In the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class at Portimao, James Toseland took top honors, stealing the lead from fellow Brit Leon Haslam in the final minutes. Haslam had shot to the top of the timesheets in the final ten minutes, after a bevy of Italians and Italian motorcycles - in the shape of Aprilia's Maxi Biaggi and Ducati's Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga - had made the running for much of the session. Ten Kate Honda's Max Neukirchner took 3rd spot, while Max Biaggi redeemed his earlier provisional front row place in the final minutes to take 4th
Results of FP1 for the World Superbike class:
When MotoMatters.com learned that FIM President Vito Ippolito would be visiting Utrecht, just a few miles from MM HQ, we seized on the opportunity to corner the Venezuelan and ask some of the burning questions surrounding motorcycle racing. Questions such as: How will the new MotoGP rules help to cut costs? Exactly what definition of "production bike" is used in the contract between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports for World Superbikes? How will Moto2 affect rider development? And what about electric vehicles and the TTXGP?
It appears to be Video Wednesday. After the Kawasaki World Supersport video and On The Throttle's interview with Nicky Hayden came the release by Yamaha USA of the Tech 3 Team Texas video, which is already all over the internet. In the video - shot in the cheesy-yet-still-hilarious style which Yamaha have made their own - Colin Edwards takes Ben Spies on a road trip - or as he terms it, a "man-cation" - to allow the two Texan teammates to bond.
Much has been made of the quality of broadcast by MotoGP's organizers, Dorna. The camerawork and onboard footage is very highly rated by the fans, and has received plaudits from the international media around the world. The only complaint that fans have had - apart from a lack of access in some countries - has been the fact that the broadcasts have not yet been available in High Definition.
Fortunately for the fans, this is about to change: This season, a number of broadcasters around the world are to show the races in HD quality. Viewers in the US, Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, Scandinavia, Portugal, Hungary, Brazil, Singapore, the Middle East and in Africa will get to see the races in HD from Qatar, with other countries expected to start showing HD as the season progresses.
As the clock ticks down towards the start of the 2010 MotoGP season, the riders and teams are preparing themselves for battle to commence. Perhaps the best way to get yourself ready to race is to go watch some racing, a sentiment that Nicky Hayden clearly agrees with, as he went down to Daytona for the AMA season opener, in which is older brother Tommy took part.
Of course, a MotoGP rider attending a race packed with journalists can't expect to get away without spending some time talking to journalists, and Daytona was no different for Hayden. The Marlboro Ducati rider posted a long segment for Superbikeplanet.com's excellent Soupkast (mp3 file here), and he also did a short interview with the excellent motorcycle racing video site OnTheThrottle.com, which we've posted below. Both are well worth a listen.
Ask most motorcycle racing fans to name a World Supersport team, and the names you are most likely to hear are the Ten Kate Honda team of Ronald and Gerrit ten Kate and Simon Buckmaster's Parkalgar Honda team. But Kenan Sofuoglu and Eugene Laverty have got had their hands full over the past season holding off the Spanish Motocard Kawasaki rider Joan Lascorz, and this year Lascorz looks even stronger than ever.
To highlight this fact, Kawasaki released a promotional video presenting Lascorz and his team, Team Kawasaki Provec Motocard.com, to give them their full title. Though the video contains little information, it does show the process that goes into preparing a race-winning World Supersport machine. It remains a fascinating insight to just how close these machines are to standard production road bikes, that you can walk in off the street and buy, if you are so inclined.
There has been widespread speculation (including by this author in an opinion piece on MotoMatters.com) that the Fiat Yamaha team is simply not big enough for both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and that one or the other of them will be forced to leave at the end of 2010. Given the incredible selling power of Valentino Rossi - not just today, but probably for the next thirty or more years - the most likely scenario is that Jorge Lorenzo will be forced to up sticks and move, either to Honda or to Ducati.
Jorge Lorenzo, however, has other ideas. Speaking to Radio Catalunya this morning, the Mallorcan told Manel Fuentes that his aim is to stay with Yamaha, whatever Valentino Rossi decides to do. "I would like to stay with Yamaha, because we're a great team, a very competitive team," Lorenzo said. The Mallorcan acknowledged that his relationship with this teammate was far from ideal, but denied this formed a problem. "The atmosphere in the team is hardly incredibly friendly, we don't have an intimate friendship," Lorenzo said. "It's a good professional relationship, a working relationship."
Despite it being nearly four weeks since the World Superbike paddock last convened at Phillip Island, the weekend - and the runup to that weekend - is having knock on effects on the rider lineup of the series. Before the weekend had even started, Australian rider Broc Parkes broke a tibia during training, and was replaced on the Echo CRS Honda by fellow Australian Josh Brookes. Parkes is still not fully fit to race, and so will be replaced by South African Sheridan Morais at Portimao.
Morais was a substitute rider last year, taking the place of Makoto Tamada in Paul Bird's Kawasaki World Superbike squad. The South African has switched manufacturers this winter, and is currently campaigning an Aprilia RSV4 in the South African Superbike series.
Ruben Xaus' 2010 World Superbike campaign got off to a tumultuous start, with four crashes during practice for the first round at Phillip Island. After a final error during the morning warmup, which saw Xaus slam into Noriyuki Haga and end the session badly shaken up, the BMW Motorrad team elected to sit Xaus out for the opening two races, considering it too much of a risk to allow the Spaniard to race.
That decision triggered a wave of speculation about the future of Ruben Xaus at BMW. Rumors seeping out of the World Superbike paddock suggested that BMW were tired of Xaus' continuous crashing, which all too often forced Xaus to either ride injured or miss races while he recovered. It was said that BMW were actively seeking to replace Xaus, even though the season had only just got underway.
The theory behind running the MotoGP season opener in Qatar at night is simple: Because the daytime temperatures in the desert state are so high, causing problems for riders, bikes and tires, taking advantage of the cooler nighttime ensures the race is easier on man and machine. The evening start also timeshifts the race to a more favorable broadcast time, right into the middle of the evening primetime in key Spanish and Italian TV markets.
But night races have problems of their own: For a start, there's the monstrous amount of energy required to provide sufficient light for the riders to race in. Then there's the fact that if it rains - extremely rare in the desert, but as we saw last year, extremely rare is not the same as never - the racing has to be stopped, as water on the surface reflects the overhead lighting, making it impossible to see properly to race.
Two unrelated themes dominated the 2009 MotoGP season: Cost-cutting and the Rise of the Aliens. Drastic reductions in testing, a limited number of engines and the dropping of Friday morning practice were all aimed at turning the Niagara Falls of cash the series consumes into a more manageable torrent. Meanwhile Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner took a near whitewash of podiums, cleaning up 44 of the 51 rostrum spots available during the year.
2010 is likely to continue where 2009 left off, but these two different aspects are on a collision course, due for impact around midsummer this year. For though the manufacturers and teams continue to meet in the Grand Prix Commission, to discuss further ways of trimming the costs of racing, the fact that the contracts of the four finest riders of their generation all expire at the end of the season will unleash a bidding war unlike anything ever seen in MotoGP.
The Aliens, as Loris Capirossi has dubbed them, already command the lion's share of rider salaries in the series. Numbers are hard - if not impossible - to come by, but Valentino Rossi alone probably earns more than all of the riders except the Aliens combined, and Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner will each earn many times the salary of any of the other Mortals. It may not be fair, but given that the Aliens won every race but one and hogged 86% of podiums this year, it is the only guarantee of getting your bike and your sponsors onto TV. Success sells, and without an Alien on your bike, success is a very scarce commodity indeed.
Since the announcement that the Motorland Aragon circuit was to take the place of Hungary on the 2010 MotoGP calendar, the internet has been abuzz with people trying to find out about the new facility near Alcañiz in northeast Spain. The track's website shows maps of the 5.077 kilometer circuit and even a diagram showing the amount of elevation at the track, giving a more graphic demonstration of the 50 meter elevation difference between the highest and lowest points, as well as the 7.2% drop of the "Sacacorchos" or Corkscrew corner at Turns 8 and 9.
The debut of the FB Corse bike at Valencia this week is perhaps best described as a moderate success. The three cylinder bike built by Oral Engineering demonstrated that it was reliable and had plenty of potential, though it was still at a very early stage of development. Garry McCoy lapped Valencia at around 1'40, well off the pace but not bad for a shakedown test run without any electronics. So far, the FB Corse has not been admitted to the MotoGP entry list, but a couple more tests should help get the bike ready to be examined again in time for the Jerez round of MotoGP at the beginning of May.
Overall times from both days of testing at Qatar:
Casey Stoner finally managed to break Valentino Rossi's stranglehold on testing on the final day at Qatar, the Australian putting his Marlboro Ducati on top of the timesheets early on, and only occasionally ceding the lead to the Fiat Yamaha man. The Australian was fast throughout the session, not even a minor crash slowing Stoner down.
Despite finishing half a second down to the rider he has annointed as his main challenger, Rossi pronounced himself happy with the way the test went, telling GPone.com that he believed the new Yamaha M1 had proved it was competitive at Qatar. The Italian also tested some tires for the 2011 season; after testing a hard front in Sepang, Rossi tried the softer compound 2011 front tire at Qatar, but revealed he did not believe it represented a huge leap forwards.