On Thursday afternoon as the teams were setting up their garages, MotoGPMatters spoke for a few minutes with Colin Edwards’ Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief, Guy Coulon about some of the challenges presented in the 2009 MotoGP season.
MGPM: My first question is about the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone tires. Has Rossi’s team shared much of their data from last year?
Guy Coulon: Yes, of course, because Yamaha already had good experience last year with Bridgestone, and quite early last year we knew that Bridgestone would be used by everyone in 2009. So Yamaha designed the 2009 bike with the Bridgestone specification. Last year Valentino used a bike at first mostly designed for Michelin, and as the season went on, his team started to understand how to modify his bike to suit the new tires. So I believe at the end of last season they had designed a proper chassis for Bridgestone tires. It’s not so different than before. It’s only some small details. So for all Yamaha riders, it’s easier to start on Bridgestone tires this year because Valentino already used them last year.
MGPM: Given that all teams are on Bridgestone this year, how will this affect your approach at Tech 3?
GC: It’s difficult to say, because this year we have regulation changes in addition to one tire maker: Tire allocation has also changed. We have only two kinds of front tires and two kinds of rear tires for each race. Last year there was much more difference between front tires and also between rear tires, and there were two brands of both. Valentino is able to compare both makers because he used Michelin when they brought many kinds of tires, and Bridgestone also before the new rules. But for Tech 3, we can only compare last year with Michelin’s many kinds of tires, and this year, with Bridgestone’s two fronts and two rears. So it’s difficult for us to compare.
Marco Simoncelli arrived at Losail with a cast still on his right hand, and had it removed in the medical center just before he and was to report to the starting grid for the group photo.
The other 250 riders waited for several minutes with one spot open in the front row until Simoncelli appeared in the distance, walking slowly from the direction of the garages. He held his right hand carefully as he walked, still in apparent discomfort from his operation on Tuesday to repair the scaphoid bone he broke in a motocross crash on Sunday.
When he’d taken his seat in the front row, the skin discoloration from disinfectant was still clearly visible. At one point he answered questions from the pit wall with a wince and a careful cosi-cosi gesture with the recently liberated hand.
The talented Scott Jones, MotoGPMatters.com's photographer, is out at Qatar covering the race for us, and is already sending back some fantastic photos, and more. But just to get the season off to a good start, here's his shots from the grid presentation earlier today. All of the pictures should link to larger, desktop-sized images.
Valentino Rossi's Fiat Yamaha M1
MotoGP faces the 2009 season assailed from all sides. On the sporting front, they face a rejuvenated and growing World Superbike series, as well as a Formula One season full of intrigue and - gasp - overtaking; On the financial front, budgets are shrinking as sponsors tighten their purse strings to deal with the global economic crisis; On the technical front, rule changes are being hastily introduced in the hope of cutting costs, to loud protest from fans and press alike; And on the manufacturing front, the series lost a major manufacturer and gained a private team, after Kawasaki decided that spending over 50 million euros a year to circulate at the back of the pack was not a wise investment. With criticism rising at emptying grids and a lack of overtaking, and the prospect of MotoGP's Sun King retiring in the not too distant future, the sense of crisis that pervades the series is almost palpable.
And yet there is so much to be optimistic about this year. The series fields arguably the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, still at the height of his powers and being pushed to the limits of his exceptional talent by the fastest motorcycle racer on the planet. It features a brace of Spaniards with the talent to usurp the two men who dominated the series last year. A veteran star returns to the grid bringing the promise of excitement, to add to the improved chances of series veterans switching to more competitive equipment. In their third year, development on the 800cc machines is starting to plateau, the performance differences between the machines now less painfully obvious. The single tire rule introduced for this season looks like confounding the naysayers - including your humble correspondent - by proving to be perfectly workable and as fair as can be expected.
So despite the crisis, and the complaints that MotoGP is growing boring, there is every reason to hope that the racing will be closer this year, and some of the excitement that has been mostly absent for the past two seasons could make a welcome return to the series. For as much as the series looks familiar this season, there have been some radical changes since the teams last packed away their bikes at the end of the Valencia Grand Prix in October.
First and foremost of these is the switch to a single tire supplier. The move was made in an attempt to cut costs and reign in the relentless pace of tire development, to stop the bikes from smashing lap records year on year, and to level the playing field. Drawing up the balance of preseason testing, it has only been partially successful.
Costs have definitely been cut, but only for the teams. With Bridgestone now paying for development and production out of its own pocket, the series now acting more as a marketing opportunity rather than a development test bed. So far, lap times have been anything but cut, with lap records falling over the winter on the new tires, but this is hardly a surprise, given the strength of Bridgestone's tires at the end of last season.
An unintended consequence of having everyone on the same tires is that the level playing field only accentuates the differences in rider skill, meaning Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi are leading the rest by an even bigger margin than before. Ironically, the more you emphasize rider skill, the bigger the gaps between the great riders and the merely good, and the less close the racing gets.
Times from the first day of the World Superbike test at Monza
|1||Michel Fabrizio||Ducati Xerox||1'45.7|
|2||Noriyuki Haga||Ducati Xerox||1'45.8|
|3||Ben Spies||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|4||Tom Sykes||Yamaha World Superbike||1'45.9|
|5||Max Neukirchner||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.3|
|7||Yukio Kagayama||Suzuki Alstare||1'46.8|
|8||Karl Muggeridge||Suzuki Celani||1'47.1|
The 2009 MotoGP season got underway today in Losail as each team presented a bike to the media. Concerns about the weather for this weekend's race grew as we felt small drops of rain for a few moments out on the grid. The wind was more consistent than the rain drops, blowing over display ropes and photographers alike. In the distance, the Qatari sands swirled, turning the sky cloudy with dust, and causing worry about the condition of the track here at Losail.
Results for the final test of the year for 125 and 250 classes, before the MotoGP series kicks off in earnest at Qatar on Friday night.
Qatar night test 250 results, day 2, Tuesday
|4||Mike DI MEGLIO||2'00.946|
|7||Raffaele DE ROSA||2'01.129|
Qatar night test 125 results, day 2, Tuesday
Ever since Dani Pedrosa's monster highside during the night tests at Qatar just over a month ago, his presence at the first race of the MotoGP season, up this weekend, has been in doubt. The Spaniard came down hard during testing when track temperatures cooled, but his real misfortune was to be speared by his bike as it landed. Pedrosa fractured a wrist and reopened an old knee injury he had just had surgery to fix over the winter, requiring a skin graft to fix.
The wrist injury was painful, but was unlikely to have prevented Pedrosa to have missed the IRTA Test at Jerez, let alone the first race at Qatar. But the knee problem was much worse. The surgery required to fix the problem meant that Pedrosa's knee had to be immobilized for four weeks, and that he would have to build up motion carefully and slowly after that, to ensure the wound does not open once again. The videos of Pedrosa limping about his flat, together with reports emanating from journalists who know Pedrosa personally seemed to suggest that racing at Qatar could well be an impossibility for Pedrosa, rather than just unwise.
The good news for Pedrosa and his fans is that the Spanish star has decided he will attempt to race at Qatar. In his personal blog on the Repsol website, Pedrosa announced that he felt he would be fit enough to race. He said that he was recovering well, but he would only just be fit in time: "The truth is that time has been very tight; when the practice was held in Jerez I could only bend the knee 90º. But over the last ten days it has been getting better and in the end, making use of the time right up to the last moment, we have decided to go to Qatar and race in the first round of the 2009 World Championship."
World Superbikes, Race 1
With three poles and three wins in a row, all eyes were on Ben Spies at the start of the first Superbike race, but they would have been better focusing everywhere. Spies fluffed the start, diving into the first corner in fifth place, behind a gaggle of Ducatis. Regis Laconi led the way, ahead of Noriyuki Haga, Max Neukirchner and Troy Corser.
Laconi was not to lead for long, Haga deking out the Frenchman after just a couple of corners, Neukirchner following in his wake. The German waited for the front straight to pounce, unleashing the speed of his Suzuki to take the lead over the line. But Haga had been expecting him, and dived back inside into Turn 1 to take back the lead, and was off.
At one of Noriyuki Haga's strongest tracks, Ben Spies knew that he couldn't afford to let the Japanese Ducati man get way. Gifted one position when Troy Corser crashed out from a promising 4rh place, Spies started to chase Regis Laconi down. The Frenchman was fast losing ground to Haga, but still fast enough to be troublesome, as it took Spies until lap 5 get past the DFX Corse Ducati.
By this time, Haga's lead was up to 2 seconds over Max Neukirchner, and 2.7 over Spies. The Texan turned his attention to the next obstacle in his path, Neukirchner's Alstare Brux Suzuki. Over the course of four laps, he hunted the German down, but as he entered Turn 1 right on the German's tail, he pushed the front a fraction too hard, sliding down gracefully into the gravel and out of the race. Next time around, Haga's pit board read "19 OUT", and the Xerox Ducati rider knew the race was in the bag. He put his head down, and ran fast, smooth laps to take a comfortable win.
It goes without saying that motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport, but what people tend to forget is that training for motorcycle racing is often even more dangerous. After all, the only way to train the skills required to control a motorcycle close to the limit is by riding a motorcycle close to that very same limit. And the penalty for getting it wrong can be pretty harsh indeed.
This is a lesson that Marco Simoncelli has learned the hard way. The reigning 250cc World Champion fell during motocross training at the quarry used by Valentino Rossi and his friends, and fractured his right scaphoid. Simoncelli was taken to hospital at Modena where the fracture was diagnosed, and was later treated by Dr Costa of the Clinica Mobile which accompanies both the MotoGP and World Superbikes series around the world.
Simoncelli's fracture puts his participation in the first round of the 250 World Championship at risk. According to GPOne.com, the fracture isn't serious enough to rule Simoncelli out altogether, but he will be far from 100% at Qatar. Dr Costa told GPOne.com "whether Marco rides at Qatar or not does not depend on his wrist, but on the will of Marco to ride."
Whether Simoncelli rides or not, his season will get off to a bad start. With Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista pushing each other hard during preseason testing, Simoncelli's fractured scaphoid gives Bautista an immediate advantage.
Results of World Superbikes Race 2 at Valencia:
Results of the first round of the European Superstock 600 Championship race at Valencia:
Results of the 2009 Valencia World Supersport Race: