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Casey Stoner is make a brief return to motorcycle racing. The Australian is to compete in the Suzuka 8 Hour race as part of Honda's factory MuSASHI RT HARC-PRO team, racing alongside Pata Honda WSBK rider Michael van der Mark, and Honda test rider Takumi Takahashi.
The first inklings that Stoner might try his hand at another form of motorcycle racing came when Stoner tested the Honda CBR1000RR bike HRC is preparing for Suzuka. He rode the bike while testing Honda's RC213V MotoGP bike, in his capacity as official test rider for HRC. In a press release afterwards, he was very positive about the experience, saying, "in general it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed being able to feel the rear of the bike step out!".
In early March, in a blog on the website of Italian broadcaster Sportmediaset, Italian journalist Max Temporali claimed that Stoner was preparing to enter the Suzuka 8 hour race. Three weeks later, Temporali has been proved right.
Having Stoner race in the Suzuka 8 Hour once again raises the profile of this classic meeting. The race has always been very important to the Japanese factories, who in the past sent their top factory GP riders to compete. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Colin Edwards, Dajiro Katoh, Tohru Ukawa and Valentino Rossi have all competed in the event. The problem with the race is that it falls in the middle of the season, as it is traditionally held in July. As the importance of the MotoGP championship has increased, the factories have been loath to risk their top riders getting injured at the race, and potentially damage their championship chances. As the World Superbike series has a longer summer break, WSBK riders such as Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Carlos Checa, and Michael van der Mark have all competed there in recent years.
In a press release issued by Honda, Stoner says that this was one factor which had prevented him from racing at the event in the past. "It's always been an event I wanted to do and something I was never able to consider when I was racing in MotoGP, due to our busy schedules." Now freed of any racing commitments, he has the opportunity to compete in the event. Stoner's participation will draw a lot of media attention to the race, and with the Australian riding with last year's winners Takahashi and Van der Mark, HRC will be hoping to win this race.
Stoner's decision to race at Suzuka does not presage a return to MotoGP. His comments in the press release mark this out as a bucket list item he is now able to tick off. Though now independently wealthy from his MotoGP career, appearances such as this, and his attempt to break the lap record at Eastern Creek in Australia during the Top Gear Festival weekend, supplement his income from the money he earned while racing. Stoner made it explicitly clear he had no intention of returning to MotoGP in a long interview with Adam Wheeler of On Track Off Road magazine.
The press release from Honda appears below:
Casey Stoner returns to racing in 2015 Suzuka 8hr
Honda Racing Corporation are pleased to announce Casey Stoner’s return to competition racing. The two-time MotoGP Champion (2007 and 2011) will form part of Honda’s MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO three person team at this year’s Suzuka 8hr race, taking place on Sunday 26th July.
Casey, together with Honda’s World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark and MFJ All Japan Road Race JSB1000 Championship and HRC test rider Takumi Takahashi, will be looking to clinch Honda’s sixth consecutive win in the prestigious endurance event which runs for eight hours consecutively where entrants (composed of two or more riders) alternate during pit stops.
Having recently renewed his testing contract with HRC, Casey tested the Suzuka CBR1000RR machine during January’s Sepang test, reporting positively on the machine to Honda engineers.
Casey will have further opportunities to test the Honda machine on the 7th/8th and 14th/15th July.
“After riding the bike in Sepang a few months ago, I’ve been speaking closely with Honda about the possibility to take part in Suzuka. It’s always been an event I wanted to do and something I was never able to consider when I was racing in MotoGP, due to our busy schedules, so I’m really looking forward to taking part! The bike is very different to a MotoGP machine, but it will be a new challenge and a chance for me to try something new and unlike what I’ve been used to in my racing to this point. I’ve been impressed with Michael van der Mark this season and Takumi Takahashi has a lot of experience on this machine, so I’m looking forward to hearing their comments and working together with them in preparation for the July race. Now I need to concentrate on my training to be ready for the race!”
Shuhei Nakamoto – HRC Executive Vice President:
“We are very happy that Casey agreed to take part in the 8hr with Honda. It will be great to see him back on a bike in a racing environment and I’m sure he will enjoy it. Together with van der Mark and Takahashi they form a strong team to compete in this endurance race – I’m excited to see how they will do.”
Shigeki Honda – Team Principal MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO:
“This year, MuSASHi Racing Team HARC-PRO is aiming to win the Suzuka 8hr for the third consecutive year. In addition to our riders, Michael van der Mark and Takumi Takahashi, who together have celebrated the past two victories , we are very happy to invite the legendary Casey Stoner to join our team. Casey has an enjoyed an incredible career and achieved a huge amount of success. We believe that with his fantastic experience, coupled with our team’s know how after many years of involvement at this event, we can make our dreams come true.”
Michael van der Mark:
“The Suzuka 8 Hour race is such a special event for all the fans and the Japanese people and not many riders get the chance to take part, even though many would like to. I also know what an important event it is for Honda so it’s a greathonorfor me to be asked to race the CBR1000RR once more, and this time with Casey as our teammate! The testing and race schedule is quite tough to combine with the World Superbike Championship but I really enjoy riding at Suzuka so I’m very happy to make time for it. The bike is very different to my World Superbike CBR but it’s easy to ride so it’s not big problem to change. I’ve had two fantastic years with a great team and it would be really nice and something quite special to get a hat-trick of wins.”
“The Suzuka 8hr this year means a lot to me and my team since our goal is to win for a third consecutive year, and I’m even more excited to take part together with Casey. Nonetheless, we know our rivals are all set to beat us, so I know it will not be easy to accomplish this goal. I will try to get the best out of the remaining few tests so that we will be able to run the 8hr race as fast as possible without any mistakes. We guarantee to demonstrate our extreme professionalism and excitement to those who will come to Suzuka to support us!”
It has been a tough day for sponsorship news in the MotoGP paddock. After news earlier of LCR Honda's title sponsor CWM being subject of a fraud investigation, the Aspar Honda team have lost their title sponsor, Drive M7. The Malaysian energy drink firm have withdrawn their sponsorship of the team on the day before the 2015 season was due to start.
According to German language publication Speedweek, the Drive M7 management told team owner Jorge Martinez about the decision on Tuesday night. The decision was a surprise, as it had been expected that the deal would continue in 2015, with both Nicky Hayden and Eugene Laverty riding in Drive M7 testing colors during preseason testing.
No reasons for the withdrawal have been given, but the checkered history of energy drinks suggest that the smaller brands find it hard to justify the major investment which investment in top-level racing requires. The Gresini Honda team suffered a similar fate last year, when sponsor Go&Fun failed to pay sponsorship owed and withdrew in the middle of the season. There is a long list of brands which have come and go, including Dark Dog, Grizzly, Power Horse, and Troy Corser's personal sponsor, Pussy.
Drive M7's withdrawal could pose a larger problem for Aspar than the issues facing the LCR team. Though the cost of leasing the Open class Honda RC213V-RS is lower than the factory RC213V, LCR is believed to have taken a large part of its sponsorship as a down payment, ensuring that the team still has funds. Aspar now faces the loss of a major part of their budget. Jorge Martinez has very strong connections to the business community in Valencia, but with several investigations ongoing into corruption related to the F1 race at Valencia, including into former business associates of Martinez, those potential sources of sponsorship are drying up.
LCR Honda's title sponsor, foreign exchange trading firm CWMFX, is the subject of a police investigation by the City of London police and Financial Conduct Authority, the UK body charged with regulating the financial services industry. Police raided the firm on 3rd March this year, arresting thirteen people for a range of fraud charges. Since last night, the CWMFX website has been offline, with only a contact form on the site.
The arrests come as part of a wider investigation into an offshore Ponzi scheme allegedly being run by Belvedere Management Limited. Research by independent financial advisors deVere Group, as well as the investigative financial services publisher OffshoreAlert revealed that $16 billion of investor funds was involved in the Belvedere scheme, which was based in Mauritius. Major investors such as hedge funds, life insurance, investment management and much more had started withdrawing their investments from the firm, bringing Belvedere to the brink of bankruptcy. CWM is believed have $130 million of investor's fund committed to one of the Ponzi schemes allegedly operated by Belvedere, and run out of the Cayman Islands. It is this involvement which has caused the City of London police to make the arrests and charge CWM staff with various fraud offences.
CWMFX acknowledged the arrests to London newspaper City A.M. last night, but said the arrests came as "a result of allegations for which we believe there is no sustainable basis". The loss of the CWMFX website was due to the partnership with trading platform Leverate ending, CWM said. The company claims that this partnership came to an end due to contracts expiring. Leverate is a Forex trading platform based in Cyprus, and therefore falling under Cypriot law, and subject to compliance and oversight by the Cypriot financial services authority.
This is not the first brush with the Financial Conduct Authority which CWMFX boss Anthony Constantinou has had. Constantinou was previously CEO of Aixia Limited, a financial services firm which was wound up after the FCA issued a warning that it was trading without authorization in the UK.
Whether the arrests at CWM affect the LCR Honda team's 2015 MotoGP project remains to be seen. MotoMatters.com has learned that both Honda and LCR studied the company closely before signing the sponsorship deal with the firm. It is customary in such cases to ensure that funding for the deal is secure before the start of the season, with payments made in advance, or at least spread over the season. Even if there were to be some kind of shortfall in sponsorship from CWM, the team should be able to manage for the rest of the year. The LCR Honda team still has a strong portfolio of secondary sponsors behind it, and with Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, two high-profile riders. Crutchlow is popular with British and American fans, and Jack Miller has a rapidly growing fanbase in Australia. Both riders are key assets for Dorna in helping to sell TV rights, and Miller has a three-year contract with HRC.
MotoGP was not the only sponsorship interest the firm had. CWMFX had been announced as a partner to English soccer club Chelsea FC in January, and also sponsored the London Boat Show earlier this year.
Bridgestone have added two new tires to their 2015 allocation, in response to developments in 2014. A new extra-hard rear will be made available at a few of the more abrasive circuits on the calendar, while the asymmetric front, debuted at Phillip Island last year, will also be available at more tracks.
Two new tires means two new color codings, to distinguish them from the existing allocation of tires. The extra hard rear will carry a yellow stripe around the side, while the asymmetric front will be indentifiable by a light blue band on the sidewall. The existing color codings for the remainder of the tires remain unchanged, as shown in the tire chart and table below.
The extra hard tire is to be introduced in Argentina for the first time, where the circuit proved to be tough on tires. Both Argentina and Indianapolis are extremely abrasive, and placed heavy demands on the hard compound rear tire. Whether all the riders will use the extra hard at the circuits remains to be seen. On the three occasions when riders could use the harder of the two compounds, only Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa selected the harder tire, the rest of the field having chosen the softer option. As Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia all have the so-called Factory 2 concessions (softer rear tires, more fuel, more engines, free testing and development), they will not have the tire available to them at all.
The asymmetric front tire will see more use. Trialed at Phillip Island last year, reception of the tire was mixed, though this was more due to the temperature dropping rapidly halfway through the race. Under more consistent temperatures, the asymmetric front should help at circults like Phillip Island which heavily favor one side of the tire. The biggest difference could be seen at the Sachsenring, where a lot of riders get caught out by Turn 12, the first right hander after a series of lefts. Turn 12 is very fast, off camber and over a crest, and grip is at a premium.
Bridgestone's new tire markings are below:
The press release issued by Bridgestone on the new tires is show below:
Bridgestone revises slick tyre marking system for the 2015 MotoGP™ season
Thursday, March 19 2015
Following a successful debut of a new MotoGP™ slick tyre marking system in 2014, Bridgestone has introduced new colours to its tyre line-up in 2015 to reflect new tyre developments being made available to riders this year.
The revision to the tyre marking system has been the result of more options of slick tyre being offered by Bridgestone this season, as the Official Tyre Supplier to MotoGP™ continues to pursue development of race tyres that offer enhanced safety, durability and performance.
Alongside the four coloured markings used last year; green (extra-soft), white (soft), black (medium) and red (hard), two new slick tyre colours are added to this year’s classification scheme. A new extra-hard compound rear slick will make its debut at the Argentina round of the championship due to the severe nature of the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, and this new development will be distinguished by a yellow stripe. Bridgestone has continued development of its asymmetric front slick that was introduced in the closing stages of the 2014 season, and this year will offer this option at more circuits in various compound combinations. As only a maximum of one type of asymmetric front slick will be offered at a given round, these will be marked with a light blue stripe to help distinguish this option against the symmetric front slicks on offer.
The complete list of coloured slick tyre markings for the 2015 MotoGP season is:
Same as 2014
Additional colours for 2015
As per last season, in 2015 two options of wet tyre will be offered at each round, and will adopt a marking system where the plain, black tyre denotes the harder option, and a white stripe will mark the softer option.
Hiroshi Yamada – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department
“The coloured tyre marking scheme we implemented last year was designed to make it easier for fans to see which tyre options we deliver at each race, and we’ve listened to the feedback from both MotoGP fans and media around the world to improve this system for this year. This revised tyre marking system not only reflects Bridgestone’s commitment to continue developing new tyres through the 2015 MotoGP season by offering more options to riders, but also helps increase the appeal of the sport by helping fans more clearly understand the importance of tyre strategy during the race weekend.”
The final day of testing for the MotoGP class at Qatar ended as a washout. The rain did not lift, as many had hoped, and no action took place on track. The entire day was lost to the weather.
It had started raining much earlier in the day, and light rain was falling as teams arrived at the track ready for a 4pm start. It had been hoped that the rain would stop and the track might dry out. Unfortunately for the teams, the rain did not stop, getting worse in the end, and a thunderstorm rolling in.
As testing at Qatar happens at night, under floodlights, any rain means an immediate end to proceedings. Reflections from the floodlights on a wet track make it impossible to see where the track goes, rendering it very dangerous. Because action is banned in the wet, Bridgestone do not even take wet tires to Qatar for testing.
The loss of the final day means that the 2015 preseason is over for the MotoGP class, and testing is complete. The teams head home for a few days, before returning in time for the first free practice session of the 2015 season, which starts on Thursday, 26th March.
The Moto2 and Moto3 class start their last test of the season on Tuesday, both classes heading to Jerez in southern Spain for three days of testing. The weather is not looking promising for them, with heavy rain forecast for all three days fo the test.
The weather has called an early halt to proceedings at the MotoGP test in Qatar. A weather front is passing the peninsula nation, bringing light rain on and off since early afternoon. Though the rain is not heavy, enough water is falling to completely soak the track, and continuing showers have prevented the track from drying out.
The wet track has caused the start of the test to be red flagged. As testing and racing in Qatar happens at night, under the floodlights, any rain on the track makes the circuit impossible to ride. The floodlights create massive problems with reflection, making it impossible to see where the track goes, and making the track unsafe. As riding is impossible if it rains at Qatar, Bridgestone does not bring wet tires to the circuit, as they cannot be used anyway. Any rain in Qatar causes the action to come to a halt, only starting again once the track is fully dry.
With the track still wet as the sun is starting to set, the chances of the Arabian sun helping to burn off any water on the track are slim. That means it could be several hours before it is safe for the riders to venture out, and with the test due to stop at 11pm local time, that would leave a limited amount of track time. Extending the test is an option, but dew starts to form on the track after around 10pm, the track getting ever slicker and more dangerous as the night goes on. With less than two weeks to go to the start of the 2015 MotoGP season, riders will not be keen to take any risks. A Michelin test is scheduled for Tuesday using test riders, where theoretically, the contracted riders could use that time for extra testing. That would not please Michelin, however, as they need the track time to test and prepare for the 2016 season, when they take over as single tire supplier.
The teams all had race simulations on the schedule for today. Losing the last day of testing means that we shall have to wait to see where the bikes really stand until the start of the season.
One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Circuit of Wales is exactly where the funding for the project is due to come from. The ambitious project to build a circuit in the Blaenau Gwent region of South Wales will need some £325 million to complete it entirely, with around £200 million to come from private investors, the rest to come from public funds. Though the Circuit of Wales has had plenty of headlines, there has been little word of any private investors putting any actual money into the project.
That seems set to change. Michael Carrick, Chief Executive of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, the company behind the Circuit of Wales project, told the BBC that they have already raised £120 million in private investment, leaving £80 million still to find for development to go ahead. The investments so far are conditional on the Circuit of Wales overcoming the planning obstacles which still stand in the way of the track. One of those obstacles is to be addressed tomorrow, as a public inquiry is due to start into the de-registering of common land which is needed for part of the complex. The eight-day inquiry will hear objections to public land being handed to the HOVDC on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty, and one which is extremely sensitive to environmental damage.
The exact source of the £120 million in private investment is not entirely clear. Carrick told the BBC only that it came from 'Asian and American financial institutions', without further specifying which institutions are involved. This may be a result of the sensitive nature of such financial deals, but it leaves the project wreathed in the fog of uncertainty. The Circuit of Wales project has suffered long delays, and the HOVDC has remained vague over funding throughout the process. Once the planning obstacles have been cleared, perhaps the veil can be lifted on the project's financiers.
The JR Racing Team appears to be on the verge of collapse. The team, set up with financial backing from the Dominican Republic, ostensibly to promote a circuit to be built on the Caribbean island, was set to run BMW S1000RR bikes in the World Superbike championship, with Ayrton Badovini and Toni Elias as riders. The team had enlisted the support of Troy Corser, and had strong backing from Alpha Racing in Germany and BMW. However, team manager Gemma Voces Pons today issued a press release stating that they have yet to receive "a single cent" from the team owners, Yoselyn Robinson and Manfredi Lombardi.
The team had long been rumored to be in trouble. There have been reports that the BMW S1000RRs ordered by the team are stuck in a workshop in Munich, the bikes still unpaid for, and Alpha Racing unable to proceed with preparing the machines. The team missed the opening round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island, but had told the riders they expected to race at the second round, at the Chang circuit in Thailand. Yet there is still no sign of the bikes, and the riders appear to have given up hope altogether. In an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport's WSBK writer Paolo Gozzi, Ayrton Badovini said that he had 'lost hope', saying "as far as I know, for the moment no one has even bought a screw. I haven’t seen a euro and I think the same can be said for Elias, the mechanics and everyone else. At the moment, we haven’t got anything, just contracts that are waste paper."
The press release from team manager Gemma Voces Pons appears to be the nail in the coffin for the project. Pons claims that neither she, nor anyone else in the project has been paid, and that the failure of the team owners to pay the money leaves eighteen people without a job for 2015, and at far too late a stage to find a replacement. Pons says she will personally take legal action against Robinson and Lombardi to obtain monies owed. However, given the disparate geographical nature of the team, and the tendency for racing teams to set up base in countries more famous for their tax laws and legal frameworks than for their racing heritage, that may prove to be a very tough battle indeed.
Below is the statement from Voces Pons:
Gemma Voces Pons (Team Manager JR Racing): statement 9th March 2015
“Up until now, Costantino Tontarelli (Team Coordinator) and I (Team Manager) have not talked for a number of reasons. The team is currently not in a good situation. No one has received a single cent from the team owners - Yoselyn Robinson and Manfredi Lombardi. No one is to blame for this situation except these two people. During this difficult period, Dorna, BMW and Alpha Racing have been very supportive to us (team).
We have been working on this new team project for over a year and feel very disappointed and angry about the whole situation. Not only because it seems that our time has been wasted but also because we are 18 people without jobs and it is not likely we will find something at this late stage now. We are fighting to receive our salaries and BMW, Alpha Racing, Ohlins and many more are also waiting to receive what is owed to them.
We will defend the mechanics and riders best interests in this matter and I will personally take legal action if the money is not paid to us all. Having said that, we are more than ready to start if the owners decide to pay what’s owed.”