Result of the warm up for the MotoGP class:
Result of the warm up session for the 250cc class:
Result of the warm up practice for the 125cc class:
Qualifying for Sunday's Catalunya Grand Prix took place in intense heat, making the conditions difficult for both riders and bikes. The riders were thankful that this was the first outing for Bridgestone's asymmetric dual compound tires, for the combination of very high track temperatures and the Barcelona track's endless right handers made a very hard compound necessary on the right-hand side of the tire, but a relatively softer compound on the left-hand side.
The heat meant that the early running was made by the riders on the hardest of the tires available, the extra-hard rear and the hard front, the compounds the teams are almost certain to be using in the race tomorrow. It was Jorge Lorenzo who took practice for the race to the greatest extreme, the Spaniard starting out the session with a monster run of 17 laps, over two thirds of race distance.
It wasn't just a long run, however, Lorenzo also demonstrated he was on race pace, taking the top spot after just a couple of laps, briefly ceding it to Andrea Dovizioso, then snatching it back, the first rider to lap under 1'43, with a time of 1'42.990. A lap later, Lorenzo took another two tenths off his time, setting out a marker of where race pace will be, and following it up with a long string of laps in the high 1'42s and low 1'43s.
The only person capable of following was Lorenzo's Fiat Yamaha team mate, Valentino Rossi. Rossi too ran low 1'43s, taking a provisional 2nd place on the grid with a quarter of the session gone. The other candidates for victory tomorrow were all running mid-1'43s, a couple of tenths off Rossi's pace.
The advent of Gabor Talmacsi to the Scot Honda team led to an avalanche of speculation that this would be the end of current rider Yuki Takahashi's MotoGP career. The two men have a single bike each at this weekend's Catalunya Grand Prix, which works fine when the sun is shining, but would make a flag-to-flag race in mixed conditions an impossible challenge. This bald fact prompted speculation that there would only be room for one rider in the team, and that rider would be the one who could bring money in in the form of sponsorship.
But in an informal press conference, Cirano Mularoni, boss of the Scot Honda team, denied that Takahashi would be given his marching orders at the end of this weekend. "Our plan is to run two riders for the rest of the season. We will need two more bikes for this, but of course they will be difficult to obtain so late after the start of the year," Mularoni said, according to MotoGP.com.
Honda has always denied it was capable of providing any more bikes, and after a winter of cost-cutting measures, the mood is not one of expansion. There is, however, an overriding reason why this time, things could be different. The Japanese factories - with Honda at their helm - have long ensured that MotoGP has a Japanese rider in the series. If Takahashi were to be forced out, this would leave MotoGP without a regular Japanese rider for the first time since 1991. This is unlikely to be acceptable to Honda, as the factory team with the strongest ties back to Japan, and it is not unthinkable that Honda might just step up to provide the extra equipment and keep Takahashi in the series.
By Assen, we should know how successful that attempt has been. And with the wildly variable weather Holland has had for the past few weeks, varying between pleasantly warm and cold and very, very wet, a flag-to-flag race is a very likely scenario at Assen.
Both the Italian and the Spanish press are known for being quick to jump the gun, and this seems to be the case with the story in the Gazzetta dello Sport that we reported on earlier, which claimed that Marco Simoncelli had signed a contract with HRC for the next two years. This afternoon at Barcelona, both Fausto Gresini and Marco Simoncelli denied that any such contract had been signed, though both men admitted that talks had taken place.
Talking to GPOne.com, Simoncelli said, "I've only talked to Gresini, not to anyone from Japan," while Fausto Gresini told Italian television "Obviously we are interested, and we are working on that project." But Gresini denied any deal had already been done: "It would be great news if true, but it still can't be confirmed by me."
Simoncelli confirmed his intentions to move up to MotoGP next year, though, and that he had several options he could pursue. "It's true that I want to go to MotoGP, and that I will do it with Yamaha or Honda, but at the moment, I have nothing signed," he told GPOne.com.
Results of the 250cc Qualifying Practice at Barcelona:
The three hot properties all tipped to make the jump up to MotoGP next season are making the established riders nervous. Most of the worry has so far been concentrated in the Tech 3 Yamaha garage, with both the American World Superbike rider Ben Spies and the Italian 250 champion Marco Simoncelli being expected to be filling seats there next year. But at least one of either Colin Edwards and James Toseland may be able to sleep a little easier this weekend, as the competition may not be as fierce as they had feared.
The Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that far from going to Yamaha, Marco Simoncelli has signed a two-year contract with Honda to ride in MotoGP. With the new rule preventing rookies from going straight to a factory team, Simoncelli would have to spend 2010 with the Gresini Honda team, presumably as the recipient of Toni Elias' factory-spec RC212V. For 2011, Simoncelli could then make the step up to the full factory Repsol Honda team, if his results are good enough.
Such a move seems to be entirely logical, but it remains a risk. Since the switch to the 800cc formula, Honda has failed to dominate, as they did with the 990s and the 500cc bikes before that. The victims of these problems have been the riders on the satellite teams, with HRC understandably concentrating all their efforts on the factory teams to the detriment of the satellite riders. This year, Toni Elias has suffered exactly the same fate, with the Gresini team yet to receive updated parts for his ostensibly factory-spec Honda. If Honda finds itself in the same position again next year, there are no guarantees that Simoncelli coud suffer exactly the same fate.
Results of the MotoGP Qualifying Practice at Catalunya:
Results and summary of Qualifying for the 125cc class at the Catalunya Grand Prix:
Alvaro Bautista was fastest in the final session of free practice for the 250cc class at Catalunya, retaking the lead in the final seconds of the session. Bautista pushed Mattia Pasini, the previous leader, down into 2nd place, after the Italian had looked like holding the top spot to the end. Marco Simoncelli finished 3rd fastest, ahead of Hector Barbera.
Fastest man from Friday, Alex Debon couldn't match the pace of the front runners, finishing the session in 6th, ahead of Mike di Meglio, with title contender Hiroshi Aoyama only 7th at the track that is nearest to his Barcelona home.
With practice over, the grid will now be set during this afternoon's qualifying session.
Results of the 250cc FP2 session at Catalunya:
The Moto2 class received a veritable avalance of entries, as the announcement by the FIM that 47 teams had submitted entries for 91 riders made clear. The grid was never going to be big enough for all of those entries, with only 34 starting places planned for the series, and at Barcelona, the Selection Committee (comprised of Dorna, the FIM and IRTA) met to whittle down the entries to something more manageable.
But the parties involved clearly wanted to keep hold of the enthusiasm for the class, and so at the meeting in Barcelona, they decided to expand the field to allow 27 teams and 41 riders. A further 10 teams were placed on the reserve list, while 10 teams had their requests rejected. The teams now have until the Portuguese Grand Prix in early October to confirm their entries, including details of the team structure, the bikes and the riders. The teams will then face a further round of vetting based on these entries.
No details are yet available as to which teams have been accepted, and which turned down, but we shall bring you that news when we find out more. But given the size of the entries, it is likely that all of the MotoGP satellite teams, all of the current 250cc class teams, as well as a select few other teams are likely to be among the chosen few - or rather, the chosen many. The Moto2 grid will be one of the largest in international road racing, and much larger than the 250cc class has been for a long time.
Jorge Lorenzo destroyed the competition during the second session of free practice, with a final five minutes in which he smashed the race lap record and put in a run faster than anyone else on track. With nearly 5 minutes left in the session, Lorenzo first took pole from team mate Rossi, taking nearly 0.6 seconds off the Italian, then dropped under 1'42 with a lap of 1'41.899. To put that into perspective, last year, that time would have put the Spaniard in 7th place on the grid, ahead of 12 other riders all using the now abolished super-sticky qualifying tires.
Andrea Dovizioso set the 2nd fastest time, jumping ahead of Valentino Rossi in the final minutes of the session, though the Repsol Honda rider had been quick for much of practice. Rossi was left down in 3rd, just under a second slower than his team mate and now title rival Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi had taken the lead in the second half of the session, and led until usurped by his team mate.
Dani Pedrosa finished in 4th, the Spaniard managing his pain much better than yesterday, when he was well down the order. Pedrosa even led in the first half of practice, until Rossi took the top spot away.
Strange things happening over at Ducati, however. Casey Stoner was a lowly - for Stoner - 7th on the timesheets, and was never a factor, even spending a large part of FP2 outside the top 10. Likewise, Nicky Hayden's gains from yesterday seemed to have disappeared into thin air, languishing down in 17th place until the final minutes, when he leapt up the standings to eventually finish 10th. Hayden was once again not the second fastest Ducati, as Niccolo Canepa found a little something to take him up to 9th spot. The Pramac rider had been pretty fast all session, so it was a clear improvement.
Julian Simon's domination of practice continues in Catalunya, pretty much as it has done since the start of the season. Simon was 0.627 than the closest rider, Scott Redding, the British Blusens rider spoiling the Spanish party. Just 0.01 seconds behind Redding, KTM's Marc Marquez and the Aprilia of Nicolas Terol took 3rd and 4th respectively, despite being tied on time.
Bradley Smith set the 6th fastest time, behind championship rival Andrea Iannone, while the third British rider, Danny Webb, could only manage the 20th time, the De Graaf Aprilia rider in pain from a broken finger injured in a crash during yesterday's FP1 session. America's Cameron Beaubier was 18th fastest.
Result of the FP2 session for the 125cc class at Barcelona:
Here's a good way to start an argument, whether you're gathered over a few beers with some race-loving friends or on a internet message board or chat room. Just ask what the most important race in the world is. Within minutes, you'll have a list as long as your arm and a couple of violent disagreements to go with it, with everyone arguing the merits and faults of their own personal favorites.
Is it the Dakar, that ultimate test of man (or woman) and machine, pushing navigation skills, machine reliability and human endurance? Or perhaps it is the Monaco Formula 1 race, the event that is followed around the world, spreading the cult of motorized racing as entertainment to a global audience of casual viewers. How about the Le Mans 24 hour races, another event where either cars or motorcycles are pushed to the limits of their performance, and of their endurance, for 24 hours without rest, a real test of durability? Perhaps it's the Qatar MotoGP race, the race that marks the start of the MotoGP season, and the commencement of battle in motorcycle racing's premier class. Or maybe the Dutch TT at Assen, or the World Superbike round or Formula 1 race at Monza, putting motorcycle racing in its historical perspective. If history is the key, then surely the Isle of Man TT, the 102 year-old race around the Mountain Course, 37-odd miles of public roads. The track is too long for riders to memorize completely, and with long stretches where the bikes are held wide open over bumpy mountain roads, it tests both riders and machines to their limits.
But in my view, there can be only one answer to the question of which race is the most important in the world: The inaugural running of the TTXGP, the self-styled "world's first zero carbon, clean emission Grand Prix." The race, a single lap of the Isle of Man circuit, was held today, Friday, June 12th 2009, and was won by Rob Barber on the Team Agni bike, basically the skeleton of a Suzuki GSX-R 600 powered by a couple of Agni electric motors and 16 kWh of battery power, at an average speed of 87.434mph, or 140.711 km/h.
So why do I think that a two-wheeled golf buggy cruising around the Isle of Man just a smidgeon faster than a 1966 50cc Honda is the most important race in the world? Well, because unlike any other race currently being held, the TTXGP harks back to the very raison d'etre for racing: To improve the breed. MotoGP, World Superbikes, Formula One, Le Mans, Endurance racing; all have provided important advances for ordinary road users, and have helped push automotive technology forward on both two wheels and four. But the number of truly significant advances from these series has been dwindling for a long time now, with progress coming in the shape of ever-increasing refinement of existing concepts and ideas, rather than earth-shattering new ideas.