The return of Casey Stoner to Ducati as a test rider has raised more questions than it answered. Fans and media alike are in a state of confusion about his intentions, especially given the times he was setting on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. What was he doing? Will he race again? When will he test again? To try to put this test and Stoner's role into perspective, here is what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't.
What was Stoner riding?
Casey Stoner spent all three days on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. He did not test the GP16.
If he's a test rider, why didn't he test the GP16?
A lot of reasons. The GP16 is a brand new bike, and there aren't that many of them yet, so Ducati can't afford to have a test rider destroy one if they crash. The GP16 is not that different to the GP15, so there was plenty for Stoner to test which is transferable to the GP16. Stoner hadn't ridden a MotoGP bike in a year, and hadn't ridden a Ducati since 2010. He hadn't ridden Michelins since 2006, and MotoGP is now using a spec software. For this test, Stoner's aim was to get up to speed, learn and understand the Ducati and a 1000cc era MotoGP bike, complete with Michelins and spec software, and prepare himself for the next test, so that he can provide better input at the next test.
Aprilia's MotoGP project has suffered a setback. The 2016 version of their RS-GP MotoGP machine will not be ready in time for the first official IRTA test at Sepang, according to a report by Crash.net's Neil Morrison. Instead, it will make its debut in a private test at Qatar, ahead of the third preseason test of 2016, with its first public outing coming in that third and final test, two weeks before the start of the 2016 season.
The delay is a sign that the project is at least a couple of weeks behind schedule. At Valencia, Aprilia spokespersons said that the original plan was to hold a shakedown test at a private Italian racetrack, with the bike making its public debut in Sepang. Designing a radically new bike is taking longer than expected, however: the 2016 machine will be a brand new prototype, designed from the ground up, at least 10kg lighter than the current RS-GP, and is rumored to have a different angle between the cylinders. That is an incredibly complex and time-consuming process, so delays are not entirely unexpected.
Jorge Lorenzo's helmet issues through the 2015 season have finally caused him to switch brands. The Spaniard today announced he has signed a contract for the next three seasons with the French helmet maker Shark. Shark have a long history in MotoGP and World Superbikes, having supplied many top riders such as Olivier Jacque, Carl Fogarty, Randy De Puniet, and Troy Corser. They currently support Aleix Espargaro, Johann Zarco, the Lowes twins Alex and Sam, Tom Sykes, Sylvain Guintoli, Scott Redding and Miguel Oliveira, among others. As such, Shark is an established name in motorcycle racing and a known quantity.
Lorenzo had the chance to extend his contract with HJC, the Korean helmet manufacturer he had been with for the past three years. But Lorenzo suffered a number of issues with his HJC during the 2015 season which caused him to reconsider. At Qatar, he dropped from the leading group after a helmet liner came loose and obscured his vision. At Silverstone, he failed to fit the breath deflector, and suffered severe fogging during a very wet race. This was not the first time he had suffered fogging in the wet, though the issue was made much worse through his own decision not to use the breath deflector.
The FIM today released the provisional 2016 calendar for the World Superbike championship. There is good news and bad news in the calendar, with Portimao disappearing from the calendar, but Monza making a welcome return. World Superbikes will also be returning to Germany, with the entire circus turning up to the Lausitzring, just north of Dresden. The best news is that there are no direct clashes with MotoGP, but WSBK will be running on the same date as F1 for nine rounds, though only the Donington and Monza rounds happen in the same timezone. Given the different time schedules for F1 and WSBK, bike racing fans should not have to miss any of the action.
The Lausitzring was not the only option considered when WSBK looked at returning to Germany. The series was also in talks with the Sachsenring, as the MotoGP round is immensely popular there. In the end, Lausitz was chosen, WSBK having raced there previously from 2005 to 2007.
The FIM have released another provisional calendar for the MotoGP series, in response to yet another shake up of the F1 calendar by Bernie Ecclestone. With F1 and MotoGP having an informal agreement not to have their dates clash, and with MotoGP losing out in terms of TV audience whenever they do, the MotoGP calendar released in September had too many conflicts with F1.
As a result of those clashes, four races have now been moved to different dates. The German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring has been shifted back a week to 17th July. Silverstone, scheduled to be held on the 17th, has been moved to the 4th September. The Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang has been moved from the start to the end of the Asia-Pacific triple header, and will now be run on 20th October. That shift means that the Valencia race has been pushed back a week, to 13th November.
Press releases from the series organizers and teams after the final round of World Superbikes at Qatar:
Alex Lowes would not compete in the last race of the season, his bike not able to start the race and Xavi Fores also sat the race out due to illness.
The last race of the season was fifteen floodlit laps.
Seventeen laps under floodlights and the riders were held a little longer than normal before the lights started the race.
Jordi Torres continues his dominance on race rubber ahead of the Kawasakis of Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea with Chaz Davies and Michael van der Mark not far behind.
The nighttime schedule at Qatar, the last race weekend of the year, has the fourth untimed free practice after Superpole and World Superbike qualifying began a little later than it was scheduled to after the delays in World Supersport qualifying.
After a red flag fron an early spill before anyone recorded a lap, the restarted 42 minute session would finally see Cal Crutchlow's 2009 lap record fall.
Jordi Torres and Michael van der Mark approach the 1'57 mark ahead of Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea. Rea and Tom Sykes were unable to improve on their times from yesterday, but their times were close enough not to matter. Niccolo Canepa and David Salom are the favourites in Superpole One to get promoted to the second session.
Nico Terol was quickest in the first session of the day, ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu, but it was not quicker than third-quickest Lucas Mahias's best time from yesterday.
Press releases from the WSBK teams and organizers in Qatar: