The launch of Ducati's 2012 season got properly underway this morning, when Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden faced questions from the press at Madonna di Campiglio, the Italian ski resort that hosts Ducati's Wrooom event. After a disastrous 2011, much of the focus of questioning was on the new Ducati GP12, the bike missing from the festivities at Wrooom, but to make its first public appearance at the Sepang test. The delay, according to various reports, is more to do with finalizing the livery, with details still to be hammered out with sponsors.
That may be the most difficult question to answer of the 2012 preseason. After suffering a crash at Sepang caused the Moto2 rookie to lose his shot at the 2011 Moto2 world title, the double vision problems he suffered as a result have continued throughout the winter. Now the 2012 season is just around the corner, but Marquez' problems are not fixed yet.
Motomatters.com spoke to the man behind Marc Marquez on Monday. The 1999 125cc World Champion Emilio Alzamora talked about the dramatic end to Marquez's 2011 season, the improvement his eye problem has shown during the last few weeks and his hopes for a complete recovery before the 2012 season starts next February: "Everybody knows that since Marquez crashed at Sepang, he has been suffering from an eye problem", said Catalunya Caixa Suter Moto2 team manager Alzamora. "He sustained some damage to one of the four nerves that control his eye. That made him see double when staring up or down. It is a kind of problem that should simply disappear in a matter of time, so just after Marquez's accident doctors told us that it could take up to four months to recover completely. But then there was a different doctor who said that it could be fixed earlier. That's why Marc kept his championship ambitions to race in Valencia. But when we went to Ricardo Tormo for the last round of the season, it became clear that there was no chance for Marc to take part in the race".
Despite the loss of the factory Yamaha team, the World Superbike series is still in relatively good health, considering the financial crisis. Though the days of 30+ rider grids are gone, grid size has stabilized at around the 22 rider mark, 1 up from last year, while there are still 6 manufacturers present, Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki in an official capacity, Honda unofficially via Ten Kate, and Suzuki absent, with Crescent working with Yoshimura on their own bikes.
The field has seen some changes, though most of the title favorites are staying with the teams they were with in 2011. Carlos Checa remains with Althea Ducati, though the effort expands to include 2011 Superstock champ Davide Giugliano, while Max Biaggi is in the second year of his 2-year contract with Aprilia, and Johnny Rea is staying with the Ten Kate Honda squad. Championship runner up Marco Melandri has been forced to move, joining Leon Haslam at BMW, while his erstwhile teammate Eugene Laverty has been paired with Biaggi in the factory Aprilia squad. The factory Kawasaki rider contingent is cut from 3 to 2, Chris Vermeulen losing his slot, while Tom Sykes remains alongside Joan Lascorz.
The introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams has caused a massive wave of confusion among MotoGP fans, and left then with a host of questions. Below, we attempt to answer most of the questions that race fans have about this new category of bikes, as well as addressing how it came to be created in the first place.
What on earth is a CRT?
CRT stands for Claiming Rule Team, and is a new category of entry in the MotoGP class. They will run alongside the normal factory and satellite MotoGP bikes (now officially classified as "factory prototypes" regardless of whether they are being run in a factory team or a satellite team), and be subject to slightly different rules.
What are the rule differences between the CRTs and the factory prototypes?
The CRT entries will be allowed more fuel and more engines: while factory prototypes will have 21 liters of fuel and be allowed to use 6 engines in 2012 (just as in 2011), the CRT entries will be given 24 liters of fuel to last a race, and have 12 engines for the 2012 season. Because of these advantages, existing manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha or Ducati) will be allowed to claim engines from CRT entries.
What does "claiming an engine" mean and how does it work?
The 2011 MotoGP season is now officially over, and the first steps on the road to 2012 have been taken. Coming on top of a race weekend, two days of testing leave the MotoGP paddock exhausted, drained, and after an 18-race season, quite frankly sick of the sight of each other.
Fortunately for the MotoGP class, the weather perked up on Monday, producing two days of glorious weather for the riders to test in. While the track was still a little dirty on Tuesday, by Wednesday conditions were perfect, the track dry and warm, or at least as warm as it is going to get in early November. Everyone came away tired but content with the work they had gotten done, and no one complained they had not got round to testing everything they had on their list. With the old 800s making way for the 1000cc MotoGP bike, it was important that everyone had time on the track to test.
Alongside the on-track action, the final round of MotoGP at Valencia saw a flurry of activity to fill the final seats of the 2012 MotoGP grid. That process was not as easy as it could have been: the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli left the picture complicated at Gresini, and the continuing uncertainty over Suzuki's plans for 2012 made it difficult for riders to commit to the Japanese factory.
In the end, though, most of the vacant seats have now been filled. The single bike that Pramac Ducati will field next year will be taken by Hector Barbera, as expected. Alvaro Bautista finally announced he would be leaving Suzuki and joined Gresini, to race the single Honda RC213V that the team will have at its disposal for next year. And though the place at LCR Honda is still officially empty, the performance of Stefan Bradl aboard the Honda 800 during the two-day test was sufficient to secure the deal, sources report, with official confirmation expected over the next few days.
Suzuki's situation remains unclear, though the team continues to fight valiantly to remain on the grid, at least with an 800 for the first half of 2012, and after a strong test on the bike, Randy de Puniet is now favorite to take that spot.
If the first day of last year's Valencia test was one of the biggest media events of the century - at least in the MotoGP world - the first day of this year's test was a lot more interesting. Though the test was missing a number of big names - Jorge Lorenzo was ruled out with a finger injury, Nicky Hayden couldn't take part because he fractured his scaphoid in the crash on Sunday - this was a day that the future was on display.
The results sheet showed one thing all too clearly: the Hondas are on a different planet, Dani Pedrosa being a tenth faster than his teammate Casey Stoner, but the gap back to Ben Spies in 3rd is enormous. Spies was over a second slower than Pedrosa, and nine tenths off Stoner, and at the head of a group of eight riders separated by just over a second. When I asked one Honda insider about the Honda tests in Jerez at the start of the year, they used the word "insane" to describe the performance. At Valencia, we got a taste of what that meant.
The least surprising news revealed by Filippo Preziosi in the press conference he gave at Valencia today was that Ducati will be testing an aluminium perimeter frame on Tuesday and Wednesday. The fact that Ducati have been building such a frame came to light in mid-August, Ducati sources letting slip that the factory was building such a frame. But the existence of such a chassis was always officially denied, at least until today.
But even as he made the announcement, Preziosi stressed that this frame - an aluminium twin spar design - was very much a starting point, rather than the finished product ready to race. "The bike you will see tomorrow with the perimeter frame will be not the bike for the first race," Preziosi told reporters. "The bike you will see tomorrow is an experimental bike, really a prototype bike, to give to our designer the targets to design bike of the future."
The goal of such a move is to create a baseline, a starting point for the work that is to come. The first task of the aluminium perimeter frame is to replicate the existing frameless design, to understand the changes as Ducati moves forward on this new path. "At this stage, we would like just to realize a bike with a different kind of chassis but with exactly the same geometry and weight distribution as the current bike uses," Preziosi explained.
The last race of the year is always one for farewells, but we had an awful lot of goodbyes on Sunday at Valencia. The last ever race for the 800cc MotoGP bikes, the last ever race of Loris Capirossi's very long and highly colorful career (some paddock wags suggesting that the first win of his career came against a rider called Maximus Decimus Meridius), the end of the two-stroke Grand Prix era, with the 125cc bikes making way for the Moto3 machines. The departure of some of the finest journalists and broadcasters from the paddock, as the Spanish state TV company TVE ended its tenure in the paddock. Riders heading off to the World Superbike paddock, some returning to their old stomping ground, as is the case with Kenan Sofuoglu, others to try pastures new, Hiroshi Aoyama joining the Ten Kate Honda squad.
It seems somehow fitting that the last ever qualifying session for the 800cc MotoGP bikes should be dominated so utterly by the man who has dominated the 800cc era. Despite the fact that Casey Stoner won only the first and the last 800cc titles, he still has the most pole positions and wins in the period between 2007 and 2011. Stoner ended the penultimate day of the 2011 season in style, matching Mick Doohan's record of 12 pole position in a single season and beating everyone else on the grid by over a second.
It wasn't just that Stoner was in a different time zone to the rest of the field, it was also the panache with which he did it. Turn 13 - the long, long left hander that runs over the hill and down towards the final tight corner leading back onto the straight - is a pretty spectacular sight at the best of times. Perhaps the iconic image of the 990 era was of Nicky Hayden sliding the back his V5 RC211V round there back in 2006. If anything, Casey Stoner was even more outrageous, getting the back of the successor RC212V - an RC211V with one cylinder removed - stepped out so far it looked like he was back racing dirt track, not a MotoGP bike. "Casey is very confident with the bike and also in the right position in the seat," was Valentino Rossi's understated assessment of Stoner's slide. "We slide also, but he slide more."