Alex Debon set the fastest time in the first session of free practice for the 250cc class at Barcelona, but he only did so in the last few seconds of the session. Debon had swapped the lead earlier in the session with Alvaro Bautista and Mattia Pasini, but the Spanish veteran eventually came out on top with his last-lap flyer.
Alvaro Bautista finished the day in 2nd, after showing strongly all through FP1, while Hiroshi Aoyama took the opposite approach, building pace slowly before eventually ending up in 3rd. Winner of the Mugello round Mattia Pasini rounds out the provisional front row. Bautista's main challenger for the title, Marco Simoncelli, could only manage the 7th fastest time, despite leading very early in the session.
Practice continues tomorrow.
Results of the 250cc FP1 session:
If there is one subject that will get MotoGP fans arguing, it is how much of Casey Stoner's success is down to his almost symbiotic relationship with the Ducati Desmosedici, and whether the Australian would be as fast on any other bike. Unfortunately for the fans, that questions looks like it will continue to go unanswered, as according to the German magazine Speedweek, Stoner is close to extending his current contract with Ducati for 2010.
According to the intervew in Speedweek, Stoner, together with his father and manager Colin, is close to reaching a deal which would see him stay with Ducati for next season. The deal would only be for one more season, though Stoner warns not to read too much into that. "I don't want to pin myself down contractually for any longer," Stoner reportedly told Speedweek.
Stoner's decision to stay with Ducati was not for a lack of interest from elsewhere, but the Australian made it plain that he has not forgotten past refusals. Both Honda and Yamaha declined to offer Stoner a factory bike at the end of the 2006 season, and that refusal still smarts with Stoner. "It's going to be quite a while before we're ready to talk to the people from Yamaha or Honda," Stoner told Speedweek.
That does not necessarily mean that Stoner will be staying with Ducati until the end of his career. "Nothing is forever," he said, but he added that he had no desire to switch either team or manufacturer. "I definitely want to win another title with Ducati," Stoner told Speedweek.
Valentino Rossi set the fastest time in a fascinating and surprising first session of free practice, but that was one of the least surprising aspects of the whole weekend. Rossi and Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo swapped the lead a number of times, but Rossi comfortably took the top spot by firing in an incredibly fast lap with 5 minutes of the session left. Lorenzo closed the gap in the final minutes, from half a second to just over 3/10ths, but could not match the Italian's pace. Casey Stoner was 3rd fastest, going fast despite a crash with a quarter of the session left, lowsiding out unhurt at the tight La Caixa corner.
A top 3 of Rossi, Lorenzo and Stoner is hardly a surprise, but behind them, things were hugely shaken up. Andrea Dovizioso in 4th is to be expected, but Randy de Puniet's 5th spot is an impressive showing on the LCR Honda, while Nicky Hayden's 6th fastest time is almost downright shocking. Prior to the MotoGP round at Barcelona, Hayden told the press that he would be trying a radically revised setup to his Ducati GP9, and it looks like it has worked. Hayden was well inside the top 10 for most of the session, and was seen with a broad smile on his face in the pits after the session, the first time that's happened for a long time. It's very early days to be passing judgment, but so far the changes seem to have worked for Hayden.
Loris Capirossi continued his run of decent form, finishing 7th ahead of Colin Edwards, while Edwards' Tech 3 Yamaha team mate James Toseland built on his strong result at Mugello, taking 10th place.
Julian Simon dominated the first session of free practice for the 125cc at Barcelona. Simon was quickest for most of the session, only briefly ceding the top of the timesheets to Marc Marquez and Nicolas Terol before snatching the fastest time back again. Fellow Spaniard and Aspar team mate Sergio Gadea was second, nearly half a second off, ahead of Nicolas Terol and Pol Espargaro.
Scott Redding was the first British rider in 8th, while Bradley Smith was 11th, just behind fellow title candidate Andrea Iannone in 10th. Danny Webb managed only the 21st fastest time, but had a nasty fall, which he got up from holding his wrist and looking in serious pain. Practice continues tomorrow morning.
After Gabor Talmacsi made the shock announcement prior to the Le Mans Grand Prix that he would not be riding for the Aspar team in the 250 class any longer, the rumors began about where the Hungarian would go for the rest of the season. There was no doubt that a rider as talented as the 2007 125cc World Champion would spend too long without a ride, but the question was, where? There were rumors of a ride in World Superbikes, as well as talk of the Hungarian taking the place of the injured Sete Gibernau, at least temporarily.
But the strongest rumor revolved around Team Scot Honda. After a brilliant 2008 season with Andrea Dovizioso at the helm, the team has been struggling badly, newly promoted Japanese rider Yuki Takahashi scrambling just to score points. The team has also been suffering with a lack of sponsorship, after Dovizioso jumped ship to join the factory Repsol Honda squad.
It turns out that there is no smoke without fire: Motorcycle News is reporting that Gabor Talmacsi will be riding for the Scot Honda squad at Barcelona, starting this afternoon. According to MCN, Talmacsi has only just been given clearance by HRC to use Takahashi's 2nd bike, and will make his MotoGP debut in this afternoon's first session of free practice at the Barcelona circuit. The report is confirmed by Talmacsi's name appearing on the official entry list for the MotoGP class at Catalunya.
The logic is simple: Team Scot needs funds, and as one of Hungary's biggest sports stars, Gabor Talmacsi will bring much needed cash into the team. And with the weather forecast to be clear skies all weekend long at Barcelona, the question of what to do in a wet race need not be addressed.
The Catalunya Grand Prix, to be held at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit, is one of the most anticipated events on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit, just a few kilometers outside Barcelona, Spain's second largest city, lies in the heart of Catalunya, the most industrious of Spain's autonomous regions and the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Three of the four Spanish riders currently in the MotoGP class are from within a thirty minute drive from the Montmelo circuit, Dani Pedrosa almost able to see the track from the window of his apartment.
And it's not just the riders. Dorna - or at least, the part of Dorna that concerns itself with MotoGP - has its offices in Barcelona. Spain's motorcycle industry, such as it is, is still based around Barcelona, as were the historic brands such as Ossa and Bultaco which were once produced not far from the city. The city is home to several of the country's major motorcycle magazines, and the surrounding region is studded with the homes of racers old and new.
So for a huge section of Spain's multitude of race fans, the Catalunya Grand Prix is their nearest race. Last year over 110,000 turned out on race day, and this year is likely to be the same, recession or no recession. All of Spain has been hit incredibly hard by the economic crisis, though the problem has been the bursting of the housing bubble rather than problems in the financial sector. But while the Catalonians have a reputation for being more serious and more dour than the rest of Spain, the fans at Barcelona still know how to throw a party. The atmosphere may not reach the levels of abandon that you see at Jerez, where the Andalusian fans party as if there's no tomorrow; at the Montmelo circuit, the fans are prepared to accept the possible existence of tomorrow, though more in theory than in practice.
The fans may be looking forward to the MotoGP round at Barcelona, and a chance to forget about their problems, however briefly, but even their anticipation cannot match that of the riders and teams. The irony is, though, that while the teams are looking forward to race day on Sunday, the riders cannot wait until the Monday after the race. Not to relax after having survived the second of the three Spanish Grand Prix, but rather so that they can get to work testing.
For the Monday after the race sees the first day of MotoGP's very limited testing program, most testing having been scrapped in an attempt to save money. Together with the reduction in practice from four sessions to just three, all of the teams have been crying out for a chance to spend some time seriously evaluating new parts for the factory teams, or just running through setup options trying to find the best setup for the satellite teams.
Of all the riders desperate for test time, none has longed for a chance to do some uninterrupted testing more than Nicky Hayden. The 2006 World Champion has been suffering with the Ducati curse, an affliction which struck down Marco Melandri last year. For the Ducati Desmosedici continues to be impossible to ride fast for everyone but Hayden's Marlboro Ducati team mate Casey Stoner, it seems. Just like last year, the bikes regularly split the field, Casey Stoner leading at the front, while Hayden, Sete Gibernau and the Pramac Ducatis bring up the rear.
On the eve of the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona comes disturbing news from Spain. Dani Amatriain, the former manager of Jorge Lorenzo and the Espargaro brothers Pol and Aleix, has been arrested by local police for issuing a series of death threats, for extortion and for obstruction of justice. The former racer had been sacked by Lorenzo in October of last year, and had withdrawn from the Grand Prix scene, saying at the time that he would have to "consider, analyze and reflect on my next steps in all aspects of my life, both professionally and my family life."
But it seems that Amatriain had a difficult time letting go. Amatriain is alleged to have threatened Jorge Lorenzo, the Espargaro brothers and several other Grand Prix riders with death and physical harm, to have demanded financial compensation, and to have demanded that certain riders sign with specific teams. The allegations were that the Spaniard had been making the threats for several months, but that the threats had intensified over the past few weeks. Amatriain is alleged to have made the threats both by telephone, in calls made in the very early hours of the morning, and also face to face. According to reports in the Spanish press, Amatriain spent the night in prison, before being released after questioning.
There are two things that people missed the most after the demise of the 500cc two strokes, and their replacement with the 990cc four-stroke MotoGP bikes: The noise and the smell. You can still experience the sweet smell of burning two-stroke oil by standing as close as possible to the track as the 250 and 125 classes howl by, but as fantastic as the smaller bikes sound, they're still no match for the crackle of the 500cc four-cylinder two-stroke machines.
Fortunately, Honda have a solution: On their historic website, they are offering brief sound clips of the championship-winning Honda NSR500 machine. The files are in MP3 format, and can be downloaded to a modern mobile phone for use as a ringtone, for example, or just for the sheer enjoyment of hearing an old NSR500 on full song. The NSR500 MP3 files can be downloaded from this page on the Honda website, part of the larger NSR500 history site at Honda.
The demise of the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team left Barry Veneman in a difficult situation. Veneman has very strong links with Suzuki, having worked for the company in Holland for several years, as well as having ridden for Suzuki in World Supersport and the Dutch ONK national championship since 2004, limiting his options for finding a ride for the rest of the season. Hoegee Suzuki were the only team running Suzukis in the World Supersport series, meaning that Veneman would either have to switch series or leave the Suzuki connection behind.
Veneman's name had been linked to a number of rides: Alstare Brux Suzuki in World Superbikes, as well as Crescent Suzuki in the British Superbike series; but there had also been rumors linking the Dutchman to the Spanish Holiday Gym team in World Supersport, riding a Yamaha.
But word is now emerging that Veneman is to stay in World Supersport after all. According to the well-informed Dutch magazine MOTO73, the Ten Kate Honda team will be fielding a third Honda CBR600RR for Veneman for the rest of the season. No further details are currently available, but this would not be the first time that the Ten Kate team fielded three bikes. In 2007, Andrew Pitt was given an extra bike for the Assen round of World Supersport, after having replaced Sebastien Charpentier in the previous race.
After Dani Pedrosa fractured the greater trochanter of his right thigh during practice at Mugello, his chances of racing at his home Grand Prix at Barcelona looked to be slim. But after a week of complete rest, things have turned around for the Spaniard, and he announced today that he will be racing at Barcelona after all.
Pedrosa was examined by Dr. Mir and Dr. Ribas at the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona today, and after a trial with painkilling injections, was given the all clear to race in the Catalunya Grand Prix. In a press release issued by the Repsol Honda team, he said "I'm really looking forward to my home Grand Prix even though the build-up has hardly been perfect. For the past week I've just been resting and that's pretty boring. But today I went to see the doctor and the results of the new scan have been quite positive. They decided to give me a trial pain-killing injection so that I can judge how it will feel ahead of the weekend. And today's scan really helped them pinpoint the best location for the injection so it can have the maximum effect, which was something they weren't able to do in Mugello. The feeling was good, so it looks like I'll have an injection before riding each day."
"Obviously it's still not going to be comfortable riding the bike but I'm feeling positive that we can go into the weekend and aim for the best possible result. In spite of the problems, my motivation for my home race is still the same. I've been waiting for this race for a long time and I want to get the best possible result for all the fans who will be there to support me. I hope I can give them a good weekend," Pedrosa said.
Last year's Red Bull US GP was unforgettable, featuring one of the most incredible races of the modern era, as Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner slugged it out in a no-holds-barred scrap for glory. This year promises to be just as good a race, but an even bigger event. The race has been scheduled to be held on the July 4th weekend, making this year's US GP a huge festival of racing.
Part of the celebrations will help do some good too. On July 2nd, Riders for Health, the organization set up by former GP star Randy Mamola together with Barry and Andrea Coleman, will be holding the Day of Stars, a unique opportunity to spend some time with some of the greatest names in motorcycle racing history. For a contribution of just USD 500, you get the chance to take a motorcycle tour of the scenic Carmel Valley wine country, have lunch with Randy Mamola, Wayne Rainey, Don Emde and a host of current and former GP stars and other celebrities, take part in the Parade Lap around the spectacular Laguna Seca circuit, and then take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the MotoGP paddock.
The Day of Stars is a chance to spend an unforgettable day with the people at the heart of MotoGP, while at the same time, doing a huge amount of good in helping provide primary health care to Africa's more remote regions. There are still a limited number of tickets available, and so you'll have to be quick if you are to join the select few who will be spending time with MotoGP's biggest names. You can find out more about the Day of Stars from the Riders for Health Day of Stars website, and you can book tickets through the Laguna Seca website, ticket code BB19WRFH-MC. Better hurry, before they're all gone.
After two promising years in the 125cc class, young American rider Stevie Bonsey was set to make his debut in the 250 class at the start of the 2009 season. Tragically, the financial crisis put an end to that, his Aprilia Madrid team forced to withdraw at the start of the season. Since then, Bonsey has been sat on the sidelines of Grand Prix racing, keeping his racing eye in by competing in flat track events back in the US.
Fortunately, Bonsey has been thrown a lifeline. The American will return to the 250 class, this time aboard an Aprilia LE with the Milar - Juegos Lucky team. Bonsey will be joining the Milar - Juegos Lucky team for the remainder of the season, along with half of the Aprilia Madrid team. Though the step marks an important return for Bonsey, too much should not be expected of the American, as he returns to racing on an Aprilia LE, with a massive power and handling disadvantage over the factory-spec RSAs. And so far, the Milar- Juegos Lucky team has failed to make much of an impact, their best results a pair of 18th places for Spanish rider Aitor Rodriguez. Rodriguez, currently injured, will be losing his place to Bonsey, though the native of Madrid has been offered a wildcard ride by the team as compensation.
Though Bonsey's results are likely to be modest at best for 2009, his move to the Milar - Juegos Lucky team is in part a strategic move. The team has already submitted an entry for the new Moto2 class, due to replace the 250s from next season. According to Motoworld.es, the rider they submitted the entry for is Stevie Bonsey. At Barcelona, the team will find out whether their submission has been successful or not, as the FIM is due to announce the list of entries which have been accepted for the new class at the Catalunya Grand Prix.
Those worried by the current state of the MotoGP championship - dwindling grids, rocketing costs and a barrage of rule changes aimed at "fixing" the problem - can be comforted by the state of Formula 1. While overtaking became increasingly rare in F1, the racing in MotoGP got better and better, until the pointless rule change reducing capacity from 990 to 800cc effectively killed off the racing. But as long as F1 remained as processional as it had been for the past 10 years or so, MotoGP had nothing to fear, it was felt.
Then, with the onset of the topsy-turvy 2009 season, the on-track action in Formula 1 took a dramatic turn for the better, with overtaking making a big comeback. Tragically for F1, though fortunately for the MotoGP series, the off-track arguments have been tearing the world's premier motorsport apart just as the on-track antics are making it a sport worth watching again. The teams and bodies that run the sport are engaged in an all-out war for control, with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley attempting to impose a GBP 40 million budget cap on the teams, after first attempting to instigate a two-tier system of technical rules for capped and uncapped teams.
The dispute has seen FOTA, the fledgling Formula One Teams Association, set up to allow the teams to form a common front against Max Mosely of the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management, threaten to pull out of the 2010 Formula 1 championship, and set up a championship of their own.
After months of difficulty, Donington Park's difficulties appear to be at an end. The circuit killed two birds with one stone today, announcing both that it had passed the FIM inspection ahead of this months World Superbike and next month's MotoGP round, and that the track owners had reached a settlement with DVLL, the company running the track.
The track had been facing scrutiny after a new paddock access tunnel was put in place for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, due to take place in 2010, creating problems with run off. A number of events had been canceled and postponed this year, with some events taking place under a yellow flag at the section around McLeans. But a visit by FIM Safety Officer Claude Danis confirmed that the necessary changes had been made to restore run off between McLeans and Coppice. With the FIM licence now granted, the planned rounds of World Superbikes and MotoGP can go ahead unhindered.
In a press release issued by Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the circuit CEO Simon Gillett said, "This is great news for everybody at Donington Park and all of the fans. The ticket sales for both of our world class motorcycle racing events have been extremely positive and we'd like to thank the fans who have remained loyal and believed in us for committing to buying tickets. We have already sold 50 per cent more tickets than we had at this time last year for World Superbikes and the sales of our MotoGP tickets have remained at the same level. We've also now opened up the opportunity for the on the day tickets for both events, which should encourage more fans to come and witness safe, enjoyable and exciting two-wheel racing at one of the UK's premier motorsport circuits. I'd like to thank the FIM for the positive working relationship that we have so far enjoyed and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future."
Melissa Paris' participation in the World Supersport race during the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah generated a lot of interest in women racing, and attracted plenty of press coverage. Once at the race, Paris performed pretty well, improving her lap time by some 3 seconds from the first session of practice on Friday to qualifying on Saturday. Sadly, her race was not so successful, a mechanical issue sidelining Paris on lap 7.
If you'd like to hear more of how her weekend went, then you're in luck. The stalwarts of American roadracing, Dean Adams and Jim McDermott from Superbikeplanet.com, interviewed Melissa Paris after the race, and put the interview online as part of their regular Soupkast podcast. The interview is a fascinating view into what it takes to put on a World Supersport ride, the practicalities involved, and just what and how much you can learn from the experience. You can either subscribe to the Soupkast podcast here, or download the MP3 file directly here.