December 24th, 2009
So just how do you fill those long drives to and from friends and family over the holiday period? My own personal preference is to listen to some of the excellent podcasts on motorcycle racing that are available on the internet. Especially in these dark times, when racing is still a long way away, listening to long and passionate discussions about racing on MotoGPOD, Rumblestrip Radio or Formula1Blog.com.
Sometimes, I get even luckier: I get to actually appear on a podcast, though the downside is that I get to listen to myself afterwards and hear all the mistakes I made. This December is no exception, Todd McCandless and Grace O'Neill of the excellent Formula1Blog.com website and podcast were kind enough to invite me onto the show to discuss the 2009 MotoGP season and hear my thoughts on the 2010 season. So, if you have a long drive ahead of you, and an hour and a half to fill with idle chatter about motorcycle racing, then head on over to Formula1blog.com and listen to the podcast on the website, or download the MP3 directly and load it onto your MP3 player. Happy listening, and happy holidays.
The dangers of modern technology are notorious, and easily overlooked. As any visitor who has done Ducati's excellent factory tour can affirm, the racing department, Ducati Corse, is closely guarded, with only a small glass window for the curious to peer through. All requests for entry are politely but firmly declined, for fear of anything leaking out before a formal announcement.
Of course, that does not stop news from getting out inadvertently. The Italian site GPOne.com had an interesting "scoop" today, displaying a "spy" photo of Ducati's brand new 2010 Desmosedici GP10 MotoGP bike. And who is to blame for this indiscretion? A sleeper planted by the covert industrial espionage unit of a rival factory? A cunning and resourceful Italian photo journalist talking his way in under false pretenses?
Hiroshi Aoyama and Marco Simoncelli finished the final day of testing at Sepang on Wednesday, bringing the cycle of extra MotoGP rookie tests to an end. Once again, it was Hiroshi Aoyama who was fastest of the rooking pairing, beating Marco Simonelli's time by a significant margin. Aoyama's fastest lap stopped the clocks at 2'02.3, just two tenths of a second off Casey Stoner's race lap record of 2'02.108 set in 2008, while Simoncelli set a fastest time of 2'03.2, according to Crash.net.
After the test, Aoyama expressed his satisfaction with the progress he had made. "I still have a lot to learn," GPOne.com reports Aoyama as saying, "because the MotoGP bike is so much different from the 125cc and 250cc machines. I have to get used to the traction control and to the fact that all works electronically, but I am satisfied with the work we have done over these days, even though I would like to do more."
At the last round of MotoGP at Valencia this year, Ducati announced a double-whammy of team manager losses: MotoGP team boss and sponsorship generator Livio Suppo announced he would be moving on to Honda for the 2010 season as their Racing Marketing Manager, while at the same time, WSBK boss Davide Tardozzi told the world that he would be leaving the World Superbike squad in search of a new challenge.
That challenge has been found in Germany, according to the leading Italian magazine Motosprint. Though the contracts still remain to be signed, Tardozzi is said to be joining BMW to manage their ambitious World Superbike project. The move will see Tardozzi reunited with two former pupils of his, the Italian having already has both Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus under his wing in previous years at Ducati. Tardozzi will not be the only reinforcement that BMW is bringing in from Ducati, though, as Michel Fabrizio's track engineer Max Bertolini will also be joining the Bavarian team. The loss of Bertolini will be a blow for for Xerox Ducati rider Michel Fabrizio, to whom Bertolini was much more than just an engineer.
The rain continues to dog the last of the rookie tests, another downpour at Sepang disrupting practice for Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama as they acclimatize to their Honda RC212Vs. Fortunately, the rain paid only a brief visit in the afternoon, allowing Simoncelli to rack up 44 laps and Aoyama to accumulate 43 laps of the Malaysian circuit.
Both men improved their times, but as yesterday, it was Hiroshi Aoyama who was the quickest of the pairing. Aoyama's 2'03.25 on the Interwetten Honda was nearly half a second better than Simoncelli's time of 2'03.70 aboard the factory-spec San Carlo Gresini Honda, but both men were still some way off both Casey Stoner's lap record of 2'02.108 and Valentino Rossi's pole record of 2'00.518.
Simoncelli continued to emphasize that times were not important. In the Gresini press release, he is quoted as saying "I must insist once again that this is not my objective at the moment. The most positive thing is that I have lapped at a consistently fast pace for all 56 laps and I started to enjoy it." His main focus was to adapt to the bike and continue to find the right set up.
Though the bumper crop of rookies due to enter MotoGP next season were given an extra session of testing, the last two to make use of that opportunity got off to a very damp start. Marco Simoncelli and reigning 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama arrived at Sepang to be greeted by a torrential downpour, delaying the start of the first day of testing until around noon local time.
Simoncelli, riding the two factory-spec RC212Vs used by Toni Elias for the Gresini Honda team, could only manage 44 laps of the Malaysian circuit, with a best time of 2'04.43, some 2 seconds off Casey Stoner's race lap record, and nearly 4 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi's 2009 qualifying record, set without the benefit of soft qualifying tires. Hiroshi Aoyama, in the familiar situation of having just one bike to ride, the former Team Scot Honda ridden by Gabor Talmacsi, was a few hundredths quicker than the man he took the 250cc title from, lapping Sepang with a best time of 2'04.38. Though well off lap record pace, both times are commendable under the circumstances. The track is still in poor shape from a series of car races, the tropical downpour serving only to worsen conditions. With just three bikes out on track - Aoyama, Simoncelli and a Honda test rider - little rubber was being laid down to give the track more grip.
After Yamaha's championship winning World Supersport team slipped quietly into oblivion, as first reported here at MotoMatters.com, the victim of the global economic crisis, the question most frequently raised was what would happen to the team's highly successful team manager, former 250cc racer Wilco Zeelenberg. The Dutchman had a proven record with Yamaha's WSS team, culminating in Cal Crutchlow's dominating championship in the team's final season. Given both his record and his long association with Yamaha, surely he would find a role somewhere?
That somewhere turns out to be inside the Fiat Yamaha MotoGP team, according to reports in Motorcycle News. Zeelenberg is being tipped to replace the departing Daniele Romagnoli as team manager for Jorge Lorenzo's side of the garage. Romagnoli ostensibly departed the team to look for a more technical role, but reports in the authoratitive German language magazine Speedweek indicate that the real cause of the rift were internal disagreements between Romagnoli and Lorenzo's crew chief Ramon Forcada. Romagnoli has since move on to become Raffaele de Rosa's crew chief in the Tech 3 Moto2 squad.
To describe John Hopkins' career since leaving Suzuki as "checkered" would be to indulge in understatement. Hopper left the stability of the Suzuki team for a difficult and painful year with Kawasaki, before the Akashi factory decided to pull out of MotoGP, leaving the American without a ride. Hopkins' next step was to the Stiggy Honda team in World Superbikes, where he had some success before suffering a couple of horrific crashes which put him out of operation for most of the season. Adding insult to injury - painfully literally in the case of Hopper - came the announcement at the end of the 2009 season that Stiggy Racing would be pulling out of racing altogether, leaving Hopkins high and dry once again.
Fortunately, perhaps, for the American, Hopkins could yet have found a ride for 2010. Hopper had earlier been linked with a return to the AMA, but with the US national series in its current disastrous state, this was perceived as being very much the last resort. Yesterday, salvation appears to have come from Italy, with the Italian FB Corse team announcing that they hoped to finalize a deal with Hopkins when he visits Italy for the launch of the team's new three-cylinder MotoGP bike in January 21st.
We continue today with the second half of our interview with Peter Clifford, the manager of the former WCM team, who we asked to get his take on the new rules for MotoGP, which are scheduled to come into force in 2012. In yesterday's episode, Clifford expressed his opinion that privateer teams running production-based engines would find it impossible to be competitive without spending equivalent amounts to the factories. Today, Clifford talks about the problems presented by ever-shifting rule changes, the political risks of the new rules in MotoGP and Moto2, and how long Moto2 is going to remain an affordable class.
PC: The other thing is, we were talking about the Flammini reaction, and it is interesting that he's not saying "I'm going to take everybody to court," and all this sort of stuff. Of course, we still don't know what his contract with the FIM says, that's still secret. He may just feel that what he was relying on in the old days was the way the contract was read, not the words in it. And he had his people at the FIM who read the contract the "right" way, and went in to bat for him and took us off the grid and carried on like that. What he may be waiting for, of course, is another election at the FIM, make sure that he gets the right people in, and they will read the contract in the way that he would like it to be read and this idea would be kicked out, and maybe even the Moto2 rules as well.
MM: Right, and of course that's a huge risk, because if we get a new FIM president who interprets the contracts a different way to Vito Ippolito, because Ippolito has a Grand Prix background, and whenever I've spoken to him, he's said again and again, "what we need are the TZs, the production racers."
PC: Well, that's how Venemoto [the team founded by Ippolito's father, brief history here] won Grand Prix and world championships, with TZs.
Ever since Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta started talking about using production engines in MotoGP bikes, one name has come up again and again in any discussion of this subject. That name is WCM, and the team manager of the time, Peter Clifford. MotoMatters.com had already spoken to Clifford at the IRTA test in Jerez, where he gave us a potted history of the WCM project, but after the Grand Prix Commission announced that MotoGP would be returning to 1000cc, with no restrictions on engine provenance and a bore limit of 81mm, we went back to Clifford to get his opinion of the changes. After all, if there's anyone who knows the real cost of turning a production bike into a MotoGP bike, it's Peter Clifford and his team. The discussion was long and very interesting, and so we have split the interview into two parts. Part one is below, while the second part will be published tomorrow.
MM: When Carmelo Ezpeleta first came up with the idea of using production engines, your name and the WCM project was raised by just about everybody, because basically what they're talking about is allowing you to do what you could have done back in 2003. How do you feel about that?
PC: Well, it's just very humorous isn't it? It was so obvious that that is what needed to happen, but at the time, there was enough machinery at the sharp end and the factories were all keen to have a go at it, so the few people that were left out of that loop, no one cared very much about them. That's just the way it goes, though isn't it.
From Valencia, a number of the Moto2 teams made their way further south, for another couple of days testing at Almeria in Spain's far southeast corner. Pons, Viessmann Kiefer, Promoracing (now the Antonio Banderas Racing Team), and Cardion AB all made the trip south to take advantage of the climate in Europe's driest corner.
Times are once again very difficult to interpret, even when available, but for what it's worth, the fastest man at the track was Karel Abraham on the FTR Moto2 bike, some seven tenths quicker than Sergio Gadea on the Pons Racing team's Kalex machine. But here, too, the Moto2 bikes were put into the shade by World Supersport equipment: the Motocard Glaner Kawasaki team was also present at the test, with 2009 surprise package Joan Lascorz setting an extremely respectable lap of 1'37.45 lap, over a second and a half faster than Abraham aboard the FTR bike.
Only a few more days to the holidays, and time is running out if you want your MotoMatters.com 2010 Motorcycle Racing Calendar delivered to a friend or loved one in time to slip under the tree. Realistically, orders will have to be in by Saturday morning if they are to be delivered in the US or Europe, and the chances are not good for receiving a calendar in time if you are outside of the US, Canada or Europe. So you had better hurry if you want a calendar before Friday!
Fortunately, 2010 is still 13 days away, and so you still have plenty of time to order the MotoMatters.com calendar, and get the maximum value out of the 14 beautiful photographs by Scott Jones the calendar features. If you need a stocking filler or New Year's gift for friends or family you won't be seeing until after the holiday season, this is still the ideal gift.
Full details of the calendar are available on the MotoMatters.com calendar ordering page, but the highlights of the large 12"x18.5" calendar are one of Scott Jones' fantastic photos every month, as well as a monthly grid with the race weekends for that month clear marked, showing all three days of on-track action for the MotoGP and World Superbike series, as well as birthdays for most of the world's top motorcycle racers. An example page is shown below, while the calendar ordering page has the lowdown on the calendar. Best of all, 10% of the calendar's purchase price goes towards Riders for Health, helping provide health care in remote regions of the world.
The two parties on either side of the argument over the 2012 rules in MotoGP - 1000cc, a maximum bore size of 81mm and the freedom to enter production-based engines - are circling slowly, sizing each other up. And from time to time, one party or another fires a broadside, in the hope of exposing weaknesses in the other side's arguments.
Today is no exception. In an interview in the German-language magazine Speedweek, Paolo Flammini took another potshot at the MotoGP series over the proposal to allow production-based engines to be used. This time, though, the man who runs the World Superbike championship together with his brother Maurizio tried another tack, by claiming that the production-based bikes just would not be competitive.
"I can't see any way that someone with [a production-based bike] can be competitive," Flammini told Speedweek. "Production-based bikes will lower the level of the World Championship." Flammini did say that he was sympathetic to MotoGP returning to a larger capacity. "I can see that the future for MotoGP will be 1000cc, but everything should be a prototype: Engine AND chassis!" Flammini said.
Yesterday, we brought you video interviews with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, provided by the Fiat on the Web project. Today we have three more videos for you, courtesy of the same Fiat on the Web team. And today's videos actually provide an insight into a side of MotoGP that doesn't get so much coverage, what goes on off the track.
First up is an interview with team manager Davide Brivio, in which he talks about his background and how he first started working with Valentino Rossi. Brivio talks about Rossi's strengths and lack of weaknesses, and about his emotions at winning the world championship with Rossi again.
One of the more interesting developments in the world of motorcycle roadracing this year has been the explosion of internet coverage of the sport, and especially of MotoGP. That development has been going on outside the paddock for a long time now (both with conventional news sites such as GPOne.com and Superbikeplanet.com, and with blogs and podcasts such as Motoblog.it and MotoGPOD), but the same development is starting to creep into the paddock, the updating (and vast improvement) of the official MotoGP.com website being perhaps the prime example.
But pressure is coming especially from sponsors. The Fiat Yamaha team is a prime example, with Fiat's own Fiat On The Web website hooking into the new wave of social networking websites, use of which has skyrocketed this year. The website's team have made optimum use of websites such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to get their message across, and engage fans and sell their brand. Two examples of how to do this are below: At the end of the season, the Fiat On The Web team interviewed some of the key - and colorful - figures inside the Fiat Yamaha team, and posted the results up on Youtube. You can watch the first two of those interviews - with riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo - below: