The return to Misano was always going to be an emotional affair, the first time MotoGP has returned to Marco Simoncelli's home circuit - now renamed in his honor - since the Italian fan favorite was killed in a tragic accident at Sepang last October. Though Simoncelli is being remembered in many different ways during the weekend - nearly all of the riders in all three classes joined for a lap of the track by bicycle this evening - the remembrance has been cheerful rather than mawkish, a celebration of his life rather than mourning at his death. Fans, riders, mechanics, photographers, journalists, many have made the pilgrimage to Coriano, Simoncelli's home town just a few short miles from the track, paid their respects and headed to the circuit feeling better for the experience. Simoncelli's ghost may haunt the paddock at Misano, but happily, he does so in the guise of Casper rather than Banquo.
There is more than enough to keep the minds of those present engaged. Uppermost in most people's minds is Ben Spies decision to go to Ducati to race in the Ducati junior team to be run by Pramac. Both of the 2013 factory Ducati riders welcomed the signing of both Spies and Andrea Iannone, with Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden saying it was a good decision by Ducati. Both Spies and Iannone had proven their speed, and Spies experience at the factory Yamaha team would be very valuable to Ducati in helping to develop the bike. There was surprise at Spies' decision - "I thought he would go to World Superbikes" Dovizioso told reporters - and both men were interested to see how he would perform on the Ducati.
There was special praise too for Andrea Iannone. "He's already shown he has talent," Hayden said of the young Italian, while Dovizioso was impressed by Iannone's ability to ride many different bikes, and ride all of them very fast. Hayden suggested that Iannone's lack of experience could be a help. "In some ways, it's easier if you don't know anything else when you come to Ducati," Hayden said. When asked whether this was also a risk, signing a rider who could turn out to be fast despite the bike, rather than because of the bike, in the same way that Casey Stoner could win on the Ducati while all around him failed, Hayden disagreed. "I think they'd take another Casey right now!" The American quipped.
Hayden himself is back from injury, racing again since his monster crash at Indianapolis. The concussion was gone, and his head was OK - "Well, as OK as it's ever going to be," Hayden joked - but the still fractured metacarpal in his right hand was a problem. Mobility was fine, but he lacked strength in his right hand, Hayden told reporters, something which was a real problem because it meant he was not sure he would be able to brake the way he wanted to. He would not really understand how well he would be able to cope until he got on the bike on Friday and actually rode in practice, but he had already discussed some possible ways of reducing the pressure while riding on his right hand with the team.
Ducati brings some new parts to Misano, parts tested by Valentino Rossi at the track two weeks ago. Rossi had a new chassis and a new swingarm to use from Misano onwards, parts which he had originally intended to test at Mugello, but an electronics problem early in that test had prevented him. The chassis had a revised stiffness, and altered the location of the electronics and gas pod had been altered, changing the weight distribution. The bike had been an improvement when compared to the new one, and Rossi hoped that this would help make the bike more competitive. He also hoped that Ducati would be able to bring yet more parts to help before the end of this year, to allow him to get closer to the front.
On a different note, the 2013 calendar has been anxiously awaited for the past few weeks, with some hoping that a provisional calendar would appear at Brno. That did not happen, nor will a calendar be published this weekend, though one is expected around the middle of next week. The calendar will feature 18 or 19 races, depending on how the political situation over the Repsol YPF nationalization in Argentina develops. If Argentina is on the calendar, even that will not mean that it will definitely go ahead, with tension between Spain and Argentina continuing. Repsol is believed to be opposed to going to Argentina until the expropriation of YPF has been resolved. There is also uncertainty over Texas, though that round looks sure to go ahead, the question being who will organize the event. The Austin round will take the place of Estoril, happening some time in late April or early May, while temperatures are still bearable.
MotoGP is also on course to introduce a spec ECU for 2014, with the initial version of the unit being offered to the CRT teams for 2013. The original plan was to offer the teams next year the spec ECU as intended for the 2014 season, but with no limit on the factory electronics in 2013, that would have disadvantaged them even further. So instead, the 2013 unit will be the standard ECU which will be used from 2014 onwards, but with much more functionality enabled. This way, teams electing to run the spec ECU will be able to be competitive in 2013, while still getting experience with the ECU that is to be made standard for all of the bikes for 2014.
That 2014 date now looks to be set in stone, despite threats by HRC that they could leave the MotoGP series and head to World Superbikes if they do not get their own way. Suzuki had had meetings with Carmelo Ezpeleta at Brno, to talk about a return in 2014, and the Japanese manufacturer had also threatened not to come back to the series if a spec ECU were to be implemented. Ezpeleta was blunt: either accept the spec ECU or don't come, he reportedly told Suzuki, the Spaniard's previous experience offering Suzuki special dispensation having worked out rather badly (Suzuki told Ezpeleta they would leave the series if they were not allowed to sign a rookie to the factory team; Ezpeleta made an exception for them, and a year later Suzuki cut back to a single bike, to withdraw completely a year later).
Ezpeleta is willing to call the factories' bluff on the technical regulations, believing that they cannot afford to leave. HRC's threats to leave MotoGP if they are subject to technical restrictions they don't like may be credible, their threats to go to World Superbikes instead are not. The Flammini brothers who run WSBK have been clear throughout, they make the technical regulations and the factories have very little say in it. Ducati - backbone of the series and of whom it has been said they have way too much say in WSBK's rules and regulations - have been unable to get Infront to drop the 6kg performance balancing penalty introduced at the beginning of 2012, and are not inclined to drop the 50mm inlet restrictors either. Honda threatening to leave MotoGP and go to WSBK because of the lack of technical freedom in MotoGP is like an artist threatening to defect from China because of a lack of artistic freedom, and go and live in North Korea.
This is a battle that will run for a while, but in the end, Dorna will prevail. The Spanish organizer of MotoGP has spent the past ten years giving the factories what they want, and the factories have either raised the price of satellite bikes or left the series altogether.
Tomorrow, the riders take to the track in Misano for practice, and many people's thoughts will be with Marco Simoncelli. Fewer people, perhaps, will think of Shoya Tomizawa, the young Japanese star who lost his life here at the circuit in 2010. That is a shame, as both men were sparkling personalities and truly talented riders. Two fatalities, in two consecutive years, robbed the championship of far, far too much talent. Keep both Simoncelli and Tomizawa in your thoughts this weekend.