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.
Kawasaki has been rather successful with its substitute riders. After former GP winner Makoto Tamada broke a bone in his wrist, both South Africa's Sheridan Morais and the American Jamie Hacking have posted outstanding results in his place, Morais scoring a 13th and 11th place at Kyalamin, and Hacking taking 7th and a DNF at Miller Motorsports Park. So good have been their results, in fact, that both men are ahead of regular rider Makoto Tamada in the World Championship standings.
Now, Jamie Hacking is to be rewarded for his strong showing in Utah with the chance to compete in two more World Superbike rounds as Tamada's replacement. Hacking has been drafted in to race at Misano, on June 21st, and at Donington Park, a week later. The American impressed the team with both his riding and his feedback, though some of his fellow competitors were less impressed by some of the rough passes Hacking put on them.
The official reason given by the team for the choice to replace Tamada with Hacking is to allow the Japanese rider to recover fully before returning to full time duty at the Imola test in mid-July, and then the Brno round 10 days later. But rumors have been emerging from the team almost from the start of the season that the team are not happy with Tamada, and that the rider has been forced on them by Kawasaki headquarters back in Akashi, Japan.
Jamie Hacking has been angling for a ride in the World Superbike series, and now that his best friend in the paddock Ben Spies is in the series, he has someone else putting his case for him. Spies has said numerous times that Hacking belongs in the WSBK series, and it is entirely conceivable that the support of the Texan has helped Hacking's case. Hacking is looking more and more like the next American to make the jump to the World Superbike paddock.
After the World Supersport race at Miller Motorsports Park, MotoGPMatters caught up with Eugene Laverty to discuss the race, this season, and his future.
MGPM: Eugene, you led every lap of the Supersport race until Kenan Sofuoglu got by you with a pretty hard move a few corners from the finish. What did you think of Kenan’s pass?
Laverty: I’m still happy enough with second because the most important thing was to beat Cal today. I exited the corner just before [Sofuoglu’s pass] really well. I braked fairly deep and protected the line a little bit, and was already in the corner preparing to get on the gas again when Kenan came into the side of me, maybe 10 kilometers per hour faster than me. So it was a bit of a surprise, and when he hit me I thought we were both down because he hit me with such force but thankfully we both stayed up. Nine times out of ten we’d have both ended up on our backsides, so I was fairly happy that didn’t happen. But I think if I hadn’t been there for him to use as a berm he was going to run off the track for sure. He was able to bounce off me and that kept him to his line. But as long as we both stayed on that was the most important thing, to be fair.
MGPM: I saw the pass on the big screen out on track and it looked like you had to get on defense pretty quickly to avoid giving up second place to Cal.
Laverty: Yeah, I had to because I got put up onto the curbs, and I thought Cal was going to come around me as well, which would’ve been a real bummer. I would’ve been pretty peeved off then, but the fact that I was able to get back into the next right [hand turn] and get second, I was still fairly happy with that.
Peter Lenz is a young rider who we at MotoGPMatters.com have been following with great interest over the past few years. Though he may be only 12 years old, the young American has been regularly riding against and beating riders far more experienced and on far better equipment than himself. From all we have seen of this young man, he is a real star of the future.
So it was with some trepidation that we learned that Peter sustained serious injuries in a crash at Portland International Raceway, in Portland, Oregon. Lenz suffered brake failure on his first lap out of the pits, and slammed into a tire wall, breaking his leg in two places, his arm, and severing a nerve in his arm. He has since been operated on several times to fix the breaks, and the nerve has been reattached, and Peter now faces several months of rehabilitation to recover.
According to his father, Michael Lenz, speaking to Roadracing World, Lenz came away from the crash with surprisingly few injuries, a testament to the high quality safety gear the youngster wears. Without it, Peter's father believes the accident could have been much, much worse. The only bright side to the crash for the Lenz family is that the crash both demonstrated that the safety gear worked, and that it had an immediate effect in the paddock, with other riders going straight for their previously ignored chest protectors.
The future of the British Grand Prix hangs in the balance on Friday, as the Donington Park circuit faces an inspection from the FIM's safety officer Claude Danis, according to UK weekly Motorcycle News. The circuit has undergone massive work to prepare it for the Formula 1 Grand Prix which is scheduled to be run here in 2010 - if the company that runs the circuit doesn't lose the lease of financial problems beforehand.
The sticking point has been the reduced runoff at McLeans, caused by the building of a new paddock access tunnel between the McLeans and Coppice corners. According to MCN, the FIM has told Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the company that runs the track, that the amount of runoff at McLeans must be the same as it was last year, and DVLL has given no indication that this is not the case. The circuit has already hosted racing in the British Superbike Championship, but Claude Danis told MCN that as the FIM is not involved in organizing BSB, they have to organize their own safety inspections.
If the track fails the inspection, then Donington will have two more weeks to rectify the situation. They would then face another inspection to verify the changes. If Donington Park were to fail the safety checks, then the MotoGP series could lose its second race of the season. Rumors had emerged that a race could take place at Imola, to replace the scrapped Hungarian round at the Balatonring, but organizers in Italy worry that with two rounds of MotoGP and three rounds of World Superbikes already planned to take place in the country, and in the midst of an economic crisis, Italian fans would simply not have enough money to afford to attend yet another round of international motorcycle racing.
Sete Gibernau is to make his return to the track at the Grand Prix of Catalunya in Barcelona in a week's time. Gibernau broke his collarbone in an awkward highside at Le Mans and was forced to pull out of the race there. The Spaniard was flown to Barcelona, where the collarbone was set in an operation and Gibernau started his recovery.
Gibernau now feels ready to race at Catalunya, though he will not be 100% fit. "I can't promise that I'll be at full fitness, but I'm very motivated to get out there for the first practice," Gibernau said at the official presentation of the Catalunya race.
There is more than a hint of irony in Gibernau's returning to race at the Montmelo track, just outside Barcelona. It was at this circuit in 2006 that Gibernau suffered the injury that would lead to his retirement at the end of that season. The Spaniard suffered a badly broken collarbone in a huge first-corner pile up, when he clipped his brake lever on erstwhile team mate Loris Capirossi's Ducati, sending both men off into the gravel and out of the race.
Many may question the wisdom of Gibernau racing at Barcelona, despite the Spaniard's understandable eagerness to race in front of his home crowd. Gibernau has a long history of collarbone and shoulder problems, and at 36, he doesn't heal as quickly as he did when he was younger. Gibernau's good fortune, if you could call it that, was that at Le Mans he broke his collarbone in a place which had not previously been broken, which allowed the bone to heal better. But having broken his collarbone so many times, he must surely be running out of places where it hasn't been broken.
By their very nature, human beings are superstitious beings, seeking succor and aid from wherever they believe they can find it. Some seek it in the support of a Supreme Being, who they entrust with clearing obstacles from their path and lending them strength beyond their natural ability. Others seek it in the most mundane objects, believing that a green vest, a pair of socks, or a necklace with pendant will bring them the luck and the success that they seek. Yet others follow a fixed set of actions, putting the left shoe on before the right, touching a mirror or a picture, only speaking to a set person on entering a room, religiously observing the rituals which have always brought them luck so far.
Valentino Rossi is one of the latter, following rituals and patterns in a fixed sequence in the hope of recreating the success which has followed them in the past. So Rossi meticulously applies all his own decals to his bike before a race; stretches to touch his toes before approaching his bike; crouches down to clutch the right foot peg before mounting the bike; and stands up as he rides out of the pits to adjust his leathers caught on film in all too intimate detail a million times by the curiously positioned camera on the back of Rossi's bike. He will always wear something yellow, the color finding its way onto his leathers, his gloves, his helmet and his bike.
At Mugello, Rossi's superstition is heightened, not the least by his incredible success at the circuit. On the 13 previous occasions Rossi raced here in the world championship classes, he came away with victory 9 times, 7 of those wins coming from his last 7 visits. The last time Rossi failed to win at Mugello was in 2001, riding a Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR 500 with a special celebratory paint scheme. Rossi crashed out on the penultimate lap and swore never to race at Mugello again with a special livery. Since making that vow, he has not lost at the Tuscan track.
Rossi's proscription on special paint jobs does not extend to his helmet, however. The Italian has always come to Mugello with something special from friend and legendary designer Aldo Drudi on his head, perhaps the best and most famous of which was the helmet he wore at the last race here in 2008. This featured a picture of Rossi's face, eyes and mouth open wide in terror. It was, he explained, the expression he wore under his helmet every time he came to Mugello, heading into the San Donato turn at the end of the 340 km/h straight.
This weekend, Rossi turned up with a special helmet once again. For the 2009 race, Drudi had painted Rossi's gloved hands holding the top of his head. The Italian said it represented the stress of trying to deal with the Tuscan circuit: stress from both the demanding layout, featuring lots of fast combinations with blind entry; and the demanding crowds, tens of thousands of whom flock to the track expecting to see another Rossi victory. The attendant press added to the pressure, bombarding the Italian with questions about the difficulty of maintaining his winning streak in front of his home crowd, and whether he was disappointed on missing out on the opportunity to take his 100th victory at Mugello, after failing to score his 99th win at Le Mans two weeks previously.
Just as the global financial crisis appears to be approaching its nadir, it has claimed another victim in motorcycle racing. As we reported yesterday, the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team has withdrawn from the World Supersport Championship with immediate effect. The team has simply run out of money, and the potential sponsors which the team had been talking to had been unable to provide the funding which the team needed to continue for the rest of the season.
Marc Hoegee, team owner, manager, and the driving force behind preparing the race bikes, said in a press release: "I started this great adventure in 2005, and togethe with the whole team and everyone involved, we've had a chance to demonstrate just what we are capable of in a very short time. Despite all our efforts, we have not been able to find new sponsors fast enough to be able to continue both responsibly and competitively. That competitiveness is very important to me. The fact that we have to stop now really breaks my heart. Everyone has invested a huge amount of energy into this project, but this is reality and we just have to accept it. I'd like to thank the riders and the other team members for the fantastic effort they have shown again this season. We really fought for this, but the sponsorship climate is extremely unfavorable - and not just in racing. I would also like to thank all of our sponsors and everyone who has supported us over the years."
Dani Pedrosa's annus horribilis continues unabated. Just as the Spaniard was returning to full strength after surgery on his knee, Pedrosa suffered a bizarre hip injury during an incident during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello. Pedrosa was nearly flicked off his Repsol Honda early in the Saturday morning FP2 session, landing badly and tearing a tendon at the top of his thigh. Pedrosa later crashed out of the race at Mugello, though fortunately without further aggravating his injury.
Back in Barcelona on Monday, scans revealed that Pedrosa's injury is worse than had been feared. The Spaniard also fractured the greater trocanther, a structure near the top of the femur which the hip is connected to with a supporting ligament. Pedrosa must now spend the next 10 days immobilized, after which point he will evaluate whether he will be able to race at his home Grand Prix at Barcelona.
The injury comes as another huge setback to the Spanish rider's championship hopes, and will leave his fitness suffering even further. Pedrosa was just starting to get back to training from his knee injury, suffered during preseason testing, and will be unable to train for some time to come. The only small comfort for the Spaniard is that he will have a further 13 days' rest after the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona before the Dutch TT at Assen. But then, Pedrosa faces four MotoGP races in five weeks, as the season hots up before the summer break. If Pedrosa isn't back to reasonable fitness by then, he's in for a tough summer.
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
The Repsol Honda team have just issued a press release on Pedrosa's condition. The release is shown below:
Another chapter has been added to the long-running Haojue / Maxtra saga, with the team announcing that it has torn up the contract it had with former Aprilia two-stroke guru Jan Witteveen. The relationship had been rocky for a very long time, with sources close to Witteveen reporting multiple times that the Dutch engineer wanted nothing to do with the project, and had scaled back his involvement just to supply parts. Witteveen's reluctance has now caused the team to draw a line under the relationship, and issue a very public and very damning press release announcing that they were terminating Witteveen's contract to develop the engine.
The language used in the press release is harsh, and reflects the bitterness at the way the project has progressed. Haojue decided to skip this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, in order to focus on engine development in the hope of returning with a more competitive bike. Whether the team will be at Barcelona in two weeks' time for the Catalunya Grand Prix is not yet known, as the question remains over who is to develop the bike. Harris, the company building the chassis, have been working on the airbox for the bike, though so far failing to deliver the huge gains the project needs to be competitive. Meanwhile, Ilmor has indicated an interest in being involved in the project, and taking on the engine development.
The statement from the team is shown below:
"Jan Witteveen was contracted to deliver a state-of-the-art, race competitive 125cc GP engine and continue its development over a three year period.
However, after 18 months of development it is clear from the engine's lack of performance in the early 2009 GP events, where the Haojue riders have either failed to qualify or sometimes crashed due to engine failure, that the engine is neither race competitive nor reliable.
It's an open secret that MotoGP could see another wave of rookies enter the class in 2010. The two main protagonists in the 250 championship, Alvaro Bautista and Marco Simoncelli, are both widely expected to go to MotoGP, while American World Superbike sensation Ben Spies has been linked with MotoGP, but has publicly been keeping all his options open.
A decision on Bautista's future could come as early as the Catalunya Grand Prix, according to the Spanish online magazine Motoworld. The Spanish publication is reporting that Suzuki have offered Bautista Chris Vermeulen's seat for 2010, who looks certain to be dropped at the end of the season. Suzuki are said to have asked Bautista to give them a reply at the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona in just under two weeks' time. Bautista is believed to be very keen on the Suzuki ride, as Suzuki is the only factory team that will be allowed to field series rookies from 2010, under the new so-called "rookie rule". As Suzuki doesn't have a satellite team, the factory would not be able to sign class rookies at all without this exemption.
Suzuki's efforts in the World Supersport class suffered a serious, and possibly fatal blow today. Lead rider for the Hoegee Suzuki team, Barry Veneman announced on his personal blog that he would be leaving the team with immediate effect after the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Veneman made it clear that the reason for the split was a dispute over contracts, rather than over the machine or the team, and made it clear he hoped to be back racing soon.
"Over the past few days I have been a little vague in my blog postings, so I shall be clear now," Veneman wrote. "This was my last race aboard the Hoegee Suzuki. And let me make it clear from the start that this has nothing to do with the bike or the team or the sponsors. This is about a dispute between myself and the new team management which center around contracts. It's a terrible blow, because after last season, I was really determined to score some good results, and had quit my job (Veneman had a PR position with the Dutch Suzuki importer - Ed.) to focus full time on racing. I don't know what the future will bring, I want to keep racing and show that I belong among the top racers in the world. I hope I get that chance. When I'm ready to, I'll explain what led up to this step."
Rumors inside the Dutch motorcycling world suggest that the "contractual dispute" revolves around money. The Hoegee Suzuki team parted ways with its main sponsor, RES Software, at the start of the season, the Dutch maker of desktop administration software moving over to sponsor the Veidec Racing team fielding Robbin Harms, Arie Vos and Jesco Gunther. Since then, the team has run without a title sponsor, funded mainly through Suzuki's racing program.
Sunday was all about Ben Spies' domination of his home WSBK round as the Texan was simply unstoppable. Once again we had weather that started clear and grew increasingly cloudy as the hours passed.
Spies lead each of the three starts into the first corner.
Within a few laps he'd gapped those chasing him and seemed to be running away into the distance.
Last year's double-winner Carlos Checa was able to repeat on the podium for the first race while Michel Fabrizio cemented his position as contender for top three in the championship.
In a terrific Supersport race, Eugene Laverty led every lap, followed closely until lap 14 of 18 by Cal Crutchlow, championship points leader, and Joan Lascorz.
But it was Kenan Sofuoglu who would go from third to first on the last lap to take the Supersport win.