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.
The provisional entry list for the 2009 MotoGP season, as released by the FIM earlier this month:
Since the middle of last year, speculation has rumbled on concerning the possible fate of Dani Pedrosa at the factory Repsol Honda team. It has been widely rumored that Pedrosa's future at Honda depends on his results this year, and it has even been hinted that Repsol could pull out of MotoGP altogether.
Fortunately for Honda and for MotoGP, the rumors that Repsol could pull out of sponsoring the series can be safely consigned to the waste disposal unit. During the filming of a commercial for the Spanish oil giant at Spain's National Institute for Aerospace Technology, Arturo Sus, Vice-Director of Repsol Sports Sponsorship told the Spanish press agency EFE that MotoGP is the company's flagship racing series, and that the company will be remaining with Honda for the foreseeable future.
Some of the speculation about Repsol's future had arisen due to the oil giant's reduced budget for four-wheeled racing. Last year, Repsol had sponsored two cars in the GP2 series, but had cut its backing to supporting just the Spanish driver Jaime Alguersuari in the Renault spec World Series formula, along with the factory Seat team in the World Touring Car Championship. "We can't deny that the 2009 budgets for car sponsorship have been reduced," Sus admitted. "But our Honda HRC team in MotoGP remains a strategic pillar of our Repsol sponsorship. It's our flagship project, and it costs what it costs, even though it's true that we need to tighten up were can."
Sus was equally clear about who they would be supporting. "We are betting on Pedrosa and we will support him for as long as it takes. And we have been with Honda for 14 years, and continued with them even after (Alex) Criville retired. This hasn't changed nor do we believe it will change," Sus said.
Saturday morning, at 10am local time, Dani Pedrosa and Dr Xavier Mir, of the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, gave a press conference on the state of Pedrosa's wrist and knee, after the Spaniard had undergone surgery to fix a distal radius fracture and an open knee wound on Wednesday. The operation had been successful, and Pedrosa was recovering well, was the general conclusion, but the start of his season was still in doubt.
Pedrosa has completely written off any chance of participating at the IRTA tests in Jerez, preferring instead to concentrate on his chances of recovering in time for the season opener at Qatar. "We'll be doing our best to be ready for Qatar, and when the time comes, we will see whether we are ready to race. The goal is to be ready for the first race," he told the assembled press.
On the subject of his preparation for the season, Pedrosa was frank but optimistic. "You don't get to choose these things," he said, "but we have no choice but to keep moving forward. I've fallen off many times, but I always get back up again. We will be fast on a motorcycle again. It's true that we have had problems this preseason, but we have to keep moving forward."
Pedrosa's - and the medical staff's - chief concern was his knee. "The wrist is less complicated, and I will have it immobilized for a much shorter time than the knee," Pedrosa said. "At the start, my knee didn't look good at all, but the operation has gone well, and I'm happy. I imagine it will be hard for the skin and the knee to regain elasticity. I'll have to get some sleep, and let it start to recover."
The Spaniard reflected on the poor start he got to the season in 2008, too. "Last year I had a broken hand, but it happened in January. This time it's a little more delicate, because it will be a while before I can move my knee."
Dani Pedrosa's luck is stubbornly refusing to improve. Doctors at Barcelona's Dexeus Institute declared yesterday's surgery a success, which was the good news. The bad news was that the recovery period is going to be at least four weeks, ruling Pedrosa out of the IRTA test at Jerez, and endangering the Repsol Honda rider's season start at Qatar in early April.
The problems are not so much from the fractured wrist. Dr Xavier Mir pinned the fracture using a titanium screw, and Pedrosa can expect to start moving the wrist again in ten days or so, although the wrist is likely to stay weak for some time to come. Pedrosa's knee, however, is another matter. Another specialist at the Dexeus Institute, Dr Bartolome Ferreira, used skin and fat from the inside of Pedrosa's thigh to cover the open wound the Spaniard's crash in Qatar had left him with. And because of the nature of the wound, it will be at least three weeks before Pedrosa can start to move the knee, and a minimum of four weeks before he can start to fully bend the knee.
Four weeks out of circulation means that Pedrosa is almost certain to miss the official IRTA test at Jerez, and with the season opener at Qatar just over five weeks away, even the very best case scenario would see the Spaniard recovered just enough to race. But even then, Pedrosa's season is likely to get off to a shakey start, requiring a race or two before he is back to anything like full strength.
The injury Dani Pedrosa suffered at Qatar is worse than at first thought. Early reports said that Pedrosa had come away from the accident with only bruising and swelling, but Pedrosa has not been so lucky. For according to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Pedrosa has suffered a distal radius fracture, an injury which will require the fitting of a titanium screw to compress the fracture. He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday afternoon.
The good news, in a glass-one-sixteenth-full kind of way, is that Pedrosa only suffered a severely bruised and cut left knee. He is to have a skin graft on the knee at the same time as his wrist. Pedrosa suffered the injuries after his bike landed on him after highsiding him off in Turn 10 at Qatar.
Honda previously issued a press release stating they expected Pedrosa to be riding at the official Irta test in Jerez at the end of March, but it is doubtful that Pedrosa will be at full fitness by then. A distal radius fracture is not as difficult an injury as a scaphoid, but it can get very complicated due to the amount of soft tissue that is involved in the structure of the wrist. The Dexeus institute, where Pedrosa is to undergo surgery, will be issuing an update on his condition tomorrow.
Testing resumed under rather better conditions at Qatar today, yesterday's rain fortunately not making a reappearance. And so all of the riders took to the track, with no reason to sit it out. One rider came to regret that decision, Dani Pedrosa suffering a big highside, and fracturing his wrist and leg (full story here), a bitter irony after the Spaniard chose to sit out yesterday's session for fear of aggravating his already injured knee.
Fastest of the day was - how could it be otherwise? - Casey Stoner. The Australian put in relatively few laps, but according to Livio Suppo, his wrist was holding up better than it had been previously, the surgery on his injured scaphoid slowly starting to heal. Stoner was testing a carbon fiber swingarm to go along with the carbon fiber frame, and from the times he set, it would appear to be working.
Valentino Rossi was second fastest, though still 6/10ths behind Stoner, a big gap. But his arrears to Stoner had not left him without a sense of humor: Rossi appeared at the track with a comedy high-visibility yellow helmet, in the colors used by the emergency services in a number of countries.
Colin Edwards was third fastest, the Tech 3 Yamaha man clearly settling in with his new crew chief, while Andrea Dovizioso was left to salvage Repsol Honda's honor, taking the 4th fastest time in the dying minutes of the session, ahead of the Suzukis of Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi.
Dani Pedrosa's 2009 season is getting off to a nightmare start. After sitting out the first day of testing at Qatar, judging that the rain had made the track too slippery to risk crashing and damaging his slowly healing knee, the Spaniard suffered a big highside on the second day of testing.
Pedrosa crashed at Turn 10, a left hander which opens up quickly to become a fast turn, badly injuring both his left knee and his left wrist. He was rushed back to the Clinica Mobile, where he was examined and found not to have broken anything, but he did sustain a suspected fracture of the left wrist, the same wrist Pedrosa injured in his spectacularly painful crash at the Sachsenring last July. The medical director at the circuit told the press that although Pedrosa had injured his wrist and leg, he had not suffered a bang to the head and had not lost consciousness. His injuries were severe enough for the Spaniard to require an oxygen mask to help calm his breathing.
Pedrosa will be flown back to Barcelona on Tuesday morning, where he will undergo a CAT scan to determine the full extent of his injuries. There is a good chance that Pedrosa will be fit enough to take part in the official IRTA test at Jerez at the end of the month, but whether he will be at full fitness then is subject to doubt.
The session was red flagged because of Pedrosa's crash, and then red flagged again shortly after, after a crash by Mika Kallio left some oil on the track.
For three years now, Dani Pedrosa has been Spain's Great White Hope, and the man that they have placed their hopes on to take only the second MotoGP championship for the country which is obsessed with the sport. And for the past three years, the hope that springs in Iberian hearts has been cruelly dashed, as Pedrosa has confirmed his status as a brilliantly talented rider who finds it immensely difficult to consistently win races.
There have been very good reasons that Pedrosa's ambitions have been thwarted: 2006 was his rookie season, and expecting a title that early is too much to ask; in 2007, the Spaniard faced an incredible Casey Stoner with a severely underdeveloped Honda RC212V; then last year, Pedrosa had to face one of the greatest riders of all time as he rode one of his finest seasons of all time. All entirely understandable, and no one can underestimate the size of the task he has ahead if he is to take the title in 2009.
Casey Stoner completed the three day test at Sepang exactly where he hoped to be: On top. Despite the continuing pain from his wrist, which prevented the factory Ducati rider from putting in any long runs, there was no stopping Stoner. His fastest lap, on the new spec tires which are capable of lasting much longer than the old soft qualifying tires, was over a second quicker than the current lap record he holds.
Second fastest was Valentino Rossi, another inmate of MotoGP's sick bay. The reigning World Champion got close - within a tenth of a second - but could not quite match Stoner's blistering pace. The Doctor kept Suzuki veteran Loris Capirossi behind him, Capirex consigned to third place, just over a tenth of a second behind Rossi. Capirossi has been the revelation of the test, the new Suzuki clearly improved, though the Sepang track also suiting the bikes handling very well.
Fourth fastest was Colin Edwards, the Texan showing both that the 2009 Yamaha M1 is an excellent package, and that he is one of the few Michelin riders to have adapted easily to the new Bridgestone tires, demonstrating just why Michelin kept him as their lead test rider for so long. The other former Michelin men are much further down the field, Jorge Lorenzo the first of them in 7th, three quarters of a second behind his team mate, ahead of Repsol Honda new boy Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi was left without a team mate, after Dani Pedrosa went home a day early with a painful knee, which is still not fully recovered from surgery in December.
Pedrosa's absence left Toni Elias the fastest Honda rider, surprising many who had thought that Elias would struggle with the new tires. The Spaniard had previously used a special custom front tire, of a much softer construction, but has adapted very well to the new, much stiffer tires being used.