With Christmas nearly upon us, and very little happening in the world of motorcycle racing, time for a round up of recent news. Here's what's been going on in recent weeks, as well as some recommended reading and listening for over the holiday period.
Brno vs Indy - On or Off?
The news that the Indianapolis round of MotoGP had been dropped came as a huge disappointment to a lot of US fans. Though few people were fans of the track layout – despite recent improvements which took the worst edges off the layout – the event as a whole was well liked, and, for a US MotoGP round, fairly well attended.
In recent weeks, rumors have been circulating that the event could make a return. Though just speculation at the moment, Indianapolis could be being groomed as a possible replacement for the Czech round of MotoGP at Brno. Given the troubled recent history of the Brno round, and the excellent organization behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is a chance that behind the smoke, there is a fire powering the rumors.
The main issue is with the new organization set up to promote the Brno round of MotoGP. After the bitter feuding which saw financial uncertainty clouding the last two Czech MotoGP rounds, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta issued the Brno circuit an ultimatum: they would have to pay up the money owed for past rounds, and put something in place to ensure the future funding of the event, or the race would be scrapped. The South Moravia regional government responded by setting up a new organization, Spolek pro Grand Prix ČR Brno, charged with running the race. That organization would lease the circuit from AMD, the company set up by Karel Abraham Sr, which owns the track, and sell tickets and run the race themselves.
So far, however, there has been no sign of tickets going on sale, nor of progress in setting up the organization to run the race. According to the German-language website Speedweek, there are still disagreements between Abraham's AMD and the Spolek pro Grand Prix ČR Brno, set up by the regional politicians with whom the AMD organization has been feuding over funding for the past couple of years. Cooperating to organize the race is proving exceptionally difficult, and with Dorna still owed money for the 2015 edition of the race, the Spanish-based company are rumored to be losing patience with the whole event.
Could MotoGP really return to Indianapolis? The stumbling block over the contract renewal for 2016 was money. Dorna wanted to increase the amount it charged IMS to organize the race, largely to cover the cost of shipping the many tons of equipment to and from the US in the middle of the summer. When there were still two races in the US back-to-back, with Indy following Laguna, those costs could be covered, as is the case for the Argentina and Austin rounds, but a solitary race in the US meant Dorna was losing money on the Indianapolis round.
If Brno is unable or unwilling to pay the money it owes to Dorna for the Czech round, then that changes the financial equation. The losses for transport to Indy may well turn out to be less than the potential losses if Brno fails to pay, and so Dorna may feel there is more benefit in going to the US than in going to Brno. With an Austrian round of MotoGP added to the calendar, there was already pressure on the Czech Grand Prix, as the Red Bull Ring is just a couple of hundred kilometers to the south of Brno, and the Sachsenring a couple of hundred kilometers to the north. And with Karel Abraham Jr. having switched from MotoGP to World Superbikes, Abraham Sr. may be less inclined to support a MotoGP round at his own track.
This could all just be a ploy to put pressure on Brno, and the organization trying to run the event. Given the rather Machiavellian nature of MotoGP negotiations, that is entirely plausible. The Brno round remains subject to contract, but realistically, if there has been no news before the 2016 season starts in Qatar, on 20th March, then it will be safe to assume that Brno will continue on the calendar. Losing Indy was bad, but losing Brno would be much, much worse. It is an iconic circuit, and one of the few places where the potential of a MotoGP bike can be used to its fullest.
VR46 and Márquez merchandising – making money off your enemies
After the thrilling (or farcical, depending on your perspective and which rider you support) end to the 2015 MotoGP season, there were reports – including in some respected Italian newspapers – that Valentino Rossi was so incensed at the behavior of Marc Márquez that he had ordered his VR46 merchandise company to terminate its contract with Márquez and his manager for the sale of t-shirts and caps for the Repsol Honda rider.
At the Superprestigio in Barcelona, I spoke to a source inside Márquez' marketing organization, and they assured me that this was not the case. The story, I was told, was concocted by a Spanish website notorious for fabricating stories in pursuit of internet traffic. My source had spoken with the journalist behind the story, they said, and the journalist had admitted that the story was fabricated. The source assured me that the contract was still in place, and that the VR46 company will continue to manufacture and sell Márquez merchandise for the foreseeable future.
It would not have made any sense for VR46 to stop selling Márquez merchandise. Marc Márquez merchandise is (still) the second biggest seller behind Rossi-branded kit. Valentino Rossi has done exceptionally well financially, both out of racing and out of his business interests, but he has not done so by making poor business decisions. Turning down a large source of income over a petty feud would make no business sense. And viewed from another perspective, making money out of Marc Márquez may perhaps be the best way of extracting his revenge.
Stoner sends Ducatisti hearts soaring
The imminent return of Casey Stoner is setting the hearts aflutter of every Ducati fan around the globe. Despite the Australian returning solely in a testing role and as a brand ambassador, Ducatisti are already dreaming of seeing Stoner racing as a wild card in 2016, with hopes of a full-time return in 2017.
Unfortunately, those are only idle hopes. In a recent interview with British publication Motorcycle News, Stoner said he would "definitely not" be racing again full-time. Racing meant taking so much risk all the time, something which made sense when he was on the inside, competing for championships, but looking back from the outside, his priorities had changed. "There is more to life with my family," he told MCN. He was still very happy with his decision, he said.
Even wild cards are questionable. Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali spoke to the Gazzetta dello Sport, and their partner publication Motosprint, and said that a wild card was not part of their plans. "It is not in our plans, nor in his plans. He is calm and relaxed, a long way from the idea of putting himself in the front lines again." Stoner's aim was to help improve the Ducati as much as possible, to allow the two Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, to start to win races, Domenicali said.
Winning a race was now the goal. At the presentation of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, Gigi Dall'Igna had said that he objective was to win one race in 2015. They had got close, but it had not happened, which was disappointing. Ducati have set their goals higher for 2016, Domenicali said. The objective for the coming year was to win at least two races. The problem for Ducati remains the same as it was in 2015: the Desmosedici is now a competitive motorcycle, but the level of the championship is now so high that it is hard to make the final step. Ducati hope that Stoner will bring them that final step.
Lorenzo and Sector watches – a divorce of convenience
The fallout from the final races of the 2015 MotoGP championship continues. The good thing, however, is that as time passes, more of the truth starts to emerge. In the week after the controversy-ridden race at Sepang, and before the last race of the year at Valencia, the Italian watch brand Sector put out a press release announcing they were terminating their association with Jorge Lorenzo. The reasons given by Sector were for Lorenzo's "unsporting behavior" in his appearance on the podium at Sepang, and because they did not want to be associated with what they claimed was the alliance between Lorenzo and Marc Márquez in trying to keep Valentino Rossi from winning the title.
On Monday, Jorge Lorenzo's PR staff put out a press release decrying the announcement by Sector as a piece of populist exploitation. The truth, the statement said, was that Lorenzo's management had already reached agreement with Sector to terminate the contract after an association of three years. Lorenzo had a better offer from Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Zopo, and Sector had decided they could not match the offer. My friend and colleague Tammy Gorali, who besides being MotoGP commentator for Israeli TV, also has a long history in the fashion industry, remarked at the time that Sector had not made effective use of the partnership.
Lorenzo's management went on to accuse Sector of bandwagon jumping, and trying to exploit the situation to gain attention and sympathy in Italy, where the brand is based. Given the widespread reporting of Sector's press release in Italian media, it certainly succeeded as a piece of guerrilla marketing, whatever the ethics of the situation. Lorenzo and his management had behaved impeccably, his management explained, abiding by the letter of their agreement, and not announcing the new alliance with Zopo until after the season had ended. All is fair in love and marketing, it appears.
The full press release, along with some background, appears on the Spanish website Motocuatro.com.
Something for the weekend?
With Christmas nearly upon us, some of you are likely to find yourselves in airports, cars, buses, trains, and other forms of transport, with a lot of spare time on your hands. To help pass the time, a couple of articles and interviews which make for interesting reading.
First up is Neil Morrison's (who many of you will know from the Paddock Pass Podcast) fascinating interview with Bradley Smith, over on Crash.net. It is a long and excellent read, in which Smith reveals exactly how he changed his approach for 2015, and explains the success it brought him. MotoMatters.com regulars will already be aware of just how good Smith is at explaining the details of motorcycle racing, and so this is not to be missed.
The second article is also on Crash.net, this time by Peter McLaren. McLaren spoke to Wilco Zeelenberg at Valencia, about how the close battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had affected Yamaha's development program throughout 2015. With both Movistar Yamaha riders focused on winning the championship, there had understandably been little willingness to focus on 2016. Zeelenberg gives his view of how that will affect next year, and how the MotoGP field is adapting to the Michelin tires.
Finally, for those wanting something to listen to on long drives from A to B over the holiday period, some recommended listening.
Firstly, of course, there is the Paddock Pass Podcast, which features me (David Emmett of MotoMatters.com) alongside Neil Morrison, Tony Goldsmith, Steve English, and occasionally Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber. We talk about motorcycle racing, and give some of its background.
For Jensen Beeler fans (and they are legion), you can also catch him on the Two Enthusiasts Podcast, in which he and Quentin Wilson (no, not that one) discuss the ins and outs of motorcycling in the broadest sense of the word. Show 11, on Yamaha's recall of the R1, is particularly worth listening to if you want a full understanding of the entire process behind product recalls.
For those in a more British frame of mind, you can also check out the Front End Chatter podcast, in which UK journalists Simon Hargreaves and Martin Fitz-Gibbons discuss all aspects of motorcycling, from their vast experience as writers for magazines and newspapers.
And finally, the Motopod podcast, perhaps the longest-running fan podcast on motorcycle racing. An ever-rotating cast of presenters talk about racing, and interview many prominent figures in the various championships around the world.
That should be enough to keep you occupied for quite a while...
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