Motorcycle News' Matthew Birt is reporting that Dani Pedrosa will be switching to use Bridgestone tires effective immediately after the Misano race. It was widely anticipated that the Repsol Honda team - or at the very least, Dani Pedrosa's side of the garage - would be switching to the Japanese rubber for next season, after Pedrosa expressed his disgust with Michelin's failures in no uncertain terms after the Brno round. Pedrosa's unhappiness went so far that his manager, Alberto Puig, even tried to organize a boycott of the Brno GP by the Michelin riders, on the rather questionable grounds of safety. Michelin dismissed this claim, saying that the tires may have been off the pace, but there were no safety issues. MCN also revealed that HRC's manager Masumi Hamane was actually behind this attempt.
Now, in a shock and unprecedented move, Pedrosa will switch tire brands in the middle of the season. Pedrosa and Repsol Honda organized the deal with Bridgestone and Dorna to allow the Spaniard to make the move immediately. Dorna needed to be involved, as the rules state that the FIM and Dorna must be informed if teams decide to switch tire makers mid-season. Again, according to MCN, only Pedrosa will switch to Bridgestones, with Pedrosa's ostensible team mate Nicky Hayden remaining on Michelins.
Switching tires in the middle of the season is extremely risky, with so little data on how the bike will respond on the new rubber. But this decision casts a new light on HRC's decision to give Shinya Nakano a factory-spec Honda RC212V to ride for the rest of the season. The most unusual detail in this decision was that the engine Nakano was provided with was not the pneumatic valve engine, the engine which HRC believes is the future, but rather the steel spring valve version currently being used by none other than Dani Pedrosa. Readers will not be surprised to learn that Shinya Nakano's Gresini Honda team are using Bridgestone tires.
So with HRC having access to Nakano's data, Pedrosa will at least not be starting with a blank sheet, as Valentino Rossi was forced to do at the beginning of the season, with no Yamaha ever having run Bridgestones. But unlike Rossi, Pedrosa will be forced to race with very little testing data on the Japanese tires. MCN is reporting that Pedrosa will be using the Bridgestones in a test due to be run at the circuit on Monday.
The reasons for Pedrosa's switch are well known. The Spaniard has made no secret of his belief that his tires have prevented him from being competitive this year, and have probably cost him a shot at the championship this season. Tires have definitely been a factor, but it would be foolish to discount the fact that both Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi have been pushing each other to new heights of performance.
Ironically, Pedrosa's early switch to Bridgestones may quieten some of the calls for a single tire rule in MotoGP. Of the title candidates, Pedrosa's move leaves only Jorge Lorenzo and potentially Andrea Dovizioso on Michelin tires. If Michelin decide not to pull out of MotoGP, then most, if not all, of the main contenders for the 2009 MotoGP title will be on the same rubber. Next year, it'll be down to the riders, and the bikes again.
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
Michelin and Honda have now confirmed the news that Dani Pedrosa will be switching to Bridgestone tires effective immediately. The statement says that Pedrosa "doesn't feel at ease" with the tires Michelin have provided him. Read the full text of the press release on Crash.net.
Nicky Hayden is to skip Sunday's race at Misano. After skipping Sunday morning's warmup, the American elected to skip the race. Hayden is still suffering too much pain from the heel injury he sustained at the X Games Supermoto event, and was a couple of seconds off the pace.
Hayden is hoping that skipping the Misano race will allow him to heal more quickly, leaving him in a better position to contest the next event, the Indianapolis GP. Hayden regards this as his home GP, being the nearest race to his native Owensboro, Kentucky, and is determined to do well there.
The fact that four MotoGP races are being broadcast on network television in the US is great for the profile of the sport, but not so good for regular fans. For it means searching about on schedules to find exactly when the race is going to be broadcast.
Fortunately, there's the TV Racer website, which was evidently created to cope with exactly this kind of problem. And it tells us that the Misano MotoGP round is to be broadcast in the US on Speed, rather than on CBS. Broadcast time is 11pm EDT. So set your DVRs accordingly.
The weather has been a factor at just about every race so far this season, usually by being treacherous, changeable and unreliable, so the relief with which several days of calm, predictable and warm weather is being greeted is entirely understandable. With no exceptionally cool mornings, or dry days followed by wet days, teams and tire makers are glad to be able to work consistently on a setup, and getting ready for the race.
Casey Stoner would probably be fine without the setup time. Stoner was back to his old tricks in the free practice sessions, taking just 4 laps to get onto the top of the timesheets, and relinquishing that position only very briefly during all three sessions. So it was hardly a surprise to see Casey Stoner taking provisional pole on his 3rd lap out of the pits, and cracking into the 1'34 bracket - faster than anyone but himself had been so far this weekend - on the next lap.
By the end of his first run, Casey Stoner held provisional pole with a lap of 1'34.763, nearly half a second ahead of the rest of the field. Stoner was once again exerting his authority on the rest of the field, and setting the mark to measure the rest of the field by.
Behind Stoner, things were a good deal more interesting. Fortunately for Michelin, their tires were working well at the circuit, as Jorge Lorenzo and Randy de Puniet were mixing it up near the top of the timesheets, and were obviously competitive with the Bridgestones. With quarter of the session gone, Lorenzo held the 2nd fastest time on his Fiat Yamaha, while Alice Ducati's Toni Elias showed that his good result in Brno was a sign of more to come, with the 3rd fastest time, ahead of Valentino Rossi.
But the times were pretty close. Apart from Casey Stoner, who was over 0.4 seconds ahead as the session approached the halfway mark, just half a second covered the 2nd to 10th spots on the grid. It was clear that once the qualifiers went on, a tenth of a second could be the difference between being on the front row or the third row of the grid. The wait was on for the first rider to go out on soft rubber.
All eyes were on Randy de Puniet, as the flying Frenchman is invariably the first qualifier out, but not today. Instead, shortly after the halfway mark, it was James Toseland who was first out on soft rubber, though his first attempt at qualifying only took him up to 3rd. Fortunately for the traditionalists, de Puniet was close behind Toseland, and even better, the LCR Honda rider snatched provisional pole from Casey Stoner with a lap of 1'34.753 seconds.
It was pretty clear that 0.01 seconds over Stoner's times on race tires was never going to be enough to hold on to pole. As if to emphasize this point, Stoner went out again on race tires, and after another high 1'34, snatched back the pole from de Puniet with a lap of 1'34.400. Now satisfied with his race setup, the Australian headed back into the pits for his qualifying tires, leaving the rest to wonder just how fast he'd be on tires with even more grip.
By now, the action had really hotted up. Stoner's provisional pole fell with a minute, as Jorge Lorenzo put his second qualifier to good use, and setting a 1'34.300. Chris Vermeulen had earlier taken 3rd, but was forced off the front row just moments later by Valentino Rossi, who was just over a tenth behind his team mate.
And Lorenzo was getting faster. With 8 minutes of the session left, the Spaniard got faster still, setting a lap of 1'34.156, and confirming his claim to the pole. His position was strengthened further still, when Casey Stoner only managed a 1'34.160 on his first qualifier, forced to settle for 2nd.
The qualifying battle was settling out into two groups, with Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi squabbling over the front row, while Randy de Puniet, Dani Pedrosa, Chris Vermeulen and Toni Elias slugged it out for the 2nd row. But with 5 minutes left to go, the matter was far from setttled.
Valentino Rossi struck the first blow, shaving a few hundredths off Lorenzo's provisional pole time with a 1'34.113, but this clearly wasn't going to be enough. A couple of minutes later, his Fiat Yamaha team mate was back, and cracking into the 1'33s with a lap of 1'33.964, a time that looked like it could be tough to beat.
Not for Casey Stoner, though. Lorenzo's pole time stood for just 35 seconds, as Casey Stoner was on an astonishing lap. A couple of tenths ahead at the second checkpoint, by the time the Marlboro Ducati rider broke the beam at the third checkpoint, he was over 6/10ths up. If he could just stay on board, the pole would be his, but Casey Stoner was pushing. Stoner finally crossed the line in a time of 1'33.378, just under 0.6 ahead of Lorenzo, on a time that would be impossible to beat.
That didn't stop Valentino Rossi from trying. On his final flying lap, the Italian took another few tenths of his own best time, and took 2nd place on the grid with a time of 1'33.888, forcing his team mate down to 3rd.
Randy de Puniet took 4th, a quarter of a second behind Lorenzo, but the fight for the 2nd row had been close. Only a few hundredths separated Randy de Puniet in 4th, a resurgent Toni Elias in 5th, Dani Pedrosa in 6th, Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen in 7th, who was unlucky to be forced back to the 3rd row of the grid, and Shinya Nakano in 8th. The Tech 3 Yamahas of James Toseland and Colin Edwards rounded out the top 10.
Though qualifying is a fascinating spectacle - and the qualifying at Misano was pretty good as far as spectacles go - the soft qualifying rubber can make for a pretty distorted picture of the race. Based on times on race tires, the front row are likely to be the bikes fighting for the podium, with Casey Stoner clearly the quickest of the bunch. The only question is, with a fractured scaphoid opened up in his left wrist, whether Stoner can last a whole 28 laps in the searing heat.
Valentino Rossi will be doing his best to ensure Stoner doesn't, and is likely to attempt another Laguna Seca job, the Misano track being tighter and harder to pass at than Brno. And Jorge Lorenzo looks to be back to his old form, and is certainly fast enough to run at the front. Hopefully, now that he has found some of his old confidence, he can stay on the bike, and not crash out and hurt himself for the umpteenth time this season.
At least the Michelin tires look to be up to the job. After 3 miserable races in a row, the French tire maker seems to have pulled itself together. The paddock is awash with extra Michelin crew, and the added attention seems to be paying off. Of course, Michelin have traditionally done better in very hot temperatures, such as we are likely to see during the race tomorrow, and this could be one reason for their resurgence.
The race is shaping up to be the classic we are all hoping for. There are question marks over Stoner's wrist, but Rossi also needs to find another tenth or so to be sure of keeping Stoner within striking distance. In sight of his 68th career win in the premier class, and with Giacomo Agostini very prominently present in the paddock, Rossi will want to put on a show. It would not surprise me in the slightest if Yamaha were to have Agostini's 1975 championship winning bike hiding under a tarpaulin somewhere at Misano. It would surprise me even less if Ago were to suit up and ride out to join Rossi on track on that bike, should Rossi win.
There's just the small matter of beating Casey Stoner on the Ducati to deal with first.
The first day of practice at Misano took place under a hot Italian summer sun, heralding what looks like the first race weekend with completely predictable weather conditions for a very long time this year. No prizes for guessing who as fastest in both sessions, as Casey Stoner did what he always does: riding out of pit lane to the top of the timesheets.
There can be no doubt that Stoner is fast - during the afternoon session, he was once again regularly nearly a second clear of the field - but there's a problem. The Australian opened an old injury doing something as innocent as adjusting his back protector. The injury he aggravated was his scaphoid, the bone in his hand, a common racer's injury, and incredibly painful when riding. The injury didn't seem to slow him in the afternoon, but it may cause him problems over the full length of a race.
Valentino Rossi was 2nd fastest, though still 4/10ths behind the champion. Despite the gap to Stoner, Rossi was confident they could pick up the time he is losing through the 4th and final sector on Saturday, putting him in place to race.
Next fastest is Loris Capirossi, with both Suzukis quick after trying a new chassis. Capirossi is only a tenth off Rossi, and on current form, could be capable of staying with the two title contenders.
Fortunately for the riders and the fans, Michelin brought their A game, and have provided their riders with obviously competitive tires. Colin Edwards was 2nd in the morning session, just 0.002 slower than Stoner, but couldn't improve in the afternoon, ending up 4th fastest overall. Another Michelin man took 5th, Frenchman Randy de Puniet showing a decent turn of pace.
More disappointing were the times of the Repsol Honda riders, though both men were pleased enough with their progress, despite finishing 11th and 12th. Both Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa are still recovering from their respective injuries, and need to find their rhythm again.
After their collective resurgence at Brno, the usual suspects crowded the rear of the grid. The two Alice Ducati bikes were in front of Marco Melandri on the factory Ducati, while Ant West brought up the rear. Hopes of a resurgence may have been a little premature, but that could also be down to the radically different setup required at Misano in comparison to Brno.
John Hopkins sat out both sessions, which caused a flood of rumors that this was down to personal problems, with the more melodramatic - and Italian - version being that a marital difference of opinion was at the bottom of it. The official story, though, is that Hopper aggravated a rib injury during "light exercise" on Thursday evening, a problem which caused him too much pain to ride. He is expected to try and ride tomorrow.
John Hopkins' absence from the first session of free practice at Misano was down to a rib injury he picked up at Brno. Hopkins woke in pain, after having displaced the rib again overnight. Hopper elected not to have pain killing injections, but instead, to sit out FP1 and try riding this afternoon.
He is currently receiving treatment from his personal physiotherapist, Dean Miller.
Only 17 men took to the track at Misano on Friday morning, with John Hopkins absent from the proceedings. There is no news yet of a reason for his absence, though Hopkins' broken ankle which is still healing after his crash at Assen would seem to be the obvious answer. We will keep you up to date as soon as we find out what is going on.
After three disastrous races in a row of Michelin, news stories on riders complaining about the French company's tires are as common as discussions of the weather in England. So much so that another story about tires barely generates any interest at all.
Unless, of course, that rider in the story is Dani Pedrosa, and the person complaining about the tires is Masumi Hamane, president of HRC. Neil Spalding interviewed the HRC boss after the race at Brno for the Spanish weekly magazine Solo Moto, and in this interview, Hamane gave his biggest hint yet that the factory Honda team will switch to Bridgestone next year.
"As an engineer, I don't understand how Michelin can make so many mistakes three races in a row," Hamane told Spalding. "We're sure Michelin is working hard, but we've had problems at the Sachsenring, Laguna Seca and here (Brno - MGPM)" he continued.
Worse criticism was to come. "We want to find a way to solve this problem, but it looks like they don't think they've found the reason for the mistakes, what's more, they certainly haven't been able to convince us," Hamane told Spalding. When asked if they would support a switch to Bridgestones for the factory team, Hamane was curt: "Yes".
If the Repsol Honda team were to switch to Bridgestones, that could mark the end of Michelin's involvement in MotoGP. The French company has always said that they will stay in the class for as long as they have a factory team they can support, a factory bike being necessary so that Michelin can have a say in bike development, exploiting the best characteristics of the bike to get the best from their tires. If Repsol goes, then only Jorge Lorenzo would be left on Michelins, and you have to believe Lorenzo, and at least his manager Dani Amatriain would be screaming for Bridgestones to be able to compete with Rossi, Stoner and Pedrosa.
And should Michelin decide to withdraw, that could have a very unpleasant effect on the grid. The Tech 3 team is currently funded in large part by Michelin - witness the striking coincidence between the teams colors and those of the tire maker - and if Michelin left MotoGP, Tech 3's budget would go with them, leaving James Toseland and Colin Edwards out of a job. But even worse for MotoGP, it could leave the grid looking decidedly empty, with just 16 bikes lining up on any Sunday.
At Brno, the riders demanded that Dorna and the FIM impose a single tire rule. They may not need either of those bodies to get one, and it may happen sooner than they had hoped.
Ben Spies progress into MotoGP, a path that looked so easy at the beginning of the year, has stalled, or so it seems. After Suzuki first failed to provide a third bike, and then decided to concentrate firstly on retaining their current rider line up, Spies had turned his attention elsewhere.
Reports started to surface about a possible link up with Honda, and especially a seat at Gresini. But the problem was Spies' salary demands, his expectations inflated from riding in the extremely well-funded AMA Superbike championship. With the AMA series in disarray after the takeover by the DMG, and the manufacturers looking likely to either pull out of racing in the US or set up a rival series, the US distributors suddenly seemed to have a surplus in their marketing budgets, and the press put two and two together, figuring that American Honda could well be interested in picking up the tab for Spies' salary. Nicky Hayden's impending departure from the Repsol team to Ducati was thought to have forced the issue, with American Honda wanting an American on a Honda in MotoGP.
According to Superbikeplanet.com's Dean Adams, however, when the press in Europe put two and two together, they came up with 37. Adams is reporting that American Honda has categorically denied being willing to pay Spies' salary if he rides for the Gresini Honda MotoGP team. If American Honda does have any excess budget for 2009, then they are unwilling to spend it at Gresini.
This looks like being the end of any chance that Ben Spies might get a seat in MotoGP next year. With money tight for most of the teams, and the open seats filling up quickly, and Spies still clinging to an AMA-sized salary, the Texan will find it hard to strike a deal. Spies does still have some offers in the World Superbike series, but he faces the same problem there. Until he drops a zero off the end of the money he's asking, it's going to be tough to find a seat.
With Silly Season become more and more ridiculous by the day, there is an obvious need for a clear guide to exactly what is going on. With many of the deals being rumored either educated guesses, clouded in uncertainty, or transparent bargaining ploys, that's not easy, but that won't prevent us from trying.
So to try and make sense of it all, we now have a page up, listing all of the deals and rumored deals so far. We shall endeavor to keep this as up to date as possible, so you have a single source for all of the movements in the MotoGP market, but right now, that's a pretty tall order. You can find the page at the following URL:
Leave comments, tips and suggestions there, for anything we may have missed.