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Silly Season Loose Ends - Edwards And Tamada On Yamahas

With the season 2006 drawing to a climax, there are still a couple of loose ends to be tidied up for next year. The outcome of such loose ends usually comes as no surprise, but just occasionally, a result comes seemingly from out of the blue. That Colin Edwards would prolong his stay with Yamaha was an open secret, especially after his deft display of teamwork in Portugal. Makoto Tamada, however, is an entirely different story.

JIR / Konica Minolta had announced last week what everyone already knew: Tamada would not be riding for them again next season, after two tough years struggling to get to grips with Michelin tires. There were plenty of rumors, centered around either a sideways step to World Superbikes, or a move to Kawasakis, to be reunited with his favored Bridgestone tires. With no names confirmed for Kawasaki next year, this was the hot favorite among paddock rumormongers. But today, Hervé Poncharal announced that Tamada would be riding one of Poncharal's Dunlop-shod Tech 3 Yamahas in 2007. How Tamada will fare on the Dunlops is a big question. Tamada's biggest complaint about the Michelins is that he never felt confident in the front end. Most of the complaints about the Dunlops have been about poor traction from the rear, so it may yet work out. Time will tell.

Despite these loose ends being tied up, the grid is still not fully complete. Tamada's team mate at Tech 3 is yet to be named, and at least one Kawasaki seat is vacant. Randy de Puniet should remain for 2007, but the 2nd bike is still without a rider. Kawasaki are said to be looking for an "experienced" rider, which could mean that Sete Gibernau, who does not yet have a contract for 2007, could be in the picture. James Ellison, who did not have his contract renewed at Tech 3, is also being mentioned, though he has failed to make an impression this year. The other open seats are at Ilmor. Garry McCoy is widely expected to be offered a ride for next year, but the plan is to ride 2 bikes next season, and nothing outside of the realms of wild speculation is known about who will take the second seat. Time will surely tell.

Edited, to correct errors about de Puniet.

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2006 Valencia FP2 - Sleight Of Hand

The second Free Practice session at Valencia threw up some interesting, but rather deceptive results. While everyone's focus was on Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden, it was Ducati man Loris Capirossi who stole the show. Capirex headed the timesheets for nearly all of the session, only briefly deposed by flying Frenchman Randy de Puniet on the Kawasaki. De Puniet's fast lap was the first obvious sign of qualifying tires being used, though surprisingly, only the top three riders went for an all-out shot with qualifiers on.

The fast trio's times belied a deeper story: where this morning was marked by gamesmanship, with Rossi and Hayden swapping fast times, this afternoon the teams settled down to the hard work of finding a race set-up. The session started with Valentino Rossi putting in a sequence of laps which amounted to nearly half the distance of Sunday's race. The most worrying thing, from Honda's perspective, was the incredible consistency of his lap times: after two laps warming the tires, he set a long string of 1:33s, all very close to his race lap record from 2003. Hayden answered later in the session, putting in a time 1/4 of a second faster than Rossi's fastest, but in a shorter lap sequence. Measuring performances against each other is always a risky thing to do on the Friday before the race, but this afternoon went to Hayden, by an edge. But things are very close.

Not so close at the front, where Loris Capirossi put in a decent fastest lap of 1:32.220, followed 2/10ths behind by Randy de Puniet, and by Chris Vermeulen another 1/2 second slower. Nicky Hayden is in 4th, the first of the riders not on qualifiers, followed by two Honda men: Casey Stoner, and Hayden's team mate Dani Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi took the 7th time, ahead of John Hopkins, Shinya Nakano and Troy Bayliss. There was less than a second between 4th place Hayden and 16th place Carlos Checa.

Full results over at

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2006 Valencia FP1 - Battle Is Joined

We already knew that the Valencia race would be tense, and hard-fought, and the first free practice session has lived up to our expectations. The session saw times staying very close, with the two main protagonists taking it in turns to leapfrog over each others' times. At the end of the session, it was Valentino Rossi who came out ahead, but only just. Rossi set the fastest time of the morning, with a time of 1:33.313, just 6/1000ths ahead of Casey Stoner, and 7/1000ths ahead of Nicky Hayden. Behind Hayden, a couple of Bridgestone runners are showing good form, with Loris Capirossi taking 4th, followed by Chris Vermeulen on the Suzuki. Behind Vermeulen sit the title candidates' team mates: Colin Edwards putting his Yamaha just ahead of Dani Pedrosa. Troy Bayliss needed little time to get used to the Ducati Desmosedici again, putting the bike on 8th spot, while behind him are Randy de Puniet on the Kawasaki and Marco Melandri on the Fortuna Honda. The top 15 runners are covered by less than 3/4 of a second. It's going to be a thriller.

Full results over at

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It's Official - Alex Barros To Pramac d'Antin For 2007

After earlier speculation, Pramac d'Antin have now officially announced that Alex Barros will be riding for the Pramac d'Antin Ducati team for 2007. The d'Antin team will be running Ducatis again next season, but the GP7 bike for the d'Antin satellite team is widely expected to be much more competitive than this year's bike, mostly because only the newest 800 cc bikes will be available, making it a much more level playing field for both satellite and works teams.

The official press release also has an interesting quote. Paolo Campinoti, the CEO of the PRAMAC Group, which sponsors the d'Antin team, says: The PRAMAC Group believes a lot in the racing project and will keep on following it with the biggest commitment. For the 2007 season we will soon announce important news. The d'Antin team is widely expected to be running Bridgestone tires next season, which, combined with the more competitive GP7 bikes, will put the team on a much more even footing. This footnote by the Pramac CEO suggests that this expectation could be reality.

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Pedrosa: "I'll Be The Best Help Hayden Can Get In Valencia"

In an interview with Spanish sports daily Marca, Dani Pedrosa has promised to help Hayden in Valencia. "I was very upset at what happened in Estoril," the diminutive Spaniard said, "but I'll be the best help possible in Valencia".

Pedrosa was extremely apologetic for the incident at Estoril, which saw the Spaniard take out his American team mate, turning Hayden's 12 point title lead into an 8 point deficit. "I want to win, but not at the cost of my team mate's title race."

Pedrosa was also full of praise for Hayden's attitude after the crash. He said Hayden had "behaved with great professionalism", especially in his interviews with the press. "He didn't say a single bad thing about me," Pedrosa said of Hayden, "and I would have understood completely if he had. He would been totally justified."

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

It looks like the interview was actually done by the Spanish motorcycle weekly Motociclismo. Here's the full Spanish text of the interview.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~ is carrying a full interview with Pedrosa, where Pedrosa discusses the incident in full.

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Alex Barros To Return To MotoGP?

More rumors of returnees, today, as "European sources" are being quoted as saying that Alex Barros could return to MotoGP. His name is being linked to a ride with Pramac d'Antin for 2007. D'Antin have been permanent backmarkers this season, running satellite Ducatis on Dunlop tires, but they could be a surprise package next year, running machinery which will be very close to the works Ducatis, and using the same competitive Bridgestone tires. Barros had a mixed season in World Superbikes this year on the Klaffi Honda, invariably getting off to a terrible start, but following it up with a very strong chase through the pack, finally getting a win at Imola. He has also been linked to several teams in World Superbikes, but the problem has always been finding sponsorship.

Soup has the scoop.

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Sete Gibernau Considering Retirement?

The latest Podcast quotes Spanish press sources saying that Sete Gibernau is considering retiring from MotoGP. Gibernau was injured after a crash caused by Gibernau's replacement at Ducati for 2007, Casey Stoner. He fractured a bone in his hand and damaged the collarbone he hurt at Catalunya earlier this year, requiring yet another operation to fix his collarbone.

There is, of course, plenty more in the podcase, as you might expect, including news about the Hayden-Pedrosa crash, an interview with Lucio Cecchinello about Stoner's move to Ducati, and Checa's move to LCR, and an interview with Randy Mamola. Worth the download.

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Pedrosa, Hayden and Repsol Honda - An Accident Waiting To Happen

In Turn 6, on the 5th lap of the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril, the race, Nicky Hayden's title hopes, and a large part of the world's motorcycling fans exploded. Seconds after Dani Pedrosa's impetuous passing attempt on Hayden, taking both riders out, even the official MotoGP website's live video feed went into meltdown, depriving thousands of shocked US fans of the aftermath of the resultant crash, and the thrilling end to a literally unbelievable race. A wave of shock went through all who watched, and once incredulous brains had finally come to terms with what had happened, the same question filled millions of heads: How could this have been allowed to happen?

Despite the almost murderous intent assigned to the crash, mostly by American fans, it was not a particularly unusual incident. In fact, it was fairly reminiscent of a crash earlier in the year at the Sachsenring, when Kenny Roberts Jr got into a turn too hot and took Makoto Tamada out, on Tamada's best race of the year so far. The real difference was, of course, that Kenny Jr and Tamada were riders on different teams, fighting for a top 5 showing around mid-season. Pedrosa took out Hayden, ostensibly the number 1 rider on his own Repsol Honda team, in the penultimate race of the year, as Hayden was edging ever closer to his first world championship, and the first title for Honda since Valentino Rossi left three years earlier.

If it had happened in race two, there would have been an enormous hullabaloo: If the first rule of racing is that your team mate is the first person you have to beat, the second rule of racing is that you should under no circumstances take him out directly. But to do it with just two races to go, thereby converting your team mate's 12 point lead over the greatest motorcycle racer of all time into an 8 point deficit, is beyond explanation, and seems almost beyond belief. So, how was it allowed to happen?

The most obvious answer is a pass made by Hayden on Pedrosa a lap earlier, in the same place. Nicky Hayden, in his effort to stay as close to Valentino Rossi as possible, put a pretty robust move on Pedrosa going into Turn 6, getting up the inside and forcing Pedrosa to stand the bike up and run wide. This seems to have riled the young Spaniard to such a degree that he tried a reckless move, trying to stuff his bike ahead of Hayden's when there was no room, something you might expect from a hot-headed rookie in the 125 class, but not from a three-time world champion, and a rider usually considered mature beyond his tender age.

But that only answers a part of the question. The real question is, what made Pedrosa even consider trying to race against his team mate, endangering both himself and his team mate, as well as his team, his sponsors, and the manufacturer's hope of revenge against Rossi? That is a much longer and more complex story.

Alberto Puig, Pedrosa's Svengali-like mentor and friend, let slip a glimpse of the underlying problems in comments he made after the race, blaming Hayden for causing the crash by braking too hard, and asserting Pedrosa had every right to challenge Hayden for a position as he still had 'a mathematical chance of the title'. Puig is a very powerful figure in the paddock, running teams in the lower classes, as well as the MotoGP Academy, widely acknowledged as the best route into premier class racing for young riders. His influence is hard to exaggerate, and when you add in his forceful personality, known for attempting to silence those who criticize his riders, this makes him a potentially disruptive figure in any team. He is, like so many people involved at the very highest levels of professional sport, utterly driven, and people who are so driven often find it difficult to keep a sense of perspective. Alberto Puig is concerned with only one thing: that the riders he coaches should win. Nothing else matters.

In a sense, this is totally understandable: He is paid to nurture young talent to produce winning riders, and he is remarkably good at his job. But his focus and his drive rubs off on his protégés, and can turn them into single-minded, dour automatons, concerned only with their own performance, and little else.

The problem is, of course, that winning championships in MotoGP needs a team. A single rider simply cannot handle the amount of testing it takes to develop a modern racing prototype into a winning motorcycle, and the sponsors, who pour millions of dollars into funding this development, need two bikes running to ensure that their logo is kept permanently in the public gaze. For the sponsor, running two bikes is a way of hedging their bets, so that if one rider should fall, or fail, then there is still a good chance of the other being in the public eye.

So, the racing paradox is that to reach the very top level of racing, you have to be utterly dedicated to your own success. But to remain at the very top level of racing, you need to be aware that you are a part of a team. Being part of a team means that occasionally, you have to make your own interests subservient to those of your team mate. For anyone dedicated to winning, this is hard, but in doing so, you hope to buy yourself enough credit to get your own shot in the future.

This is a lesson that has been totally lost on HRC since the beginning of the season. When Dani Pedrosa moved up to MotoGP from the 250 class, he was welcomed into HRC's factory Repsol Honda team as the champion elect, the rider who would finally bring to and end Honda's humiliation at the hands of the prodigal Valentino Rossi. He wasn't expected to do this in his first year; 2006 was meant as a learning year, so he could get used to the ferocious power of a big four-stroke, and learn to set these bikes up properly, to be ready for his first serious title attempt in 2007. His team mate, Nicky Hayden, was set to work developing the RC211V, riding what is to all intents and purposes a 990cc version of the 2007 bike with which Pedrosa is meant to win the title.

Unfortunately, reality interfered, and half way through the season, Nicky Hayden found himself with a commanding championship lead, and every chance of taking the title for Honda a year ahead of plan. What's more, Pedrosa, in his apprentice year, had proven to be much faster than anyone had expected, and was sitting comfortably in 2nd place, ready to pick up the ball should Hayden drop it. As Valentino Rossi started to close the gap to Hayden, race by race, questions about team orders were waved away as being entirely theoretical, and not something that needed to be addressed at that point of the season. But Rossi continued to close the gap, averaging well over the 9 points he needed to outscore Hayden by each race.

To most observers, the question of team orders had moved from the theoretical into the realm of necessity by Motegi. And with Pedrosa's poor showing in the rain at Phillip Island putting him out of contention for the title in all but the most mathematical sense, it seemed like a no-brainer that Pedrosa would do what he needed to to assist Hayden's title challenge. Team Manager Chris Herring's denial that no team orders were in place was greeted with much nudging and winking. As the race turned out, Pedrosa was never really in a position to do anything to help Hayden, running wide on the first lap, and having to fight his way through the field. The matter was left unanswered. For the moment.

So, as the teams headed to Estoril, team orders were once again the talk of the paddock. Rossi had closed to within 12 points of Hayden, and Pedrosa's mediocre showing at Motegi had all but ruled him out of contention for the title. So when HRC officials once again insisted that no team orders would be issued, their denials were met with incredulity, if not outright hilarity. HRC would not encourage Dani Pedrosa to help his team mate win Honda its first title for 3 years? Impossible! Ridiculous!! We had had our doubts about HRC for giving Hayden parts to test at crucial times in the year, when a good result seemed to us mere observers more important than a revised swing arm, and these doubts had only been reinforced by Hayden's serial clutch woes, but surely the most successful motorcycle racing organization in the world, the company which had won over 200 premier class races, and 16 world titles, would not pass up a golden opportunity like this?

That Pedrosa then took out his team mate in an act of vindictive self-assertion was proof, if any were needed, that HRC had lost its way. The universal shock at what had happened was not just because someone had taken out the rider leading the title race; It was much more the shock of realizing just how horribly wrong things had gone for HRC and the Repsol Honda team. The once-mighty team, the dominant force in the MotoGP paddock, had somehow metamorphosed into a bunch of argumentative, bumbling amateurs, riven by internal strife.

Pedrosa's pass was attempted with impunity, because no one inside the team had told him he shouldn't do that. His mentor Alberto Puig had positively encouraged Pedrosa to fight for every inch against everyone, whether they be the current or the prospective world champion. Since joining Repsol Honda, he had been treated as a future world champion, been given everything he asked for, and seen the team bow under the weight of the pressure Puig applied on Pedrosa's behalf. At no point did he consider it his duty to help out his team mate, as Pedrosa considered himself to be Honda's number 1 rider, lured into this notion by the lack of resistance HRC had shown to Puig's belligerence. Pedrosa's body language after the crash, getting up and walking away, without so much as a glance at his team mate, spoke volumes about how he viewed his team mate.

In the post-race interview Nicky Hayden gave, he came as close as he has ever come to openly criticizing HRC. As he spoke, he gave away perhaps more than he meant to, letting slip the fact that, in contrast to what he had said at the time, it hadn't always been his choice to run the development equipment for the 2007 bike, and that at a certain point in the season, he felt he should have been given the tools he needed to defend his title lead properly, rather than having to fight his way up from 17th position after cooking his clutch, through no fault of his own. The cracks were finally starting to show, and the picture you could glimpse through them was an ugly one: tales of a constant struggle to be taken seriously as a title contender, and to be treated as the top rider at Repsol, not just some test rider for the boy wonder to come.

The point at which the Repsol Honda situation moved from the sublime to the ridiculous for me was after Hayden renewed his contract with HRC for another two years. It turned out that the main sticking point had been Hayden's demands that he be given at least equal treatment with Dani Pedrosa. It seemed to me that if you have a rider who is going to finally get revenge on Valentino Rossi for you, and win the MotoGP title after too many years in the wilderness, you treat him like a warrior king, and give him whatever he wants. You don't beat him down and make him feel like Mr Second Place by holding out for so long on a little appreciation. That Hayden remained as focused and confident as he did is a testimony to his psychological strength, and is in spite of Honda, not because of them.

But what now? Hayden has a brand new, shiny two-year contract to ride with Repsol Honda. Dani Pedrosa has another year to go of his two-year contract. Alberto Puig goes where Pedrosa goes, and has too many fingers in HRC pies to be extracted cleanly. But the situation at Repsol Honda is clearly untenable. It's almost inconceivable that Pedrosa and Hayden will be able to share a pit box next year, yet that is what they are condemned to. It is hard to believe that the combination of Pedrosa and Hayden will prove fruitful in developing a bike and fighting for a title, with so much distrust and bad blood between them. So, unless big changes are made, Repsol Honda is not going to be able to function as a team next year.

There has already been some talk of punishment, the most likely scapegoat being Tsutomu Ishii, HRC's General Manager. But while Alberto Puig stays in pit crew, there will never be enough room for two riders capable of winning a title. For Puig, it's Pedrosa or nothing. If HRC were sensible, it would be nothing. I fear it will be Pedrosa.

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Bayliss Subs For Gibernau, And Capirossi Won't Race The 800 At Valencia

After Sete Gibernau was injured in a crash caused by Casey Stoner, ironically the man who will replace him next year at Ducati, speculation was rife as to who would replace Gibernau at Valencia. The name getting the most attention was Troy Bayliss, and Ducati have finally made it official: today they issued a press release stating that Bayliss will ride at Valencia. Bayliss is understandably delighted, and it must give extra satisfaction, after being dropped by the Ducati MotoGP team two years ago.

Although the Ducati press release doesn't say so in so many words, the Dutch website is reporting that Capirossi won't race the 800 at Valencia. Livio Suppo, Ducati Team Manager is quoted as saying that Capirossi wants to focus on securing 3rd position in the championship, and they can't risk using the 800, even though the tight Valencia track doesn't suit the big Ducati, or indeed any of the MotoGP bikes.

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Winning Pays Off - Toni Elias Renews With Gresini

After putting on a spectactular showing at the weekend, beating Valentino Rossi by 2/1000ths of a second to take the win at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Toni Elias was the name on everyone's lips. His gamble paid off, as Gresini Racing has announced that Elias will be riding with the team for 2007. Gresini expects to have Honda V4 800s next year, though he is yet to announce who will be sponsoring the team, as Gresini's title sponsor, Fortuna, are withdrawing from MotoGP at the end of this season.

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