This is the first in a series of weekly round ups of motorcycle racing news from around the world. Every Wednesday, we will bring a brief summary of stories that did not warrant a full article of their own. So here are some stories you may have missed, for the week preceding 11th February 2015.
Ducati Desmosedici GP15 to be presented on line
It is becoming something of a tradition among the MotoGP factories: launching their MotoGP teams online. Two weeks ago, the Movistar Yamaha launched their 2015 livery in Madrid. On Monday 16th February, Ducati will be officially presenting their bikes and riders to the fans and media live on the Ducati website.
The Ducati launch is a little more significant than Yamaha's presentation, however. While the Movistar Yamaha presentation was mostly about showing off the new color scheme the factory team is to use in 2015, Ducati will be presenting the Desmosedici GP15 online. The first bike to come from the pen of Gigi Dall'Igna, this is the machine which Ducati hope will finally allow them to be fully competitive with the factory Hondas and Yamahas. The bike is expected to feature a new, more compact engine, though still a 90°V4 using desmodromic valves, fitted in a smaller chassis.
The presentation starts at 11am CET on the Ducati website. Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will get their first ride of the bike on 23rd February, when the second Sepang test gets underway.
Should Melandri stay or should he go?
Given that Aprilia's return to MotoGP was both earlier than anticipated, and embarked upon at a very late stage, their initial times at the Sepang test could be regarded as acceptable. The new engine – with an 81mm bore and pneumatic valves – proved to be reasonably reliable, and though still down on power, at least closer to the fastest bikes. The new chassis was much less of a success, both Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri preferring to stay with the 2014 bike, rather than switch to the new RS-GP, as it has been dubbed.
While Bautista's times were acceptable, those of his teammate were absolutely dire. Marco Melandri ended the test as dead last, behind all of the Open class bikes, behind the test riders, and 1.7 seconds behind his teammate. It was already clear from his demeanor at Valencia that he had no real desire to be in MotoGP, his times at Sepang reinforced that even further. Melandri only moved to MotoGP after Aprilia pulled out of World Superbikes, leaving the Italian, still under contract to Aprilia, with no alternative but to follow.
With Aprilia now supporting the Red Devils team in World Superbike, an option appears to have opened up. Top Italian WSBK reporter Paolo Gozzi suggested that Aprilia were giving serious consideration to doing a rider swap, moving Melandri back to World Superbikes, to take the place of Jordi Torres, who would then join Alvaro Bautista at the Gresini Aprilia MotoGP team. That would allow Melandri to do what he wants most – chase a title in World Superbikes – while using a young rider to help develop the Aprilia RS-GP in MotoGP during the transitional year which 2015 promises to be.
While an attractive idea on paper, it appears that this will not now happen. Spanish sports daily Marca is reporting that Aprilia have now decided against any swap. Despite offering to take a pay cut to return to WSBK, Melandri is stuck in MotoGP. Unless he can change his approach, he is in for a very long year.
The taxman cometh
Valentino Rossi is more familiar with tax law than he might wish. In 2008, he paid over €30 million to settle a tax evasion claim from the Italian tax authorities over his so-called 'non-domiciled' status in London. Rossi claimed to be living in London; the Italian tax authorities pointed to his house and cars in Tavullia, and the yacht he kept at Gabicce Mare as signs that he was in reality living in Italy, and as such was liable to Italian taxation. Rossi chose to settle the tax he owed, and move back to Tavullia. After all, he was rich enough to be able to afford to pay tax, to paraphrase a famous Dutch comedian.
The revelations from the so-called Swissleaks case that the British bank HSBC had been actively pursuing wealthy clients and marketing tax avoidance schemes, as well as allegedly assisting in tax evasion threw up a list of celebrities, sportspeople and businesspeople. Among the list of names was also that of Valentino Rossi, prompting some publications to speculate that Rossi may have once again fallen into his former bad habits. HSBC documents revealed that Rossi had two accounts in Switzerland, containing a total of $23.9 million.
Representatives for Rossi were quick to point out that the Italian tax authorities knew all about the money. They told the Italian paper Il Resto Del Carlino that Rossi had closed the accounts at the end of 2008, and repatriated the money into Italy, and had declared it to the authorities. "Valentino Rossi has nothing to fear from the publication of the Falciani list," Rossi's representatives told the paper. Given Rossi's personal wealth, his desire to keep living in Tavullia, and the heavy fines he paid last time around, it appears he really has learned his lesson.
Better to reign in hell....
Gino Rea's Moto2 effort has been a triumph of application and plain hard graft. After losing his ride at Gresini at the end of 2012, Rea worked hard at finding a way back into the Moto2 paddock. In 2013, Rea's wildcard rides were a real throwback to a bygone era, Rea turning up in a large van, which contained both his racing motorcycle and the bed he had to sleep in. In 2014, he put together a team with an American sponsor, still taking on a large part of the running of the team, alongside actually racing.
Whether the effort was all a little too much, or whether he was just tired of battling for points rather than podiums, Rea is set to make a last-minute switch for 2015. This week, Simon Buckmaster's PTR team announced that Rea would be contesting the 2015 World Supersport championship for the squad. Rea is hoping to be a championship contender, something that was beyond his limited financial means in Moto2. The move came at the expense of Sheridan Morais, who had to find out that he had been fired by PTR through social media. PTR claimed that Morais had not fulfilled his contractual obligations. Given that most of PTR's riders have to pay for their rides, we can only assume that this meant that Morais had failed to provide the necessary funds.
There is still no news of Danny Webb in the PTR Honda team. The young Englishman is attempting to raise the funds to pay for his ride in the team, but so far, without success, apparently. There were rumors that Webb had been offered a ride in World Superbikes, but that Buckmaster had intervened.
Yamaha's seamless mystery
Did Yamaha have a fully seamless gearbox at Sepang? The answer to that was both yes and no. While Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had to make do with a gearbox that was seamless for upshifts only, test riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Colin Edwards (who only rode during the Michelin tire test on Saturday) were both using the fully seamless gearbox, allowing seamless gearshifts both up and down the gearbox.
The fact that Nakasuga and Edwards have been using the gearbox without incident means that Rossi and Lorenzo are now certain to get the gearbox at the second Sepang test. Whether it gives them the advantage they hope for remains to be seen. All will be revealed in couple of weeks' time.
Fast French Rubber
The 2016 MotoGP season will see a massive change. No, not the spec electronics – as the deadline for the code freeze approaches, it appears that the functionality of the 2016 electronics will be much closer to the current factory software than to that used by the Open bikes – but rather the Michelin tires. New tires always mean radical changes for teams, bikes and riders.
On the Saturday after the official Sepang test, the test riders got a chance to give the new Michelin tires a workout. Although I did not attend the test myself, running into people who were at the test at Kuala Lumpur airport meant that it was still possible to pick up a fair amount of information from the test. What is clear is that the Michelins are already fast. Michele Pirro lapped faster on the Michelins than he did on the Bridgestones, and Colin Edwards posted a string of 2'01s with ease. Pirro told one respected Italian journalist that he expected that when the factory riders get a chance to test the Michelins, they would easily lap in the low 1'58s.
Will different tires favor different riders though? The Michelins do appear to have a different feel to them. The riders reported that they lacked the stability of the Bridgestones under braking, both at the front and at the rear. Given that there is still a long way to go before the start of the 2016 season, the Michelins still have plenty of room to improve.
A weighty matter
The subject of weight was on the minds of many people at Sepang. Jorge Lorenzo turned up at the test looking very sharp, according to his own estimates, 4 kg lighter than at the same test last year. After his disastrous start to 2014, caused in no small part by a lack of physical fitness and excess weight, Lorenzo had been training hard ahead of the 2015 season.
Danilo Petrucci, too, was in much better shape than a year before. Petrucci claimed to have lost 8 kg since last year, the Italian highly motivated now that he was on a competitive bike, rather than the gutless Aprilia ART from 2014. "Now I weigh the same in my helmet and leathers what I was naked last year!" he joked.
Jack Miller had gone in the opposite direction. After years of starving himself to be able to compete on a Moto3 bike, the Australian had changed his training, and perhaps relaxed his dietary regime. Miller let slip to another rider that he was 8kg heavier than he had been at the end of 2014. Miller himself claimed it was not a problem. "I'm only a kilo or two off my race weight," he said at Sepang. "The most weight I've put on has been around my shoulders," he explained. "I was struggling a lot at Valencia to try and hold the body up. On the angle, you've got to try and brace it up, so it's more just a bit of strength training, to try and last the distance on the brakes."
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