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Rolfo And Stiggy Deny Rumors That Hopkins Will Take Rolfo's Ride

The rumors which emanated from the London Motorcycle show yesterday, that John Hopkins would be joining Leon Haslam at Stiggy Motorsports, have already provoked a reaction. Robby Rolfo - the man Hopkins was rumored to be replacing - has posted a message on his personal website, which would seem to rebut any such allegations.

The article is phrased very carefully, without mentioning any of the rumors directly, but Rolfo makes it perfectly clear that he expects to be riding once the World Superbike circus hits Phillip Island. Here's a translation of what he writes:

"Hi guys!

Over the past few days I've received a lot of mail about my injury, and first of all, I want to thank you all and let you know that your support has been really great! I was only able to do a few laps at Portimao, the injury is still too fresh; I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it was important for me to get on the track, to gain confidence in the bike and get used to the new team! I'm very happy, because the potential is really good! Now, there are only a few more days until the next in Australia, and I'm training hard to improve my shape and my motivation!

I spend every minute I can on getting better, in therapy, running, cycling, swimming, always with music: a special thank you to Diabo for the Canto del Loco songs!!! I'm using every day I can so I can arrive in Australia in top form for the next test!

Greetings, and as always, gaaassss!

Roby44"

It's clear that Rolfo believes his seat is still safe, and he is making a very public statement that he is doing all he can to be fit enough to be competitive. But as all of the medical advice he has received has been to the effect that he should have surgery to solve the instability in his shoulder, there is good reason to doubt that he will be able to race to his full potential. And Johan Stigefelt, boss of Stiggy Racing, will be thinking very much along the same lines.

UPDATED

The Dutch website Racesport spoke to Johan Stigefelt directly about this matter, and Stigefelt dismissed the story out of hand. "So far it looks like Roby will be completely recovered for the next test at Phillip Island. There is no reason to be looking for a replacement right now, and we haven't spoken to any of the riders whose names have been mentioned in the media. Roby will continue to be part of our Superbike team, alongside Leon," Stigefelt told Racesport.nl.

 

Hopkins To Join Stiggy Motorsports In World Superbikes?

The MCN London Motorcycle Show at the ExCeL London exhibition center provides all the necessary ingredients for scandal and rumor: Over the course of four days, the motorcycling press, manufacturers, racers, teams and bikers are packed together with little more to do than gossip and gawp at bikes and biking celebrities.

So it is hardly surprising that along with the news emanating from the show comes the rumor that John Hopkins could be moving to World Superbikes. With the chances of a rescue package for Kawasaki in MotoGP fading every day, the American could end up riding a Honda alongside Leon Haslam for Stiggy Motorsports.

At the moment, that seat is held by Roberto Rolfo, but the Italian is still suffering from a fractured shoulder picked up early last year. Rolfo had decided not to have surgery to stabilize the shoulder, as any operation would have required a very lengthy period of physical rehabilitation, causing the Italian to miss most of the 2009 season. But after a difficult test at Portimao, where Rolfo didn't ride much, and only managed to finish second-from-last when he did, there is a good chance that he may be forced to change his mind about surgery.

This would leave the ride open for Hopkins, and as Rolfo brings with him a lot of personal sponsorship, any money that Hopper could bring would be more than welcomed by the Scandinavian team. With Hopkins' Monster sponsorship covering his salary, the American could effectively ride for Stiggy Motorsports for free. And with John Hopkins and Leon Haslam, both riders with proven talent, the team could well be a serious threat in the already crowded World Superbike championship.

2009 Valencia 125 And 250 Test - Day 2 - Bautista Breaks Collarbone

The final day of testing at Valencia for the 125 and 250 riders started off better than expected, but for Alvaro Bautista, favorite for the 250 crown this year, it ended in disaster. The rain which plagued yesterday's session held off in the morning, and the track soon filled with riders trying to put in a fast time. But though the track was dry, it was also cold, leaving the circumstances still far from ideal for the junior classes.

The rain held off until the early afternoon, at which point it started to fall so heavily that the rest of the session was scrapped at 2pm. That came too late for Alvaro Bautista, though: The Spaniard got caught out by the early rain and took a painful tumble, which has probably resulted in a broken collarbone. Bautista was taken to Madrid, where he was examined by Dr Angel Villamor. The silver lining to Bautista's rain cloud is that his collarbone should heal normally, without requiring surgery, in time for the start of the season.

This left Gabor Talmacsi sitting on top of the timesheets at the end of the day, a fraction ahead of Bautista. Reigning 125 World Champion Mike di Meglio was third quickest, 2/10ths slower than Bautista, while Hector Faubel was the fastest of the Honda men, all still slower than the Aprilias.

In the 125 class, it was once again Julian Simon who dominated proceedings, the Aspar Aprilia rider finishing ahead of fellow Spaniard Sergio Gadea. Britain's Bradley Smith finished third, 4/10ths behind his Aspar team mate Simon, and a fraction ahead of compatriot Scott Redding. American Cameron Beaubier improved again, setting the 7th fastest time of the day.

250 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTimeTotal Laps
1Gabor TalmacsiAprilia1'38.08933
2Alvaro BautistaAprilia1'38.17118
3Mike Di MeglioAprilia1'38.37429
4Alex BaldoliniAprilia1'39.24720
5Hector FaubelHonda1'39.45221
6Ratthapark WilairotHonda1'39.72630
7Raffaele De RosaHonda1'40.31519

Circuit record: 2007, Mika Kallio, KTM, 1'35.659

125 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTimeTotal LapsSeries
1Julian SimonAprilia1'41.83928 
2Sergio GadeaAprilia1'41.96852 
3Bradley SmithAprilia1'42.25847 
4Scott ReddingAprilia1'42.29057 
5Marc MarquezKTM1'42.40932 
6Miguel OliveiraAprilia1'43.25239CEV
7Cameron BeaubierKTM1'43.58036 
8Maverick VinalesAprilia1'43.68445CEV
9Esteve RabatAprilia1'44.59328 
10Adrian MartinAprilia1'44.80421CEV
11Alberto MoncayoDerbi1'44.96155CEV
12Johan ZarcoAprilia1'45.84410 
13Luigi MorcianoAprilia1'46.00222CIV
14Gennaro SabatinoAprilia1'46.05037CIV
15Johnny RosselAprilia1'46.42738CEV
16Alessandro TonucciAprilia1'46.53444CIV
17Luca VitaliAprilia1'46.61550 
18Mattia TarozziAprilia1'47.12224CIV
19Cristian TrabalonDerbi1'47.39761CEV
20Edgar GarciaKTM1'47.93441CEV

Circuit record: 2007, Hector Faubel, Aprilia, 1'39.380
CEV: Spanish national championship rider
CIV: Italian national championship rider

2009 Valencia 125 And 250 Test - Day 1 - Bautista And Simon Fastest In The Rain

The rain in Spain falls mainly in January, as a rule, and this January is no exception. The weather on the Iberian peninsula is fairly miserable, and expected to get a lot worse. Which is unfortunate for the 125 and 250 field, who, after an extended test at Jerez, have now moved on to Valencia, where the weather has become fairly miserable.

In the 250 class, Alvaro Bautista continued where he left off, lapping over a second faster than the next quickest man Hector Faubel on the Honda. But the weather was such that the only man to put in a respectable number of laps was former 125 World Champion Gabor Talmacsi, as he continues to get used to the 250.

In the 125 class, Julian Simon was once again the fastest of the GP regulars, but he wasn't the fastest man on a 125. That honor went to Alberto Moncayo, who will be racing in the Spanish CEV championship next year. Moncayo worked hard to set the fastest time though, putting in a Hayden-like 84 laps, where most of the other riders were content to put in just a score of laps or so. Of the GP regulars, Esteve Rabat was 2nd fastest, ahead of Scott Redding.

Testing is due to continue tomorrow, as is the awful weather.

250 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTimeTotal Laps
1Alvaro BautistaAprilia1'48.27021
2Hector FaubelHonda1'49.62416
3Gabor TalmacsiAprilia1'49.78842
4Alex BaldoliniAprilia1'50.98024

Circuit record: 2007, Mika Kallio, KTM, 1'35.659

125 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTimeTotal LapsSeries
1Alberto MoncayoDerbi1'52.06484CEV
2Julian SimonAprilia1'53.08239 
3Esteve RabatAprilia1'53.69611 
4Nicola StizzaAprilia1'54.14540CIV
5Scott ReddingAprilia1'54.21737 
6Luigi MorcianoAprilia1'55.43820CIV
7Luca VitaliAprila1'55.53569 
8Mattia TarozziAprilia1'57.04120CIV
9Joan ZarcoAprilia1'57.10642 
10Miguel OliveiraAprilia1'59.82545CEV
11Cristian TrabalonDerbi2'00.90781CEV
12Marc MarquezKTM2'01.19422 
13Cameron BeaubierKTM2'01.84125 
14Alessandro TonucciAprilia2'02.54131CIV
15Armando PontoneAprilia2'03.29321CIV
16Gennaro SabatinoAprilia2'03.66718CIV
17Adrian MartinAprilia2'04.67023CEV
18Maverick VinalesAprilia2'05.66530CEV
19Sergio GadeaAprilia2'05.80812CEV
20Johnny RosselAprilia2'06.98521CEV
21Edgar GarciaKTM2'07.97743CEV

Circuit record: 2007, Hector Faubel, Aprilia, 1'39.380

Ezpeleta Wants Separate Satellite Championship

A lack of oversight has been blamed by many for the outbreak of the financial crisis, and in response, there has been a deafening clamor for a vast tightening of the rules. As a major victim of the credit crunch, MotoGP has joined in, with an almost unceasing stream of proposals for new rules all aimed at cutting costs and saving the sport.

Along with the more straightforward cost-cutting measures reported yesterday, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has also put forward a series of proposals aimed at assisting the satellite teams to attract both sponsors and talent. According to GPOne.com, he presented these proposals to the managers of the satellite teams (all except for the Nieto brothers, who run Sete Gibernau's team) in Bologna on Tuesday.

The most significant change proposed is the institution of a separate championship for the satellite teams. The championship would have an official status, with its own podium ceremony at every race and a separate team championship as well. The winner of the title would be able to call himself World Champion. The aim is to give the satellite teams more exposure, as under the current rules, their chances at a podium - let alone a championship - are very slim indeed. By setting up a separate championship and a separate podium ceremony, Ezpeleta hopes to make satellite teams more attractive for potential sponsors.

Though in itself more exposure for satellite teams would be very welcome, merely adding a separate championship won't change the TV coverage of the sport. TV directors will continue to concentrate on the most important battle, the battle at the front for the title of MotoGP World Champion. And though a separate podium ceremony would mean extra TV time for the satellite teams, this ceremony will be the first to be cut by most broadcasters, many of whom don't even show the normal podium ceremony as it overruns the slot provided for MotoGP.

Another suggestion under discussion would be to force rookies entering the class to join satellite teams rather than going straight onto the factory bikes. Under this proposal, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa would not have been allowed to go straight to the Fiat Yamaha and Repsol Honda team, but would first have had to spend a year with the Tech 3 Yamaha team or the Gresini Honda team. To keep this affordable, a salary cap would probably have to be placed on rookies joining satellite teams, as even the increased sponsorship potential offered by a big name rider may not outweigh the added burden of their salary.

Along the same lines, Ezpeleta urged the satellite teams to get involved in the new Moto2 class, destined to replace the 250s in 2011. The benefits would be manifold: the satellite teams could use the new class as a feeder class, and a place to ready young prodigies for the step up into MotoGP. This could help younger riders resist the lure of the factory teams, and give them a natural career path offering a progression up through the ranks.

Of course, as Alberto Cani of GPOne.com points out, this would also serve Dorna's purposes all too elegantly: Carmelo Ezpeleta wants 26 bikes on the grid of the new Moto2 class, and if all six satellite teams were to set up two-rider Moto2 teams - either of their own free will or under duress from Dorna - that would put 12 bikes on the grid already.

It's clear from the proposals that Dorna recognizes the problems which face satellite teams in MotoGP, and that they are desperate to do something about it. The tragedy is that they don't seem willing to do the one thing that might actually make racing cheaper again: drastically lower the cost of producing horsepower.

Flammini: "It's Not Superbikes Vs MotoGP"

The World Superbike tests at Portugal's Portimao circuit last week were more than just the first opportunity for the World Superbike and World Supersport riders to take to the track this year, it also marked the official opening of the 2009 World Superbike season. To mark that fact, InFront Motor Sports CEO Paolo Flammini spoke to journalists at the launch to present the riders and teams officially. During the presentation, he also shared some of his thoughts on the future of the series, and its relationship with MotoGP.

Writing for the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, veteran World Superbike reporter Guy Ritchie reports that Flammini told the press he did not believe that the contest for TV audiences was between World Superbikes and MotoGP, but rather between motorcycle racing and other sports, such as Formula 1 and soccer. What was important was for both series was to work together to grow the popularity of the sport in general, rather than fight each other.

Having said that, however, Flammini then went on to address the new Moto2 class, and on the subject of the new 600cc four-stroke class due to replace the 250s, he was a good deal less conciliatory. InFront Motor Sports, Flammini said, has the exclusive rights to motorcycle racing with production equipment, and they were prepared to defend their rights. But they will have nothing to complain about if the Moto2 class is not based on equipment derived from production bikes.

"It's in the hands of the FIM," Flammini said. But at the same time, he pointed to the case of WCM as an example of what he expects. "In the case of WCM, the FIM gave a clear interpretation of this concept," Flammini told the press. "The FIM disqualified the WCM because it had an engine partially derived from a production motor, despite using a fully prototype chassis. This shows that in the past, the FIM has ruled that a motorcycle with a prototype chassis and a production engine is not a prototype."

With the launch of the Moto2 class likely to be brought forward to 2010, in response to the prospect of an empty 250 grid thanks to the two strokes being scrapped at the end of next year, it is looking increasingly like the future of the new class could be fought out in the courts. The new class was specifically aimed at reducing the cost of racing. But any savings made from cheaper engines could end up being lost again in legal wrangling over the meaning of the word "prototype". The contracts which established the World Superbike series could yet be the death knell of MotoGP.

Radical Changes To Be Ratified At Sepang Test Next Week

The MotoGP season resumes in earnest next week, when most of the riders will take to the track at the first official test of 2009 at Sepang in Malaysia. But while the fans will be concentrating on the action on track, carefully scrutinizing the times set to see how they can expect their favorite riders to fare, behind the scenes, according to GPOne.com, the manufacturers will be meeting to ratify a list of changes aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP in the next couple of years.

The main thrust of the changes is aimed at extending engine life, in the hope of reducing the maintenance costs for the highly-strung engines, which continue to spiral out of control. The changes will have two prongs: A reduction in track mileage on race weekends and testing; and a minimum engine life imposed by regulation.

First, the proposed changes as reported by GPOne.com:

2009

  • Practice sessions will be shortened by 15 minutes each, from 60 to 45 minutes. In effect, the riders will lose an entire 60 minute session;
  • Warm up will be cut to just 10 minutes, instead of the current 25, and the practice start would be scrapped;
  • A maximum of 9 engines per season, with penalties being imposed on engine failures, either by way of points, or by way of lost starting places;
  • An end to post-race tests, scrapping the 5 days of testing already planned;
  • Winter testing restricted to just 8 days, and the start of the winter test ban to be brought forward to November 11th, the day immediately following the Valencia tests. The ban would end on January 20th, as has always been the case.

2010

  • One Grand Prix to be dropped - so the MotoGP season would be just 17 races rather than 18 (and as rumors persist that the Balatonring in Hungary will not be finished in time for the first race there in mid-September, this could happen in 2010);
  • One bike per rider, a move which Carmelo Ezpeleta believes would allow the manufacturers to field 24 bikes, the spare bikes being made available for more riders to enter the class;
  • Steel brake disks, which in combination with a single bike per rider would make it possible to retain the flag-to-flag rule, an important precondition for TV broadcasters, who don't like rescheduling their TV slots just because the weather has caused a race to be delayed;
  • A two-day Grand Prix weekend. Friday practice for the MotoGP class would be scrapped; in its stead would come an open paddock - a popular event at World Superbike weekends - on Friday morning, followed by practice for the 125cc and Moto2 classes in the afternoon. MotoGP would have only a single practice session on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying in the afternoon;
  • Engines to last three races, with a penalty to be imposed for breaching this rule. The penalty is still under discussion, but could be either being put back on the grid, or having a time penalty added to the race time;
  • Engine leasing at affordable prices - forcing the manufacturers to make engines available at a fixed cost, as is set to happen for the 125cc class in 2010;
  • Bikes designed to be competitive for two seasons, to allow satellite teams to spread the cost of leasing bikes out over two seasons instead of one.

Almost all of the proposals have been leaked or otherwise given a public airing before, but what is most surprising is the haste with which all this is being done. And though we have gone over the ground on this issue a number of times already, we shall examine these proposals again in more detail later today, and analyze their strengths and weaknesses - and sadly, there are many more weaknesses than strengths - point by point.

 

Denning: "Suzuki Given Green Light For 2009"

After weeks of persistent rumors that Suzuki would be pulling out of MotoGP, confirmation has finally come Japan that the bikes will be on the grid in 2009. Talking to Matthew Birt of Motorcycle News, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning said that "senior management" within Suzuki had given the green light to the project for 2009.

Denning also told MCN that Suzuki was not the kind of company which would renege on its contracts with its riders and with Dorna, and even if circumstances had forced them to consider such a move, a decision would not have been made so late. "If Suzuki had seriously thought about that option I’m sure it would have been done in a way that wasn’t at the end of January when we are just about to leave to start winter testing in Sepang," he said to MCN.

There was still no official news about the Rizla sponsorship, however. Denning would only say that the deadline by which a decision must be made was fast approaching, and that by mid-February, they would be able to make an announcement. But the longer the announcement is in coming, the more likely it is that Rizla will be pulling out. Rumors of Rizla's withdrawal have been floating round the paddock since the end of last year, and as we reported yesterday, the Italian media is reporting the loss of Rizla's sponsorship as fact.

With Suzuki set to stay in MotoGP, a catastrophe for the series has been averted. At least 17 bikes will line up at Qatar in April for the start of the season, and with four manufacturers on the grid, as well as the racing and marketing phenomenon that is Valentino Rossi, MotoGP can still claim to be the world's premier motorcycle racing series. But unless the grid starts to fill out, MotoGP's hold on that title could start to slip rather rapidly. 

2009 Jerez 125 And 250 Test - Day 3 - Bautista And Simon Smash Lap Records

The final day of testing at Jerez for the junior classes in MotoGP showed the same pattern as the past two days, and the same names at the top of the timesheets. Once again, Alvaro Bautista and Julian Simon set the fastest times, the two Aspar riders lapping under the existing lap records in their respective classes.

Julian Simon did not have it all his own way in the 125 class though. At 2pm, Simon's Aspar team mate Bradley Smith was firmly ensconced at the top of the timesheets, and only relinquished his top spot later in the afternoon. Smith finished the day second, ahead of Sandro Cortese and Marc Marquez. Britain's Scott Redding finished 8th, dropping down the field from the earlier two days. The USA's Cameron Beaubier, on the other hand, managed to climb a place to 11th. More impressively, the American rookie took a second off his lap time every single day.

In the 250 class, Bautista ruled once again unopposed, ahead of Mike di Meglio. The reigning 125cc champion was very impressive over the three day test, cutting two and a half seconds off his time over the course of three days. Di Meglio finished ahead of Team Scot's veteran 250 rider Hiro Aoyama aboard a Honda, and fellow 250cc rookie Gabor Talmacsi.

250 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps
1 Alvaro Bautista Aprilia 1'43.488 63
2 Mike Di Meglio Aprilia 1'44.021 40
3 Hiroshi Aoyama Honda 1'44.264 85
4 Gabor Talmacsi Aprilia 1'44.266 48
5 Thomas Luthi Aprilia 1'44.418 62
6 Ratthapark Wilairot Honda 1'44.524 70
7 Lukas Pesek Aprilia 1'44.705 33
8 Raffaele De Rosa Honda 1'44.736 51
9 Hector Faubel Honda 1'45.252 74

250cc Race Lap Record: 2008, Marco Simoncelli 1'43.546

125 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps Series
1 Julian Simon Aprilia 1'47.125 66  
2 Bradley Smith Aprilia 1'47.807 67  
3 Sandro Cortese Derbi 1'48.687 61  
4 Marc Marquez KTM 1'48.895 61  
5 Sergio Gadea Aprilia 1'48.929 58  
6 Maverick Vinales Aprilia 1'48.956 69 CEV
7 Esteve Rabat Aprilia 1'49.143 60  
8 Scott Redding Aprilia 1'49.170 71  
9 Miguel Oliveira Aprilia 1'50.013 58 CEV
10 Johnny Rossell Aprilia 1'50.036 36 CEV
11 Cameron Beaubier KTM 1'50.205 68  
12 Dominique Aegerter Derbi 1'50.232 55  
13 Luigi Morciano Aprilia 1'50.522 59 CIV
14 Alberto Moncayo Derbi 1'51.364 75 CEV
15 Armando Pontone Aprilia 1'51.822 36 CIV
16 Alessandro Tonucci Aprilia 1'52.470 51 CIV
17 Gennaro Sabatino Aprilia 1'52.535 52 CIV

125 Race Lap Record: 2006, Lukas Pesek 1'47.404
CEV: Spanish national championship rider
CIV: Italian national championship rider

Full Jerez MotoGP Race Removed Again From Youtube

Yesterday, we reported what we thought of as the great news that Dorna had started to put full MotoGP races online, available freely at MotoGP.com's official Youtube channel. Today, less than 24 hours later, they seem to have changed their minds. On Tuesday, the full 2008 Jerez race appeared on the Youtube channel, posted by MotoGP.com. by Wednesday morning, it was gone, replaced by a standard Youtube error message stating that the video had been removed by the user.

Obviously, some heated discussions followed at Dorna's Barcelona HQ yesterday, about what should and shouldn't be put online for free, and the proponents of the 20th Century view of publishing prevailed. It will be interesting to see how long this situation will continue, before Dorna realizes that it is better to control themselves how their video footage is put online, rather than leaving them to turn up on various file sharing sites around the world.

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