Cal Crutchlow was the fastest of the World Supersport riders in the first session of free practice at Misano, the young Briton learning his way around the track very quickly. He put his Yamaha ahead of the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki of Joan Lascorz, the Spaniard having been fast all throughout the session.
Kenan Sofuoglu confirmed his return to form, setting the 3rd fastest time, and being close to the top for most of the session. Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty was 4th fastest and the last man inside a second. Laverty took time getting up to speed, but was among the front runners as the session entered the final 20 minutes.
The session was halted for an extended period with one third of the session gone, after Garry McCoy blew up the engine of his Triumph and oiled the track. He later blew a second engine, but this time, without causing the session to be interrupted.
Results of the FP1 session for the World Supersport session:
Ben Spies led the first session of free practice at Misano for the World Superbike class, but he took his time to get there. The Ten Kate Honda riders led the way early, all three sitting atop the timesheets at the halfway mark, but Michel Fabrizio, Nori Haga and Ben Spies gradually caught up. Spies finally took top spot at the end of the session, with a couple of very fast laps.
Gregorio Lavilla made an instant impression on the Guandalini Ducati, finishing 4th quickest. Americans Jamie Hacking and John Hopkins made a quiet return to the series, finishing 22nd and 19th respectively. The first session of qualifying takes place later this afternoon.
Results of the first session of free practice at Misano for World Superbikes:
The World Superbike circus heads off to Italy this weekend, to a part of the country which might almost be regarded as "enemy" heartland. For the region around the Misano circuit, the site of this weekends races, is home to a veritable horde of MotoGP, 250cc and 125cc racers - Valentino Rossi, Mattia Pasini, Marco Melandri, Marco Simoncelli, the list goes on and on.
But World Superbikes has a strong history and a strong place at Misano. For a start, it hosts the World Ducati Week, when the Bologna factory organizes that event. As a consequence, it is very much a Ducati track, and over the years, Ducatis have taken the top spot in 26 out of the 34 races run here, with all of the great names of Ducati World Superbikes winning here: Troy Bayliss, Carl Fogarty, Ben Bostrom, Ruben Xaus, Pier Francesco Chili, Regis Laconi.
So normally, you might expect the odds to be stacked in favor of the Xerox Ducati pairing of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio. But while Ducati may have an outstanding record here, both Haga and Fabrizio have been pretty dismal at Misano. Of the 18 races that Haga has contested here, he has only been on the podium 3 times, and is yet to win at the circuit. Fabrizio's record is even worse: the Italian has only finished 2 of the World Superbike 6 races he has started in at the track on the Adriatic coast, the only bright spot being the Superstock race he won here in 2003.
The omens are not good for the Xerox Ducati team, and this couldn't come at a worse time for them. Prior to the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, Haga had a very comfortable lead of 85 points over team mate Fabrizio, and 88 points over his chief rival for 2009, Yamaha's Ben Spies. But a dire weekend in Utah - a reflection of his 2008 race there - left Haga battered and bruised, and giving up 35 points from his lead.
Dorna, the body responsible for organizing, promoting and marketing the MotoGP series, has traditionally done a fantastic job in selling the series to television broadcasters, making the series the second biggest form of motor racing on TV, behind only Formula One, with TV viewing figures not far off the numbers for F1, and hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the sport online. Unsurprisingly, Dorna has come to think of its job as selling TV broadcast rights.
The tragic consequence of this concentration on old media is that they have singularly failed to grok the internet, as the expression has it. To Dorna, the internet is a threat, a force they can neither understand nor control, and what's worse, a medium without an obvious method of generating an income from. Exacerbating the problem is the rise of peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent and video sharing websites like Youtube. Torrents of MotoGP races appear online within minutes of the events finishing, while clips of the most exciting and controversial parts of MotoGP races likewise flood onto Youtube almost immediately after they happen.
Youtube, in particular, has been a target of Dorna, the site's reputation for taking material subject to copyright claims down first, then asking questions about it later - effectively reversing the burden of proof - making Dorna's job a lot easier. Videos of MotoGP footage on Youtube tend to disappear within a few days of going up, with Dorna firing off takedown notices at a vast rate.
The reasoning behind the heavy-handed action is simple, and to some extent understandable. Dorna earns many millions of dollars in revenue from TV broadcasters, who do not take kindly to seeing the material they paid so heavily for being available online for free. But what is interesting about the blocked videos on Youtube is that the copyright claims are all issued by Dorna, rather than the companies actually broadcasting the material. Footage can be found on Youtube from the German broadcaster DSF, the Italian broadcasters Italia 1 and Mediaset, the BBC, Eurosport, in its many national incarnations, but each time these videos are removed, it is always at the behest of Dorna, not the broadcaster.
This heavy-handedness is pointless, foolish and self-defeating. The pointlessness of taking down the videos is obvious from the fact that despite the long and growing list of takedowns issued, a 1 minute search turned up 20 other versions of the race still online, from radio commentary versions with stills, videos of people's home TVs showing the broadcast, high-quality wide-screen versions of the last few laps, and even a clip of the big screens at the track showing the final laps.
There's a host of talented rookies scratching at the gate of the MotoGP paddock, and the veterans are getting nervous. Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista are all tipped to enter MotoGP next year, and with the number of available seats unlikely to increase much above the existing 18 (or 19, depending on how you count), the series' current crop of underperformers are looking around for fallback positions.
Right now, their prospects look brightest in the World Superbike paddock, and so the WSBK paddock will be welcoming a couple of extra guests this weekend, in the form of Carlo Pernat and Roger Burnett. Not names the casual fan may be all too familiar with, but key players in MotoGP nonetheless. Pernat manages a large stable of top Italian talent, including Loris Capirossi, Marco Simoncelli, Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa, while Burnett is the personal manager of British rider James Toseland. While Capirossi looks relatively safe at Suzuki, and Simoncelli is a dead cert to move up to MotoGP, the prospects of Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa are far from certain, and Toseland has come in for a barrage of criticism after his dismal start to the season.
The fact that Red Bull is a huge sponsor of all types of motorsports, adventure sports and other forms of extreme sports needs no explanation. So successful has their involvement been in fact, that a host of other energy drink companies have followed their example, and motorcycle racing paddocks all around the world are now awash with sweet sticky taurine-and-caffeine-based beverages.
As the original, Red Bull has always been the largest, and its involvement in MotoGP has traditionally reflected that. The company sponsors both the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca and the Indianapolis Grand Prix, riders including Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, the KTM 125cc team, and of course the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the feeder class for young talent riding identical 125cc KTMs.
But recently, Red Bull's supremacy has been challenged in the paddock. Their US-based rivals Monster have made a splash in MotoGP recently, sponsoring first John Hopkins, then the Kawasaki MotoGP team, and this year, the Tech 3 Yamaha team. The Californian energy drink company then pulled off the biggest coup of all, signing MotoGP superstar and marketing machine Valentino Rossi, reputedly paying over USD 3 million for the right to appear on the chin bar and side of Rossi's helmet, and on Rossi's cap.
Now, according to the ever well-informed Italian website GPOne.com, Red Bull are ready to strike back. The Austrian energy drinks company want to get into MotoGP more explicitly, and are looking for a team to sponsor. According to GPOne.com, Red Bull had been in talks with Ducati, first to sponsor the factory team, and when that failed, as sponsor of the satellite Pramac team, a deal which then fell through over the choice of manager.
A motorcycle racer must possess many qualities, both physical and mental, to be successful. They must have instantaneous reflexes; a gyroscope-like sense of balance; and a tough, wiry physique combining strength with low body weight. They must have the endurance of a triathlete combined with the fast-twitch muscle speed of an Olympic sprinter.
Racers also need the intelligence to cope with the huge amounts of data thrown at them, by the track, the bikes, the engineers. They need to be able to memorize a circuit down to the location of every bump in every corner, each of which could unsettle the bike and cause a crash. They need the courage to take to the track despite injury and push to the very limit, facing the knowledge that more pain lies lurking at every corner if ambition should tempt them to violate the laws of physics. And above all, they need the dogged determination and single-mindedness to put in the hours and hours of work needed to achieve all of this, day in and day out, rain or shine, come holidays or high water.
But the prime character trait that all motorcycle racers must have, the one thing they all share, is the will to win. The overwhelming desire to beat your rivals, to prove your superiority, is what drives racers to put in the years of hard work needed to acquire those other vital qualities. The will to win - for some a burning lust for victory, for others a mortal fear of defeat - is fundamental, and is the single most important quality which distinguishes champions from also-rans.
That desire for victory was being flaunted like an aging tycoon's trophy wife on the grid at Barcelona. Dani Pedrosa was attempting to ride in front of his home crowd despite the searing pain from the fractured femur he suffered at Mugello, only risky painkilling injections making his participation possible. Jorge Lorenzo made his intentions clear by turning up with his bike, helmet and leathers covered in FC Barcelona regalia. The Spanish soccer club had just pulled off the "triple", winning the European Champions League and Spanish League titles, as well as the Spanish Copa del Rey cup, and Lorenzo's regalia were an explicit reference to his intention to take a "triple" of his own - victory at his home Grand Prix would make it a trio of wins this season.
Then there was Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been incredibly successful at the Montmelo circuit, finishing on the podium in every race here since 1997. But a podium would not be enough: Rossi came to Barcelona trailing both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner in the points, but more importantly, having only one win to his rivals' two apiece. The Doctor knows what victory tastes like at Barcelona, having won here 8 times previously, including 5 in the premier class, and another win here was surely possible.
Much has been said on the subject of the need for more machines on the MotoGP grid, but despite all the plans and hopes of the FIM and Dorna, the entry remains stubbornly close to the 18 bikes believed to be the minimum number guaranteed by Dorna as part of the deal with the FIM to organize the championship. Dorna has consistently pressured all of the manufacturers to provide more bikes, pressure which the manufacturers stubbornly continue to resist.
Recently, more hopeful noises had been emerging from the MotoGP paddock, with hints that Yamaha might be persuaded to up its involvement in MotoGP and put more bikes on the grid. The rumors gained some crediblity from the public pronouncements of Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team, who claimed that he would definitely be in MotoGP in 2010. Aspar has long been linked with the Yamaha team, an association that Martinez has hinted at previously.
Today, however, all such hopes were dashed. Fiat Yamaha Managing Director Lin Jarvis told the British weekly Motorcycle News that Yamaha would only be providing 4 bikes in MotoGP for the foreseeable future. Jarvis admitted that discussions had taken place with Aspar about a 5th bike, and also that Dorna had put pressure on them to provide more machines, but Yamaha declined the opportunity.
Testing has started in the first of the extremely restricted test programs, the amount of testing having been slashed for cost-cutting purposes over the winter. Dani Pedrosa is sitting out the test, preferring to rest in the hope that his injured femur will recover in time for Assen, while the Tech 3 team are also absent.
Andrea Dovizioso is testing the new chassis for HRC, while Ducati is testing a new rear shock, the carbon fiber swingarm and some electronics updates, as well as a revised tail section which lifts the seat higher.
Yamaha has little to test, and so Jorge Lorenzo is mainly working on refining setup. According to MCN, Valentino Rossi is due test a revised version of the M1 engine, designed to last for two races, ready for the new regulations which come into effect after Brno. From then, the riders will have 5 engines to last 7 races, and Yamaha need to ensure that the new engine has not sacrificed performance for durability. As of 1pm, Rossi had yet to take to the track, though. Rossi is notorious for his hatred of early mornings, and will probably wait until the afternoon to make an appearance.
Update - Valentino Rossi took to the track during the afternoon session, run between 2pm and 6pm, but is without Jerry Burgess, who is headed back to Australia for the funeral of his mother, who died on Saturday. One incident of note was the consequences of a crash by Pramac Ducati's Niccolo Canepa: The Italian had crashed going very slowly (about 40 km/h, according to GPONe.com) while testing the carbon fiber swingarm. As a result of that crash, the swingarm cracked, underlining the risks of using CF as a structural material. However, both Canepa and Kallio were about half a second quicker with the new CF swingarm than they were on the aluminium one yesterday, so its benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Final times (courtesy of GPOne.com)
The dramatic last lap at the Catalunya Grand Prix will be talked about for many years to come. And it's a lap that's worth watching again and again, so here it is for your enjoyment:
Result of the 2009 Catalunya MotoGP race:
Race results and summary of 250cc race at Catalunya: