Archive - Oct 2009
As the final race for the much-loved 250cc class approaches, news is starting to emerge of rider signings and ongoing negotiations for the Moto2 class which is scheduled to take its place. It was reported earlier this week that Alex de Angelis is close to a deal with Tech 3, after the enclave republic of San Marino was not prepared to fund the Scot Honda MotoGP project which would have kept the San Marino native in the premier class, but now more deals are being made public.
Most of the Moto2 news, though, has concentrated on De Angelis' Gresini Honda team mate Toni Elias. Elias was also in line for the Scot Honda deal, though he too would have had to raise money for the ride, something that has proved extremely difficult to do. After that deal fell through, Elias looked certain to ride for Sito Pons in Moto2, and had even signed a pre-contract. However, the Spanish sports daily AS.com is reporting that Elias has ripped up that contract, after Sito Pons refused to guarantee his salary. With Hector Barbera staging a 12 minute strike at Sepang over salary issues with the Pons team, Elias has decided that he cannot afford to risk riding for the team.
For the past couple of weeks, the MotoGP paddock has been on tenterhooks waiting for an announcement on the future of Alex de Angelis. The Italian has been working on a deal to keep the Scot Honda team in MotoGP, with backing from De Angelis' native mountain republic of San Marino. An announcement was expected this weekend at Sepang, but it failed to come, raising fears that the deal had fallen through.
That seems to be confirmed by an interview which the French motorcycling website Moto Caradisiac did with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team boss Herve Poncharal. The Frenchman was ostensibly talking about Tech 3's new Moto2 project, which they hope to present at the final Valencia round of MotoGP, and mentioned the riders in line for a ride with the team. "I have five possible candidates," Poncharal told Moto Caradisiac. "Alex de Angelis, who told me yesterday that MotoGP is gone for him, and the Scot Honda project with San Marino won't happen; [current Scot Honda 250 rider Raffaele] de Rosa, [current Pramac Ducati rider Niccolo] Canepa, [former Scot Honda rider Yuki] Takahashi and [current Matteoni 250 rider] Jules Cluzel."
The final times from testing at Portimao.
After winning his 7th MotoGP World Championship, his 9th world title in total, and his 4th for Yamaha, Yamaha's bosses were naturally effusive in their praise for Valentino Rossi. At a press conference after the race, which featured Yamaha Racing's Managing Director Lin Jarvis alongside Yamaha's MotoGP project leader Masao Furusawa, the pair heaped praise on the Italian. "Bringing Valentino over to Yamaha has been the best thing we've ever done perhaps in Yamaha's racing history," Jarvis told reporters. "It was a great decision and together we make a great team."
Both men had a difficult balance to strike, however. Rossi's 9th World Championship was rightly celebrated, and both Jarvis and Furusawa gave him the plaudits he deserved, but both men also had to be careful not to tread too heavily on Jorge Lorenzo's toes. Jarvis alluded to Yamaha's strength in depth, telling reporters that "having two riders competing for the championship is quite stressful for everybody concerned. He praised the attitude of both Rossi and Lorenzo at achieving the title, saying "I think the behaviour and maturity of the two riders has been really special."
But both Jarvis and Furusawa acknowledged the special place Rossi still holds within the team, and emphasized that they want to keep Rossi inside Yamaha for as long as possible. "I don’t think I can convince Valentino to continue racing (after 2010), but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure he’s on a Yamaha if he does," Jarvis said, while Masao Furusawa was even clearer. "My goal in MotoGP is winning with Valentino, and maybe one day Valentino will stop in MotoGP, but I’d like to ask him to complete his MotoGP career with Yamaha," Furusawa said.
MotoMatters.com Andy Doggett is enjoying a few days in the Portuguese sun after attending the World Superbike race at Portimao on Sunday, and was kind enough to send us some of his excellent photos from the first day of testing. He's an amateur, with a consumer DSLR, but he also has an excellent eye. Here's his images:
After just a day's rest after the end of the 2009 World Superbike championship, the Superbike field - old and new - are back in action at Portimao. Johnny Rea was the fastest on the first day of the two-day test, finishing a couple of tenths ahead of Michel Fabrizio. Cal Crutchlow was 3rd fastest, confirming that his World Supersport title was no fluke by finishing ahead of Noriyuki Haga on Crutchlow's first time out on the Yamaha World Superbike machine.
A variety of sources are reporting that "Super" Shinya Nakano wiil announce his retirement from competition at a press conference in Japan tomorrow. Nakano, who raced for the Factory Aprilia team in WSBK this past season, had some good finishes but was plagued by injuries in the latter portion of the year. The highlight of Nakano's twelve year career on the world scene was probably his 2000 season on the Chesterfield Tech 3 Yamaha 250, where he narrowly lost the 250cc world championship to teammate Olivier Jacque in a near photo finish at the season-ending race at Phillip Island.
One of the big moves in the World Superbike paddock for next season is Max Neukirchner's move to the Ten Kate Honda team. Now that the first test of the 2010 World Superbike season is underway at Portimao, the Ten Kate team have released a video featuring the Ten Kate riders in action at the Portuguese track. Here's how Max Neukirchner's first day in his new team went.
One announcement of interest at the Phillip Island MotoGP round was that Jorge Lorenzo's team manager, Daniele Romagnoli, would be stepping down from his role and pursuing a more technical and less managerial role elsewhere. Romagnoli, whose background was as a data engineer and then crew chief, was promoted to team manager to make way for Lorenzo's choice of crew chief Ramon Forcada. But like so many technicians who have been moved up to management, his engineering brain still itches to deal with technical problems, rather than the organizational headaches which face a team manager.
The question of who would take Romagnoli's place has puzzled the paddock over the past couple of weeks, but the German-language motorsports weekly Motorsport-Aktuell is reporting that the answer may be within the Yamaha family. According to MSA, Yamaha World Superbike team boss Massimo Meregalli could move up to MotoGP and take over the role vacated by Romagnoli.
Romagnoli, in turn, could well move into the World Superbike paddock. With Ben Spies taking Tom Houseworth into the MotoGP team with him, there could be a vacancy for a crew chief in the World Superbike garage. Suggestions at Sepang that Romagnoli could take the place of Andrea Dovizioso's crew chief Pete Benson were dismissed by a Honda spokesperson.
The 2010 MotoGP season is set to be a bumper year for rookies, with a grand total of 6 newcomers entering the class. Hiroshi Aoyama, Hector Barbera, Alvaro Bautista, Aleix Espargaro and Marco Simoncelli are all moving up to MotoGP from the 250cc class, while Ben Spies is parachuting in from World Superbikes. The influx of new blood into the class - including some of the most eagerly-awaited names for a couple of years - should add an extra level of excitement to MotoGP, with the new riders rated very highly indeed.
But this influx of fresh talent also faces the biggest challenge ever to confront MotoGP rookies: The cost-cutting measures put in place at the beginning of the year including huge reductions in testing, cutting the number of test days by half. This leaves the 6 rookies entering the class facing a new season, on a new bike and new tires, with just 8 days of testing behind them.
To remedy this situation, the MSMA, the association of manufacturers, is lobbying the Grand Prix Commission to schedule a special test just for the rookies at Sepang in November. The idea is to allow the newcomers a couple of extra days on the bike to allow them to start the year on a slightly more equal footing with the regular riders.
According to German site Motorsport Aktuell, Ant West, Martin Cardenas, James Ellison, and Gino (no relation to Jonny) Rea will all test in the next two days for the Yamaha Factory World Supersport team. West, who was scratched for the final race of the season at Portimao by his Stiggy Honda team because they couldn't afford to put him on the grid, has made no secret of the fact that he's looking for a ride for next season. Cardenas, who finished a creditable 12th in Sunday's race in a one-off ride for the RES Software Veidec Honda team, is currently under contract to the M4 Suzuki squad in the US, but with the American racing scene in a state of turmoil, it isn't 100% sure that there will be a series for the Colombian to race in the US in 2010. Ellison, who finished in second place behind Airwaves Yamaha teammate Leon Camier in the British Superbike series, is thought to have an option on his future services held by Yamaha. Gino Rea, who clinched the 600 Superstock crown at Portimao for Ten Kate Honda, will reportedly not be offered a seat on the Dutch team's WSS squad. The rider line-up is not the only issue in question concerning the factory Yamaha team.
Putting together the calendar for any motorcycle racing series is always a puzzle, depending on a huge number of factors such as circuit availability, travel distance, expense and a host of others. Alongside all of these more obvious factors, the MotoGP calendar also takes into account the scheduling of Formula One. An informal agreement exists between the bosses of Formula One and MotoGP to avoid direct calendar clashes wherever possible, in order to ensure the highest possible TV audiences for both series.
During the last round of changes to the Formula One calendar, the FIA appear to have forgotten about this gentlemen's agreement, as the revised dates have caused three clashes with the provisional 2010 MotoGP calendar announced earlier this summer. The three events that will fall on the same weekend are the Le Mans MotoGP round and the Monaco F1 Grand Prix; the Mugello MotoGP round and the Turkish F1 race; and perhaps most worrying of all, the Misano MotoGP race and the F1 race at Monza, just a few hundred kilometers up the A14 highway in Milan.
If you want to know what it's like to win your first World Superbike championship, you need wonder no more. Ben Spies spoke to Jonathan Green for the excellent OnTheThrottle TV website on Sunday evening about the season, the races at Portimao and how it feels to go to MotoGP as a champion.
The 2009 World Superbike season has been one for the ages. Close racing, victories snatched from the jaws of defeat (and vice-versa), heartbreak, triumph and an against-all-odds comeback from near-Palookaville. The ultimate protagonists were the stuff of central race-film casting: The lovable but aging hard-luck veteran who has been oh-so-close to the brass ring nearly too many times to count pitted against the hot young kid, a tall, cool Texan with a thousand mile stare.
As if according to a Hollywood script, our heroes came to the last round of the year in a virtual dead heat for the championship. All the ingredients for an epic confrontation were in place. Winning was essential, failure not an option. At the end of the day, one would saunter off into the sunset wreathed in victory and one would have the bitter ashes of defeat lingering on his palate, but they both would have fought the good fight and have acquitted themselves with honor. Unfortunately, real life has a way of being a bit more prosaic than what we would crave. Today's races, while hardly unexciting, were just that sort of reality check.
Race 1 -- All Fall Down