When news broke a couple of days ago that Yoshimura Suzuki team was to abandon the All-Japan Superbikes championship to run in World Superbikes, speculation immediately turned to the fate of Yoshimura's US program, featuring the veteran Tommy Hayden and young challenger Blake Young. Would this decision mean that Yoshimura would also turn its back on the AMA Pro racing series in the USA and redouble its efforts in World Superbikes?
The answer to that question is almost certainly no, according to the authoritative US journal Roadracing World. The American magazine had a meeting with Fujio Yoshimura, head of the Japanese specialist parts manufacturer, in which Yoshimura told the magazine that the decision by the company to withdraw from the Japanese series would have no effect on the current American racing program. The decision, according to Roadracing World, was based entirely on dissatisfaction with the direction of the Japanese Superbike series, and is independent of the events going on in the DMG-run AMA Pro series - despite their apparent similarity.
It has long been rumored, but now comes as close to something like confirmation as we are going to get, for the meantime. The very well-informed Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Leon Camier has signed with Aprilia, to run alongside Max Biaggi in the Noale factory's World Superbike squad. The manner of the announcement is somewhat unusual, however. GPOne.com spoke to the head of Aprilia's racing activities, Leo Mercanti at Bangkok Airport, where he was on his way to participate in a Rally Raid in the Middle East, where the Italian confirmed that Camier had been given the job after a couple of impressive rides substituting for the injured Shinya Nakano.
Speaking of Camier, Mercanti told GPOne.com "I think he's a good choice, the guy did well in the races he ran with us." So far, though, no official press release or announcement has been issued by the factory, the news is not 100% certain, merely 99.999%, given that Mercanti is the person with the final say in Aprilia's racing program.
Over the past couple of years, attention has been focused on the sparseness of the MotoGP grid, with just 17 permanent entries in 2009, and most likely the same number in 2010. The comparison was always made with the World Superbike grid, which had a bumper crop of 31 entries for the start of the 2009 season. Such a well-filled grid meant that the worryingly large number of teams and riders dropping out of World Superbikes throughout the season was largely ignored. The World Superbike grid for 2010, however, is looking disturbingly thin, with only 17 riders entered so far, and little sign of that number growing by any significant amount.
News emerging from Japan, however, suggests that at least one team is to swell the ranks of World Superbikes. More significant than the number of riders this team will bring is the name involved: It is not just any old team which is to make the jump from the All Japan Superbike championship, the team under discussion is Yoshimura Suzuki. The team has a long and rich history in the Japanese Superbike championship, with several JSB titles to its name, as well as wins in the prestigious Suzuka 8 hour race and a host of international events.
According to the Italian website Bikeracing.it (which reached us through the excellent Dutch site MOTOR.nl), Yoshimura Japan President Fujio Yoshimura announced that the legendary performance parts supplier had made the decision to move up to the World stage after spending many years in the Japanese national series. "Despite the period of economic crisis for us in Japan," Bikeracing.it reports Yoshimura as saying, "racing has been part of our sporting culture for some 60 years. For this reason, we have decided to take up a new challenge, a leap forward for all of us: To race in the World Championship. It will be a whole new challenge for Yoshimura, and we hope to have the support of all our sponsors and supporters in our attempt to become number 1 in World Superbikes." The move would see Yoshimura Japan switch its current All Japan Superbike team to the World Superbike championship, reportedly taking at least one of their riders - Daisaku Sakai is being named as the most likely candidate - up on to the world stage.
The Red Bull Rookies Cup provided some of the most entertaining racing of the year for spectators attending the European MotoGP rounds, but given the nature of the competitors, that was to be expected. Having thirty-odd teenagers with hyperactive hormones and no fear of death all racing for glory on identical bikes is a recipe for both spectacle and disaster. Fortunately, the skill these young boys and girls displayed helped avert disaster in most cases, leaving just the spectacle to enjoy. My personal favorite moment was at Assen, watching the Red Bull Rookies head into the final GT chicane eight abreast, none of them with any intention of giving ground to each other.
Unfortunately for people who weren't at the races, or couldn't follow the races live on the Red Bull Rookies website, there was little coverage on live TV. That appalling error has now been remedied, with the online broadcaster VBS has put together an eight-part series covering the 2009 Red Bull Rookies Cup. You can watch all of the episodes over on the VBS website, or watch the trailer or the first episode below.
The intricate dance of contract negotiating position for the 2011 silly season is in full swing. Every opportunity that the press gets to interrogate the Fantastic Four about their intentions for 2011 is seized upon with relish, despite the fact the 2010 MotoGP season has yet to begin.
Jorge Lorenzo was the latest victim: the Spaniard was being feted by fans at a special dinner in Barcelona, laid on by his fan club. The Spanish press agency Europa Press was there, and took the opportunity to ask Lorenzo about the where he sees himself in 2011. Lorenzo's main priority, was to remain at Yamaha he said, because of the confidence the factory had shown in him and because he is very happy there. "But I can't guarantee anything," he added.
The news that 1000cc production-based engines will be allowed to race in MotoGP alongside the prototypes appears to be having some unexpected consequences. After at first announcing their intention to offer cut-price Aprilia RSA 250s to run in Moto2, and then dropping that idea to concentrate on building a chassis for the Moto2 class to wrap around the spec Honda engine due to be used, the Spanish website Motoworld.es is reporting that Aprilia may decide to switch tack altogether.
According to the reports, Aprilia will instead start work on plans to enter the MotoGP series, dropping their support for the Moto2 class altogether. Five teams had already been lined up to use Aprilia's Moto2 chassis, but hints that the project had been shelved appeared when news broke that Julian Simon and Mike di Meglio of the Aspar team are testing the BQR chassis at Valencia today. Aspar has very close links to the Aprilia factory, and so their choice to test a different chassis could be interpreted as a sign that they have already been informed that Aprilia's plans have changed, and there will not be an Aprilia chassis.
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.