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.
The FIM today released the latest - though still officially provisional - entry lists for all three classes of the MotoGP series. Though largely unchanged, there have been one or two minor modifications to the 125 and Moto2 field.
The MotoGP class remains officially unchanged, though that in itself is news. The FB Corse team had earlier announced that they had been accepted on to the official entry list, but were later forced to retract that statement and announce they will attempt to qualify for entry again prior to the Jerez round on May 2nd. This means that the MotoGP field remains just 17 riders, with hopes that the field could be expanded to 18 by Jerez, and with wildcards from the Spanish Inmotec project later in the year.
The first day of the final test for the MotoGP class before the season commences saw Valentino Rossi continue his domination of testing, ending the session three tenths ahead of his nearest rival Casey Stoner. The Fiat Yamaha rider was constantly at the top of the timesheets, only really ceding the top spot when he paused for dinner late on in the evening. Despite the track cooling and the evening dew which started to form, Rossi took another half a second off his best time to stamp his authority on the session.
Casey Stoner found himself demoted to second, at a track where he has won three years in a row, but the Australian pronounced himself happy with the test, telling GPOne.com that the bike was working really well, especially on used tires. The Ducati Marlboro rider did comment that he would like some more power with the long-life engines, as would everybody, but he praised the new engine character, which made the Ducati much easier to ride.
After the jubilant tone in yesterday's press release from FB Corse, today the team have been forced to issue a retraction. The team had run a timed test at Valencia in front of Franco Uncini as Dorna representative, to demonstrate that they deserved to be on the MotoGP grid and that the team was capable of being competitive if they were allowed to enter. As reported here and at GPOne.com, Uncini was impressed by the FB01 machine, but felt it was still some way from being ready to race. With some more testing, Uncini said, they could possibly join the grid when MotoGP returned to Europe.
The team, however got a little ahead of itself. They immediately issued a press release stating they were to be admitted to the grid from Jerez, the third round of the series, and expressing their determination to compete at the highest level.
The Hungarian round of MotoGP has been troubled from the start, and doubts have hung over it ever since the end of 2008, when it became clear that the Spanish/Hungarian construction conglomerate building the circuit was having trouble completing the track. The 2009 Hungarian round was first pushed back from the spring to September, before being canceled altogether, and the debut planned for September 2010.
Even that has proved too much, though. Rumors that the round would be canceled altogether emerged earlier this week, after the Hungarian Development Bank MFB refused to underwrite a loan over doubts over the financial viability of the project and allegations of corruption. Without that bank guarantee, the project was effectively dead in the water, and cancellation of the Hungarian round of MotoGP was just a matter of time.
On the face of it, the announcement today that the Spanish TV rights to broadcast MotoGP have been awarded to the commercial channel Telecinco is good news. The channel is one of the very largest in Spain, is well funded and features some Spain's most popular TV shows, such as Gran Hermano, the local version of moribund Big Brother reality TV format.
The press release announcing the new deal certainly made it sound like a positive move. Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta said of the deal, "Reaching this agreement with Telecinco once again demonstrates the status and firm grounding of MotoGP as a televised sporting spectacle which enjoys a huge, dedicated following. Telecinco are widely acknowledged for the excellence of their sports broadcasting and we are therefore highly confident that this deal is a firm step forward for MotoGP." In turn, the CEO of Telecinco, Paolo Vasile, stated "It has always been one of our goals to introduce MotoGP into our offering to viewers, as the sport has enjoyed numerous Spanish success stories." But what Vasile went on to say reveals much about the nature of this deal: "Telecinco will even be ready to work with Dorna before 2012 if the rights become available earlier."
In the run up to the 2010 US World Superbike round in Utah, Miller Motorsports Park has been organizing a series of telephone press conferences with riders participating in the World Superbike and World Supersport series this season. Yesterday, it was the turn of Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam, son of Rocket Ron and current championship leader after the first two races at Phillip Island. Haslam is always an interesting interview subject, as the excellent interview which Jim Race of MotoGPOD did a couple of weeks' ago proved, and Tuesday's conference was no exception. Among the subjects Haslam touches upon are how he got into roadracing; the benefits of riding a range of machinery before landing a factory ride; the relative merits of good rides in Moto2, MotoGP and World Superbikes; and last but not least the quality of Virgin Airlines complimentary pyjamas. Find out all about it in the transcript below:
News travels fast, and sometimes it arrives too quickly to make sense of. After reporting earlier that Dorna representative Franco Uncini said the FB Corse bike was "not yet ready to race," FB Corse have announced their intention to do just that. However, just as Uncini recommended, FB Corse have decided against joining the grid at Qatar, spending their money on developing the bike instead, to be ready for the first European round of MotoGP at Jerez on May 2nd.
Uncini had pronounced himself impressed with the bike, developed by the renowned Oral Engineering, who have a long and illustrious history in Formula One, but felt that the bike needed more development before it would be ready to compete at the highest level. That was obvious from the lap times: according to SportMediaset, McCoy's best lap was a 1'40, about 7.5 seconds off Casey Stoner's lap record of 1'32.582. But given that this was the bike's first proper foray onto the track, and that the laps were run without any electronics at all, the team stands a good chance of using the obvious room there is for improvement.