A Question Of Taste, or Own A Piece Of Hopper's Crashed Kawasaki

There are many good reasons for working as a marshal or corner worker at motorcycle racing events. You get free access to the track, you get closer to the action than almost everyone except the riders themselves, and you often get a chance to meet the riders and teams in person. Though the pay is usually nothing more than an expense allowance, it's still the best chance most people will have to meet their personal heroes.

When riders crash, there's the double whammy of meeting the riders face to face, and getting to handle some of the most exotic motorcycles in the world. Your job, after all, is to ensure that racing can proceed safely, and part of that job is to retrieve the gorgeous, if now somewhat damaged, MotoGP bikes from the gravel and wheel it off to safety, to be retrieved at a later date. Another fringe benefit which nobody likes to mention is that you occasionally pick up souvenirs from those outings, with parts of crashed bikes taking pride of place on many a corner worker's mantlepiece around the globe.

The Fate of Donington Park

During coverage of Friday Practice for the F1 British Grand Prix, Speed TV reported that this may be the last time Formula One is held at Silverstone for some time. According to Bob Varsha, Speed TV commentator, Donington Park has signed an agreement with Bernie Ecclestone to host the British F1 Grand Prix for ten years, following a 100 million dollar update to the facility. F1 was last held at Donington Park in 1993.

The British Racing Drivers' Club, the entity that owns Silverstone, has not been on good terms with Ecclestone for some time, and while the club is apparently doing everything within reason to keep F1 at their track, they have been unable to come to terms with Ecclestone.

Peter Windsor commented that Donington has committed to a Hermann Tilke refit of the circuit to make it suitable for Formula One. MotoGP fans will be familiar with other Tilke projects, such as the tracks at Shanghai, Sepang, and Istanbul. Windsor proposed that one of the problems with keeping Silverstone on the F1 calendar from Ecclestone's perspective is that Silverstone has not used Tilke for any modifications.

David Hobbs responded by saying that Silverstone, as is it, is "better than a lot of Herman Tilke circuits, that's for dead sure."

Melandri Stuck With Ducati Until Brno

Marco Melandri's long-term future at Ducati is almost entirely certain, in that he neither has, nor wants, a future with the Italian manufacturer. But so dire has Melandri's predicament at Ducati become that the Bologna factory is openly speculating on a premature departure from the team by Macio.

However, just because Melandri is not going to be a long-term fixture at Ducati doesn't mean that he is free to leave whenever he pleases. Ducati boss Livio Suppo told the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that Melandri will remain with the team until at least the Brno MotoGP round in mid-August. That means that Melandri will ride at both the German GP at the Sachsenring and the US GP at Laguna Seca in California.

There had been some speculation that Melandri would be released directly after Assen, and with Kawasaki's John Hopkins ruled out of at least the Sachsenring race, and probably the Laguna Seca round as well, it was believed that Melandri could switch directly to Kawasaki, filling in for Hopper until he returns from injury. Such a deal would also mean that Melandri would be offered a contract with Kawasaki for 2009 as well, and Kawasaki could run a third bike for the rest of the year once Hopper did make his return.

That deal now looks to be off. Whether this means Melandri will sit out the rest of the season after Laguna Seca, with Sete Gibernau expected to take his place on the factory Ducati, remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. Marco Melandri's personal Via Dolorosa is very nearly at an end.

Kallio To Ducati, Vermeulen To Tech 3?

As we approach the summer, the MotoGP silly season is starting to gain steam. So far, of course, much of the speculation has been focused on the future of Marco Melandri, and how soon he'll be leaving Ducati. But there are plenty more riders who could be moving at the end of the season, and news is starting to filter out of the paddock as to who could potentially go where next year.

With all the hype and attention surrounding double AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies, Chris Vermeulen's seat at Rizla Suzuki has started to look significantly less secure. But today, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning told Matthew Birt of Motorcycle News that Vermeulen still has a good chance of retaining his seat. Vermeulen has been linked to Troy Bayliss' Xerox Ducati ride in World Superbikes, with the Aussie veteran due to retire this season - if, of course, he wins the World Superbike title. But Vermeulen's management team have also been talking to the Tech 3 Yamaha team, which is looking like a very positive career choice at the moment thanks to the outstanding results achieved by the satellite team. Denning doesn't expect to make a final decision on the matter until the USGP at Laguna Seca.

The other object of speculation concerns the man currently leading the 250 world championship, Mika Kallio. The Fin has been tipped to move up into the MotoGP class within the next couple of years, but now Livio Suppo has confirmed to Motorcycle News that Ducati is interested in seeing Kallio aboard a d'Antin Ducati in 2009. Although Kallio is likely to be keen to move into MotoGP, especially if he manages to win the 250 title aboard the KTM, the satellite Alice Ducati team is far from a tempting prospect, with both Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli - both talented riders - so far unable to make the Ducati competitive. That this is not so much down to the Alice team is witnessed by Marco Melandri. Once a runner up to Valentino Rossi in the MotoGP championship, the Italian now regularly finishes in last place aboard the factory Ducati.

Canepa Fastest Again On Day Two Of Indy Tire Test

Bridgestone and Ducati test rider Niccolo Canepa was fastest once again on the 2nd and final day of the MotoGP tire test at Indianapolis. The Italian put in a fast lap towards the end of the session, after Ben Spies had been fastest for much of the day. Times were generally around a second quicker on Wednesday, despite top speeds being unchanged.

Suzuki's regular test rider Nobuatsu Aoki did not feature on the 2nd day of testing. The Japanese veteran ran 4 laps on Tuesday to help get the bike set up for Ben Spies, before letting Spies get on with the testing. Aoki spent the rest of the time in the pits, helping Spies communicate with Suzuki's Japanese engineers.

The next time the MotoGP bikes roll out on the track at Indy, it will be for keeps, at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in September.

1Niccolo CanepaBridgestone/Ducati Test Rider1'43.006998 laps
2Ben SpiesSuzuki1'43.0912124 laps
3Erwan NigonMichelin/Honda Test Rider1'43.627692 laps
4Olivier JacqueKawasaki Test Rider1'43.818887 laps
5William CostesMichelin/Yamaha Test Rider1'44.068074 laps
6Wataru YoshikawaYamaha Test Rider1'44.2975108 laps


Youtube Videos From Indy Tire Test

The Internet has truly democratized the media, though the debate remains as to whether this is a good thing or not. One of the most obvious benefits of this revolution in the media is that sites such as Youtube allow ordinary people to record the events they witness and share them with the rest of the world.

By just such a fortuitous turn of events, video is emerging from the MotoGP tire test currently being held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here's a couple of videos we found on Youtube, by way of the Adventure Rider Racing forum.

Ben Spies at Indy:



Turns 1 through 10 at Indy



Ducati Fastest On First Day Of Indy Tire Test

1 Niccolo Canepa Bridgestone/Ducati Test Rider 1'44.1756 83 laps
2 Ben Spies Suzuki 1'44.2269 100 laps
3 Olivier Jacque Kawasaki Test Rider 1'45.2738 75 laps
4 Erwan Nigon Michelin/Honda Test Rider 1'45.2738 79 laps
5 Wataru Yoshikawa Yamaha Test Rider 1'45.5916 76 laps
6 William Costes Michelin/Yamaha Test Rider 1'46.1251 75 laps
7 Nobuatsu Aoki Suzuki Test Rider 1'57.9687 4 laps


Follow Indianapolis Tire Test Times On Indy Website

For those of us not fortunate enough to make it to Indianapolis today and tomorrow, to watch the official MotoGP tire test being held at the circuit, there is still hope. Usually at such events, we have to wait around for times to be posted by local journalists to find out what's happening, but not this time. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is showing that it is ahead of its time, by displaying live timing from the test on its website.

This is extremely unusual, and very pleasing. Normally, only the official preseason IRTA test at Jerez features live timing, and even then, usually only of the "official qualifying session", usually referred to as the shootout for the BMW sports coupe. But by featuring live timing of the current test, Indianapolis is raising the profile of the event, and generating excitement about the Indianapolis GP due to be hosted there in mid September.

As the test is officially a tire test, none of the permanent riders on the GP grid are taking part, with the field mostly consisting of the various factories' official test riders. But there is one prominent participant, and that's Ben Spies, riding the Rizla Suzuki. Currently the reigning AMA Superbike champion is leading the field, but he is only 0.13 seconds ahead of Ducati's Niccolo Canepa. And although Indy's long front straight promised extremely high top speeds, so far, the riders are only hitting around 185 mph, or some 300 kmh.

You can find the test times here:


More on Ben Spies Sitting Out at Assen

The BBC broadcast of the Assen MotoGP race offered some more insight into Ben Spies not taking advantage of Loris Capirossi’s bad luck to get more experience on the Rizla Suzuki 800cc machine. Suzuki Team Manager Paul Denning was interviewed briefly by Matt Roberts during the race and he had this to say about Spies opting not to ride the available bike: 

“[Spies] took his own choice. It was quite surprising for me, personally. I understand his reasons from a competitive point of view, but I would’ve thought it would’ve been a great thing to continue learning the bike. But that’s his decision and that was that.” 

BBC commentators Steve Parrish and Charlie Cox seemed to share the opinion that, judging from Denning’s tone as he spoke, Spies had made a poor choice in the boss’ view. With fourteen laps to go, Spies would’ve been at least in thirteenth place assuming he was still in the race. But Parrish went on to point out that since Spies missed the first day, that meant the American would only have had two one-hour sessions and the warm-up to learn yet another new track on the MotoGP Suzuki. 

Four MotoGP Rounds To Be Broadcast By CBS And NBC This Summer

One of the biggest tasks which Dorna has set itself is the conquest of the American TV market. So far, that ambition has only met with limited, though still growing, success. Part of its problems has been that TV coverage of the races has been left to Speed TV, which is only available through cable or satellite providers, and usually involves an extra subscription charge.

In Europe, Dorna is already engaged in a process to switch from satellite broadcasters towards national broadcasters, or at least, to free-to-air terrestrial stations, as witnessed by the recent news that Dorna will not be renewing the broadcast contract with Eurosport in 2009. Dorna would like to pursue a similar policy in the US, but first, the popularity of the sport needs to grow.

To help do just this, Dorna today announced that the major US networks CBS and NBC will be broadcasting a total of 4 MotoGP rounds this year, up from 2007. In addition to the US rounds at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis, the German GP at the Sachsenring and the Czech Grand Prix at Brno will also receive coverage on the networks. CBS will be showing Laguna Seca live on July 20th at 5-6pm ET, along with hour-long same-day delayed broadcasts of the Sachsenring race on July 13th (1-2pm) and Brno on August 17th (2-3pm). NBC will broadcasting the Indy GP live on September 14th at 3-4pm ET.

The hope is that airing the series on network television will allow casual viewers to catch the series, and be captivated by the excitement of MotoGP. For their sake, and for ours, let us hope that the races don't turn into the kind of runaway wins we have seen for the last 3 races.

2008 Assen MotoGP Race Report - The Rules Of Racing

There's an old axiom in motorcycle racing that says that you can't win the race in the first corner. Of course, being a truth universally acknowledged means that at every race, somebody tries to disprove the rule by launching themselves off the starting line in a fit of abandon, hoping that if they can just make good on some places and get into Turn 1 first, then they can take control of the race. The upshot of such a precipitate course of action is usually that, far from proving their own point, the hotheaded riders instead prove the corollary to this axiom, which is that, if you can't win the race in the first corner, you can most assuredly lose it.

The examples are legion, so many in fact that it makes it difficult to remember specific incidents. One first-corner crash fades into the next, with every weekend yet another rider heading into the gravel and out of the race by leaving their braking way too late, or pushing too hard on tires which haven't warmed enough yet, or jamming their bike into a non-existent gap between riders they haven't quite managed to pass. But a couple of incidents illustrate the point all too well.

Down And Out

One of the most memorable was the omen that Valentino Rossi's 2006 championship defense was to be long, difficult, and ultimately futile. Crushing the opposition in 2005 meant that the team had taken their collective eye off the ball, and the factory Yamaha team entered the season with a bike that chattered and vibrated and simply wouldn't handle, a problem made worse with the added grip of qualifying tires. So Rossi started the 2nd race of the season at Jerez from down in 9th on the grid, behind the Spaniard Toni Elias. Trying to make up the positions he had lost, Rossi fired through the order from the start, and tipped into the first corner in 4th position. Unfortunately for Rossi, the man he had just edged into 5th was wild man Toni Elias, and the Spaniard, braking far too late to actually make it round the turn, slammed into the rear of Rossi's Yamaha, sending him into the gravel, and left to chase his way up through the field for a couple of points. Rossi's enforced charge combined with Elias' determination not to get passed resulted in disaster for Rossi.

There are of course more recent examples. None more recent than the previous race, the British Grand Prix at Donington. In his first MotoGP race in front of his home crowd, and at a track that he knows well for the first time since they left Qatar, the tension really got to James Toseland. The British rookie struggled all weekend, suffering partly from the difficulty of finding a setup in changeable weather, and partly just from nerves. Two crashes in the final minutes of qualifying left Toseland down in 16th on the grid, and with it all to do. To make matters worse, the home crowd had already been sent wild by fellow Brit Scott Redding's victory in the 125 class, and expectations were being raised from sky high to somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. Once the flag dropped, Toseland succumbed to the temptation to make up as much of his deficit as he could at the first corner, with the inevitable result. Asking too much of his tires at Redgate, Toseland slid, fell and ended up in the gravel, rejoining the race already nearly 40 seconds down.

Electric Voodoo

The pressure to get into the first corner ahead of the pack has been increased by the use of launch control systems. With riders virtually able to pin the throttle and dump the clutch off the line, the electronics removing the proclivity of the bikes to hoist the front wheel, as well as ensuring the engines don't bog down, the differences in the run down to the first corner are getting ever smaller. Getting into the first corner ahead is becoming more and more a question of reflexes and anticipation, and less about fluffing the start due to pre-race nerves.

Launch control has also increased the importance of qualifying, and the free practice sessions running up to it. As the electronics have taken the luck out of the starts, the further forward a rider is on the grid, the better his chances of getting into the first corner at the front of the pack. And so qualifying sessions have become ever more competitive, with the first qualifying tires now making an appearance about halfway through the hour-long session, a whole 10 minutes earlier than in previous years. The ability to put in a fast lap on very sticky rubber is becoming more and more crucial to the results.

The reigning World Champion Casey Stoner is a master of both arts. His starting reflexes are sublime, honed as a child dirt-track racer. When the race only lasts a couple of minutes, you can't afford to waste even the tiniest fraction of a second, and Casey Stoner cherishes every thousandth he can gain. But Stoner is also astounding in practice, establishing his place at the top of the timesheets in any given session early, and not relinquishing it without a major fight. He has a knack of dominating almost every session of practice at an event from the moment the bikes roll out on track, and doesn't appear to understand the concept of building up slowly.

Race results and championship standings

2008 Assen Race Result

Full results of the 2008 Dutch TT MotoGP round in Assen 

2008 Assen Warmup Times - Stoner Makes It Five Sessions In A Row

 The session started wet, the rain stopping towards the end. The forecast is for sporadic showers, petering out in the afternoon.

Pos. No. Rider Manufacturer Fast Lap Diff Diff Previous
1 1 Casey STONER DUCATI 1'47.583    
2 69 Nicky HAYDEN HONDA 1'47.887 0.304 0.304
3 46 Valentino ROSSI YAMAHA 1'48.247 0.664 0.360
4 7 Chris VERMEULEN SUZUKI 1'48.500 0.917 0.253
5 48 Jorge LORENZO YAMAHA 1'48.504 0.921 0.004
6 2 Dani PEDROSA HONDA 1'48.532 0.949 0.028
7 33 Marco MELANDRI DUCATI 1'49.368 1.785 0.836
8 56 Shinya NAKANO HONDA 1'49.635 2.052 0.267
9 52 James TOSELAND YAMAHA 1'50.131 2.548 0.496
10 14 Randy DE PUNIET HONDA 1'50.326 2.743 0.195
11 4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO HONDA 1'50.429 2.846 0.103
12 15 Alex DE ANGELIS HONDA 1'50.977 3.394 0.548
13 5 Colin EDWARDS YAMAHA 1'51.031 3.448 0.054
14 13 Anthony WEST KAWASAKI 1'51.042 3.459 0.011
15 50 Sylvain GUINTOLI DUCATI 1'51.596 4.013 0.554
16 24 Toni ELIAS DUCATI 1'54.793 7.210 3.197
  21 John HOPKINS KAWASAKI      

Hopkins Breaks Leg, Will Miss Assen And Sachsenring

The Ramshoek has claimed another victim. At the end of today's official qualifying practice for the Dutch TT at Assen, John Hopkins lost the front at the Ramshoek, the final left hander before the GT chicane and the run onto the front straight, and crashed out at high speed, sliding through the gravel trap before hitting the tire wall. The crash happened with such force that Hopkins fractured his ankle and his tibia, and may also have damaged his knee as well. The crash means that Hopper will be forced to miss Saturday's Dutch TT, and the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time.

This is the second rider this weekend to have been ruled out of the race by a crash at the Ramshoek, with Loris Capirossi injuring his arm there on Thursday, and the corner has previous form as well. Last year, Toni Elias suffered a spiral fracture of the thigh, after tumbling through the gravel trap there, and the year before, Valentino Rossi broke his wrist in exactly the same place.

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