Another report and some more fantastic photos from our man on the ground Scott Jones of Turn2Photography. Scott is currently attending the British Grand Prix at Donington Park as a spectator, as official accreditation from Dorna is virtually impossible to come by. Here's Scott's view of the first day of qualifying at Donington:
Notes from Donington
Friday seemed like last year’s Saturday in terms of the number of fans in attendance, according to a friend who chalked up the impressive workday crowd to James Toseland’s popularity at his home GP. We overheard one child tell a friend he met at the track that his mum had phoned his school to say he had been vomiting all night and had to stay home, at which point she piled him into the car and headed for the races. Toseland’s name and number 52 dominate the apparel for sale, and from the shirts and hats appearing among the crowd it is hard to say who is currently more popular: Rossi or Toseland.
Rossi seems to be respecting Toseland’s stature on home turf, playing less to the crowd than he usually does on neutral territory. He seemed focused on his lap times, a man at the office, so perhaps he was more worried about Stoner’s lap times than he was his popularity in Britain.
Marco Melandri seems as at sea as ever. We watched the morning practice at the Foggy Esses, and more times than not, or so it seemed, Melandri struggled to find his braking point, often sailing in too hot and running the lefthander deep, having to look over his shoulder to see if his path back onto the racing line would encumber other riders.
The news that Sete Gibernau would be returning to MotoGP to test the Ducati Desmosedici bikes raised a flurry of interest when it was announced last week. It launched a veritable firestorm of speculation about a possible return to racing, and whether the arrival of Gibernau made Marco Melandri's position at Ducati even more precarious. There was also the question of whether nearly two years away from racing would have dulled Gibernau's race reflexes so much that he would no longer be competitive. Only test times from Mugello would tell.
After two days of testing, we finally have times to base a judgment on. Frustratingly, though, weather conditions in Mugello are more British than Italian, meaning that so far Gibernau's track time has been limited to just 20 laps on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and even those laps have been ridden under track conditions which are far from ideal.
Despite the damp, Gibernau is still apparently in good shape. On Wednesday, the Spaniard set a fastest lap of 1'52.6 on the GP9, which uses the new carbon-fiber chassis. Although still 4 seconds off the pole record, and 2 seconds slower than the fastest race lap, that's a perfectly respectable time for a rider who hasn't ridden a MotoGP bike for 21 months, and has only ridden an 800cc MotoGP bike in a few tests at the end of the 2006 season, especially under less than perfect conditions.
Suzuki has had a difficult time in MotoGP. The team has built up a reputation for signing promising riders who never manage to make the big breakthrough into the very top flight of MotoGP. First came John Hopkins, signed after a very brief stint at WCM Yamaha, after racing Formula Xtreme and Supersport in the AMA. Hopkins has been on the verge of a major breakthrough almost all of his career, but has never quite managed to get a win. A lot of this may be put down to the lack of competitiveness of the Suzuki throughout the years, but that still leaves Hopper without a win.
Chris Vermeulen is a similar case. Signed after the Australian came up just short of the World Superbike title, despite a brilliant year on the Ten Kate Honda Fireblade, choosing to join a factory team instead of waiting for another year in World Superbikes looked like a smart move on Vermeulen's part. And unlike Hopkins, Vermeulen has managed to get a win, at Le Mans in 2007 in the pouring rain.
Despite Vermeulen's victory, the first ever for Suzuki in the four-stroke era, his results continue to be a mixed bag. Qualifying has always been a weakness for Vermeulen, as has his starts. Once underway, the Australian's lap times are often among the fastest in the field, but with a big group of riders to fight his way through, the front runners are too far gone for him to catch.
The resumption of MotoGP testing brings welcome relief to fans starved of news over the long winter break, but it usually causes more questions than answers. For although the fans finally have some times to pore over and speculate about, the published times are usually just for a single lap for each rider, with no indication of whether the times were set on race or qualifying tires, with a full or nearly empty tank, with the bike in race trim or not. Genuinely useful times, which include long sequences of laps are hard to come by, and like all rare commodities, highly prized.
Fortunately for MotoGP fans, sites like the Italian stalwart GPOne.com manage on occasion to lay their hands on more detailed timesheets. As they have today: GPOne has a comparison between long runs by Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. Rossi's 21 lap run was done with the new Yamaha M1 engine with pneumatic valves, running 2'02 second laps consistently, with a couple inside the 2'01 bracket, which is well inside the existing race lap record. But as impressive as those times were, they pale in comparison to Stoner's long run: the Australian managed to run 7 of 8 laps in the 2'01s on his Ducati GP8, with just a single slower lap in between.
After Sete Gibernau was injured in a crash caused by Casey Stoner, ironically the man who will replace him next year at Ducati, speculation was rife as to who would replace Gibernau at Valencia. The name getting the most attention was Troy Bayliss, and Ducati have finally made it official: today they issued a press release stating that Bayliss will ride at Valencia. Bayliss is understandably delighted, and it must give extra satisfaction, after being dropped by the Ducati MotoGP team two years ago.
After several months of speculation, and an unofficial announcement at Estoril, Ducati Corse has finally officially announced that Casey Stoner has signed to ride for them in 2007. Few details of his contract were made public, other than Stoner will be riding the GP7 Desmosedici next year, with an option to ride in 2008.
Claudio Domenicali, Managing Director of Ducati Corse, is quoted as saying of Stoner: "With his enthusiasm and aggressive riding style, Casey is sure to give our fans some extraordinary emotions." So far this year, those emotions have been elation as Stoner runs at the front, followed by despair as he loses the front end and crashes out. What is certain is that Stoner should be very spectacular to watch on the Ducati, and his riding style should match Loris Capirossi's, who is the Ducati team's main rider.
Well, contrary to what I wrote in a previous post, Casey Stoner is almost certain to stay in MotoGP after all. He will be losing his ride with LCR Honda at the end of this season, but he has announced to the press that he will be riding a Ducati in 2007. No details of the contract were released, but with Loris Capirossi taking a nice pay rise, it is unlikely that Stoner will be getting the $3 million he was reportedly demanding. However, the upside for Stoner is that he will be on a factory machine, and not have to wait in line for parts from HRC with the other satellite Honda riders.
Italian website MotoGrandPrix.it is reporting that Marco Melandri will be deciding whether or not to move to Ducati today. With both seats at HRC's factory Repsol Honda team filled, Ducati is Melandri's best hope of a full factory ride. Melandri has reportedly been promised a factory-supported V4 800 for next season by Honda, allowing him some input on the development of the bike, but this is not as strong a position as a seat in a full factory team.
Alberto Vergani, Melandri's manager, is said to have agreed a 2-year, $3 million-a-year deal with Ducati. Melandri's name has also been linked with Yamaha, but so far, no word on this has been forthcoming.
The Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Ducati have agreed terms with Loris Capirossi for 2007. Negotiations had been stuck for a long while, but Capirex' victory at Brno helped shift things along, and bought him a pay rise into the bargain. Ducati was said to be interested in Marco Melandri, but with Capirossi resigned, that interest has waned. The Italian factory is also said to be close to a deal with Sete Gibernau, retaining the pair for 2007.
In yet another blow for the troubled Sete Gibernau, the Spaniard will have to miss out on this weekend's Brno Grand Prix, after a scan of his collarbone showed it was still not strong enough to hold up to the strains of racing. This will be the third race the corner incident at Catalunya has caused the luckless Spaniard to miss, as previous surgery kept him away from the Assen and Donington rounds. The only bright point for Gibernau is that he has another three weeks to recover, as the race after Brno is at Sepang in Malaysia on September 10th.
Pramac d'Antin Ducati rider Alex Hofmann will once again replace Gibernau at Brno. Crash.net has more details of the story.
This just in from an official press release by the Pramac d'Antin Team:
For the eighth round of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship that in Assen, Holland, this weekend, ALEX HOFMANN, PRAMAC D'ANTIN MOTOGP rider, will replace SETE Gibernau on the Official Ducati. The Spanish rider injured himself during the frightening accident of last Sunday in Spain and his return will depend on how fast his recover will be. As a replacement for ALEX HOFMANN, there will be the Spanish IVAN SILVA, already racing for the Team of LUIS D'ANTIN in the EXTREME category of the Spanish Championship, that also did a race of the 2006 World Championship in the Superstock 1000 class.
Ducati has used their home GP to announce the Desmosedici RR, a roadgoing replica of their gorgeous Desmosedici racer. Specs are very impressive, with over 200 bhp claimed (with a 102 dB racing exhaust fitted) for the desmodromically operated 16 valve V4. No weight or price is given, but expect the former to be low, and the latter to be sky high. You'll also have to wait until July 2007 before you take delivery of your shiny new Duc. It will be exclusive, though, as only 400 are to be produced a year.
You can see a flashy version of the introduction over at the Ducati Website (click on the Desmosedici bar at the top of the page), or a more readable text-based version over at Mike Werner's Motorbiker.org blog.
One interesting question about this bike: The FIM rules for MotoGP state categorically that all bikes running must be prototypes:
- Four stroke motorcycles participating in the Motogp class must be prototypes. Those that are not entered by a member of MSMA must be approved for participation by the Grand Prix Commission.
The question is whether the other MSMA manufacturers will refrain from submitting complaints about the racing Desmosedici if Ducati start winning a lot. So, if, for the sake of argument, Rossi went to Ducati in 2008, and won 8 Grand Prix, how would Honda, or Yamaha, react?