Mike di Meglio topped the timesheets in the second session of free practice for the 250cc class, relegating the Valencian riders into a battle for 2nd. Alex Debon was the fastest of the local boys, edging out Hector Barbera by just fifteen hundredths of a second. Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama finished the session in 4th, in good shape for this afternoon's qualifying. Marco Simoncelli, the only man capable of denying Aoyama the final 250 crown, had a more difficult time, ending the session in 8th.
The testing limits imposed at the beginning of the season have caused much debate throughout the year. The number of winter tests were cut to just 6 days in total (plus 2 days after the final Grand Prix at Valencia) in order to restrict engine mileage and severely cut costs. But since the announcement that there will be six new riders entering the MotoGP class next season, lobbying has started for extra testing time to allow the rookies to get up to speed.
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Herve Poncharal had previously expressed his opposition to the extra tests for the rookies, despite having Ben Spies joining Monster Tech 3 as a rookie for 2010. MotoMatters.com caught up with Poncharal to ask him to explain his opposition.
Herve Poncharal: At the moment this is an MSMA proposal [to allow two extra days of testing for the rookies, MM] that will be on the agenda of this weekend's Grand Prix Commission. Me personally, as Monster Tech 3 Yamaha owner, I am against it. We will talk about it in the IRTA committee meeting to give an official position in the Grand Prix Commission. I have a feeling the committee will reject it, but it is only a feeling.
Casey Stoner continues his domination of proceedings at Valencia, the fastest rider once again in the morning session of MotoGP practice. The Australian topped the timesheets just about all session, with only Jorge Lorenzo to get close. Lorenzo looked to have a firm grip on 2nd, but was bumped down to 3rd by Dani Pedrosa, who put in a blistering lap in the dying minutes of practice. Pedrosa leapfrogged over both Fiat Yamahas, leaving Valentino Rossi down in 4th behind his team mate.
Ben Spies continued his steady improvement, finishing the session in 12th, 1.377 behind Stoner's fastest time. More importantly, the Texan improved his time from yesterday by nearly nine tenths of a second.
British rider Danny Webb has had an up-and-down year with the De Graaf Aprilia team in the 125 class this season, despite the team having leased a factory-spec RSA 125 for the Briton. But he has made an impression, and his tenacity has been rewarded with a two-year contract with the Jack&Jones WRB team.
The WRB team have done extremely well in 2009, with their current rider Nicolas Terol 3rd in the 125 World Championship, and contending for the title for much of the season. In the press release, Webb expressed his hope that the two-year project would allow him to grow gradually towards challenging for the championship. "I hope for a good season next year, and to run with the front group for most of the season, I hope to be running at the front every race. In 2011, I hope to follow the same upward line, fighting for podiums in every race of the championship."
Sergio Gadea was the fastest 125 rider in this morning's session of free practice, beating out his team mate and 2009 World Champion Julian Simon, and by quite a margin. Nico Terol was the 3rd fastest man, while Pol Espargaro made it an all-Spanish top 4 just a fraction off Terol's time. British rider Bradley Smith had another middling start, ending the session in 9th, while Scott Redding ended up 12th. De Graaf's Danny Webb finished practice with the 18th quickest time.
You would think that the secrets of how to make a MotoGP bike go faster would be kept under lock and key at all times. Not so if you're Yamaha: On Friday night, Yamaha's technical leaders Masao Furusawa and Masahiko Nakajima gave their annual presentation on what they did to the YZR-M1 to ensure that they won the championship again in 2009.
The first thing they did was identify the changes to the 2009 regulations that would be key to the development direction. They highlighted three rule changes they needed to deal with to maximize the performance of the bike:
- The tire restrictions, with just 20 slicks in two compounds and 8 wets available at each race;
- The reduction in practice, with the Friday morning session scrapped;
- The engine limits, with just 5 engines available for the final 7 races of the season.
They then pinpointed three goals that would allow Yamaha to adapt to these rule changes, and get the best out of the 2009 bike. An improvement in the chassis, to allow them to get the maximum performance out of the tires; increased reliability, while sacrificing as little performance as possible; and a refinement in the engine management system, to allow them to control what they called the vehicle dynamics.
Hector Barbera won the battle of the Valencians on the first day of practice for the 250cc class. The local hero relegated Alex Debon to 2nd place, Barbera leading Debon by over three tenths of a second. Alvaro Bautista was another three tenths behind in 3rd, ahead of championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama. Aoyama usefully put his team mate Raffaele de Rosa between himself and the only man capable of challenging him for the title, Marco Simoncelli.
Casey Stoner continued his domination of the MotoGP class during the first session of free practice at Valencia, coming in fresh from victory at Sepang to top the timesheets during practice. The Ducati rider took his time, though, spending most of the session as 2nd fastest behind Jorge Lorenzo. With 5 minutes to go, the Australian finally found the extra pace he was looking for, putting nearly four tenths of a second between himself and Lorenzo.
Lorenzo only just hung on to 2nd, Dani Pedrosa getting within five hundredths of the Fiat Yamaha man's time to take 3rd, while Valentino Rossi's mediocre run at Valencia continues, setting the 4th fastest time nearly seven tenths behind Stoner.
Ben Spies got off to a cautious start, improving on his times slowly as the session progressed. At one point, he climbed all the way up to 11th, only to drop towards the end of the session, finishing the day in 15th. But the Texan wasn't too far off the pace, just two tenths of a second behind Marco Melandri in 12th, and just over half a second outside the top 10.
Julian Simon took the first session of free practice for the 125cc class at Valencia, seizing on the opportunity to celebrate his title in front of his home fans. The Spaniard took over from the German wildcard Marcel Schrotter, who had led for much of the session, surprising almost everyone, given that he is riding a Honda as a wildcard. Schrotter eventually finished the session 3rd, with Nico Terol also lapping faster than Schrotter in the last minutes of practice, while Sergio Gadea was the 4th quickest of the 125 riders.
The British contingent got off to a slow start, Bradley Smith only managing the 13th fastest time. Scott Redding ended the session in 16th place, while the De Graaf team struggled to get their Aprilias to go, Danny Webb finishing well down the order in 24th.
Ever since its inception, the 800cc MotoGP formula has been unpopular with both the fans and the riders. The high state of engine tune has made the formula extremely expensive, as well as requiring the extensive use of electronics just to make the bikes ridable. This, in turn, has taken much of the spectacle out of the riding, requiring an incredible precision of style to get the best out of them, and making passing very difficult indeed.
The biggest problem, though, is the expense. With the cost of leasing a satellite MotoGP bike upwards of 2 million euros a year, grids are shrinking with little prospect of that trend being reversed. Something clearly needs to be done, but with the manufacturers already heavily invested in the 800cc formula, getting any change in engine capacity through the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, is a very difficult task.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is determined to try, however. In an online chat with visitors to the website of the Spanish TV broadcaster RTVE, Ezpeleta explained that he intended to push forward his previously discussed plans for a return to 1000cc at this weekend's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia. When asked if he would like to see a return to 1000cc in 2011, he replied "Right now, it is not going to be possible to switch in 2011, because the agreement with the manufacturers means that we could only make that change before the end of the 2011 season if there was unanimous agreement among the manufacturers. But we are thinking about a return to a 1000cc capacity from the start of the 2012 season, and we will start discussing it this weekend."
There is always a strange atmosphere at the final MotoGP round at Valencia. It is probably the biggest party of the season, but a sense of sadness permeates the party atmosphere, making it feel more like the wild and desperate abandon of the night before the world is due to end than the joyous celebration of racing it could be. The Valencia MotoGP round is as much parting as it is party.
That sense of loss will be even more real this year, for MotoGP fans are once again about to lose one of the great triumphs of motorcycle racing. After the 500s made way for the 990cc four-strokes, then the 990s were cast aside for the 800s, at Valencia, the 250cc bikes are due to make their final ever outing, before being consigned to the dustbin of history, pushed aside for the 600cc four-stroke Moto2 machines.
There are many perfectly rational and sound reasons for the switch from two strokes to four, not least the question of cost. With Aprilia having a virtual monopoly on the class, the Italian manufacturer could pick and choose its winners and set the price of the factory-spec RSA250 at whatever rate it wanted. And with the other manufacturers having pulled out several years ago - though Honda still has a lingering presence - that meant that competition in the class was effectively dead.
More Is Less
But despite all of their shortcomings, the 250s are going to be sorely missed. The magical combination of light weight and decent power made the bikes more than fast enough, yet still incredibly nimble. As Andrea Orlandi, crew chief to Mapfre Aspar's Alvaro Bautista put it so succinctly: "100 kilo. 100 horsepower. Perfect."
After Livio Suppo's shock departure from the Marlboro Ducati team, details of his new role at HRC are emerging which cast a new light on how the Italian came to leave Ducati. Suppo's departure had caused speculation of problems inside the team over Casey Stoner's absence, but it is now emerging that the switch was very much down to Suppo, rather than Ducati.
Suppo has been hired by HRC to fulfill the role of Marketing Director, where his duties will be focused on raising money for Honda's MotoGP effort. Suppo is widely credited with being a key player in finding sponsors for Ducati, as a result of which Ducati's is the only MotoGP program to be fully covered by sponsorship cash. While Yamaha, Honda and especially Suzuki still pay a significant part of their MotoGP budgets out of their own pockets, Ducati funds almost its entire racing program from the money it receives from its sponsors.
Ever since Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would be making a wildcard appearance at the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, message boards across the internet have been abuzz with the question of how many engines the Texan would have for his Yamaha. The rules for the regulars - contracted riders, to use the jargon of the FIM rulebook - state that each rider has 5 engines to last the final 7 races, from Brno onwards. But how did this affect Spies? Would he have all 5 engines for the weekend? Would he have just 1 engine, as the minimum of 5 divided by 7? How were you supposed to the math to work it out?
To settle the matter, we went straight to the person who should know: Mike Webb, MotoGP's Technical Director and the man charged with enforcing the rules. We chased him down here at Valencia, and asked him what the score was. "There are no rules for wildcards," Webb told us. "So in theory, Spies could have as many engines as he likes." The problem is that the rules make no provision for wildcards, Webb explained. This had been discussed in the Grand Prix Commission when the engine limits were debated, but the MSMA - the manufacturers' organization who put forward the engine limit proposals - didn't think it important enough to cover at the time.
Now it's official: Ducati have announced officially that Livio Suppo is to leave Ducati, as we reported yesterday. Suppo is to embark on "a new professional adventure," according to the press release. His position is to be split in two, with Vito Guareschi taking over as team manager, while Ducati Corse's marketing manager Alessandro Cicognani is due to take over as the project manager. The official Ducati press release is shown below:
LIVIO SUPPO LEAVES THE DUCATI MOTOGP TEAM. NEW MANAGEMENT OF THE 2010 SQUAD IS ANNOUNCED
Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), 5 November 2009 – The last race of the 2009 MotoGP season will also be the last race in Ducati MotoGP Team colours for Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager. The Italian manager will leave Ducati to embark on a new professional adventure.
In Ducati since 1999, Suppo was involved in this challenging and ambitious project from the very beginning, contributing with his intuition, perseverance and enthusiasm to the world title victory of 2007 and to the many podiums and successes that have characterised the life of the Ducati Desmosedici from its debut in 2003 up until today.
Shockwaves are running through both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks today, as news of further management shakeups in Ducati's World Superbike and MotoGP teams is leaking out. We reported yesterday that Livio Suppo would be leaving the MotoGP team at the end of the season, but now it has emerged that Davide Tardozzi, head of Ducati's World Superbike team is also to leave.
The reasons for each departure, though, are different. Suppo, according to GPOne.com and the Corriere dello Sport, has been lured away by Honda to run their racing program. Suppo's decision will have been made easier by the rumors of discord in the Italian factory. The appointment of Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi to the position of Ducati MotoGP Team Manager was widely seen as evidence of trouble, with Ducati and Phillip Morris unhappy at the handling of Casey Stoner's surprise absence from three races in the summer, and Suppo's departure is likely to be related to this to a greater or lesser extent.
Tardozzi, on the other hand, handed in his resignation without any alternative destination to go to. Tardozzi told GPOne.com that his reason for leaving was that he felt he had lost the drive he needed to keep him motivated at this level, at least with the Ducati team. He had not yet thought about alternatives, he told GPOne.com, but he was open to offers, if they were interesting enough. "Racing is still my world," Tardozzi said, "and if something interesting comes my way, I'm sure to stay."