The first round of extra testing for MotoGP's bumper crop of rookies has concluded, with Alvaro Bautista wrapping up a three-day test at Estoril in Portugal. The young Spaniard put in over 200 laps at the circuit, eventually lapping consistently in the 1'38.5s, according to the Suzuki press release. That pace would have put him around 12th place in the race, despite the conditions being cooler and less favorable. Bautista did, however, have a large number of laps to achieve that time, far more than the riders did during the race weekend.
Perhaps of more significance for Suzuki's overall effort was Japanese test rider Nobuatsu Aoki, who tested alongside Bautista at Estoril. The Japanese veteran spent time working on developing the bike ready for the 2010 season, testing a long list of parts which Loris Capirossi had started to test in the post-race event at Valencia. The test was doubly important to Suzuki, as it gave them a chance to test at a circuit outside of their usual testing facilities in Japan.
Some things are so good they are worth making a tradition of. One such thing is the MotoMatters.com Motorcycle Racing Calendar - it was a huge hit last year, and so this year, it's back, bigger and better than before. The calendar features one of Scott Jones' fantastic photos above every month, with the month grid below containing birthdays for most of the leading riders in the MotoGP, World Superbike, Moto2, World Supersport and 125cc classes, as well as every MotoGP and World Superbike round highlighted for easy reference.
Niccolo Canepa had a very tough rookie year in MotoGP. The Italian joined the Pramac Ducati team after a year as Ducati's test rider, having won the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup a year before. But once he made the switch from test rider to MotoGP rider, he has struggled badly, circulating close to the back of the field for much of the season. So it was no surprise that the likable Italian lost his MotoGP ride at the end of the 2009 season.
He may be out of a MotoGP ride, but he is not out of the paddock, however. The Scot Racing Team announced today that Niccolo Canepa has been signed a one-year contract to race in Moto2 next season. Like Canepa, Scot Honda found itself out of the MotoGP paddock, after both Yuki Takahashi and his later replacement Gabor Talmacsi found themselves circulating behind even Canepa. Financial problems within the team meant that the team could not afford to provide the support necessary for the bike to be competitive, and having two rookies on the bike reduced their chances even further. In contrast to the Scot Racing team's problems in MotoGP, their 250cc program was triumphant, winning both the last ever 250 championship with Hiroshi Aoyama, as well as the rookie of the year award with Raffaele de Rosa.
Donington Ventures Leisure Limited - the company that holds the lease to operate Donington Park - entered administration, it was announced on the Donington Park website today. The announcement came as the latest in the long saga of financial woes which started after DVLL was awarded a 17 year contract to host the British Formula One Grand Prix last year. That plan required raising a staggering 135 million pounds sterling, an ambitious prospect at the best of times, but nigh on impossible in the financial crisis which has engulfed the world since the contract was awarded. The failure of the debenture plan announced some three weeks ago, and the company's future has been in doubt since them.
The statement on the company website makes no mention of the events - such as the World Superbike round due to be held there on August 1st, 2010 - but yesterday, before the announcement was made, a company spokesperson told MotoMatters.com that the World Superbike event was still on the calendar and that it should go on as scheduled. Paolo Flammini, who runs the World Superbike series, also told GPOne.com that they were monitoring the situation and had no reason to believe the race would need to be moved or cancelled.
A variety of sources are reporting that 2009 British superbike champion Leon Camier has or will shortly sign a deal that will see him ride alongside Max Biaggi on the factory Aprilia team in the World Superbike championship. Camier will test with the team at Misano Wednesday and Thursday and some sort of announcement may be made by the team at that time. The young Brit has been considered a front-runner for the vacant seat after riding for the team at Magny Cours and Portimao. At Portimao, Camier finshed a creditable 6th and 7th after mechanical issues sabotaged his French appearance.
San Marinan Alex de Angelis had also been considered as a leading candidiate for the ride but his reportedly high salary demands allegedly tipped the balance in Camier's favor. de Angelis is a contender for a ride on an Aprilia satellite team that will reportedly be a mash-up of the Guandalini and Sterilgarda Ducati teams but his ability to bring funding to the team is thought to be a prime factor in whether he gets that ride.
One of the most notable things to emerge from the post-race tests at Valencia was the new firing order being tested by the Marlboro Ducati team. The difference in engine note between the new engine and the old one, still being used by the satellite Pramac team was striking, with the GP10 sound much more like Yamaha's M1 - and a return to Ducati's original big-bang roots - than the pure screamer currently in use in the Ducati Desmosedici. And although it was obvious that the engine was not using the original "twin pulse" configuration, which saw the two vertical and horizontal cylinders firing almost in unison, the cylinder pairs were clearly no longer firing 360 degrees apart either. The sound had everyone speculating, wondering just how Ducati changed the bike and why.
MotoMatters.com was fortunate enough to be part of a small group of journalists who had a chance to talk to Ducati Corse's General Manager and engineering guru Filippo Preziosi about the GP10. In the few minutes we had with Preziosi, he covered the new firing order, the rationale for making the switch, and what he thought of the proposed 1000cc engine regulations due to come into effect in MotoGP in 2012.
Question: So, it looks like a positive test, both Casey and Nicky very happy?
Filippo Preziosi: Yes, I'm very happy, because all the new parts we provided to the rider that were approved by Vittoriano (Guareschi) at the last tests in Mugello are good for the riders. So that's very good for me because both the riders gave me the same comments, and that makes me more comfortable that we are making the right choice. So now we start building the bike for 2010, and the same bike that is approved by the official riders and by the test rider Vito will be provided to the satellite team, for the first test in Sepang. So, now it's time to work again in developing the bike starting from that stage.
Ever since the news started filtering out of the Grand Prix Commission that the MSMA was prepared to accept the use of production engines in prototype MotoGP bikes, all eyes have been on Infront Motor Sports, where the Flammini brothers run the production-based World Superbike series, awaiting their response. The last time a bike using an engine based (to a very basic extent) on a production engine - the WCM machine, which you can find out about in our interview series with Peter Clifford, the man behind that project - the FIM put a stop to that project, claiming it violated the rules requiring that all bikes be prototypes. Though the Flammini brothers have always denied it and no evidence has ever been produced to support the accusation, suspicion still lingers in the MotoGP paddock that the former FIM president Francesco Zerbi came to the ruling after pressure from FGSport, the company that held the rights for the World Superbike series before the Flamminis sold a majority holding to the Infront group.
Since then, a number of things have changed. Firstly, the Grand Prix Commission is discussing a change to the rules which would explicitly allow the use of production-based engines, and making them legal for use. Secondly, the current FIM President, Vito Ippolito, is regarded as being considerably more independent than his Italian predecessor, and has a history as a team owner in the Grand Prix series. A charge of breaching the rules - which is how WCM was disqualified - would no longer stand, nor would it find political support from FIM headquarters in Switzerland.
But the Flamminis are still determined to halt any attempts by the Dorna-run MotoGP series onto what they perceive as their own territory. Paolo Flammini reiterated this standpoint again today, in an interview with the Italian website GPOne.com, telling the veteran journalist Claudio Porrozzi that they are prepared to defend their rights. "I repeat what I said earlier," Flammini told GPOne.com, "We have had assurances from the President of the FIM, Vito Ippolito, that these new rules would not be approved. So far, he has been true to his word, and I hope that this will continue in the future." The consequences of Ippolito not holding up what Infront Motor Sports regards as his end of the bargain would be dire, Flammini warned. "We are ready to take whatever action is necessary to defend the contract we have with the FIM, which, let us not forget, also covers the 600cc class based on production bikes."
At the end of every season, a few lucky souls get to ride the current year's crop of World Superbike machines. The caliber of the journalists varies enormously, from rank amateur to professional racers, and while accounts such as Jim McDermott's hilarious Walter Mitty-style ride report over at Superbikeplanet.com (part 1 & part 2) provide a great deal of entertainment, I'm sure even my good friend Jim would hesitate to claim he was finding the limits of the 2008 World Superbikes.
To do that, what you need is a bona fide racer. Spanish CEV Formula Extreme racer Kenny Noyes and Canadian Superbike rider Brett McCormick were among the professionals out testing the 2009 pack for various magazines, but the Italian site GPOne.com went one better: In association with Actioncameras.it, they sent former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner out to test the machines, and recorded it all on video. You can here his candid opinions on the bikes that contended the 2009 World Superbike championship in the videos below:
When the revised version of the 2010 provisional MotoGP calendar was announced last week, we pointed out the problem which the lack of time between the Brno race and Indianapolis would create. With Brno just one week before Indianapolis, the customary post-race at Brno would have to be dropped, cutting the number of in-season tests by half, from two to just one.
This situation could not hold, and as reported by MotoMatters.com on Friday, it hasn't. Today, the FIM announced that the Brno round has officially been moved back a week to August 15th, the date which had appeared on the original MotoGP schedule. This switch puts two weeks between the Brno and Indianapolis rounds, reinstating the post-race tests at Brno, and easing the schedule a little for the riders and the teams. Two transatlantic hops in two weeks would have been punishing both for the riders and especially for the teams, who often have very long hours to put in preparing the bikes. With two weeks between Brno and Indy, the teams can take a little longer to acclimatize, and reduce the amount of jet lag they suffer.
Rumors filtering in indicate that Team Guandalini will switch from Ducatis and field a much-rumored Aprilia satellite team in the World Superbike series in 2010. Some reports indicate that the only thing left unattended in this alleged agreement is an official announcement. Reportedly, the team will be managed by current team majordomo Frankie Chili with invovement from Team Sterilgarda's Marco Borciani. Speculation that Aprilia would run 2 additional bikes in 2010 had been rampant for the better part of the 2nd half of the season, with Aprilia head of communications Alain Roger in a September interview with Caradisiac. com revealing that Aprilia would field another 2-bike team. It has been reported that Guandalini, along with other Ducati satellite teams (including Sterilgarda) were unhappy with the level of support that they had received from Bologna this past season. Additionally, it has been widely assumed that Sterigarda sponsorship for the Borciani-led squad would evaporate in 2010 given the Italian firm's renewed support of the factory Yamaha team. Given that background, one would assume that the opportunity to field Aprilia's RSV4, which had a stellar maiden season in the hands of Max Biaggi, would be an attractive proposition indeed. Guandalini currently has Jakob Smrz under contract while the factory Aprilia team has reportedly been dithering between former Gresini Honda rider Alex De Angelis and newly-crowned British superbike champion Leon Camier. Maybe both will find an Aprilia under their Christmas tree this year.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Another blow has been struck in the ongoing battle for supremacy inside the Fiat Yamaha garage. After Valentino Rossi announced that Yamaha would have to choose between himself and team mate Jorge Lorenzo - before backpedalling to the Italian press - this time, it is the turn of Jorge Lorenzo's side of the garage to get in a blow. That comes in an interview with the Spanish broadcaster Cadena SER, in which Marcos Hirsch, Lorenzo's manager and confidant, launched a blistering attack on the 9-time World Champion.
"It's sad that a champion of the stature of Valentino Rossi is so preoccupied by Jorge," Hirsch told Cadena SER. "What he should be doing is being happy, fighting on track and beating him man-to-man, and not using strategies like saying 'get out of here' and 'I don't want you here'." Hirsch was most critical of Rossi's mind games: "His psychological strategy of sending messages using friendly journalists surprises me a little."
The provisional calendar released for 2010 left the teams and fans scratching their heads a little. The calendar featured two sets of three back-to-back races; one set starting on June 20th with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and ending two weeks later on July 4th with Catalunya; and one set starting on August 22nd with Brno and ending two weeks later at Misano on September 5th. The first back-to-back did not raise any foreseeable problems, the middle race being the traditional run up to Assen for the Dutch TT. The second set, however, was a different kettle of fish.
For sandwiched between Brno and Misano was Indianapolis, on August 29th, meaning that the middle race in this back-to-back involved a hop back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean to the American Mid-West. As if that wasn't bad enough, the transatlantic schedule meant that the second of the two post-race tests scheduled for the 2010 MotoGP season would have to be scrapped, as alternatives for the traditional test at Brno were either thin on the ground or far too late in the season to be of any use.
In the first part of our interview with Peter Clifford, he talked about the thinking behind the WCM project, as well as the goals for keeping racing affordable. In this second part, we discuss how - and why - the project ended, as well as the general question of costs in racing. Is it still possible to go racing without spending huge amounts of money? Clifford gives MotoMatters.com his views.
MotoMatters: To get back to the prototype, who did the inspection, was it the FIM who did tech inspection? I think it was in South Africa that it failed inspection...
Peter Clifford: I think the first place we went to was Japan that year, I think.
MM: But you turned up at the race with a rolling chassis and an engine, submitted to scrutineering...
PC: That's right and they said :no thank you.: I think Chris did the first practice or whatever in the wet and was quite quick on it. And then we were told we couldn't carry on with it. I'm pretty sure we did the first practice and then you know behind the scenes shenanigans.
MM: There's lots of reason to suspect that FG Sport were behind it...
PC: If I was Mr Flammini, I would probably have done it.
I think that I was foolish enough to believe what we did here in this MotoGP paddock, that Dorna, that we as a group, because we all felt that when we went MotoGP, went four stroke, that we were going ahead together. And we very much felt that as a team, OK, we're part of this, there were no motorcycles available, it's up to us to be part of this and we'll make our own. And we knew we'd have no objections from anybody else in the pit lane, everybody felt the same, we were all going together, and I think we thought we were masters of our own destiny in this. But we weren't.
Althea Ducati has announced that Shane "Shakey" Byrne will team with Carlos Checa on the squad in the World Superbike championship in 2010. Althea ended a relationship with Honda at the end of the 2009 season that had lasted the last two years in favor of the Bologna based manufacturer. Byrne brings extensive experience with the 1098 Superbike to Althea, having won the 2008 British superbike championship and placing eighth in the 2009 WSBK season astride the Italian machine. Byrne had been previously thought to be in contention for a factory ride with Kawasaki and Aprilia, but Kawasaki opted to sign Chris Vermeulen and Tom Sykes. Aprilia is thought to be considering Leon Camier and Alex De Angelis to team with Max Biaggi.
After the recent announcement that the MotoGP class is to allow the use of production-based engines from 2012, the name on everybody's lips was WCM. After all, the team, run by Peter Clifford and Bob MacLean, had built exactly that bike back in 2003, to compete in the MotoGP class. That project ended badly, after a series of disqualifications on technical grounds saw the bike pulled from the grid due precisely to the fact that it was based on production parts. The legal battles over those disqualifications were taken all the way to the International Court of Arbitration in Sport, where WCM lost the case on the matter of how the castings were made.
Here at MotoMatters.com, we have been fascinated by this project for several years now, as it seemed to point the way to a radically different approach to a MotoGP project. With the imminent return of production-based engines - at least for privateer teams - the WCM project seems positively visionary. We tracked down Peter Clifford at the IRTA tests earlier this year, to ask him about the history of the WCM project, and to get his thoughts on racing. In the first of this two-part interview, Clifford talks about the genesis of the project, and the design concepts used to create it. Part two will be online tomorrow.
MotoMatters: The WCM project, when did it start, how did it start?
Peter Clifford: Well in 2002, end of 2002, Yamaha said that they weren't going to make enough M1s for everybody and we were going to be unlucky. At the same time, Red Bull decided that they were no longer going to continue either, so we were left with no sponsor and no machinery. It was a question of either basically stay home or go racing and my business partner Bob McLean and I decided that we wanted to go racing. Carmelo Ezpeleta said, "Look, Peter, you have to turn up with something, anything, because it's all going to get better, I'm going to get the Japanese to produce more motorcycles for everybody, so you've just got to survive through 2003 with whatever you can muster".