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It's Official - Casey Stoner To Ducati For 2007

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.

This move now leaves Sete Gibernau without a ride in 2007, although he is reputedly in talks with Kawasaki. The irony of Stoner's signing will not be lost on Sete, who will be unable to race at Valencia as a result of injuries he suffered after crashing out when Casey Stoner fell in front of him, leaving him with nowhere to go but over and out.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

MotoGrandPrix.it has a blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to Stoner's signing over the weekend of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Some interesting details:

  • Stoner will earn a base salary of 1.5 million Euros, with results-related bonuses;
  • Ducati turned to Stoner on Saturday night after Sete Gibernau demanded 2 million Euros in salary during contract renewal negotiations;
  • Ducati and Stoner basically agreed to terms on Sunday morning, prior to the race;
  • After Stoner told Lucio Cecchinello that he had agreed terms with Ducati, the LCR team boss immediately went out and contracted Carlos Checa as Stoner's replacement;
  • News of Checa's contract with LCR is what blew the whole Stoner / Ducati story into the public eye.

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Updated 2007 MotoGP Calendar

The FIM have announced that the 2007 MotoGP calendar has been revised. Most of the changes are fairly minor, but there are one or two bigger changes. In brief, Qatar is a week earlier, Turkey and China have switched places, and Australia and Malaysia have been moved up a week. The biggest change is to Portugal, which has been pulled forward to September, giving the paddock an extra week to recover from the three previous flyaways.

Whether this is truly the final version of the calendar remains to be seen. A lot of riders are unhappy at having to ride 18 races in a season, and a number of the flyaway races have such poor attendances that doubts remain about their viability. Shanghai, Istanbul and Sepang are the names most frequently mentioned in this context. With Sepang the venue for the winter tests, and Shanghai considered an important stepping stone into the Chinese market, that leaves the best track of the three, and indeed, one of the best tracks of the year, as the most likely candidate to be dropped. If you plan on visiting one of these races, don't rush to book your tickets ...

2007 MotoGP calendar

March 10** Qatar Doha/Losail
March 25 Spain Jerez de la Frontera
April 22 Turkey Istanbul
May 6 China Shanghai
May 20 France Le Mans
June 3 Italy Mugello
June 10 Catalunya Catalunya
June 24 Great Britain Donington Park
June 30 ** Netherlands Assen
July 15 Germany Sachsenring
July 22 United States * Laguna Seca
August 19 Czech Republic Brno
September 2 San Marino &
Riviera di Rimini
Misano
September 16 Portugal Estoril
September 23 Japan Motegi
October 14 Australia Phillip Island
October 21 Malaysia Sepang
November 4 Valencia Ricardo Tormo Valencia
*: MotoGP Class Only
**: Saturday Race

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Punishments At HRC After Pedrosa Destroys Hayden's Title Hopes?

The excellent US roadracing magazine RoadRacerX has a story on it's website that punishments might be on the cards for key HRC personnel after Dani Pedrosa shattered Honda's best chance of taking a World Championship since Valentino Rossi left, with an ill-advised pass. The kamikaze pass on team mate Hayden is widely being blamed on HRC's failure to instigate team orders, allowing Pedrosa to believe he was fully justified in taking any risk necessary to win races, in a desperate attempt to close the 34 point deficit Pedrosa had on Nicky Hayden.

The Italian site MotoGrandPrix.it seems to have broken the story, and is stating that the most likely candidate for punishment will be Tsutomu Ishii, HRC's General Manager, although the names Makoto Tanaka (Team Manager), Chris Herring (Sporting Director) and Roger van der Borght (Team Coordinator) are also being mentioned.

Meanwhile, the international press is calling for Alberto Puig, Pedrosa's crew chief and mentor, to be among those punished, after his extremely intemperate remarks to a Spanish sports daily, basically blaming Hayden for the crash, and claiming that Pedrosa had every right to attempt the pass that ended HRC's title hopes. Dennis Noyes, a long-time MotoGP journalist and former racer, has a very interesting piece over at SpeedTV.com on the Svengali-like relationship between Pedrosa and Puig, putting Pedrosa's mad move into keen perspective.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

I have a piece about the root causes behind the crash here.

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The MotoGP Merry-Go-Round Continues - Stoner and Checa Moves

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.

Stoner's seat at LCR will be taken by Carlos Checa, who has been revitalized this season, after a run of decent, but not brilliant seasons at Yamaha and Ducati. Checa has been the only Dunlop rider to be anywhere near the action this season, and his performance has paid off.

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2006 Estoril Qualifying Practice

The knife-edge tension of this morning's free practice session was continued this afternoon, as the riders set out on the qualifying practice for tomorrow's Portuguese Grand Prix. Spectators were not to be disappointed.

The session started with a very fast lap by Casey Stoner, and though many tried, the young Australian sat on top of the timesheets for a very long time, while most riders were out tweaking race set-ups and selecting race tires. Behind Stoner, it was Valentino Rossi who seemed to have gained the first advantage, close to matching Stoner's times, and never dropping out of the top 3.

As the 20 minutes to go mark approached, the traditional rush for the pole commenced. It was Casey Stoner who opened, with a lap just outside the fastest times of this morning, with a 1:37.066. Carlos Checa, Shinya Nakano, and Valentino Rossi got close to Stoner, but none could beat him, until Nicky Hayden edged Stoner by the narrowest of margins, setting a time one thousandth of a second faster.

A couple of minutes later, Dani Pedrosa looked like he was on his way to oust his team mate from the pole, when his flying lap was ruined by a huge slide exiting the slow chicane in the final section. Minutes later, Marco Melandri showed Pedrosa the correct way to slide the rear, smoking the rear tire round and out of the right-handed chicane exit. Spectacular it surely was, but it did Melandri little good in the standings.

With 10 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi showed everyone the kind of times it was going to take if you wanted to hold on to the pole. In an outstanding display of riding, Rossi weaved his way through heavy traffic to set the fastest time of the day so far, with a 1:36.627, 2/10ths faster than Hayden's time in FP3. The Kentucky Kid was suddenly under real pressure, and while attempting to respond, ran wide, and into the gravel.

Hayden's team mate did respond, however, taking the provisional pole with a time nearly 1/10th faster than Rossi's time. Behind Pedrosa, a legion of riders were out setting fast laps, and within a couple of minutes, Hayden had slipped from 3rd all the way down to 7th. John Hopkins kept getting close to taking the pole, setting the fastest times in the first 3 sections, before always losing out in the last part out onto the final straight. And behind Hopper, Colin Edwards was putting up his best fight of the season, in 5th place with 5 minutes left to go.

But with 4 minutes left to go, The Doctor moved to settle this thing in his favor, setting an astonishing 1:36.200 lap of the Estoril circuit. Feeling that his lead was virtually unassailable, Rossi meandered back into the pits, to take his number 2 bike out to get a feel for it. 2 minutes later, Rossi's lead was looking more fragile than before, as Hayden started on a blistering lap. It was fast, but not fast enough, ending up in 2nd spot, 3/10ths behind Rossi.

As Hayden slowed to come in, team mate Dani Pedrosa was out on a charge, threatening to take Hayden's spot at the least, and get close to Rossi. But as he rounded a right-hander round the rear of the track, he ran into Casey Stoner, slowing inexplicably on the inside racing line of the turn, his foot out, as if ready to perform a test start. Pedrosa was fuming, and rode out the rest of the lap cursing into his helmet and shaking his fist. The whole incident had shades of Assen last year, when Max Biaggi stopped to take a practice start before the session had been flagged as finished, nearly knocking Marco Melandri, who was on a fast lap, off his bike. Biaggi was fined a total of $6000 for the incident, so it will be interesting to see how the FIM responds to Stoner's lapse of judgement. To his credit, Casey Stoner immediately entered Pedrosa's pit after qualifying was finished, and apologized fully to Dani, and the pair settled it with a handshake.

Back on the track, the front row looked settled, a repeat of the morning's practice session with Rossi and Hayden, their roles reversed. But there were still riders out there on fast laps. As the flag fell, Colin Edwards rounded the track in an outstanding 1:36.478, snatching 2nd place from Hayden, the Texan finally showing he could once again be the Tornado at windy Estoril.

So, tomorrow's grid is a fascinating prospect. Two team mates, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards, sit in the first 2 places, with two other team mates, Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, in 3rd and 4th. Beside Pedrosa sits Casey Stoner, followed by John Hopkins. Shinya Nakano heads up the 3rd row of the grid in 7th, with Sete Gibernau and Carlos Checa beside him. Loris Capirossi will be disappointed to have set only the 10th fastest time, while Marco Melandri sits down in 15th. Kenny Roberts Jr, who had been so fast earlier this weekend, sits in a lowly 13th spot.

With the two Camel Yamaha bikes ahead of him, Nicky Hayden has a tough nut to crack tomorrow. Repsol Honda may not have team orders, but you can bet your bottom Euro that Camel Yamaha do. And with Hayden having trouble off the line caused by his clutch at the last few races, if he can't get ahead of Edwards from the start, he may have a problem getting ahead of Valentino Rossi. Rossi, for his part, needs to get a good start, and he could be another step closer to snatching back the title from Hayden. Whatever happens, it's going to be epic.

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2006 Estoril FP3 - Head To Head

Day 2 of the Portuguese Grand Prix started with what the MotoGP 2006 season has come down to: Two men, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, going head to head. It was only a free practice session, though admittedly a very important one, preceding qualifying as it does, but tension is being raised to almost unbearable levels. At the end of the session, it was Nicky Hayden who came out on top, setting a scorching 1:36.846, with Valentino Rossi setting the 2nd fastest time with a 1:37.032. Hayden will have dealt a psychological blow to Rossi, being the first, and only, rider to break into the 1:36 bracket. But Rossi ran consistently faster when testing race tires, a fact which will worry Hayden. So, we will have to call the result of FP3 a draw, for the moment.

Behind the two title hopefuls, places 3 to 8 were pretty close, Loris Capirossi's 8th time less than half a second slower than Dani Pedrosa's 3rd. Worryingly for Hayden, Pedrosa was also very fast on race tires, running a long string of 1:38s and 1:37s. Kenny Roberts Jr came very close to taking Pedrosa's 3rd spot, finishing just 9/1000ths behind the diminutive Spaniard. Colin Edwards continued his strong showing with a 5th time, ahead of Sete Gibernau and Casey Stoner, Loris Capirossi taking 8th. John Hopkins and Shinya Nakano followed, in 9th and 10th respectively.

Marco Melandri, who injured his knee during FP2 yesterday afternoon, was out, but could only set the 12th fastest time. He is sure to be fit for the race, but not strong enough to challenge at the front. The Ilmor SRT X3's times were once again watched closely, Garry McCoy finally slipping into last place (surely much to the relief of Jose Luis Cardoso), 4.3 seconds behind Hayden's time. We await qualifying practice with even more eagerness than usual.

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A Totally Unfounded Rumor About Edwards, Shamelessly Copied From Soup

Superbikeplanet.com is suggesting that Yamaha will renew Colin Edwards' contract before the weekend is out. The rumor is tentative, and based on more Chinese whispers than a Shanghai library, but still. Valentino Rossi is known to look favorably on Colin Edwards as a team mate, as he provides useful input during testing (without being a threat to Rossi's title chances), and Michelin like Edwards because of his skills in tire development. Even Yamaha like him, as he is an American, a very significant market for the Musical Motorcycling Manufacturer, especially with the growing popularity of MotoGP in the USA. And after failing to sign Nicky Hayden earlier this year, Edwards looks like their best American option. We shall see on Sunday.

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2006 Estoril Day 1 - FP 1 and FP2

Day 1 at Estoril brought a whole bunch of surprises, as you might expect from this topsy-turvy season. The morning started out almost as an echo of last season, with Valentino Rossi ensconced firmly atop the timesheets, although the times were remarkably slow, Rossi's fastest a 1:39.398, fully 2 seconds off Alex Barros' pole time from 2005. Behind Rossi was his friend and colleague Loris Capirossi, putting the big red Ducati into second spot. Capirossi was followed by John Hopkins, putting on a strong showing in the cool conditions, with the championship leader Nicky Hayden in 4th. Hayden headed up the class rookies Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, with the Yamahas of Colin Edwards and Carlos Checa doing surprisingly well to take 7th and 8th. Behind Checa, the Fortuna Hondas were having a harder morning of it, with Toni Elias leading team mate Marco Melandri, down in 10th.
 

If the morning session had been indifferent for the Fortuna Honda team, the afternoon was positively disastrous. Just a few minutes into the session, Marco Melandri ran wide into one of the left-handers, and dropped the bike heavily onto his left knee. He was immediately taken to the Clinica Mobile, and did not reappear for the remainder of the session. The team later announced that x-rays had shown that Melandri had not broken anything, but his knee was very badly bruised. He is a probable to race on Sunday, but having hurt his knee this badly, the slim shot he had at the title has now evaporated.

If Melandri's title hopes had been killed off, FP2 saw a revival in Nicky Hayden's fortune. The Kentucky Kid posted an excellent 2nd fastest time, at a track that has traditionally been pretty poor for him, behind an unleashed Casey Stoner. Stoner, as yet unconfirmed for 2007, said that he had taken some of the pressure of himself, and the more relaxed attitude to the race seems to have gained him some speed. Stoner's afternoon time was over a second faster than Rossi's morning time, at 1:38.218. Hayden was just 5/100ths behind Stoner, with a surprisingly strong Kenny Roberts Jr in 3rd spot. Behind Kenny Jr, Carlos Checa built on his fine outing in the morning session to take an excellent 4th spot, showing that the Dunlops are making steady progress towards becoming competitive. Both Dani Pedrosa and Colin Edwards moved up a place, with Sete Gibernau posting a respectable 7th. Gibernau later complained of some pain in the shoulder he injured at Catalunya, despite the two operations he had to fix the problem over the summer.

Valentino Rossi must have been a little worried after FP2, setting a time only 8th fastest of the session, over half a second slower than his rival Hayden. Rossi later put his time down to problems with his number 1 bike, causing him to lose time setting up his number 2 bike, and trouble finding the right tire. Although 8th is no disaster, he will need to be much further up the grid at the end of qualifying, if he is to stand a chance of holding off Hayden during the race. Behind Rossi, John Hopkins headed up Shinya Nakano to round out the top 10. Loris Capirossi, 2nd in the morning's session, had a very poor afternoon, failing to improve on the time he set in the morning, finishing a lowly 13th.

But all eyes were on Garry McCoy and the Ilmor SRT X3. Each lap time the Ilmor posted was subject to intense scrutiny and endless speculation. McCoy had been a little off the pace in the morning session, just over 4 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi. In the afternoon, McCoy had cut his lap time by over 1.3 seconds, and closed the gap to the leaders by just over 1/10th of a second. But the most important statistic was the fact that McCoy was not last in either session. James Ellison was slower during the morning session, and perpetual backmarker Jose Luis Cardoso was 2/10ths slower during the afternoon. The X3 was most obviously down on top speed, clocking a maximum of 304.7 at the end of the main straight, 20 km/h, or 12 mph slower than fastest man Casey Stoner. But the Ilmor ended the day within contention, a strong result for a motorcycle with 20% less capacity than the bikes it is racing against.

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Out Of The Closet At Last: The Ilmor X3 Officially Unveiled

Over the past few months, the items I have posted here about the Ilmor / Suter bike have pulled a large number of visitors to my blog, as witnessed by the hundreds of hits from Google with the words "Ilmor" and "Suter" in the search query. Today, the long wait for those news hungry fans has finally come to an end, as the new Ilmor Suter X3 was unveiled at Estoril. The bike, a very sharp, pointed, almost KTM-like design, was presented to huge media interest at a news conference this afternoon, where the team commented on the future of the project, and attempted (somewhat unsuccessfully) to dampen expectations for this weekend.

For the presentation of the Ilmor marks the birth of a new era in MotoGP: The Ilmor X3 is the first of the new 800cc bikes to turn a wheel in anger, and it's performance will be monitored with intense scrutiny. Eskil Suter, the Swiss engineer in charge of chassis development, did his best to temper expectations of the bike this weekend, reminding those present that Ilmor is "running an 800 against the 1000 cc machines", which leaves the X3 at an obvious disadvantage, especially along the 210 mph main straight at Estoril. That will not stop the entire racing world analyzing very closely every lap Garry McCoy turns on this bike.

So, what can we expect? Mario Illien, in a previous interview, said that the Ilmor X3 had already set faster times than the Ducati 800 GP7 during testing. And of course, at the post-race tests at Brno, Loris Capirossi put in a lap within 1.5 seconds of his fastest race lap on the new 800. Ducati notably failed to mention whether this time was set on race tires or qualifiers, so it's a little hard to draw any conclusions from this. With Estoril being a shorter track than Brno, and containing a lot of slowish corners, McCoy should be able to get within 2 seconds of the fastest lap during the race. Anything under a second would be sensation, but if the Ilmor is much more than 3 seconds a lap off the pace, then the bike is likely to struggle to be competitive. The first free practice session on Friday morning will reveal all.

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Scrap Another Name - Dovizioso Stays In 250 Next Year

Well, the influx of young riders from the 250 class seems slowly to be staunching: After Jorge Lorenzo decided to stay in 250s for one more year (I will have more to say about this during the off-season), the only man capable of taking the title from him has also announced he'll be staying in the class next year. According to the Italian site MotoOnline, Andrea Dovizioso has signed a 2 year contract with Honda, staying in 250s for 2007, and moving to MotoGP in 2008.

It will be very interesting to see what Dovizioso will be riding, and for whom, in 2008, as the Honda seats look pretty well booked, even for 2008: Nicky Hayden has a 2 year deal with HRC Repsol Honda, and it's almost inconceivable that HRC won't re-sign Pedrosa when his contract finishes at the end of next season. Which leaves the satellite teams, and there are plenty of candidates for those rides. It certainly complicates the picture for next year's silly season (and this year's hasn't even finished yet ...).

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