibly one strand of that strategy. Arguably, if Red Bull were to produce content and stream it free over the internet, it could help to grow the sport enormously, especially outside of the established markets. That is one area where Dorna's twin strategies - striking deals with PPV broadcasters, and expanding its online video offering - collide and conflict. Free, and freely shareable online content will remain a difficult subject for Dorna, unfortunately.
Now that April Fool's Day is over, we will once again focus on trying to ensure that all of the stories on the website are as accurate as possible. Normal service has now been resumed...
Red Bull are poised to make two dramatic announcements over the next two weekends, MotoMatters.com can exclusively reveal. At next weekend's Bahrain F1 race, the Austrian energy drink firm will announce its withdrawal from the premier four-wheeled racing series at the end of 2014. A week later, at the Austin MotoGP round for which it is the title sponsor, Red Bull is to announce that it is to purchase Bridgepoint Capital's remaining stake in MotoGP, and take over the running of the series.
Sources in the private finance industry with knowledge of the situation say that Bridgepoint has been looking to rid itself of its motorcycle racing business for some time. The private equity firm had acquired 71% of Dorna in 2006, at the peak of MotoGP's popularity, reputedly for GBP400 million. Since then, they have seen the value of their investment drop, and have been looking to get their money back from the deal ever since. The sale of a 39% stake in Dorna to the Canadian Pension Plan Investment board was the first step in recouping their investment. That deal was rumored to be worth 400 million euros, or just over 70% of their initial outlay. Sources with knowledge of the situation say that Red Bull is to acquire the remaining 32% of Dorna for around 300 million euros, but with full control over the series.
That was a condition for Dieter Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire owner of the energy drink giant, to pull his investment from F1 and take over control of world championship motorcycle racing. Mateschitz had been unhappy with the direction F1 had been taking for some time now, and the debacle at the opening race of the year had prompted the Austrian to drop the first hints that he would withdraw from the series entirely. Speaking to the Austrian newspaper Kurier, Mateschitz had said 'The point of F1 is neither to set new records for fuel economy, nor to allow people to have whispered conversations during a race.' He suggested that there were better ways to get a return on investment. 'GP2 partially provides more racing and fighting and almost equal lap times as F1 with a small fraction of the budget.'
But mention of the open wheel support series to F1 was merely subterfuge, MotoMatters.com has exclusively learned. For a sum equivalent to a little more than the annual budget of the Red Bull F1 team, Mateschitz is able to obtain not just a team, but an entire race series. What is more, MotoGP is a better fit for Red Bull's target audience than F1, fans being generally younger and more open to new experiences than the older, more staid F1 audience. Though Red Bull had refrained from sponsoring a team directly, the energy firm had been slowly extending its reach in motorcycle racing, backing more and more riders, as well as three MotoGP rounds.
With the next round of World Superbikes just under two weeks away, the top WSBK teams are already in Spain and testing at the Jerez circuit. The private test sees the factory Ducati, Kawasaki and Aprilia teams, as well as the Pata Honda and Voltcom Crescent Suzuki teams working on set up ahead of the Aragon round on 13th of April.
Sunny weather saw fast times posted, Marco Melandri taking an early lead, eventually to be displaced by the Ducati duo of Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies. Giugliano posted a very strong lap, six tenths under the race lap record, and just four tenths off the pole record set by Eugene Laverty last year. Giugliano was also significantly quicker than the trest of the field, four tenths faster than teammate Davies, and nearly half a second ahead of Tom Sykes on the Kawasaki, with Jonathan Rea just behind Sykes on the Pata Honda.
The ongoing success of MotoMatters.com means we have to expand. Monday 31st March and Tuesday 1st April, we will be moving from one server to a new one, with more processing power, more memory, and better able to handle the demands of growing traffic.
While this is good news in the long term, it is likely to cause some disruption to our service. Over the next couple of days, the website could become unavailable for short periods of time. As we are moving to another server, it may take a few hours for this change to register with the DNS system, the worldwide system which ensures that your computer can locate any website on the internet. The website move may also impact email, so any emails being sent to MotoMatters.com may be delayed for a few hours.
Once the move is complete, the website should be more responsive, and ready for the challenge of the next year or two. Thank you in advance for your patience, and thank you especially for reading and supporting the website over the past seven years. If you'd like to make a financial contribution towards the move - and the continuing success and existence of the site - you can take out a subscription and become a MotoMatters.com Supporter, send us a donation, buy a MotoMatters.com calendar, or just Paypal money to email@example.com.
The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was quickly much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks. Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider. Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. 'Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,' he said cryptically.
Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same. Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike. They had been set by one of Honda's test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.
In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden - of whom much had been expected, not least by himself - had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry. Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American's time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.