The weather at Estoril has taken a turn for the worse, with driving rain leaving standing water on the Portuguese circuit, and high winds making riding dangerous. The 125cc qualifying session was postponed before it started, followed by the postponement of the MotoGP session less than an hour later. Currently, Race Direction is due to issue a decision on cancellation of all qualifying this afternoon at 2:30pm. Given that the weather and winds do not look like abeying, the afternoon looks like being lost to the weather.
If qualifying is cancelled, then the grid will be set on the overall best time set in the three sessions so far, as happened in Sepang. For MotoGP, that would see the front two rows of the grid start in the order they finished in FP2, with Jorge Lorenzo on pole, with Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi beside him on the front row.
Jorge Lorenzo topped the timesheets during a wet third session of free practice at Estoril, despite crashing out in the final minutes of the session. The Fiat Yamaha rider had started slowly, but was soon matching the pace of his teammate and bitter rival Valentino Rossi. The two men swapped the top spot for the latter half of the session, before Lorenzo finally emerged on top.
Rossi ended the session in 2nd, nearly six tenths down, and nearly the same amount again ahead of Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso. Casey Stoner, who had led early until he too crashed midway through the session, eventually reemerged from the pits to finish in 4th, ahead of Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards and San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli.
The session was marred by several nasty highsides: Both Lorenzo and Stoner crashed at the same location, towards the end of the final Parabolica corner, while Stoner's Marlboro Ducati teammate Nicky Hayden suffered an eerily similar crash at Turn 2. Lorenzo and Stoner walked away unhurt, despite being flicked viciously off the bike, while Hayden limped away a little worse for wear.
While much of the current focus in the MotoGP paddock is on 2011, and the impending rider switches in the paddock - including Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati, Casey Stoner's switch to Honda and Ben Spies' promotion to the factory Yamaha team - there is a bigger change on the horizon, the return to 1000cc in the MotoGP class, the arrival of the 250cc Moto3 class and the introduction of the CRT concept, where 1000cc production engines will be allowed to compete in prototype chassis in the hands of private teams. These seismic changes are in the hands of the Grand Prix Commission, consisting of the manufacturers' association MSMA, the teams' representative IRTA, the FIM sanctioning body and Dorna, the commercial rights holders.
At Estoril, MotoMatters.com had the chance to spend 10 minutes with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, and ask a few questions about the changes due to happen in 2012. We were particularly interested in the relationship between Dorna and the MSMA, given the fact that the contract between the two parties is also up for renewal at the start of the 2012 season. So that's where we started:
With skies clearing and the weather surprising everyone by improving radically, the MotoGP riders finally got a chance to put in some serious laps at Estoril in the second session of free practice. The session started out in a light rain and on a sodden track, and Casey Stoner sped to the top of the timesheets, firmly in control for much of practice. But as the sun came out and something approaching a dry line appeared, others started to make inroads on Stoner's position.
At the end of practice, it was Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo who set the quickest time, ending FP2 just over a tenth ahead of Stoner's Marlboro Ducati teammate Nicky Hayden. Hayden split the Fiat Yamaha teammates, Valentino Rossi over a third of a second behind Lorenzo in 3rd, while Rossi was himself the filling in a Marlboro Ducati sandwich, with Casey Stoner ending up 4th.
Behind the front four loomed a large gap, with Ben Spies nearly two thirds of a second behind on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, while San Carlo Gresini's Marco Melandri had an outstanding afternoon, ending up 6th, just behind Spies.
The 2010 MotoGP season has been a remarkably dry and sunny one, with only a couple of sessions run in the wet. The weather gods appear to be making up for that lack of rain all in one go at Estoril, with the rain and wind lashing the Portuguese circuit for the first day of practice.
So poor have been the conditions that Race Direction has decided to change the schedule for Saturday. With the Estoril GP originally scheduled to go back to four sessions of 45 minutes, practice had been reinstated on Friday morning, but the positively diluvian conditions meant that most of FP1 was lost to rain. As a result, practice on Saturday will be back to one hour sessions for MotoGP, for both FP3 and qualifying. Moto2 will also get extra practice, FP3 being extended to an hour on Saturday morning.
The weather is expected to be poor this afternoon and on Saturday, but still good enough to ride, unlike conditions on Friday morning. The Race Direction press release containing the new schedule for Saturday is shown below:
RACE DIRECTION OFFICIAL RELEASE
Change of Saturday’s practice schedule
Estoril, 29th October 2010
The Race Direction has decided that due to adverse weather conditions today in Estoril, the schedule for tomorrow (Saturday) will be as follows:
The first session of practice for the MotoGP class was almost completely lost to rain, with only the bravest souls venturing out onto the track. Hiroshi Aoyama was the only rider who actually posted a time, though Aleix Espargaro and Carlos Checa both went out, but they came straight back in again, though Checa did put in an entire lap near the end of the session.
Thunder and lightning added to the festivities, and the wind has picked up even further. It looks like the entire day could be lost to the weather at Estoril.
If there is one rider who somehow manages to generate debate among MotoGP fans, it is Casey Stoner, almost all of it completely undeserved. After the Phillip Island round, controversy raged again across internet forums about Stoner's dominant victory at his home Grand Prix, centering on two subjects: Whether Stoner had switched the electronics off entirely for the Phillip Island race, and whether or not Stoner was sliding both front and rear round the track, or just the rear.
To settle the argument, we went straight to the horse's mouth, and cornered Casey after the pre-event press conference at Estoril. Here's what the Marlboro Ducati rider had to say about the race at Australia:
MotoMatters.com: There's a lot of talk going around that you switch the electronics off at Philip Island. You always use less electronics than most of the other riders, so can you explain exactly what did happen?
The years of surprise rider signings are long behind us, the internet having kicked the rumor mill into overdrive - not that it needed much encouragement. So the official confirmation today that Loris Capirossi has signed for the Pramac Ducati team should surprise exactly nobody. Rumors of Capirossi's unhappiness with his current Suzuki ride have been circulating since the middle of the season, with the Italian veteran being linked with Pramac shortly afterwards.
Now, it has been made official, and the Italian will make a return to Ducati, albeit with the satellite Pramac squad. Conspiracy theorists point to that other Italian joining Ducati being behind the move, with rumors that Valentino Rossi helped the move along by pointing out Capirossi's long experience with the bike. Mentioning such subjects in the presence of anyone in a Marlboro Ducati uniform generally provokes laughter, so quite how seriously such suggestions should be taken is open to question. Below is the text of the press release:
LORIS CAPIROSSI JOINS DUCATI PRAMAC RACING TEAM
The experiment with four sessions of practice of 45 minutes each which the MotoGP paddock tried out at Aragon was regarded as a success, after complaints from riders and teams that the three sessions of a single hour left them too little time to fix setup issues. After Aragon, Dorna and IRTA decided to return to the four-practice format for Estoril and Valencia as well.
As a result, the schedules for the last two MotoGP rounds of the year are a little different from the earlier rounds, with practice kicking off on Friday morning instead of Friday afternoon. The schedule at Estoril is further complicated by the fact that Daylight Savings Time ends in Europe on Saturday night, meaning that Europeans put their clocks back an hour at 3am on Sunday. Viewers from the US and Australia will need to take extra caution when figuring out their viewing times, as DST ends in the US a week later, on the weekend of the Valencia MotoGP Round.
For European MotoGP fans, however, nothing should change, as long as they remember to put their clocks back. The MotoGP race will take place at 2pm CET as always, which is 1pm local time and GMT. To compensate for the early start, the 125cc race has been moved until after MotoGP, the 125cc race due to start at 2:30pm local time, or 3:30pm CET.
Casey Stoner's 2010 MotoGP season has been blighted by crashes. Starting at Qatar, where the Australian crashed out while leading the race after dominating throughout practice, Stoner faced a number of front end issues with his Ducati Desmosedici, adding a second crash at Le Mans to his troubles.
Things started to improve from Mugello, where Stoner's side of Marlboro Ducati garage decided to go back to the narrower forks they had used in 2009, and the crashes stopped happening. This still left Stoner struggling with front end grip though, and unable to find a setup that he felt comfortable enough with to push at the front.
That all changed at Aragon: Casey Stoner's team finally found the solution they had been chasing, and since making those changes to the bike, Stoner has gone on to win three out of four races, dominating in eerily familiar form. Only an early race crash at Sepang prevented Stoner from making it four in a row, the Australian doing penance by destroying the rest of the field at his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island.
The fears that the MotoGP grid would once again be short of full strength at Estoril have been allayed, at least for the time being, with the news that Loris Capirossi is to attempt to race in Portugal, despite the pain from his fractured foot. The veteran Italian is far from healthy, with a torn adductor muscle in his leg and multiple fractures in his right foot, but Capirossi heads to Estoril hoping that he will be able to race despite his injuries. In a statement in the Rizla Suzuki press release, Capirossi said that the fractured cuboid and metatarsal in his foot should not be an issue, as he had ridden with the injured foot at Phillip Island. The bigger question mark is over the Italian's thigh muscle, which ruled him out of the race in Australia.
The perilous state of the MotoGP grid has long been a topic of conversation among MotoGP fans. The grid threatened to drop to just 15 bikes earlier this year, but intervention from Dorna allowed Pramac to keep running two machines instead of dropping to one, and a sponsorship boost from Repsol helped Honda field three riders in its factory team, freeing up space at Gresini for Hiroshi Aoyama.
That still leaves the grid at just 17 bikes, however: six Hondas (three Repsols, two Gresinis and one LCR), six Ducatis (two Marlboro factory bikes, two Pramac bikes, one Aspar bike and one Cardion bike for Karel Abraham), four Yamahas (the factory squad and Tech 3) and a solitary Suzuki, Rizla having pulled out and the factory unwilling to run two machines. This is a long way from Dorna's ideal grid size of 24 bikes, but as long as the manufacturers control the technical rules, there is little hope that this might change any time soon.
Preparations for next year are starting to get into gear, with testing for 2011 already underway. After wrapping up his World Superbike season, Cal Crutchlow got his first outing on Yamaha's MotoGP bike at the Fukuroi test track in Japan, as he got ready to move into the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad for 2011. The elements did not look kindly on Crutchlow, however, most of the test taking place in the wet, though the young Briton also got a few laps in under relatively dry conditions. Crutchlow will be hoping for better conditions at Valencia, for the first official outing on the Yamaha M1. He will not be alone, as the Valencia post-race test will also see Valentino Rossi's first outing on the Ducati and Casey Stoner's first test on the Honda.
2010 World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu is also preparing for his move to Moto2 next year, by testing the Technomag Suter machine at Albacete in Spain on Monday. The Turkish rider will be competing in the last two races of the year, at Estoril and Valencia, before making a full-time switch for next season. Sofuoglu is believed to be close to a permanent deal with the Technomag squad for 2011, though several other teams have also shown an interest in the Turk.