The story of the Haojue team is a tale of woe, and one which appears to be reaching its tragic conclusion. After dismissing engine designer Jan Witteveen for "a lack of performance" the team elected to skip the Catalunya round of the 125cc World Championship. Their subsequent non-appearance at the Assen round added fuel to the flames of speculation which licked around their future, but the announcement that both Michael Ranseder and Matthew Hoyle have been released from their contracts showed that there was a real fire raging behind the smoke emanating from the team garage.
Ranseder has come out of the episode reasonably well, the Austrian rider having found a home with the Italian CBC Corse team and due to make his debut at the upcoming Sachsenring round. No news of the fate of Matthew Hoyle yet, this being the first season that the young British rider was to spend in the 125 class, after a strong year in the Red Bull Rookies Cup.
But Ranseder's pronouncements on his personal website do not bode well for the Chinese-backed Haojue team. Prior to the Assen race, Ranseder announced that he had finally been released by the Haojue team, after finding out that the most of the rest of the team had also been released. "I'd found out in the last few weeks that the contracts of most of the team members had been terminated. At first, it wasn't really clear to me why my contract hadn't been dissolved as well. I was desperate to get hold of Garry Taylor, and he told me that I can go look for another ride straight away," Ranseder wrote on his website.
With no riders, only a skeleton crew at best and development of the bike at something close to a standstill, the days of the Haojue team are surely numbered. An interesting experiment, bringing Chinese money into a sport which desperately needs it, is likely to fade far too quickly into the history books.
Another chapter has been added to the long-running Haojue / Maxtra saga, with the team announcing that it has torn up the contract it had with former Aprilia two-stroke guru Jan Witteveen. The relationship had been rocky for a very long time, with sources close to Witteveen reporting multiple times that the Dutch engineer wanted nothing to do with the project, and had scaled back his involvement just to supply parts. Witteveen's reluctance has now caused the team to draw a line under the relationship, and issue a very public and very damning press release announcing that they were terminating Witteveen's contract to develop the engine.
The language used in the press release is harsh, and reflects the bitterness at the way the project has progressed. Haojue decided to skip this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, in order to focus on engine development in the hope of returning with a more competitive bike. Whether the team will be at Barcelona in two weeks' time for the Catalunya Grand Prix is not yet known, as the question remains over who is to develop the bike. Harris, the company building the chassis, have been working on the airbox for the bike, though so far failing to deliver the huge gains the project needs to be competitive. Meanwhile, Ilmor has indicated an interest in being involved in the project, and taking on the engine development.
The statement from the team is shown below:
"Jan Witteveen was contracted to deliver a state-of-the-art, race competitive 125cc GP engine and continue its development over a three year period.
However, after 18 months of development it is clear from the engine's lack of performance in the early 2009 GP events, where the Haojue riders have either failed to qualify or sometimes crashed due to engine failure, that the engine is neither race competitive nor reliable.
The road to the 125 World Championship has been long and hard for the Haojue team. First, they were forced to change their name from Maxtra, due to trademark conflicts earlier this year. Since then, there have been persistent reports of problems between the UK-based team run by Garry Taylor and Jan Witteveen, the man responsible for engine development. Adding to the team's troubles is a continuing lack of results, with both Matthew Hoyle and Michael Ranseder either failing to start or failing to qualify at Japan, Jerez and Le Mans.
The problem is down to a huge lack of top speed - as much as 22 km/h, according to team principal Garry Taylor. With the bikes so uncompetitive, the team have decided to skip the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello to focus on development. "The early GP results show that we are not yet competitive, so we have decided to concentrate our resources on developing and improving the situation," Garry Taylor said. Currently, the plan is to miss just the Italian round, but the race after at Barcelona is also at risk, the track, like Mugello, having a very high-speed front straight, precisely the area the team is weakest.
Haojue's withdrawal will fuel the speculation surrounding the split with Witteveen. The team has continually denied any rift, but Witteveen has been cited in the German press as having reduced his involvement to an absolute minimum, and given the Dutchman's previous record with Aprilia, the lack of performance for Haojue would seem to back this up. The hope must be that by missing the next race or two, the Haojue team will be able to find enough performance to at least get the bike to a point where it is confident of qualifying.
Practice at Motegi commenced earlier today for the MotoGP series, starting under cool and cloudy conditions. The combination of the cold temperatures and rain expected on Saturday and possible on Sunday meant that most of the teams sent their riders out on the hardest of the compounds that Bridgestone had brought to the track, as this is the tire which is thought will last race distance. The 45 minute session - the proposed return to one hour is yet to be agreed, with lap totals not settled yet - was once again dominated by Casey Stoner from the start, but the Australian Ducati rider didn't have it all his own way.
Throughout the session, Valentino Rossi whittled away at Stoner's lead, taking over top spot after the flag had fallen. But Rossi's margin was only very small, just 0.056 seconds, though it remains to be seen just how sensitive a blow the loss of top spot is to the Australian.
Yamaha and Suzuki were clearly the bikes to have, with Jorge Lorenzo taking 3rd, while Suzuki men Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi took 4th and 6th respectively, sandwiching Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards between them. James Toseland recovered some of his form, ending the day in 10th spot, slowly getting his confidence back.
Marco Melandri was once again the surprise package, setting the 8th fastest time on the Hayate / Kawasaki. If the purpose of the Hayate's form is to impress upon the Kawasaki bosses the magnitude of their mistake in pulling out of MotoGP, then Melandri's performance so far has to be rated a success.
The waiting really is over for MotoGP fans, as the MotoGP bikes finally took to the track at Qatar to compete in earnest. First blood in the 2009 campaign went to Casey Stoner on the Marlboro (and at Qatar, it really is a Marlboro) Ducati, a fact that shocked absolutely nobody. As ever, Stoner was fast from the moment he rolled out onto the track, getting down into 1'57 territory within ten minutes, and slashing a further 0.8 seconds off his time with 12 minutes of the session left.
For a long time, Stoner's advantage seemed insurmountable, but in his final run, Valentino Rossi closed the gap from a second to get to within 0.4 of a second, with the potential for more if he hadn't run into traffic on a very fast lap. Though four tenths is a sizable gap, Rossi will feel he is at least in touch with Stoner, and with two more sessions to go, and no qualifying tires to distort the grid, the reigning world champion will be confident of staying with Stoner away from the line.
Third fastest man in the opening session of 2009 was Colin Edwards, the only other rider capable of getting within a second of Stoner, and looking as strong here as he looked last year during practice. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo makes it three Yamahas in the top four, Lorenzo 1.2 seconds behind but with more likely to come.
The session threw up plenty of surprises. Such as Alex de Angelis in 5th, for example, but de Angelis also showed his Mr Hyde by running wide into the gravel during the session, a harbinger of what is to come, perhaps. An even bigger suprise was Mika Kallio finishing 7th, after having been as high as 5th earlier in the session. Though we've only had one 45 minute session of practice to judge him by, Kallio's single fast lap at the IRTA test at Jerez could possible be the rule rather than the exception.
Results for the final test of the year for 125 and 250 classes, before the MotoGP series kicks off in earnest at Qatar on Friday night.
Qatar night test 250 results, day 2, Tuesday
|4||Mike DI MEGLIO||2'00.946|
|7||Raffaele DE ROSA||2'01.129|
Qatar night test 125 results, day 2, Tuesday
In the 125cc class, the afternoon session of the final day at Jerez followed the same pattern of almost every other session here so far. Bancaja Aspar's Julian Simon dominated completely, leading the field by over 7/10ths of a second. Simon has opted to fit an older version of the forks to his Aprilia RSA, whilst others, such as Danny Webb, are using the 2009 version, which are causing problems for some riders. For now, Simon's decision has paid off very well indeed.
The race for second was a lot closer, KTM's Marc Marquez taking second spot by just two thousandths of a second from Sandro Cortese on the Ajo Aprilia, while Derbi's Pol Espargaro - riding hurt after a crash - took fourth just a few hundredths behind. Simon's team mate Sergio Gadea rounded out the top 5.
In the morning, Bradley Smith got to within one tenth of a second of Simon's fastest time, but the British rider didn't take part in the afternoon hour. This left Scott Redding the fastest Briton in 8th, one spot ahead of Danny Webb. American Cameron Beaubier, moving up to the MotoGP class through the MotoGP Academy program finished 16th.
The teams have one final test left, a two night affair at Qatar, before the season kicks off. If you don't have Julian Simon in your fantasy MotoGP team, now would be a good chance to switch.
Session 2 times (afternoon session)
The final day of testing for the junior classes at Jerez is well underway, and after a cloudy and chilly start, the sun is out and it's warming up nicely. Out on track, the riders are filling the air with the sweet smell of two stroke fumes, but the lap times set so far are still slower than the faster times of yesterday and Wednesday.
In the 250 class, it's Marco Simoncelli who's topping the timesheets as of midday ahead of Hector Barbera, who has just pushed Hiroshi Aoyama down into third. Alvaro Bautista is down in 11th, though the Spaniard has yet to run many laps.
For the 125 boys, Julian Simon just leapt to the top of the timesheets, deposing Andrea Iannone from the top spot he had held previously. Stefan Bradl is in third, a huge improvement after a few difficult days, and after crashing and bruising his hand yesterday. Britain's Bradley Smith is sixth fastest, two places ahead of Scott Redding. American Cameron Beaubier is yet to take to the track.
More updates after the end of the session at 2:50pm.
The sun is shining, temperatures are soaring, and you'll never guess who's the fastest of the 125 riders on the second day of the official IRTA test at Jerez. Coming as a complete shock to absolutely no one, Bancaja Aspar's Julian Simon continued to top the timesheets, leading from Red Bull KTM's Spanish flyweight Marc Marquez in the morning, and Ongetta Team's Andrea Iannone in the afternoon. The only bright spot on the horizon - apart that is from the hot Andalucian sun - is that Simon's margin over the competition has dropped, with Marquez getting to within a tenth of a second, while Iannone closed the gap to just 0.065 seconds.
The good news for Bradley Smith was his pair of third places, though the British rider was over three quarters of a second slower than his team in the afternoon. The other two Britons also saw an improvement from yesterday, Scott Redding setting the 6th fastest time ahead of De Graaf's Danny Webb in 7th. American rookie Cameron Beaubier finished 18th fastest in both sessions.
The China cup ended in a draw again, with Haojue's Michi Ranseder fastest in the morning, while Tomo Koyama was quickest on the Loncin in the afternoon.
Testing finishes tomorrow, and as MotoGPMatters will be at the track, we'll have a round up of all three days testing.
Session 2 times (afternoon session)
The first day of testing for the 125 class at Jerez saw Julian Simon continue his domination of preseason testing. The 125 class returnee - Simon raced in the 250 class with Repsol KTM last year - has topped almost every session of 125 testing he has participated in this winter, and he doesn't look like slowing down.
Only Andrea Iannone managed to better Simon this morning, but the Italian Aprilia rider had to cede over a second to the Spaniard in the afternoon. Simon's compatriot Marc Marquez was the other man to be near the top of the timesheets, finishing third fastest in the morning, and fourth fastest in the afternoon.
British rider Bradley Smith was the worst of the Bancaja Aspar riders, finishing in 11th and 7th spot behind his team mates Julian Simon and Sergio Gadea. Smith is one of the title favorites for 2009, but he has yet to make the kind of impression in testing that his team mate Simon has. Fellow Brits Scott Redding and Danny Webb were further down the order, Redding finishing 9th and 10th, while Webb only managed the 20th and 18th fastest times, despite having an Aprilia RSA at his disposal.
Haojue won the battle of the Chinese manufacturers in the morning, Michi Ranseder finishing ahead of Loncin rider Alex Masbou, but the roles were reversed in the afternoon, with Masbou taking the 24th time, just ahead of Ranseder.
Cameron Beaubier, the sole American in the 125 class, finished a respectable 14th in the afternoon, up five places from the morning. Beaubier, who came up from the Red Bull Rookies cup last year, is having a solid debut so far.
Testing continues tomorrow.
Session 2 times (afternoon session)
This is the final, official version of the 2009 MotoGP calendar. After being in doubt for a long time, the Hungarian Grand Prix was eventually canceled over problems with the track. It will now make its debut on the calendar in the spring of 2010.
|May 17th||France||Le Mans|
|July 5th***||United States||Laguna Seca|
|July 26th||Great Britain||Donington Park|
|August 16th||Czech Republic||Brno|
|September 6th||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Misano|
|October 18th||Australia||Phillip Island|
|November 8th||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo - Valencia|
* Evening race
** Saturday race
*** Only MotoGP class
The provisional 125cc class entry list for the 2009 MotoGP season, as released by the FIM earlier this month:
|5||ALEXIS MASBOU||FRA||LONCIN RACING||LONCIN|
|6||JOAN OLIVE||ESP||DERBI RACING TEAM||DERBI|
|7||EFREN VAZQUEZ||ESP||DERBI RACING TEAM||DERBI|
|8||LORENZO ZANETTI||ITA||ONGETTA TEAM I.S.P.A.||APRILIA|
|10||LUCA VITALI||ITA||CBC CORSE||APRILIA|
|11||SANDRO CORTESE||GER||AJO INTERWETTEN||DERBI|
|12||ESTEVE RABAT||ESP||BLUSENS APRILIA||APRILIA|
|14||JOHANN ZARCO||FRA||WTR SAN MARINO TEAM||APRILIA|
|16||CAMERON BEAUBIER||USA||RED BULL KTM MOTOSPORT||KTM|
|17||STEFAN BRADL||GER||VIESSMANN KIEFER RACING||APRILIA|
|18||NICOLAS TEROL||ESP||JACK & JONES TEAM||APRILIA|
|24||SIMONE CORSI||ITA||JACK & JONES TEAM||APRILIA|
|29||ANDREA IANNONE||ITA||ONGETTA TEAM I.S.P.A.||APRILIA|
|32||LORENZO SAVADORI||ITA||FONTANA RACING||APRILIA|
|33||SERGIO GADEA||ESP||BANCAJA ASPAR TEAM 125cc||APRILIA|
|35||RANDY KRUMMENACHER||SUI||DEGRAAF GRAND PRIX||APRILIA|
|38||BRADLEY SMITH||GBR||BANCAJA ASPAR TEAM 125cc||APRILIA|
|44||POL ESPARGARO||ESP||DERBI RACING TEAM||DERBI|
|45||SCOTT REDDING||GBR||BLUSENS APRILIA||APRILIA|
|53||JASPER IWEMA||NLD||RACING TEAM||HONDA|
|60||JULIAN SIMON||ESP||BANCAJA ASPAR TEAM 125cc||APRILIA|
|66||MATTHEW HOYLE||GBR||HAOJUE TEAM||HAOJUE|
|69||LUKAS SEMBERA||CZE||MATTEONI RACING||APRILIA|
|71||TOMOYOSHI KOYAMA||JPN||LONCIN RACING||LONCIN|
|73||TAKAAKI NAKAGAMI||JPN||ONGETTA TEAM I.S.P.A.||APRILIA|
|77||DOMINIQUE AEGERTER||SUI||AJO INTERWETTEN||DERBI|
|87||LUCA MARCONI||ITA||CBC CORSE||APRILIA|
|88||MICHAEL RANSEDER||AUT||HAOJUE TEAM||HAOJUE|
|93||MARC MARQUEZ||ESP||RED BULL KTM MOTOSPORT||KTM|
|94||JONAS FOLGER||GER||ONGETTA TEAM I.S.P.A.||APRILIA|
|99||DANNY WEBB||GBR||DEGRAAF GRAND PRIX||APRILIA|