Every year, about now, there is one phrase which you will hear over and over again. With MotoGP testing behind us, and the start of the season imminent, every race fan chants the same mantra: "This could be the best MotoGP season ever!" Reality tends to intervene rather quickly, and the races never seem to pan out the way race fans had been hoping. Intriguing? Yes. Entertaining? Often. Thrilling? Not nearly as often as hoped.
And yet there is a genuine chance that this year could be different. Events inside MotoGP have been converging to a point which promises to see a return to the thrills of a previous era in MotoGP, one in which epic battles were fought out on the old 990cc machines. Though the days of tire-smoking action are long gone - killed off forever by the insistence of the factories that electronics must continue to play a major role in premier class racing - the battles could be back.
The ingredients which will spice up MotoGP? Two men, well matched in talent and in equipment - though both would dispute the latter claim, saying the other bike holds the upper hand. A grand old champion, returning to a bike he understands and knows he can ride and keen to prove he has not lost his edge. A fast young upstart, a fearless - some would say reckless - challenger, brimming with self-belief, overflowing with talent, and spoiling to make his mark. A talented underdog, a bull terrier desperate to get his teeth into the front runners, and bristling with resentment at the lack of factory support he believes he deserves. A stricken factory, fallen from its former glory, and determined to make amends, starting on the long road to recovering what it believes is its rightful place at the front. And a gaggle of young riders - some younger than others - determined to claim their place in the spotlights, and preferably on the podium.
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. While discussions about the future of the World Superbike series are ongoing, there are no proposals at the current time to switch to naked bikes. The sales trend of the sport bike market segment is true, as are the numbers for bike sales in Belgian (I wrote a column for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder on this very subject, which is to appear in the April issue). The idea was sparked both by the current market trends in motorcycle sales, and by pictures of former greats like Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer muscling Kawasaki Z1000s and Honda VF750s around the track. For another year at least, all of the stories on the website will be as accurate as possible. Normal service has now been resumed...
The news that Dorna had been handed control over the World Superbike series struck terror into the hearts of WSBK fans around the globe. The fear was Dorna would use their position of controlling both World Superbikes and MotoGP to widen the technical gap between the two series in an attempt to cut costs. With Dorna having so often complained that World Superbikes was encroaching on MotoGP territory, and with MotoGP's technical regulations becoming ever more restrictive, the logical step would appear to be to severely restrict the level of machinery used in WSBK.
Over the winter, and during the first round of the 2013 World Superbike series, talks between Dorna, the Superbike teams and the manufacturers involved in the series failed to make much headway. The factories could not agree among themselves what level of modification to allow, while the teams were unimpressed by Dorna's demands that a WSBK machine should cost 250,000 euros a season, stating that the money saved in the bike would only be spent elsewhere.
Talks had continued at the IRTA test at Jerez, with Dorna's new World Superbike boss Javier Alonso present, and engaged in private discussions with the bosses of HRC, Shuhei Nakomoto, Yamaha Motor Racing, Shigeto Kitegawa, and Ducati Corse, Bernhard Gobmeier. MotoMatters.com has learned that since then, further telephone discussions have taken place with Kawasaki boss Ichiro Yoda and Suzuki's Shinichi Sahara, while Alonso had previously spoken to Aprilia Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna at the Jerez circuit, during their test there.
Press releases after the final day of testing at the IRTA MotoGP test at Jerez:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the second day of testing at Jerez:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after a very wet first day of testing at Jerez
In the midst of motorcycle racing's launch season comes an interesting project. The CAME IODA Racing team was launched last night in Rome - featuring a night-time ride by Danilo Petrucci on the IODA TR003 bike used last year through the streets of the Eternal City, as part of the three-day Moto Days exhbition in Rome - at which the MotoGP pairing of Petrucci and Lukas Pesek were presented, along with Johann Zarco, will be riding the team's Suter Moto2 bike this season.
At the same time, an interesting project to try to leverage the team's fan base was also presented. Team boss Giampiero Sacchi - formerly of Aprilia - presented the IODA Your Racing project, an idea to try to raise funds through fans of the team. The idea is that everyone who wanted to contribute to the team can chip in a small amount - the current level of contribution is set at 10 euros - to help fund the team. For that amount, you get your name or nickname - to a maximum of 12 letters - on the fairing of Danilo Petrucci's Suter BMW MotoGP bike. Clearly, the 10 euros does not buy you a lot of real estate: the twelve characters of your nickname will take up an area just 0.5mm high and 10mm wide, but it will be displayed for the full length of the season.
Marco Melandri has undergone surgery to fix the pain he had been suffering in his right shoulder. The Italian had damaged his shoulder in a crash last year at Portimao, and been treated for the problem over the winter. The initial feeling after testing had been good, but another crash at Phillip Island exacerbated the problem once again, and Melandri elected to undergo surgery on his return to Italy.
The operation - to remove arthritis and other irregularities from the acromion, the part of the shoulder blade where the collarbone attaches - was performed by the renowned Italian shoulder specialist Dr. Giuseppe Porcellini, the same surgeon who fixed Valentino Rossi's damaged shoulder at the end of 2010. The surgery was deemed a success, and Melandri is hoping to be fit enough to ride at the next round of World Superbikes at Aragon, on 14th April. The prognosis is that Melandri will be able to ride free of pain, though his shoulder will probably still be weak.
Below is the press release issued by the BMW press office:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of the second test at Sepang:
After an absence of some three weeks or so, the MotoGP teams once again return to action at Sepang for the second official test of the preseason. The intervening period has seen a flurry of activity in the factories in Japan and Italy, and at CRT team headquarters around Europe. The data accrued on the first visit to the Malaysian circuit has been analyzed, assessed, and more modifications made and ideas worked out for the second Sepang test. So what can we expect to see in Malaysia for the next three days? And what are the key details to keep an eye on?
The results of the first visit to Sepang went much as expected: Dani Pedrosa continued on the upward path that saw the Repsol Honda rider dominate the second half of the MotoGP season in 2012. Jorge Lorenzo kept Pedrosa honest, the factory Yamaha man sticking close to Pedrosa on all but the last day of the first test. Valentino Rossi demonstrated that he is still competitive, though he conveniently left the question of whether that is going to be good enough for podiums, wins or championships up in the air. Marc Marquez lived up to expectations, though given just how high those expectations were, that is an impressive enough feat on its own. Cal Crutchlow confirmed that he is the best of the rest, though Stefan Bradl ran him close; Bradley Smith made the kind of transition to MotoGP that validated his team boss' faith in the young Briton; and the Ducatis proved just how deep a hole they find themselves in, by finishing the test two seconds or more off the pace.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after the first round of WSBK at Phillip Island:
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after qualifying on Saturday at Phillip Island:
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
Press releases previews, complete with video, from some of the World Superbike and World Supersport teams from Phillip Island:
Times dropped for the MotoGP men on the second day of testing at Sepang, much as you might expect once the riders have had a night's sleep to assimilate what they have learned from the previous day's testing. Comparing the times between the first and second days of testing provides an interesting view of where improvements were found, and who had gained the most between the two days.
The average improvement for all of the riders was around seven tenths of a second between the first and second days, but there were a few truly notable exceptions. The gains - or in some cases, losses - are shown in the two tables below, the first sorted in order of the fastest times set on the second day of testing, the second table sorted by improvement.
Biggest winners of the day are Ben Spies and Colin Edwards, both gaining over two seconds over their times from Tuesday, but as both are suffering with injury - Spies is still coming back from major shoulder surgery at the end of last year, while Edwards suffered a recurrence of a neck problem - there are extra factors at play here.