Qatar is weird. A beautifully equipped circuit smack bang in the middle of the desert, with nothing but sand all around. The stands are almost invariably empty, except for a smattering of ex-pats looking for excitement and a bunch of fans flown in from Europe to warm their winter-chilled bones. Meanwhile the facilities are luxurious – well equipped garages, fitted with everything a team could wish for.
The track is as strange as the surroundings. Carefully designed to contain a little bit of everything, from slow hairpins to fast sweepers to a blindingly quick front straight, it still manages to feel vaguely disappointing, the vast, empty desert which surrounds it robbing it of all character.
Still, at least the World Superbike round isn't the freak show that MotoGP's night race is. But without the lighting, the Superbike paddock is left to face the sometimes withering heat of the Middle East. Weather at this time of year can be unpredictable – though not in the European sense of the word. It can be pleasantly mild, warm, or blazing hot, and the unrelenting sun can heat the track surface to 60 degrees C and above.
Add the blistering heat to the sand which blows unstoppably across the track, and you get a recipe for extreme tire wear. No matter what Pirelli bring to the track, they can't be certain the tires will last. And if the sand isn't abrading away the soft rubber on the tires, it's pooling in soft and slippery patches just where you don't want it.
The World Superbike paddock arrive in Qatar to face vastly different conditions to Phillip Island, the track they have just left behind. About the only thing the two circuits have in common is the wind. At each track, the wind brings its own hazards. At Phillip Island, the problem is seagulls, as Troy Corser found out prior to the race. While in Qatar the wind brings sand, and potentially lots of it. With the Arabian peninsula having been wracked by a spectacular sandstorm earlier this week, trouble could literally be just over the horizon for the World Superbike paddock.
After countless rumors of problems surrounding construction of the track, it has finally been made official: there will be no Hungarian round of MotoGP at the Balatonring in 2009. Hungarian Development Minister Tamás Suchman yesterday told Hungarian press agency that because the Spanish investors had missed the deadline by which they should have submitted a credit application required to help finance the circuit, the Hungarian GP will not take place at Sávoly, where the Balatonring is to be built, in 2009.
Vicente Cotino Escriva, President of Sedesa, the group involved in building the circuit, said in a press statement that "the organizer of the Hungarian MotoGP Grand Prix is asking Dorna and the FIM to change the date of the Hungarian Grand Prix, to allow us to organize it in the spring of 2010, instead of September 2009."
István Gyenesei, the Hungarian Sport Minister, said "I voiced my concerns a month ago about the decreasing probability that the Sávoly track would be finished on time. Unfortunately, the events of the past month have confirmed my fears that not very much has happened. I've done all I could to secure the Hungarian MotoGP race, and we are still looking at alternatives. We haven't given up on the race being organized this year, and maybe we could run it at the Hungaroring."
In response to this suggestion, Frank Thomas, Vice President of the Hungaroring Sport Zrt, said that having the race there "is physically possible, but we would have to take a number of steps very quickly."
UPDATE - Official Dorna Press Release
After 46 consecutive Superbike victories, the combination of Suzuki, Mat Mladin and Ben Spies had more or less removed any suspense about who would stand on the podium and prompted the troubled AMA to hand over rights to its road racing to Daytona Motorsports Group. As the off season crawled toward March, many of us wondered what the final class rules would be and which factories, if any, would show up to race at Daytona. Certain contracts between teams, riders and mechanics were not finalized until the last minute. So it was with great interest that we watched an injured and limping Mat Mladin take pole on his 2009 Yoshimura Suzuki.
At Sixes and Sevens
Last year Mladin wore number 6, same as the number of Superbike titles he has won. Hope of a 7th title in 2008 disappeared at VIR when his double wins were disqualified for an illegal crankshaft; Spies went on to take his third consecutive title. With Spies having moved on to World Superbike for 2009, Mladin arrived at Daytona with his old 6 on his gloves, but a new 7 on his bike and helmet. Positive thinking for another title?
Whilst Marco Melandri has barely been out of the news since the story of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP broke, the fate of John Hopkins has been cloaked in a deafening silence. The last update on his website dated from December 31st, and other than the odd wild and completely unsubstantiated rumor, nothing concrete has emerged on his future.
It seems that the radio silence has finally got to Hopper himself. Today, a post appeared on his official website, carrying a few hints of what he may actually be doing. His silence, Hopkins says, is down to strict instructions from his management, while negotiations are underway. But he also promises to break news of what he will be doing on his website first, to repay the debt of gratitude he owes his loyal fans.
Whatever Hopkins will be doing, it sounds big. He finishes his message with "you are all in for big treat!!!!!" Hopper has been linked with both the official Paul Bird Kawasaki team and with Stiggy Motorsports in World Superbikes, and many of his fans would certainly regard this as a big treat. But that is speculation, and nothing more. We wait with bated breath.
The full text of Hopper's statement shown below was taken from John Hopkins website:
I just wanted to put a quick post to tell you something you all already know.... I read my website every single day as you guys keep me going, and I enjoy hearing how everyone is doing.
Fans on the Starting Grid
Part of the Daytona Motorsports Group’s plan to rejuvenate AMA racing is to follow NASCAR’s successful strategy of giving fans greater access to the series’ participants. Before the 200 started, fans were allowed out on the track to see for themselves how steep the banking is, and to wander through the riders and bikes as the start of the race approached.
Buell debuts on Front Row
One of the most amazing parts of the weekend was the competitiveness of the Buell 1125R, which Danny Eslick nearly put on pole, less than a tenth of a second behind Ben Bostrom’s race winning Yamaha. In addition to bringing with it a colorful cast of team members, the Buell added a distinctive sound among the smaller, lighter Japanese bikes. Eslick was outstanding, and he fought with seasoned veterans Bostrom and Josh Hayes for the lead until the right side fairing of the Buell came loose just after Eslick had passed the pit entrance, forcing him to complete another lap with the fairing flapping in the wind. Because a radiator was integrally tied to the fairing, the loose piece could not simply be stripped away in a timely fashion, but had to be reattached in the unplanned pit stop. As an AMA official watched, the Buell team tried the old standby of duct tape, then started drilling holes here and there for plastic ties, but still the fairing was clearly not going to stay put. An increasingly frustrated Eslick finally grabbed his own roll of tape and strapped the fairing to the gas tank so he could rejoin the race. But an otherwise admirable performance was for naught as Eslick, who had clawed his way back to thirteenth for the checkered flag, was later disqualified for having passed under the yellow.
If you were in the happy position to be able to pick any factory ride you wanted in MotoGP, conventional wisdom says you go with Repsol Honda factory team. Over the years, the factory Honda has historically been the bike to have if you want to become a world champion.
Or at least, that used to be the case until the series switched to the new 800 cc format. When the formula changed in 2007, Honda completely misjudged what was needed to build a championship-winning bike, and the once mighty giant has struggled to be competitive ever since. 2007 was a straightforward disaster, with only Yamaha's misfortune allowing Dani Pedrosa to take second place in the championship, while the rest of the Honda riders struggled mid-pack. 2008 was a little better, but Honda's improvement was mostly undone by Yamaha's progression, with Pedrosa slipping to third in the championship, but Dovizioso and battling further up the order.
If one bad season could be dismissed as misfortune, two poor seasons were bordering on a disaster, and after the big shakeup at the start of '08, it was generally assumed that HRC would not allow this to happen again. Honda's pride would not permit another season of failure.
But the omens are not very good so far this preseason. In testing, the Hondas have been significantly off the pace, with Dani Pedrosa once again the only rider capable of getting close to the top of the timesheets. The rest of the Hondas have not just the factory Yamahas and the Ducati of Casey Stoner ahead of them, but also the satellite Yamahas, and even the Suzukis. This is not as HRC had pictured it.
When we ran the story that engine guru Jan Witteveen had pulled out of Sir John Surtees' Maxtra project some three weeks ago, the team, in the person of Garry Taylor, was quick to issue a denial. "Jan is on board," is what Taylor told Motorcycle News. A straight denial to a straight question, and the affair looked to be closed.
But it isn't quite that simple. According to one source who had spoken to Witteveen recently, the Dutch two-stroke guru had lost interest in the project, and didn't want to have any further involvement. And this has been confirmed by the German motorsports website Motorsport-Magazin.com. Witteveen spoke to Motorsport-Magazin.com, and told them that although he was still supplying parts for the 125cc two stroke engine, that's where his involvement ended. Witteveen was doing no more development on the engine, but just sending parts to the team when they ordered them. If the engine was being developed, then the work was being done by the Haojue team (as Maxtra is now known) themselves.
And so it turns out that both stories are true, strictly speaking. Garry Taylor's denial is technically accurate: Witteveen is still "on board". But for all intents and purposes, Witteveen is out. He may still be "on board", but what Witteveen is on board as is a glorified spares warehouse. It's a task that the man who helped Aprilia to so many world championships is easily capable of, but hardly one taxing his abilities to the full.
In the aftermath of last night's chaotic Daytona 200, additional information has become available that seeks to clarify the the scoring snafu and finish order. In a press release issued by the AMA, the sequence of events that led to the 6-lap sprint to the finish are as follows:
The lighting system that illuminated the chicane that leads into NASCAR turn 3 experienced a failure on or about lap 36, which brought out the "safety" (AKA pace) car. During this caution an unnamed rider collided with Graves Yamaha's Tommy Aquino, causing Aquino to go down, which brought out the red flag, idling the field for nearly a half-hour.
After a few warm-up laps behind the safety car, racing resumed only to to go back under caution when M4 Suzuki's Kris Turner went down in the Horseshoe. Racing resumed in earnest on lap 49 and did not go back to yellow for the remainder of the race.
""I was eighth (during the caution), then I was fourth," DiSalvo said at the post-race press conference. "I'm not 100 percent on the procedures. I think they need a pamphlet to explain it. I was thinking to myself, 'If I was in the stands right now, I wouldn't have a clue who was where.' "
Saturday morning, at 10am local time, Dani Pedrosa and Dr Xavier Mir, of the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, gave a press conference on the state of Pedrosa's wrist and knee, after the Spaniard had undergone surgery to fix a distal radius fracture and an open knee wound on Wednesday. The operation had been successful, and Pedrosa was recovering well, was the general conclusion, but the start of his season was still in doubt.
Pedrosa has completely written off any chance of participating at the IRTA tests in Jerez, preferring instead to concentrate on his chances of recovering in time for the season opener at Qatar. "We'll be doing our best to be ready for Qatar, and when the time comes, we will see whether we are ready to race. The goal is to be ready for the first race," he told the assembled press.
On the subject of his preparation for the season, Pedrosa was frank but optimistic. "You don't get to choose these things," he said, "but we have no choice but to keep moving forward. I've fallen off many times, but I always get back up again. We will be fast on a motorcycle again. It's true that we have had problems this preseason, but we have to keep moving forward."
Pedrosa's - and the medical staff's - chief concern was his knee. "The wrist is less complicated, and I will have it immobilized for a much shorter time than the knee," Pedrosa said. "At the start, my knee didn't look good at all, but the operation has gone well, and I'm happy. I imagine it will be hard for the skin and the knee to regain elasticity. I'll have to get some sleep, and let it start to recover."
The Spaniard reflected on the poor start he got to the season in 2008, too. "Last year I had a broken hand, but it happened in January. This time it's a little more delicate, because it will be a while before I can move my knee."
He said he would wait until the Qatar tests to make a decision, and that's exactly what he's done. According to MCN's Matthew Birt, Marco Melandri has decided to sign to ride the Kawasaki / Dornasaki / Hayate in 2009. Melandri's manager Alberto Vergani told MCN that riding the bike under the lights at Qatar had convinced Melandri that the better option would be to ride, and hope to secure a better seat for 2010, rather than sit out a year, and risk being overlooked for 2010.
The conundrum Melandri finds himself facing concerns whether it is better to ride round at the back on an obviously inferior bike, or hope that people remember what he was capable of when he was on competitive machinery. His fear is that what people - and more importantly, team managers and factory bosses - will regard the 2008 Ducati Desmosedici GP8 as competitive machinery, a bike which Melandri deeply feared, and which he had a miserable season on. And so he would appear to be pinning his hopes on the Hayate team being able to fix the Kawasaki enough to at least allow him to score points regularly, and compete for top 10 finishes.
The portents for such an outcome are not good, however. It is clear that the Kawasaki will receive little or no upgrades during the season, which would not be so bad if the Kawasaki was a competently handling motorcycle. The trouble is, the Kawasaki is something very far from that, and its problems have a very familiar ring to them. Melandri was complaining of a lack of rear grip on the bike, and Vergani told MCN that the Italian felt the bike could be competitive if they could just fix this issue.
On a beautiful spring night in Florida, the largest crowd to attend a Daytona 200 in recent memory left the speedway knowing that Ben Bostrom had won the spring classic, but weren't really sure exactly how he'd pulled it off. They weren't alone. Bostrom himself was somewhat confused about the way events played out.
37 laps into the scheduled 57 lap race, Bostrom's Graves Yamaha teammate Josh Hayes had pulled out to a 5 second lead and looked to be well on his way to erasing the bitter memory of last year's race disqualification that robbed him of his 1st 200 win.
Then, Tommy Aquino went down in the chicane as the apparent end result of a lighting snafu which had brought out the pace car. The race was subsequently red-flagged which left 70-plus racers cooling ther heels on pit road for approximately 30 minutes.
By now, readers not familiar with the 200 are probably wondering: Pace car? The Daytona 200 is an odd race, even by US standards. The distance is over 3 times as long as a typical race, necessitating multiple pit stops and when there is a mishap prompting a yellow or red flag situation, racers are supposed to gather behind the pace car, which, theoretically keeps the bikes in order. Unfortunately, theory doesn't always result in successful practice and there have been incidents in the past where racers have been denied their proper position when racing resumes.
On the restart, after a 30 minute delay, the order was Josh Hayes, Bostrom, Martin Cardenas, Jason DiSalvo and Jake Zemke. A couple of crashes and pace car deployments later, Bostrom pits, apparently losing almost a full lap in the process. Still on track, the pace car waves everybody by and they all take off at top speed. But when Bostrum comes up behind the pace car he is held until the rest of the pack catches back up.
Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin won the inaugural American Superbike race today at Daytona International Speedway. So what, you say, won't Mladin win them all this year now that Ben Spies has moved on to World Superbikes? Besides, those bikes they're riding aren't really superbikes, are they? You'd be wrong if you looked at the spec sheet and the finishing order and thought the race was boring. It's true that Mladin took over on the 7th lap and won by over a second but the actual racing was a lot more entertaining than that.
Mladin, Corona Honda's Neil Hodgson and Foremost Ducati's Larry Pegram all led in the early stages of the race and Mladin's teammate Tommy Hayden overcame a poor start that he attributed to an unfamiliar starting procedure to join a lead pack that saw numerous overtaking manuevers behind the leader. Mladin's grasp on the top step on the podium was in peril until he employed a backmarker to gain a bit of breathing room very late in the contest. Hodgson pipped Hayden at the line in a thrilling finish for second place by .001 second when Hayden lost speed after being balked in the chicane on the last lap. Pegram dropped back to a distant but comfortable fourth when an electrical problem forced him to switch off his 1098's traction control.
Blake Young took fifth place in his debut performance for Yosimura Suzuki after a nearly race-long battle with Graves Yamaha's Ben Bostrom. Bostrom's teammate, Josh Hayes, dropped back after an off-track excursion in the horseshoe. Hayes was sandwiched by Jordan Suzuki teammates Aaron Yates and Geoff May.
While it may be true that the hardware isn't state of the art and the finishing order looks like the same old, the point of racing is close battles and exciting finishes. Today's race delivered those requirements in spades and the series only looks to get better as the season progresses.
Mat Mladin and Yoshimura Suzuki took up where they left off last year and took the American Superbike pole today at Daytona. On a sunny, nearly perfect Florida day, Mladin rode a nearly perfect Superpole lap, gapping teammate Tommy Hayden by nearly a second. Hayden, with brother Nicky in the pits for moral support, had set fast time in the qualifying session that set the 10 rider line up in the new to the AMA Superpole. Graves Yamaha's Ben Bostrom had trouble in the infield which ruined his lap, putting him at the bottom of the order. In the pre-qualifying session, 32 riders went fast enough to make this afternoon's Superbike final.
|1||Mat Mladin||Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:37.499|
|2||Tommy Hayden||Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:38.345|
|3||Larry Pegram||Pegram Racing||Ducati 1098R||1:38.455|
|4||Neil Hodgson||Corona Extra Honda||Honda CBR1000RR||1:38.479|
|5||Blake Young||Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:39.633|
|6||Aaron Yates||Jordan Suzuki Brand||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:39.791|
|7||Joshua Hayes||Yamaha Motor Corp||Yamaha R1||1:40.117|
|8||Michael Laverty||Celtic Racing||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:40.221|
|9||Geoff May||National Guard Jordan Suzuki||Suzuki GSX-R1000||1:40.888|
|10||Ben Bostrom||Yamaha Motor Corp||Yamaha R1||1:41.043|
Dani Pedrosa's luck is stubbornly refusing to improve. Doctors at Barcelona's Dexeus Institute declared yesterday's surgery a success, which was the good news. The bad news was that the recovery period is going to be at least four weeks, ruling Pedrosa out of the IRTA test at Jerez, and endangering the Repsol Honda rider's season start at Qatar in early April.
The problems are not so much from the fractured wrist. Dr Xavier Mir pinned the fracture using a titanium screw, and Pedrosa can expect to start moving the wrist again in ten days or so, although the wrist is likely to stay weak for some time to come. Pedrosa's knee, however, is another matter. Another specialist at the Dexeus Institute, Dr Bartolome Ferreira, used skin and fat from the inside of Pedrosa's thigh to cover the open wound the Spaniard's crash in Qatar had left him with. And because of the nature of the wound, it will be at least three weeks before Pedrosa can start to move the knee, and a minimum of four weeks before he can start to fully bend the knee.
Four weeks out of circulation means that Pedrosa is almost certain to miss the official IRTA test at Jerez, and with the season opener at Qatar just over five weeks away, even the very best case scenario would see the Spaniard recovered just enough to race. But even then, Pedrosa's season is likely to get off to a shakey start, requiring a race or two before he is back to anything like full strength.
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were all wondering who would take over the AMA roadracing program and what direction the new overseers would take it in. Just as a brief recap, here's what happened:
1. Daytona Motorsports Group, a consortium comprised of the France family and Roger Edmundson bought the rights to roadracing and sundry other AMA branded series.
2. The AMA classes, rules and procedures were carried over (mostly) for the 2008 season with the notable exception that tech inspection suddenly became a deadly serious matter with tangible penalties for infractions.
3. DMG, in dribs and drabs, started formulating a new class structure for the 2009 season, which virtually eliminated the racing classes as we knew them. The premiere series was to be something called "Daytona Superbike" which featured dumbed-down Formula Extreme 4 cylinder 600cc sportbikes and a wide variety of other engine configuations/displacements. Superbike, 600 Supersport and Superstock were all to be consigned to the ash heap of history. The only other attraction initially was to be MotoST, a Roger Edmunson-owned endurance racing series.
4. Much complaining and wrangling ensued, with the major manufacturers threatening too either quit racing entirely or jump ship and take their ball(s) and go play somewhere else.
5. A lot of time passed with no firm class structure or rules in place. Time for development of new machinery and hiring talent and technical crews was growing perilously short with not much communication from DMG.
6. Eventually, very late in the figurative day, a new class structure was put into place that most could live with, however out of touch with the rest of the roadracing world it might be.
7. The new classes were to be: