Stunning news from the MotoGP paddock at Valencia. According to the well-informed Superbikeplanet.com website, Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager, is to leave the Ducati team at the end of the season. The news follows on from earlier reports that current Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi is to be promoted to Team Manager, a position which would be much more hands on between the riders and management than Suppo has been.
Suppo's departure, if it is confirmed, would mark a huge break with the past of Ducati's MotoGP program. To a very large extent, Suppo IS Ducati's MotoGP program, as the Italian has run the program from the very start. With Suppo out of the way, Ducati's MotoGP team would be likely to undergo a radical shakeup.
The reasons for this change are unclear, but the rumor mill has been in overdrive since September that these are all the first steps in a courting dance aimed at tempting Valentino Rossi to join the Italian factory. The conspiracists say that Suppo and Rossi have no real affection for each other, and that Suppo has been arguing against signing Rossi, as he is believed to fear it would disrupt Ducati's MotoGP project too much. Guareschi and Rossi get on very well, on the other hand, and the removal of Suppo and the arrival of Guareschi is merely preparing the ground for the arrival of the world's most popular motorcycle racer.
Putting together a season of international motorcycle racing is difficult enough at the best of times. But the 2010 calendar has proven to be a particularly tough nut to crack, as the FIFA Soccer World Cup and a reshuffle of the Formula One calendar has wreaked havoc and caused a number of high-profile clashes. Le Mans is scheduled for the same weekend as the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, and the Misano MotoGP round is due to clash with the Monza Formula One race. Add the fact that several World Cup soccer matches are likely to be played at the same time as some of the MotoGP races, and the complexity of the calendar is complete.
So Dorna and the FIM are due to sit down this weekend at the final MotoGP round of the 2009 season to try and sort out the 2010 calendar, but it will be no easy task. Both Le Mans and Misano are likely to be moved, but the best candidate for being shifted around is the British Grand Prix, due to be held at Silverstone for the first time in many years. Currently, the race is scheduled to clash with the Isle of Man TT, one of the biggest events on the motorcycling calendar, especially for British fans, and so attendance could have been poor at the first running of the race's return to the Northamptonshire track. Now that Donington's excessively ambitious plans to host the British Formula One Grand Prix have fallen through, Silverstone is back in the running for the F1 race, and that event is likely to add to the pressure of rescheduling the MotoGP event.
When Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would make a wildcard appearance at Valencia, there was some speculation about whose logos would adorn the Texan's Yamaha M1. The early rumor was that Michael Jordan may step in and run a one-off livery for Spies, as the former NBA superstar continues to promote his clothing brand through the AMA Superbike series, or what is left of it.
Those rumors were wrong, it now appears. Yamaha today announced that Sterilgarda, the Italian dairy giant who backed the Yamaha Motor Italia team in World Superbikes, would also be sponsoring Spies for one more outing, this time during his wildcard appearance at Valencia. Yamaha also released photos of the new livery, and we have to say it actually looks very good. Judge for yourself below, and clicking on the image will bring up an image large enough to use as a desktop.
The final MotoGP round of the 2009 season may not yet be over, yet the jockeying for position in contract negotiations for the 2011 season has already begun. After Yamaha expressed the hope that Valentino Rossi would end his career with the Japanese firm, today it was the turn of Jorge Lorenzo to express the same desire.
Speaking at the launch of the game Forza Motorsport 3 at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Lorenzo told the Spanish press agency Europa Press that he "hoped to spend the rest of his career with Yamaha." He was quick to point out that there was no guarantee that he actually would, though. "In a world [MotoGP] which changes all the time, you can't be certain of anything," Lorenzo said.
It has not been Niccolo Canepa's season. After a long and difficult year struggling with the Pramac Ducati, the Italian is to miss the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, leaving the series without a final chance to prove his mettle. The Valencia round will be the third race in a row that Canepa has been forced to miss, as he is still recovering from the skin transplant necessitated by his crash in practice at the Australian Grand Prix a month ago.
Canepa's place will once again be taken by Aleix Espargaro, something the Spaniard was due to do anyway as of Monday after the Grand Prix. Espargaro will now get another couple of days extra time on the bike to familiarize himself before testing for the 2010 season starts in earnest after the Grand Prix is over. The Spaniard has shown good progress in his time on the bike replacing both Canepa and team mate Mika Kallio, and is hoping to put on a good show for the Spanish fans.
Canepa, meanwhile, will be concentrating on finding a ride in Moto2 for the 2010 season. The full list of riders is due to be announced at Valencia, though financial problems continue to dog some of the teams, meaning that at least some of the teams with a reserve entry are likely to be given a full time slot on the grid.
After the final Formula One Grand Prix of the season, at the beautiful but bizarre Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, a surprise announcement was made. Bridgestone, the sole tire supplier for car racing's premier class, announced that they would be pulling out of that role at the end of their contract period, the 2010 Formula One season. The statement quoted "the continuing evolution of the business environment" - probably code for the global economic crisis - as the main reason for the withdrawal, as well as having achieved the goals the company had set itself for in terms of raising brand awareness and recognition.
The company emphasized that the withdrawal from Formula One would have no effect on the other series they supply, including MotoGP. But the statement by Bridgestone holds clues to the danger of a single tire series, and the good reasons to fear that the Japanese tire manufacturer could consider pulling out after its contract to supply MotoGP expires at the end of 2011.
Yet another unmissable charity event with a MotoGP connection, but this time in the dirt rather than on tarmac. Valentino Rossi is helping to organize a charity motocross event to be held on November 15th at the Crossodromo di Cavallara, in Mundavio, not far from Pesaro on Italy's Adriatic Coast. The event is due to feature a host of big names from the MotoGP world, including Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Simoncelli, Marco Melandri, Mattia Pasini, Loris Capirossi, Johnny Rea, Michel Fabrizio, Raffaele de Rosa, Alex de Angelis, and even the legendary Kevin Schwantz, alongside Valentino Rossi himself.
The proceeds of the event are to go towards helping kids suffering with leukemia at the Pesaro Hospital. The program starts on Sunday morning with 2 hours of practice, followed by the racing, consisting of three legs run over 7 laps. So if you find yourself stuck on the Adriatic coast on November 15th - and there are much worse places to be stuck - then head inland to the Cavallara track and catch some of the greatest names in motorcycle racing doing something a bit silly for charity.
If you want to know more, or need instructions to the track, here's Valentino Rossi's personal invitation, including instructions on how to get to the track. Of course, you may need to learn Italian first, but it's worth the effort.
The motorcycle racing season is winding down, and is due to reach its conclusion at the final race of the season, the Valencia MotoGP Round. Should you have any funds squirreled away for a rainy day (and here in Northern Europe, it is a VERY rainy day), then traveling to Valencia to celebrate the season's end with 130,000 crazed MotoGP fans is not a bad way to spend it.
While you're there, you can also help do some good. Thursday sees the traditional Riders for Health Experience, where you can do a lap of the circuit, pick up a souvenir at the celebrity auction, watch James Toseland and his band Crash play, or wander through the paddock and gawp at the bikes, teams and riders as they prepare for Sunday's race. Friday night sees another charity event, with friends and supporters of MotoMatters.com Pole Position Travel organizing a charity auction and party to benefit the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity. World Supersport runner up and former 250cc rider Eugene Laverty will be the star of the event, and some fantastic items will be going up for auction, including a pair of paddock passes, a weekend for two at next year's Silverstone GP, a very rare Laguna Seca 2009 poster - the banned version featuring Valentino Rossi vs Casey Stoner - signed by Valentino Rossi himself, as well as various items bearing a host of signatures from the MotoGP paddock. Pole Position has outstanding contacts inside the paddock, and various prominent figures are likely to turn up on the evening, including Julian Ryder, Dr Martin Raines, and possibly even the editor of an obscure motorcycle racing website.
Silly season for the 2010 MotoGP rider line up may be all but completed, but for technicians and engineers, it has only just begun. It started out in Australia, where it emerged that Pete Benson, Andrea Dovizioso's crew chief, and Daniele Romagnoli, Jorge Lorenzo's team manager, would both be leaving their positions at the end of the year. The attrition is continuing now, and most of the damage seems to be in Jorge Lorenzo's garage, as three Yamaha engineers are slated to leave at the end of the season.
First and foremost, perhaps, are Andrea Zugna, Yamaha's Engineering Division Manager, and Cristian Battaglia, Yamaha engineer, both of whom have been roped in to join HRC and work for Honda. The loss of Zugna and Battaglia could be a sensitive one, as the two men are credited with helping to develop arguably the best electronics package on the grid in the Yamaha M1. Their success has probably been the cause of their own downfall, as they have transferred their knowledge to Yamaha's Japanese engineers, who have now taken over responsibility for running the program. Carlo Luzzi has been plucked directly from Jorge Lorenzo's pit box, as the telemetry specialist is due to join Andrea Dovizioso's pit crew in exactly the same capacity, as Dovizioso's side of the Repsol Honda garage undergoes a shake up in the wake of Pete Benson's departure. Luzzi's place as telemetry engineer to Jorge Lorenzo is to be taken by Davide Marelli, currently Chris Vermeulen's telemetry specialist at Suzuki.
As the final race for the much-loved 250cc class approaches, news is starting to emerge of rider signings and ongoing negotiations for the Moto2 class which is scheduled to take its place. It was reported earlier this week that Alex de Angelis is close to a deal with Tech 3, after the enclave republic of San Marino was not prepared to fund the Scot Honda MotoGP project which would have kept the San Marino native in the premier class, but now more deals are being made public.
Most of the Moto2 news, though, has concentrated on De Angelis' Gresini Honda team mate Toni Elias. Elias was also in line for the Scot Honda deal, though he too would have had to raise money for the ride, something that has proved extremely difficult to do. After that deal fell through, Elias looked certain to ride for Sito Pons in Moto2, and had even signed a pre-contract. However, the Spanish sports daily AS.com is reporting that Elias has ripped up that contract, after Sito Pons refused to guarantee his salary. With Hector Barbera staging a 12 minute strike at Sepang over salary issues with the Pons team, Elias has decided that he cannot afford to risk riding for the team.
For the past couple of weeks, the MotoGP paddock has been on tenterhooks waiting for an announcement on the future of Alex de Angelis. The Italian has been working on a deal to keep the Scot Honda team in MotoGP, with backing from De Angelis' native mountain republic of San Marino. An announcement was expected this weekend at Sepang, but it failed to come, raising fears that the deal had fallen through.
That seems to be confirmed by an interview which the French motorcycling website Moto Caradisiac did with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team boss Herve Poncharal. The Frenchman was ostensibly talking about Tech 3's new Moto2 project, which they hope to present at the final Valencia round of MotoGP, and mentioned the riders in line for a ride with the team. "I have five possible candidates," Poncharal told Moto Caradisiac. "Alex de Angelis, who told me yesterday that MotoGP is gone for him, and the Scot Honda project with San Marino won't happen; [current Scot Honda 250 rider Raffaele] de Rosa, [current Pramac Ducati rider Niccolo] Canepa, [former Scot Honda rider Yuki] Takahashi and [current Matteoni 250 rider] Jules Cluzel."
The final times from testing at Portimao.
After winning his 7th MotoGP World Championship, his 9th world title in total, and his 4th for Yamaha, Yamaha's bosses were naturally effusive in their praise for Valentino Rossi. At a press conference after the race, which featured Yamaha Racing's Managing Director Lin Jarvis alongside Yamaha's MotoGP project leader Masao Furusawa, the pair heaped praise on the Italian. "Bringing Valentino over to Yamaha has been the best thing we've ever done perhaps in Yamaha's racing history," Jarvis told reporters. "It was a great decision and together we make a great team."
Both men had a difficult balance to strike, however. Rossi's 9th World Championship was rightly celebrated, and both Jarvis and Furusawa gave him the plaudits he deserved, but both men also had to be careful not to tread too heavily on Jorge Lorenzo's toes. Jarvis alluded to Yamaha's strength in depth, telling reporters that "having two riders competing for the championship is quite stressful for everybody concerned. He praised the attitude of both Rossi and Lorenzo at achieving the title, saying "I think the behaviour and maturity of the two riders has been really special."
But both Jarvis and Furusawa acknowledged the special place Rossi still holds within the team, and emphasized that they want to keep Rossi inside Yamaha for as long as possible. "I don’t think I can convince Valentino to continue racing (after 2010), but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure he’s on a Yamaha if he does," Jarvis said, while Masao Furusawa was even clearer. "My goal in MotoGP is winning with Valentino, and maybe one day Valentino will stop in MotoGP, but I’d like to ask him to complete his MotoGP career with Yamaha," Furusawa said.
MotoMatters.com Andy Doggett is enjoying a few days in the Portuguese sun after attending the World Superbike race at Portimao on Sunday, and was kind enough to send us some of his excellent photos from the first day of testing. He's an amateur, with a consumer DSLR, but he also has an excellent eye. Here's his images: