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2009 2nd Valencia 125 And 250 Test - Day 2 - It's That Man Again

The second and final day of testing at Valencia for the 125s and 250s saw Marco Simoncelli dominate once again. The reigning 250 World Champion put in a huge number of laps to finish the day with a comfortable lead over his Gilera team mate Roberto Locatelli. The Gileras finished the day ahead of the Hondas of Hector Faubel and Thai rider Rathapark Wilairot.

The 125 class was a much more worrying affair. Yesterday's leader, Efren Vazquez had a huge crash, which saw him trap his leg in the wheel, ending with the Spaniard being rushed to hospital in Valencia with a deep cut that partially severed achilles tendon. Vazquez wasn't the only rider to fall, being joined in the gravel by his team mate Pol Espargaro, as well as former Red Bull Rookies Johann Zarco and Matthew Hoyle.

With Vazquez gone, it was the turn of the very impressive Italian rookie Lorenzo Savadori to top the timesheets, ahead of Espargaro aboard the Derbi. The unfortunate Vazquez was still quick enough in the 11 laps he ran before crashing to finish third fastest, however.

Vazquez will be hoping to recover quickly, and be ready for the next test, due to take place at Estoril in a month's time. Before that, there will be more testing for the junior classes at Valencia next week.

250 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps
1 Marco Simoncelli Gilera 1'36.4 80
2 Roberto Locatelli Gilera 1'36.6 63
3 Hector Faubel Honda 1'36.7 52
4 Rathapark Wilairot Honda 1'36.8 58
5 Alex Baldolini Aprilia 1'37.6 48
6 Karel Abraham Aprilia 1'38.5 60

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

125 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps
1 Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia 1'41.5 40
2 Pol Espargaro Derbi 1'41.8 68
3 Efren Vazquez Derbi 1'42.7 11
4 Johann Zarco Aprilia 1'43.1 64
5 Marco Ravaioli Aprilia 1'43.8 40
6 Luca Vitali Aprilia 1'44.2 40
7 Jordi Dalmau Honda 1'44.8 78
8 Glenn Scott Honda 1'44.9 67
9 Michael Ranseder Maxtra 1'45.0 56
10 Mathew Hoyle Maxtra 1'45.5 55

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

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Credit Crunch Hits WSBK Paddock Too - Lavilla Could Lose His Ride

Most of the doom and gloom hitting motorcycle racing in the wake of the credit crisis has been centered on MotoGP. Understandably, as the premier class is exponentially more expensive than any of the other motorcycle racing series. But MotoGP is not alone: after earlier news that Sterilgarda Ducati wouldn't have the funds to field Alessandro Polita in Australia and Qatar, reports are emerging that Gregorio Lavilla could be out of a ride for 2009 altogether.

The well-informed Dutch website Racesport.nl is reporting that the Pro-Ride Honda team - which arose from the ashes of the Alto Evolution team, which fielded Shuhei Aoyama in World Superbikes last year, with little success - has failed to find a sponsor, and consequently won't have the money to compete in the 2009 WSBK season, leaving Lavilla sidelined. Racesport's efforts at contacting the team for comment have so far met with no success.

The 35 year-old Spaniard had a mediocre season last year aboard the Vent-Axia Honda, after several years of success in the British Superbikes series. Whether his fortunes would have improved with the former Alto-Evolution team is open to debate, as the Italian team has had very little to show over the past few seasons. But Lavilla could well be joining the ever-growing band of professional motorcycle racers who will be spending 2009 watching from the sidelines.

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Melandri And Kawasaki To Be On The Grid

Sources in the mainstream sports media in Italy are reporting that the on-again-off-again saga that is Kawasaki is sort of on again. According to both Tuttosport and Sportmediaset, Marco Melandri will be riding a privately run Kawasaki, in a team led by Michael Bartholemy. The deal is said to have been put together by Dorna, in the person of CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who has been in constant negotiation with Kawasaki since the news broke.

Details of the deal are somewhere between sketchy and nonexistent, but the deal seems to be that Kawasaki will make all of the 2009-spec bikes available to Michael Bartholemy, and the Belgian team manager will field a single rider in the person of Marco Melandri. Shortly after the news broke that Kawasaki would be withdrawing from MotoGP, the factory said that it had enough bikes and parts to last approximately a quarter of a season, and so presumably, this would be enough to run a single rider for at least half a season, perhaps a little longer if the practice restrictions are pushed through as expected.

Finance for the project will most likely come from Dorna - presumably in fear of breaching their own contract with the FIM to field at least 18 riders for a world championship - possibly with some seed money from Kawasaki, to buy out their remaining contract, which committed them to race in MotoGP until 2011. Melandri would presumably be riding the 2009-spec bikes tested by Olivier Jacque in Australia during January, despite reports of poor reliability. And maintenance and - speculatively - engine development could be done by the French company Solution F, as reported by GPOne.com in January.

There is still reason to doubt the story, however. Firstly, the source is the overly excitable Italian sports press, which operates in a cutthroat environment where scoops are more important than careful and thorough reporting. Secondly, Melandri's decision would seem to contradict his earlier statements that he was not interested in racing just to "make up the numbers." By all accounts, and all logic, that's exactly what he would be doing if he rode the Kawasaki MotoGP bike.

What's more, there's good reason to doubt the wisdom of the decision to keep Kawasaki in at any cost. As we have pointed out before, trying to keep the corpse of a dead manufacturer in MotoGP would be a much worse idea than helping to find money to bring back a company like Ilmor. The Kawasaki is only destined to get worse over the season. With new money, at least Ilmor would actually develop the bike.

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2009 2nd Valencia 125 And 250 Test - Day 1 - Simoncelli Rules The Roost

The second batch of 125 and 250 riders are out at Valencia, testing in preparation for the 2009 season. But though the location might be the same, the names are mostly different. This time, it's Marco Simoncelli who tops the 250s, though none of the Aspar big guns are on track to face the reigning champion. Simoncelli's time as quicker than that set by Alvaro Bautista two weeks ago, but it has to be said that the weather conditions are infinitely better. In comparison, Alex Baldolini improved his time by a second, while Hector Faubel took nearly 2 seconds off his fastest time of the previous tests.

In the 125 class, it was Efren Vazquez who was quickest on the factory Derbi, though the Spaniard also managed to crash in a fairly serious way at the end of the day. But the surprise of the day was the 2nd fastest time for Lorenzo Savadori, an Italian rookie who was European 125 champion last year, and hotly tipped for success. To be 2nd fastest on his first test is fairly impressive, and promises more to come.

The other news of interest was the arrival of the Maxtras, the Chinese bike designed by former Aprilia guru Jan Witteveen and Britain's Harris Performance, and run by John Surtees. The Maxtra still has some work to be done, though, as Michael Ranseder was the fastest of the two team mates, beating British rookie Matt Hoyle by two seconds, but still four seconds down on the time of Vazquez.

Testing continues tomorrow.

250 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps
1 Marco Simoncelli Gilera 1'37.2 73
2 Hector Faubel Honda 1'37.7 62
3 Alex Baldolini Aprilia 1'38.3 53
4 Roberto Locatelli Gilera 1'38.4 63
5 Rathapark Wilairot Honda 1'38.5 32
6 Karel Abraham Aprilia 1'41.0 80

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

125 cc

Pos. Rider Bike Time Total Laps
1 Efren Vazquez Derbi 1'42.1 54
2 Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia 1'43.9 35
3 Pol Espargaro Derbi 1'44.2 33
4 Johann Zarco Aprilia 1'44.2 40
5 Luca Vitali Aprilia 1'45.1 6
6 Marco Ravaioli Aprilia 1'46.3 33
7 Michael Ranseder Maxtra 1'46.4 40
8 Glenn Scott Honda 1'47.0 58
9 Jordi Dalmau Honda 1'47.2 72
10 Mathew Hoyle Maxtra 1'48.5 45

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

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HRC Opens "Witch Hunt" For Rev Limit Moles

Dark tidings from inside Honda. GPOne.com is reporting that HRC has started what the Italian site is calling a "witch hunt" to find the source of the leak about rev limits. HRC is said to be mightily displeased that this information should have been made public, regarding it as "confidential commercial information", which should not be shared in any way.

Quite why Honda should be getting into such a tizzy at the leaking of the fact that the satellite bikes have a rev limit in place of 18,200 rpm, some 800 below the factory bikes 19,000 rpm limit, is a bit of a mystery. With minimum requirements likely to be imposed on engine life, using satellite teams as a testbed for the impact that rev limits would have on engine life would seem to be a sensible step. Granted, HRC's image may be negatively affected, as the company could be seen to be forcing the satellite teams to accept a disadvantage when it comes to the races. But launching a full-scale chase for the loose lips which sunk HRC's ship merely makes the situation a good deal worse. And is more likely to encourage further outbreaks of leaking than prevent it.

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Bautista To Take Pedrosa's Seat In 2010?

For three years now, Dani Pedrosa has been Spain's Great White Hope, and the man that they have placed their hopes on to take only the second MotoGP championship for the country which is obsessed with the sport. And for the past three years, the hope that springs in Iberian hearts has been cruelly dashed, as Pedrosa has confirmed his status as a brilliantly talented rider who finds it immensely difficult to consistently win races.

There have been very good reasons that Pedrosa's ambitions have been thwarted: 2006 was his rookie season, and expecting a title that early is too much to ask; in 2007, the Spaniard faced an incredible Casey Stoner with a severely underdeveloped Honda RC212V; then last year, Pedrosa had to face one of the greatest riders of all time as he rode one of his finest seasons of all time. All entirely understandable, and no one can underestimate the size of the task he has ahead if he is to take the title in 2009.

But it appears that it is not just the Spanish MotoGP fans who are growing tired of waiting. More worryingly, Pedrosa's employer is starting to lose patience with the Spaniard as well. There had been paddock rumors that Pedrosa's position was no longer set in granite as early as the middle of last year. And these rumors started to gain ground after HRC signed the talented Italian Andrea Dovizioso as Pedrosa's team mate, against the express wishes of Alberto Puig.

And Pedrosa's problems seem to be growing. The incredibly well-informed Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that 2009 will be a make-or-break year for Pedrosa, and his final chance to win the championship. Both HRC and their Spanish sponsor Repsol are losing patience with Pedrosa's lack of results, wanting to see a better return on their investment in the talented Spaniard. In addition, HRC is keen to ditch Pedrosa's manager Alberto Puig, whose Machiavellian tactics are felt to be undermining Honda's authority. Repsol, meanwhile, is growing disenchanted with Pedrosa's unsmiling demeanor, which is less than helpful for sponsorship purposes.

So HRC and Repsol are looking to another Spanish prodigy to take Pedrosa's place, should he fail to take the title this season, in the shape of Alvaro Bautista. The Man From La Mancha is a lively and lovable character, with a proven record of winning. Bautista would be a huge boon to Repsol, and comes free of the baggage associated with a Svengali-like manager.

So far, this is all just rumor and speculation. But with GPOne.com citing "sources in Spain" for their story, and a general background rumbling of discontent with Pedrosa, there could be quite a lot of substance to this story. As incredible as it may seem for HRC to drop the man likely to be top Honda rider this year and certain to take 3rd in the championship at the very least, it is still very firmly within the realms of the possible.

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Now That's Irony: Spanish Credit Crunch Scuppers Hungarian MotoGP Round

As we reported on Monday, the Hungarian round of MotoGP, due to take place on September 20th, is likely to be axed. The report, which originated with the British publication Motorcycle News, stated that construction of the brand new Balatonring track where the race was to be held was running too far behind schedule, and that as a consequence, the facility would not be ready in time to host the event. Since then, the arguments have started over who is to blame for the situation, with much finger pointing between the partners involved in the project.

The Hungarian Minister for Sport was in no doubt where the blame lay. Speaking to the Hungarian sports daily Nemzeti Sport, Istvan Gyenesei said "Our Spanish partner has not completed all of the steps set out in the agreement we have with them [..] so it looks as if the track will not be ready in time, and we will not be able to organize the Grand Prix there."

But the Spanish company involved were quick to reject any talk of the blame laying with them. Janos Bence Kovacs, president of the Grupo Milton responded to the minister's accusations "I'm surprised what the minister said. We've met all of the deadlines so far. Our tempo is fine, we're even a little bit faster than expected. We will do exactly what we have agreed to do. The project is right on schedule. We will do everything that we are expected to do." He refused to respond to the allegations published in MCN, dismissing them as "purely gossip".

As for the real state of construction, it is difficult to tell just how far along Grupo Milton has proceeded, though the photos published on the website of Sportgeza.hu do not look promising. Obviously, at this stage, construction consists mostly of preparing the site for the track and the foundations to be laid, and so photos can be deceptive.

But Grupo Milton is in a difficult position. Since the outbreak of the current economic crisis, Spanish banks have tightened up their lending considerably. Spanish construction companies have been hit particularly badly, as the banks start to demand repayment of the vast debts the companies have, which they used to finance the building boom which has fueled the Spanish economy for the past 10 years. With the bursing of the housing bubble, property prices have collapsed, leaving large sections of the Spanish construction industry either bankrupt, or teetering on the very brink.

Grupo Milton, which specializes in property in Hungary and Rumania, has been less badly hit by the collapse of Spanish property prices, but could well find itself falling victim to the reluctance of Spanish banks to lend money for construction. Ironically, the could find themselves hoping to be bailed out by the Hungarian government, in a bid to save what would be a big boost for the local economy, rather than the Spanish government.

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Hungary MotoGP Round Could Be Canceled

The financial crisis looks close to claiming yet another victim in MotoGP. After Kawasaki's withdrawal, and a similar fate narrowly avoided for Suzuki, this time it is a race which is on the chopping block. Motorcycle News is reporting that the Hungarian round of MotoGP could be canceled, after funding problems have struck construction of the brand new Balatonring circuit.

Rumors of such a move had emerged at the end of last year, but MCN is claiming to have received information from "senior MotoGP officials". MCN is also reporting that a move to the brand new Portimao circuit in Portugal was mooted, as a replacement for the Balatonring round, but that this was discounted because it would be too close to the official Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril in early October. Given the current calls for cost-cutting in MotoGP, the more popular choice might be for the round to be canceled altogether. Skipping a whole weekend would cut down on expenditure significantly.

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Fonsi Nieto Out Of World Superbikes For 2009 Season

Fonsi Nieto has been much in the news, recently. The Spanish star had been tipped to replace Alessandro Polita at Sterilgarda Ducati recently, who had had problems with personal sponsors.

Nieto himself believed he was close to extending the deal he had with Alstare Suzuki from last year, despite Alstare claiming they would only be able to field two factory Suzukis. But even that has fallen through, according to Spanish magazine Solomoto, leaving Nieto without a ride.

"The conditions for staying with the Alstare team were unacceptable for a rider who won a race last year, as well as getting on the podium a number of times," Nieto told Solomoto. "They offered me a satellite-spec Suzuki GSX-R, but I wouldn't be able to share the garage with the factory bikes. After weeks and weeks of negotatiting, they told me that the bikes wouldn't be ready until the Valencia race. Which would mean I couldn't race at either Australia or Qatar."

So instead, Nieto will be helping to develop the Moto2 bike which Eskil Suter is developing for the Team LaGlisse, one of the top teams in the Spanish championship. The bike should be ready for testing within the next month, but Nieto told Solomoto that he didn't know whether he would be racing the bike in the series in Spain this year. Instead, he will spend the time training, and getting ready for next year.

Nieto's misfortune goes to show that even the considerable personal sponsorship that the Spaniard is believed to carry can't buy you a place on the grid. And even for a rider who finished 6th in the championship, ahead of names such as Max Biaggi, Ruben Xaus, Michel Fabrizio and his team mate Yukio Kagayama, who did keep his seat, the World Superbike paddock can be a pretty tough place. 

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Tech 3 Looking To Run Moto2 Bike

Feelings are still mixed about the new Moto2 series, with the purists shedding a tear over the death of the 250 two-strokes, the pessimists fearing a tidal wave of lawsuits emanating from Switzerland and IMS if any production bike engines are used in the machines, while the optimists see this as a very affordable way of building interesting racing machinery. But if the fans and pundits are divided, the teams are quietly getting on with examining the rules and evaluating the options for competing.

The Blusens BQR team were the first team to break cover, launching the Moto2 bike they will be fielding in the Spanish CEV championship just last week. And it looks like they are not alone. In an interview with the motorsports website Crash.net, Herve Poncharal of the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team has announced their intention to start building a bike ready for the 2010 season. Poncharal's reasoning is interesting, and builds on the findings which came out of the IRTA talks which happened in Bologna at the end of January. The Moto2 championship would function even more as a feeder series, with the satellite teams picking up promising young talent, and grooming them to be ready for MotoGP, first with the satellite teams, and if the rider starts to achieve some of his potential, then they could move on to a factory team.

The benefits for the satellite teams would be twofold: firstly, it would give them a platform where they could be competitive, and actually have a chance of winning races and championships. Secondly, it would give them closer links to the factory teams in MotoGP, with a chance of more support from the factories in the top class.

But Poncharal's words highlight the potential threat which the Moto2 championship could pose to MotoGP. Poncharal told Crash.net "if, as an independent team, we want to play the big team fighting against Fiat Yamaha, Ducati Marlboro etc then we are wrong! Because we will never have the same means and we will never have the same budget, we will always be one level down. But we can still be happy and successful as an independent team."

The danger is that if the satellite teams find much more success in Moto2 than in MotoGP, they may start to consider whether their participation in MotoGP is actually worth the huge expense. If satellite teams become too successful in Moto2, they might start focussing their efforts on that success, and start pulling out of the premier class. If they feel they have a shot at a championship for a tenth of the expense of a top 10 finish in MotoGP, then grids in the premier class could thin out even further. And that surely can't have been the goal when the new rules were drawn up.

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