Jorge Lorenzo picked up at Brno where he left off at Laguna Seca, topping the timesheets in the first session of free practice for the MotoGP class. It was not just his position that was impressive however: the Fiat Yamaha rider bested 2nd place man Dani Pedrosa by over half a second. Lorenzo's teammate Valentino Rossi was a few hundredths behind Pedrosa, while Andrea Dovizioso finished 4th, just over a tenth behind his Repsol Honda teammate.
With the Fiat Yamaha and Repsol Honda teams sharing the top four spots, the Marlboro Ducati team were left to pick up the scraps, with Nicky Hayden setting the 5th fastest time, a second down on Lorenzo, and Casey Stoner only managing 7th, behind Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards. Marco Simoncelli was the fastest rookie, edging Ben Spies into 9th, with fellow rookie Alvaro Bautista rounding out the top 10.
The session was cut short after spots of rain started falling in the last 10 minutes, but the rain did not take proper hold, and the riders went back out again in the final minutes for a few practice starts. The rain was sufficient to prevent anyone from improving their times, however.
The paddock's response to the leniency of the punishment for Toni Elias and the Gresini Moto2 team has been one of puzzlement. After all, for testing during the summer break, a period during which all testing is prohibited, Elias was only punished by being excluded from a single session, and the team handed a 3000 euro fine. That, some said, was a pretty good price to pay: an affordable fine and the loss of 20 laps on a crowded track against some 90 uninterrupted laps on an empty circuit. Such a light penalty might set a precedent, and speculation has been rife that others could follow in Gresini's footsteps.
One of the first names to be suggested as likely to benefit from extra testing was the Rizla Suzuki squad of Loris Capirossi and Alvaro Bautista. The Suzuki GSV-R is suffering from a serious lack of development this year, and could really benefit from extra testing time. Suzuki team boss Paul Denning has previously been rumored to be considering extra testing, and so MotoMatters.com caught up with the Suzuki boss to get his opinion of the punishment for Elias.
The silly season for the factory riders is just about over: Ducati will be announcing the signing of Valentino Rossi on Sunday night at Brno with Nicky Hayden a racing certainty to follow at Indianapolis, and Yamaha likely to announce its factory team lineup of Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies immediately after the Rossi announcement. At Honda, the arrival of Casey Stoner has been officially confirmed, while Dani Pedrosa is sure to follow in the next few weeks.
But while Yamaha and Ducati are all more or less done, the Honda lineup has a few more loose ends to tie up. Stoner's contract is done and dusted, but the situation for Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso is a little more complex. As discussed previously, Dovizioso's situation is complicated by the fact that the hoped-for sponsorship deal with Red Bull never materialized, but according to a Honda spokesperson, the Italian's contract should be finalized some time around Misano. The spokesperson had no comment on which team Dovizioso would end up with.
While the world's gaze has been on the medical miracles that are Valentino Rossi and Randy de Puniet, Interwetten Honda's Hiroshi Aoyama has been proceeding with his recovery in the same way as he has gone about the business of learning to ride a MotoGP bike: quietly and determinedly. The Japanese rider fractured a vertebra during the warm up at Silverstone, and has been out of action ever since.
After consulting with medical specialists, Aoyama decided against having surgery to fix his vertebra, preferring to allow the bone to heal naturally. His recovery has gone so well that he expects to be able to test the Interwetten Honda MotoGP bike during the tests on Monday, to assess when he might be able to make a full return to racing.
In a press release by the Interwetten Honda team, Aoyama said that he hoped to make a return as soon as was sensibly possible:
Yesterday, we discussed who is going where in the factory teams in MotoGP. For the most part, those deals are either public, or really badly-kept secrets. Today, we'll look at the situation among the satellite teams, a situation which is much, much less clear-cut than the factory squad, in part because the factory deals have not all been announced yet. The number of changes are suprisingly few, reflecting in part the problems in MotoGP. As costs rise, the cost of being competitive is growing, and more importantly, the cost of failure is increasing as well.
As a consequence, teams are not willing to take chances on unproven but promising talent. The learning curve in MotoGP is now so steep - electronics, bike setup, but most especially tires - that it takes half a season to start to get your head around the class. Limited testing has made the situation much, much worse, raising the penalty for rookies entering the class even further - the scrabbling around for substitute riders for Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama and Randy de Puniet illustrating the case perfectly.
With the MotoGP season at its halfway point, and the silly season starting to shake itself out, it's time to take a look at the state of the market for 2011. With contracts either signed or on the verge of being signed, the picture of who will be riding where is becoming clear. For the most part, names have been at least pencilled in, those pencil strokes to be replaced by contractually obliging ink after Brno and Indianapolis, but there are still one or two question marks that remain open.
In the first part of this silly season summary, we will address who goes where in the factory teams. The rider picture is just about settled, with the only real question mark what happens at Suzuki. But riders aren't the only factor here, as somebody has to pay the bills. So alongside the rider lineup for each team, we've addressed the issue of sponsorship, and who is likely to be footing the bill next year. Riders and sponsors in bold are confirmed (or as good as confirmed), while names in italics are either best guesses or based on firm rumors. Tomorrow, we will look at the state of the satellite teams.
The rule changes that have been adopted in the MotoGP series since the class went four-stroke in 2002 have generally been met with increasing disappointment by the fans. The 990cc format is generally viewed as the high point of motorcycle racing for many years, even after the fuel allowance was cut from 24 to 22 liters.
But since capacity was cut from 990cc to 800cc, and the fuel allowance cut from 22 to 21 liters, MotoGP's rulemaking body, the Grand Prix Commission, has been buried under a deluge of criticism - not least from ourselves here at MotoMatters.com. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse, with the introduction of the tire restrictions, then the single tire rule, and finally the limits on engines, with criticism growing more vehement at every rule change, nearly all of it aimed at Dorna, the company which runs MotoGP, and its CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta.
MotoGP coming to the US gave the folks over at OnTheThrottle a chance to get into the paddock and talk to some of the people behind the scenes. One of the most interesting characters David Williams caught up with was LCR Honda's Christophe 'Beefy' Bourgignon, crew chief to Randy de Puniet and his replacement Roger Lee Hayden, filling in while De Puniet recovers from the broken tibia and fibula he suffered at the Sachsenring. In the video interview, Bourgignon discusses Roger Lee Hayden's progress on the MotoGP bike, the difficulty of adapting to the Bridgestone tires, and the intricacies of riding a MotoGP bike. Here's what Bourgignon had to say to OTT.
Despite all attempts to put MotoGP's silly season on hold while the world awaits Valentino Rossi's announcement that he has signed for Ducati, the business of filling next year's empty seats rumbles on. That business is most pressing for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, as the team looks set to lose both its current riders at the end of this season.
In an interview with the French website Moto Caradisiac, Monster Tech 3 team boss Herve Poncharal sheds some light on his plans for 2011. The interview covers both MotoGP and Moto2, and in it, Poncharal lets slip a few interesting details.
Before talking about what his plans are for next season, he first points out that everything is contingent on Valentino Rossi moving to Ducati. But that matter is to be cleared up on the Sunday night after the Brno race, Poncharal told Moto Caradisiac, saying that Yamaha has a press conference planned at which they will announce their 2011 line up.
Valentino Rossi's record recovery from injury, taking just 41 days to return to racing after breaking his tibia and fibula at Mugello, appears to have brought out the competitive spirit in Randy de Puniet. The Frenchman suffered a similar injury to Rossi's, fracturing his tibia and fibula in a race crash involving Mika Kallio at the Sachsenring, ironically, the very race that Rossi made his return at. Now, De Puniet is targeting a return just 26 days after his accident, two full weeks earlier.
De Puniet was luckier than Rossi, as his fractures were not compound and that the bones did not puncture the skin. But a return to active service so shortly after the injury is almost unheard of, and hard to believe it is medically possible. De Puniet had a large titanium pin inserted into his tibia, to fix the bone, and has since been undergoing treatment using the same hyperbaric chamber therapy that Rossi used to help speed his recovery. In addition to the hyperbaric chamber, De Puniet also used ultrasound to help the bones knit together better. As the LCR Honda rider is already walking without crutches, and is back in the gym working on his fitness program, De Puniet believes he will be fit enough to race at Brno a week on Sunday.
The news that Ducati had finally come clean and admitted they have signed Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden for the 2011 MotoGP season set the Internet abuzz this morning, after US magazine Cycle World published an interview with Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio. In that interview, Del Torchio reportedly said that he looked forward to "Valentino Rossi teaming up with Nicky Hayden."
It is hard to pin down at exactly what stage a rumor stops being a rumor and becomes news, a fact demonstrated by Valentino Rossi's impending move to the Ducati MotoGP team. The very first rumors emerged around the weekend of Mugello, the story broken by veteran Italian journalist Paolo Scalera of the Corriere dello Sport. By the time the MotoGP paddock arrived at Assen, the paddock was positively buzzing with rumors, and at Barcelona, speculation switched from whether Rossi would switch to Ducati to when he would announce it. At the German Grand Prix in the Sachsenring, Rossi cleared up that detail as well: any announcement on his future, he told the pre-event press conference, would have to wait until Brno.
The engine limits introduced for the 2010 MotoGP season have posed crew chiefs throughout the paddock with a delicate problem: How do you manage the engines to ensure that the rider can get the track time he needs during practice to find a good setup, yet still have an engine fresh enough and fast enough to be competitive during the race? This is a conundrum that we at MotoMatters.com have been particularly interested in, and so we decided to track someone down who could answer some of our questions.
At Barcelona we spoke to Pramac Ducati's Technical Director Fabio Sterlacchini, who also functions as Mika Kallio's crew chief, about how the team is handling the limited number of engines. How did they go about shuffling the engines to ensure that their riders always had a strong engine for the race? "We have a schedule," Sterlacchini told us, "Normally we manage the life of the engine, and we use the engine until we arrive at a mileage that we know that above this, it's better that we don't use this engine."
The Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP bike has always been famous for its top speed, a characteristic which is generally put down to two things: the first is the 16-valve V4 desmodromic engine, the brainchild of Ducati Corse director Filippo Preziosi, which has long been the most powerful engine on the grid. The second factor is the Bologna company's focus on aerodynamics, an area that other factories have spent much less time and attention on. The extremely slippery nature of the Ducati Desmosedici is in large part due to Ducati Corse's use of former F1 engineer Alan Jenkins as an aerodynamics consultant.
Jenkins has worked ceaselessly with Ducati over the years to improve the aerodynamics of the Desmosedici, and the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring saw a new innovation appear on the fairing of the bike. The Ducati had sprouted a pair of "winglets" (shown below) - protruberances sticking both forward and out of the side of the fairing, at about the height of bottom of the fork outer. Naturally, these strange additions aroused the curisoity of the assembled media, who set about trying to fathom their purpose.
Ever since its return to America, MotoGP in the USA has been something of an anomaly. When the series first headed back across the Atlantic in 2005, it was only the MotoGP class that made the trip to Laguna Seca, with cost and limited paddock space cited as reasons for leaving the (then) 250 and 125 classes back in Europe. When the Red Bull US GP in Laguna was joined by the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway facility in 2008, the two support classes joined the MotoGP riders in the US, but only at Indy. Furthermore, the two US rounds have also always been separated by at least one European race, forcing the teams to fly their bikes and equipment out to the US twice.