Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
Forward Racing will not be at Indianapolis for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. As was widely expected, the team formally announced today that they lacked the funds to take part in the race. The team is now focused on making it to the following round, at Brno in the Czech Republic.
The team has been in severe financial difficulty ever since the arrest by the Swiss authorities of team owner Giovanni Cuzari on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. First, the team had all of its assets seized, as they were all in the name of Cuzari. Then, a number of its sponsors, including MotoGP title sponsor Athina, withdrew their support and stopped payment. With no access to existing funds and payment of new funds impossible, it was clear that making it to Indianapolis would be impossible.
2015 has not been kind to Davide Giugliano. The factory Ducati rider was already forced to miss the first four rounds of the season after fracturing two lumbar vertebrae in testing crash at Phillip Island, a week before the season began. Now he will be forced to miss the remainder of the season, after scans revealed a fracture of the thoracic vertebra D3, sustained in a crash at Laguna Seca.
Giugliano crashed during race 2 at Laguna Seca, cartwheeling spectacularly through the gravel at Turn 6 when a few spots of rain started to fall at the circuit. Though he was initially only diagnosed with some heavy bruising, upon his return to Italy, the Aruba.it Ducati man decided to have another scan, in part to ensure that no further damage had been done to the vertebrae he injured back in February. The scan turned up a fracture of a different vertebra, however, and Giugliano was told that the recovery period would be three months. That effectively put an end to his 2015 season, ruling him out of the remainder of the races.
Forward Racing boss Giovanni Cuzari remains under arrest in Lugano, Switzerland, and the team remain in doubt whether they will be able to participate in the next MotoGP round, scheduled for Indianapolis on 9th August. The biggest problem the team faces is that their bank accounts have been frozen, as part of the ongoing investigation into tax evasion, fraud and corruption which Cuzari and Libero Galli have been charged with by the Swiss authorities. The Open class Yamaha M1s and equipment belonging to the team is already in Indianapolis, having been flown there by IRTA after the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring. But without access to money to be able to pay for flights, hotels, car rental and all of the other sundry expenses which are necessary to allow a MotoGP team to actually go racing.
At Valencia last year, working for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder, I interviewed Valentino Rossi's crew chief Silvano Galbusera. The interview lived up to expectations, providing a fascinating insight into working with the nine-time world champion, and the pressures of replacing legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess as Rossi's right-hand man. Yesterday, we published the first part of the interview, in which Galbusera spoke of his switch to MotoGP, and replacing Jerry Burgess. In the second part of the interview, Galbusera talks specifically about working with Valentino Rossi, and what makes him such a special rider.
Q: When Valentino announced he would be changing crew chiefs, he said he needed a bigger challenge. It seems to me that the biggest change was in his mind, rather than in the garage. Is that the right impression, did you make the difference or did Valentino make the difference?
SG: Really I don't know 100%. But from what I understood, Valentino never do something without having a clear plan of this. I think of course, he remembered back in 2010 working with me, when we worked for a very short time on the test, but I think he collect some information from [team manager] Maio Meregalli, from others. It was a bit, of course, but it was not completely that. It wasn't a complete gamble.
It could have been a complete disaster, but he already think, he already make a plan, to help also me to do a good job.
Q: What has impressed you most about working with Valentino? What makes him special?
At Valencia last year, working for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder, I interviewed Valentino Rossi's crew chief Silvano Galbusera. The interview lived up to expectations, providing a fascinating insight into working with the nine-time world champion, and the pressures of replacing legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess as Rossi's right-hand man. Today, we publish the first part of the interview. The second part will be published on Thursday.
Q: It's been a big change for you coming here, perhaps the biggest challenge of your career. You have to replace Jeremy Burgess, and you have to work with Valentino Rossi. How has it been for you?
Silvano Galbusera: In the beginning, I worried about the situation, because Jeremy Burgess everybody knows is at the top. And also Valentino, Italian rider, great champion, so. The media, everyone, they want to know everything from Vale. So it's a bit critical, because I'm not experienced in MotoGP, coming from Superbike. First test it was so so, but after when we go to winter test, Malaysia, day by day we find a good opportunity to do well, with the team and everything. Because everyone is a lot experienced, is very high level, and they don't need to follow in every single moment, they know everything what they need to do, just to give them some paper and they follow everything. Then with Vale, we speak Italian, it's a little bit more easy to understand. And it was day by day more easy, more relaxed, to get the result at the category.
Q: So by the time you reached Qatar you were a good strong unit?
SG: Yes, but the problem is every weekend we learn a little bit. And now we have a good level, we are very close to Honda, we need to restart the season now, to understand the situation from Marquez and him. But unfortunately we take a time to understand, to make everything working well, and then we modify bike setting, geometry, position, so... It was a good job, but we would like to start again next season.
Press releases from the World Superbike teams after Sunday's races at Laguna Seca:
In the first race, Leon Haslam used different tyres to the rest of the field and looked like he would repeat his choice for race two, but instead, at the last minute, he switched to the same tyres as everyone else.
After a wet warmup this morning, the track had dried out, and the race would be twenty five laps of the shortest circuit of the series at a cooler temperature than usual.
Press releases after qualifying at Laguna:
World Superbike returns to the anti-clockwise Laguna Seca after a four-week break in racing, and the Kawasakis and Ducatis have dominated practice, with the Aprilias close behind.