That is the question which has been echoing around the MotoGP paddock since the start of the season. At Shanghai, the clamor grew to almost deafening levels, after rumors that HRC would ship new versions of the RC212V with pneumatic valves to the Chinese race track, where speed is at an absolute premium. Despite the speculation, the new engine failed to make an appearance, and the chorus of questions grew even louder: Where is Honda's new engine with the pneumatic valves, and when will it turn up.
The Italian site MotoGrandPrix.it has a possible answer: the engine is Japan being tested, and will probably be ready for Mugello. According to the Italian news hounds, Honda's veteran test rider and former GP star Tady Okada is spending 3 to 4 days a week testing the bike at Motegi and Suzuka, under the watchful eye of HRC R&D and racing department engineers. The tests show that the reliability of the engine is "good", but whether "good" is good enough remains to be seen. It has long been Honda policy to only provide new bikes to its factory riders once HRC feels the bikes are ready to race, which would imply that the pneumatic valve version of the RC212V has not quite reached that point yet.
The most likely schedule for the air valve engine will be for Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden to test the bike after the French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 18th. If the engine is reliable, and it meets with the approval of the factory Repsol Honda riders, then it could be used in anger for the first time at Mugello in Italy, two weeks later. Added horsepower is a real benefit at the Italian track, with a very fast front straight, and a number of shorter straights round the track.
But even if they don't get the new bike, Dani Pedrosa's outstanding ride in China on Sunday proved that the steel spring engine still has plenty of beans. For 17 laps, Pedrosa had few problems keeping up with Valentino Rossi's prodigiously fast Yamaha M1, and beat Casey Stoner's Ducati, still the fastest bike on the grid by some distance, by a margin of 12 seconds.