The last of Michel Hulshof's race-day photos from Assen. If you like these shots, or would like prints of his photos, you can contact Michel through his website at http://www.sports-photography.org/. You can also follow @ProNikon on Twitter.
Yet more stunning images from the camera of Michel Hulshof, shooting his home Grand Prix at Assen. You can see more at http://www.sports-photography.org/
With the introduction of the limit of 6 MotoGP engines for the entire season, the significance of engine blowups has suddenly skyrocketed. Where previously bikes ending a practice session in a cloud of oily smoke attracted merely curiosity, and perhaps wry amusement, now, every sign of failure is jumped upon and examined in minute detail.
So when Nicky Hayden pulled up on Friday morning at Assen, with a whiff of smoke trailing from his Marlboro Ducati, speculation began in earnest as to the nature and the cost of the event. When Hayden spoke to the press early on Friday evening, the first questions he fielded were on the subject of his blown motor.
"We think we lost an engine this morning," Hayden admitted, though he rejected suggestions it was a cause for great concern. "We haven't really gotten it apart to have a look, but it wasn't like a real fresh one. If I do have to lose one, it's not so bad. I still had a little time left on it, but it was almost finished anyway," the Marlboro Ducati rider told the press.
MotoMatters.com ace photographer Scott Jones may not be on the ground at Assen, but we still have a few photos for you. Our friend Michel Hulshof of Sports Photography picked his favorite spots around his home track and shot a few snaps for us. Enjoy:
MotoGP's bumper silly season has taken another step closer to its conclusion in recent weeks, with signs that both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are starting to move towards finalizing deals. Reports in the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport indicate that Valentino Rossi has been offered 15 million euros by Ducati to sign for the Italian factory.
That is a good deal more than Yamaha have offered the Italian. Rossi is reportedly currently under contract for some 14 million euros, but had been in discussions with Yamaha prior to Mugello about reducing his salary to between 9 and 10 million euros. That reduction was being driven by the need to cut costs, and the Corriere dello Sport is reporting that Rossi was looking favorably upon the salary cut, and had expressed a desire to finish his career at Yamaha.
After the formal press conference which traditionally kicks off every MotoGP weekend, Casey Stoner stayed on to speak to the English-language journalists at the Dutch track. The subject turned to the cold-tire highsides which saw Valentino Rossi and Hiroshi Aoyama injured, and taken out of action for at least a couple of months in both cases. Stoner was clearly sympathetic to the plight of both Rossi and Aoyama, but when one journalist asked if something needed to be done to prevent such injuries, the Marlboro Ducati rider pointed out that it had always been that way in the premier class. "Look at the 500s," he told reporters, "the riders were always flicking themselves back then."
But when another journalist suggested that we do not want to see a return to the bad old days of the 500cc two-stroke bikes, Stoner became vehement. "It was my dream to ride them," Stoner told the press, and went on to point out that this tendency to shy away from danger is part of an underlying trend in the modern sport. "This sport's becoming wimpy," Stoner said, "if everyone's not wrapped up in cotton wool, and it's not walls here, and walls there, there's no danger to the sport any more."
Prior to the first day of practice at Assen, Nicky Hayden gave his usual press debrief, to talk about the upcoming weekend's race. With two MotoGP regulars out for the foreseeable future, and factory test riders in at Fiat Yamaha and Interwetten Honda, we seized the opportunity to ask Hayden why he thought that the teams went with test riders, rather than bringing in a young talented rider to get some experience on a MotoGP bike. Here's what Hayden had to say on the matter:
Q: We've got two test riders coming in to substitute for Rossi and Aoyama, who are both injured. Why is it so hard to find someone to ride these bikes?
Nicky Hayden: You know, I'm not sure. I don't know why Colin turned it down. He complains his bike was slow but then he didn't want to ride the factory bike. I didn't understand that. But you know, I'm not really sure, because it's not like you're trying to get somebody to fill the Ilmor, these are bikes that can win races.
Q: What happened at the start.
CS: Ask my technician that, because it wasn't my fault.
Q: You weren't in second gear!
CS: No, the bike jumped and shuddered and shook, and it sounded like the bike basically exploded off the start, nearly stalled the thing and just started going horribly, and managed to keep it going. Got into the first turn and got shoved around and pushed around, and really spat out the back door.
I'm a little disappointed, because it would have been an easy second, maybe even battle with Jorge for the win, but I would have had to push for that.
While most of the silly season gossip focuses - quite understandably - on the fate of MotoGP's so-called Aliens, rumblings are also starting to emerge elsewhere. Perhaps the wildest of the other rumors currently doing the rounds concerns Loris Capirossi, whose tough season at the factory Rizla Suzuki team is starting to take its toll. According to the Gazzetta dello Sport (as reported by Autosport), and confirmed by GPOne.com, Capirossi's manager Carlo Pernat is looking around for a way to get Capirossi out of the clutches of Suzuki for next year.
Pernat has spoken to both Fausto Gresini and Lucio Cecchinello, looking to place Capirossi with one of the two Italian ex-riders. The LCR Honda option would require Capirossi becoming part of a two-rider team, something that would please Dorna immensely, but the problem for Cecchinello would be finding the budget. Perhaps a more realistic option for the Italian veteran would be a switch to Pramac, and making a return to Ducati, the manufacturer he scored his best results with.
With MotoGP returning to Silverstone after a 24-year hiatus, and the layout modified to make the track faster and more flowing than the configuration used by the World Superbike series previously, the general consensus after day 1 is positive. All of the riders had already been round the track on the scooter, and all were convinced it would be a fast and challenging circuit.
"It's beautiful," Jorge Lorenzo said of the Silverstone track. "The measures of the track are good, it is a very long track, very wide, a lot of changes of tarmac. It is very similar to the new tracks like Turkey and China. The other top riders concurred, praising the width of the track and especially it's high speed nature. "The track is fast, it has very long straights, the new part has some very fast and slow corners, but in general, I think it is a fast track," Dani Pedrosa said.
Marlboro Ducati's Nicky Hayden concurred. "It looks fast," the Kentuckian said. But like Dovizioso and Lorenzo before him, Hayden warned that impressions gained from a scooter are often deceptive once you climb aboard a 230hp MotoGP bike and take to the track. "It's one thing to go round on scooter, bicycle, feet," Hayden said, "But till you go round it behind that bubble, everything changes at speed."
With MotoGP due to head to Assen in just over a week, here's a taster from the World Superbike round back in April. Friend of MotoMatters.com Michel Hulshof of Sports Photography used his expert local knowledge to grab some beautiful shots from the two WSBK races. Michel grew up just a stone's throw away from the iconic Dutch circuit, and it shows. You can see more of his work on his website, or you can follow him on Twitter, under the user name @ProNikon.