It has been a relatively quiet week in the world of motorcycle racing, with much of the focus on preparations for 2015 rather than actual on-track action. The past week has seen riders spending more time on stage than on track, as many teams have presented their 2015 racing programs. This is but the calm before the storm, however: from Saturday, there is another bumper period of world championship action, with MotoGP testing at Qatar from 14th-16th March, Moto2 hitting Jerez from 17th-19th, followed by the second round of World Superbikes at the Chang circuit in Thailand from 20th-22nd.
There have been some bikes from other series circulating in the past week, however. The British BSB series has been testing in Spain, the MXGP championship has raced in Thailand, two weeks ahead of the World Superbike series' first visit to the country, and in the US, Florida is gearing up for the Daytona 200.
A piece of history?
That race will be a rather peculiar affair. When Daytona Motorsports Group lost the contract to run the AMA road racing series, tough negotations began with MotoAmerica, the new sanctioning body for AMA. The DMG overestimated their bargaining position, and MotoAmerica were happy to pass up on the Daytona 200. Once a historic event with a big name line up, the race has slipped gradually into international obscurity and domestic impopularity.
Stripped of AMA sanctioning, it is being run under the auspices of ASRA, the American Sportsbike Racing Association. It has still managed to attract some popular American riders, however. Josh Herrin will be racing at the 200, as will Danny Eslick, Steve Rapp, Geoff May, and Dave Sadowski. Unfortunately, the race will not be televised, the organizers not managing to strike a deal with Fans Choice TV in time for the event. The weekend will also see the top US flat trackers race.
Blinking in the spotlights
A number of teams have used the hiatus before the final tests of the year to present their new projects for 2015. The biggest launch was the Aprilia Racing event in Milan, where the Noale factory presented their MotoGP, World Superbikes and FIM Superstock Cup teams for 2015. There was plenty of interest at the launch, most of which can be gleaned from the interview we did with Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano.
The most important fact to come from the presentation is that this is to be a development year for Aprilia in MotoGP. The main aim is to gather data, especially from the new-for-2016 Michelin tires, which will be used to build a completely new bike for next year. That leaves riders Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri to function as test mules, something which Bautista took very well, but Melandri less so.
Ambitions are higher in World Superbikes, with Leon Haslam currently leading the championship, and Jordi Torres making a strong debut, but the real proof of where the RSV4 stands will come in Thailand, where horsepower will count more. Albesiano was visibly annoyed by the removal of the air restrictors for the twins (he diplomatically avoided mentioning Ducati, but with EBR still with a lot of work to do, it was clear who his ire was aimed at), fearing that the Ducatis could have an unfair horsepower advantage. We will see over the next few races.
At the same time as Aprilia, the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing team presented their riders in all three Grand Prix classes for 2015. In doing so, they simultaneously staked a claim for longest team name in racing, and ensured that no journalist worth is salt will use the full team name. No doubt Scott Redding in MotoGP, and Tito Rabat and Alex Márquez in Moto2 will be referred to as the Marc VDS team, while Fabio Quartaro and Jorge Navarro will be labeled Estrella Galicia 0,0. There is a lot of excitement around Quartararo, the French youngster being tipped for greatness, despite not having raced in a single Grand Prix so far. But Tito Rabat will be keen to defend his title – as proud carrier of the #1 plate – and Scott Redding will be hoping to make more rapid progress towards the podium than he has shown so far during testing.
The Forward Racing team also presented their MotoGP and Moto2 line ups in Milan, now with the backing of Swiss eyewear brand Athinà. Stefan Bradl set out his aim of securing the top Open bike slot on the Forward Yamaha, but he may find it tougher this year than the man he replaced in the team, Aleix Espargaro, did in 2014. The Open class Ducatis of Team Avintia have been impressive, with Hector Barbera showing he still has plenty of pace.
The link up with Athinà did show up the dangers of using a foreign language for branding. The Italian website names ten character traits it has based its models on. It is hard to imagine "simpering" as a quality you might associate with MotoGP.
It's all gone a bit Ajax
If there is one downside to the MotoGP.com redesign, it is that the site now looks like many other modern websites. The MCN website underwent a similar redesign recently, and the concept looks nigh on identical. Website layouts are subject to fashion as much as any other branch of design, it seems. Then again, as the owner of a website designed by someone with no discernible visual design skills whatsoever (i.e. me), I would say that, wouldn't I?
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau
In Wales, the public enquiry into the deregistering of common land for the Circuit of Wales is underway. What that means, for those not conversant with the vagaries of common law as used in England and Wales, is that a large tract of land, currently publicly held and with public rights of access, is to have that access withdrawn, so that the Circuit of Wales can start to build on it. To gain permission to use that land, the Circuit of Wales has to provide replacement land. The point of the hearing is to establish whether the replacement land is an acceptable alternative to the environmentally sensitive land the Circuit of Wales wishes to use.
The public inquiry is due to take eight days, with the first two days already taken place. The outcome of the inquiry will be presented to the Welsh Government, who will make a decision on the basis its findings. It is the last major planning obstacle facing the circuit, though there are still one or two hurdles to be taken. Not the least of which is the small matter of finance...
The BBC website has a nice 90-second video on the issues at stake in the public inquiry.
Boulevard of broken dreams
The non-appearance of the JR Racing team at Phillip Island had been widely expected, but the situation got rather ugly this week. First, the team manager, Gemma Voces Pons, issued a press release stating that neither she, nor any other member of the team, had received any payment of any kind from the team's owners. Then, Ayrton Badovini expressed his disappointment with the situation, saying he had only signed with the team because Troy Corser had linked his name to the project.
Now, one of the owners of the team, Yoselyn Robinson, has issued a statement condemning the actions of Gemma Pons. Robinson claimed that Pons had spoken out of turn, jeopardizing the progress being made with funding of the team. The delay was all a matter of bureaucratic hold ups, of which Pons had been informed, according to Robinson. Robinson added that she hoped to be able to announce 'positive news' very soon.
The situation – a minor farce mixed with a major tragedy – is sadly all too typical of motorcycle racing, even at the highest level. Projects are undertaken more in hope than in expectation, and even when the season does get underway, teams all too often leave a trail of unpaid bills behind them. Discussion of the JR situation on Twitter produced a wealth of evidence from people in various paddock who had not been paid for the services, including journalists, photographers, riders and mechanics. There are rumors of riders at every level not being paid the money they were promised, and off the record, riders are quick to condemn team managers and personal managers.
Why does this happen? People cannot bring themselves to walk away. Motorcycle racing shares one thing in common with other sports, and with art, music, fashion, film making: it is done for the love of the sport, not for financial gain. We all see the big names at the top of the sport, and read of their massive salaries, yet those who achieve that status are few and far between. There may be seven or eight riders on seven figure salaries, but there are probably the same number on salaries not much beyond the minimum wage, or on no money at all. There are others who will have been promised good incomes, but who will spend the next few years in court trying to get the money they are owed.
Motorcycle racing runs on passion, and a desire to be involved. People at every level – riders, mechanics, journalists, photographers, cooks, drivers, umbrella girls, PR staff, coordinators – sign contracts knowing deep in their hearts that they will be lucky to get paid at all, let alone paid what they are owed. They do it anyway, for love of the sport, and because they can't stay away. It is surprising just how little you need to survive when you are nourished by your dreams.