July 31st, 2015
Press releases after the first day of practice at Sepang:
Stefan Bradl's period of enforced unemployment will be mercifully brief. Today, the Forward Racing team announced they had released him from his contract at his request, as the problems facing the team continue. Free from his contract, Bradl looks set to sign for the Gresini Aprilia squad for the rest of the season, replacing Marco Melandri.
Bradl has been caught up in a whirlwind of events since breaking his scaphoid at Assen. Two weeks later, at the Sachsenring, the German was in talks with the Forward Racing team to extend his contract to race the Open class Yamaha for the 2016 season. The day after the race in Germany, team owner Giovanni Cuzari was arrested on his return home to Ticino, Switzerland, on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Because of the charges, the Swiss authorities seized the team's computers and financial administration, and froze their bank accounts. The arrest also prompted a number of sponsors to end their contracts, further endangering the future of the team. The team announced that they would not be competing at Indianapolis, and that they could also end up missing Brno.
With the rain stopped at the end of the Supersport session, most riders waited for the track to dry, and only went out in the last third of the session. Chaz Davies was quickest on the drying tarmac, beating out Alex Lowes for the quickest lap, but was still seven seconds off the morning's pace.
Rain at Sepang meant that nobody was able to go as quickly as this morning, leaving Lorenzo Zanetti with the quickest overall time, but PJ Jacobsen was quickest in the wet, over a second and a half ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu and Kyle Smith.
Returning former champion Max Biaggi, having tested in Sepang recently, went quickest in the morning session, taking the top spot early and never relinquishing it once he had it. Chaz Davies got within two tenths while the Kawasakis of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes were over half a second off Biaggi's pace.
Lorenzo Zanetti leads MV Agusta teammate Jules Cluzel, taking the top spot in the last minute of the session, ahead of PJ Jacobsen and Kyle Smith with championship leader Kenan Sofuoglu over a second back in fifth.
Previews of this weekend's upcoming World Superbike round at Sepang from the series organizers and the teams:
This is the second part of our silly season overview. Before starting on this part, make sure you have read the first part of the review, published yesterday.
If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden's days are numbered. Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden's wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams. There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory's Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.
Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge. One name being bandied about is Stefan Bradl, the German being a particularly attractive prospect for the Italian factory. With Melandri having abandoned the Gresini Aprilia team, the second seat in the team is being filled by Michael Laverty. A sensible choice under the circumstances: Laverty is already Aprilia's official test rider, and the RS-GP is still very much a test bed for collecting data, to be used to build the 2016 bike, which will be a full prototype built from scratch. The downside to having Laverty is that he is also racing in BSB for the Tyco BMW team. The two calendars clash only once, when MotoGP goes to Phillip Island, and BSB is at Brands Hatch, so Laverty is able to fill in on a race-by-race basis.
However, with Bradl having announced that he has rescinded his contract with Forward Racing, due to the fact that they cannot guarantee him a ride for the rest of the season, Bradl becomes a more appealing option for Aprilia. The German could start racing almost immediately – a start at Indianapolis is probably too early, with the Brno test a more likely date – and could fill in until the end of the season. Bradl is still relatively young – he will be 26 in November – a former Moto2 world champion, and highly motivated. Signing Bradl to what is effectively an 18-month contract could be a smart move for Aprilia, as they would get someone young, fast, and able to help develop their new 2016 bike. If Bradl is fast in 2016, Aprilia could keep him for the future, if he isn't, he can keep working on improving the bike for 2017, and his successor.
If you think that silly season has been a bit quiet this year, you'd be right. Normally by now, we would have passed through the stage of outrageous fabrication, left the wildly inaccurate rumors behind us, and be well into probable rider signing scenarios. This year, the annual merry-go-round has barely registered, with very little sign of who may end up where for the 2016 season.
Of course, for the most part, this is because all of the factory seats bar the second slots at Aprilia and Ducati are already spoken for in 2016. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro, and Alvaro Bautista all have contracts for next year. Maverick Viñales' seat at Suzuki is safe through 2017. Of the currently active factory riders, only Andrea Iannone's contract could be ended after 2015, but Ducati will be keeping the Italian for 2016 as well. The only truly vacant seat is the one at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri, who never really wanted to be in MotoGP anyway.
With no factory seats available – or rather, with no truly desirable factory seats available – options to move up the MotoGP food chain are limited. Teams, too, are reluctant. 2016 sees the return of Michelin and the advent of spec software, making teams wary of changing too many variables at one time. Better to stick with the rider you know, whose data you already have and understand, and who has a solid relationship with the crew chief and team, rather than get a new rider in and spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out whether problems are down to the rider or adapting the bike to the new technical regulations.
Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
Forward Racing will not be at Indianapolis for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. As was widely expected, the team formally announced today that they lacked the funds to take part in the race. The team is now focused on making it to the following round, at Brno in the Czech Republic.
The team has been in severe financial difficulty ever since the arrest by the Swiss authorities of team owner Giovanni Cuzari on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. First, the team had all of its assets seized, as they were all in the name of Cuzari. Then, a number of its sponsors, including MotoGP title sponsor Athina, withdrew their support and stopped payment. With no access to existing funds and payment of new funds impossible, it was clear that making it to Indianapolis would be impossible.
2015 has not been kind to Davide Giugliano. The factory Ducati rider was already forced to miss the first four rounds of the season after fracturing two lumbar vertebrae in testing crash at Phillip Island, a week before the season began. Now he will be forced to miss the remainder of the season, after scans revealed a fracture of the thoracic vertebra D3, sustained in a crash at Laguna Seca.
Giugliano crashed during race 2 at Laguna Seca, cartwheeling spectacularly through the gravel at Turn 6 when a few spots of rain started to fall at the circuit. Though he was initially only diagnosed with some heavy bruising, upon his return to Italy, the Aruba.it Ducati man decided to have another scan, in part to ensure that no further damage had been done to the vertebrae he injured back in February. The scan turned up a fracture of a different vertebra, however, and Giugliano was told that the recovery period would be three months. That effectively put an end to his 2015 season, ruling him out of the remainder of the races.
Forward Racing boss Giovanni Cuzari remains under arrest in Lugano, Switzerland, and the team remain in doubt whether they will be able to participate in the next MotoGP round, scheduled for Indianapolis on 9th August. The biggest problem the team faces is that their bank accounts have been frozen, as part of the ongoing investigation into tax evasion, fraud and corruption which Cuzari and Libero Galli have been charged with by the Swiss authorities. The Open class Yamaha M1s and equipment belonging to the team is already in Indianapolis, having been flown there by IRTA after the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring. But without access to money to be able to pay for flights, hotels, car rental and all of the other sundry expenses which are necessary to allow a MotoGP team to actually go racing.
At Valencia last year, working for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder, I interviewed Valentino Rossi's crew chief Silvano Galbusera. The interview lived up to expectations, providing a fascinating insight into working with the nine-time world champion, and the pressures of replacing legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess as Rossi's right-hand man. Yesterday, we published the first part of the interview, in which Galbusera spoke of his switch to MotoGP, and replacing Jerry Burgess. In the second part of the interview, Galbusera talks specifically about working with Valentino Rossi, and what makes him such a special rider.
Q: When Valentino announced he would be changing crew chiefs, he said he needed a bigger challenge. It seems to me that the biggest change was in his mind, rather than in the garage. Is that the right impression, did you make the difference or did Valentino make the difference?
SG: Really I don't know 100%. But from what I understood, Valentino never do something without having a clear plan of this. I think of course, he remembered back in 2010 working with me, when we worked for a very short time on the test, but I think he collect some information from [team manager] Maio Meregalli, from others. It was a bit, of course, but it was not completely that. It wasn't a complete gamble.
It could have been a complete disaster, but he already think, he already make a plan, to help also me to do a good job.
Q: What has impressed you most about working with Valentino? What makes him special?