Results and recap of qualifying practice for the 250cc class at Brno:
Normally, the arrival of the senior figure from a manufacturer's racing organization at a race track means that a number of questions which linger of the future of a team are about to be cleared up. Such was the expectation when HRC President Tetsuo Suzuki turned up at Brno, the assembled journalists assuming they would hear that contracts had been signed and a lot of loose ends tidied up. That, at least, was what paddock scuttlebutt indicated prior to Suzuki's arrival.
At the press conference given by the HRC boss on Friday morning, that was more or less what was presented, but after the press had interpreted Suzuki-san's pronouncements to mean that contracts had been signed with both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, HRC issued a press release pointing out that the phrase used was in fact "basic agreement," by which they meant that agreement had been reached in broad terms, but that there were still a few details to be cleared up before contracts could be officially signed.
This was perhaps the first sign that not everything was as it seemed. Spanish TV, mischievous as they can occasionally be, immediately headed over to Dani Pedrosa's manager Alberto Puig to enquire about Pedrosa's new contract. Puig immediately denied that any contracts were signed, but told TVE that they were indeed close to a deal, with only a few details to be ironed out.
Results and recap of qualifying practice for the MotoGP class at Brno:
Results and summary of qualifying practice for the 125cc class:
On the face of it, the rules limiting the number of engines to be used for the rest of the season are clear enough: Each rider will have just 5 engines to use for the remaining 7 races. But as MotoGP fans and followers began to contemplate the official one-day test to be held on Monday, after the Brno round of MotoGP, questions immediately began to arise over which engines could be used in those tests.
The rules seemed ambiguous. The relevant parts of the regulations had been announced at the last meeting of the Grand Prix Commission on July 25th, at the British Grand Prix in Donington. Under section 2.3.6 of the rules, the following subsections had been added:
1.) In the MotoGP class the number of engines available for use by each rider is limited. For the 2009 season a maximum of 5 engines may be used by each rider for the final 7 scheduled races of the season, that is from and including the Czech Grand Prix until the end of the season. Should a rider be replaced for any reason, the replacement rider will be deemed to be the original rider for purposes of engine allocation.
6.) To prevent the running of a used, allocated engine outside of MotoGP events, all allocated engines will have security seals placed over either exhaust or inlet ports (on at least one cylinder bank, in the case of V-type engines) before leaving the circuit. Teams wishing to re-use such an allocated and sealed engine must request the Technical Director to remove the security seals. If the Technical Director or his staff find that the security seals are not intact, the engine will be deemed to be a new engine in the allocation, with the appropriate penalty.
This seemed to indicate that non-allocated engines had to be used for the tests, but we were not sure, so we turned to the man whose job it is to know, MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb. He explained the situation simply and clearly as follows:
Spaniard Hector Barbera topped the timesheets in the 250cc class once again, leading the second session of free practice from the halfway mark. Barbera had taken the top spot from early leader Roberto Locatelli, and it took a late surge by the championship favorites to displace him from the top 4. Alvaro Bautista ended the session in 2nd, a tenth behind Barbera, while Hiroshi Aoyama set his fastest lap on his final attempt to jump up to 3rd, ahead of Bautista's Aspar team mate Mike di Meglio. Reigning champion Marco Simoncelli could only manage the 7th fastest time, though he was just 3/10ths of a second off the leader Barbera.
Jorge Lorenzo once again topped the timesheets at Brno during the second session of free practice, but unlike yesterday afternoon, when it was all but a runaway for the Spaniard, the competition was a lot tighter on Saturday morning. Lorenzo took an early lead, cracking straight into the 1'56s, before setting the bar at 1'56.458. Only team mate Valentino Rossi could follow at first, and the closest he could get was to within a third of a second.
But as the session entered its second half, Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa picked up the pace and started to close the gap. With 24 minutes to go, Pedrosa had cut his deficit to just 0.004 of a second, and it took Lorenzo until the final minutes of the session to respond, cutting a further 10th of a second from his time, lapping in an astonishing 1'56.331. To put that into perspective, the current pole record is 1'56.191. It is held by Valentino Rossi, who set it in 2006, on a 990cc Yamaha M1, using super-sticky qualifying tires, which were banned this year.
Rossi ended the session in 3rd place, behind Lorenzo and Pedrosa, having closed the gap a little, but still nearly half a second behind his team mate. Colin Edwards was 4th fastest, ahead of a resurgent Loris Capirossi. Mika Kallio once again won the battle of the Marlboro Ducatis, leaping ahead of his team mate Nicky Hayden with 14 minutes of the session left.
There are a lot of badly kept secrets in the paddock, and one of the very worst kept was the fact that Marco Melandri would be making a return to the Gresini Honda team next season. Since the rumors started to emerge - at about the same time as Marco Simoncelli announced his signing for the Gresini team at Assen - Melandri has tried to play them down, quipping that although journalists were writing that he'd been signed by Gresini, nobody had told him.
But to paraphrase the bard, the rider did protest too much. For today, Fausto Gresini officially announced that Melandri will be joining the Gresini team for 2009. The deal has been on the cards since it became clear that Kawasaki's backing for Hayate would be a one-year affair, and Melandri has seized the opportunity with fantastic aplomb, getting far more out of the barely developed ZX-RR than anyone thought it had in it. His ability and strength of will has been rewarded with the Gresini ride, with team boss Fausto Gresini acknowledging the long history the two parties share: "Melandri is a huge part of the Gresini story and we have had great results together," Gresini said in a press release.
The tricky problem of the single factory-spec RC212V which Gresini have at their disposal has been settled in Melandri's favor. Speaking yesterday to the press, HRC president Tetsuo Suzuki made it clear that Simoncelli would get a satellite-spec machine, but that Honda's aim is for the satellite machines to be just one or two races behind the factory bikes. That has quite obviously not been the case over the past two and a half seasons, but with Honda now starting to catch Yamaha and Ducati in the development race, a return to Honda's former policy looks increasingly feasible.
Derbi's Pol Espargaro was fastest in the morning session of practice for the 125cc class, taking the top spot as the session ended from the Aspar duo of Julian Simon and Bradley Smith. Title rival Nicolas Terol was 4th quickest, ahead of Stefan Bralde and Andrea Iannone.
Not such a strong day for the other British riders, Scott Redding only managing a 17th place, while Danny Webb took a while to get back up to speed after losing yesterday to mechanical woes, and ended the session in 25th place. American Cameron Beaubier ended the session in 20th, but a crash during the session saw him injure his shoulder badly enough to be forced to withdraw. Though examination at the Clinica Mobile showed no fractures, shoulder injuries at Beaubier's age (16 years old) can cause problems in later life if they are not allowed to heal properly.
Mattia Pasini has had a season of ups and downs in 2009. The Italian won the Mugello 250cc Grand Prix, then a couple of weeks later, he nearly missed out on riding after a dispute over unpaid lease fees saw Aprilia refuse to provide Team Toth with the ECUs for Pasini's Aprilia RSA.
As Team Toth continues to teeter on the brink of financial collapse, Pasini has just received news of another positive turn in his career. The Rimini-based rider is to test the Pramac Ducati MotoGP bike left vacant by Mika Kallio at the post-race test at Brno on Monday.
The decision to have Pasini test the bike may at first seem a little strange, as Michel Fabrizio is already in Brno and riding that bike this weekend. Logic would dictate that Fabrizio would be the right person to test the machine on Monday, having spent Friday through Sunday riding it, and already up to speed.
But there is a problem with Fabrizio: The Roman is currently still in contention for the World Superbike title - though he has a 53 point deficit to the championship leader, team mate Noriyuki Haga - and the Xerox Ducati boss Davide Tardozzi has already made it extremely clear Fabrizio should return to the World Superbike paddock as soon as possible. With Casey Stoner out for at least three races, the last of which - at Misano - clashes with the next World Superbike round at the Nurburgring, and Kallio having moved out of the Pramac team to take Stoner's place, Pramac need to fill Kallio's place at Brno, Indianapolis and Misano.
Fabrizio is in for this weekend at Brno, but so far, this looks like being the only race that Fabrizio will get aboard the Desmosedici. With Indy just a week before the Nurburgring, then Misano clashing with the German World Superbike Round, the risk of injury is too great for the Roman, and someone else will have to be drafted in to take Kallio's place in the US and Italy.
Yesterday, Dorna released a list of engines presented to MotoGP's Technical Director Mike Webb to be officially sealed. The seals are placed to comply with the engine limit which comes into effect at Brno, which stipulates that each rider is only allowed to use 5 engines until the end of the season. The teams only needed to submit 1, or at most 2 engines to be sealed before practice started, but instead most submitted 3 or even more. That demands some kind of explanation, and so we decided to take a closer look at the numbers.
Here's the full list:
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda Team||3|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Repsol Honda Team||3|
|5||Colin Edwards||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||3|
|7||Chris Vermeulen||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||2|
|14||Randy de Puniet||LCR Honda MotoGP||3|
|15||Alex de Angelis||San Carlo Honda Gresini||3|
|24||Toni Elias||San Carlo Honda Gresini||2|
|27||Casey Stoner||Ducati Marlboro Team||4|
|33||Marco Melandri||Hayate Racing Team||3|
|36||Mika Kallio||Pramac Racing||3|
|41||Gabor Talmacsi||Scot Racing Team MotoGP||2|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Fiat Yamaha Team||3|
|52||James Toseland||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||3|
|65||Loris Capirossi||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||2|
|69||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Marlboro Team||4|
|88||Niccolo Canepa||Pramac Racing||3|
|99||Jorge Lorenzo||Fiat Yamaha Team||3|
* There are also 2 spare Suzuki engines not yet assigned to a rider
The first thing to note is that Casey Stoner's absence generates a small complication. Casey Stoner has had 4 engines sealed, and Mika Kallio has had 3 engines sealed. But Kallio is riding the factory Marlboro Ducati bike this weekend, so whose engines is he using?
Hector Barbera started the weekend apparently determined to prove to all and sundry that he has earned his promotion to the MotoGP class with Aspar, and set about doing so by being quickest throughout the first session of practice for the 250cc class by a significant margin. The Spaniard was only bested briefly, in the dying seconds of the session, by Hiroshi Aoyama, but Barbera was not far behind, and back on top of the timesheets again.
Behind Aoyama, Alex Debon set the 3rd fastest time, with the other man due to announce his ascenscion to MotoGP, Alvaro Bautista, 4th quickest. Marco Simoncelli was beaten by his Gilera team mate Roberto Locatelli for once, and set the 6th fastest time.
Remarkable news from Brno. Just hours after Tetsuo Suzuki announced that HRC had reached a basic agreement with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa's manager, Alberto Puig, is denying that anything has been signed. The Spanish former racer, who has mentored Pedrosa for years, told the Spanish TVE television that Pedrosa in reality, nothing had changed, and that Pedrosa had not yet signed a contract.
According to reports by GPOne.com, Puig told TVE's Marc Martin that Pedrosa and Honda had reached agreement on the basics of the contract, but were still discussing a few minor details. This may explain why neither rider was present at the HRC boss' press conference this morning, as is usual when contract signings are officially announced. There can be little doubt that Pedrosa and Dovizioso will eventually sign an official contract with the Repsol Honda squad, but it seems that agreement and contractually binding documents are two entirely different things.
Jorge Lorenzo didn't so much draw first blood in the first session of free practice as drain the body of MotoGP dry. Lorenzo destroyed the existing race lap record, setting a long string of laps in the 1'56s, including a 1'56.595, just 4/10ths off the pole record set by Valentino Rossi in 2006, on supersoft qualifying tires and a 990cc Yamaha M1.
Lorenzo's Fiat Yamaha team mate Valentino Rossi had led early on, but was forced to cede the top spot to an indomitable Lorenzo by the 20 minute mark. The reigning world champion was nearly half a second off for most of the session, only closing and getting into the 1'56s in the latter stages of practice. Dani Pedrosa was the 3rd fastest of the afternoon, just getting within 1 second of Lorenzo by the very end of the session.
Bradley Smith was fastest in the first session of free practice for the 125cc class. The British rider took top spot with just a few minutes to go, then improved his time to put it out of reach on his final lap. KTM's Marc Marquez took 2nd spot, forcing Smith's Aspar team mate Julian Simon down into 3rd. Nicolas Terol set the 4th fastest time.