After a long, cold, lonely winter, the World Superbike racing season is finally upon us again. With 26 machines on the grid, the series is down a bit in participation, but considering the depressed world economic climate, it could be a lot worse. Despite the drop in sheer numbers, there are seven manufacturers with factory (or the equivalent) teams. There has been some shuffling of marques and talent on privateer teams, but participation is fairly strong on that level as well.
Reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies has abdicated his throne for the theoretically greener pastures of MotoGP and there are a crop of both familiar and new faces eager to claim his title. There doesn't appear to be someone who is going to grab the series by the throat and make it his own in his rookie year like Spies did, but then no one could have predicted that at the beginning of last season either.
The Empire Strikes Back
At the end of the day at each MotoGP event, journalists crowd into hospitality suites and pit garages to question the riders on how the day went, and find out what they have been riding on. Unfortunately, those interviews are not usually available online during the racing season. However, our good friends over at GPOne.com have been recording these interviews at the current MotoGP test at Sepang, and have put up edited versions for their readers to listen to.
Valentino Rossi finished the second day of testing at Sepang in the same style he finished the first day: On top of the timesheets, with a comfortable lead over his closest rival Casey Stoner. The Italian smashed his existing pole record on a used tire early on the session, before going on to work on the electronics of his Fiat Yamaha M1. At the end of the day, Rossi pronounced himself very happy with the progress of the Yamaha, and even took time to try the Yamaha Test Team's bike, setting the 15th fastest time in the process on a bike not set up for him.
Rossi finished nearly a quarter of a second faster than Casey Stoner, the Australian having also lapped under Rossi's previous pole record. There was also good news for Stoner's teammate, 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden. After struggling yesterday, Hayden improved his time by over 1.5 seconds, setting his best ever testing result on the Ducati. The Kentucky Kid had complained of a lack of strength from the arm pump surgery he had just a couple of weeks ago, but a day back on the bike was sufficient to sort those problems out too. Hayden took it a little easier than his usual marathon testing sessions, with 10 other riders doing more laps than the American.
Results of the first qualifying session of the 2010 World Superbike championship at Phillip Island:
Results of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class at Phillip Island:
Results of the first qualifying session for the World Supersport class at Phillip Island:
Results of the first session of free practice for the World Supersport class at Phillip Island:
The new MotoGP regulations for 2012 have the MSMA caught on the horns of a dilemma: In the long run, the 1000cc formula should be cheaper than the current crop of 800s. In the short run, the switch requires that the factories design a new engine based on the new limitations imposed by the rules. With the factories still reeling after the global economic crisis has left their finances in turmoil, a significant investment to develop a brand new engine is not an attractive prospect at all.
Consequently, at the meeting the MSMA held at Sepang three weeks ago, the factories agreed to allow the 800cc bikes to remain in the class as a separate category for the foreseeable future. The 800cc bikes were to be given a 3 kilogram weight advantage over the 1000s, but were to be subject to the same fuel, engine limits and 81mm maximum bore restriction to be imposed on the liter bikes. This would allow the factories to get more value out of the 800cc bikes they have already poured so much investment into, and prevent them from having to persuade their management boards from dipping heavily into the rapidly-dwindling coffers to develop a new bike.
Valentino Rossi continued his dominance at Sepang, picking up where he left three weeks ago and topping the timesheets at the end of the first day of testing at the Malaysian track. The Italian put in his fastest time early, and has spent much of the day working on the electronics, content with the work done on the engine and chassis at the previous Sepang test.
Casey Stoner was the second fastest man, and the only rider to get close to the Italian. Stoner has been testing a new carbon fiber swingarm on the Desmosedici GP10, as Ducati continues to work on incorporating the advantages the aluminium swingarm offers into the carbon fiber version.
Third and fourth fastest men were Andrea Dovizioso and Loris Capirossi, the two Italians throwing up a bit of a surprise. Dovizioso took half a second off his time from the previous test, the Repsol Honda team starting to integrate the data they collected three weeks' ago into finding a strong setup for the new Honda RC212V. Dovi's teammate Dani Pedrosa was less fortunate, suffering a slow speed fall that kept him off the track for a couple of hours, before returning and setting the 7th fastest time.
The weather gods really do have it in for the Moto2 class. The teams that had chosen to skip last week's Moto2 test at Barcelona seemed to have made a wise choice after the rain ruined most of those three days of testing. But the Gresini, Scot and JIR teams -featuring MotoGP refugees Toni Elias, Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa, along with former 250 star Mattia Pasini and Russian rookie Vladimir Ivanov - were given the same treatment that the Barcelona teams had received from the elements: At Misano, it rained just about all day.
The miserable weather saw the Moto2 bikes spend most of the time in the garage. De Angelis and Canepa spent time comparing the Rapid Inside NCR Scot bike against a set of stock Honda CBR600s, and De Angelis came away suitably impressed. "It's hard to fully evaluate the bike after so few laps," the Italian rider told GPOne.com, "but the first impressions from today are that the bike is very good, much more responsive, agile, and lighter than the CBR600. It's easier to handle and has a lot more grip."
The FB Corse MotoGP bike took a step closer to finding its way onto the grid today. According to the Italian sports broadcaster Sport Mediaset, the team has been given a special dispensation by Dorna and the FIM to test the bike outside of the official MotoGP testing events, with a contracted rider rather than a test rider. As a consequence, Garry McCoy has until February 28th - this coming Sunday - to test the bike and demonstrate the machine is fast enough to make it a worthy entry to the MotoGP class.
When the announcement was made that Moto2 would be single engine class, the accompanying press release stated boldly that the engines would produce in the region of 150 horsepower. This seemed an entirely reasonable and achievable figure, given that the top flight World Supersport 600s, such as those prepared by Ten Kate Honda or by Chris Mehew for the Parkalgar Honda team produce something very close to that number. So HRC's engineers disappeared into the dyno room with a pile of CBR600RR engines and bunch of ideas to get them producing horsepower.
Rumors floating around the Moto2 paddock suggest that Honda's engineers - normally no slouches when it comes to extracting power from four-stroke engines - emerged from the dyno room carrying not a powerful 600 cc engine, but rather the remains of several engines which had died in the attempt to find that horsepower. And so HRC switched tack, and went for reliability instead, cutting horsepower but ensuring that the engines will last reliably for the three race weekends they are expected to have to cope with.
Just three more days to go before the World Superbike season kicks off in earnest, and to further enhance your already over-stimulated anticipation of the new season, the Italian Superbike TV has another short video on their website. The video was shot on the second day of testing at the final WSBK test, and contains a brief summary (in Italian) of how the riders performed at Phillip Island. See all of the 2010 World Superbike season's protagonists in action, and get ready for Sunday. Enjoy!
In case you still needed a little help in getting warmed up for the World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island next weekend, here's a video from the Italian channel SuperbikeTV. Yes, it's in Italian, and therefore contains commentary which non-Italian speakers will find incomprehensible. But it also features footage of the bikes on track, and that should get your juices running ready for Sunday. Just a few more days to go ...
When Moto2 was first announced, fans around the world consoled themselves over the loss of the 250s with the hope that the new class would bring a new wave of design innovation in motorcycle chassis. As the spec engine made innovation in the engine department a moot point, chassis builders, it was hoped, could give free reign to their imaginations and experiment with ways of improving on the basic chassis concept.
And so the disappointment has been considerable as Moto2 bike after Moto2 bike has been unveiled, to reveal the same basic chassis and very little novelty indeed. About the most adventurous in terms of design that we have seen so far is the use of a trellis chassis in the RSV bike to be used by the Aspar team, and that can hardly be described as revolutionary. Other than that, there has been some small experimentation in the margins of bike design, with slightly non-standard subframe sections and swingarm mounts.
I was fortunate enough to visit the workshop of FTR Moto in early February, the firm who are building bikes to be fielded by Alex Debon, Gabor Talmacsi and Andrea Iannone in the 2010 Moto2 season. At FTR, I spoke at length with the company boss Steve Bones and engineer Mark Taylor. During our conversation - a full report of which should be available some time in March - I put this point to both Steve and Mark, and their response was both surprising and illuminating. They pointed out that as much as they would like to incorporate a host of innovations which they have lined up for the next version of the FTR Moto2 bike, anything they attempted would have been rejected by the teams they were trying to sell their chassis to. "What surprised me most," Bones said, "Was how conservative the Moto2 paddock is."