Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
After Carlos Checa made a brief return to riding, participating in a three-day test of Ducati's Panigale 1199R World Superbike machine, Ducati issued the following press release on the test:
Testing concludes positively for Checa and the Ducati SBK development team at Mugello
Bologna (Italy), Thursday 2 July 2015 – Three tough but productive days for Carlos Checa who has carried out a series of tests at the Mugello track, working together with the Ducati SBK development team.
The former world champion, riding the Ducati Panigale R Superbike, worked hard over the three days, making all of the experience gained over his long career available to the Ducati Corse technicians, with the aim of giving the team information and feedback with which to continue development of the bike.
After just one year of a two-year deal, Alstare and Ducati have agreed to terminated the contract the Belgian team has to run Ducati's factory World Superbike effort. Today, the two parties made it known that they would not be continuing their collaboration, citing financial problems for Alstare and the loss of a major sponsor.
The split had long been expected. Alstare team boss Francis Batta had made no secret of his unhappiness with both the collaboration with Ducati, and the performance of the Ducati 1199 Panigale. Alstare had former WSBK champion Carlos Checa and highly rated Italian Ayrton Badovini in their ranks, yet after a solitary pole at Phillip Island, results have been very poor. Ducati ended the season without a win in World Superbikes for the first time in the history of the series. Batta had asked Ducati many times throughout the year to be allowed to do more development work, but Ducati had rejected his requests. Motorcycle technology had advanced to such a point that it had become almost impossible for a private team to have the resources to be successful, Ducati had told Alstare, and it was now the task of the manufacturer to do the development of a racing motorcycle.
After the press conference held at Jerez today in which Carlos Checa announced his retirement from racing, as reported yesterday, Ducati issued the following press release:
Carlos Checa announces his retirement from motorcycle racing
- In Jerez, during the final SBK round of the 2013 season, the Spanish rider, after twenty years or racing and success, has confirmed his decision to retire
- Ducati has named him “Ambassador”: Checa will remain a ducatista and ambassador for the Borgo Panigale-based brand
- Nolan has dedicated a commemorative helmet to Carlos, with graphics that represent his twenty years of success
Jerez de la Frontera (Spain), Saturday 19 October 2013: on the eve of the final races of the 2013 World Superbike championship, taking place at the Andalusian track of Jerez de la Frontera, Carlos Checa, 2011 world champion with Ducati, has announced his retirement from the world of racing.
Carlos Checa is to retire from racing. The 41-year-old Spaniard had been forced to skip the last four rounds of the 2013 World Superbike season after crashing heavily during practice at the Istanbul Park circuit in Turkey, fracturing his pelvis. That injury and the lack of a strong offer for the 2014 season caused Checa to decide to retire.
Checa's final season had been a very hard one, the Spanish veteran struggling to get to grips with the Ducati Panigale, while the Alstare team battled Ducati over the lack of development for Ducati's flagship superbike. After a solitary pole at the first race of the year in Phillip Island, Checa's season proved to be fruitless, not managing a single podium and scoring just 80 points, putting him currently 15th in the standings. Checa had held talks with both his former team Althea Racing and with Kawasaki, but after Kawasaki re-signed Loris Baz to race alongside Tom Sykes, Checa felt his best option was to retire.
Checa's career had been a long one. Checa first entered Grand Prix racing in 1993, where he spent half a season in 125s and then in 250s. Checa soon graduated to 500s with some success, winning two Grand Prix and scoring a total of 24 podiums. His best championship finish was 4th place in 1998, riding a Movistar Honda.
Carlos Checa's World Superbike season is over. The former champion had a massive crash during free practice on Friday morning, and was immediately diagnosed with contusions on his chest and a suspected fractured left scaphoid. Those injuries were enough to keep him out of the race, but upon examination back in Spain, he was also found to have suffered a fractured pelvis. That injury means Checa is forced to miss the rest of the 2013 World Superbike season.
Though the official communique speaks only of 2013, a fractured pelvis could potentially end his career. It was a fractured pelvis that eventually ended the career of former Ducati legend Pierfrancesco Chili. Chili broke his pelvis in 2005, and though he returned from that injury, he was never truly competitive again, his pelvis lacking the flexibility and strength necessary for racing a motorcycle. With Checa turning 41 in October, there will be doubts over how strong he will be after his return, even if surgery to fix the injury is successful. And with Checa still locked in negotiations over his future, teams could be wary about offering him a contract.
The official Ducati press release on Checa's injury appears below:
Carlos Checa (Team SBK Ducati Alstare) out for the rest of the Superbike season due to injury
The Alstare Ducati team issued the following press release after two days of testing at Misano:
Carlos Checa underwent examination for shoulder pain after the Assen round and found he had an osseous edema on the head of the humerus of the left shoulder, probably the result of an older injury, enraged by the weekend's exertion. This morning, it was confirmed that he would be pulling out of the remainder of the Monza weekend. The 2011 world champion aims to be fit in time to race at the Donington round in two week's time.
The Alstare Ducati World Superbike team issued the following press release after their two-day test at Jerez:
Team SBK Ducati Alstare completes a positive two-day test at Jerez
Jerez (Spain), Wednesday 17th April 2013: Team SBK Ducati Alstare has today concluded an encouraging two-day test session at the Jerez circuit in Spain.
Having travelled directly from MotorLand Aragon after Round 2 of the world championship last Sunday, the team’s riders Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini worked hard with their technicians as they concentrated on refining the set-up of their 1199 Panigale bikes. In very warm conditions (32˚C approx), with track temperatures in the region of 55˚C, the team had time to test all of the solutions available in terms of bike set-up, focusing particularly on identifying settings and improving traction in preparation for upcoming races.
Carlos Checa: ‘These were two very important days that we used to better understand the bike’s reactions. The weather helped us this time around too. We worked on different solutions for both the front and rear setting and in the end I’m happy with what we were able to get done. We’ve found a set-up that I like and this is important in order to have a good base from which to start at Assen.’
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after qualifying on Saturday at Phillip Island:
The Alstare Ducati team have today unveiled their official livery for the 2013 season, and as expected with a team that is so heavily backed by the factory, the predominant color is red. Though the Alstare effort goes without a title sponsor, four sponsors feature prominently. Energy T.I. is an Italian gas and electricity company aimed at the retail market, and also backs Andrea Iannone's half of the Pramac garage in MotoGP. Italian telecoms company TIM have defected from Ducati's MotoGP effort to join the Alstare WSBK team, while battery maker FIAMM also features heavily. Almost inevitably, the team also has an energy drink sponsor: on the Alstare bike, it is FICC, a newcomer to the market who backed Davide Giugliano last year, and which is associated with Flavio Briatore, the former Renault F1 boss.
Below are the photos of the new livery, courtesy of Alstare Ducati, and underneath the photos you will find the official press release from the team:
With the first full test for the World Superbike class behind us, and the first test of the MotoGP grid about to get underway at Sepang at the end of this week, it is time to take a look at motorcycle racing's preseason, and evaluate where we stand so far. Just what is the state of play for both MotoGP and World Superbike in 2013?
The question is even more pertinent now that both series have been taken under the wing of Dorna, much to the consternation of World Superbike fans and, to some extent, the WSBK paddock as well. It was feared that Dorna would either kill off World Superbike entirely to strengthen the position of MotoGP, or impose such stringent technical regulations on the series as to dumb it down to Superstock spec.
Fortunately, neither of those options looks likely. World Superbikes will continue as a separate series, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was keen to explain when quizzed about the takeover at Ducati's Wrooom launch event early in January. The aim is to build a strong WSBK series to stand alongside MotoGP, preserving the unique identity of the two series - WSBK as a place to race production bikes, MotoGP as the series for racing prototypes.
The Alstare Ducati World Superbike team issued the following press release after the conclusion of their test at Jerez:
The 2013 season has gotten off to a very damp start for Ducati. The Bologna factory had booked the Jerez circuit for a three-day test, for both the Alstare Ducati World Superbike team and the Ducati MotoGP test team with Michele Pirro and Franco Battaini, but the rain meant that they only got a few hours of testing done, and all of that was on Monday.
Despite only managing a few laps, the test counts as successful for the Alstare Ducati team. Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini both managed some forty laps, with Checa quickly up to speed and bettering his time from the last visit to Jerez at the end of November last year by over a second, according to times posted by the respected Italian site GPOne.com. Badovini's progress was much more limited: the Italian was just a couple of tenths quicker than his time from November, and over a second and a half slower than Checa's lap time, the Spaniard having set his fastest time on a set of soft tires.