So far, the global financial crisis has mainly affected MotoGP, leaving World Superbikes largely untouched. This is hardly surprising, as World Superbikes is a much cheaper series to compete in, and does not swallow money in the same way that developing the highly strung prototypes in MotoGP does.
But that does not mean that World Superbikes is immune. According to Motoblog.it, the Sterilgarda Ducati team, in an attempt to cut costs, will only be fielding Shane Byrne at the first two rounds of the series, leaving their Italian rider, Alessandro Polita, making the step up from Superstock, at home. "I'm very sorry about the situation, which prevents us from taking Alex," team manager Marco Borciani said. "Unfortunately, business conditions have prevented some of the companies from providing the sponsorship we were expecting for 2009."
The choice to skip the first two rounds of World Superbikes is a logical one, as these are two of the most expensive of the series. The season opener is at Phillip Island in Australia, followed by Losail in Qatar. Leaving one rider at home allows the team to cut costs significantly, saving them the expense of shipping bikes, parts and team members half way around the world.
Polita is expected to be present at the third WSBK round at Valencia, at the beginning of April.
Casey Stoner continued his dominance at Sepang today, on the second day of testing, though his wrist continues to trouble him, leaving the Australian incapable of putting in too many laps. But even a relatively small number of laps is enough to be the fastest man on the grid, which should give the competition pause for thought.
Loris Capirossi continues his strong showing at Sepang, raising hopes that Suzuki might have a good season again in 2009. The Italian veteran is a fraction ahead of his compatriot Valentino Rossi, who was third fastest. Like Stoner, Rossi is also struggling with injury, though the stitches in his fingers and foot are nowhere near as serious as Stoner's healing scaphoid. But there is less than 2/10ths of a second covering the top three, so things are pretty close.
After a difficult first day, Dani Pedrosa is back up to speed, the Repsol Honda rider also cracking the 2'02 barrier. But Pedrosa is a quarter of a second behind Rossi, and nearly 0.4 behind Stoner. Stoner's Ducati team mate Nicky Hayden took a second off his time from yesterday, climbing to 9th. But the American is still over a second and a half behind his team mate.
James Toseland is the rider struggling the most. The Englishman didn't improve his time from yesterday, and is propping up the bottom of the timesheets. Not the start to the year Toseland will be hoping for.
Testing concludes tomorrow.
The proposals on the table aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP are pretty well known now, and have been discussed here several times. It looks increasingly likely that practice and testing will be reduced this year, with more drastic measures, including engines having to last for at least two races and only allowing the riders to have one bike instead of two.
But it looks like the MSMA feels the situation is more desparate than at first thought. Motorcycle News is reporting that the regulations enforcing extended engine life will be introduced ahead of schedule, as early as the Indianapolis Grand Prix at the end of August. Other measures MCN is reporting to be adopted include the dropping of the Friday morning free practice session, the reduction of the other sessions to 45 minutes instead of an hour, and the dropping of most of the post-race tests in Europe.
One question mark hanging over the introduction of the extended engine life is the penalty for breaking it. Two suggestions had been put forward to deal with this: having points deducted or being put to the back of the grid. MCN does not report what punishment has been decided on, but both are problematic. Manufacturers seem unlikely to accept a points reduction, but being put to the back of the grid encourages gaming the system. If the power advantage is great enough for an engine lasting one race, then it might be worth taking the penalty and gambling on being able to fight your way forward through the field. Also, with only 17 bikes on the grid, if all of the factory bikes break the rule, then the rider who qualified fastest would find himself back on the 3rd row, instead of the back row.
On day 2 of the Sepang test, the picture is similar to yesterday. Once again, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi are battling it out for supremacy, and a 4pm, it was the Australian who was on top. But unlike yesterday, the Spaniard Dani Pedrosa was very close behind, and ready to join the front group. More times once testing finishes.
Until now, anyone wanting to know the mind of Marco Melandri had only the haiku-like utterances permitted by Facebook status updates. But today, Melandri has added an entry on his blog, finally telling his side of the story, and laying out what he expects. And for fans of the Italian, hoping to see him make the start of the season, the news is not good.
"The situation has got worse day by day," Melandri writes, "changing radically from one hour to the next without any explanation, and I have gone from being hopeful to having no certainty at all of riding in MotoGP in 2009."
And Kawasaki's withdrawal has changed the way he looks at life. "I am feeling calmer now, because I've started to think in a different way. I've realized I can't control everything that happens around me, and that I've done everything I could, and used every means at my disposal to handle the situation."
But the chances of Melandri racing are slim: "The one thing I'm sure about is that I will only race if I have the chance of doing well. I won't be in MotoGP just to make up the numbers." This is the lesson that Melandri has drawn from his difficult year with Ducati. "Another year like 2008 would kill me," he wrote.
Melandri is close to a decision on his 2009 season, however. "Now I have to wait until the end of February, but I really can't wait any longer than that to decide whether I will be racing or not," he wrote. It looks like he is ready, as Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet.com predicted with eerie clairvoyance, to sit out the season.
The work that Suzuki have done on their GSV-R over the winter seems to be paying off. After the deadly duo of Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi had led for most of the day, Capirossi put in a final fast lap to top the timesheets. And what a lap: over quarter of a second under Stoner's existing lap record. Suzuki have been impressive at Sepang before, putting in a strong showing here at the beginning of the 2007 season, and it looks like they have found some of the speed they lost last year, although it must be said that the Sepang track's lack of very long fast sweepers suits the Suzuki very well. With Capirossi appearing wearing standard Suzuki leathers, it looks like Rizla will not be renewing its deal, though you have to wonder whether a good result from testing here might help sway the argument.
Casey Stoner was second fastest, his scaphoid surgery apparently successful, as he was riding comfortably, and comfortably under the lap record. Valentino Rossi was in a little more discomfort from the stitches he has in his hand after falling over at home, but the Italian was still very fast, though 3/10ths slower than Stoner. Rossi suffered a fall earlier in the day, but escaped relatively uninjured. Capirossi's team mate Chris Vermeulen set the fourth fastest time, confirming Suzuki's form here in Malaysia.
The atmosphere in the factory Honda garage could be tested, as Toni Elias was the fastest of the Hondas, ahead of Andrea Dovizioso on the first of the official Repsol bikes. Dani Pedrosa, heavily tipped for the championship this year, only managed the eighth fastest time, 1.5 seconds behind Capirossi. Sete Gibernau was fastest of the other Ducatis, 1.75 seconds behind Casey Stoner, but a quarter of a second ahead of Stoner's Marlboro Ducati team mate Nicky Hayden, who finished 11th.
Testing continues tomorrow.
Action is still underway in Malaysia, and the times are starting to come in. All day long, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner have been swapping the lead, and at 4pm, it was Rossi's turn at the top of the timesheets. The big surprise of the day are the Suzukis, both Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen the only riders capable of getting anywhere near the two leaders.
More worrying will be the big gaps between the rest of the field: Dani Pedrosa is in 6th place, nearly a second behind Rossi, while Sete Gibernau in 10th is another second behind Pedrosa. Stoner's Ducati team mate Nicky Hayden is down in 14th, just behind James Toseland. Hayden's time will be a worrying sign that the Ducati is still a difficult bike to handle.
The rev limits imposed by Honda on the satellite spec bikes seem to be having the expected result. First satellite spec RC212V is Alex de Angelis down in 11th, over a second behind the fastest factory Honda of Dani Pedrosa. More times once the session is over.
One of the cost-cutting proposals aimed at saving MotoGP currently under discussion is the introduction of rev limits. The idea is that the lower revving engines will stress the engines less, and make them last longer, cutting the amount of maintenance required. Whether this will work or not is open to debate, and ever the great innovator, Honda have taken the first step, in announcing that they will be placing a rev limit of 18,200 revs on RC212V engines.
Of course, Honda isn't foolish enough to sacrifice its chance of winning a title while imposing rev limits, so the only bikes these limits will be applied to will be the satellite spec RC212Vs. The factory-spec Hondas of Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and - presumably - Toni Elias will continue unfettered by any such limits.
This is a hard blow on the satellite teams. Though aimed at extending engine life from the current 600km to 1200km - or about two race weekends - it will also most likely render the satellite spec bikes unable to compete with the much faster factory bikes. Coming after two years of - by HRC's very high standards - substandard equipment, another year of circulating at the back of the field will make it even harder for the satellite Honda teams to secure sponsorship.
The restriction is even more frustrating because it cancels out the benefits of having pneumatic valves. The satellite teams were looking forward to being able to compete once again, now that HRC had dropped its old steel spring valve engines and switched to the potentially more powerful pneumatic valve unit. But most of those benefits will be lost due to the rev ceiling.
For ten long hours, in a hotel in Sepang, representatives from Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati discussed a range of proposals to cut costs in MotoGP. And at the end of those ten long hours, they emerged with, well, very little indeed, according to GPOne.com.
Subject of the talks were the proposals which have been aired over the past couple of weeks, mostly aimed at reducing the amount of mileage that is put on the bikes in testing and practice. But the results of those almost endless talks were very little. The only agreed proposal to emerge was that in future, all members of the team would fly economy class, rather than first or business class, although that already produced rumblings of disapproval from the old hands in the paddock such as Jeremy Burgess, who don't take the travelling well.
As for the other proposals, it seems likely that practice sessions on race weekends will be cut from one hour to 45 minutes, and the Sunday morning warmup will be cut from 25 to 10 minutes in length. The fate of the Friday practice sessions still hangs in the balance, with some talk of scrapping Friday altogether. But the proposals to ban testing on the Mondays after races caused the most problems. Suzuki, with only two riders, is keen to keep the tests, as they don't have the benefit of the extra data gathered by the four or more bikes which their competitors field.
The most bizarre proposal of all was to ban the team riders from testing on Monday, and allow only test riders. Just how this would save money is a bit of a mystery, as the mileage on the bikes would be only marginally reduced, while the test riders would have to be flown to all of the post-race tests, instead of leaving the team riders to do the testing for them.
Kawasaki's MotoGP program looks another step closer to its demise today. On the eve of the first official MotoGP test at Sepang, various reports are appearing that the green bikes won't be present. After private testing at Eastern Creek and Phillip Island with Olivier Jacque, the Kawasakis have been packed up and most likely shipped back to Japan.
A Kawasaki absence at Sepang almost certainly means the attempts to keep their MotoGP program alive will have failed. Deadlines have come and gone with no official word on the outcome of the talks being held. Team boss Michael Bartholemy flew out to Japan for talks with Kawasaki bosses two weeks ago, and a decision was expected last Wednesday. Then, rumors emerged that the decision had been postponed until February 2nd, which came and went again with no word.
The latest rumors surrounding the situation are taken from Marco Melandri's Facebook status updates, suggesting that the Italian has a "big meeting" today, Wednesday, though the Italian was less forthcoming on what the meeting might be about. There has been talk that Melandri has been offered a buyout of his contract, which would allow him to ride another bike, and this could be related to the "meeting" Macio refers to on his Facebook page.
John Hopkins, meanwhile, is filling his days with a road trip across the US, according to MCN. The American has been spotted at an AMA Supercross event, but did not speak to reporters there. Earlier rumors that Hopper could be about to sign for Stiggy Motorsports in World Superbikes have been denied by the team boss, Johan Stigefelt.
Valentino Rossi's participation in the next official test session at Sepang is under threat, after the Italian tripped and fell at home while attempting to close the curtains. The Doctor needed stitches to cuts in his hand and foot, which he suffered after falling on a glass table. Yamaha expect Rossi to be able to ride in Malaysia, and his condition will be evaluated at the track.
Since the announcement that the 600cc four-stroke Moto2 class would be replacing the 250cc class as of 2011, controversy and debate has raged over just about every aspect of the class. Is it possible to produce a competitive engine within the 20,000 euro claiming fee posted? Will the 600s be as fast as the 250s? Is this a plot by the Japanese factories to take back the junior classes? Will the Flammini brothers and Infront Motor Sports, who own the rights to the World Superbike series, sue the FIM to prevent the series from happening?
Most of all, though, the debate has centered around who is going to build bikes to run in the series. Bimota have expressed an interest in providing rolling chassis for the bikes, Ilmor have expressed an interest in producing engines for the class, and Moriwaki have even exhibited a prototype at a motorcycle show in Japan. But genuine race bikes in full trim have yet to turn up.
Until now. Today, the BQR team (who run the Blusens Aprila squad in the 125cc championship, with riders Scott Redding and Esteve Rabat) presented their Moto2 machine, which they will be entering in the Spanish Moto2 CEV championship, the series where Dorna is testing out the new class. The bike is based on a Honda 600 engine, in a custom-made frame with the spec of chassis components you would expect of a top-level racing bike. The machine produces 140bhp and weighs 137kg ready to race. Pictures of the bike can be found on Motorsport-Total.com, and Motociclismo.es has a full set of specifications for the bike.
Unless you are an avid Formula 1 fan, the acronym KERS won't mean very much to you. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System, to give it its full title, is a system that stores energy generated by braking (either in the form of electrical charge, or in the form of a spinning flywheel), to be used to give a power boost at a later point in the race. The system was conceived by the FIA as a sop to the environmentalists who have been a thorn in F1's side for many years.
Fitting such a system to cars is an interesting proposition, and should not be too difficult, given the fact that it would take up relatively little space and weight on a four-wheeled vehicle. Motorcycles, it was generally felt, were less in need of such a system, as the weight and space penalty would far outweigh the benefits in terms of free energy. Add to this the relatively excellent fuel efficiency of motorcycles, and KERS would seem to be complete overkill on a motorcycle.
And yet from the testing done by the 125cc class at Valencia earlier this week comes some fascinating news, and an insight into why racing motorcycles might be the perfect platform for such a KERS system. The Spanish magazine SoloMoto is reporting that KTM has been testing an electrical KERS system on their 125cc race bike for the past few months, even giving the system an outing at the final Grand Prix of 2008 at Valencia, where Japanese rider Tommy Koyama shot off the line from 15th on the grid gaining 8 or 9 places, before nearly crashing and losing them all back again. Koyama went on to finish 7th, the KERS system apparently boosting his top speed down Valencia's long front straight.
Last week at Valencia, Marc Marquez tested the system further. Bartol explained to SoloMoto how the system worked: "It's a hybrid system. Under braking, the system charges capacitors (we don't call them batteries, because a battery can't charge quickly enough during deceleration), and discharges the energy along the next straight. It gives us about 2kW extra, although we only use it when the bike is in third, fourth, fifth or sixth gear."
As anyone with even a modicum of interest in MotoGP may have noticed, the brand new Yamaha YZR-M1 was launched today in what was billed as an "online launch". What this amounted to was the posting of a flood of press releases and videos on the Yamaha Racing website, rather than any ability to interact with Yamaha, but it offered a few interesting tidbits nonetheless. But instead of rehashing all of the press releases, as the rest of the Internet MotoGP press has decided to do, MotoGPMatters.com will just pick out a few highlights, and point you to the original materials so you can judge for yourself.
- Valentino Rossi won't be racing in World Superbikes any time soon. Citing "problems with parts," both Rossi and his team boss Davide Brivio said it was unlikely that Rossi will be able to race this year. But Rossi said he is still keen on racing there one day.
- Rossi made it clear once again that he won't be moving to Formula 1. He enjoyed the test, but he's made his choice.
- He did hint once again that he will do more rally racing once he retires from motorcycle racing "in a few years time".
- Rossi isn't after Giacomo Agostini's win total. But he is after more titles. Which means two more if he is to equal Ago's record, or three more if he is to beat it.
- The wall between the garages is here to stay. Both sides of the Fiat Yamaha garage said it "worked very well".
- Those worried that Rossi's new Monster sponsorship would end his famous helmet designs can rest easy. Monster's 2.5 million euros buys them a small space on the chin bar.
- Jorge Lorenzo believes that Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and team mate Valentino Rossi are favorites for the title. His goal is to try to catch them.
- Lorenzo is happy to have changed his number and his management, and is looking forward to the new season. The bike is also much more easy to spot than last year.
- Interestingly, Yamaha as a factory was dead set against the single tire rule, while the team was all in favor of it.
- Various people commented on the state of MotoGP, and came up with suggestions on how to deal with it. Most of those involved technical restrictions, such as rev ceilings and spec ECUs.
- Of the online video interviews, the one with Lin Jarvis is by far the most interesting. Watch it here.
The rumors which emanated from the London Motorcycle show yesterday, that John Hopkins would be joining Leon Haslam at Stiggy Motorsports, have already provoked a reaction. Robby Rolfo - the man Hopkins was rumored to be replacing - has posted a message on his personal website, which would seem to rebut any such allegations.
The article is phrased very carefully, without mentioning any of the rumors directly, but Rolfo makes it perfectly clear that he expects to be riding once the World Superbike circus hits Phillip Island. Here's a translation of what he writes:
Over the past few days I've received a lot of mail about my injury, and first of all, I want to thank you all and let you know that your support has been really great! I was only able to do a few laps at Portimao, the injury is still too fresh; I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it was important for me to get on the track, to gain confidence in the bike and get used to the new team! I'm very happy, because the potential is really good! Now, there are only a few more days until the next in Australia, and I'm training hard to improve my shape and my motivation!
I spend every minute I can on getting better, in therapy, running, cycling, swimming, always with music: a special thank you to Diabo for the Canto del Loco songs!!! I'm using every day I can so I can arrive in Australia in top form for the next test!
Greetings, and as always, gaaassss!