It is perhaps a little strange to be discussing the future of a rider who has just signed a contract to ride for another two years, but as the rider in question is Valentino Rossi, speculation about what he will do when he stops racing motorcycles is likely to continue up until the day that he finally announces his plans.
It all started, of course, with the Italian superstar's plans to switch to Formula 1 at the end of the 2006 season. The difficulties he experienced during that year, and the realization that the intense publicity under which he is forced to live his life would only be intensified in Formula 1, eventually led Rossi to change his mind, and to sign for Yamaha for another two years.
But Rossi's passion for four wheels continues. The Doctor is scheduled to test the Ferrari F1 car at Mugello on the 20th and 21st of November, and will be competing in the Wales Rally GB WRC event in December. Despite intense speculation, Rossi has already made it clear that he will not be moving to Formula 1 after his contract expires, as, in his own words, "31 is too old to enter F1."
And so WRC - the World Rally Championship - is his most likely destination. Rally driving has been his second passion after motorcycles for a long time, and Rossi has a long history of competing. Now, Rossi has confirmed to the Italian sports daily Gazzetto dello Sport that he is actively considering jumping to rally cars after he hangs up his leathers.
"I like rallies very much," he said. "I think I could make the switch when I'm finished with motorcycles. I don't know, I haven't decided yet. Anyway, I have a contract (with Yamaha) for two more years. After that, we will see."
There is one other, more intriguing, if rather unlikely, possibility. Michael Scott, writing in GPWeek, the online racing magazine, revealed that Valentino Rossi had tried to find a way to compete in the final round of World Superbikes at Portimao in Portugal two weeks ago. His motivation was cited as being "to enjoy some close racing again."
When it was announced last year that Jorge Lorenzo had signed to ride for Fiat Yamaha, lovers of gossip and scandal around the planet rubbed their hands in glee at having two of the largest egos on the planet sharing the confines of a single pit garage. The widespread expectation was that we would see more fireworks between the two Yamaha heroes than during a Chinese New Year celebration.
So many people have been surprised by the air of if not quite harmony, then perhaps quiet acceptance of each other that has permeated the factory Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have rubbed along fairly quietly, without rubbing each other up the wrong way, much to the disappointment of the more sensationalist Italian press.
Fortunately for the Spanish press, however, Lorenzo has been reunited with a different rival, and one with whom that rivalry runs deeper and more darkly than any new-found dislike. For now, Lorenzo is pitted against his old enemy Dani Pedrosa, in a clash which goes back to 2005, and Lorenzo's first season in 250s.
The rivalry runs deep, in part because Jorge Lorenzo styled his on-track and media persona to a large degree around Pedrosa. Seeing the central role Pedrosa was starting to play in the eyes of the Spanish media, Lorenzo set himself up to be the anti-Pedrosa, and be everything Pedrosa is not. Where Pedrosa is quiet, focused and restrained, Lorenzo would be loud, brash and over the top. Fortunately for Lorenzo, he also had the talent to back it up.
In keeping with his character, Pedrosa rarely wastes words on Lorenzo, or any of his rivals for the title. But in an interview with the Spanish press agency EFE, Pedrosa broke his self-enforced silence. "We both want the same objective," he said, "and there can be only one winner."
The 2008 motorcycle racing season may have finally ended - barring a few formalities such as testing - but the die-hard racing fan's mind is already on the 2009 season. A new season opens a new world of opportunity, and with so many changes, new faces on new bikes, as well as old faces on new bikes, we have all winter to spend thinking about what will happen next year.
But any such speculation requires proper planning, and proper planning requires that you keep up-to-date with what is going on in the world of motorcycle racing. To help you plan your life, and your vacation days next year, we at MotoGPMatters.com have prepared a racing calendar, charting the 2009 schedules of both MotoGP and World Superbikes, as well as marking the birthdays of the main protagonists of both series.
Each month features one of Scott Jones' beautiful photographs, as well as a listing of birthdays and race rounds. A short note also keeps you up-to-date on the events to be expected that month. It is the ultimate gift for the motorcycle racing fan who already has everything, or else an acceptable replacement if your budget won't quite run to that 1098R he or she asked for.
Testing after the final round of World Superbikes at Portimao threw up a few interesting surprises. The first is that Shane Byrne was quick right off the bat, but as Shakey won the British Superbike championship aboard a very similar bike this year, he might be regarded as having a head start. The second surprise was that Ben Spies was so fast. Spies has changed bikes and tires, and so setting such a fast time after just two days of testing is fairly impressive.
Perhaps the most interesting time was the one set by Max Biaggi aboard the Aprilia. The RSV4 is a brand new bike, and the difference between the drawing board and the track can be monumental, as so many factories have found to their peril. So far, it looks like Aprilia have got it right.
The next round of testing for the World Superbike riders is to take place at Kyalami, South Africa, from 10th to the 12th of December.
1. Shane Byrne (Ducati) 1'43.6
2. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1'43.9
3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) 1'44.1
4. Tom Sykes (Yamaha) 1'44.5
5. Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamaha) 1'44.5
6. Alex Polita (Ducati) 1'44.6
7. Leon Haslam (Honda) 1'44.6
8. Roberto Rolfo (Honda) 1'45.0
9. Regis Laconi (Honda) 1'45.4
10. Lorenzo Lanzi (Honda) 1'46.3
Fastest lap during the race: Troy Bayliss - 1'43.787
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight's New Steed
Spies: Swapping Mat for Max
Some of the World Superbike paddock got to head straight off on vacation - at least once their hangovers from the end of season party subsided. But for a few hardy souls, and a bunch of series rookies, work started on Monday, after the annual journalist blagfest which sees writers from selected magazines - some former racers, some just very lucky and very scared - ride the world's trickest production bikes around the spectacular Portimao track.
The busiest part of pit lane is outside the Aprilia garage, where people are crowded round the newest entrant to the World Superbike paddock. The bike has has one or two teething troubles, occasionally refusing to start, but since getting underway, Max Biaggi has been lapping at speed.
The other easy-to-spot garage in the otherwise quiet pit lane is the Yamaha Motor Italia box, where rookies Ben Spies and Tom Sykes are making their debut aboard the Yamaha R1. The interest in the Yamaha pits is twofold: On the one hand, there's the biggest name American to join a World Championship since Nicky Hayden went to Repsol Honda, and a promising and very talented young British rider at his side. On the other, there's the brand new, long bang, cross-plane crankshaft R1, currently decked out in skunkworks-style black carbon fiber, and looking like it's been rolled freshly out of Yamaha's Racing Department workshops.
There's plenty of other new faces here, too. Shakey Byrne is circulating on the Sterilgarda Ducati and is looking what the Brits are calling "proper fast". Eugene Laverty has taken over the seat vacated by the tragic death of Craig Jones, and kept warm by double AMA Formula Extreme champion Josh Hayes, and is learning his way around the bike and the circuit.
Another newcomer is the Australian Ant West. West has left a disastrous season aboard a disastrous Kawasaki MotoGP bike behind him and is circulating on the Stiggy Motorsports Honda Supersport bike.
|1||Troy Bayliss||AUS||Ducati Xerox 1098 F08||38'26.125|
|2||Michel Fabrizio||ITA||Ducati Xerox 1098 F08||3.638|
|3||Leon Haslam||GBR||HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR||4.356|
|4||Max Neukirchner||GER||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||4.983|
|5||Fonsi Nieto||ESP||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||6.775|
|6||Troy Corser||AUS||Yamaha Motor Italia YZF-R1||7.403|
|7||Carlos Checa||ESP||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||7.578|
|8||Gregorio Lavilla||ESP||Ventaxia VK Honda CBR1000RR||16.113|
|9||Cal Crutchlow||GBR||HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR||16.284|
|10||Regis Laconi||FRA||PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX-10R||16.446|
|11||Ryuichi Kiyonari||JPN||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||21.633|
|12||Jakub Smrz||CZE||Guandalini Racing by Grifo's 1098 RS08||22.098|
|13||Max Biaggi||ITA||Sterilgarda Go Eleven 1098 RS08||24.089|
|14||Noriyuki Haga||JPN||Yamaha Motor Italia YZF-R1||24.117|
|15||Jonathan Rea||GBR||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||31.003|
|16||Ayrton Badovini||ITA||Team Pedercini ZX-10R||31.136|
|17||Shinichi Nakatomi||JPN||YZF Yamaha YZF-R1||31.330|
|18||Roberto Rolfo||ITA||Hannspree Honda Althea CBR1000RR||32.272|
|19||Chris Walker||GBR||Ventaxia VK Honda CBR1000RR||34.049|
|20||Sebastien Gimbert||FRA||Yamaha France Ipone GMT 94 YZF-R1||35.028|
|21||Karl Muggeridge||AUS||D.F. Racing CBR1000RR||41.669|
|22||David Checa||ESP||Yamaha France Ipone GMT 94 YZF-R1||44.889|
|23||Yukio Kagayama||JPN||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||47.366|
|24||Makoto Tamada||JPN||PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX-10R||48.733|
|25||Tommy Bridewell||GBR||Team NB Suzuki GSX-R1000||1'07.702|
|26||Shuhei Aoyama||JPN||Alto Evolution Honda CBR1000RR||1'14.242|
|27||Luca Scassa||ITA||D.F. Racing CBR1000RR||1'34.781|
|28||Luis Carreira||POR||Benimoto Suzuki GSX-R1000 K8||1'37.326|
|29||Christian Zaiser||AUT||Grillini PBR Team YZF-R1||1 lap|
|30||Vittorio Iannuzzo||ITA||Team Pedercini ZX-10R||10 laps|
|31||Ruben Xaus||ESP||Sterilgarda Go Eleven 1098 RS08||9 laps|
|1||Kenan Sofuoglu||TUR||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR 35'39.851|
|2||Andrew Pitt||AUS||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR 3.844|
|3||Joan Lascorz||ESP||Glaner Motocard.com Honda CBR600RR 7.403|
|4||Josh Hayes||USA||Parkalgar Racing Team Honda CBR600RR 7.446|
|5||Broc Parkes||AUS||Yamaha World Supersport YZF-R6 17.271|
|6||Gianluca Nannelli||ITA||Hannspree Honda Althea Honda CBR600RR 17.287|
|7||Simone Sanna||ITA||Parkalgar Racing TeamHonda CBR600RR 26.803|
|8||Gianluca Vizziello||ITA||Benjan Racing Honda CBR600RR 28.748|
|9||Mark Aitchison||AUS||Triumph Italia BE1 Racing 675 29.960|
|10||Fabien Foret||FRA||Yamaha World Supersport YZF-R6 30.155|
|11||Joshua Brookes||AUS||Hannspree Stiggy Motors Honda CBR600RR 30.697|
|12||Miguel Praia||POR||Parkalgar Racing Team Honda CBR600RR 30.719|
|13||Garry McCoy||AUS||Triumph Italia BE1 Racing 675 40.033|
|14||Russell Holland||AUS||Hannspree Honda Althea CBR600RR 40.839|
|15||Didier Van Keymeulen||BEL||RES Software Hoegee Suzuki GSX-R600 44.266|
|16||David Salom||ESP||Yamaha Spain YZF-R6 45.672|
|17||Jesco Gunther||GER||Benjan Racing Honda CBR600RR 46.765|
|18||Ivan Silva||ESP||Yamaha Spain YZF-R6 51.205|
|19||Balazs Nemeth||HUN||Factory Racing Honda CBR600RR 51.626|
|20||Patrick Vostarek||CZE||Intermoto Czech Honda CBR600RR 57.092|
|21||Ivan Clementi||ITA||Triumph Italia BE1 Racing 675 57.584|
|22||Katsuaki Fujiwara||JPN||Kawasaki Gil Motor Sport ZX-6R 1'04.848|
|23||Santiago Barragan||ESP||Glaner Motocard.com Honda CBR600RR 1'26.940|
|24||Chris Martin||GBR||Kawasaki Gil Motor Sport ZX-6R 1'27.010|
|25||Tiago Dias||POR||BPN Yamaha YZF-R6 1 lap|
|26||Helder Silva||ESP||Helder Team Honda CBR600RR 1 lap|
|27||Arturo Tizon||ESP||Suzuki Motorrad GSX-R600 12 laps|
|28||Robbin Harms||DEN||Hannspree Stiggy Motors Honda CBR600RR 10 laps|
|29||Barry Veneman||NED||RES Software Hoegee Suzuki GSX-R600 9 laps|
|30||Massimo Roccoli||ITA||Yamaha Lorenzini by Leoni YZF - R6 7 laps|
|31||Matthieu Lagrive||FRA||Intermoto Czech Honda CBR600RR 5 laps|
|32||Denis Sacchetti||ITA||Factory Racing Honda CBR600RR 4 laps|
|1||Troy Bayliss||AUS||Ducati Xerox 1098 F08||38'48.373|
|2||Carlos Checa||ESP||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||2.207|
|3||Troy Corser||AUS||Yamaha Motor Italia YZF-R1||6.972|
|4||Jonathan Rea||GBR||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||15.228|
|5||Fonsi Nieto||ESP||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||16.126|
|6||Gregorio Lavilla||ESP||Ventaxia VK Honda CBR1000RR||18.152|
|7||Leon Haslam||GBR||HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR||18.939|
|8||Ryuichi Kiyonari||JPN||Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR||20.942|
|9||Ruben Xaus||ESP||Sterilgarda Go Eleven 1098 RS08||32.018|
|10||Regis Laconi||FRA||PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX-10R||32.871|
|11||Ayrton Badovini||ITA||Team Pedercini ZX-10R||36.778|
|12||Roberto Rolfo||ITA||Hannspree Honda Althea CBR1000RR||36.848|
|13||Shinichi Nakatomi||JPN||YZF Yamaha YZF-R1||41.667|
|14||Karl Muggeridge||AUS||D.F. Racing CBR1000RR||41.806|
|15||Yukio Kagayama||JPN||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||48.337|
|16||Sebastien Gimbert||FRA||Yamaha France Ipone GMT 94 YZF-R1||50.295|
|17||Chris Walker||GBR||Ventaxia VK Honda CBR1000RR||50.840|
|18||Shuhei Aoyama||JPN||Alto Evolution Honda CBR1000RR||1'05.928|
|19||Makoto Tamada||JPN||PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX-10R||1'06.813|
|20||David Checa||ESP||Yamaha France Ipone GMT 94 YZF-R1||1'07.007|
|21||Luis Carreira||POR||Benimoto Suzuki GSX-R1000 K8||1 lap|
|22||Cal Crutchlow||GBR||HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR||18 laps|
|23||Noriyuki Haga||JPN||Yamaha Motor Italia YZF-R1||17 laps|
|24||Jakub Smrz||CZE||Guandalini Racing by Grifo's 1098 RS08||14 laps|
|25||Tommy Bridewell||GBR||Team NB Suzuki GSX-R1000||12 laps|
|26||Luca Scassa||ITA||D.F. Racing CBR1000RR||10 laps|
|27||Christian Zaiser||AUT||Grillini PBR Team YZF-R1||8 laps|
|28||Vittorio Iannuzzo||ITA||Team Pedercini ZX-10R||7 laps|
|29||Max Neukirchner||GER||Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000||5 laps|
|30||Max Biaggi||ITA||Sterilgarda Go Eleven 1098 RS08||0 laps|
|31||Michel Fabrizio||ITA||Ducati Xerox 1098 F08||0 laps|
After the final Superbike race, as the traffic poured out of the parking areas, and headed off down the brand new access road towards the highway, and home, a small ceremony was held in memory of Craig Jones. The official ceremony, the unveiling of a statue to be held on Saturday, had been canceled due to the miserable weather, and so a smaller, more private ceremony was held in its place.
The owner of the circuit, Paulo Pinheiro made a small speech, largely inaudible due to the sound of the traffic leaving, but the ceremony was all the more moving and private, perhaps for the very reason that it was cut off from the rest of the world by the noise.
Just how impromptu the ceremony had been was made clear by the sudden arrival of Troy Corser, still in his leathers, straight from his post-race debriefing. Corser was greeted warmly by the family, and it was clear from his demeanor that the tragic loss of Jones had affected him personally.
Craig Jones was killed during the World Supersport race at Brands Hatch on August 3rd this year, while battling for the lead with Johnny Rea and Andrew Pitt. His fearlessness and his ragged-edge riding made him a fan favorite, and he was widely tipped as a future world champion. Craig Jones was 23 years of age.
Troy Bayliss ended his World Superbike career in the only way which could possibly hope to match his amazing career: With a second dominant win of the weekend, crowning his championship with a double at the inaugural World Superbike round at Portimao, Portugal. While Bayliss didn't lead from the start, it only took him a couple of laps before the Australian sliced his way to the front with surgical precision, and checked out.
The 8 second lead he had by halfway was a comfortable cushion, which allowed him to give away a couple of tenths a lap, and still leave him over 3.6 seconds clear over the line. Adding to the joy at Ducati, his team mate came home in 2nd, comfortably ahead of the fight for third. The final podium spot was more closely contested, but Max Neukirchner looked like he had it wrapped up by halfway after fighting his way through the field. But Neukirchner couldn't maintain his pace towards the end of the race, and was pipped to the podium by Leon Haslam, the British Superbike hero giving notice of his intentions for 2009.
The scenes in the pitlane were intensely emotional after the race, the entire Xerox Ducati team going up onto the podium to celebrate, and say farewell to Troy Bayliss. There's a palpable sense of sadness in the press room, and around the circuit, now that we will never see the man who is arguably the world's greatest superbike rider race again. There's also some doubt, as the press and the paddock find it impossible to believe that Bayliss could walk away at the peak of his career. But seeing Bayliss' face, the sheer relief that it was all done, convinced me, at least, that this was the final chapter.
At least, on a racing motorcycle, as Bayliss is due to go home to Australia and race in the V8 Supercars series. That should scratch any itch he may still feel just enough for him to resist temptation.
The World Supersport race at Portimao was won, as expected, by Kenan Sofuoglu. But he didn't get the victory without a fight. The early part of the race saw 6 men tightly together and scrapping for every inch. Barry Veneman led early on, ahead of Andrew Pitt, Sofuoglu, Josh Hayes, Joan Lascorz and Broc Parkes, but after the dust finally settled, and Sofuoglu finished waving his fist at Hayes down the front straight, the Turkish rider finally seized control of the race and made a break.
Hayes was then left to fend off Sofuoglu's team mate Andrew Pitt, but the Ten Kate Hondas just had too much speed along the front straight for the American to resist. With Sofuoglu and Pitt spread out and leading, Hayes battled Lascorz all the way to the line, the crowd cheering their local team - the circuit owns the Parkalgar Honda race team - willing the American onto the podium.
But it was not to be. With 2 laps to go, Lascorz drafted past Hayes along the straight, and despite being quicker round the difficult rolling section at the rear of the track, the American could not get back past the Spaniard, Lascorz taking the final spot on the podium.
It will surprise no one to learn that Troy Bayliss won the first World Superbike Race at Portimao in Portugal. As if the Australian needed his place in history cemented any further, Bayliss took off almost from the start of the race to win completely unchallenged.
Bayliss was helped by a monster battle for 2nd which took up most of the first half of the race. The BSB riders started off strongly, turning in some spectacular and terrifying passing between Cal Crutchlow, Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea, while the regulars Noriyuki Haga, Ruben Xaus, Troy Corser and Carlos Checa joined the fun. But as the race wore on, the BSB riders wore themselves out, leaving Haga, Corser and Checa to fight for 2nd. Haga dropped out with a mechanical problem, leaving Corser and Checa to spend the rest of the race dividing the podium places between themselves. In the end, it was Carlos Checa who won that battle, splitting the Australians on the podium.
Johnny Rea was the best British rider home in 4th, a promising debut on the Ten Kate Honda Superbike, while Leon Haslam was the best of the BSB riders in 7th.
The ease with which Bayliss won race 1 must surely be a worry for the rest of the field. They can't afford to spend time scrapping with each other if they want to have a chance at beating the World Champion.
What is it about Australians on Ducatis? The Superstock 1000 FIM Cup race was won this morning by Brendan Roberts, who also clinched the championship with the win. The Australian, who rides for the Xerox Ducati Junior team, kept his head whilst others were falling about him. The race was led early on by Chris Seaton aboard the Celani Suzuki, but Roberts closed his countryman down, passing him on lap 9 and never relinquishing the lead again.
Roberts had had to contend with Xavier Simeon early on, but the Belgian Alstare Suzuki rider, who was leading the series going into the race at Portimao, crashed on lap 8, and rejoined to finish 11th. Maxime Berger, the Hannspree IDS Ten Kate Honda rider, completed the podium.
Berger finished 2nd in the championship to Roberts, with Alessandro Polita in 3rd.
The day has started well for Australia and for Ducati. Chances of it continuing are very, very good.