Dani Pedrosa ended the second session of MotoGP free practice on top of the timesheets at Jerez this morning, demonstrating that the Spaniard is clearly in form. Pedrosa deposed Casey Stoner from his usual spot atop the tables halfway through the session, dipping into the 1'39s. Pedrosa and Stoner were soon joined by Jorge Lorenzo as the three men capable of running consistently in the mid 1'39 bracket, Lorenzo putting in a couple of extremely impressive runs which bagged him the 2nd fastest time, and coming close to matching Pedrosa's fastest lap several laps in a row. In the end, the top three were separated by less than a tenth of a second.
Randy de Puniet continued the strong start yesterday, taking 4th ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. Colin Edwards was the next fastest Yamaha, ahead of Valentino Rossi, who was consistently a long way off the times of the front men. Rossi's time could be attributed to the conditions, with both track and air temperature well down on yesterday afternoon.
Good news for Nicky Hayden, too. After spending the first half of practice languishing in the nether reaches of the timesheets, the Kentucky Kid finally found a couple of changes which helped propel him up to the 10th time of the morning. The way Hayden leapfrogged from 16th to 10th suggests a setup change helped the American fix an issue, and offers hope for improvement later this afternoon.
The grid for the race will be set this afternoon, in the sole Qualifying session.
Results of FP2:
Julian Simon took round two of the Aspar team battle at Jerez, setting the quickest time in the second session of free practice for the 125cc class at Jerez. Team mate Bradley Smith was relegated to 2nd spot, over 3/10ths of a second slower than Simon, with Andrea Iannone just behind him in 3rd. Scott Redding put in another good session to finish 7th, while fellow Briton Danny Webb could not repeat his form of Friday afternoon, ending the session in 16th spot. American Cameron Beaubier also dropped a couple of spots down to 24th place.
Full results of the 125cc FP2 session at Jerez:
The Moto2 saga is edging to a conclusion, and the well-connected Italian site GPOne.com is reporting the preliminary results. GPOne.com sums the series up in Jeopardy! style: Honda, free, Ten Kate, open, today or tomorrow. Which are the one-word answers to the most important questions surrounding the class.
Put less briefly, the class will look as follows: Honda will be awarded the engine contract for the Moto2 series, and will make the engines available to Dorna. Dorna will make the engines available to the teams at zero cost. The engines will be farmed out to the Ten Kate Racing workshop in the Netherlands for maintenance, as Ten Kate have a lot of experience with Honda's four-stroke racing engines. Tires for the class will be open to competition, so there will not be a spec tire, and the decision is expected to be formally announced today or tomorrow.
With these measures, Dorna hopes to have a grid of 28 bikes competing in the Moto2 class next year, and GPOne.com says that contrary to earlier reports, the 2010 season will not see mixed grids. This means that 2010 will see the middleweight class featuring only the 600cc four strokes, with the 250cc two strokes sent off to an early grave, or more likely dispatched to race in various local series (or grace collectors' front rooms, no doubt).
Alvaro Bautista got his weekend off to the best possible start at the Spaniard's home round. The Aspar Aprilia rider set the fastest time in the first session of free practice for the 250 class, edging out the Honda of Hiroshi Aoyama by just 0.1 of a second. Aoyama had been the man to beat for much of the first session, and it was only with 5 minutes of the session left that Bautista knocked him off the top spot. The Japanese rider was unlucky not to get the fastest time back, after Matteoni Racing's Jules Cluzel balked Aoyama on the run into the final corner on Aoyama's very last, very hot lap.
Swiss Caffe Latte rider Thomas Luthi was 3rd fastest, beating out a resurgent Mattia Pasini and class rookie Gabor Talmasci. Reigning champion Marco Simoncelli continues to have a difficult title defense, the shaggy-haired Italian spending a lot of the time in the pits and looking uncharacteristically unhappy after only managing the 8th fastest time in the session. Practice continues tomorrow morning.
Full results of the 250cc FP1 session at Jerez:
Valentino Rossi stamped his authority in the first session of free practice for the MotoGP class. Rossi set the fastest time with over half an hour of the session left, and then kept getting faster. Rossi took a lead of over half a second, and never let his lead drop under a couple of tenths. The Italian was the only rider to crack the 1'40 barrier, and then proceeded to string together a whole series of laps on the 1'39s.
Loris Capirossi was 2nd fastest, after setting a fast lap with a minute to go in the session. Before that, the Suzuki rider had been mid-pack at best, but he pulled a very quick lap out of the bag to improve at the end.
Capirossi's fast lap forced Casey Stoner down into 3rd spot, the Australian seeming to struggle at the track at which he has never finished on the podium. Stoner spent a lot of time in the pits, in heated discussions with his engineers, and it looks like some of the Ducati's old handling problems may have resurfaced. The 2007 World Champion will hope to find something tomorrow morning, to put him back in touch with the Fiat Yamaha of Valentino Rossi.
Rossi's team mate Jorge Lorenzo is 4th fastest, the Yamaha clearly working well here, as witnessed by Colin Edwards in 6th. Edwards is the Yamaha filling in the RC212V sandwich, with Andrea Dovizioso the first Honda home in 5th, while Randy de Puniet surprised the crowds by putting his LCR Honda in 7th spot. The Playboy sponsorship is clearly working for the Frenchman.
Bradley Smith drew first blood in the first session of free practice for the 125cc class. The Briton swapped the top spot with his team mate Julian Simon for most of the session, with Andrea Iannone finishing in 3rd place. Iannone crashed on his final lap while pushing to improve. German rider Sandro Cortese took fourth, ahead of the final Bancaja Aspar rider Sergio Gadea. Scott Redding was the next British rider down in 7th, while Danny Webb finished 10th. American Cameron Beaubier set the 22nd fastest time.
Full results of the 125cc FP1 session
Pity poor Honda. The company has formed the backbone of the MotoGP class - and the 500cc two strokes before that - since the mid-1990s. Without the 6 bikes that HRC puts on the grid year on year, MotoGP would be in a very difficult place. And yet still the company continues to be the target of a barrage of abuse and vituperation on message boards and fan sites around the world. How could this be?
Ask any MotoGP fan and they will tell you that it is Honda which has driven the decisions which - from a fan's perspective - have ruined MotoGP. It was Honda that killed the 990s and demanded the switch to 800cc, a move which took a lot of the spectacle out of the racing, and it was Honda that killed off the two-strokes in the 250 class, and demanded their replacement with the Moto2 series. Whether there is any truth in these assertions is irrelevant, that is the way that the fans see it, and that image is hard to shake off.
These claims all stem from a perception that at Honda, what matters is the bike, not the rider. Whenever Honda has won championships, it has been quick to claim the credit, yet when riders on other brands of motorcycle have kept Honda from the title, the factory has been quick to blame the rider, rather than the equipment they gave him to compete on. This perception was further strengthened in Valentino Rossi's biography, in which he claimed he left Honda because he felt under-appreciated, and annoyed at the emphasis placed on the bike, rather than rider skill.
So it is truly remarkable to read that Honda seems to have had a change of heart. According to Colin Young of SpeedTV, Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, has said that if Dani Pedrosa does not win the MotoGP World Championship this season, the blame will not lie with Pedrosa, but with Honda. "This is the Honda way," Young quotes Nakamoto as saying. "If we win the championship then the rider is good, if we don't win the championship then bike is not good --- this is the Honda way."
Photo copyright Andrew Wheeler
The question of what happens when law breaks down and humanity surrenders to its wildest and basest instincts has occupied the minds of the great, the good and the plain wacky throughout all of human history. Indeed, so pervasive is this idea that it even has a term to cover it: Millenarianism. Religious cults have been founded on the belief that this is about to happen, great works of art have been painted, and thousands of books and hundreds of movies have been produced on the subject, from Bruegel the Elder's Triumph of Death, to William Golding's Lord Of The Flies, to the Mad Max trilogy of apocalyptic landscapes.
For those with neither the patience nor the penchant to explore the many works on the subject, the good news is that they can save themselves the effort. All they need to do is attend the annual Jerez round of MotoGP, and there they will see what the human spirit is capable once unleashed, unfettered by either fear of physical harm or self-conscious self-restraint.
The Jerez MotoGP round marks the return of the series to European soil, and what many - especially Spanish - fans feel is its spiritual home. The Spanish are passionate about motorcycle racing, and at Jerez, they get to give full flow to that emotion. The inflammable Iberians are not the type of people to pass up the opportunity to celebrate the start of a long summer of MotoGP, and they do so in style.
The fans transform the streets of the charming old town of Jerez into something resembling a cross between Biker Boyz, Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now. The night air is filled with a heady mix of acrid rubber smoke and the howl of sports bike engines being bounced off rev limiters. Headlights pierce the smoke pointing at the wildest of angles as helmetless race fans wheelie through Jerez with varying success and safety. And the streets flow with the rather good wine the region produces, some of which goes to make the Sherry the city is famous for.
Infront Motor Sports, the company that runs the World Superbike series, does an outstanding job for the most part of making the races it organizes available online for fans who haven't been able to see the races on TV. Not only do they stream the races live on the internet (though tragically, not to all territories in the world), they also have a Youtube channel where you can find highlights from the recent races.
And the highlights from Assen are worth watching again. Three of the five races of the day were decided on the very last lap, Assen's infamous GT chicane determining the outcome of two of them, so here's the last lap from World Superbike race one, the World Supersport race and the European Superstock 600 race. Enjoy!
Ben Spies' courageous last lap dive up the inside of Noriyuki Haga at the horribly fast Hoge Heide corner:
Eugene Laverty's perfect last corner lunge past Joan Lascorz into the GT chicane:
John Hopkins' luck at Assen went from bad to worse at Assen. After just four laps of free practice at his second ever World Superbike meeting, the American suffered a huge highside and dislocated a hip. Initial reports suggested that no bones had been broken, but once Hopkins had been flown back to California and examined by Dr. Ting, a world-renowned specialist in motorcycle racing injuries, it was found that in addition to the muscle and sinew damage he had suffered in the dislocation, Hopper had also fractured his femur. Dr. Ting operated on Hopkins on Monday, inserting screws to fix the fracture, and the American has already left the hospital to start his recovery at his California home.
Hopkins hopes to be fit again in time for the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah on May 31st, but that may be a little optimistic. Dr. Ting said that these injuries normally require 6 weeks of convalescence before they are ready to withstand the strains of racing, but Miller is just over four weeks away. However, as Miller is Hopkins' home round, there is a good chance the American will gamble on racing not fully fit.
In further news from the World Superbike paddock, the PSG-1 team has announced that they will not be flying to South Africa and the US for the Kyalami and Miller rounds of the World Superbike series. The San Marino-based team is seriously short of cash, and have already reduced their line up from two to just one rider, dropping Ayrton Badovini earlier this year. PSG-1 is further handicapped by their decision to field Kawasakis: as good a road bike as the ZX-10R is, in race trim it has failed to be competitive, either for private teams such as PSG-1 or for the factory-backed effort of PBM Kawasaki.
Rumors that this is Dani Pedrosa's make-or-break year at Repsol Honda have haunted the MotoGP paddock since Pedrosa not only failed to win the championship last year, but even finished a placer lower at the end of the 2008 season than he had in 2007. It is said that Repsol, the Spanish petroleum giant that funds a large part of the factory team's budget, is growing impatient at the lack of a Spanish world champion which they can use to sell to their home market, and if Pedrosa doesn't deliver this season, Repsol could look elsewhere.
So far, much of the speculation surrounding Pedrosa's potential replacement has centered on Alvaro Bautista, the genial 250cc title candidate regarded as both highly talented and very media friendly. Bautista is helped by the fact that he seems to have a smile permanently fixed to his face, a much more attractive prospect for sponsors to use than the stern countenance Dani Pedrosa usually shows to the world.
There are two serious impediments to this possibility however. One is proposed "rookie rule" which would prevent riders new to the MotoGP class from going straight to a factory team. The rule, designed to help satellite teams secure talent and sponsors, would prevent riders such as Bautista, Marco Simoncelli and Ben Spies joining a factory team without first spending an apprenticeship year at a satellite or junior team, and would rule out Bautista joining the Repsol Honda squad if he moved to MotoGP in 2010.
The point of the single tire rule, adopted for the 2009 season here at Motegi last year, was to make the racing safer by stemming the breakneck increase in corner speed. At least, that was the reason given officially, but it was an open secret - one accidentally admitted by Carmelo Ezpeleta from time to time - that the real driving force behind the rule was the hope that putting everyone on the same tire would level the playing field, reduce the differences between the riders and make the racing closer.
At Qatar, the first race to be run under the new rule, the official rationale for having a single tire was vindicated, with lap times lower than last year despite warmer temperatures. But the race made a mockery of the unofficial reasoning: The gaps between the riders were huge, with 16 seconds between first and third, and sixth place man Alex de Angelis almost half a minute behind the runaway winner Casey Stoner. So far, it looked like putting riders on equal equipment actually accentuated the differences between them, variations in individual skill now allowing the best of them to build up a huge margin over lesser men.
The season opener had been a rather bizarre affair, though, with the race postponed until Monday after a rainstorm made racing under the floodlights impossible on Sunday, and an extra warm up session had left the riders with limited tire choice. So at Motegi, the place where the single tire rule was formally adopted last year, its proponents hoped that we would get to see a more realistic view of how the rule was working.
It wasn't the tire rule that everyone was talking about at Motegi, however. Instead, the the reduction in practice time was the target of the teams' and riders' ire: A typical Motegi spring downpour on Saturday afternoon had made the track unrideable and forced qualifying to be canceled, and with Friday morning practice already scrapped under the new rules, the riders entered the race with scarcely any dry track time under their belts, forced to guess both at tire choice and setup.
The loss of qualifying also meant that the grid had been drawn up based on the combined practice times, and as Saturday's morning free practice session had taken place in the rain, this effectively meant that grid position was determined by the outcome of FP1 on Friday. The trouble with that was that everyone had been using the Friday session to work on setup and finding a race tire, rather than going all out for speed, and so the grid suffered some notable losers. Dani Pedrosa, his fitness improved from Qatar, was one, forced to start from 11th, while Randy de Puniet, now resplendent in his Playboy livery, was another, shuffled down to 16th while his team was working on race setup.
But all that was spilt milk as the riders sat on the grid, holding the bike on the rev limiter while they waited for the red lights to dim. With the conditions sunnier and track temperatures warmer than they had been on Friday, there was nothing that the riders could do but hope the guesses made by their crew and tire technicians were correct, and watch the lights.
With a final decision expected on who will supply engines to the Moto2 series expected at the Jerez MotoGP race, just a few days from now, word is starting to emerge of the candidates for the position. Initially, it was thought that Kawasaki would be awarded the contract, but today, Motorcycle News is reporting that the Moto2 contract will go to either Yamaha or Honda.
According to MCN's Matthew Birt, Kawasaki had declined to bid for the contract, but both Yamaha and Honda had submitted formal proposals to supply the contract. Under the proposals, the winning bidder would sell the engines to Dorna, who would then provide them to the teams. A crucial point in the discussions centers on the ability of the factories to provide spare parts and engineering backup to the teams, to ensure the continuity of the series.
This point is probably the reason that the contract was only open to the major Japanese factories. As a known quantity with proven track records in building and supplying race-ready engines, the risk of awarding the Moto2 contract to Honda or Yamaha is limited. But the fact that this deal was hammered out in the Grand Prix Commission, which has the MSMA, representing the manufacturers actively involved in MotoGP, as one of its members, makes it hard to escape the suggestion that this was a deal which was never going to be open to outsiders.