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!
The MCN London Motorcycle Show at the ExCeL London exhibition center provides all the necessary ingredients for scandal and rumor: Over the course of four days, the motorcycling press, manufacturers, racers, teams and bikers are packed together with little more to do than gossip and gawp at bikes and biking celebrities.
So it is hardly surprising that along with the news emanating from the show comes the rumor that John Hopkins could be moving to World Superbikes. With the chances of a rescue package for Kawasaki in MotoGP fading every day, the American could end up riding a Honda alongside Leon Haslam for Stiggy Motorsports.
At the moment, that seat is held by Roberto Rolfo, but the Italian is still suffering from a fractured shoulder picked up early last year. Rolfo had decided not to have surgery to stabilize the shoulder, as any operation would have required a very lengthy period of physical rehabilitation, causing the Italian to miss most of the 2009 season. But after a difficult test at Portimao, where Rolfo didn't ride much, and only managed to finish second-from-last when he did, there is a good chance that he may be forced to change his mind about surgery.
This would leave the ride open for Hopkins, and as Rolfo brings with him a lot of personal sponsorship, any money that Hopper could bring would be more than welcomed by the Scandinavian team. With Hopkins' Monster sponsorship covering his salary, the American could effectively ride for Stiggy Motorsports for free. And with John Hopkins and Leon Haslam, both riders with proven talent, the team could well be a serious threat in the already crowded World Superbike championship.
The final day of testing at Valencia for the 125 and 250 riders started off better than expected, but for Alvaro Bautista, favorite for the 250 crown this year, it ended in disaster. The rain which plagued yesterday's session held off in the morning, and the track soon filled with riders trying to put in a fast time. But though the track was dry, it was also cold, leaving the circumstances still far from ideal for the junior classes.
The rain held off until the early afternoon, at which point it started to fall so heavily that the rest of the session was scrapped at 2pm. That came too late for Alvaro Bautista, though: The Spaniard got caught out by the early rain and took a painful tumble, which has probably resulted in a broken collarbone. Bautista was taken to Madrid, where he was examined by Dr Angel Villamor. The silver lining to Bautista's rain cloud is that his collarbone should heal normally, without requiring surgery, in time for the start of the season.
This left Gabor Talmacsi sitting on top of the timesheets at the end of the day, a fraction ahead of Bautista. Reigning 125 World Champion Mike di Meglio was third quickest, 2/10ths slower than Bautista, while Hector Faubel was the fastest of the Honda men, all still slower than the Aprilias.
In the 125 class, it was once again Julian Simon who dominated proceedings, the Aspar Aprilia rider finishing ahead of fellow Spaniard Sergio Gadea. Britain's Bradley Smith finished third, 4/10ths behind his Aspar team mate Simon, and a fraction ahead of compatriot Scott Redding. American Cameron Beaubier improved again, setting the 7th fastest time of the day.
The rain in Spain falls mainly in January, as a rule, and this January is no exception. The weather on the Iberian peninsula is fairly miserable, and expected to get a lot worse. Which is unfortunate for the 125 and 250 field, who, after an extended test at Jerez, have now moved on to Valencia, where the weather has become fairly miserable.
In the 250 class, Alvaro Bautista continued where he left off, lapping over a second faster than the next quickest man Hector Faubel on the Honda. But the weather was such that the only man to put in a respectable number of laps was former 125 World Champion Gabor Talmacsi, as he continues to get used to the 250.
In the 125 class, Julian Simon was once again the fastest of the GP regulars, but he wasn't the fastest man on a 125. That honor went to Alberto Moncayo, who will be racing in the Spanish CEV championship next year. Moncayo worked hard to set the fastest time though, putting in a Hayden-like 84 laps, where most of the other riders were content to put in just a score of laps or so. Of the GP regulars, Esteve Rabat was 2nd fastest, ahead of Scott Redding.
Testing is due to continue tomorrow, as is the awful weather.
Circuit record: 2007, Mika Kallio, KTM, 1'35.659
A lack of oversight has been blamed by many for the outbreak of the financial crisis, and in response, there has been a deafening clamor for a vast tightening of the rules. As a major victim of the credit crunch, MotoGP has joined in, with an almost unceasing stream of proposals for new rules all aimed at cutting costs and saving the sport.
Along with the more straightforward cost-cutting measures reported yesterday, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has also put forward a series of proposals aimed at assisting the satellite teams to attract both sponsors and talent. According to GPOne.com, he presented these proposals to the managers of the satellite teams (all except for the Nieto brothers, who run Sete Gibernau's team) in Bologna on Tuesday.
The most significant change proposed is the institution of a separate championship for the satellite teams. The championship would have an official status, with its own podium ceremony at every race and a separate team championship as well. The winner of the title would be able to call himself World Champion. The aim is to give the satellite teams more exposure, as under the current rules, their chances at a podium - let alone a championship - are very slim indeed. By setting up a separate championship and a separate podium ceremony, Ezpeleta hopes to make satellite teams more attractive for potential sponsors.
The World Superbike tests at Portugal's Portimao circuit last week were more than just the first opportunity for the World Superbike and World Supersport riders to take to the track this year, it also marked the official opening of the 2009 World Superbike season. To mark that fact, InFront Motor Sports CEO Paolo Flammini spoke to journalists at the launch to present the riders and teams officially. During the presentation, he also shared some of his thoughts on the future of the series, and its relationship with MotoGP.
Writing for the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, veteran World Superbike reporter Guy Ritchie reports that Flammini told the press he did not believe that the contest for TV audiences was between World Superbikes and MotoGP, but rather between motorcycle racing and other sports, such as Formula 1 and soccer. What was important was for both series was to work together to grow the popularity of the sport in general, rather than fight each other.
Having said that, however, Flammini then went on to address the new Moto2 class, and on the subject of the new 600cc four-stroke class due to replace the 250s, he was a good deal less conciliatory. InFront Motor Sports, Flammini said, has the exclusive rights to motorcycle racing with production equipment, and they were prepared to defend their rights. But they will have nothing to complain about if the Moto2 class is not based on equipment derived from production bikes.
"It's in the hands of the FIM," Flammini said. But at the same time, he pointed to the case of WCM as an example of what he expects. "In the case of WCM, the FIM gave a clear interpretation of this concept," Flammini told the press. "The FIM disqualified the WCM because it had an engine partially derived from a production motor, despite using a fully prototype chassis. This shows that in the past, the FIM has ruled that a motorcycle with a prototype chassis and a production engine is not a prototype."
The MotoGP season resumes in earnest next week, when most of the riders will take to the track at the first official test of 2009 at Sepang in Malaysia. But while the fans will be concentrating on the action on track, carefully scrutinizing the times set to see how they can expect their favorite riders to fare, behind the scenes, according to GPOne.com, the manufacturers will be meeting to ratify a list of changes aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP in the next couple of years.
The main thrust of the changes is aimed at extending engine life, in the hope of reducing the maintenance costs for the highly-strung engines, which continue to spiral out of control. The changes will have two prongs: A reduction in track mileage on race weekends and testing; and a minimum engine life imposed by regulation.
First, the proposed changes as reported by GPOne.com:
- Practice sessions will be shortened by 15 minutes each, from 60 to 45 minutes. In effect, the riders will lose an entire 60 minute session;
- Warm up will be cut to just 10 minutes, instead of the current 25, and the practice start would be scrapped;
- A maximum of 9 engines per season, with penalties being imposed on engine failures, either by way of points, or by way of lost starting places;
- An end to post-race tests, scrapping the 5 days of testing already planned;
- Winter testing restricted to just 8 days, and the start of the winter test ban to be brought forward to November 11th, the day immediately following the Valencia tests. The ban would end on January 20th, as has always been the case.
After weeks of persistent rumors that Suzuki would be pulling out of MotoGP, confirmation has finally come Japan that the bikes will be on the grid in 2009. Talking to Matthew Birt of Motorcycle News, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning said that "senior management" within Suzuki had given the green light to the project for 2009.
Denning also told MCN that Suzuki was not the kind of company which would renege on its contracts with its riders and with Dorna, and even if circumstances had forced them to consider such a move, a decision would not have been made so late. "If Suzuki had seriously thought about that option I’m sure it would have been done in a way that wasn’t at the end of January when we are just about to leave to start winter testing in Sepang," he said to MCN.
There was still no official news about the Rizla sponsorship, however. Denning would only say that the deadline by which a decision must be made was fast approaching, and that by mid-February, they would be able to make an announcement. But the longer the announcement is in coming, the more likely it is that Rizla will be pulling out. Rumors of Rizla's withdrawal have been floating round the paddock since the end of last year, and as we reported yesterday, the Italian media is reporting the loss of Rizla's sponsorship as fact.
The final day of testing at Jerez for the junior classes in MotoGP showed the same pattern as the past two days, and the same names at the top of the timesheets. Once again, Alvaro Bautista and Julian Simon set the fastest times, the two Aspar riders lapping under the existing lap records in their respective classes.
Julian Simon did not have it all his own way in the 125 class though. At 2pm, Simon's Aspar team mate Bradley Smith was firmly ensconced at the top of the timesheets, and only relinquished his top spot later in the afternoon. Smith finished the day second, ahead of Sandro Cortese and Marc Marquez. Britain's Scott Redding finished 8th, dropping down the field from the earlier two days. The USA's Cameron Beaubier, on the other hand, managed to climb a place to 11th. More impressively, the American rookie took a second off his lap time every single day.
In the 250 class, Bautista ruled once again unopposed, ahead of Mike di Meglio. The reigning 125cc champion was very impressive over the three day test, cutting two and a half seconds off his time over the course of three days. Di Meglio finished ahead of Team Scot's veteran 250 rider Hiro Aoyama aboard a Honda, and fellow 250cc rookie Gabor Talmacsi.