With the official withdrawal of the Kino Racing team from the Moto2 field yesterday comes a new opportunity. To fill the place vacated by the Argentinian rider Fabrizio Perren, the first reserve rider has been allowed onto the grid, in the shape of Ant West and the MZ team. West has been testing with MZ since last year, though the team started out with one of West's former CBR600RR Stiggy Honda Supersport machines. Since then, Martin Wimmer and former 250 star Ralf Waldmann have been working on a trellis framed prototype which West has tested at Valencia, Barcelona and Jerez.
While silly season has been at boiling point over in MotoGP, things have been fairly quiet in the World Superbike paddock. Three factors have held up movement in the series: Firstly, the Lorenzo Saga, which had a direct bearing on the future of WSBK title candidate Ben Spies, who was in line to move up to the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team to await his turn at Fiat Yamaha. Secondly, the incipient arrival of the Moto2 class has a host of riders in both the World Superbikes and World Supersport series thinking about switching, seeing the new class as a possibly entry to MotoGP, which remains the series that almost every rider wants end up in at one point or other. And thirdly, despite the fact that the World Superbikes series is considerably cheaper than MotoGP, the global economic crisis has struck the World Superbike paddock just as hard as it has hit the MotoGP series, and a host of teams are holding off on the 2010 plans, and even struggling with finishing out the year.
With the rider line up in MotoGP starting to take shape, there are signs of movement in the World Superbike series as well. Perhaps the most though-provoking switch is not one that a rider will be making, though, but rather the switch by the Stiggy Racing team from Honda to Yamaha. According to the Italian magazine MotoSprint, the Sweden-based team run by former 250 GP star Johan Stigefelt is disillusioned with the level of support the team has received from Honda this season, and as we predicted earlier in a column for the American magazine Road Racer X, the team will make a dramatic switch to Yamaha.
The brand new Superpole format adopted by World Superbikes for the 2009 season threw up a great many conundrums at Phillip Island on Saturday, as well as a few surprises. But perhaps most of all, it also threw up confirmation of what some had suspected, and many had hoped.
The format is relatively simple, and borrowed from Formula 1:
Dorna has been notoriously careful with the video footage of its races, and has spent a lot of time and effort getting races and fragments of races taken off of Youtube and other video sharing websites. Indeed, when an online publication such as ours applies for media accreditation for MotoGP races, we are issued with instructions explicitly forbidding us to shoot and use any moving image footage of the race. This is entirely understandable, as the lion's share of Dorna's income is from television broadcasters, and they expect a good deal of protection for the large sums of money they pay for the broadcast rights.
One sign that things are starting to change a little at Dorna was the opening earlier last year of the official MotoGP.com Youtube channel, which hosted various snippets of video from the MotoGP.com website, including the excellent After The Flag official video podcast. It was a start - a careful one, but a start nonetheless.
Now, though, bigger changes are afoot. Perhaps having learned from the World Superbike website, which hosts live video of the races on its website for free in most countries, MotoGP.com is now starting to put some of the old races online. The first race to go up is the complete footage of the 2008 Jerez race, which went up online earlier today. Whether this is the first of many, or just a one-off experiment remains to be seen. At the very least, it is a promising step.
If 2008 went into the history books as a rain-hit motorcycle racing season, 2009 looks like starting off in much the same vein. The full World Superbike paddock is gathering at Portugal's magnificent Portimao circuit, ready for a three-day test, but so far, it looks like they could be disappointed. A number of Formula 1 teams have been testing there for the past few days, and not much testing has been done, as torrential rain, mist and even hail dogged the sessions.
The weather forecast for the next three days only looks a little better. Rain is predicted for Friday and Sunday, with Saturday likely to be the only day with weather good enough to produce meaningful results.
Which is a terrible shame. For all seven factory teams are present in Portugal, and the first chance to see where the complex combinations of new and old riders aboard new and old bikes all stand relative to one another. But there is one minor upside to the dismal weather: conditions during the final round of the 2008 World Superbike championship at Portimao were similarly difficult, and so there is a good chance that the times from qualifying there may prove a decent guide to just how fast the new teams all are.
Both World Superbike and World Supersport classes are due to be testing this weekend, but as well as testing, the riders will also be trying out the new "knock out qualifying" superpole format. At the end of each day, the fastest 20 riders will try out the new qualifying format, to allow the InFront Motor Sports group - the renamed FGSport organization - to test how that format will be run.
But whatever the weather, the Portimao test marks a bright day in the life of motorcycle racing fans around the world. Racing motorcycles are about to take to the track in anger once again, and that means that competitive racing is not far behind.
The qualifying practice session at the Sepang MotoGP round was to be the penultimate time that the MotoGP riders were to experience the exhilarating and terrifying levels of grip provided by qualifying tires, scheduled to disappear once the single tire rule was introduced. But at the start of the session, it didn't look like they would get to use them at all, the rain appearing between the morning and afternoon sessions having soaked the track.
Two riders had made sure that they would use qualifying rubber, as Kawasaki had decided to send both its riders out on soft tires at the end of FP3. The team had seen the weather forecasts, and mindful of 2006, when the grid was set on the basis of the results in free practice, Ant West and John Hopkins had used one of their qualifiers gambling on the official qualifying session being rained out.
Ant West's life has been a true rollercoaster. He has been hired, fired and retired from both factory and privateer teams, and has won races and come home last. Sometimes, all of these in the same season.
But 2007 started looking like Ant West's season. After leaving the Team Sicilia 250 squad over the usual problems about money, sponsorship and language difficulties, West rode three races for the Yamaha World Supersport squad, winning two of them and finishing third in one, including a majestic win in the downpour at Silverstone. Then, the Australian finally got what he had been working for for such a very long time: a factory ride in MotoGP.
In 2007, this was a pretty good deal. But since the start of the 2008 season, the Kawasaki has gone backwards, and West's fortunes have taken yet another nosedive. West's continual battles at the rear of the field have seen a lot of fans dismissing the Australian's talent, despite a similar lack of results from John Hopkins.
Now, Ant West's fortunes could well see yet another reversal. The Australian already knew that his MotoGP seat at Kawasaki was gone, and was looking at other options. Kawasaki had reportedly offered West a ride in either World Superbike or World Supersport, but a quick glance at Team Green's results in those series made that seem like being pushed out of the frying pan, only to find himself ending up in the fire.
So West has taken a much more competitive offer. Today, it was announced that Ant West has signed for the Stiggy Motorsports team in World Supersport. Although it's a big step down from MotoGP to the 600cc series, the switch should do West the world of good.
When Ant West signed up as a factory Kawasaki rider to race in MotoGP, he could hardly have suspected just how miserable his life was about to become. The Australian had spent years trying to get into racing's premier class, accepting some extremely questionable rides in 250s just to get a chance at MotoGP. Tragically for West, his arrival coincided with a sharp decline in Kawasaki's fortunes, and after some promising results in 2007, West's career has been on a downward spiral, propelled by the dismal performance of the Kawasaki.
For most of this year, qualifying has followed a reasonably predictable pattern. A couple of laps after his out lap, Casey Stoner would seize pole position, gradually turning the thumbscrews on the rest of the field. About halfway through the session, Randy de Puniet would be the first rider out on qualifying tires and snatch pole from Stoner. His glory would be short-lived, however, lasting only until Stoner threw on the first set of qualifiers, then the process would repeat itself, the only real question being how big Stoner's margin would be over the rest, and whether Valentino Rossi would manage to qualify on the front row.
Times from the post race test at Misano, courtesy of GPOne.com
|1||Dani Pedrosa||Honda||1'34.652||76 laps total, best time on air valve engine|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda||1'35.555||spring valve engine|
|4||Randy de Puniet||Honda||1'35.972||28|
|6||Alex de Angelis||Honda||1'36.120||37|