The cloud of volcanic ash which hangs invisibly over Northern Europe has claimed its first victim in the shape of a major sporting event. The disruption and cancellation of 80% of flights around Europe has caused the Motegi round of MotoGP, due to take place next Sunday, April 25th, to be canceled and rescheduled for October 3rd.
Reports of problems started to emerge earlier this weekend, as MotoMatters.com reported yesterday. Teams - most of whom are based in Europe, and were therefore caught up in the air travel chaos - reported they were monitoring the situation closely, hoping for improvement, and trying to reschedule flights as soon as possible. Dorna had even gone so far as to charter two wide body jets, capable of flying 600 people to Japan directly, to avoid teams getting caught up in the snarl of international air traffic.
Located as it is under the flight path into Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, a serene peace has reigned in the skies over MotoMatters.com headquarters for the past couple of days. The cloud of ash spewing out of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Southern Iceland has brought air traffic to a standstill over much of Europe, causing many thousands of flights to be canceled altogether. Stable weather over Northern Europe has meant that the ash cloud has drifted over large parts of Europe, right at the level where international air travel takes place, posing a lethal hazard for modern jet aircraft.
The situation is set to continue for at least all of Saturday and Sunday morning, and no guarantee that the situation will improve after that. The outburst has already affected sporting events in Europe, with several top European cyclists including Bradley Wiggins, Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde forced to miss tomorrow's Amstel Gold Race, one of professional cycling's spring classics.
We have made no secret of our scepticism about MotoGP's season opening night race at Qatar. It delays the start of the season and is more about the spectacle of the lighting than the actual racing. But even we have to admit it produces some great side-effects. Here's our current favorite: Valentino Rossi during qualifying, trail-braking into a turn, his carbon-fiber disks lit up cherry red, as captured by MotoMatters.com's star photographer Scott Jones
Staying in shape for MotoGP riders remains a tricky business. The only way to maintain their level of bike control is to ride motorcycles at speed, but with that comes the risk of a crash and possible injury.
The latest victim of the curse of motocross training was Valentino Rossi. Rossi crashed heavily on Thursday, training near Pesaro in Italy. The Italian was taken to hospital to have his shoulder checked out, but despite suffering some pain, Rossi escaped without injury. The Doctor is expected to race in Japan, and the injury should not affect his ability to race.
Rossi's crash was the second stroke of motocross mishap for the Fiat Yamaha Team, Jorge Lorenzo breaking a bone in his hand in February this year. That crash meant Lorenzo missed out on valuable testing time at Sepang, and had a serious impact on Lorenzo's pre-season preparation. The lack of injury to Valentino Rossi led the Italian website MotoCorse.com to question quite legitimately whether his crash qualifies as news at all. But as MotoCorse.com points out, Rossi is the biggest star in the sport, and if anything happens to the Italian, it automatically qualifies as news.
In the hours between the warm up and the first ever Moto2 race, the tension down the far end of pit lane - which housed the Moto2 teams - grew and spread, cloaking the garage and pits like spider web and creating an almost tangible resistance to those passing through. I could almost taste it in the air as I passed through the paddock for a final time, before heading back to the press room to watch the races.
Things had barely been much less tense shortly after qualifying the day before, when I bumped into FTR boss Steve Bones, head of the chassis manufacturing firm supplying the Aeroport de Castello - Ajo team of Alex Debon, and the FIMMCO Speed Up team of Gabor Talmacsi and Andrea Iannone. Bones, looking simultaneously delighted and nervous, with FTR's M210 about to be put to the test for the first time, spoke to me briefly about the way things had been progressing for the Buckinghamshire-based chassis manufacturer.
"Overall, we're pretty pleased with where we are," Bones told MotoMatters.com. "Alex [Debon] is on the second row and Gabor [Talmacsi] is not so far behind. With the times this tight, we're happy to be close to the front." The debut of the Moto2 class had shown up how little any of the teams or manufacturers knew about the class, though. "There's still so much to learn," Bones added, highlighting aerodynamics as one area that FTR felt they could improve on.
One of the things that the Fiat On The Web team do when the attend MotoGP races - apart from supplying coverage of the weekend on Twitter and on their blog and Facebook pages - is to shoot interviews with the protagonists of the weekend. Restrictions imposed on them prevent them from doing video interviews with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and while this is a shame for them, in a strange way, it is good for the hardcore MotoGP fans, as it means they interview the riders' team managers instead. So instead of the same interviews you see on TV and on MotoGP.com with the riders, instead, you get a perspective from the pit garage, and some background on how the team viewed the race, rather than just the riders. So here's Valentino Rossi's team boss Davide Brivio and Jorge Lorenzo's team boss Wilco Zeelenberg talking about the first MotoGP race of the season at Qatar.
As ever, the World Superbike series has once again provided video highlights of the races from last weekend's WSBK round at Valencia on their Youtube channel. So for those of you who, for one reason or another, missed the World Superbike or World Supersport races, here's your chance to get the executive summary.
WSBK Race 1:
WSBK Race 2:
As the digital world continues its relentless drift into the world of the mobile device, both MotoGP and World Superbikes series are starting to catch up. Last week the World Superbike series announced the availability of its WSBK iPhone app in the iTunes store, and this week, MotoGP has followed suit, with its own live timing app for iPhone and iTouch.
Roger Lee Hayden was not the only guest on the OnTheThrottle.TV live video show after this weekend's racing. Monster Yamaha's Ben Spies also came on the show, to talk about his first race as a fully paid-up member of the MotoGP paddock. Here's what Spies had to say about how qualifying and racing went:
After this weekend's double-header of races, with both World Superbikes in Valencia and MotoGP in Qatar, OnTheThrottleTV put on their usual excellent live video show, featuring interviews and news. The interview subject for the World Superbike series was Roger Lee Hayden, who talks to Dave Williams about the Valencia weekend and living in Ben Spies mountain hideaway in Como, Italy. Here's what Hayden had to say: