Archive - Jun 2008
The BBC broadcast of the Assen MotoGP race offered some more insight into Ben Spies not taking advantage of Loris Capirossi’s bad luck to get more experience on the Rizla Suzuki 800cc machine. Suzuki Team Manager Paul Denning was interviewed briefly by Matt Roberts during the race and he had this to say about Spies opting not to ride the available bike:
“[Spies] took his own choice. It was quite surprising for me, personally. I understand his reasons from a competitive point of view, but I would’ve thought it would’ve been a great thing to continue learning the bike. But that’s his decision and that was that.”
BBC commentators Steve Parrish and Charlie Cox seemed to share the opinion that, judging from Denning’s tone as he spoke, Spies had made a poor choice in the boss’ view. With fourteen laps to go, Spies would’ve been at least in thirteenth place assuming he was still in the race. But Parrish went on to point out that since Spies missed the first day, that meant the American would only have had two one-hour sessions and the warm-up to learn yet another new track on the MotoGP Suzuki.
One of the biggest tasks which Dorna has set itself is the conquest of the American TV market. So far, that ambition has only met with limited, though still growing, success. Part of its problems has been that TV coverage of the races has been left to Speed TV, which is only available through cable or satellite providers, and usually involves an extra subscription charge.
In Europe, Dorna is already engaged in a process to switch from satellite broadcasters towards national broadcasters, or at least, to free-to-air terrestrial stations, as witnessed by the recent news that Dorna will not be renewing the broadcast contract with Eurosport in 2009. Dorna would like to pursue a similar policy in the US, but first, the popularity of the sport needs to grow.
To help do just this, Dorna today announced that the major US networks CBS and NBC will be broadcasting a total of 4 MotoGP rounds this year, up from 2007. In addition to the US rounds at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis, the German GP at the Sachsenring and the Czech Grand Prix at Brno will also receive coverage on the networks. CBS will be showing Laguna Seca live on July 20th at 5-6pm ET, along with hour-long same-day delayed broadcasts of the Sachsenring race on July 13th (1-2pm) and Brno on August 17th (2-3pm). NBC will broadcasting the Indy GP live on September 14th at 3-4pm ET.
The hope is that airing the series on network television will allow casual viewers to catch the series, and be captivated by the excitement of MotoGP. For their sake, and for ours, let us hope that the races don't turn into the kind of runaway wins we have seen for the last 3 races.
There's an old axiom in motorcycle racing that says that you can't win the race in the first corner. Of course, being a truth universally acknowledged means that at every race, somebody tries to disprove the rule by launching themselves off the starting line in a fit of abandon, hoping that if they can just make good on some places and get into Turn 1 first, then they can take control of the race. The upshot of such a precipitate course of action is usually that, far from proving their own point, the hotheaded riders instead prove the corollary to this axiom, which is that, if you can't win the race in the first corner, you can most assuredly lose it.
The examples are legion, so many in fact that it makes it difficult to remember specific incidents. One first-corner crash fades into the next, with every weekend yet another rider heading into the gravel and out of the race by leaving their braking way too late, or pushing too hard on tires which haven't warmed enough yet, or jamming their bike into a non-existent gap between riders they haven't quite managed to pass. But a couple of incidents illustrate the point all too well.
Down And Out
One of the most memorable was the omen that Valentino Rossi's 2006 championship defense was to be long, difficult, and ultimately futile. Crushing the opposition in 2005 meant that the team had taken their collective eye off the ball, and the factory Yamaha team entered the season with a bike that chattered and vibrated and simply wouldn't handle, a problem made worse with the added grip of qualifying tires. So Rossi started the 2nd race of the season at Jerez from down in 9th on the grid, behind the Spaniard Toni Elias. Trying to make up the positions he had lost, Rossi fired through the order from the start, and tipped into the first corner in 4th position. Unfortunately for Rossi, the man he had just edged into 5th was wild man Toni Elias, and the Spaniard, braking far too late to actually make it round the turn, slammed into the rear of Rossi's Yamaha, sending him into the gravel, and left to chase his way up through the field for a couple of points. Rossi's enforced charge combined with Elias' determination not to get passed resulted in disaster for Rossi.
There are of course more recent examples. None more recent than the previous race, the British Grand Prix at Donington. In his first MotoGP race in front of his home crowd, and at a track that he knows well for the first time since they left Qatar, the tension really got to James Toseland. The British rookie struggled all weekend, suffering partly from the difficulty of finding a setup in changeable weather, and partly just from nerves. Two crashes in the final minutes of qualifying left Toseland down in 16th on the grid, and with it all to do. To make matters worse, the home crowd had already been sent wild by fellow Brit Scott Redding's victory in the 125 class, and expectations were being raised from sky high to somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. Once the flag dropped, Toseland succumbed to the temptation to make up as much of his deficit as he could at the first corner, with the inevitable result. Asking too much of his tires at Redgate, Toseland slid, fell and ended up in the gravel, rejoining the race already nearly 40 seconds down.
The pressure to get into the first corner ahead of the pack has been increased by the use of launch control systems. With riders virtually able to pin the throttle and dump the clutch off the line, the electronics removing the proclivity of the bikes to hoist the front wheel, as well as ensuring the engines don't bog down, the differences in the run down to the first corner are getting ever smaller. Getting into the first corner ahead is becoming more and more a question of reflexes and anticipation, and less about fluffing the start due to pre-race nerves.
Launch control has also increased the importance of qualifying, and the free practice sessions running up to it. As the electronics have taken the luck out of the starts, the further forward a rider is on the grid, the better his chances of getting into the first corner at the front of the pack. And so qualifying sessions have become ever more competitive, with the first qualifying tires now making an appearance about halfway through the hour-long session, a whole 10 minutes earlier than in previous years. The ability to put in a fast lap on very sticky rubber is becoming more and more crucial to the results.
The reigning World Champion Casey Stoner is a master of both arts. His starting reflexes are sublime, honed as a child dirt-track racer. When the race only lasts a couple of minutes, you can't afford to waste even the tiniest fraction of a second, and Casey Stoner cherishes every thousandth he can gain. But Stoner is also astounding in practice, establishing his place at the top of the timesheets in any given session early, and not relinquishing it without a major fight. He has a knack of dominating almost every session of practice at an event from the moment the bikes roll out on track, and doesn't appear to understand the concept of building up slowly.
Full results of the 2008 Dutch TT MotoGP round in Assen
The session started wet, the rain stopping towards the end. The forecast is for sporadic showers, petering out in the afternoon.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'50.326||2.743||0.195|
|12||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'50.977||3.394||0.548|
The Ramshoek has claimed another victim. At the end of today's official qualifying practice for the Dutch TT at Assen, John Hopkins lost the front at the Ramshoek, the final left hander before the GT chicane and the run onto the front straight, and crashed out at high speed, sliding through the gravel trap before hitting the tire wall. The crash happened with such force that Hopkins fractured his ankle and his tibia, and may also have damaged his knee as well. The crash means that Hopper will be forced to miss Saturday's Dutch TT, and the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time.
This is the second rider this weekend to have been ruled out of the race by a crash at the Ramshoek, with Loris Capirossi injuring his arm there on Thursday, and the corner has previous form as well. Last year, Toni Elias suffered a spiral fracture of the thigh, after tumbling through the gravel trap there, and the year before, Valentino Rossi broke his wrist in exactly the same place.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|2||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'39.858||0.808||0.808|
|6||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'41.203||2.153||0.115|
Loris Capirossi had a very nasty crash at the Ramshoek, the very fast left hander before the GT chicane, and suffered a deep flesh wound. He will not ride for the rest of the weekend, but Suzuki have for some reason decided not to run Ben Spies, who is present at Assen, in his place. This is the same corner where Toni Elias suffered a spiral fracture of his leg in 2007, and where Valentino Rossi and Toni Elias broke bones in 2006 as well.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'37.126||1.039||0.114|
|7||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'37.187||1.100||0.050|
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'37.470||0.901||0.033|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'37.951||1.382||0.130|
Barely had the engines cooled and the dust been washed off the bikes after the race at Donington before the entire MotoGP circus was busy packing and loading up to head on over to the northern reaches of the Netherlands, and the TT Circuit at Assen. In the toughest part of the season, with 7 races in 8 weekends, this is probably the toughest part, with the British and Dutch Grand Prix just 6 days apart.
It's hardest on the crew members traveling with the trailers, having to make the long trek southwards to cross the English Channel, before turning northward again to head up to Assen. But it's unpleasant even for the riders, making the short hop across by air. Air travel has long ceased to be a luxury, and the security checks for passengers leaving British airports have grown ever more severe, now consisting mostly of forcing passengers to spend as much time as possible waiting in line, on the premise that any potential terrorists will have lost the will to die by the time they pass through the metal detector gate and are treated to an intimate personal massage by a man with a uniform where his sense of humor ought to be. Though the flight time to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is brief, actually getting to the point where you are able to fly is a grueling ordeal in itself.
And once they arrive, it's straight back to work, with yet more publicity appearances for the benefit of the sponsors, meeting people here, greeting fans there, and before they realize it, they're back out on track, lapping the 4.5 kilometers of Assen's once glorious track at maximum speed before the race on Saturday.
That Old Black Magic
At least there are still a few sections left of the venerable circuit which still recall just how mighty a track Assen once was. With the old North Loop neutered, having made way for Mammon and the commercial attractions of the TT World leisure center, and the meander taken out of the old Veenslang, only the last third or so of the track is left to witness what once was. And the section from Mandeveen, gaining ever more speed up through successive right handers at Duikersloot, Meeuwenmeer and Hoge Heide, culminating in the intimidating and blisteringly fast left at Ramshoek, a place which has hurt so many riders, is still one of the finest sections of racing tarmac in the world.
From Ramshoek, the track then flicks back for the GT chicane, the scene of many memorable battles, before the final run up to the line, where the circuit's charm peters out once more on way into the new Haarbocht which starts the revised section of the Northern Loop. No wonder the riders still complain so bitterly about the changes made at the end of 2005. The old Southern Loop serves only to remind everyone of what was lost, as a faded wedding photograph serves as a reminder of the beautiful young things which once pledged their troth.
You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
Despite his still tender years, Casey Stoner leads the lament, mourning the changes every time he is asked about them. On the subject of Assen, the champion sounds more like a hoary veteran bemoaning the state of the modern world than someone barely past the first flush of youth. But his displeasure with the changes has no effect whatsoever on his speed here. The Australian champion was incredibly fast last year, leading for much of the way until he was reeled in by an unleashed and gaudily decorated Valentino Rossi. In the end, the Italian's sheer brilliance at one of his favorite tracks was too much, even for the ruthlessly dominant Casey Stoner of 2007, and Stoner had to watch as Rossi passed and went on to win.
Whether this year will see a repeat performance remains to be seen. Like last year, Casey Stoner comes to Assen coming off a runaway victory at Donington, where Valentino Rossi had no answer for him. But the situation is a little different from 2007. Then, it was Casey Stoner who led the championship, while Valentino Rossi had a worryingly large deficit of 26 points to the Australian. This year, it is Rossi who leads, with a massive 45 point lead over the reigning world champion as we approach the halfway point of the series. Last year, the Ducati was the machine to beat, Stoner having won an intimidating 5 of the first 8 races. This season, the Yamaha is the bike to have, taking 4 victories out of 8, of which Rossi took 3 in a row.
But the machinery is much more finely balanced this year. Ducati finally seem to have fixed the problems that plagued Casey Stoner's GP8 earlier in the year, giving the bike a little smoother power delivery low down, and the direct result of that was Stoner stamping his authority on every session at the British Grand Prix. But Valentino Rossi and his crew chief Jeremy Burgess are understanding the combination of the Yamaha M1 and Bridgestone tires more and more each race, making Rossi a very difficult prospect to beat.
Then, of course, there's Dani Pedrosa. Despite being on the only factory bike still using steel valve springs, Pedrosa has only been off the podium once this season, and that was a 4th place at Le Mans. Pedrosa has been a paragon of consistency, never spectacular but always fast, romping way to two wins in Spain. The Spaniard trails Rossi by just 11 points, and as a podium regular at Assen, will be in the hunt for the win.
As I've alluded to in several items on this site, modern racetracks have a hard time. Once built out in the sticks, away from the masses, urban sprawl has meant that houses have gotten ever nearer to the circuits, and as a consequence, complaints have started to increase. The more astute among you may want to point out that those new residents must surely have been aware of the existence of the circuit before buying their home, but that fact doesn't seem to stop people from complaining.
While such complaints might be regarded as rather stupid, some complaints are even worse. Like many other circuits, the TT Circuit in Assen has suffered increasing complaints from neighboring properties. Among the most vocal of these has been a local campsite and recreation park, Camping Witterzomer. Understandable as it may be for a recreation park to complain about noise from an adjacent racetrack - one that has been there for 53 years, a good deal longer than most of the other business in the area - it would seem rank hypocrisy for the same campsite to try to attract business from the very race fans whose activities they despise.
Yet that is exactly what is happening. The owners of Camping Witterzomer have put a good deal of time, money and effort into legal proceedings to limit the activities at the racetrack, including trying to prevent the Champ Car series from running at the track. The mass of complaints and procedures has culminated in the canceling of 20 track days and the KNMV Cup, a Dutch club race series aimed at offering riders a cheap and safe way into racing, and taking their first steps on the track in a safe and organized way.
All the while, the campsite owners are happily advertising special offers for the Dutch TT and World Superbike weekends at Assen. It seems they are perfectly happy to take money from motorcyclists and racing fans, while at the same time doing all they can to get the activities those very same fans love banned.
This is both rank hypocrisy and a direct attack on motorcycle racing fans. As a consequence, the Dutch motorcycle blog Oliepeil.nl is organizing a boycott of Camping Witterzomer, to persuade racing fans not to spend their money there. We here at MotoGPMatters are delighted to support this cause, as Assen is our local (well, nearest) Grand Prix circuit, and it remains an icon of motorcycle racing.
So here is our plea: If you're going to Assen, and intending to camp, don't stay at Camping Witterzomer. There are plenty of alternatives, which you can find out about if you follow this link. The region around Assen is popular tourist destination, and has plenty of other locations for you to stay at.
If you do decide to stay at Camping Witterzomer, you will be indirectly helping to get the TT Circuit at Assen closed, and help kill motorcycle racing in The Netherlands. Assen is the only safe, permanent, GP-length race track in Holland, and is desperately needed by race fans and racers alike. It's also a piece of history, having staged races since 1926, with the permanent circuit finally being built in 1955. It is the only venue to have staged a Grand Prix since the start of the series in 1949. It deserves to stay.
Help thousands of other race fans keep racing at Assen, by boycotting Camping Witterzomer. Dutch race fans will be eternally grateful.
We've been privileged to receive some great reports and fantastic photographs from Scott Jones of Turn2Photography, who has been attending the race at Donington, and today is no exception. He sent us his view of the race, including more great pictures, as well as a series of shots capturing James Toseland's crash at Redgate. We hope you enjoy his report:
The View From Redgate Grandstand
Instead of rain, Sunday’s dominant condition was wind, and so much of it that the 125s were at the mercy of the strong gusts on certain parts of the track. The morning warm-ups for the 125s and 250s were brief as the skies cleared and the threat of rain seemed to evaporate. But as the weather can change so quickly at Donington in June, the premiere class riders warmed up first on bikes set up for rain, then on bikes set up on Friday for dry conditions. We watched the warm-ups beside the final braking marker for the Melbourne hairpin, then moved to our seats at the Redgate grandstand.
This is the only covered grandstand at Donington, and while it would’ve kept us fairly dry had it rained (we were in the third row), the wind that lashed at the material over our heads fairly ripped through the structure from behind. Even in the ‘sheltered’ area it was cold and very windy. Unattended cups and dislodged hats and caps regularly blew toward the track from the rows of blue plastic seats. Fans watching Turn 1 from the ground in front of the elevated grandstand huddled together and women with longer hair looked desperately for ponytail holders to save their eyes from their wildly whipping hair.
The main victim of the winds was Iannone, who according to the track announcers got blown off the track at Craners. 15-year-old British rider Scott Redding had been closing in on the Iannone when the Italian got caught by a gust that took him off track and out of the race. Redding found himself in first place and finished the race with admirable maturity, taking a lap with the Union Jack in tow to huge applause as the first British winner of a GP event in quite some time.
Our friendly photographer Scott Jones of Turn2Photography chose the perfect place to spectate from for Sunday's MotoGP race at Donington. The dramatic events at Redgate unfurled in full view of his camera, and the quick thinking snapper captured James Toseland's dramatic crash on film. Here's how it happened: