Testing has finally concluded for the MotoGP class for this year - or rather, almost, as Alvaro Bautista will be testing in Estoril next week, while Hiroshi Aoyama will have a test in Sepang a few days before Christmas, the two rookies being allowed extra tests to acclimatize to the MotoGP bikes.
But the regulars go home with plenty to think about. Fastest of the three-day test was the man who had dominated practice, Casey Stoner topping the timesheets on the new iteration of Ducati's GP10. The bike features a radically revised firing order, changed to achieve two goals: to smooth power delivery and make the bike easier to ride, and to require less traction control, which in turn will use less fuel, leaving more fuel for the latter stages of the race. Both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden declared themselves pleased with the new engine, Stoner describing it as giving him "more feeling in the wrist."
The smoother power delivery also helps with pumping on exit and makes the bike easier to ride. That is going to be a benefit to everyone on a Ducati, as the satellite teams will be receiving the new engine specification from the Sepang tests onwards. No longer will taming the Ducati Desmosedici be such an intensely physical experience, leaving the riders with more energy towards the end of the race.
Final times for the end of testing at Valencia. Wrap up to come later this afternoon:
The Spanish magazine Motociclismo will be publishing a list of riders in the Moto2 class in the latest issue of the magazine due to hit the newsstands on Wednesday. The list is still very much a work in progress, but given the strength of the Spanish influence in the class, and the outstanding connections which Motociclismo has within the paddock, it is by far the most authoritative list to be issued so far.
Very few names have actually be confirmed, and there are a number of names which are largely speculative. Of interest to American readers may be the name of Roger Lee Hayden, brother of the 2006 World Champion and Marlboro Ducati rider Nicky Hayden. Roger Lee is very far from being confirmed, the American being required to bring sponsorship to the package if he is to actually secure the ride.
But Roger Lee isn't the only rider to face this problem. The average amount of money being demanded by team owners is 200,000 euros, though top rides, such as the Gresini team, are up to three times that amount. The financial crisis has reinforced a trend which was already underway, making bringing sponsorship to a deal a prerequisite to any deal being done. Perhaps, once the economic crisis abates, this will not be such a factor.
Moto2 Riders and Teams
The hopes that Team Scot had of remaining in the MotoGP class have been dashed. The Italian team - home of the 2009 250cc World Champion - had failed to match the success of their 250cc riders in the MotoGP class. As a consequence, their bid to remain in MotoGP on merit has failed.
The team had hoped to stay if they could secure the extra funding to run Alex de Angelis. But though initial talks with the San Marino government had been promising, the tiny Italian republic could not justify the investment required to fund an entire MotoGP team, and though De Angelis and his manager continued to pursue the extra funds required, Honda's patience ran out. Despite being extended a number of times, the time limit placed on the project by HRC expired, and today, Scot Honda threw in the towel. Scot Honda will now concentrate on the Moto2 class instead.
While the grid in MotoGP is all but settled, in the junior classes everything is still wide open. A few key pieces are falling into place, but the grid still remains far from certain.
One major piece slotted into place today, though: Bradley Smith signed a new one-year deal with his Bancaja Aspar team, making him the odds-on favorite for the 2010 125cc title. His championship assault will be no cakewalk, however, as Aspar announced at the same time that Nico Terol, the man who finished in 3rd behind Smith, had also been contracted to ride alongside smith.
Smith's current team mate and 2009 125cc World Champion Julian Simon will be moving up to the new Moto2 class. Simon will feature alongside Mike di Meglio, the French rider who partnered Alvaro Bautista so impressively in the 250cc class this year. Both men will be riding an Aprilia-badged Moto2 bike for the Mapfre Aspar team next season.
Smith was close to a Moto2 deal, with Fausto Gresini very interested in signing the talented British youngster, but one of the conditions demanded by Gresini was that Smith bring sponsorship to the tune of 500,000 euros to the team. That kind of money is hard enough to raise even when the economy is good, and so Smith chose to stay in 125s and claim the title, with the hope of moving up in 2011 as World champion.
The Moto2 grid is slowly starting to fit together. Today came the announcement from the Tech 3 team that they had signed 250cc star Raffaele de Rosa and former MotoGP rider Yuki Takahashi to ride the team's Moto2 bike, built and designed by Tech 3's technical guru Guy Coulon. As team mate to the last ever 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama, De Rosa did very well indeed, winning the rookie of the year award in the 250cc class and finishing on the podium twice. After a strong year in 250s, Takahashi struggled on the MotoGP bike, but the experience in both classes should stand the Japanese rider in good stead for the new Moto2 formula.
Jorge Lorenzo was the fastest rider on the second day of testing at Valencia, with the lack of wind helping the Spaniard to drop into the 1'31 bracket. Lorenzo set his fastest time on the new soft tire Bridgestone has brought, which both Lorenzo and Hayden reported as giving more edge grip. Lorenzo spent the day testing some electronics and suspension.
Casey Stoner was the second fastest man of the day, ahead of Valentino Rossi, and the increasingly impressive Ben Spies. The Texan is still using basically the same setup he started the weekend on, and is continuing to work at changing his bike from a Superbike style to a more MotoGP style, easing off the brake earlier and carrying more speed through the middle of the corner. So far, he has dropped roughly half a second a day, and he enters the winter break confident for the season to come.
Test times from 3pm. Full times plus commentary at the end of the test, some time after 5pm.
Revised 2010 Provisional MotoGP Calender Released - Le Mans, Silverstone, Mugello, Brno And Misano Moved
The FIM today released the revised version of the 2010 MotoGP calendar, which sees a total of five races shifted about. Le Mans and Mugello shift up a week, while the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is pushed back two weeks to June 20th. Brno and San Marino are both moved closer to the Indianapolis Grand Prix, making for three races on three consecutive weekends.
This immediately highlights the problem with the new schedule: There are a number of tough travel weeks, which will take their toll of riders and teams. The teams will have to fly directly from Motegi halfway round the world to Jerez, the mitigating factor here being that the time shift involved is the easiest one in terms of jet lag. In June, the Silverstone, Assen and Catalunya races are also back to back, but this is not uncommon in Europe.
Less than 24 hours after the 2009 season ended, the MotoGP riders were back out on the track, turning laps in preparation for the 2010 season. The weather was a little warmer than yesterday, but the wind was just as bad as it has been all weekend, sapping the heat out of both track and tires. The field was a real mixture, with the veterans out along with a gaggle of new bugs finding their feet on the MotoGP bikes, as well as a couple of Moto2 bikes undergoing the first shakedown test.
Leading the timesheet were the same names that had dominated all weekend, Casey Stoner returning to the top of the timesheets with a radically-revised Ducati Desmosedici. No details were given on the changes, but the engine sounded completely different, much more like the big bang configuration of the 990cc version of the bike, rather than the 800cc screamer. Filippo Preziosi has nicknamed the engine "V Twin" though according to the Italian site GPOne.com, it is not the same as the old "twin pulse" firing order used by the 2002 Desmosedici 990. Stoner praised the extra grip the engine provided, saying it was much smoother. Nicky Hayden agreed, but said it felt like it was a little bit down on power.
The momentum behind a return to 1000cc for the MotoGP class has been building throughout the year. On Saturday, news emerged from the Grand Prix Commission that the manufacturers had dropped their opposition to the plan, making backing for the 1000cc formula unanimous inside MotoGP's rulemaking body. As a consequence, the proposal is almost certain to be adopted for the 2012 season of MotoGP.
Under the new proposed rules, the current requirement that four-stroke motorcycles must be prototypes will be either dropped or defined far more loosely. This would allow both teams and manufacturers to use engines based on production powerplants, greatly reducing the cost of research and development and paving the way for new teams to enter the class. The aim is to cut the cost of running a team roughly in half, from around 10 million euros for a two-rider satellite team down to between 5 and 6 million euros. Using production-based engines and allowing more engineering and maintenance to be done by the teams should be a major contributing factor in making this happen.
The Rossi-to-Ducati saga continues apace, with maneuvering for the 2011 contract negotiations taking place even on the grid of the final race of 2009. Interviewed for BBC television, Valentino Rossi got in a powerful blow, demanding that Yamaha make a decision about which of their two star riders they want to build their future on. "Yamaha have to choose between me and Jorge for 2011," Rossi told the BBC.
The Italian freely admitted he had been approached by Ducati, and that he had an option to ride there. "I could change bike, ride for Ducati and try to win the world championship with an Italian bike. That would be a great motivation," Rossi said.
At the same time, Rossi underlined his strong relationship with Yamaha. "I prefer at this moment to stay with Yamaha because the love between me and Yamaha, our relationship, is something special."
Rumors of Ducati's courtship of Rossi have triggered a feeding frenzy in the Italian media, who are desperately keen for the match up to take place. However, plenty of room for doubt remains over how serious Rossi is in considering leaving Yamaha, as the Italian is renowned for making public statements to achieve a desired effect, either from a team, a factory, a rival or even the sport of MotoGP itself. Rossi's statements fit neatly into this pattern of putting pressure on one party, in order to achieve the goals he set himself for the future.
The 2009 MotoGP weekend at Valencia will be one that features in motorcycle racing trivia contests for many, many years to come. Both the 250 and the MotoGP races started with grids slightly different from those set during qualifying. While the alteration to the 250 grid was understandable - Alex Debon was in too much pain to race from the pole position he set on Saturday - the events leading up to the modified MotoGP grid were just plain bizarre.
As the pack sat on the grid waiting for the red lights to dim, one spot remained empty. Casey Stoner, always the last rider to arrive on his starting position, failed to appear. So surprising was his absence that Dani Pedrosa, sitting 2nd on the grid, failed to close his visor in time for the race to start. It didn't hinder him, though, as he entered the first corner in the lead, as is his wont.
So where was Casey Stoner? In an incident as bizarre as it was unexpected, the Australian had highsided off during the warm up lap, being tossed off his bike as he pitched it into Turn 2. After Stoner's crash speculation immediately turned to the cause. The consensus of opinion in the press room was that Stoner had got in too hot on cold tires, and this had thrown him off. The assembled press looked forward to hearing from Stoner himself the reason for his crash in the customary press debrief.