Results and summary of the 125cc race at Phillip Island:
The weather at Phillip Island for the MotoGP qualifying session was exactly as you would expect in the South Atlantic spring - cool and blustery, the Antipodean sun breaking through the clouds and warming the track, chasing off the morning rain. But Phillip Island's fickle weather has made it supremely difficult to find a race setup so far this weekend, and so when the bikes hit the track for qualifying, the focus was at first on weighing up the tire options, most teams still undecided on whether to run the softer or harder option for the race on Sunday, especially at the rear.
Grip or no grip, Casey Stoner was the first and fastest out of the blocks, the Australian - sporting a special helmet paint scheme today, to match a special livery due to be run tomorrow - heading into the 1'30s and the top of the timesheets in the first six minutes of practice. Valentino Rossi was soon approaching Stoner's pace, but still over half a second off the Australian's time as he gradually lowered his lap times towards that 1'30 marker.
Tragic news for Valentino Rossi on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix. According to reports in the Italian press, Mauro Tecchi, the second husband of Stefania Palma, Rossi's mother, was found dead at his home on Friday. Tecchi, who had been married to Palma for two years, had apparently committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Stefania Palma discovered his body on Friday upon returning to the marital home.
According to reports in the local press, the couple had quarreled and Palma had left for Tavullia. After not receiving any reply to phone calls, Palma became worried that something had happened, and returned to find Tecchi's body. The public prosecutor of Pesaro has ordered that an autopsy be performed on Tecchi's body, although there is no doubt that this is a case of suicide. The engineer had left the construction company where he worked a few days previously, and was found with a pillow on his chest and the TV on to dampen the sound of the gunshot from neighbors. Tecchi was 52 years of age.
Valentino Rossi refused to comment on the case after practice, saying only "This is a terrible thing, I don't know what to say."
Result of qualifying for the 250cc class at Phillip Island:
Result of MotoGP qualifying at Phillip Island:
Result of qualifying for the 125cc class at Phillip Island:
Mattia Pasini set the fastest time in the final session of free practice for the 250 class, keeping ahead of the team mates of the title contenders. Scot Honda's Raffaele de Rosa and Mapfre Aspar's Mike di Meglio finished the session in 2nd and 3rd, well ahead of their championship-chasing team mates Hiroshi Aoyama (7th) and Alvaro Bautista (10th). Jules Cluzel was once again at the front, setting the 4th fastest time. Aoyama was later fined 1000 dollars for kicking out at Axel Pons during the session.
Casey Stoner was fastest on a cold Saturday morning at Phillip Island. The Australian was fast from the start, ceding the top spot only briefly to Dani Pedrosa, before forcing the Repsol Honda man back into 2nd spot. But Stoner's margin was small indeed, less than five hundredths of a second over Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi was 3rd fastest, over quarter of a second off Stoner, while Jorge Lorenzo improved his standing, but still eight tenths slower than the Ducati of Stoner.
The session was brief, however, as the weather turned and the rain chased everyone into the pits just after the halfway mark. With less than 5 minutes to go, the riders took to the track once again, but the wet track meant that times were 10 seconds or more slower than the best times set previously, and nobody improved their time.
Bradley Smith was fastest during the cold and damp morning FP2 session for the 125cc class at Phillip Island, diving under Nico Terol's time as the flag fell for the end of the session. Terol was left down in 2nd place, ahead of Simone Corsi, who had been fast all session, and Joan Olive. Championship leader Julian Simon suffered a series of problems during the session, and could manage no better than the 26th time after crashing. American Cameron Beaubier had a strong session, finishing in 17th place, while Britons Danny Webb and Scott Redding ended the morning in 21st and 25th place respectively.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the heart of MotoGP lies in Europe, and more particularly, in Spain and Italy. Most of the teams are based in one of these two countries, the riders are overwhelmingly from those two Mediterranean countries, and at least a passing knowledge of either Spanish or Italian - the two are similar enough that knowledge of one will allow you to get by in the other - is an absolute prerequisite for survival in the MotoGP paddock.
But MotoGP's Eurocentric nature begs an important question: Why fly a couple of hundred tons of equipment halfway around the world to race at an unearthly time, when the series' major television audience is still safely tucked up in bed and fast asleep after what is usually a very lively Saturday night in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome or Milan? Why on earth would a series which has its heart around the Mediterranean fly all the way to Australia, and close to that distant continent's most southerly tip at that?
The Edge Of The World
For anyone who has seen the track at Phillip Island, or watched a race at the circuit, the matter needs no explanation at all. Despite being perched on the very edge of Australia - or perhaps because of it - Phillip Island is probably the greatest motorcycle racing circuit on the planet, and certainly the finest track that the MotoGP series visits still left on the calendar. The track balances on the edge of the world, located beside the Bass Strait with only Tasmania between the runoff at Siberia and the great Southern Ocean.
The reason for the track's greatness is that it has been largely left untouched. The layout of the circuit is mostly unchanged since its construction in the early 1950s, taking the place of an earlier 10 mile circuit which had staged racing since the late '20s. The layout is therefore fairly simple: fast sweepers connected by a few short straights and a couple of tight corners, all flowing up and down the rolling hills of Phillip Island where once public roads ran. Yet this simplicity produces a thing of exquisite beauty; from the first corner to the last, the Phillip Island circuit challenges tires, machinery and riders equally, and has managed to generate some of the most exciting racing ever seen in the past couple of decades.
For almost as long as Valentino Rossi has been racing in the premier class, there have been rumors that the Italian would one day make the switch to Ducati. For the most part, they have been based on little more than wishful thinking - the marriage of Italy's most famous motorcycle racer and Italy's most famous racing motorcycle is one which is surely made in heaven - yet over the past few weeks, those rumors seem to have been gaining some substance.
The new wave of speculation was generated by Rossi's public expressions of displeasure at his team mate Jorge Lorenzo being offered a one-year contract, an option which has never been offered to Rossi even when he requested it. To make things worse, Lorenzo was allowed to hold out before signing until after the Brno round of MotoGP, traditionally Yamaha's cut-off point for contracts, and a deadline which Rossi again always had imposed on him.
Rossi made several pointed statements in the press complaining that he had developed the Yamaha M1 and Lorenzo was taking advantage of his hard work, and that having two of the very best riders in a single team was an unusual and in his eyes untenable situation. His father Graziano hinted at Rossi's willingness to leave, comparing Yamaha to a wife who had been found cuckolding her husband, and hinting that what was good for the goose might also be good for the gander.
A variety of sources are reporting that Carlos Checa will ride a privateer Ducati for the Althea team in the World Superbike series in 2010. Checa, who was recently voted off the Ten Kate Island, is still capable of running intermittently at the front, especially around contract time. It had been rumored that Checa was in line for a testing gig for Ducati MotoGP, replacing long-time tester Vittoriano Guaresci, who will be allegedly be taking a rider liason position for the company, but apparently racing pays better, especially when your income comes mostly from personal sponsorships and contingency bonuses, as Checa's reportedly has for the last few years. It has been previously reported that Althea would switch from Honda to Ducati in 2010 and were pursuing Jakub Smrz and/or Niccolo Canepa.