A few weeks ago, there was a flurry of excitement over the prospect of a brand new team and a brand new bike entering MotoGP, when the French site Moto Caradisiac announced that Gil Motorsport boss Jean Christophe Ponsson was about to enter the series. The team would be run using the existing Gil Motorsport structure - previously running in the World Supersport series - and field a new machine currently being designed by Eskil Suter, powered by a brand new V4 powerplant that is said to produce a class-leading 240 bhp.
There was reason to be a little sceptical about the reports - not least because the step up from running a World Supersport to running in MotoGP is a particularly large one, in terms of organization, engineering ability and sheer scale - and yet the consensus was to give the story the benefit of the doubt. Yesterday, however, news emerged that appears to justify the initial scepticism about the project. According to Moto Caradisiac, Gil Motorsport boss Ponsson had told the French site that he had spoken to no one less than MotoGP legend Kevin Schwantz, and that Schwantz had agreed to manage the team for the first two seasons.
This, it seemed to us, was asking us to suspend our disbelief just a little too much, and so we contacted Kevin Schwantz to ask if there was any truth to the reports. A spokesperson for Schwantz initially dismissed the reports as "a PR stunt", and then gave us a statement from Schwantz himself, which reads: "At this moment, I do not currently have an agreement to manage a team, whether in MotoGP, Moto2, or WSBK."
With the future of Ben Spies now apparently settled - though the English-language journalists continue to debate the exact meaning of the word "foresee", and whether it allows for Spies to move to MotoGP earlier than 2011 - half the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team seems to be settled, as Colin Edwards looks certain to keep his seat in the team, especially given the outstanding results he has posted this season. The fate of James Toseland, however, looks a good deal less certain, with team boss Herve Poncharal stopping short of expressing outright criticism of the British rider, but pointing out that Toseland's results have been disappointing, both for Toseland himself and for the team. It is widely accepted that Toseland is likely to remain in MotoGP - the BBC's multi-year multi-million dollar deal with series organizer Dorna would seem to demand that a British rider be in the series - but that does not mean that JT needs to stay at Tech 3.
Indeed, it seems as if that battle has already been fought, and Toseland has lost. The usually well-informed Spanish website Motocuatro.com is reporting that not Toseland, but Alex de Angelis will be riding for Monster Tech 3 Yamaha next year. The deal would be for a single season, with Yamaha taking a look at both Edwards and De Angelis at the end of 2010, to decide who will make way for Ben Spies. De Angelis' run of excellent results since the Sachsenring are believed to have persuaded Yamaha to have given the man from San Marino a second chance to prove himself, and given the proven nature of the satellite Yamaha M1, that should be a challenge De Angelis is up to.
Result of Qualifying Practice for the 250cc class at Misano:
Results of the Superpole sessions for World Superbikes at the Nurburgring:
Results of Qualifying Practice for the MotoGP class:
Result and summary of Qualifying for the World Supersport class at the Nurburgring:
Result and summary of Qualifying Practice for the 125cc class at Misano:
Local boy Mattia Pasini was fastest in the second session of free practice for the 250cc class at Misano. The Team Toth Aprilia rider took an early lead and never gave it up, despite strong and sustained challenges from Pepe World's Hector Barbera. Metis Gilera's Marco Simoncelli was 3rd fastest in the session, getting ahead of the championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama on the Scot Honda in the final third of the session. Aoyama finished ahead of his main title rival Alvaro Bautista, who could manage only the 5th fastest time.
If Ben Spies had struggled in yesterday's soaking conditions, he had no such trouble during this morning's dry second qualifying session. The Sterilgarda Yamaha rider went straight to the top of the timesheets during the session, only relinquishing top spot after Noriyuki Haga hustled his Xerox Ducati around to a top time on his final lap. Spies is now the meat in a Ducati sandwich, with Michel Fabrizio in 3rd, ahead of Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea. Spies team mate Tom Sykes continued his run of good form, taking 5th place in the dry, ahead of fellow Englishman Shane Byrne.
The final starting order will be settled this afternoon, during Superpole.
The intense rivalry between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo continues apace, the next instalment taking place on Saturday morning during the second session of free practice for the MotoGP class. After Rossi took first blood yesterday, Jorge Lorenzo set about extracting revenge, but that would be no easy task. Rossi and Lorenzo swapped the lead multiple times during the session, with Dani Pedrosa getting involved early on, before the two Fiat Yamaha men cracked into the 1'34s and left the Repsol Honda rider behind.
Lorenzo looked like clinching the session with a blistering final lap, but Rossi had crossed the line with a couple of seconds on the clock, and another shot at a lap. He made it count, destroying the race lap record and besting Lorenzo's time by two tenths of a second. Pedrosa ended up in 3rd, comfortably ahead of the LCR Honda of Randy de Puniet and Pedrosa's Repsol Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati's Nicky Hayden finished the session in 6th, continuing to improve, while Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards was 7th.
With the rain gone and the Nurburgring circuit now dry, if a little cold, conditions for motorcycle racing have improved immensely in Germany's Eifel mountains. Those conditions are irrelevant to Cal Crutchlow, however, as the young Briton continues to dominate whatever the weather. In the dry, Crutchlow extended his advantage to almost 2 seconds over the rest of the field, a prospect which must strike terror into the hearts of those who must try and stop him. Joan Lascorz came closest, a "mere" 1.8 seconds off the Yamaha rider, ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu and Eugene Laverty. The competition has a lot of work to do before this afternoon's one and only qualifying session.
At the end of a closely contested FP2 session at Misano, it was Bradley Smith who ended at the top of the timesheets. The lead swapped places numerous times during the session, including 5 lead changes in the final minute. As the last rider to cross the line, Smith had no one else who could beat his time, putting him ahead of Pol Espargaro and Julian Simon, with Andrea Iannone a little way off.
While Smith dominated, the other British and American riders had much less luck. Scott Redding was fast early on, but got swamped later in the session, ending up 14th. Danny Webb continues to struggle, managing just the 22nd fastest time, while American Cameron Beaubier is down in 30th.
Ever since Casey Stoner decided to pull out of three MotoGP races due to ill health, a tsunami of speculation concerning the state of the Ducati squad has washed over the internet and the written press, with millions of fans and journalists venturing opinions on the subject, while only a few actually had any facts to base those opinions on. None of the protagonists have been particularly easy to reach, nor very forthcoming about the situation.
At Indianapolis, that changed, at least a little. Though we have heard virtually nothing from Casey Stoner, and only brief quotes from the Ducati organization so far, at Indy, Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet sat down with Ducati team boss Livio Suppo for an extended interview. The interview covered many subjects, from the obvious - such as the current state of Casey Stoner's health - to the philosophical - such as the question of whether switching to an 800cc formula made MotoGP more expensive, and raised some interesting points.
Two points were of particular interest, though. The first was the question of why the Ducati is perceived to be such a difficult bike to ride. Suppo denied that a problem existed, pointing out that since Barcelona, the gap between Nicky Hayden's pace on the GP9 and Casey Stoner's was broadly comparable to the gap between Valentino Rossi's and Colin Edwards on the dominate Yamaha M1. Suppo believes that the problem - if you can call it that - is just down to the difference between the four top riders (Rossi, Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa) and the rest of the field. "So in the last seasons, if you don't have one of these top four guys, you don't win races," Suppo told Superbikeplanet.
With Jorge Lorenzo already signed for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa a strong candidate to announce his contract renewal with Honda this weekend, the silly season focus has shifted to the next log damming up the river, the Texan Ben Spies. Spies has been widely expected to stay at Yamaha, but the question mark surrounding the Texan sensation has been whether his future lies in World Superbikes or in MotoGP. Yamaha have made no secret of the fact they'd like to keep the American in World Superbikes for another year, while reports are rife that both Ducati and Suzuki made approaches to Spies to join them in MotoGP.
Yamaha, it seems, have won this particular battle. According to Speedweek's Gunther Wiesinger - about whom a press officer once complained to me that he knew too much - Spies has penned a new deal with Yamaha, signing on for another two years. The first year of the contract would see Spies staying on in World Superbikes, either to defend or to conquer the World Superbike title for Yamaha in 2010, with Spies stepping up to MotoGP in 2011, most likely to take over Colin Edwards' seat in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.
With Spies staying in World Superbikes, this paves the way for more dominoes to fall into place in both MotoGP and World Superbikes. The prime beneficiary will be Colin Edwards, who will get to keep his Yamaha Japan-funded seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though Edwards' partner is still to be decided. In World Superbikes, there will probably only be one seat vacant in the Yamaha Motor Italia squad, which could go to Cal Crutchlow, though reports are placing him in Moto2 with Gresini next season. That Yamaha Superbike seat will be very hotly contested, with the new R1 clearly competitive, and the team highly proficient. If Crutchlow doesn't take the seat, the chances of the man dominating the BSB championship, Leon Camier, is the prime candidate.
These things will start to sort themselves out over the next few weeks. Stand by for a deluge of silly season news from World Superbikes over the coming weeks.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Yamaha Racing have now officially announced the news. The text of the press release follows: