Almost without realizing it, we find ourselves in the midst of a glut of motorcycle racing action. For 11 days, bikes and teams are testing, racing, and being introduced to the public at large. On Monday and Tuesday, the World Superbike teams had their last test of the pre-season at Phillip Island. From Tuesday to Thursday, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams are testing at Jerez. On Friday, the 2015 World Superbike season gets underway Phillip Island, culminating in the races on Sunday, featuring shock substitute Troy Bayliss. Then, from Monday, MotoGP returns for three days of testing at Sepang, followed by an extra day with Michelin tires, with the factory riders at the helm.
In between, we have seen the launch of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, the CWM LCR Honda team is set to be launched on Wednesday, and there is even a presentation here in Holland by Eurosport, in which they will reveal their plans for MotoGP coverage in The Netherlands for 2015. There is so much going on that there are barely enough hours in the day to actually write about it. Enjoy the cornucopia while you can.
Crash! Bang! Wallop!
The risk of testing carries with it the risk of injury, and plenty of riders found that out to their distress. The worst victim of the testing crashes was Aruba.it Ducati's Davide Giugliano, the Italian suffering a huge crash at Phillip Island in which he fractured the L1 and L2 vertebrae, at the top of his lower back. Though the damage was diagnosed as microfractures, that puts him out for a total of 90 days, which means he will miss the first third of the season. In addition to Phillip Island, he will be forced to miss Thailand, Aragon, Assen, and possibly Imola as well. With no chance of any points in 10 of the 26 races this season, any hope Giugliano may have cherished of a WSBK title. The good news for WSBK fans is that Troy Bayliss has been drafted in to replace him.
Crashing during testing is inevitable, but the risk of crashing at Phillip Island is major. The Australian track generally sees the fewest crashes on the calendar for either World Superbikes or MotoGP, but as my esteemed friend and colleague Dennis Noyes once worked out, it has the highest incidence of severe injury. Riders tend not to crash at Phillip Island, because if they do, they do so at high speed, and they tend to get hurt.
Giugliano was not the only rider to go down hard, Suzuki's Randy De Puniet also had a massive highside, landing heavily on his back. De Puniet was luckier than the Italian, and returned to action, battered and bruised. In the World Supersport class, Gino Rea was forced to skip the second day of the test, but not because of a crash. A screw fitted to help a bone in his foot heal after Sepang last year had worked its way loose, and was making it impossible to ride. Rea had surgery on Tuesday to have the screw removed, in the hope of being fit when practice starts for the season opener on Friday.
In Spain, Moto3 title hopeful Efren Vazquez banged himself up badly, breaking the navicular bone in his right foot at Valencia. He is back in Jerez, but riding only a little, the injury proving too painful to spend too much time on the bike.
The awards just keep coming for Marc Márquez. The double MotoGP champion has been nominated for a Laureus Award, a prestigious prize handed out by a panel of sports writers to athletes who have been significant in their sport. In the Sportsman of the Year category, Márquez faces competition from Lewis Hamilton (F1), Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer), Renaud Villenie (athletics), Novak Djokovic (tennis) and Rory McIlroy (golf, which turns out to be regarded as a sport, much to my surprise).
Márquez already has a Laureus award, as breakthrough of the year for his 2013 season, the second rider after Daijiro Kato to win the award. Valentino Rossi has two Laureus awards, one for Spirit of Sport, and one for Comeback of the Year. But no motorcycle racer has won the sportsman (or woman) of the year. The awards ceremony is due to be held in Shanghai on 15th April, the Wednesday after the second race of the year at Austin.
Once upon a time, Japanese wildcard riders were the scourge of Grand Prix racing. Norick Abe's debut in 1994 is the most famous example, challenging for the win in his first ever 500cc race until he crashed, but there were many more, especially in the 125cc and 250cc classes. But the days of Japanese and Asian dominance of the sport are long gone, and with Hiroshi Aoyama now out of racing, their last Grand Prix champion is out of the sport.
It is hard to overstate just how important Asia is to both motorcycle racing and the motorcycle industry, and so Aoyama has now been enlisted by Dorna to help rectify the lack of Asian talent in the sport. Aoyama will be working alongside Alberto Puig to help the young Japanese riders entered in the Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup, the Asian equivalent of the Red Bull Rookies. Aoyama will be combining his role as HRC test rider with a support and mentoring role for the Japanese youngsters.
Aoyama has excellent credentials for such a role. The 2009 250cc world champion has a long history in the sport, moving to Europe at the request of Alberto Puig to race in Grand Prix. He spent a long time living in Barcelona, and is familiar both with the world of racing and with the pressures on a young rider living in a foreign country. Adapting to a culture as different as the Spanish is from the Japanese can be very tough for Japanese youngsters, and so having an experienced hand to guide them can be an enormous help. Sometimes it is just the simplest things: I once asked Aoyama what he missed most living in Spain. His answer? Rice! Spanish rice, he complained, was simply not the right texture or consistency. The paella rice came close, but it was not the same as the rice back in Japan. It is these little things that can make life so hard when living abroad.
The R1 Returns?
The FIM issued the full list of bikes homologated for the 2015 World Superbike season earlier this week. Among the usual suspects – i.e. all of the bikes currently racing in WSBK this year – was Yamaha's latest iteration of its sports bike, the YZF-R1M. The R1M – that's the fancy R1, with the full-on electronics package and various suspension goodies – is not set to be raced in World Superbikes this year. Yamaha has instead chosen the path tried and tested by both BMW and Ducati with new bikes, racing the machine in support classes, where its problems can be uncovered with minimal embarrassment, before launching a full WSBK onslaught in 2016.
Last week, Yamaha Europe presented their racing plans for 2015, which included racing the R1M in the British BSB and German IDM championships, as well as the World Endurance Championship. Milwaukee Yamaha will field Josh Brookes and Broc Parkes, the Australian pairing taking on the British championship, while Damian Cudlin (another Australian) and Max Neukirchner will tackle the IDM for the MGM team. In the WEC, YART and GMT94 will be campaigning the new R1. Over in the US, Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier will be racing the new R1M in the MotoAmerica Superbike series.
All this is a prelude to 2016, when Yamaha expect to return to World Superbikes, adding an eight manufacturer to the WSBK line up. Given how keen Dorna are to have a top American rider in international racing, the smart money is on Cam Beaubier being moved in to World Superbikes in an official Yamaha team. Beaubier has the added bonus of already having lived and raced in Europe. But first, there is the small matter of beating his teammate and becoming AMA/MotoAmerica champ.