Last but not least of the entry lists released by the FIM today is the 125cc class. Few surprises here either, but certainly a few names of note. Perhaps the most remarkable name on the list is not that of a rider, but of a bike. The vaunted Italian marque Lambretta is on the grid, fielding a two-rider team. For those over the age of about 40, Lambretta is forever associated with scooters rather than racing motorcycles, in part as a result of popular culture and the film Quadrophenia. But the Lambretta team is actually the remnants of the old Loncin team, the Chinese manufacturer of commuter bikes having pulled out at the end of last season. It is unlikely that the Lambretta team will be racing with vast numbers of lights and mirrors attached to the fairing.
Along with the release of the MotoGP entry lists, the FIM also announced the provisional entry lists for the Moto2 class. Unlike the MotoGP entry list, which is more or less set in stone given the size of the budgets and the importance of the class to Dorna, the Moto2 list is still incredibly fluid. It is unlikely that the starting grid at Qatar will contain all of the names appearing on the list here, as witnessed by the fact that the list also contains two reserves.
The list contains 39 entries plus 2 reserves, a number which even Dorna CEO believes is too many, as he told the official MotoGP.com website. The names on the list have been floating around for some time now, and there are few surprises. The two-rider lineup announced by Michael Bartholemy's Marc VDS racing team has been split into two, with Scott Redding having been accepted as an official entry, while former Superstock 600 Vincent Lonbois is still on the reserve list. Former factory Kawasaki MotoGP rider Ant West is also on the reserve list for the MZ Moto2 project, but the status of that team is currently on hold, as they continue search for funding, like so many other teams.
The FIM today released the provisional entry lists for the MotoGP class, and the list has no surprises in it. The list contains official confirmation of the numbers the MotoGP rookies will be using, most of which are the numbers they used previously. Hiroshi Aoyama is the only exception, taking number 7 as the number 4 which he used in the 250 class has already been claimed by Andrea Dovizioso - who in turn had been forced to take 4 because his preferred number 34 has been retired in honor of Kevin Schwantz.
Rather surprising is Marco Melandri's entry. He was listed under the number 24, and not the number 33 which he has used since entering MotoGP. This turned out to be a mistake, as pointed out to us by the San Carlo Honda Gresini press office. Melandri will be running number 33 in 2010 after all.
2010 MotoGP Rider Lineup
A small and select group of World Superbike riders have decamped from Portimao and headed across the Iberian peninsula to Valencia, for two more days of testing at the Ricardo Tormo circuit. They are joined there by a gaggle of Moto2 teams, including the Pons Kalex team, the Mapfre Aspar team and the Tech 3 team. But their journeys have been in vain, as the weather has not been in the least conducive to riding racing motorcycles. High winds, a damp track and temperatures not that far above freezing left most of the riders stuck in their garages, sipping espressos and hoping the weather would clear.
The John Hopkins saga is over. An announcement has been made. The time, place and method used to make the announcement exemplified just why Hopper's decision to return to the AMA or move to MotoGP has become such a saga. For at the Anaheim Supercross round on Sunday, John Hopkins announced to the assembled crowd that he would be racing the M4 Suzuki GSX-R 1000 in the AMA Pro American Superbike class for 2010. This news was then disseminated further by Cycle World's managing editor Matthew Miles, who posted the following tweet on Cycle World's official Twitter page:
John Hopkins just announced to the crowd at Anaheim that he will race an M4 Suzuki GSX-R1000 in AMA Pro American Superbike in 2010. MPM
Hopkins had previously made a verbal commitment to the FB Corse team, who are developing their three-cylinder MotoGP prototype, designed by Oral Engineering and based on the engine originally built for BMW's stillborn MotoGP effort. The role would primarily be that of test rider, with an unknown number of races as a wildcard entry. That commitment was contingent on Hopper being able to test the bike before signing a contract, but a number of circumstances prevented that from happening.
Over the past year, the Balatonring project has been dogged by bad luck and economic hardship. The project was born under the unluckiest of stars, planned in Hungary and to be built by a Spanish-based construction firm shortly before the economic crisis began. Just months later, the Spanish real estate market collapsed, causing huge problems for the Spanish construction industry. At the same time, the value of the Hungarian Forint plummeted, plunging the country into further economic difficulties as so much of the business of the country was being done in Euros.
Fortunately, those troubles seem to be at an end. The holes created in the project's budget by the financial crisis have been filled by Magyar Fejlesztési Bank, the Hungarian Development Bank, according to BikeRacing.it. The Bank, whose mission is to provide funding for infrastructure and economic development projects such as the Balatonring circuit, has stepped in with a loan to allow the circuit to be completed in time for the September 19th Hungarian round of MotoGP. As a consequence, the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was cancelled last year after work on the Balatonring circuit ceased, is almost certain to take place as scheduled. Sources close to the management of the Balatonring track are extremely confident that the race will go ahead as planned.
Just how big is the British invasion of the World Superbike series? It's easy to overlook just how many British riders are on the provisional World Superbike and World Supersport grid, but sit down and count them and you see 7 Brits in WSBK out of 26 entries - that's over a quarter of all riders. Exactly how much of a factor they are going to be is obvious from the video below, which was made during a Motorcycle News photoshoot, and filmed by Redwing Media, the press agency for Honda in the World Superbike series: 6 of the 14 factory riders are from Britain, with only Shakey Byrne forced to look to a private - though heavily supported - Ducati ride.
Two men born just a few miles and a few months apart stamped their authority on the first official World Superbike test of 2010. Johnny Rea and Eugene Laverty, both from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, ended the three day test under the lap record time, Laverty beating the race lap record while Rea shattered Ben Spies' qualifying record set on soft tires.
Laverty and Rea are the tip of a British resurgence in the World Superbike series. The Brit revival is most obvious in the World Superbike class, where the top four times were set by British riders, James Toseland missing out on making it 5 out of 5 by just two hundredths of a second to Michel Fabrizio. While Johnny Rea's top time was unsurprising, given the Ulsterman's strong end to the 2009 season, few had expected Leon Haslam to show quite so strongly. His talent was not in question, scoring two podiums last year on the privateer Stiggy Honda, but the Alstare Suzuki team struggled in 2009 and the Suzuki GSX-R 1000 is not generally regarded as a race-winning machine.
Johnny Rea ended the final session of testing for the World Superbike class at Portimao where he had spent so much of the weekend: On top of the timesheets, just ahead of Leon Haslam. Althea Ducati's Shakey Byrne rounded out another British 1-2-3, a couple of tenths ahead of Ducati's Michel Fabrizio.
The two Sterilgarda Yamahas ended the day in 5th and 6th, Cal Crutchlow fractionally ahead of MotoGP returnee James Toseland. Last year's runner up Noriyuki Haga finished the final session in 7th, ahead of the second Ten Kate bike of Max Neukirchner.
Results of the final Sunday afternoon session for the World Superbikes:
Eugene Laverty finished the final session of testing with a bang, setting the fastest lap of the session and of the weekend with just a few minutes of the session left to go. The Parkalgar Honda rider finished ahead of his chief rival for the weekend, Joan Lascorz, the Motocard.com Kawasaki nearly three tenths slower than the Irishman. Michele Pirro underlined the wisdom of Ten Kate's decision to sign the young Italian, finishing the session and the weekend in 3rd, ahead of an outstanding Miguel Praia. The Portuguese rider struggled for top 10 finishes in 2009, but has been a consistent feature in the fast group at this first test.
Sunday afternoon's session was a template for the entire weekend. Everyone finished the session in the same position they finished overall during the three days of testing. Eugene Laverty underlined his position as one of the favorites for the title, along with Joan Lascorz and Michele Pirro. Kenan Sofuoglu was absent due to injury, but once the Turkish Ten Kate rider returns, he is sure to figure in the championship chase.
World Supersport times from the final session at Portimao:
With the weather rapidly improving on Portugal's Algarve coast, the World Superbike riders took to the track at the Portimao circuit en masse, unlike their World Supersport counterparts who had elected to stay in their pit garages earlier this morning. At the end of the two hour session, it was once again Johnny Rea who topped the timesheets, staking his claim as a favorite for the 2010 World Superbike championship. His lead over 2nd placed man Leon Haslam could barely have been smaller, though, the Alstare Suzuki rider finishing just one thousandth of a second behind his Ten Kate Honda rival. The Ducatis scored a marked improvement, with Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio both finally getting into the top 4.
The test will finish this afternoon.
Times from session 1 on Sunday for the World Superbike class:
The World Supersport riders arrived at the Parkalgar circuit to find a soaking track, and most of them decided to sit the Sunday morning session of testing out. Just five men took to the track, and Ten Kate's Michele Pirro came straight back in again, without setting a time. The lack of competition was a fillip for Swedish rider Alexander Lundh, ending the session on top, and ahead of championship candidate Joan Lascorz. The track is now drying out nicely, and the World Superbike riders are down into the 1'43s, so the final afternoon session of testing for the World Supersport class should see more traffic out on the track.
Times from Sunday morning for the World Supersport class at Portimao:
As the aftermath of the global economic crisis rumbles on, sponsorship for motorcycle racing teams is spread pretty thinly on the ground. So it helps to have contacts in the upper echelons of large companies who are sympathetic to motorcycle racing. It helps, for example, if the team is on good terms with the CEO of a large international company.
Aprilia have this situation down pat. The CEO of the Piaggio Group, Roberto Colaninno, is also the CEO of the Italian national airline Alitala, IMMSI, a commercial real estate company, and Omniaholding, a private investment firm, and so sponsorship of Aprilia's World Superbike team has been found internally. According to GPOne.com, Colaninno has corralled Alitalia into becoming title sponsor for the factory Aprilia WSBK effort this season. The rationale behind the move - apart from the relative simplicity with which it has been achieved - is to allow the two parties to benefit from the marketing synergy of the two Italian brands.
The track continued to dry out at Portimao, but the World Supersport class still ran their afternoon session on a damp surface. Michele Pirro continued his strong debut with the Ten Kate Honda, beating Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz by over three tenths of a second. The two Parkalgar Honda riders - sponsored by the Portimao circuit - Eugene Laverty and Miguel Praia finished in 3rd and 4th, while Chaz Davies was first the Triumphs in 5th. Despite the drying track, times were a couple of seconds down on Friday's times.
Times from the second session from Saturday for World Supersport:
The track is still wet at Portimao, but the World Superbike class managed to take 6 seconds off their times from this morning. Once again it was Ulsterman Johnny Rea who was quickest, mastering the wet conditions ahead of Leon Haslam on the Suzuki, while this Troy Corser made a big leap forward in the wet, taking nearly 8 seconds off his time from this morning.
Saturday afternoon times for the World Superbike class: