The bikes are out at Indy, and the 125s were the first to fill the vast grandstands at the Speedway with the ringing of two-stroke engines. The session started hot and humid, and the thin clouds which have been slowly filling the skies finally started gently shedding their contents over the track in the final five minutes of practice.
Prior to the rain, the lead was swapped continually between Nicolas Terol, Sergio Gadea and Marc Marquez. Terol eventually emerged at the top of the timesheets, ahead of Simone Corsi and Bradley Smith, while Sandro Cortese was 4th fastest. Championship leader and dominant force in the 125s, Julian Simon, was well down the order in 9th, but ahead of Andrea Iannone, who was only 11th fastest. For the Anglophone riders, Scott Redding was second Briton, but down in 12th place, while De Graaf's Danny Webb was just 18th. Cameron Beaubier was fastest of the Americans, but still just 27th fastest, while American wildcards Miles Thornton and Ben Young finished in 31st and 32nd position, with Young not posting a time fast enough to qualify.
Since Mika Kallio crashed Casey Stoner's Ducati GP9 twice at the last race at Brno, one of the things that we at MotoGPMatters.com have been interested in is how the crashes will affect the way the teams view the new rules limiting engine numbers. Now that we are here at Indianapolis, we have an opportunity to ask the people who should know, the crew chiefs and engineers.
The first person we buttonholed was Colin Edwards' Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief Guy Coulon. How has the engine rule worked out so far, we wanted to know. "It's too early to say," Coulon said. "We have only had one race. When we have had three races, then we will know more." Coulon emphasized that he was not particularly worried, and that the work on engine durability was being done at Yamaha, and was not something that the Tech 3 satellite team had much input on.
As for crashes, they were unlikely to be a problem. "Crashes are not a problem for us," he said. During practice, the engines are fitted with a special cutoff, which kills the engine immediately in the event of a crash, and even then, for the Yamaha at least, the design and layout of the air intake means that getting any gravel or dirt in the engine is extremely unlikely. The airbox has an air filter fitted, and the airbox itself is located in such a place that it is very unlikely to be ripped off in the event of a crash.
There is a firmly ingrained belief in Europe that the United States, as a young country, has neither history nor any sense of it. The view back in the Old World is formed almost entirely - and almost entirely incorrectly - from Hollywood and the TV studios, of gleaming glass-fronted buildings, huge and hugely complicated freeway interchanges, and gated communities consisting of a vast sprawl of identikit houses, in the words of the Malvina Reynolds song, little boxes made of ticky tacky.
While it is true that Americans tend to treat their history with a little less respect than Europeans - many a fine 18th or 19th century building has been torn down and replaced with something modern without a second thought, where in Europe zoning regulations and building preservation orders would have made such destruction incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible - the US does have plenty of physical history and a deep understanding and respect for the markers of that history.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a prime example of this European misapprehension. Europe, with its long history and tradition of motorsports, boasts such classic tracks as Monza, Assen and Brooklands. But Brooklands fell into disrepair after the Second World War, the last piece of the original Assen track was pulled up in the changes in 2006, and while both Monza and Assen have a long history, they "only" date back to the 1920s. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the other hand, hosted its first race in 1909, some 13 years before Monza and 18 years before racing first took place on the roads south of Assen.
Casey Stoner has finally spoken out on his forced absence from the MotoGP paddock. In an exclusive interview with the Italian magazine MotoSprint, he spoke of his frustration at not being able to ride the the best of his ability, about his illness and about his recovery. The authoratitive website Autosport.com has a comprehensive summary of the interview in English, in which Stoner had some very interesting things to say about his condition.
Stoner had felt forced to stop racing after he was no longer recovering from the draining effort that racing a MotoGP bike for 45 minutes requires. That difficulty almost drove the Australian to despair, and forcing him to rethink what he was doing. "At one point I started having a bad feeling: I felt vulnerable, and I found myself in the position of someone doing something he hates. It's like finding yourself doing a job you can't stand, but that you have to do anyway," he told MotoSprint. The worst thing for Stoner was the feeling that however hard he felt he was trying, he was incapable of competing. He knew that he was able to match the speed of his rivals, but he simply could not sustain it for long enough, ending up off the podium at races he felt he should be able to win.
The Australian is now on the road to recovery, however. According to MotoSprint, Stoner has changed his diet and his training regime, and initial results seemed to show it is paying off. According to Stoner's father and manager Colin, Stoner is recovering more quickly from training, and should be able to return to racing at Estoril, as planned.
As widely expected, Suzuki today announced that Loris Capirossi would be staying with the Rizla Suzuki team for 2010. Capirossi himself had dropped hints over the past couple of weeks that he would be renewing his contract with Suzuki, tacitly acknowledging that he had signed in both the Italian and English-speaking press.
Capirex' new contract is just for a single year, to act as the lead development rider on the Suzuki and as a mentor to Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista. 2010 is likely to be Capirossi's final season in the series, as the 36-year-old Italian has hinted that his retirement is now not far off. Capirossi had previously threatened to either retire early, or jump ship to another manufacturer, while development of the Suzuki seemed to languish. But with the new parts the bike has received over the past few weeks, the performance of the GSV-R has improved, taking it much nearer to being a competitive proposition.
The announcement of Capirossi's signing contained an acknowledgement that this meant the end of the line for Suzuki and Chris Vermeulen in MotoGP. The press release thanked Vermeulen for his commitment and his hard work, but Vermeulen's results have failed to impress Suzuki's bosses this season, and the decision to drop Vermeulen in favor of Bautista was a relatively simple one to take. The decision is rather painful, however, as Vermeulen remains the only rider to win on a four-stroke Suzuki in the 8 years of competing.
Vermeulen will now redouble his efforts to remain in the class, and is hoping to secure a ride with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though he faces some very stiff competition for the ride there. If that fails, he is certain to find a very good seat on a factory machine in World Superbikes.
To many hardcore US MotoGP fans, the fans in Europe are absolutely spoiled. In most European countries, the MotoGP race is broadcast live on a free-to-air channel, and the 125cc and 250cc races are also usually shown either in full or as highlights. US fans, on the other hand, are forced to either wait until the race airs on Speed, usually later on the same day, and stay away from the internet all day to avoid finding out the race results; or fork out their hard-earned cash for a MotoGP.com subscription, and watch the races as streamed live over the internet, hoping that their internet connection and Dorna's streaming media servers are up to the task at hand.
Fortunately, this won't be the case for Sunday's Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP race. To the joy of MotoGP fans based in the US, Sunday's MotoGP race from Indy is due to be screened live on Fox. According to that most excellent resource the TV Racer website, the race is due to be screened live at 3pm ET. You can find your local broadcaster through the Fox network / TV Guide listings page, though not being a resident of the US, deciphering the intricacies of cable TV providers was a little beyond me. Qualifying will be shown on Speed TV as usual, at 7pm ET.
UK-based MotoGP fans should be aware that though the BBC is due to show the race live, it will not be shown on BBC 2, which is MotoGP's usual home, but on the digital channel BBC Three instead, from 7:45pm (British Summer Time). So if you don't already have a Freeview or Sky+ receiver, you need to get your hands on one before Sunday. You can check the BBC schedule on the BBC's website.
Throughout the brief saga surrounding Ducati's bid for Jorge Lorenzo and Lorenzo's eventual re-signing with Yamaha, speculation was rife about Lorenzo's motives. The sums bandied about in relation to Ducati's offer seemed to point to financial gain being Lorenzo's primary mover, but Lorenzo always insisted that money came at the bottom of his list of reasons.
Lorenzo's decision to stay at Yamaha seemed to corroborate his affirmations. After all, Yamaha had made it very publicly clear that it would not be drawn into a bidding war over its Spanish star, and so though the offer he had on the table - thought to be in the region of 3.5 million euros a year - was probably at least slightly improved, his main motivation was clearly his sporting objectives.
But turning down the money does not mean that he left Ducati's bid unused. In fact, the Mallorcan put it to outstanding effect, as he revealed in an interview he held with the Spanish sports daily AS.com. For partly as a result of his protracted negotiations with first Honda and then Ducati, the Spaniard managed to extract some important promises from Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis.
In response to the question of whether Yamaha had promised Lorenzo that he would receive parts at the same time as his team mate Valentino Rossi, Lorenzo replied: "Yes, of course. Lin Jarvis is the first person I have to thank for this, but also (Masao) Furusawa, because before Brno, they promised me that my bike will be the same as Valentino's in the second half of the season and next year. This is something to take into account, and it was a very important point in making this decision."
Earlier today, when we reported on Jorge Lorenzo's decision to stay with Yamaha, we speculated on whether Ducati would now turn its attention to Dani Pedrosa, as a backup plan for an ailing Casey Stoner. The idea was hardly rocket science, as the play Ducati made for Lorenzo was an obvious statement of intent, and the only other top rider available to the factory Ducati squad is Dani Pedrosa.
So obvious was the idea that Mela Chercoles, one of Spain's most senior MotoGP journalists writing for AS.com, asked Ducati team boss Livio Suppo just that: Did Lorenzo's refusal mean that Ducati could make an approach to Dani Pedrosa. Suppo's answer was brief, but pretty revealing: "Impossible is nothing. But everything is difficult." Clearly, Ducati are interested in signing Pedrosa, the question is, would they chase the Spaniard as hard as they had Lorenzo, given that Pedrosa is more like Casey Stoner than Lorenzo: His talent is unquestionable, but his marketability is much more difficult.
Until Pedrosa finally signs a new deal - whether that be a formalization of the "basic accord" that HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki announced at Brno, or he makes a shocking switch to Ducati - the Spanish media will surely be full of speculation. After all, with Lorenzo signed to Yamaha for another year, they once again have thousands of empty column inches to fill
So it's finally done. Jorge Lorenzo has made up his mind, and decided to stay with Yamaha for 2010. The deal was announced early on Tuesday morning, European time - just as your humble correspondent boarded a plane to fly to the US for the Indianapolis Grand Prix, as it happens - in a press release issued by Yamaha. As keen observers will come to expect, none of the important details of the deal were announced - how much money was involved and whether Lorenzo got the assurances he craved of equal treatment with team mate Valentino Rossi - all we know is that Lorenzo will be riding for Yamaha for at least one more season.
Despite the lack of details announced, there is much that can be concluded by Lorenzo's - in the eyes of most observers, extremely wise - decision to step back from the abyss and stay with Yamaha. As attractive as the 6-8 million euros a year that Ducati was reportedly offering him must have appeared, Lorenzo must have understood that the risks outweighed the potential rewards.
The biggest and most immediate problem Lorenzo would have faced is the drastic reduction in the amount of preseason testing. The Ducati is a notoriously difficult beast to tame, indeed, many would argue that only Casey Stoner has managed that feat successfully, and the only route to mastering the Desmosedici lies in seat time. With testing slashed to just 3 two-day tests prior to the start of next season, plus two more days directly after the final race of the season at Valencia, Lorenzo would have had very little time to acclimatize.
After news broke on the Monday before Brno of Casey Stoner's absence for the three MotoGP races in August and early September, the gaze of the world's press bore down unblinkingly on the Australian. But the intense scrutiny which befell Stoner was both mercifully and surprisingly brief, as by the time the MotoGP circus actually arrived at the Czech circuit, the attention of the press had been distracted by another, perhaps even larger story. News that Ducati - under direction from Marlboro and Philip Morris, who basically pay Ducati's bills - had made an offer to Jorge Lorenzo of between 6 and 8 million euros had the journalists thrashing about like sharks in a bait ball. Stoner's absence quickly shifted from being headline news to become the underlying reason for Ducati's approach to Lorenzo.
Yet as entertaining as it is, the Lorenzo saga - due to come to a head at Indianapolis, though the press in Spain is reporting that the deadline he had to inform both Ducati and Yamaha of his decision was Monday, August 24th - has left the press with too little time to spend searching for answers about Casey Stoner's situation. Admittedly, the press faces extra problems in this regard - Stoner is on the other side of the world from most of the MotoGP press, and even in Australia, the farm Stoner lives on is relatively secluded. Add to this Stoner's ingrained dislike and distrust of the press and his disinclination to talk to the media about his situation, as well as Jorge Lorenzo's skillful manipulation of the press attention he is receiving, and the media might be forgiven for concentrating on the easy story.
The fact that Casey Stoner is not talking to the press does not mean that there is no news. At the most recent occasion at which a large and varied international motorcycle racing press corps gathered - the German IDM championship races at Assen - the paddock was full of rumors from Australia that Jorge Lorenzo might not be the only big name to switch brands. Talk was rife of reports in the Australian media that Casey Stoner was currently engaged in talks with Yamaha about riding for the Japanese squad in 2010, reports that MotoGPMatters.com has confirmed independently through other sources.
In addition to the in-depth explanation which Lucio Cecchinello gave us about his single-event sponsorship model, which we published yesterday, the former 125cc race winner and now boss of the LCR Honda team also spoke to us about a few other topics. We discussed the role that the Bridgestone tires had played in limiting the number of crashes Randy de Puniet has had this season, and how LCR is trying to keep the Frenchman at the team for next season, but we started out talking about how the engine limits affected the team, with just 5 engines to last 7 races, and next year, 6 engines for all 18 races.
MGPM: We have the engine limits coming up, where you only have 5 engines for the last 7 races. Does that worry you at all, or are you getting enough life out of your engines already.
LC: Yes, at first Honda technology is already in a condition to guarantee us to have 2000 km per engine.
MGPM: Which is 2-3 races per engine.
LC: Yes. With 6 engine you will have quite have a good chance.
MGPM: And for this year, you're not even worried, it won't even be a problem at all
LC: No. This year, we can finish the season with 3 engines, we have 5, so ...
MGPM: I'd like to talk about the changes which Randy has seen. Last year, Randy crashed, this year he hasn't crashed...
LC: Except for the last race! [At the Sachsenring]
The LCR Honda team has been the talk of the paddock this year, with the Playboy logos adorning the bike at several rounds this year. But Playboy aren't on the bike at every round, to the confusion of some of the casual fans, instead, you are as likely to see Italian equipment manufacturer Givi on the bike as you are Playboy, or oil giant ELF, as it is all part of team boss Lucio Cecchinello's ingenious scheme for attracting more sponsors into the sport, by lowering the price of entry.
LCR's sponsorship program works with a series of single-event deals, rather than a single title sponsor, as most of the other teams do. This unconventional and highly innovative approach to raising funds had long interested us, so at Donington, we tracked Lucio Cecchinello down to explain the concept behind it.
MGPM: I wanted to talk to you about sponsorship, because I think you have one of the most interesting approaches to sponsorship, it's totally different to the rest of the teams. Instead of a title sponsor, you have single event sponsors, you are selling a single event package to a sponsor. First of all, how did you come up with the idea.
Lucio Cecchinello: When we arrived in MotoGP, in 2006, we had to face let's say the starting of a new era of sponsorship deals, because the fact of the new European rules forbidding advertising tobacco companies made a lot of trouble for everybody. And when we arrived in 2006, the European community started to say within one year, all the tobacco companies have to disappear in the motorsport field. So we arrived in a very tough period, because we proposed to some tobacco companies - because in 2006 there was still the possibility to do that - but unfortunately already all the tobacco companies said, "Sorry, we have no plan to continue in MotoGP, because anyway in 12 months, we are already finished, very sorry."
So there was a huge quantity of money that went way from the MotoGP class, it disappeared. So, MotoGP is not like Formula One, MotoGP teams did not have the skill, capacity, background, or commercial department able to sell their product, to sell our product. And from our side, where we came from the small and medium category, we always had contact with small and medium companies.
Despite the continuing uncertainty over perhaps half the grid in MotoGP, as the world awaits the fallout from Jorge Lorenzo's decision on his future, some seats are starting to fill up. And as those seats fill up, some riders are finding themselves still running in a circle while the music continues to play.
Alvaro Bautista's completely unsurprising announcement that he would be joining Suzuki, coupled with the tacit acknowledgements of Loris Capirossi that he is likely to stay with the Rizla Suzuki team for another season leaves Capirex' current team mate, Chris Vermeulen, one of the men still left standing. It has long been rumored that the Australian was out of the running for a seat with Suzuki next season; both the scarcity with which the team mentioned Vermeulen's name when it came to possible riders, and the decreasing tact with which Vermeulen has discussed the Suzuki's lack of performance have led many observers to conclude that that the Australian will not be returning to Suzuki for year.
Confirmation of what most people have suspected came today, in the shape of a report over on Crash.net that Vermeulen will be leaving Suzuki at the end of the season. Vermeulen's manager, Phil Baker, told Crash.net of Vermeulen's dissatisfaction with the Suzuki, and that he "felt a change was needed as he wants to be running at the front for victories." Vermeulen had earlier told Autosport.com that he found the lack of progress in developing the bike frustrating, and it is an open secret that Vermeulen has been offering his services around the paddock, with the Tech 3 Yamaha the Australian's main target, given the Yamaha's recent competitiveness.
It just never ends. Barely a day goes by without more news and rumors about Jorge Lorenzo's decision on whether or not he will be riding for Yamaha or Ducati next season, and today is no exception. Where previously, the stories have suggested that a deal with Ducati is all but completed, today, but Crash.net and the official MotoGP.com website are reporting that Lorenzo's management have denied that a deal is done.
Crash.net bases its story on sources close to Lorenzo, claiming that Lorenzo and his management are still considering both deals, and telling Crash.net, in the understatement of the year, "It is not an easy decision!". The MotoGP.com website spoke directly to Lorenzo's manager Marcos Hirsch, who said that they were "Getting close to concluding our evaluation of the pros and cons of the offers and we acknowledge that now is the right moment to make a decision." Such a decision would not be based on financial considerations alone, however. Hirsch told MotoGP.com that money was at "the bottom of the list of priorities", and that sporting factors - in this case, code for the number one position inside the team - would play a key role in their decision.
That decision is almost certain to be announced at, or probably, just prior to, the Indianapolis Red Bull Grand Prix. The most likely scenario is for a press conference to be convened in the hospitality unit of the winning bidder, meaning that the news will break some time before it is actually announced. In less than a week, the story should be just about over.
With the veritable category 5 hurricane of media attention that has surrounded Jorge Lorenzo's deal with Ducati - a deal that has been both confirmed and denied - most other MotoGP news has gone unnoticed. And yet the whirlwind of news has managed to stir up a few fascinating details from around the rest of the paddock, as seats are being held open and details hammered out for potential deals which could come into play if Lorenzo moves and his seat at Fiat Yamaha becomes available.
One candidate for that vacancy would be Dani Pedrosa. Despite HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki announcing that Honda had reached a "basic agreement" with both Pedrosa and Dovizioso, with just a few details left to be thrashed out, both Dani Pedrosa and his manager and mentor Alberto Puig denied that any deal had been agreed upon, though Pedrosa described the talks as being "positive". Until a deal with Honda is finalized, Pedrosa is still at liberty to explore other options, one of which is Yamaha. Puig has commented several times that if Pedrosa cannot reach an agreement with Honda, Yamaha would be his best option.
But there is one detail which is blocking any deal which Pedrosa may be considering. Both Honda and Yamaha have said that they would welcome Pedrosa with open arms, but they will not accept the presence of Alberto Puig in the garage, according to the Spanish website Motoworld. The contract which HRC presented to Pedrosa reportedly contained the condition that Puig would no longer be welcome in the Repsol Honda garage, a condition which caused Pedrosa to refuse to sign it. Similarly, when Jorge Lorenzo flirtation with Honda caused Pedrosa to put out feelers to Yamaha, one of the conditions demanded by Yamaha was that Puig would not be involved.