At Imola last year, shortly after Ducati had announced it would not be entering a factory team for the 2011 World Superbike series, hardcore Ducatisti and WSBK adepts hung a range of banners along the front straight, with such messages as "Senza SBK, Ducati Vale Meno" and "Ducati-SBK, the 46 reasons for pulling out." The withdrawal of the factory team was widely regarded as a terrible betrayal by Ducati, which had built its reputation and much of its brand on the success of its World Superbike team, creating legends such as Carl Fogarty, Giancarlo Falappa and Troy Bayliss along the way.
Yamaha today unveiled the livery of their World Superbike team for 2011, and though the color scheme is similar to last year's there is one major, and rather worrying difference. For where there should be the large logo of a title sponsor, instead there is Yamaha's R1 logo, signifying that Yamaha have failed to pick up a title sponsor for the 2011 season. Despite the presence of Marco Melandri, an Italian who should be popular in their home market, Italian dairy giant Sterilgarda have chosen not to extend their sponsorship deal, which ran through 2009 and 2010.
Yamaha are putting a brave face on it, underlining the return to corporate colors. But it is a worrying sign of the state of racing sponsorship that a team as successful and competitive as the Yamaha WSBK team is unable to secure a title sponsor. The fear for Yamaha must be that the factory will also be unable to secure a sponsorship deal for their MotoGP team as well, after Fiat pulled out at the end of 2010. Yamaha's MotoGP machine is to be unveiled at Sepang on Monday night. We shall see then whether Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies will also be running in Yamaha corporate colors.
Below is the official press release from Yamaha:
Yamaha World Superbike Team unveil 2011 livery
There may only have been four riders at the Phillip Island World Superbike test - Max Biaggi and Leon Camier of the Aprilia team, and Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri of Yamaha - but that was reason enough for our good friend Andrew Gosling of TBG Sport to go shoot a few snaps. As always, it was well worth the effort. Enjoy!
The rain that had been hanging over the World Superbike test for the first two days finally came on the third and final day. But the factory Yamaha and Aprilia squads were still lucky, with the rain only starting to fall late on Thursday morning at Phillip Island, before disappearing again in the afternoon, giving the riders a couple more dry sessions at the Australian circuitl. It was Eugene Laverty who made best use of the session, putting on a set of soft tires to set the fastest time, with a lap of 1'31.5. The Yamaha rider finished ahead of Max Biaggi, once again the fastest of the two factory Aprilia riders, while Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri matched the pace of Aprilia's Leon Camier,
The rain did not go to waste, however. Marco Melandri took the opportunity to get some time on the Pirelli rain tires, having no experience on the Italian rubber, after having spent his career in the Grand Prix paddock racing Dunlops, Michelins and Bridgestones. His teammate Laverty was the only rider to test the softer tires, the two Aprilia riders using the harder race tires.
The weather finally turned halfway decent for a test, with the sun out and temperatures rising for the World Superbike test at Phillip Island in Australia. The improved conditions saw Max Biaggi once again top the - admittedly very limited - timesheets with a lap of 1'32.3, but 2010 World Superbike champion - out on an Aprilia bearing the #1 plate - was only a couple of tenths faster than both Yamaha's Eugene Laverty and Biaggi's Aprilia teammate Leon Camier. Slowest man of the day was Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri, but even Melandri was just three tenths off Biaggi's fastest .
Biaggi and Camier spent the day testing the 2011 Ohlins forks once again, as well as a new swingarm, fuel tank and engine update, aimed at smoothing power delivery. The pair also tested new Pirellis, though whether those tires will be ready for the season opener on February 27th remains to be seen.
The day was spoiled by a couple of crashes, both happily ending without serious injury. Marco Melandri crashed and hurt a finger, though that did not slow him down, while Leon Camier came away from his crash unhurt, only to suffer a bird strike, the Englishman hitting one of Phillip Island's ubiquitous seagulls at high speed. That incident was painful enough for Camier to call an early halt to the test, after Camier suffered swelling in his arm
Whichever hemisphere the World Superbike riders choose to test, finding somewhere warm and dry remains an almost impossible task. While BMW, Suzuki and Honda shelter from the rain in Portugal, Aprilia and Yamaha are circulating in less than ideal conditions at Phillip Island in Australia. Though the track was dry, Max Biaggi described conditions as "like winter," according to GPOne.com.
Despite the cold, it was Biaggi who as the fastest on the first day of the test. The 2010 World Superbike champion tested the 2011 Ohlins forks (which he liked) and some Pirelli race tires (which it was too cold to make a judgement on), as well as working on the Aprilia RSV4's engine, now reduced to using chain-driven cams again, after the rule permitting the fitting of a gear drive for the overhead cams was changed, making them illegal again. Yamaha newcomer - and World Supersport runner up - Eugene Laverty was 2nd fastest, half a second off the Italian's time, and four tenths ahead of his new teammate, former MotoGP rider Marco Melandri. Biaggi's teammate Leon Camier brought up the rear of the field, just over a second slower than his Aprilia teammate.
Unofficial times from the test:
Great things were expected of Marco Melandri when he switched to Ducati's MotoGP team for the 2008 season. The Italian has been a rising star on the Gresini Honda, finishing 2nd to Valentino Rossi in 2005, and scoring three victories in 2006. In the first year of the 800s, 2007, Melandri had struggled along with the rest of the Honda riders, after HRC, like the other Japanese factories, realized they had got their 800cc bikes completely wrong when faced with the raw power of the Ducati. If Casey Stoner could win so convincingly on the bike, the reasoning went, then Melandri would surely clean up completely once he got on the bike.
Rarely has a manufacturer switch turned into such a disaster. Melandri's time at Ducati was a nightmare almost from day one, the low point coming after a series of crashes at Jerez. Melandri failed completely to get to grips with the Desmosedici, despite his teammate racking up 6 victories on the machine. The Italian ended the season in 17th, and terminated his contract a year early, leaving the Ducati seat to Nicky Hayden.
Once upon a time, one rider switching teams was a relatively simple affair, requiring no more than a new set of leathers and a new patch to sew on a paddock jacket. Those days are long gone, but the extent of changes brought about by Valentino Rossi's move from Yamaha to Ducati is virtually unprecedented. Today, Yamaha officially announced news that MotoMatters.com had brought you from Aragon in mid-September: that the departure of Rossi's crew from Yamaha would see the reuniting of Ben Spies crew at the factory Yamaha team, when the 2010 Rookie of the Year moves up from the Tuesday after the Valencia test.
It had already emerged at Phillip Island that Rossi's pit crew would be following the Italian to Ducati, making way for Tom Houseworth and Greg Wood to move into the factory Yamaha slots vacated by Burgess and crew. It was also an open secret that Rossi's team manager Davide Brivio would be leaving along with Rossi, a fact now confirmed by the factory Yamaha team. Brivio will be moving into a management role with Rossi's VR46 merchandise brand, though the exact details are yet to be defined, according to GPOne.com.
As the season winds towards its conclusion, the effect of the engine rules is starting to become clear. With 15 out of 18 races already having been run, reliability problems have been given plenty of time to rear their head, and what's been remarkable is the fact that there's been so few problems in this regard - with the exception of the Suzukis, who will will be glad that they got their permitted engine allocation expanded to 9 engines instead of 6.
In the reliability stakes, Honda rather unsurprisingly comes out on top, with just three engines withdrawn from a grand total of 36 allocated to the six riders on an RC212V. What's more, the Hondas have a lot of spare engines unused, and engines with just a few sessions on them. The inevitable dark murmurings of that the engine rules were drawn up at the behest of Honda will be further fueled by these numbers, but whether there is any truth in them or not, there is no doubt that HRC has done a fantastic job on engine reliablity
As the 2010 World Superbike creeps towards its conclusion, the attention of the teams is being turned to next season. Yamaha's World Superbike squad announced the first half of their 2011 rider line up on Sunday, when they announced that Marco Melandri would be switching from MotoGP to WSBK for next season. And today, Yamaha announced that the other side of the Sterilgarda Yamaha garage will be filled by Eugene Laverty, the young Irishman who is still in the hunt for this year's World Supersport title.
Laverty has made no secret of his desire to move up to World Superbikes, though it had been widely believed that he would graduate with his current team, the Parkalgar Honda squad, who have been rumored to be moving into World Superbikes for some time. With Laverty having signed with Yamaha, doubts have arisen over the prospects of the Parkalgar team - managed by the outspoken Simon Buckmaster - making the move up to WSBK for 2011.
The Yamaha press release is shown below:
Yamaha signs Eugene Laverty to complete 2011 World Superbike Team
Hard on the heels of the announcement that Cal Crutchlow will be moving into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team comes confirmation of his replacement in the Sterilgarda Yamaha team he leaves behind. As reported previously, current Gresini Honda rider Marco Melandri will be making the switch to Yamaha's World Superbike squad, taking the seat vacated by Crutchlow.
Below is the official release from Yamaha, and the official announcement of Melandri's departure from Gresini Honda:
Yamaha Sterilgarda World Superbike Team confirms Marco Melandri for 2011
It's been clear for some time now that Marco Melandri's career in MotoGP is over. The Italian shone brightly for a couple of years on the 990 MotoGP bikes, but his fortunes have faded since the switch to 800cc, and especially since his disastrous year on the Ducati in 2008. A return to the Gresini Honda team in 2010, the team that he scored his most famous victories with, could not turn Melandri's MotoGP career around, and the Italian is now headed for World Superbikes.
It had generally been expected that Melandri would be joining BMW's World Superbike squad for 2011, taking the place of the disappointing Ruben Xaus. But Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that Melandri will not be heading for the German manufacturer, but will instead take a seat in the Sterilgarda Yamaha squad. According to GPOne.com, Melandri's manager met with Lin Jarvis and Laurens Klein Koerkamp of Yamaha, and has agreed terms for 2011. An official announcement is expected to be made tomorrow after the World Superbike race at the Nurburgring in Germany.
Ever since the introduction of the six-engine rule in MotoGP, keen MotoGP watchers have been wondering when the engine limits might bite. After FP1 at Misano, the 12th round of MotoGP, the answer seems to be about now.
A host of riders were left pulling old motors off the shelf to use to work on their race setup. Six riders went out on their #1 engine, which first saw action back in Qatar, while two more took out their #2 engines. Even the newer engines being used had racked up the miles. Both Mika Kallio and Casey Stoner took out engines for their 32nd sessions, Marco Melandri put the 30th session on his #2 engine, Aleix Espargaro's Ducati Desmosdici engine saw its 28th session, while the Suzuki of Loris Capirossi and the Honda of Andrea Dovizioso saw action for the 27th time.
Kings of the high mileage were Ducati. Four of the five Ducati riders went out on old engines, Stoner, Kallio and Espargaro taking the oldest engines, while Hector Barbera's engine had been used relatively lightly, with just 23 sessions under its belt.
Confirmed and expected rider and team line up for the 2011 MotoGP season
The press office of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue to do an outstanding job, collecting the following notes and quotes from the riders in today's MotoGP race. For quotes from the podium riders, see the separate news item.
MotoGP POST-RACE NOTES: