The first race of the season hasn't even happened yet, but the Honda story is already starting to get old. The headlines are writing themselves, the only thing that an editor has to do at the moment is cast a cursory glance over the wording to check whether it was Casey Stoner or Dani Pedrosa who spotted the fastest time.
Despite the disparity with the rest of the field, qualifying actually turned into a pretty exciting spectacle. It was a race of two classes - the two lead Repsols matching each other's times, while the rest of the field battled valiantly for the rest of the places on the two front rows, but it still gave the viewers something to get engrossed in.
Stoner's 1'54.137 is a spectacular improvement over last year, cutting the best part of a second off his pole time from 2010. And it was the first time we got to see Stoner really pushing, starting to sling the Repsol Honda around like he used to muscle the Marlboro Ducati around in 2010. He admitted in the press conference that he had been a lot closer to the limit than he had been so far during practice, saying he had even managed to get close to tucking the front at one point. The bad news - at least for the competition - was that he had not been that comfortable on the softer tires, and felt he had better pace on the harder race tires.
Throughout the first season of Moto2, there was much smugness among the diehard curmudgeons who had bemoaned the loss of the two-stroke 250s at the fact that the 600cc four strokes were considerably slower than the old 250s were. The old guard treated the Moto2 machines with disdain, regarding them as little more than jumped-up sportsbikes, bearing little relation to true Grand Prix Machinery.
There was some merit in their argument: The 250cc two-cylinder two strokes were jewels of engineering, beautifully constructed, lightweight, powerful and precise as a surgeon's scalpel. The Moto2 bikes were bigger, bulkier, and in part thanks to the rudimentary electronics and slipper clutch, much more out of shape into and out of corners. If 250 races were like a fight to the death by olympic fencing champions, Moto2 races were like a barroom brawl after the bar had been drunk dry.
Some of that smugness will have to go now, though. On the last day of the Jerez Moto2 test, first Marc Marquez and then later Stefan Bradl smashed through the 1'43 barrier, with Bradl beating the former 250cc lap record set back in 2005 by Dani Pedrosa. Marquez fell a tenth of a second short of Pedrosa's 250 mark, but Bradl took nearly two tenths of a second off the former 250 champion's 2005 pole record. The Moto2 bikes have now officially caught up.
Press releases at the end of the three-day test at Jerez for the Moto2 and 125 classes:
The Moto2 and 125cc riders got a break on Saturday, the weather gods deciding to, if not exactly smile, then at least hold off on the punishment for the second day of the IRTA test at Jerez. The paddock awoke to clear skies, but the cool temperatures and strong wind was hardly conducive to posting fast times, the track still damp and treacherous in patches until well into the afternoon.
The state of the track was illustrated best by the times posted by the 125cc riders. Nico Terol on the startlingly lime green Bankia Aspar continues to dominate the 125 class, though his times are still 1.5 seconds off lap record pace. The opposition is starting to close in, however. Racing Team Germany's Sandro Cortese got within a tenth of a second of last year's runner up, and even led during part of the session, something which has not happened very often so far during pre-season testing. Meanwhile, Maverick Vinales - probably one of the best names for a motorcycle racer for a long time - once again put in an impressive day's testing, keeping hot on the heels of Terol and raising hopes among the Spanish media. The only concern about the Spanish and European 125 champion is how he will fare once the paddock leaves Spain and heads abroad. He has a lot of learning to do.
The point of selecting Jerez as the location for the official Moto2 and 125cc test is to escape the worst of Europe's winter, but the trouble is that sometimes, you can run, but you can't hide. That was very much the case on the first day of the three-day test, with cold temperatures and heavy rain making riding a very tricky affair, and one which a number of riders chose to sit out altogether, most notably last year's championship runner up Julian Simon.
But between - or more accurately, before - the showers, the vast majority of riders took the opportunity to give their Moto2 machines a shakedown run, using the official Moto2 engines supplied by Geo Tech for the first time, the engines which the teams will be using for this test, and the following three races. Despite the fact that everyone is now on equal equipment - at least in the engine stakes - the conditions meant we were still denied a realistic look at the comparitive strengths of the field.
The results of testing for the Moto2 class so far have been fascinating, but they have also been fatally flawed. At the public tests at Valencia and Estoril, and at private tests at tracks such as Valencia and Barcelona, there have been two variables that have made interpreting the times more akin to the dark art of Kremlinology than to a straight comparison: Engines and tires, two of the most significant factors on performance of a racing motorcycle.
While the MotoGP riders get to bask in the tropical heat of Sepang, the 125 and Moto2 riders are left to test in the more temperate climes of Valencia. While Eastern Spain at this time of year can be an uncertain proposition, the weather gods were favorably inclined for this test, leaving MotoGP's support classes to practice under excellent conditions. Good conditions meant the teams all got plenty of work done, and after posting around 150 laps each, there was lots to talk about.
The biggest story of the test is obviously Marc Marquez. The cool-headed youngster demonstrated his ability in the 125cc class all last year, where he won the title with almost deceptive ease. Marquez learned from his mistakes and got better every race, and the Spaniard is ploughing that same furrow on his entry into the Moto2 class. Starting modestly, Marquez posted the 5th fastest time on Thursday, but by the end of Saturday, Marquez had stripped a second and a half off his times, and was lapping half a second under the lap record.
Xavier Simeon has had a wild ride in Moto2 so far. The 21-year-old Belgian spent the 2010 season as a substitute rider for the HolidayGym team, replacing both Fonsi Nieto and Yannick Guerra when they were injured. Those replacement rides turned out very well indeed: Simeon had a couple of very impressive outings on the Moriwaki, scoring an 8th place at Silverstone, and a couple more points at the end of the season. His results secured him a contract with HolidayGym for the 2011 season, but that deal fell through when HolidayGym was only given a single seat, and decided to pull out altogether. Simeon was without a ride once more.
But no longer: Today, the Tech 3 team announced that they had signed a deal with Belgian TV channel RTL Sport to run Simeon aboard one of their Mistral M610 Moto2 machines. Under the agreement, Simeon will run in a separate structure, under the auspices of the Tech 3 squad: in effect, the RTL Sport team will be a satellite team of the main Tech 3 squad. RTL Sport will manage the team, and have stepped up to finance the team along with the Belgian Mettet circuit, home of the annual Mettet Superbikers event, an event which sees top class riders from all disciplines pitted against one another in a Supermoto race.
Putting together a list of riders for the 2011 Moto2 season has proven to be a remarkably intractable task. Fear and uncertainty stalks the Moto2 paddock, not least because the full list of admitted teams was not released until last weekend at Estoril. The list contains 22 teams with space for 40 riders, though doubt remains over whether the teams will be able to fill all 40 seats.
Below is the information that MotoMatters.com has been able to glean from a range of sources so far. There are still a huge number of gaps as far as riders are concerned, as teams and riders scramble for cash with which to fund rides, and as teams weigh up their options in terms of riders. Even the names that are available are still not certain, and changes are expected all the way up to Sunday night, the eve of the first Moto2 test of the 2011 season. Sunday night seems to be a pretty solid deadline, however, as the teams are keen to test on Monday, and nobody will be testing without a contract.
The Moto2 class produces a huge dilemma for the organizers of the MotoGP championship. The huge entry field has proven to cause major problems at the start, with multiple-rider pile ups in the first corner a firm fixture during Moto2 races. And yet the class has been extremely popular, producing close, exciting racing, and throwing up plenty of surprise contenders.
The class has also functioned extremely well as a proving ground for the future of MotoGP, shaking out the best of the chassis manufacturers and priming them for the new MotoGP formula in 2012, which will see heavily modified production engines in prototype chassis compete against factory prototypes. Specialist engineering outfits around the world, such as British firm FTR and the Swiss-based Suter, have seized the opportunity of building Moto2 chassis and are pondering the lessons learned when it comes to working on chassis for MotoGP bikes. Moto2 has done much the same for the teams and team personnel, separating the goats from the sheep and readying them to take on running a 2012 MotoGP production prototype when the rules change.
Just a few days before the season is about to begin, and the Moto2 class is to take to the track for the very first time, a new provisional entry list for Moto2 has been issued by the FIM. The new list contains two changes, one minor (Stefan Bradl changing his number from 4 to 65), and one major. The big change is the dropping of Belgian rider Vincent Lonbois by the Marc VDS Racing team, which is also fielding British rider Scott Redding, and his replacement with former 125 and 250 star Hector Faubel.
Faubel had originally been signed to ride for the SAG team alongside Ratthapark Wilairot, but financial differences left the Spaniard out in the cold. Faubel then looked to the 125cc class, where he was lined up to take a third Aspar bike alongside Bradley Smith and Nico Terol, but that too foundered on a lack of funds. Faubel has finally found a home with the Marc VDS Racing team run by former Kawasaki MotoGP manager Michael Bartholemy, but this has come at the cost of Bartholemy's compatriot Lonbois.
The entry list for Moto2 still carries the "Provisional" tag, though few changes are likely in the 6 days before the bikes finally hit the track at Qatar. After that, though, there could well be more changes.
Moto2 entry list: