Wherever racing paddocks assemble, rumors accumulate. The latest piece of gossip to hit the racing grapevine concerns Casey Stoner, and is emerging from the paddock he has just entered - the Australian V8 Supercars series - and revolves and the paddock he has just left, MotoGP. According to the V8 gossip*, Casey Stoner is to wildcard in at least two MotoGP races in the 2013 season, aboard a Honda RC213V.
The paddock gossip was picked up by the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, who contacted Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo for confirmation. Suppo denied any knowledge of such an agreement, though he did state that Stoner would be more than welcome to race as a wildcard for Honda, should he wish to do so.
The rumors do not exist only in the V8 Supercar paddock. The rumors are also doing the rounds among those with connections to Honda in the MotoGP paddock as well. Anonymous sources suggest that Stoner has been signed to do all three flyaway races - Sepang, Phillip Island, and Motegi - as well as private testing for HRC.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We will be featuring sections of Oxley's blogs, posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website, over the coming months.
The question is: are CRT bikes too slow? It depends on your viewpoint. If you are Jorge Lorenzo, under pressure from Dani Pedrosa as you come upon a backmarker at a crucial corner, then, yes, they probably are too slow. But if you are able to stand back and look at CRT bikes from a historical perspective then, no, they are not too slow.
Repsol Media Press Release Interview: Marc Marquez, On Sepang 1, and Learning to Ride a MotoGP Machine
After yesterday's interview with Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Media Service issued a press release containing an interview with MotoGP rookie Marc Marquez. In the interview, the 2012 Moto2 champion talks mainly about the process of learning to ride a MotoGP bike. The interview is shown in full below:
"You can have a lot of fun on this bike"
Repsol rider shines in first test of the year in Malaysia.
After first wearing the Repsol Honda Team uniform in the team presentation at the end of January, last week Marc Márquez was back on his new MotoGP bike to ride alongside the stars of the class. He made a positive assessment of the three days of testing in Malaysia.
What is your assessment of these three days of testing at Sepang?
"The first practice is always special, because you're always nervous after winter. I felt very good, better than I expected with the bike. With the team everything is working well and we're integrating slowly. I've tried new things and I also had my first crash with the MotoGP bike. It was not a big one and little-by-little we are getting to know the bike, which is what preseason is all about."
After three days of testing on the RC213V, what do you most enjoy and what was hardest when riding?
As is their custom, the Repsol Media Service released a press release interview with Dani Pedrosa after the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang. In the interview, Pedrosa talks about his experience of the first test, the things he expects Honda to improve for the next test, and the problems created by the weight increase from 157kg to 160kg and the decrease in engine allocation, requested by the MSMA, from 6 to 5 engines. He also has a word for his new teammate Marc Marquez. The interview follows below:
“As long as there is a desire to take steps forward, you can always improve”
Repsol rider has started 2013 motivated and focused on riding this season as strongly as in the second half of 2012.
Dani Pedrosa finished the first official test of the year at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia as the dominant rider over the three days. The Repsol Honda team rider never ceded the top spot on the time sheets and continually had the best time of the entire grid. Satisfied with this first test, Pedrosa is happy to be back to work on the Honda RC213V in 2013 and also has compliments for new teammate, Marc Márquez.
Three days of testing, and you had the fastest time in all of them. Are you happy with how things went in Sepang?
After the MotoGP class kicked off the 2013 preseason at Sepang, testing season is now well and truly opened. From Tuesday, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams assemble at Valencia for their first group test of the year, a test which should provide a few clues to the way the 2013 might develop, while raising more questions to be answered at the following test next week at Jerez.
It is not the first time on the track for everyone, however. A gaggle of KTM-mounted Moto3 teams have already posted laps at Almeria, joined there by the reigning Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese on his Kalex Moto2 machine, while another group of Moto3 boys had a shakedown test at Cartagena. As neither Almeria nor Cartagena, both located in Southern Spain, appear on the Grand Prix calendar, the lessons learned will be useful, but limited, the bikes still needing work once the teams arrive at Valencia for the three-day test, from 12th to 14th of February.
The Repsol Media Service issued the following press release, complete with video interviews, after the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang:
Repsol Honda head standings at opening test of the year
Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez leave Malaysia after three days of strong results. Pair take first and fourth best times, respectively.
Repsol Honda’s two riders returned to action in Sepang after the winter break in top form. Dani Pedrosa could not be knocked from the top spot on the timesheets and managed to smash the circuit record with a 2’00.100 lap.
Joy, determination and despair. If you had to choose three words to describe the first test of the 2013 MotoGP season, these are the words you would choose. Joy: for Valentino Rossi and his crew at finally having a bike that Rossi can ride and his team understand how to work with; for HRC, at seeing both their hopes and their expectations of Marc Marquez' ability confirmed; for Bradley Smith and Michael Laverty, at making such rapid progress on their early days in the class.
Determination: for Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, both working hard at preparing for their assault at a title which either could win. For Marc Marquez, focused on learning everything he can to add the consistency he needs to his raw speed, if he is to match Pedrosa and Lorenzo.
Despair: for the factory Ducati riders. Sepang showed the bike is uncompetitive, and with few avenues left to explore with the machine in its present state, despair at knowing they have many months of hard, dispiriting work ahead of them before they can even start to turn the situation around.
HRC Boss Reveals Details of Honda's Production Racer: Conventional Valves, Standard Gearbox, a Million Euros
The production racer version of Honda's RC213V is another step closer to reality. At Sepang, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto spoke to reporters and the MotoGP.com website about the new bike, and the progress being made on the machine which will take the place of the CRT machines from 2014 onwards. The bike is delayed, Nakamoto said, but it will be ready in time for the tests at Valencia, after the final race of the season in November.
Nakamoto gave a brief rundown of the specifications of the production RC213V - a bike which, given the amount of publicity it is going to be generating over the next few months, badly needs a new name - though the list contained few surprises. The bike will have conventional valve springs, as opposed to pneumatic valves on the factory machine. It will not have the seamless gearbox used by the prototypes - again, not a surprise, as maintenance on the gearbox is still an HRC-only affair. This was not a matter of cost, Nakamoto said, claiming the seamless gearbox now costs almost the same as a standard unit.
So what are we to make of the times posted after the second day of testing at Sepang? The order in which the four 2013 aliens finished was roughly as expected: Dani Pedrosa just edging Jorge Lorenzo, with Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi close behind. But did this tell the whole story? Were the times down to a single fast lap by one rider, while the others were grinding out race simulations? Or is the order in which the top four finished an accurate reflection of what we can expect for the 2013 season? Is this just a testing anomaly, or is this a preview of the 2013 Championship standings at the end of the year?
Predicting the championship is a little premature on the basis of just a single day's testing, but there is still sufficient data to start trying to interpret what it all means. Thanks to the fact that the full timesheets of every lap are now available on the MotoGP.com website, we can start to dig into the numbers, and see what patterns emerge.
Just as a reminder, here is how the top four finished:
Times dropped for the MotoGP men on the second day of testing at Sepang, much as you might expect once the riders have had a night's sleep to assimilate what they have learned from the previous day's testing. Comparing the times between the first and second days of testing provides an interesting view of where improvements were found, and who had gained the most between the two days.
The average improvement for all of the riders was around seven tenths of a second between the first and second days, but there were a few truly notable exceptions. The gains - or in some cases, losses - are shown in the two tables below, the first sorted in order of the fastest times set on the second day of testing, the second table sorted by improvement.
Biggest winners of the day are Ben Spies and Colin Edwards, both gaining over two seconds over their times from Tuesday, but as both are suffering with injury - Spies is still coming back from major shoulder surgery at the end of last year, while Edwards suffered a recurrence of a neck problem - there are extra factors at play here.
Press releases after the second day of testing for the MotoGP teams at Sepang:
It would be one of the larger understatements of the decade to say that the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang was eagerly anticipated. After the anti-climactic washout that was Valencia, many big questions of the 2013 season had been left hanging in the air over the winter. Given that motorcycle racing fans hate a vacuum even more than Nature does, they filled it, with speculation, conjecture, hyperbole and not a small amount of vitriol.
Would Valentino Rossi prove he still has it, or was his switch to Ducati merely the start of his downhill slide to retirement? Is Marc Marquez the real thing, or were his results in Moto2 deceptive, and down only to skullduggery on the part of his former team? Can Yamaha match the Hondas, or does the advantage which Dani Pedrosa had over the second half of the season mean it will be impossible for Jorge Lorenzo to defend his title? What of Ducati? Will Andrea Dovizioso succeed where Rossi failed, and will the Italian factory be able to claw back some of the ground they have been steadily losing to the Japanese factories since 2007?
After nearly 8 hours of track time - more than many expected, with rain forecast for the period during the test - we have answers to replace the speculation, and data to fill the gaping void created by the winter testing break. Were the answers found a surprise? That depends on your perspective. Did anyone seriously think Rossi wouldn't get closer on the Yamaha to the front runners than he did on the Ducati? No. But does the gap to Pedrosa - 0.427 seconds - mean he is fast enough to compete for the championship, or will it leave him running round in third all year? Was anyone surprised by Marquez running up front right from the off? Surely not. But who predicted he would get within a few hundredths of his teammate on just his second proper test? Did anyone seriously expect the Ducatis to have closed the gap to Honda and Yamaha? That would be crazy. But to be two seconds down?
Press releases issued by Honda, Yamaha, some CRT teams and Bridgestone after the first day of testing at Sepang:
With the first full day of MotoGP testing behind us, we can start to compare times between this year and last year. Conditions were broadly similar, though as the CRT bikes had done a few laps over the past couple of days, there was slightly more rubber on the track than at the end of January in 2012. But discarding the difference in conditions between the two tests, a pattern emerges from the relative improvement or decline of the various riders.
The rider who improved most between 2012 and 2013 is a bit of a surprise: Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi made a huge leap of over 4 seconds between this year and last, but other than the occasional wildcard, Akiyoshi will take no part in 2013, and so not too much should be read into those times.
Stefan Bradl made a huge leap forward: unsurprisingly, given that Sepang in January last year was the first time the German got to ride the 1000cc version of Honda's RC213V, having only tested the 800cc bike at Valencia three months' earlier. Much of the improvement comes from Bradl himself; the LCR Honda man has learned a lot in his rookie year, and will clearly be a factor in 2013. Cutting nearly 1.9 seconds off his time between 2012 and 2013 is a very positive achievement.
It's nearly time. In a few short hours, the full MotoGP field will roll out onto the track for the first time this year, and the 2013 MotoGP season will officially get underway with preseason testing.
That, at least, is the hope. For testing to truly get underway, MotoGP needs the weather to cooperate, something it has been reluctant to do for the past couple of days during the two days of extra testing laid on for the CRT teams using the new Magneti Marelli ECU. Part of Sunday and just about all of Monday were lost to rain, and the forecast for the next three days is for more rain than usual in this part of the world. Fortunately, the mornings look like being dry, so the fans will at least get to see some action on track.
And there is plenty to look forward to. The biggest topic of conversation among fans, unsurprisingly, is Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha. The Italian got off to a false start upon leaving the Ducati garage and heading a few doors down to Yamaha, when the weather at the Spanish track made conditions tricky and comparisons difficult. Yamaha then decided to up sticks and head to Aragon, in the hope of finding some dry track time. They were disappointed.
So Sepang should be the first real test of just how competitive Rossi still is once he is back on a bike which he understands and has a front end which provides him with the feedback he relies on to go fast. Rossi has seen his career come to a standstill for the past two years at Ducati, while the men he will have to beat this year have grown in stature and experience, and are now at the peak of their careers. The Italian will have to hit the ground running if he is to catch Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.