Randy de Puniet has been one of the revelations of the 2009 season. The Frenchman has lost his reputation for being the first to hit the gravel trap, and instead become one of the men most likely to get on the podium, despite having only a satellite spec Honda RC212V at his disposal. De Puniet's transformation is in part down to the spec Bridgestone tires, and in part down to a new training regime, as he told MotoMatters.com in an interview earlier this year.
His improvement has clearly paid off. De Puniet was one of the riders being courted by a number of teams, with both the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team expressing an interest as well as his existing LCR Honda team. For De Puniet, the key to the negotations was the level of machinery the teams could provide, the Frenchman growing frustrated with trying to compete on clearly inferior equipment.
De Puniet is to get what he wants. According to the French site Moto Caradisiac (and later confirmed in a press release), LCR Honda announced today that they have signed a new one-year deal with De Puniet. Along with the contract comes an interesting guarantee: LCR Honda will be the first of the teams to make use of the switch in policy by HRC to provide factory-spec equipment to satellite teams at an increased lease price. Under the arrangement, LCR will receive a Honda RC212V which is very close to the factory machines provided to Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, getting updates to the bike a few races after the Repsol Honda team.
Of the two new MotoGP projects currently being bandied around in the press, the candidate which looks most likely to actually make it onto the grid in the near future is surely the FB Corse machine. The bike - a custom-built chassis housing an 800cc three cylinder, based on the design for BMW's MotoGP bike by the Oral Engineering Group and discussed here a couple of weeks ago - actually exists and has been seen by journalists, and appears to be reaching fruition. Indeed, so far advanced is the project that the Italian website Motocorse.com spoke with one of the two men behind the project, Andrea Ferrari (the F of FB, the other being Sergio Bertocchi), who gave a summary of where the project stands and how close the team are to actually signing a rider and putting the bike onto the track.
According to Ferrari, the bike is now complete, after the team finished the chassis into which the Oral-designed in-line triple will be dropped, but now that it is ready to ride, the project faces its first hurdle. The obstacle to be overcome is the bike's semi-automatic transmission, which used a hydraulically-assisted gear change, allowing a rider to shift gears in around 20 milliseconds. All forms of assisted gear shifting were outlawed at a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission earlier this year, and so now the FB Corse team are working on a manual gear change, a problem which is not particularly complex, but time-consuming all the same.
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of running a triple, Ferrari pointed to weight as the main advantage the bike has. Under FIM rules, triples may weigh 7.5 kg less than the four cylinder bikes currently on the grid, about a 5% weight saving. The downside, fairly obviously, is that it is harder to get the torque and horsepower from a triple that a four cylinder of the same capacity offers. This problem is made worse by the new engine regulations allowing the teams only 6 engines to last an entire season in 2010. Nonetheless Ferrari feels that they can be competitive, telling Motocorse.com that the bike is already producing 90 Nm of torque at 18,000 rpm, a figure that equates to around 225 horsepower. The engine has also run 2,500 km on the bench without suffering any mechanical failures, and so reliability should not be a problem.
In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.
The contrast between the factory Ducati seats in World Superbikes and MotoGP could hardly be greater. In MotoGP, Livio Suppo has been offering all of the top riders multimillion euro sums to come and ride the Desmosedici, and has been turned down by everyone that counts. In World Superbikes, by contrast, the line at Davide Tardozzi's door stretches a couple of times around the block with riders keen to have a go on what remains the best-run team and arguably the most competitive bike on the grid.
Despite having his pick of the cream of the current World Superbike crop, as well as a selection of outstanding MotoGP refugees, Ducati have today announced that they will be staying with what they know. Ducati issued a press release stating that current riders Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio have both signed new 1-year deals to stay at the factory Xerox Ducati squad for the 2010 season. Haga was brought in with the specific goal of winning the World Superbike championship this season, an objective he probably would have achieved with ease if it had not been for a pesky Texan on a Yamaha, and will be given another chance to take the WSBK crown in 2010. Team mate Fabrizio hung on to his seat by the skin of his teeth at the end of last year, but this season has finally started to realize the potential he had previously shown in flashes, winning his first race and running a relatively close 3rd in the championship. The title will remain a clear objective for both men in 2010, and Haga has still not given up on the 2009 championship.
The saga of Pramac Ducati is become a very off-again-on-again affair. After Aleix Espargaro made such a positive impression at Indianapolis and Misano, subbing for Mika Kallio who had been temporarily promoted to the factory Marlboro Ducati team, the Spaniard looked set to replace the current holder of the second seat at Pramac, Niccolo Canepa.
But the decision has fallen in favor of the Italian instead. According to GPOne.com, Canepa will keep hold of the Pramac ride for the rest of the season, after discussions between Ducati and Pramac team boss Paolo Campinoti. Campinoti's preference was to give Espargaro the seat, as he made clear to GPOne.com: "I would have preferred to run Espargaro, because this would have given us better information to decide who to give the second bike to in 2010, seeing as [Mika] Kallio has re-signed, but that wasn't possible."
The problem was most likely one of image, according to GPOne.com. Ducati were afraid that it would look bad if they were to drop Canepa this late in the season, despite the Italian's poor results all year and the certainty that Canepa will not be back in MotoGP next season. Ducati are already reeling from the criticism they received after chasing after Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies and Dani Pedrosa once they learned of Casey Stoner's three-race absence, and probably did not want to throw more oil on the fire of accusations that their MotoGP program is in disarray.
The decision to retain Canepa does not mean that Espargaro's chances of taking the Pramac seat for next year have disappeared however. But the choice did just become more of a gamble.
The influx of young talent into MotoGP may be an exciting prospect for the fans, but it is bad news for some of the current incumbents. With as many as five new riders due to enter the class next season, the older hands are having to find alternative destinations.
Fortunately for former World Superbike riders like James Toseland and Chris Vermeulen, the teams in the production-based series are ready to welcome them with open arms. As we reported yesterday, Toseland is in line for a role with either Yamaha or Honda in World Superbikes, and today, current Rizla Suzuki rider Chris Vermeulen revealed to the Australian newspaper the Courier Mail that he has offers from four major manufacturers in World Superbikes. Vermeulen is still in talks with Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Aprilia about a switch to World Superbikes, but the Australian is also examining his options for staying in MotoGP.
Vermeulen's decision will eventually revolve around where he has the best chance of scoring results. "I'm a racer and I like riding and winning, so I will go with a bike and a team that I think can win races and a championship, either World Superbikes or MotoGP," Vermeulen told the Courier Mail. At the same time, Vermeulen also pointed out that without factory equipment, it is all but impossible to win in MotoGP. "Until there are some rule changes the only way to win is on a factory Honda or Yamaha," Vermeulen said. "Even Casey has found that this season."
Money problems continue to dog Valentino Rossi. After having settled with the Italian tax authorities, news broke last week that the Italian was in dispute with his accountants over the amount of money he owed them. Cesaroni-Cappellini, the firm Rossi engaged to handle his tax dispute with the Italian tax service, claimed that Rossi owed them between 1.7 and 2.5 million euros, those amounts being a proportion of the 170 million euro tax bill that the accountants claim they saved Rossi.
The dispute was due to go before the Order of Accountants in Pesaro, the center nearest to Valentino Rossi and his company of accountants, and at that hearing, the Order of Accountants found in favor of Cesaroni-Cappellini, according to GPOne.com. Rossi now has 40 days to appeal the decision. If he does not, or if he does and loses again on appeal, The Doctor will be forced to pay the bills which remain unpaid.
The next logjam in the motorcycle racing silly season looks like it is about to be burst. According to the British sites MCN and Visordown, Ben Spies has made up his mind, and will be making the switch to MotoGP in 2010. Spies is to replace James Toseland at the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, turning Tech Trois into the Texas Two, as the young American will be racing alongside fellow Texan Colin Edwards. Edwards is rumored to have signed a contract with Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal - taking a pay cut of $500,000 - but Tech 3 has yet to make an official announcement.
Similarly, no official announcement has been made on the news that Spies is to switch to MotoGP, but Yamaha and Tech 3 may find it impossible to contain the news. The first opportunity for an official announcement would be at the following World Superbike round, on September 27th at Imola, though even holding up an announcement that long could be difficult.
The news will be welcomed by fans and MotoGP insiders. Spies is now 25, and many people feel that it is imperative to get into MotoGP as soon as possible, and start working on getting used to the bike. Both Colin Edwards and James Toseland have said that they wish they had made the move earlier, even though Toseland was only 26 when he made his MotoGP debut. However, the way in which Spies has entered the World Superbike series, winning at tracks he's never seen before and the hot favorite to take the title in his rookie year suggests that age may not be an issue for the Texan. What's more, if Spies does take the WSBK title this year, there's little reason for Spies to stay in the series, especially given that he has always stated that his goal has been to race in MotoGP.
As in MotoGP, so in World Superbikes. In both series, the Japanese manufacturer is suffering an embarrassment of riches when it comes to riders, and with the MotoGP factory squad complete, Yamaha Motor Italia, who run the World Superbike squad, are considering their options for 2010. Their problem depends in part on Ben Spies, and whether he stays in World Superbikes or goes to MotoGP with the Tech 3 satellite squad, but even without Spies, the WSBK team has decisions to ponder.
With a glut of outstanding riders on the market, Yamaha's WSBK boss Massimo Meregalli has put out feelers to Alex de Angelis, to test his interest in switching to the World Superbike series. Meregalli told GPOne.com that he had spoken to De Angelis about joining the Superbike squad in 2010. "I spoke with Alex to check his availability," Meregalli said. "Nothing has been decided at the moment, but it's clear that the riders in MotoGP want to stay there, and the market is finished there yet. But De Angelis is an interesting rider."
De Angelis isn't Yamaha's only option, however. Current World Supersport leader and revelation of the series Cal Crutchlow is also considered to be a serious candidate for Yamaha's World Superbike team. The young Briton has a two-year deal with Yamaha, which includes a clause offering him a World Superbike ride if he wins the World Supersport title, as he looks set to do this season. If Spies does decide - and is permitted - to go to MotoGP, then Meregalli's decision-making process will be made a good deal easier, and both De Angelis and Crutchlow could end up on board a Yamaha R1 in 2010.
Ever since the inception of the MotoGP era, Honda has borne most of the burden of keeping the grid full of bikes, never supplying less than 6 machines. In the heyday of the 990s, any one of those bikes, satellite or factory, was capable of a podium on any given day. That all changed with the advent of the 800s. HRC's grave miscalculation of what it would take to build a winning 800cc MotoGP bike left the factory struggling, and satellite spec Hondas went from a prerequisite for success to a liability.
That could be all about to change, according to the Motorcycle News. Speaking to MCN's Matt Birt, LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello revealed that Honda is examining offering satellite teams a near factory-spec level RC212V, to allow them to be more competitive from the start of the season, which would in turn allow them to generate more sponsorship.
At the moment, satellite teams are supplied with bikes that are close to the spec of the factory machines at the end of the previous season, but the development that the new factory bikes receive over the winter means that satellite teams are uncompetitive at the start of the season, only gaining some speed as the season goes on. The Gresini team is a prime example of the current situation, with both Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias scoring miserable results for the first half of the season, their performance only really picking up once they received extra parts at the midway point. Since then, both Elias and De Angelis have been on the podium, and have featured far more frequently at the sharp end, the new parts giving them a better chance of running near the front.
One of the great privileges of working as a journalist inside the MotoGP paddock is that you get to speak to some of the great minds that work there. Speaking to people like Herve Poncharal of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, Lucio Cecchinello of the LCR Honda team and Pete Benson of Repsol Honda - to name just a few - is always a fascinating and thought-provoking experience. The only downside is that they have your number when you get it wrong.
So the ever-friendly Herve Poncharal phoned MotoMatters.com HQ today, to point out that we had got it wrong in our story on Jules Cluzel. Contrary to what we had reported, he told us, he did not say he had already signed Cluzel, but merely expressed the hope that the Tech 3 team would be able to sign the young Frenchman some time soon. In the interview - which was filmed for the official MotoGP.com website - Poncharal did say that "one of the riders will certainly be Jules Cluzel". This does not mean that a contract had been signed, however, as Poncharal was keen to point out to us.
So MotoMatters.com is guilty of exactly what we accused Poncharal of doing: jumping the gun. We have been hoist by our own petard, as the old saying has it.
Triumph's entry in the World Supersport series remains a curiosity. In the past two years that the Triumph 675 has been campaigned in the series, that most quintessentially British of bikes has been run with virtually no British involvement whatsoever. Both the SC Caracchi and the ParkinGO BE1 squad are deeply Italian squads, and the nearest thing the teams got to British involvement is the far-flung ancestry of the Australian rider Garry McCoy.
All that is to change, however. After Gianluca Nannelli split from the squad - officially over an inability to adapt to the machine - his place is to be taken by Chaz Davies for the rest of the season. Davies has a lot of experience for a 22 year old, having started off in the 125cc class before moving up to 250s, where he scored a number of strong finishes on a very privateer Aprilia LE. After splitting with his 250cc team, Davies secured a ride in the AMA, racing Supersport and Formula Extreme, and also raced in MotoGP, replacing Alex Hofmann at Pramac Ducati. This season, he has campaigned the Aprilia RSV 1000 for the Millenium Technologies team in the AMA's Daytona Sportbike series.
As Davies has spent the past three years running the AMA Supersport and Formula Extreme classes, aboard a Yamaha R6 and a Kawasaki ZX-6R, then Daytona Sportbike on the Aprilia RSV, the young Welshman should be up to speed quickly enough on a Supersport machine. The real challenge Davies faces is the fact that the three rounds he is scheduled to ride the Triumph at are all at circuits he has never visited. Neither Imola, Magny-Cours nor Portimao featured on the MotoGP calendar while Davies was racing in 125s and 250s, but Davies proved in the AMA that he learned tracks very quickly.
Rumors concerning the future of Yamaha's World Supersport team have been running rampant for a while, with speculation that the team could be handed over to Stiggy Racing circulating in the motorcycle racing press. Today, however, MotoMatters.com has received confirmation that Yamaha is indeed to withdraw from World Supersport from next season and the team is to be disbanded.
Sources have revealed to MotoMatters.com that Yamaha Motor Europe has decided to cease running the team due to the severe financial situation that Yamaha finds itself in as a result of the global economic crisis. Yamaha is expected to post losses of 182 billion yen this year, with turnover declining by over 30% from 2008, and all expenses are being examined rigorously. World Supersport, it seems, does not justify the expense that YME invests in it, despite the popularity of the 600cc category among road riders.
Sadly for the current team members, most of them will have their contracts terminated at the end of the season. No one is exempt from the attrition at Yamaha: Even former racer, long-time racing consultant and team manager Wilco Zeelenberg is likely to be out of a job, though according to our sources, his position is currently "under consideration." Only one member of the team is certain to be retained to help develop and maintain the engines.
Good news for aspiring MotoGP champions. The Red Bull Rookies Cup is to be run again in 2010, giving teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 a chance to race at some of the finest racetracks around the world on motorcycles close to Grand Prix spec, with professional coaching and under the watchful eye of some of the great names in the sport. The fact that the current 125cc Grand Prix field contains a number of riders who came up through the program such as Johann Zarco and German sensation Jonas Folger is proof enough of the value of the program, and this season's top riders Sturla Fagerhaug and Jakub Kornfeil have made their Grand Prix debuts as wildcards.
The selection process is set to be much stricter this year, as the level of entries has increased each time the program is run. The rising quality of entrants is a result of the increasing popularity and name recognition of the series, and it is becoming one of the best ways into the MotoGP championship. As a result, applicants will need to have proven experience on high performance motorcycles. This does not necessarily mean that they must have road racing experience; any form of motorcycle racing experience will do, or some other form of participation in high-speed motorcycle activities.
The Red Bull Rookies cup is open to boys and girls born between January 1st,1993 and March 31st, 1997, though exceptions will be made for those born within a year of the entry dates under exceptional circumstances. Applications need to be submitted by September 20th, 2009, via an online entry form which can be found on the Red Bull Rookies website. The entries will be judged by a panel of experts including KTM's race team director Harald Bartol, Austrian racer Gustl Auinger, former 125 and 250 racer Raul Jara and the former team manager of the WCM 500cc and MotoGP racing team, Peter Clifford.
"Hi, my name is Giorgio Lorenzo, I'm 13 years old, and I want to be world champion." Prophetic words indeed. The Spanish website Daily Motos has a fascinating video sent to them by Chicho Lorenzo, father of Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo and produced by the Spanish TV station IB3, with fragments from Lorenzo's past. The Spanish-language video features footage of the Mallorcan prodigy riding as a 13 year old, as well as more recent shots of Lorenzo riding on the kart track that his father Chicho ran, and where Lorenzo learnt the skills that have taken him to being one of the best motorcycle racers in the world. The video was made after Lorenzo returned to Mallorca to stay with his father, the two now having reconciled their differences after the public and slightly acrimonious split when Lorenzo was in the 250cc class.