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.
Since being called up to take the place of Mika Kallio at Pramac Ducati, Aleix Espargaro has made a big impression. So good an impression has the Spanish former 250 rider made that Pramac are looking to keep the Spaniard, even though Kallio will be returning to the satellite Ducati squad now that Casey Stoner will - presumably - be returning to action at Estoril.
As predicted last week, Pramac have now made Espargaro an offer to ride for the squad at Estoril, in place of the disappointing Italian Niccolo Canepa. However, Canepa will not go quietly. According to GPOne.com, Canepa's manager Carlo Pernat met with team principal Paolo Campinoti to discuss the situation today, where Campinoti announced their intention of going with Espargaro at Estoril, an announcement that Pernat met with displeasure. Canepa and Pernat will be holding Pramac to the contract they have for the rest of the year, though that only means that Canepa can be sure of being paid, as the Pramac squad can decide to pay him and let him sit out. If Espargaro continues the strong form he showed at Indianapolis and Misano, the Spaniard could finish out the rest of the season in Canepa's place.
The two men could continue their dispute over seats at Pramac into next year. According to the Spanish news site Motocuatro.com, Canepa is trying to negotiate a Moto2 ride with the Pramac team for next year, but Espargaro could be in the frame for this seat as well. Until the official list of teams and riders is announced at Estoril, and we find out whether Pramac will be fielding one or two bikes in Moto2, speculation over who will get the ride will continue. So far, though, it is Espargaro who is holding the strongest cards.
The biggest surprise in the 250cc championship this year has been Hiroshi Aoyama. The Japanese rider has always been strong in the class, winning regularly, but never able to fight for a title. Heading into the 2009 season, the title race looked like being a straight fight between Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista, yet it is Aoyama who leads the championship. A feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Scot Honda team is fielding an outdated bike on a shoestring budget, and pitting themselves against the well-stocked war chests of two full factory challengers in Bautista and Simoncelli.
Intrigued by Aoyama's success so far, we caught up with the amiable Japanese rider on the Saturday before the Indianapolis Grand Prix, to ask about the season so far and his plans for the future. Here's what he had to say.
MotoMatters: Tell me about how how you arrived in this team.
Hiroshi Aoyama: OK, last year I used to ride a KTM and at the end of the season they decided to stop with this project. It's a pity, but the decision was already made at the last race or one or two races before.
So when we finished the season, normally you know what you are going to do next season, but I didn't know anything, because there was nothing available. It was too late, other teams had already decided, so it was quite difficult to find another team. But at the beginning of this year, we find this team, I was lucky, I had a lot of cooperation to find this team, Team Scot.
2007 was a very difficult year for Valentino Rossi. In addition to being outclassed by a blisteringly fast Australian on a Bridgestone-shod Ducati, the Italian faced a gargantuan 112 million euro tax bill from the Italian authorities, who claimed that Rossi had actually been living in Italy while claiming to be resident in London. Early in 2008, Rossi reached a settlement with the Italian tax authorities, agreeing to pay around 30 million euros in back tax, a move which also allowed him to move back to Italy and live in Tavullia amidst his friends and family. Peace and stability had returned to Rossi's existence.
That tranquility is about to be rudely interrupted. According to reports from the Italian press agency ANSA.it, Valentino Rossi is about to be sued by his accountants, the very people who got him out of his previous tax troubles. The accountants firm Cesaroni-Cappellini are claiming that Rossi owes them between 1.7 and 2.5 million euros in fees. The firm claim that their agreement with Rossi include a clause granting them between 1% and 1.5% of the money they managed to save him in taxes. As the reduction in Rossi's tax bill they are claiming to have achieved is around 170 million euros, that would leave Rossi with multi-million euro bills to pay.
The arrival of the Moto2 class to replace the much lamented 250cc bikes has generated a great deal of excitement, both inside and outside the MotoGP paddock, and as the official announcement of the full list of entrants in Moto2 at the Estoril Grand Prix draws nears, that excitement is reaching a crescendo. Many projects have already been announced (which we will cover in a separate story later), and many names have been linked to the series, but little concrete has been announced.
Earlier this week we had what looked like the first announcement: Herve Poncharal of the Tech 3 Yamaha team has made no secret of his admiration for his countryman Jules Cluzel, his latest expression of interest coming during an interview with the motorsports website Crash.net. But even as smart an operator as Poncharal can overstep the mark sometimes, it seems. For after Poncharal told the official MotoGP.com website that he had already signed Jules Cluzel, the young French rider has denied that there is anything official to announce.
The first outlines of the 2010 World Superbike calendar are starting to emerge, and so far, it bears a remarkable resemblance to this year's schedule. Though nothing has been announced officially by the FIM and InFront Motor Sports, Motorcycle News' Michael Guy is reporting that the biggest change to the calendar will be the dropping of the Qatar round of World Superbikes and moving the Kyalami round up to take its place, to limit the expense of the flyaway rounds.
According to MCN, the season is due to kick off at Phillip Island on February 28th, with all the teams due to fly out early for testing at the glorious Australian circuit. From there, the WSBK circus will fly to South Africa to race at Kyalami, just outside of Johannesburg, before heading back to Europe for the rest of season, with one more trip overseas to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The series will visit Italy three times and Spain once, and hitting the UK at Donington - if the track is ready, of course.
The loss of Qatar is hardly a surprise, with attendance being at a minimum and the event not attracting the kind of media interest that the MotoGP night race freak show tends to generate. The World Superbike event is hampered by the fact that the MotoGP race is just a month after World Superbikes, making potential spectators choose between the two. Attendees who have been to both say that the atmosphere at the World Superbike race is better, possibly due to the night race being such an alienating experience, but the local economy - admittedly consisting mainly of expats with a love of bike racing - cannot bear two events in such close proximity. With the QMMF prepared to foot the bill for the MotoGP extravaganza, there was never any doubt as to which event would lose out.