Motorland Aragon, Spain
Press release previews of the third round of World Superbikes at Aragon from the teams and organizers:
Racing season is now truly upon us. MotoGP kicked off ten days ago at Qatar, last weekend the British Superbike championship had their first race of the year at Donington Park, and this weekend sees a bumper crop of racing. MotoGP is at Austin, where MotoAmerica also kicks off its inaugural season since taking over the AMA series from the DMG. World Superbikes heads to the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain, where they are joined by the Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 classes. It is going to be a busy weekend.
Despite the bustle of action, the amount of real news emerging has been limited. Teams and riders are too busy racing, absorbing the lessons of the first races while preparing for the next races, to be plotting and scheming beyond that. Here's a rundown of things you might have missed this weekend anyway.
And you thought the Stoner return was a surprise...
Dani Pedrosa's announcement after the Qatar Grand Prix that he would be withdrawing from racing to seek urgent treatment for arm pump immediately triggered an explosion of speculation over who might replace the Spaniard during his absence. Fans and pundits offered a barrage of possible names to take Pedrosa's place: Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Michael van der Mark, Jack Miller, Nicky Hayden. Coming as it did just before April Fool's day, it even triggered a spate of hoax stories: Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan, Alex Marquez and Fabio Quartararo were all offered in jest.
Hiroshi Aoyama was always going to be the man to replace Pedrosa, however. For a range of reasons, Aoyama is the only reasonable candidate to take the place of Pedrosa in the short term, all the other names being bandied about subject to sponsor conflicts, race conflicts, contractual obligations or just plain unwillingness. Here's a rundown of why Aoayama got the call, and the others didn't.
The provisional MotoGP calendar for 2015, updated on 11th February, when Silverstone was confirmed as replacing Donington:
The World Superbike calendar has been reduced to 13 events. The Russian round of WSBK, scheduled to be held at the Moscow Raceway on 5th July has been canceled, after the event organizer, YMS Promotion, failed to provide the contract guarantees required by the contract. As a further consequence, the Yakhnich Motorsport Team have also lost their slot on the 2015 World Supersport grid, which was tied in with the Russian round.
The cancellation of the Russian round did not come as a surprise. The Russian WSBK round is a legacy of the last years of Infront running the series. Infront and YMS signed a ten-year deal to organize a World Superbike round in Russia, but continuing political instability in Russia, tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine, and murky regional politics have made it impossible to stage a race there. The round was placed on the calendar automatically, because of the existing contract, but it was never expected to actually take place.
The Russian round of World Superbikes will not be replaced. Instead, the series will run 13 rounds in 2015. Below is the press release and updated 2015 WSBK calendar.
2015 WSBK Calendar update
FIM Superbike & Supersport World Championships
FIM Superstock 1000 cc Cup
2015 calendar, 11 February
The weather has not been kind to the World Superbikes who headed to Aragon for testing. The first day was lost to a wet track, and while the track dried on the second day, cold temperatures limited the usefulness of the test. 2013 world champion Tom Sykes did not bother going out at all, not wishing to risk injury on a cold track just for the sake of turning some laps.
Sykes' Kawasaki teammate Jonathan Rea did spend some time on track, though for him, too, conditions meant that lessons were limited. Rea spent time working on gearshift set ups, and clutch strategies for race starts. It was important for Rea to spend some more time on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, after having spent so many years on the Honda CBR1000RR with the Pata Honda team. It wasn't just bikes that Rea is switching, the Ulsterman showing off his Monster Energy colors for the first time, leaving Red Bull behind. That is a major change for Rea, who has been backed by Red Bull almost from when he first started racing motocross, before switching to circuit racing.
Preparations for the 2015 season are starting to get underway. While the MotoGP teams will have to wait until February, the World Superbike squads are assembling on the Iberian peninsula to resume their testing programs for 2015. Pata Honda were the first to kick off testing, spending two days at Portimao last week, where reigning World Superbike and World Supersport champions Sylvain Guintoli and Michael van der Mark got to grips with the Honda CBR1000RR. A dry first day meant that both men managed a good number of laps, while most of the second day was lost to rain. Van der Mark told Dutch site Racesport he had not spent too much time testing different settings, his main objective being to get used to riding a Superbike. Both he and Guintoli had tested the new engine, with standard conrods and pistons, while Guintoli had spent a lot of time working on different set ups, trying to get comfortable.
Though tracks around the world have fallen silent over the winter break, testing is due to resume shortly. From mid-January, the World Superbike teams will resume their preparations for the 2015 season at circuits in Spain and Portugal. Testing starts at Portimao, where the Pata Honda team will be the first to hit the track on 14th January. The team then moves to the Motorland Aragon circuit near Alcañiz, where they will be joined by Kawasaki and Grillini, before the action moves back to Portimao for a test including Ducati, BMW Italian, Suzuki, MV Agusta, Althea Ducati and EBR.
After Portimao, the teams head east to Jerez, where from 26th January the circuit will see Ducati, Red Devils, MV Agusta, BMW Italia, Honda, Suzuki, Althea Ducati and EBR joined by the Kawasaki World Supersport team and Ducati's MotoGP test team. A day later, the Kawasaki World Superbike squad will take to the track. From then, they pack up ready to fly the teams and equipment to the Southern Hemisphere, ready for the start of the season at Phillip Island. Testing for the MotoGP class resumes on 4th February at Sepang.
Full private testing schedule for the World Superbike class, as announced so far:
While the Moto2 and Moto3 bikes were circulating at Valencia, along with the Althea WSBK team, Ducati and Kawasaki wrapped up their test at the Motorland Aragon circuit in preparation for the 2015 World Superbike series. The two Ducati riders were once again fastest, building on the work from Monday, with Davide Giugliano topping the timesheets ahead of teammate Chaz Davies. Jonathan Rea managed to just pip his Kawasaki teammate Tom Sykes, an impressive enough performance on his first ride out on the ZX-10R, though reports from the track suggest Rea may have set his best time on qualifying tires.
All of the riders have a lot of work to do, with new technical regulations that restrict the tuning of the engines and limit electronics to a factory-supplied kit. Ducati has the least amount of work to do, the factory already having prepared for 2015 during the 2014 season, and having not to change much as a result. Kawasaki had more work on their hands, much of it falling on the shoulders of Tom Sykes, as Jonathan Rea's main objective at Aragon was simply learning his way around the bike. Also present at the track were a number of journalists and test riders, who got to ride both Tom Sykes' WSBK ZX-10R and the EVO spec Kawasaki ZX-10R with which David Salom took the 2014 EVO crown. Among those doing media laps were former Moto2 race winner Jordi Torres.
The FIM have finally released the provisional calendar for the World Superbike series for next year. The 2015 season will see WSBK travel to 14 rounds, returning to all of the venues which hosted races in 2014, and two more overseas rounds added, in Russia and Thailand.
The chances of this being the definitive calendar appear to be slim. Three rounds are marked as still subject to contract: Portimao, Moscow and Qatar. Both Portimao and Qatar look likely to go ahead, but whether WSBK will actually return to Moscow remains to be seen. The 2014 round was canceled due to the political instability in the Russian Federation and the overflow of conflict in Ukraine, which affected various partners of the series. The political situation has only deteriorated since then, with the EU and US imposing sanctions on Russia, making the race there almost impossible. The teams and riders will be hoping for the round to be canceled: the race was a logistical nightmare to get equipment to and from, and for both the fans and riders to attend and find accommodation for.
Though testing for the MotoGP class has finished, motorcycle racers in other series still have plenty of work ahead of them. Both the World Superbike series and the Grand Prix support classes have been hard at work, ahead of a busy schedule of testing. The Ducati and Kawasaki World Superbike teams have been testing at the Motorland Aragon circuit, while Moto2 and Moto3 are back at Valencia.
At Aragon, Jonathan Rea made his long-awaited debut on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, alongside 2013 World Champion and fierce rival Tom Sykes. With the World Superbike teams adapting to the new regulations, the two Kawasakis were a little slower than the Ducatis of Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies. The day started off soaking, with journalists and test riders doing media laps on the 2014 bikes of Tom Sykes and David Salom. Once the track dried out in the afternoon, Kawasaki also joined the action. At the end of the day, both Ducati riders clocked up unofficial times of 1'51.3, while Sykes posted a 1'52.2 and Rea a 1'52.7. As an interesting note, they are running the track in its MotoGP configuration, using the long, sweeping double left hander as the final corner, rather than the longer version used by WSBK when the series races there, featuring the hairpin and then right and left combination leading back on to the front straight. Giugliano's best time is three seconds slower than the best time set by Andrea Dovizioso on the first day of practice for the MotoGP race at the circuit.
The crashes of Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone at Aragon two-and-a-half weeks ago raised a lot of questions about safety, leading to the Safety Commission deciding to start removing all of the artificial turf from around the circuits used by MotoGP. Rossi's crash, in particular, was severe, the Italian being clipped and knocked briefly unconscious by the back wheel of his Yamaha as he tumbled.
That Rossi did not suffer much worse injuries is in no small part down to his helmet. The AGV Pista GP helmet which Rossi helped develop provided an incredible level of protection for the Italian. After the incident, AGV took the helmet away to analyze the damage done to the helmet in the crash. They issued a press release, complete with close up photos of the damage sustained, explaining the damage done and how the helmet had protected Rossi.
The press release makes for interesting reading, and the close up photos of the damage are especially revealing of just how well the helmet stood up in the crash. Make sure you click on the photos to view higher resolution versions. The AGV press release appears below:
AGV ANALYSES VALENTINO ROSSI'S PISTA GP HELMET FOLLOWING HIS ACCIDENT AT ARAGON
Like all helmets that have been involved in falls or accidents in competitions in which AGV riders officially participate, the Pista GP helmet worn by Valentino Rossi at Aragon on 28 September was taken back to the factory and completely dismantled for a thorough technical analysis at the Group Research & Development Department.
The events of the previous MotoGP race at Aragon look set to have a major impact on tracks around the world in the near future. The crashes by Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone, both of whom lost control of their bikes when they hit the still wet astroturf which lines the outside of the outer kerbs, caused the subject to be raised in the MotoGP Safety Commission at Motegi. There, the Safety Commission decided to ask the circuits hosting MotoGP races to remove all of the astroturf from the run off areas around the track. Dorna Managing Director Javier Alonso told the MotoGP.com website that they would start talks with circuits to get them to remove the astroturf as soon as possible, starting with the most dangerous parts of the tracks.
The decision is a complete reversal of the earlier policy devised by the Safety Commission, the closed and private forum in which MotoGP riders can discuss safety issues and other concerns with the FIM and Dorna. As a result of a previous request, tracks had started putting in astroturf on the run off areas. That was in response to changes made primarily for car racing, where gravel traps on the outside of corners have been replaced with hard standing, such as asphalted areas. The astroturf was put in place to prevent riders using the run off as extra race track, allowing them to take corners faster.
The Candid Cal Crutchlow Interview, Part 3 - On Having Jack Miller As A Teammate, And Mental Strength
It has been a very tough year for Cal Crutchlow. Coming off the high of 2013, the year in which he scored four podiums, finished fifth in the championship, and looked certain to score his first win in MotoGP, his season in Ducati has been a massive challenge. Technical malfunctions, crashes, and a battle to find a way around the chronic understeer which plagues the Desmosedici. Crutchlow lingers in the middle of the pack, not fighting at the sharp end. This was not the season which Crutchlow had envisaged when he signed for Ducati.
In the first part of the interview with Crutchlow, published on Monday, he spoke of his battle to adapt to the Ducati, and of the 2014 season being his toughest year so far. In the second part of the interview, he continued this theme, talking about his struggle to maintain his morale through this, the hardest part of his career, when the results refuse to come. And in this, the final part of the interview, he talks about how mental strength is the decisive factor in motorcycle racing, and discusses Jack Miller's ascent to MotoGP.
MM: What about Jack Miller as a teammate? It's quite a big step from Moto3 to MotoGP, and he is definitely a larrikin, as they say in Australia …
CC: I don't know, a few races ago, when they first talked about it, I was like, why not do it? It's the best thing ever, it'll be funny. But the more I think about it, the more I think, maybe he needed a year. But who am I to say? I don't know! He might be alright. I sat there and thought, maybe he needed a year to go into Moto2 and learn, but then you think, why doesn't he have his year learning in MotoGP? It makes no difference. It's a big decision to make.
I do have to say, everyone's saying about the power, from 55bhp or whatever they've got to 250 or whatever. I don't think it's a big thing. You've got your right wrist, if you want to open the gas, you can open it, if you don't, then don't open it. If you don't want the power, you don't open the throttle. I think he'll be fine with that.
The only thing that I believe that could be a hindrance to him, you can't have as much fun on a MotoGP bike as you can in Moto3. I'll tell you what, you're not riding around behind someone, waiting for them to make a move, or thinking, I'll pass on the next lap. You've got no chance of doing that. You know, these races are probably 50% more intense than his races. That's my opinion.