The Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Ducati have agreed terms with Loris Capirossi for 2007. Negotiations had been stuck for a long while, but Capirex' victory at Brno helped shift things along, and bought him a pay rise into the bargain. Ducati was said to be interested in Marco Melandri, but with Capirossi resigned, that interest has waned. The Italian factory is also said to be close to a deal with Sete Gibernau, retaining the pair for 2007.
James Toseland and Makoto Tamada could find themselves swapping series for 2007, according to Motograndprix.it. Toseland, currently riding the Winston Ten Kate Honda in World Superbikes, has stated his intention to move to MotoGP, but only if he can get competitive machinery. His name has been linked to the Pramac d'Antin Ducati team, and to Kenny Roberts Sr's Team KR project. Ten Kate boss Ronald ten Kate is rumored to have stated that Toseland won't be riding for the team in 2007, which leaves the young Brit's options open.
Tamada, who has had 2 poor seasons aboard the Konica Minolta Honda, is widely believed to be on his way out of MotoGP, and his name is being linked to Ten Kate Honda in World Superbikes. With Toseland's seat looking like it may be vacant, that would free up a ride for Tamada.
According to a story on the Italian site Motograndprix.it, Honda will announce its plans for 2007 at 5pm CET on October 29th, just 2 hours after the close of the 2006 MotoGP season. In its traditional post-season press conference, HRC will introduce its 800cc bike (expected to be called the RC212V), and announce which riders it will field next season. Dani Pedrosa is certain to be one of the names, and Motograndprix.it believes "with a probability of 99.9%" that Nicky Hayden will be the second rider. However, rumors still abound that Ducati are chasing Hayden, though these rumors are yet to be confirmed.
As we rapidly approach the high water mark of speculation about 2007, more rumors emerged about Casey Stoner. The Italian website Motograndprix.it is reporting that the young Aussie may be out of MotoGP next year. After being turned down by Yamaha, Stoner reportedly approached his current team boss Lucio Cecchinello with a demand for $2.5 million to resign with LCR for 2007, a demand which Cecchinello was unable, or unwilling, to meet. Similar approaches to Ducati have so far met with little reward, as the factory from Bologna are currently engaged in negotiations with Loris Capirossi for 2007, who is seeking a $4 million deal, similar to Sete Gibernau's contract, leaving Ducati with room for maneuver with Stoner.
This leaves Stoner without a ride for 2007 so far, and, by overplaying his hand so strongly in negotiatons, with little chance of a ride, unless he were to move to Kawasaki to replace Shinya Nakano, who is rumored to be moving to Konica Minolta Honda for next season. Stoner would have to moderate his wage demands a good deal to make that happen, though.
Stoner has shown huge promise during the early part of the season, taking a shock pole at the Qatar GP, followed by a 2nd place in Turkey. Since then, however, he has developed a fatal attraction to the gravel traps, falling in three races after making rider mistakes when being pushed hard (especially by his arch-rival Dani Pedrosa), and not starting in Germany after coming off during practice. In addition, Stoner has been very outspoken in his views on just about everything, including openly criticizing the bike and the team when he felt things weren't working properly. No one doubts Stoner's talent, but hiring the young Aussie is a high-risk strategy, and one which teams are seemingly loathe to take.
.... UPDATED ....
Well, it seems like Casey isn't out after all. For more details of where Casey Stoner will be riding next year, see this post on his future here.
Crash.net as a story with more details on the Ilmor 800 project. In short, they hope to enter MotoGP next season with their V4 800 with a two-rider team and a budget of $20 million. They also hope to contest the Portugal and Valencia GP rounds in October this year, with either Max Biaggi or Alex Barros riding the bike.
As I mentioned previously, it's that time of year again, and the rumors keep rolling in. Crash.net is reporting that Ducati team boss Livio Suppo has given his approval to James Toseland joining Pramac d'Antin Ducati for 2007. Toseland is currently riding a Ten Kate Honda in the World Superbike class, but has made no secret of his desire to move up to MotoGP. In the deal under discussion, Toseland could join MotoGP veteral Max Biaggi on satellite Ducatis, but with Pramac supplying a lot more sponsorship cash, the d'Antin would have more competitive bikes and access to Bridgestone tires. No deal has been signed yet (or even discussed openly), but if the extra money appears, it could be a competitive option. More details, or otherwise complete denials, are likely to appear over the coming weeks.
Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es has an article about possible personnel changes in MotoGP for 2007. The main rumor concerns Andrea Dovizioso, who is said to want to move up the MotoGP class, unless Honda vastly improve their 250 for next season. Dovizioso's name is being linked with the LCR Honda currently being ridden by the young Australian Casey Stoner. LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello is said not to be happy with Stoner's performance in the championship, but this could also be related to persistent rumors of Stoner moving to either Ducati or Yamaha.
The 250 rider which everyone expected to move up to MotoGP was Jorge Lorenzo, who has dominated the 250 championship so far, after a run of back luck at the beginning of the season. Rumors linked Lorenzo to Yamaha, but these proved unfounded, as Lorenzo resigned with Aprilia last week to run in the 250 championship for another year.
The final rumor concerns Makoto Tamada's replacement. It's an open secret that Tamada is riding his last races in MotoGP, after two poor seasons. The question has always been who will replace Tamada at Konica Minolta. With the official team name of the Konica Minolta Honda being Japan Italy Racing, and with the team management being Italian, the most likely scenario is another Japanese rider being brought in. The only other Japanese rider in the class is Shinya Nakano, and Nakano has been rumored to want a more competitive ride, to prove that he really can run at the front. A Honda on Michelins would seem to fit the bill very well indeed. The only other Japanese options would be either Yukio Takahashi or one of the Aoyama brothers, all of whom are currently in 250s.
The frenzied speculation about the new 800cc MotoGP bikes came partly to an end on Monday, after both Yamaha and Ducati unveiled their 800cc prototypes at Brno. Ducati's bike had been seen previously, but Monday was the first time that Loris Capirossi had had a chance to ride the new bike. Amazingly, Capirossi lapped within 1.4 seconds of his 990 time, on his very first outing on the bike. It looks like the bikes are going to be close to the 990s almost from the start. This was also Valentino Rossi's first time aboard the new Yamaha 800. Overall, the bikes looked fairly similar to their 990cc predecessors, with one or two minor changes. The Yamaha looks sharper and slimmer than the 990, the chief difference on the Ducati is the revised exhaust, with the final section being longer and a two-into-one, rather than two separate pipes.
Pictures are popping up all over the internet, so I'll refer you there to get them:
Crash.net has a story on the Ducati, and a story on the Yamaha.
MotoGP.com even has some videos of the Ducati and Yamaha.
The biggest difference between the 990s and the 800s is the sound they make. The 800s sound like they are revving a lot higher, may be up to 2000 revs higher than the 990s. Interesting times lie ahead.
The 800s are being introduced as a result of a rule change in MotoGP for 2007. Capacity of the four stroke bikes is being reduced from 990cc to 800. The reasoning behind this is to make the bikes slower, and therefore safer. But with Capirossi already a second and a half of his 990 time, this argument doesn't look like it will hold water. Another change, maybe down to 500cc, which is rumored to be Honda's ultimate aim, may not be so very far down the line.
Qualifying practice at Brno on Saturday started strangely, but turned into an old-fashioned thriller. Anyone trying to read the signs before practice started would have had a great deal of difficulty, with the names on the timesheets yo-yoing between the top and mid-sheet. What was clear by Saturday morning is that times were going to be fast, after Loris Capirossi clocked a track record in the third Free Practice session.
As a result, no one was really surprised to see Capirossi set the fastest time just a few minutes after the start of the official Qualifying Practice, with a 1:58.399, and before 10 minutes of the session had elapsed, five riders had all put in 1:58s. As all these times had been set on race tires, as the riders searched for the right setup before attempting an actual qualifying time, notice had already been served that Sunday's race was going to be very very fast indeed.
With 50 minutes left in the session, Kenny Roberts Jr put in a fast lap to exactly equal Loris Capirossi's fastest lap, though this was not to last long. A couple of minutes later, it was Nicky Hayden who took the provisional pole back from Kenny Jr by 2/10ths of a second, before Loris Capirossi reclaimed pole with a 1:57.713, just a couple of tenths above Sete Gibernau's pole record. Capirossi then went on to complete another seven laps on the same tires, a clear demonstration that race tires have made a huge leap forward since last year.
With Nicky Hayden sat near the top of the timesheet, and running consistently fast for the first time this weekend, all eyes turned to Valentino Rossi. The Doctor was running way down in 16th place at this point, improving only slowly by the halfway point, eventually climbing to seventh. But given Rossi's previous record at qualifying this year, another fourth or fifth row starting position was looking increasingly likely. Hayden's championship lead was looking stronger than ever.
With less than half an hour to go, we were treated to the first surprise of the session: John Hopkins blasted his Suzuki to a furiously fast 1:57.006, establishing a new lap record by nearly half a second. The surprise was not Hopkins being so fast: he has, after all, been on pole before. But putting qualifiers on at the halfway stage seemed a risky, if interesting, strategy. The unspoken rule of qualifying is that you spend the first 40 minutes of the session on race tires setting the bike up, before sticking on a couple of sets of qualifiers in the last 20 minutes to set a time for the grid. But Hopper has never been overly keen on adhering strictly to rules, and his gamble looked like having a good chance it might pay off.
On the stroke of 20 minutes, however, Loris Capirossi restored order to the proceedings, taking the pole back from Hopkins with a blistering 1:56.441, a full second faster than Gibernau's previous pole record. Seemingly convinced that he had put in the perfect lap and it was impossible to go faster, the diminutive Ducatisti retired to the pits to watch the remainder of the session.
His judgment looked beyond doubt, as rider after rider improved their time, but no one looked capable of challenging Loris' time. With 12 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi came closest, but he was still 4/10ths off the pole time, then 2 minutes later, Nicky Hayden pushed Rossi into third, coming within a quarter of a second of Capirossi's time. Rossi once again improved his time, but it was still not good enough to get back past Hayden, let alone Capirossi.
As the clock ticked down, the pits were a jumble of mechanics frantically changing tires and riders staring desparately at the clock, hoping to get out for one last lap to improve their grid position. Casey Stoner seemed a beacon of calm in the pits, strolling to his bike as a new tire was fitted, with the clock ticking down inexorably to the two minute mark. His pit crew were a good deal less calm, as a lap of Brno takes just under two minutes, and an out-lap several crucial seconds longer. But Stoner was to be punished for his languid pace, failing to get round in time to start a new lap before the checkered flag terminated the session, wasting a set of qualifiers, and leaving the young Australian well down the grid.
With the end of the session looming, Loris Capirossi's belief in his pole time started to wane, and he went out for one last attempt to improve his time. But as the clock ticked down, Capirossi's first pole since the season's opener at Jerez looked ever more certain. Valentino Rossi was out on a fast lap, but though his times for the first half of the track were an improvement on his fastest lap, a pole position seemed out of the question. But as Rossi entered the third section, it was obvious that something special was happening. At the second intermediate timing section, Rossi had reduced his deficit from nearly 2/10ths to 0.036 of a second. At I3, he was 0.039 seconds ahead, and as he crossed the line, after an astonishing display, he was a quarter of a second faster than Capirossi's time, setting a new pole record 1.3 seconds faster than Gibernau's time of last year. It was an imperious display of riding, a text book illustration of how to set a pole. The crowd watched in awe.
Whether Nicky Hayden was intimidated by this display, we do not know. But at least starting on the front row of the grid would limit the damage done by The Doctor's demolishing display. There was, however, one slight fly in the ointment. There was one last fast rider out there, capable of making a stir. Kenny Roberts Jr had had a fairly poor session until the last 10 minutes, being well down on the timesheet, and even being sidelined with a fuel problem. After coming in and switching fuel tanks with less than half the session to go, his times started to improve, and with 5 minutes left, he had fought his way up to 4th spot. But on his very last qualifying lap, Kenny Jr pushed his Honda V5 powered KR211V to a superb 3rd spot, 4/10ths behind Valentino Rossi, but 1/10th ahead of Nicky Hayden, pushing the Kentucky Kid to the second row of the grid, and making his task even more difficult.
With Rossi on pole, and Capirossi and Kenny Roberts Jr taking 2nd and 3rd respectively, there were three different manufacturers on the front row. And with Hayden in 4th and Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano in 5th, the first 5 riders are all on different bikes, with two different tire manufacturers. Beside Nakano is Toni Elias, who seems to have bounced back from his injury at Assen. John Hopkins heads up the third row, with besides him, Rossi's team mate Colin Edwards in 8th, and Dani Pedrosa a slightly disappointing 9th. Randy de Puniet is in 10th, ahead of a poor performance by title challenger Marco Melandri and a strolling Casey Stoner. Chris Vermeulen is having a very poor weekend, and heads up the fifth row in 13th, with besides him Sete Gibernau's replacement Alex Hofmann and the once-again lackluster Makoto Tamada, who, despite putting on an outstanding display of how to slide a bike, still starts from 15th. James Ellison will be delighted to be starting in 16th, ahead of Tech 3 Yamaha team mate Carlos Checa. Besides Checa is the Pramac Ducati of Jose Luis Cardoso, with his team mate Ivan Silva struggling to learn the track in 19th and last place.
So is Rossi back? Judging by the performance which gave him his first pole since Mugello, and only his second of this year, the answer has to be yes. In contrast to previous races, Rossi has been there or thereabouts at very single practice session, and if he can get the M1 to work with qualifying tires, it should be a breeze on race tires. Nicky Hayden must be a little worried, though he has a 51 point lead over Rossi with only 6 races to go. More comforting for Hayden is the fact that his two nearest rivals for the title are a long way down the grid, Pedrosa down in 9th and Melandri in 11th. The Kentucky Kid can ride to defend his title, just staying close to Rossi and trying not to lose too many points, while the riders who are the biggest threat have to fight their way forward before even starting to try and take points from him.
But the trouble is, that's not in Hayden's nature. Hayden must surely be getting sick and tired of hearing just how he owes his lead in the championship to Rossi's bad luck, rather than the fact he keeps landing on the podium. And the briefest study of those podium photos usually show two men looking very pleased, while Hayden looks like he's just heard his brothers are both sleeping with his girlfriend. The only time we've seen joy from the Kentucky Kid is when he's on the top step. He likes to win, and second place isn't winning.
So we're on for another epic battle this Sunday. Rossi has nothing to lose, and really wants to finish the season with the most race wins, as the season's moral victor. Hayden is tired of the criticism, and wants to prove he is the series leader on merit. Kenny Roberts Jr wants to get back on the podium after Catalunya, and Loris Capirossi wants to prove he's back and fighting fit after his injuries at Catalunya. Further down the field, Melandri and Pedrosa have to fight their way forward, and you can bet your bottom dollar that young Casey Stoner will want to make up for his terrible qualifying. On a track where there's plenty of room for overtaking, and where the smallest mistake can be very costly indeed, this has the makings of a classic. I'll barely sleep till Sunday.
|1||46||Valentino ROSSI||ITA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'56.191||300.8|
|2||65||Loris CAPIROSSI||ITA||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'56.441||0.250||304|
|3||10||Kenny ROBERTS JR||USA||Team Roberts KR211V||1'56.603||0.412||300.4|
|4||69||Nicky HAYDEN||USA||Repsol Honda Team||1'56.694||0.503||302.5|
|5||56||Shinya NAKANO||JPN||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'56.770||0.579||300.4|
|6||24||Toni ELIAS||SPA||Fortuna Honda||1'56.875||0.684||300.2|
|7||21||John HOPKINS||USA||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||1'56.913||0.722||299.6|
|8||5||Colin EDWARDS||USA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'56.967||0.776||298.1|
|9||26||Dani PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||1'57.139||0.948||304.8|
|10||17||Randy DE PUNIET||FRA||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'57.185||0.994||298.3|
|11||33||Marco MELANDRI||ITA||Fortuna Honda||1'57.221||1.030||298.9|
|12||27||Casey STONER||AUS||Honda LCR||1'57.679||1.488||303.8|
|13||71||Chris VERMEULEN||AUS||Rizla Suzuki||1'57.894||1.703||299.1|
|14||66||Alex HOFMANN||GER||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'57.906||1.715||303.4|
|15||6||Makoto TAMADA||JPN||Konica Minolta Honda||1'58.239||2.048||302.8|
|16||77||James ELLISON||GBR||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'59.011||2.820||295.7|
|17||7||Carlos CHECA||SPA||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'59.289||3.098||295.3|
|18||30||Jose Luis CARDOSO||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'00.971||4.780||287.2|
|19||22||Ivan SILVA||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'01.433||5.242||293.5|
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
Since I posted this, Dorna and the FIM have announced the official 2007 MotoGP calendar. You can read about it in this post.
Dorna have announced the provisional calendar for 2007. The track at Misano has been added, but no GP has been dropped to make way for it. This means that the MotoGP riders will have to compete in 18 weekends, much to the annoyance of many of them. When the possibility of Misano being added to the calendar was announced, Valentino Rossi made it very clear that, although he was thrilled to be racing at Misano, he felt that 17 races was already too much, and 18 races would be unacceptable.
One notable adjustment is that the flyaway races have been spaced out a little more, with more time between the races. The downside of this (for the riders, but not for the fans) is the length of the calendar: With the first race in the middle of March, and the last race at the end of November, the season is two weeks longer than last year, with nearly 8 months of racing. That leaves less time for development and testing, putting more strain on the teams and riders.
Here's the schedule:
|March 25||Spain||Jerez de la Frontera|
|May 20||France||Le Mans|
|June 24||Great Britain||Donington Park|
|July 22*||United States||Laguna Seca|
|August 19||Czech Republic||Brno|
|September 2||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Misano|
|October 7||Australia||Phillip Island|
|November 4||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo - Valencia|
* MotoGP class only
** Saturday race