Archive - Jan 2009
The rain in Spain falls mainly in January, as a rule, and this January is no exception. The weather on the Iberian peninsula is fairly miserable, and expected to get a lot worse. Which is unfortunate for the 125 and 250 field, who, after an extended test at Jerez, have now moved on to Valencia, where the weather has become fairly miserable.
In the 250 class, Alvaro Bautista continued where he left off, lapping over a second faster than the next quickest man Hector Faubel on the Honda. But the weather was such that the only man to put in a respectable number of laps was former 125 World Champion Gabor Talmacsi, as he continues to get used to the 250.
In the 125 class, Julian Simon was once again the fastest of the GP regulars, but he wasn't the fastest man on a 125. That honor went to Alberto Moncayo, who will be racing in the Spanish CEV championship next year. Moncayo worked hard to set the fastest time though, putting in a Hayden-like 84 laps, where most of the other riders were content to put in just a score of laps or so. Of the GP regulars, Esteve Rabat was 2nd fastest, ahead of Scott Redding.
Testing is due to continue tomorrow, as is the awful weather.
Circuit record: 2007, Mika Kallio, KTM, 1'35.659
A lack of oversight has been blamed by many for the outbreak of the financial crisis, and in response, there has been a deafening clamor for a vast tightening of the rules. As a major victim of the credit crunch, MotoGP has joined in, with an almost unceasing stream of proposals for new rules all aimed at cutting costs and saving the sport.
Along with the more straightforward cost-cutting measures reported yesterday, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has also put forward a series of proposals aimed at assisting the satellite teams to attract both sponsors and talent. According to GPOne.com, he presented these proposals to the managers of the satellite teams (all except for the Nieto brothers, who run Sete Gibernau's team) in Bologna on Tuesday.
The most significant change proposed is the institution of a separate championship for the satellite teams. The championship would have an official status, with its own podium ceremony at every race and a separate team championship as well. The winner of the title would be able to call himself World Champion. The aim is to give the satellite teams more exposure, as under the current rules, their chances at a podium - let alone a championship - are very slim indeed. By setting up a separate championship and a separate podium ceremony, Ezpeleta hopes to make satellite teams more attractive for potential sponsors.
The World Superbike tests at Portugal's Portimao circuit last week were more than just the first opportunity for the World Superbike and World Supersport riders to take to the track this year, it also marked the official opening of the 2009 World Superbike season. To mark that fact, InFront Motor Sports CEO Paolo Flammini spoke to journalists at the launch to present the riders and teams officially. During the presentation, he also shared some of his thoughts on the future of the series, and its relationship with MotoGP.
Writing for the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, veteran World Superbike reporter Guy Ritchie reports that Flammini told the press he did not believe that the contest for TV audiences was between World Superbikes and MotoGP, but rather between motorcycle racing and other sports, such as Formula 1 and soccer. What was important was for both series was to work together to grow the popularity of the sport in general, rather than fight each other.
Having said that, however, Flammini then went on to address the new Moto2 class, and on the subject of the new 600cc four-stroke class due to replace the 250s, he was a good deal less conciliatory. InFront Motor Sports, Flammini said, has the exclusive rights to motorcycle racing with production equipment, and they were prepared to defend their rights. But they will have nothing to complain about if the Moto2 class is not based on equipment derived from production bikes.
"It's in the hands of the FIM," Flammini said. But at the same time, he pointed to the case of WCM as an example of what he expects. "In the case of WCM, the FIM gave a clear interpretation of this concept," Flammini told the press. "The FIM disqualified the WCM because it had an engine partially derived from a production motor, despite using a fully prototype chassis. This shows that in the past, the FIM has ruled that a motorcycle with a prototype chassis and a production engine is not a prototype."
The MotoGP season resumes in earnest next week, when most of the riders will take to the track at the first official test of 2009 at Sepang in Malaysia. But while the fans will be concentrating on the action on track, carefully scrutinizing the times set to see how they can expect their favorite riders to fare, behind the scenes, according to GPOne.com, the manufacturers will be meeting to ratify a list of changes aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP in the next couple of years.
The main thrust of the changes is aimed at extending engine life, in the hope of reducing the maintenance costs for the highly-strung engines, which continue to spiral out of control. The changes will have two prongs: A reduction in track mileage on race weekends and testing; and a minimum engine life imposed by regulation.
First, the proposed changes as reported by GPOne.com:
- Practice sessions will be shortened by 15 minutes each, from 60 to 45 minutes. In effect, the riders will lose an entire 60 minute session;
- Warm up will be cut to just 10 minutes, instead of the current 25, and the practice start would be scrapped;
- A maximum of 9 engines per season, with penalties being imposed on engine failures, either by way of points, or by way of lost starting places;
- An end to post-race tests, scrapping the 5 days of testing already planned;
- Winter testing restricted to just 8 days, and the start of the winter test ban to be brought forward to November 11th, the day immediately following the Valencia tests. The ban would end on January 20th, as has always been the case.
After weeks of persistent rumors that Suzuki would be pulling out of MotoGP, confirmation has finally come Japan that the bikes will be on the grid in 2009. Talking to Matthew Birt of Motorcycle News, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning said that "senior management" within Suzuki had given the green light to the project for 2009.
Denning also told MCN that Suzuki was not the kind of company which would renege on its contracts with its riders and with Dorna, and even if circumstances had forced them to consider such a move, a decision would not have been made so late. "If Suzuki had seriously thought about that option I’m sure it would have been done in a way that wasn’t at the end of January when we are just about to leave to start winter testing in Sepang," he said to MCN.
There was still no official news about the Rizla sponsorship, however. Denning would only say that the deadline by which a decision must be made was fast approaching, and that by mid-February, they would be able to make an announcement. But the longer the announcement is in coming, the more likely it is that Rizla will be pulling out. Rumors of Rizla's withdrawal have been floating round the paddock since the end of last year, and as we reported yesterday, the Italian media is reporting the loss of Rizla's sponsorship as fact.
The final day of testing at Jerez for the junior classes in MotoGP showed the same pattern as the past two days, and the same names at the top of the timesheets. Once again, Alvaro Bautista and Julian Simon set the fastest times, the two Aspar riders lapping under the existing lap records in their respective classes.
Julian Simon did not have it all his own way in the 125 class though. At 2pm, Simon's Aspar team mate Bradley Smith was firmly ensconced at the top of the timesheets, and only relinquished his top spot later in the afternoon. Smith finished the day second, ahead of Sandro Cortese and Marc Marquez. Britain's Scott Redding finished 8th, dropping down the field from the earlier two days. The USA's Cameron Beaubier, on the other hand, managed to climb a place to 11th. More impressively, the American rookie took a second off his lap time every single day.
In the 250 class, Bautista ruled once again unopposed, ahead of Mike di Meglio. The reigning 125cc champion was very impressive over the three day test, cutting two and a half seconds off his time over the course of three days. Di Meglio finished ahead of Team Scot's veteran 250 rider Hiro Aoyama aboard a Honda, and fellow 250cc rookie Gabor Talmacsi.
Yesterday, we reported what we thought of as the great news that Dorna had started to put full MotoGP races online, available freely at MotoGP.com's official Youtube channel. Today, less than 24 hours later, they seem to have changed their minds. On Tuesday, the full 2008 Jerez race appeared on the Youtube channel, posted by MotoGP.com. by Wednesday morning, it was gone, replaced by a standard Youtube error message stating that the video had been removed by the user.
Obviously, some heated discussions followed at Dorna's Barcelona HQ yesterday, about what should and shouldn't be put online for free, and the proponents of the 20th Century view of publishing prevailed. It will be interesting to see how long this situation will continue, before Dorna realizes that it is better to control themselves how their video footage is put online, rather than leaving them to turn up on various file sharing sites around the world.
The rumor has been circulating for a very long time, but news that Rizla will be withdrawing its sponsorship from Suzuki's MotoGP team is moving rapidly from the realm of speculation to the world of fact. The rumors started after Rizla announced that it would be withdrawing its backing from the Crescent Suzuki BSB project, which is part of the same program run by Paul Denning and Jack Valentine behind the Suzuki MotoGP team, and was a common theme for paddock gossip for the second half of 2008.
Now, the Italian magazine Sport Moto is reporting the news as fact: Rizla will withdraw funding from Suzuki's MotoGP team, costing Suzuki some 3.5 million euros per year. The news will add to the speculation which rumbles on that Suzuki could choose to pull out of MotoGP before the season starts, a rumor which is strenuously denied by the MotoGP team. And the relatively small amount - in relation to the budget, which is likely to be over 10 times that figure - in lost income would not appear to be an insurmountable problem: It probably only barely covered the salaries of riders Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi, if at all.
Ironically, the rest of the paddock may well be glad to see Rizla depart as a sponsor. Not because of the loss of income for Suzuki - nobody will welcome that - but because it was widely felt that Suzuki had given Rizla a place as title sponsor at an untenably cheap price, and the paltry sum asked by Suzuki had dragged down the price that other teams could demand from sponsors for the same role. In the long term, Suzuki losing Rizla money could end up bringing more money into MotoGP, and leave it on a more sound financial footing.
Dorna has been notoriously careful with the video footage of its races, and has spent a lot of time and effort getting races and fragments of races taken off of Youtube and other video sharing websites. Indeed, when an online publication such as ours applies for media accreditation for MotoGP races, we are issued with instructions explicitly forbidding us to shoot and use any moving image footage of the race. This is entirely understandable, as the lion's share of Dorna's income is from television broadcasters, and they expect a good deal of protection for the large sums of money they pay for the broadcast rights.
One sign that things are starting to change a little at Dorna was the opening earlier last year of the official MotoGP.com Youtube channel, which hosted various snippets of video from the MotoGP.com website, including the excellent After The Flag official video podcast. It was a start - a careful one, but a start nonetheless.
Now, though, bigger changes are afoot. Perhaps having learned from the World Superbike website, which hosts live video of the races on its website for free in most countries, MotoGP.com is now starting to put some of the old races online. The first race to go up is the complete footage of the 2008 Jerez race, which went up online earlier today. Whether this is the first of many, or just a one-off experiment remains to be seen. At the very least, it is a promising step.
Alvaro Bautista and Julian Simon dominated once again on the second day of testing for the 125cc and 250cc riders at Jerez. The Spanish Aspar duo lead their respective classes as they had done yesterday.
In the 250s, it was KTM refugee Hiroshi Aoyama who was second fastest, getting the Team Scot Honda within half a second of Bautista. Behind Aoyama, the two newcomers, and former and reigning 125cc world champions Gabor Talmacsi and Mike di Meglio were third and fourth respectively, while yesterday's fast man Thomas Luthi dropped to 5th.
In the 125 class, Julian Simon turned up the pressure a few notches, getting to within half a second of the existing lap record, and beating his team mate Bradley Smith by almost a full second. Sandro Cortese and Marc Marquez swapped places, taking third and fourth, while behind them, Sergio Gadea and Scott Redding did the same. American Cameron Beaubier set the 12th fastest time, the slowest of the GP regulars, and in the middle of the Spanish and Italian national championship riders.
Testing concludes tomorrow.
As the global financial crisis continues to hammer the world of motorsports, the Spanish magazine Motociclismo has revealed the Grand Prix Commission's proposals aimed at significantly cutting costs in MotoGP. The commission, composed of the MSMA representing the manufacturers, IRTA representing the teams, Dorna and the FIM, has spent the last few weeks putting together a range of measures which should help to reduce the expense of participating in MotoGP.
The most radical change suggested is to limit riders to a single bike per race, instead of the current two bikes they have. This would save both in costs of leasing the bikes, as well as mechanics to maintaing the bikes and spare parts. The biggest obstacle to this change would be the current flag-to-flag rules, which means that riders are allowed to switch machines if the weather conditions change during a wet race. With only a single bike, riders would be forced to switch wheels instead of bikes.
There are likely to be safety objections to any change of the flag-to-flag rules. Just changing from slick to rain tires - or vice versa - will not be sufficient to prepare the bike for the changing conditions. Usually, adjustments to the setup are also required, including changing the suspension to make it either softer for rain or harder for dry conditions. These changes require more time than just a change of wheels, and so the gamble of coming in to the pits becomes that much greater. More riders may choose to stay out on unsuitable tires rather than coming in for a time-consuming change of tires and setup. More riders out in the rain on slick is likely to mean more crashes, and more crashes means more injuries, and more holes in an already decimated field.
The one thing the teams would not have to worry about under the new rules is changing brakes. The proposals also include a ban on carbon brakes, which Fausto Gresini has lobbied for, claiming it would save him some 250,000 euros a year. The argument against carbon brakes is fairly solid, in that they are of no practical application outside racing, as carbon disks wear out too quickly and don't work in the rain, making them impractical on the streets. This change is almost certain to go through, and may as a side benefit make the racing more exciting. Steel brakes take longer to stop a bike, and if braking distances are longer, then outbraking maneuvers are more likely to succeed.
Rumors continue to surround Kawasaki's MotoGP program, and the latest rumor would seem to tip the balance in favor of the program's demise. The often well-informed British website Visordown is reporting that the 2009 MotoGP bike showed a distinct lack of reliability at the private tests they ran last week at the Australian Eastern Creek circuit.
So worried are Kawasaki's MotoGP bosses by the reliability that they are giving the project one last chance, according to Visordown. The bike will run at the private test to be held by Suzuki and Kawasaki at Phillip Island next week, where reliability issues will be examined. If the bike is not reliable enough, the project will be killed - and with it, any hope of a privateer team running the machines - so say Visordown's sources.
As if to emphasize the point that motorcycle racing is approaching once again, after the past three days of testing by the World Superbike and World Supersport field at Portugal's spectacular Portimao circuit, a reduced field of 250 and 125 riders took to the track a couple of hundred miles further east at Jerez.
But unlike the overflowing World Superbike paddock, the 250 and 125 tests were significant more for who was absent than for those present. The biggest name missing is of course reigning 250 champion Marco Simoncelli, but there's no doubt that the Italian Gilera man will be on the grid next year. For others, though participation is less certain, as sponsorship deals are still being haggled over in an attempt to finalize budgets.
And so none of the Pons team riders are present, which includes Hector Barbera and Simone Corsi, and neither of the Espargaro brothers will be testing either; Alex Debon is absent, his future still unclear; and Hector Faubel turned up at the track, but will not be riding until tomorrow.
Of the riders that did test today, Alvaro Bautista was the fastest, as might be expected of a serious title contender. The Spaniard finshed ahead of Swiss rider Thomas Luthi, and the Scot Honda rider Ratthapark Wilairot. Reigning 125cc champion Mike Di Meglio managed only the 6th fastest time, after a tumble in the morning which left him relatively unharmed.
As for the 125 riders, it was the Aspar Aprilia pairing of Julian Simon and Bradley Smith who topped the timesheets, ahead of the tiny Marc Marquez on the factory KTM. Britain's Scott Redding was fifth fastest, while American Cameron Beaubier, who stepped from the Red Bull Rookies Cup last year managed the 11th fastest time. The 125s shared the track with leading riders from both the Spanish CEV championship, as well as the Italian CIV championship.
Testing continues tomorrow, and concludes on Wednesday.
Andrew Wheeler is a name many readers may already know. The British-born photographer is a stalwart of the motorcycle racing world, and is the AMA photographer for the excellent American magazine Road Racer X and the UK magazine Motorcycle Racer. His work has appeared in a range of well-respected motorcycle publications around the world.
At the end of every season, Andrew puts together a slideshow of his highlights of the year, and this year, Andrew has kindly agreed to share that slideshow with us. The photos range from the AMA season opener at Daytona all the way through the 2008 motorcycle racing season to the post-race MotoGP test at Valencia. We hope you enjoy the show.
Shane Byrne was once again the fastest rider in the first running of the new Superpole format for World Superbikes, which takes the form of Formula 1-style "knock out" qualifying: Three sessions of 12 minutes, with a cut down to the 16 fastest to start the second session, and down to 8 to start the final session. Rain disrupted the second session, upsetting proceedings a little and showing that the new procedure can catch people out in qualifying, just as the old procedure did.
|1.||Byrne S.||GBR||Ducati 1098R||1'43.874|
|2.||Neukirchner M.||GER||Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K9||1'43.965|
|3.||Rea J.||GBR||Honda CBR1000RR||1'44.144|
|4.||Haga N.||JPN||Ducati 1098R||1'44.157|
|5.||Haslam L.||GBR||Honda CBR1000RR||1'44.217|
|6.||Corser T.||AUS||BMW S1000 RR||1'44.261|
|7.||Kagayama Y.||JPN||Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K9||1'44.586|
|8.||Laconi R.||FRA||Ducati 1098R||1'47.057|
|9.||Checa C.||ESP||Honda CBR1000RR||1'49.387|
|10.||Fabrizio M.||ITA||Ducati 1098R||1'52.340|
|11.||Nakano S.||JPN||Aprilia RSV4||1'56.553|
|12.||Biaggi M.||ITA||Aprilia RSV4||1'56.643|
|13.||Spies B.||USA||Yamaha YZF R1||1'44.119|
|14.||Smrz J.||CZE||Ducati 1098R||1'45.182|
|15.||Sykes T.||GBR||Yamaha YZF R1||1'45.624|
|16.||Kiyonari R.||JPN||Honda CBR1000RR||1'45.931|
|17.||Parkes B.||AUS||Kawasaki ZX 10R||1'46.181|
|18.||Salom D.||ESP||Kawasaki ZX 10R||1'46.260|
|19.||Polita A.||ITA||Ducati 1098R||1'46.849|
|20.||Roberts B.||AUS||Ducati 1098R||1'46.897|
Overall best times from the three day session, all of which were set on Saturday: