A variety of sources are reporting that "Super" Shinya Nakano wiil announce his retirement from competition at a press conference in Japan tomorrow. Nakano, who raced for the Factory Aprilia team in WSBK this past season, had some good finishes but was plagued by injuries in the latter portion of the year. The highlight of Nakano's twelve year career on the world scene was probably his 2000 season on the Chesterfield Tech 3 Yamaha 250, where he narrowly lost the 250cc world championship to teammate Olivier Jacque in a near photo finish at the season-ending race at Phillip Island.
Shinya Nakano has decided to sit out the last World Superbike races of the season, citing the neck injury that has kept the Japanese rider out of the last two rounds. Nakano says that the injury isn't too debilitating in real life but didn't think that he was up to the strain of traveling from Japan and enduring the stress of racing speeds for three days. While there is currently no official evidence that this pull-out was actually a management move on Aprilia's part, a cynical person might speculate that the decision was not Nakano's alone, given the persistent rumors that he will no longer race for Aprilia in 2010.
British site Visordown.com is reporting that the last two British Superbike champions, Leon Camier and Shane "Shakey" Byrne, will reunite on a team that will campaign the Aprilia RSV4. Speculation has been rife that the Italian manufacturer would increase their presence in the series in 2010 and Aprilia PR flack Alain Roger stated as much recently in an interview with Caradisiac.com. Byrne and Camier were teammates on the Airwaves Ducati team in 2008, the year that Byrne won the BSB championship. That championship paved the way for Byrne's current ride with Sterilgarda Ducati, a relationship that hasn't gone exactly as planned.
Friday started out sunny and clear, but by the end of the day we had huge clouds and even some lightning in the distance. Fortunately, no rain arrived before the final session, but there is a chance of thundershowers tomorrow. Miller is set in a valley surrounded by mountains, and even in late May some snow remains on the highest spots. As the clouds gathered in the distance, the setting grew more and more spectacular.
The World Superbike season has barely started, and already the controversy has started. The first blow was landed before the first race had even started: Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta complained to the Italian press that the Aprilia RSV4 that Max Biaggi used to grab the runner up spot in Superpole was illegal. "The Aprilia is a prototype, and as such, is not allowed to race here in SBK. We will wait until after the race to make a formal complaint," he told the Italian broadcaster La7.
In the hours since the race, word of any official protest being lodged is yet to emerge, and so the statements made by Batta should probably be put down to the flamboyant Belgian's hot temper, rather than a genuine statement of intent. And given the results of Sunday's two Superbike races, where both Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano finished outside the top 10, Batta may have decided to keep his powder dry, and wait for a more opportune moment.
But even if the Alstare boss does go ahead with his complaint, it is likely to fall on deaf ears. The Aprilia RSV4 1000 Factory has been homologated and approved by the FIM, making them officially legal in World Superbikes. According to Twowheelsblog.com, Batta's complaints center around the Aprilia's fuel injection system, which Alstare mechanics are claiming is the system as homologated. According to the FIM rules, the race bikes must use the same fuel injection system as used on the homologated machine. But any violation would be immediately apparent once the scrutineers get their hands on the machines at the technical inspection.
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:
After MotoGP went four stroke, there was never any doubt about which was the premier class of motorcycle racing. Coinciding with the flight of the Japanese manufacturers from World Superbikes, the combination of Valentino Rossi's charisma and roaring, smoking, sliding 990cc bikes solidified the series' position as the pinnacle of two-wheeled racing which would brook no competition. But as the Japanese manufacturers started to slowly creep back into World Superbikes, and MotoGP switched to an 800cc capacity, the balance of power has started to shift.
The final World Superbike test before the season commences in under 7 days time started today, and it was another Max topping the timesheets at Phillip Island. This time, it was German Suzuki man Max Neukirchner who was fastest, just dipping underneath the time set by Max Biaggi on the Aprilia last week. Neukirchner led the factory Ducati of Michel Fabrizio and his Suzuki team mate Yukio Kagayama, with British rider Johnny Rea coming in 4th. The Yamaha riders were both new to the Phillip Island track, and were 7/10ths off Neukirchner's pace.
But the day was marked by crashes, with Fabrizio, Nori Haga and Troy Corser all hitting the dirt. Most serious of all, though, was Ten Kate Honda's Carlos Checa, who was taken to hospital for examination after apparently losing his memory of the crash. He was later released from hospital, but his participation in testing tomorrow is in doubt.
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.
The relative fortunes of MotoGP and World Superbikes seem to swing back and forth like a pendulum over the years. As the popularity and profile of one series wanes, the other seems to grow to take its place.