Local boy Mattia Pasini was fastest in the second session of free practice for the 250cc class at Misano. The Team Toth Aprilia rider took an early lead and never gave it up, despite strong and sustained challenges from Pepe World's Hector Barbera. Metis Gilera's Marco Simoncelli was 3rd fastest in the session, getting ahead of the championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama on the Scot Honda in the final third of the session. Aoyama finished ahead of his main title rival Alvaro Bautista, who could manage only the 5th fastest time.
If Ben Spies had struggled in yesterday's soaking conditions, he had no such trouble during this morning's dry second qualifying session. The Sterilgarda Yamaha rider went straight to the top of the timesheets during the session, only relinquishing top spot after Noriyuki Haga hustled his Xerox Ducati around to a top time on his final lap. Spies is now the meat in a Ducati sandwich, with Michel Fabrizio in 3rd, ahead of Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea. Spies team mate Tom Sykes continued his run of good form, taking 5th place in the dry, ahead of fellow Englishman Shane Byrne.
The final starting order will be settled this afternoon, during Superpole.
The intense rivalry between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo continues apace, the next instalment taking place on Saturday morning during the second session of free practice for the MotoGP class. After Rossi took first blood yesterday, Jorge Lorenzo set about extracting revenge, but that would be no easy task. Rossi and Lorenzo swapped the lead multiple times during the session, with Dani Pedrosa getting involved early on, before the two Fiat Yamaha men cracked into the 1'34s and left the Repsol Honda rider behind.
Lorenzo looked like clinching the session with a blistering final lap, but Rossi had crossed the line with a couple of seconds on the clock, and another shot at a lap. He made it count, destroying the race lap record and besting Lorenzo's time by two tenths of a second. Pedrosa ended up in 3rd, comfortably ahead of the LCR Honda of Randy de Puniet and Pedrosa's Repsol Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati's Nicky Hayden finished the session in 6th, continuing to improve, while Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards was 7th.
With the rain gone and the Nurburgring circuit now dry, if a little cold, conditions for motorcycle racing have improved immensely in Germany's Eifel mountains. Those conditions are irrelevant to Cal Crutchlow, however, as the young Briton continues to dominate whatever the weather. In the dry, Crutchlow extended his advantage to almost 2 seconds over the rest of the field, a prospect which must strike terror into the hearts of those who must try and stop him. Joan Lascorz came closest, a "mere" 1.8 seconds off the Yamaha rider, ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu and Eugene Laverty. The competition has a lot of work to do before this afternoon's one and only qualifying session.
At the end of a closely contested FP2 session at Misano, it was Bradley Smith who ended at the top of the timesheets. The lead swapped places numerous times during the session, including 5 lead changes in the final minute. As the last rider to cross the line, Smith had no one else who could beat his time, putting him ahead of Pol Espargaro and Julian Simon, with Andrea Iannone a little way off.
While Smith dominated, the other British and American riders had much less luck. Scott Redding was fast early on, but got swamped later in the session, ending up 14th. Danny Webb continues to struggle, managing just the 22nd fastest time, while American Cameron Beaubier is down in 30th.
Ever since Casey Stoner decided to pull out of three MotoGP races due to ill health, a tsunami of speculation concerning the state of the Ducati squad has washed over the internet and the written press, with millions of fans and journalists venturing opinions on the subject, while only a few actually had any facts to base those opinions on. None of the protagonists have been particularly easy to reach, nor very forthcoming about the situation.
At Indianapolis, that changed, at least a little. Though we have heard virtually nothing from Casey Stoner, and only brief quotes from the Ducati organization so far, at Indy, Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet sat down with Ducati team boss Livio Suppo for an extended interview. The interview covered many subjects, from the obvious - such as the current state of Casey Stoner's health - to the philosophical - such as the question of whether switching to an 800cc formula made MotoGP more expensive, and raised some interesting points.
Two points were of particular interest, though. The first was the question of why the Ducati is perceived to be such a difficult bike to ride. Suppo denied that a problem existed, pointing out that since Barcelona, the gap between Nicky Hayden's pace on the GP9 and Casey Stoner's was broadly comparable to the gap between Valentino Rossi's and Colin Edwards on the dominate Yamaha M1. Suppo believes that the problem - if you can call it that - is just down to the difference between the four top riders (Rossi, Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa) and the rest of the field. "So in the last seasons, if you don't have one of these top four guys, you don't win races," Suppo told Superbikeplanet.
With Jorge Lorenzo already signed for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa a strong candidate to announce his contract renewal with Honda this weekend, the silly season focus has shifted to the next log damming up the river, the Texan Ben Spies. Spies has been widely expected to stay at Yamaha, but the question mark surrounding the Texan sensation has been whether his future lies in World Superbikes or in MotoGP. Yamaha have made no secret of the fact they'd like to keep the American in World Superbikes for another year, while reports are rife that both Ducati and Suzuki made approaches to Spies to join them in MotoGP.
Yamaha, it seems, have won this particular battle. According to Speedweek's Gunther Wiesinger - about whom a press officer once complained to me that he knew too much - Spies has penned a new deal with Yamaha, signing on for another two years. The first year of the contract would see Spies staying on in World Superbikes, either to defend or to conquer the World Superbike title for Yamaha in 2010, with Spies stepping up to MotoGP in 2011, most likely to take over Colin Edwards' seat in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.
With Spies staying in World Superbikes, this paves the way for more dominoes to fall into place in both MotoGP and World Superbikes. The prime beneficiary will be Colin Edwards, who will get to keep his Yamaha Japan-funded seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though Edwards' partner is still to be decided. In World Superbikes, there will probably only be one seat vacant in the Yamaha Motor Italia squad, which could go to Cal Crutchlow, though reports are placing him in Moto2 with Gresini next season. That Yamaha Superbike seat will be very hotly contested, with the new R1 clearly competitive, and the team highly proficient. If Crutchlow doesn't take the seat, the chances of the man dominating the BSB championship, Leon Camier, is the prime candidate.
These things will start to sort themselves out over the next few weeks. Stand by for a deluge of silly season news from World Superbikes over the coming weeks.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Yamaha Racing have now officially announced the news. The text of the press release follows:
Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea is on provisional pole after the first session of qualifying for the World Superbike class at the Nurburgring, in conditions that were a little kinder than the downpour of the early afternoon. Rea was fastest for most of the session, taking over provisional pole from Leon Haslam who had made the early running. But while Haslam slipped down the order, it was a Yamaha R1 that stepped up to Rea's Ten Kate Honda challenge, the surprise being that it was Tom Sykes rather than Ben Spies who was the faster of the two. Sykes took 2nd fastest, ahead of BMW's Troy Corser and Ducati's Michel Fabrizio, with championship leader Noriyuki Haga heading up the provisional second row in 5th. Haga's main challenger Ben Spies got off to a slow start, managing only the 13th fastest time, ahead of Aprilia's Max Biaggi.
Pepe World Aprilia's Hector Barbera dominated the first session of free practice at Misano today, walking away with the fastest time of the day and a lead of nearly half a second back to 2nd place man Team Toth's Mattia Pasini. The lead changed hands several times during the session, but it was always Barbera who kept taking it back, and taking it back in style.
Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama was 3rd quickest in the session, leaping up the order in the final moments, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista, who also improved on the last lap. Marco Simoncelli, the final man in the title race, could only manage the 7th fastest time of the session.
With the Nurburgring track starting to dry out a little during practice for the World Supersport class, Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow was back with a bang after the extended summer break. The Briton led from the start and encountered only brief opposition from Ten Kate's Kenan Sofuoglu, setting the fastest time by three tenths of a second. Sofuoglu was the only man capable of getting close to Crutchlow in the tricky conditions, the rest of the field being nearly 2 seconds back. The competition for 3rd was tough, with Triumph's Garry McCoy coming out on top, ahead of Michele Pirro and Mark Aitchison. Eugene Laverty, the only real threat to Crutchlow's title hopes, could manage only the 9th fastest time, over three and a quarter seconds off Crutchlow's time.
Valentino Rossi has struck the first blow at Misano, edging ahead of Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo, with 10 minutes to go, then taking another tenth of a second off his best time to hold onto provisional pole. Lorenzo had dominated the session up until that point, only briefly ceding the lead to Dani Pedrosa, and hammering a whole sequence of laps in the 1'35s, over half a second faster than the rest of the field for most of practice. Lorenzo even looked like taking back provisional pole from Rossi, but the Spaniard ran into traffic on two fast laps in succession, leaving him stuck in 2nd. His fastest lap may have been slower than Rossi's, but his race pace was a good deal faster than anyone else could match.
Dani Pedrosa rounds out the provisional front row, to nobody's surprise, the Spaniard developing a bizarre problem with his Repsol Honda at the end of the session, fluid spraying either from a loose clutch reservoir or front fork, forcing a furious Pedrosa to ditch the bike and take a trip back to the pits on a scooter. Pedrosa's misfortune allowed Alex de Angelis to close right in on him, the man from San Marino - just a few kilometers from the circuit - getting to within 0.016 of Pedrosa's time, and finishing ahead of Pedrosa's team mate Andrea Dovizioso and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards. Dovizioso has switched to Ohlins this weekend, and his first run out was fairly successful, the Repsol Honda rider finishing pretty close to where he might have been expected to end up if he had stuck with the Showa suspension Pedrosa is still using.
Most striking of all, however, is the gap between the Fiat Yamahas and the rest of the field. Pedrosa is over six tenths behind Lorenzo, and three quarters of a second behind Rossi, while a second covers 3rd to 12th places. The Fiat Yamahas appear to be in a league of their own. Again.
Rain lashed the beautiful surroundings of the Eifel mountains in Germany, making conditions difficult for the riders at the Nurburgring. Unsurprisingly perhaps the session was dominated by the large British contingent that packs the World Superbike paddock, with Johnny Rea, Leon Haslam and Shane Byrne leading early on. But with 15 minutes of the session left, it was Noriyuki Haga that took the lead, ending the first session of practice ahead of Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea. Troy Corser booked a solid result for BMW in their home round, taking 3rd spot ahead of Jakub Smrz, with Shane Byrne, Leon Haslam, Karl Muggeridge and Matthieu Lagrive filling out the provisional second row.
The weather did not suit everybody, however, as both championship contender Ben Spies and race winner Max Biaggi finished well down the order, in 19th and 20th place respectively. Whether that is still the case after this afternoon's session of qualifying remains to be seen.
Bradley Smith led the first session of free practice at Misano, the British Aspar rider having been fast throughout the session. Smith received a little help from Czech rider Lukas Sembera, who balked Smith's Aspar team mate Julian Simon on a fast lap, leaving the Spaniard to settle for 2nd. Local hero Andrea Iannone set the 3rd fastest time, while Stefan Bradl took 4th place.
Smith's British compatriates Scott Redding and Danny Webb finished the session down the field in 15th and 16th, while American Cameron Beaubier ended up 29th.
While silly season has been at boiling point over in MotoGP, things have been fairly quiet in the World Superbike paddock. Three factors have held up movement in the series: Firstly, the Lorenzo Saga, which had a direct bearing on the future of WSBK title candidate Ben Spies, who was in line to move up to the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team to await his turn at Fiat Yamaha. Secondly, the incipient arrival of the Moto2 class has a host of riders in both the World Superbikes and World Supersport series thinking about switching, seeing the new class as a possibly entry to MotoGP, which remains the series that almost every rider wants end up in at one point or other. And thirdly, despite the fact that the World Superbikes series is considerably cheaper than MotoGP, the global economic crisis has struck the World Superbike paddock just as hard as it has hit the MotoGP series, and a host of teams are holding off on the 2010 plans, and even struggling with finishing out the year.
With the rider line up in MotoGP starting to take shape, there are signs of movement in the World Superbike series as well. Perhaps the most though-provoking switch is not one that a rider will be making, though, but rather the switch by the Stiggy Racing team from Honda to Yamaha. According to the Italian magazine MotoSprint, the Sweden-based team run by former 250 GP star Johan Stigefelt is disillusioned with the level of support the team has received from Honda this season, and as we predicted earlier in a column for the American magazine Road Racer X, the team will make a dramatic switch to Yamaha.
Silly Season is just about over in MotoGP: With the announcement that Ducati have just offered Nicky Hayden a new one-year contract for 2010, the available factory seats are all filled, with the notable exception of Honda. Andrea Dovizioso has admitted he is very close to a new deal with Honda, but most of the media and fan attention has been focused on the future of Dani Pedrosa.
At Indianapolis, Pedrosa acknowledged approaches by Ducati - for a salary thought to be broadly similar to the gigantic sums on offer to Jorge Lorenzo, before he turned the Bologna factory down - but repeated that discussions with Honda were still ongoing, and that no firm conclusions had been reached. The sticking point, it was believed, was the role that Pedrosa's manager and mentor Alberto Puig was to play next season, with HRC pushing for a much diminished role for the former GP winner, and Pedrosa refusing to sign unless he had the man who has done so much for his career by his side.
Reports coming out of Spain earlier today - published by the sports daily Sport.es and reported by the Catalonian radio station Catalunya Informacio - indicate that Dani Pedrosa has already decided to sign a new contract with the Repsol Honda squad, and will make an official announcement this weekend at Misano. According to the reports, Pedrosa will sign a contract for at least one year, but no word has been forthcoming on the role of Pedrosa's manager Puig.