Marc Marquez has already lost one of his engines from his allocation of five for the season. The engine in the bike Marquez was forced to park against pit wall during qualifying at Austin can no longer be used, Marquez admitted to MotoMatters.com.
The engine problem occurred during Marquez' qualifying run at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As Marquez was about to start a hot lap, he saw a warning light come on on the dashboard of his Honda RC213V. The world champion had been told by his HRC engineers that if he saw that light, he was to stop as quickly as possible, which he duly did. The problem forced him to sprint back to his pit box, leap on his spare bike, and race out of the pits for a last-gasp dash for pole. It resulted in a spectacular lap, which gave him pole position, from which he went on to take a convincing win.
The engine from that bike was taken from Austin straight to Japan, where HRC engineers examined it as best they could, without breaking the seals. After the press conference at Jerez, I asked Marquez if he had heard whether the problem was with the engine or the gearbox. "I don't know," Marquez replied, "but we cannot use it any more."
That leaves Marquez with just four healthy engines with which to complete the season. That should normally not be a particular problem. Last year, Alvaro Bautista lost two RC213V engines in the space of four races, leaving him with three engines to complete the season. Bautista completed the last ten races of the season using just two engines. Marquez' engines should be reliable enough to get him to the end of the season without being forced to take an extra engine, and incur the penalty of starting the race from pit lane. But it will mean that his crew will have to be slightly more conservative, in terms of engine wear and revs, saving laps from time to time. It also means that Marquez cannot really afford to lose another engine.
Jorge Lorenzo is to remain with Yamaha for the 2016 season. The Spaniard had an option to leave the Movistar Yamaha team at the end of 2015, but has decided not to exercise it, and will stay with Yamaha for next year. The Movistar Yamaha team also had an option to end the two-year deal a year early, but Yamaha Racing director Lin Jarvis told the MotoGP.com website that both the team and Lorenzo and decided to see the contract through to the end.
The decision to continue the partnership will put an end to speculation which had arisen in the paddock in the past few weeks. Rumors had started that Lorenzo was considering a switch to Ducati for next season. The newly competitive GP15 has made the Ducati a much more attractive option for riders looking to switch, and Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna is known to be an admirer of Lorenzo. Dall'Igna worked with Lorenzo extensively when the Spaniard was riding for Aprilia in 250s.
Accommodating Lorenzo would have been difficult. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone have a contract with Ducati for next season, with no option to terminate the deals early. Given the competitiveness of both riders, there is little reason for Ducati to go searching elsewhere for riders.
Dani Pedrosa will not be racing at the Jerez round of MotoGP. Despite the optimism displayed by Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo earlier this week, a test ride on a supermoto bike showed that Pedrosa's arm is not recovered sufficiently for him to be able to ride.
The Spaniard announced the news on his blog on the Repsol website. He wrote there that he had ridden a supermoto bike to test his arm, and that though the riding had gone well, it gave problems after riding, Pedrosa describing it as "not 100%". Having already missed two races, Pedrosa believes it is better to miss this race as well, and try to come back fully fit at Le Mans, two weeks after Jerez. The priority is to make a full recovery and come back competitive for the rest of the season, rather than trying to race at any cost, and risk creating a bigger problem.
The Jerez race was always going to be a big ask. The recovery period for the surgery Pedrosa had - a fasciectomy of the right arm, to cure arm pump - was estimated at five weeks, and Jerez comes just a week too early.
With Pedrosa out, that leaves Hiroshi Aoyama to take his place in the Repsol Honda team again this weekend. At the moment, Marc Marquez is intending to ride, but with a shattered and plated proximal phalanx in his left little finger, riding will be painful. The plan is for Marquez to assess his fitness on Friday, and make a decision from there.
It appears that both Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa will attempt to ride at Jerez this weekend. Dani Pedrosa will get his first chance to ride a MotoGP bike after having radical surgery to cure a persistent arm pump problem, while Marc Marquez has just had surgery to plate a broken proximal phalanx in the little finger of his left hand. Speaking to the Italian website GPOne.com, HRC Team Principal Livio Suppo said that he expected both riders to be present at Jerez, and to test their fitness during practice on Friday.
Suppo told GPOne.com that Marquez had phoned him after the crash, and told him not to worry, he would be at Jerez and ready to race. Speaking to the official MotoGP.com website, Dr. Xavier Mir, who operated on Marquez' finger, confirmed that. After breaking his finger in a collision with another rider, Marquez had been taken to hospital, where a very slim, customized titanium plate was fixed to the proximal phalanx - the bone in the finger closest to the hand - to fix the bone, which was fractured into several fragments, some of which were displaced. Marquez is now undergoing therapy and treatment to remobilize the joint and suppress inflammation, and Dr. Mir was convinced that Marquez would try to race. He would not be at 100%, Dr. Mir added, but riders are capable of taking extra motivation from such situations. With the advent of seamless gearboxes, the left hand is not used very much - only at the start, and in and out of pit lane - but the two outer fingers are very important in terms of grip strength.
As for Pedrosa, the Spaniard is due to test his arms riding a supermoto bike later this week, before heading to Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend. Both Pedrosa and Marquez will assess their fitness during practice on Friday, making a final decision on racing based on the outcome of practice. Hiroshi Aoyama will also be on hand, should Pedrosa still not be fit to race. Aoyama has already substituted for Pedrosa at Austin and Argentina, and will be on hand for the test on Monday, where the MotoGP riders will work on their 2015 machines, while the factory test riders will be giving the 2016 Michelin tires another trial at another circuit.
The decision on whether to ride or not will be easier for Pedrosa than it will be for Marquez. Pedrosa is already 56 points behind the championship leader Valentino Rossi, making a shot at the title look extremely unlikely. His aim for the rest of the year will be to challenge for as many wins and podiums as he can. As reigning champion, the pressure on Marquez to race will be much larger. Marquez is 30 points behind Rossi in the title race, which is not as worrying as it could be given the fact that there are still 15 rounds left in the season. With two competitive Ducatis, and the possiblity of both Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo being competitive, along with stronger challenges from Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda and the Tech 3 pairing of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the opportunities to make up points are much greater than they have been in recent years. It is key for Marquez to manage the points gap to Rossi as best as he can at this stage in the season.
Marc Marquez has broken a finger in his left hand in a dirt track training crash. The reigning world champion fell heavily, suffering a displaced fracture of the proximal phalange in the little finger of his left hand. This means that the bone between the hand and the first knuckle was broken, and the two parts of the bone moved.
Marquez was taken immediately to the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, where Dr Xavier Mir, who performs surgery on many of the top MotoGP and WSBK riders, operated on the Spaniard. The bone was put together again and then fixed with a titanium plate. Marquez is due to start functional recovery within 24 hours.
The press release issued by Honda is strangely hesitant about Marquez' prospects of racing at Jerez. The press release says, in rather unconventional wording, that Marquez participation at Jerez "has not been ruled out." The aim for Marquez will be to ride, but the injury sustained is a particularly difficult one. Wheeless' Textbook of Orthopaedics describes fractures of the proximal phalange as "potentially the most disabling fractures in the hand". Full recovery for normal patients is 4 to 6 weeks. In motorcycle racer terms, that's 2 to 3 weeks.
The only positive from this injury is that it is on his left hand, in the little finger. It is the least used of the fingers, though Marquez' style is to grip the bars with the fingers on the grips, rather than with the little finger off the grip, as some others like to do. No doubt that Marquez will do all he can to try to race at Jerez, but it is far from certain he will do so. With Marquez already 30 points down to championship leader Valentino Rossi, Marquez cannot really afford another zero points in the championship, he needs all the points he can get. A decision on participation will only have to be made before FP4 on Saturday afternoon, giving Marquez another day to assess his condition.
Marquez' injury puts the Repsol Honda team in a difficult situation for Jerez. Dani Pedrosa is not yet confirmed as racing at the Andalusian circuit, and if Marquez is forced to miss the race as well, HRC would need to field two replacement riders. Though the most obvious choice for Honda would be test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi, the controversy surrounding Casey Stoner's offer to race for Dani Pedrosa at Austin and Argentina will no doubt see his name be put forward once again.
With both riders likely to undergo medical checks on the Thursday, we may not know who is racing for the Repsol Honda team until Friday morning at the earliest, and Saturday afternoon at the latest.
Below is the press release on Marquez' crash and injury:
Marc Marquez undergoes successful operation on little finger fracture
Repsol Honda rider operated on this afternoon to treat fracture to little finger of left hand, suffered while training dirt track. His participation in the Spanish Grand Prix has not been ruled out.
Reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez has been successfully operated on this afternoon by Dr. Xavier Mir, Head of the Unit for Hand and Upper Extremities Pathology at the Hospital Universitario Quiron Dexeus in Barcelona.
Dr. Mir commented after the surgery that Marquez had “attended the casualty department of the Hospital Universitario Quiron Dexeus having suffered a crash in training this morning. The patient presented a deformity to the little finger of his left hand and a subsequent X-Ray showed a fracture of the proximal phalanx, with displacement. Therefore, we decided to treat the injury -as we would in the case of any other patient- by fixing a titanium plate to his finger. This will allow us to initiate functional recovery after 24 hours and give him a chance of racing at Jerez.”
Can you ever have too much motorcycle racing? You can if the amount of racing over one weekend actually exceeds the number of hours in each day. That was pretty much the case last weekend, when we MotoGP at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, World Superbikes – including World Supersport, FIM Superstock 1000, the European Superstock 600 Championship, and the European Junior Cup – at Assen, British Superbikes at Brands Hatch (the very short, very fast Indy circuit, not the longer GP layout), the second round of the inaugural MotoAmerica series at Road Atlanta, and the 24 hour race at Le Mans in France. Looking beyond motorcycle road racing, there was also the fourth round of the MXGP motocross world championship at Trentino in Italy, and a Formula One race at Bahrain.
Although the constraints of long seasons mean that there will always be clashes, this was a little ridiculous. Racing series are not completely free to set their calendars as they wish – they are tied down by a host of factors such as track availability, the weather, other events organized at the circuits, local government permission and many, many others – this weekend was one of the more spectacular scheduling SNAFUs. Let us hope this can be avoided next year.
For the upcoming weekend, the calendar is much more limited. The FIM Repsol CEV championship – what we used to know as the Spanish championship – has its first race at Portimao in Portugal. The field is as varied as ever, with riders from all over Europe and Asia, as well as an Australian and an American in Moto3, an even more varied field in Moto2 – including exotica such as the Vyrus, ridden by British youngster Bradley Ray – and Barcelona-based American rider Kenny Noyes defending his title in the Superbike class. Their Italian counterpart, the CIV championship, also kicks off this weekend with their first races at Misano. Both series will be streamed live, CEV on their Youtube channel, and the CIV via a specialist Italian motorsports channel called Sportube.
World Superbike calendar for 2016 and beyond
The German website Speedweek had a lot of news on WSBK this weekend, after their correspondent Ivo Schützbach spoke to Dorna's head of WSBK, Daniel Carrera. For next year, the WSBK calendar looks set to be very similar to 2015, with all of the current tracks except for Jerez already having a contract for next year or longer. Carrera also announced that Monza is to make a return for 2016, bringing the total number of WSBK rounds in Italy to three. That could even rise to four: Dorna today announced that Vallelunga is to serve as a reserve circuit for 2015 and 2016. Should circumstances prevent one of the races not happening this year or next, then Vallelunga will take its place. The press release explicitly stated that they did not expect to lose a race, but after the problems with India and Russia, and a little longer ago, the failure of the Balatonring to stage a race, having a reserve circuit is a good idea. Russian SBK organizer Yakhnich still has a contract to run the Russian round for the foreseeable future, but have neither a circuit nor the funds to do so. Whether Vallelunga would take the place of a Russian race is uncertain.
The more intriguing announcement by Carrera was that World Superbikes intends to return to India in 2017. The previously restrictive customs regulations have been dropped, making it possible to hold a race there without lodging a security fee covering the full value of all of the equipment shipped in and out of the country. There are still some hurdles to be taken, but it seems like that WSBK will be racing at the Buddh International Circuit in 2017. If World Superbikes goes there, then MotoGP is sure to follow, in 2018 at the earliest. India and Thailand are key markets for the motorcycle manufacturers.
Melandri's misery to end?
The idea that Marco Melandri should leave World Superbikes and make a return to MotoGP has turned out even worse than almost everyone expected, Aprilia and Melandri included. The Italian is deeply uncomfortable on the Bridgestone tires, and Aprilia's RS-GP bike, and has circulated consistently several seconds off the pace, and a second or more off his teammate, Alvaro Bautista. The relationship between Melandri and Aprilia is exploring new depths, with neither side having anything positive to say about the other.
At Assen, serious rumors started emerging about a possible return to World Superbikes in 2016 for the Italian. Melandri's name is being linked with Yamaha, who are due to make a full return to the series next year. Though officially, Yamaha are refusing to confirm they will be in WSBK next year, their Superstock and national programs are being stepped up ready for a full-on assault in 2016.
The reason for Melandri's name coming up is that Andrea Dosoli, who has worked with Melandri at Hayate, Yamaha and BMW, is tasked with coordinating Yamaha's racing efforts with the all-new YZF-R1. Dosoli is rumored to be keen on another link up with Melandri, according to some sources in the WSBK paddock.
Just how much truth there is to the rumors remains to be seen. Melandri will be 33 this year, and if his poor season continues, question marks will linger over how much longer he has. He can be fast on a competitive bike, but if the bike needs development, will Melandri be willing to put in the work?
It is not as if Yamaha would not have any other options. It is likely that at least one relatively competitive MotoGP rider will be out of a ride at the end of this year, making the switch to Yamaha in WSBK a strong option. There will be riders in BSB who may be suitable, such as the pairing of Josh Brooks and Broc Parkes currently racing for Milwaukee Yamaha. And Dorna would love to have a top American in the series, with plenty of talk at Austin of Cameron Beaubier, and even Jake Gagne. The line for a shot at the Yamaha R1 ride will be very long indeed.
Oh Dani boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling...
Will Dani Pedrosa be back at Jerez? As of this moment, it is uncertain, but the signs are looking positive. Pedrosa wrote on his blog on the Repsol website that his recovery is going well, and that he has already had some of the stitches removed. According to Catalan reporter Damià Aguilar, Pedrosa has been doing strength exercises with his right arm, and is due to try to ride a motorcycle for the first time this week, to see if he is capable. A decision about actually racing at Jerez has not yet been made, and is likely to be left right until the last minute. If he does not race, then Hiroshi Aoyama is likely to fill in for him again. Aoyama will be present in Jerez anyway, as there is a test on the Monday after the Jerez race.
EBR – Racing or bust?
The sad demise of Erik Buell's latest motorcycle operation, EBR, has left many people with an uncertain future. Not least for the many employees at the factory building the EBR1190RX. But it also raised a question mark over the future of the World Superbike team. At Assen, neither Larry Pegram nor Niccolo Canepa – who has been outstanding on the EBR – had any idea what their future would hold.
As of right now, the future remains unclear. Speaking to GPOne.com, Canepa was uncertain whether he would be racing at the next round at Imola or not. He heard nothing from EBR, after Larry Pegram, who also runs the team, had flown back to the US. Plans are being made in the background for a worst-case scenario, should the team also fold, with Canepa looking around for a ride. With Nico Terol out through injury, after crashing heavily at Assen, Canepa could take the place of the Spaniard, at least temporarily. Given his experience with the Ducati Panigale 1199, he would make the ideal replacement.
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Racing season is now truly upon us. MotoGP kicked off ten days ago at Qatar, last weekend the British Superbike championship had their first race of the year at Donington Park, and this weekend sees a bumper crop of racing. MotoGP is at Austin, where MotoAmerica also kicks off its inaugural season since taking over the AMA series from the DMG. World Superbikes heads to the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain, where they are joined by the Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 classes. It is going to be a busy weekend.
Despite the bustle of action, the amount of real news emerging has been limited. Teams and riders are too busy racing, absorbing the lessons of the first races while preparing for the next races, to be plotting and scheming beyond that. Here's a rundown of things you might have missed this weekend anyway.
And you thought the Stoner return was a surprise...
The Suzuka 8 Hour race is growing in stature. It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment at which this happened, but it seems fair to guess that Kevin Schwantz' participation in the 2013 race. While Honda had always supported the endurance racing classic by sending their top World Superbike riders, the days of Grand Prix riders competing at the event had long passed. Schwantz returning to racing at the event seems to have kickstarted interest in series once again, with some big names coming forward.
Casey Stoner's participation in the event had already been announced, the Australian flagging the event as a race he had always wanted to do, but his busy MotoGP schedule prevented him from doing it. That announcement kicked off a huge buzz around the event, but now it could get a second, possibly even bigger boost. According to ace Spanish reporter Manuel Pecino, writing for Sportrider Magazine, Yamaha is pressuring Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to race in the event.
Yamaha's participation is part of a bigger marketing push for the Japanese factory. According to Pecino, this is Yamaha's 60th anniversary, and the factory wants to celebrate it with a win at the biggest motorcycle racing event in Japan. A win would also boost the profile of Yamaha's brand new YZF-R1, launched this year to replace the old model, as a radically revised and updated version. Originally, Yamaha management asked both their factory MotoGP riders to participate in the event, but both men declined. However, when Casey Stoner announced he would be riding there for Honda, Yamaha have upped the pressure on the Movistar Yamaha pairing, trying to get them to race. No doubt they will face a barrage of questions about the situation this weekend.
The new-fangled R1
Winning the Suzuka 8 hour race will of course depend on how competitive the Yamaha R1 can be. Last weekend, we got the first glance of it competing in a high-profile national series, with the Milwaukee Yamaha squad putting the bike through its paces at the BSB season opener. Josh Brookes had a solid first outing on the bike, finishing in 6th and 3rd in the first double header of the season. The bike is handicapped to some extent by having to use the spec Motec electronics mandated in BSB, rather than the MotoGP-derived kit fitted as standard.
This weekend could provide a better measure of the R1. The bike will be raced at both Austin, in the MotoAmerica Superbike class, and in Aragon, where it will make its debut in the Superstock 1000 class. Both series allow the use of the standard ECU, which on the 2015 model R1 is extremely advanced. Of course, with Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier aboard the bike, the strength of the riders may outshine the actual bike. But the Superstock 1000 races in Aragon may give a slightly better look at the machine.
Whether the R1 is any good is still to be confirmed, but there is no doubting that the Kawasaki ZX-10R is a good standard bike. Shane Byrne leads the BSB series after the first round, having come 1st and 2nd in the two races, while James Ellison and Stuart Easton also took the honors on the bike, Ellison winning race 2 and Easton taking 3rd. Dan Linfoot put the Honda CBR1000RR on the podium in race 1, while Josh Brookes was 3rd in race 2.
2016 – Back to the future?
The basic rules for MotoGP for 2016 and beyond were laid down at Qatar, where the Grand Prix Commission met. Seven engines, 22 liters of fuel, and a minimum weight of 157kg were agreed upon, as well as a continuation of the concessions granted to manufacturers who have yet to score regular podiums or wins. A few minor questions still remain, especially surrounding tires, but some fans still remain confused about the plight of the current Open class teams.
In an interview with the leading Spanish sports newspaper AS ahead of the first race at Qatar, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta laid out his vision for the series. His idea, he said, is to have twelve factory bikes and twelve satellite bikes from 2017 onwards. With the switch to the spec software from 2016, the advantage offered by factory electronics should disappear, he said, creating a much more level playing field. The idea is to have each factory supplying two bikes to a factory team, and two bikes to a satellite team.
That would require Suzuki and Aprilia also supplying satellite teams. Suzuki has been extremely reluctant to supply a satellite team in the past, the last of the privateer Suzukis dying out in the mid-90s. Aprilia has been more willing in recent years, but have only supported teams at a very low level. And KTM's plans do not include a factory team at all: the whole concept of the KTM RC16 is to build a bike for sale to private teams, to compete at a reasonable cost. KTM have, as yet, shown now interest in competing as a factory squad, an understandable decision given the high cost of such a move.
Just how close to reality Ezpeleta's dream will come remains to be seen. However, MotoGP is currently in robust good health, with bikes available and costs no longer spiraling out of control. MotoGP is not cheap, and costs are still rising. But they are not rising as exponentially as they did previously.
Casey Stoner was a candidate to replace the injured Dani Pedrosa. The Australian had discussions with HRC about stepping in to take Pedrosa's place during his absence. In the end, it was decided that a return would not be possible at such short notice. It was decided that Hiroshi Aoyama would be a better choice of replacement in the circumstances.
Asked via email by MotoMatters.com whether Honda had had discussions with Stoner over replacing Pedrosa, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo confirmed that they had. "We spoke about the possibility for Casey to replace Dani," Suppo admitted. But Stoner would have faced major challenges replacing Pedrosa for the next two MotoGP rounds. The Australian has never raced at either Austin or Termas de Rio Hondo, the two tracks having been added to the MotoGP calendar after Stoner retired from MotoGP. He has also had only very limited testing, having spent three days on the factory Honda RC213V ahead of the first Sepang test, while the rest of the MotoGP grid has had eight days of full testing plus the first round of racing at Qatar.
Suppo cited the lack of preparation, and the undoubted weight of expectation from the fans as factors in the decision. "Overall, we believe that a comeback of Casey in MotoGP would be something to properly prepare, as the expectation would be huge," Suppo said. Fans would expect Stoner to be battling at the front straight away, ignoring the disadvantages he had from a lack of testing and racing. "We are sorry for the fans, who would have loved to see Casey back, but overall, we think this is the right choice," Suppo added.
The comparison with the return of Troy Bayliss is easily drawn. When the legendary Australian stepped in to replace the injured Davide Giugliano in the Ducati World Superbike team, fans were expecting him to immediately be on the podium and challenging for the win. The fact that Bayliss had been out of racing since 2009, and the Ducati Panigale R has not been a fully competitive package in recent years was conveniently ignored. Bayliss only once managed to finish inside the top ten, falling short of expectations, but still adored by the fans.
The news that Casey Stoner actively considered racing again in MotoGP can be seen at the very least as something of a surprise. Since retiring from full-time racing at the end of 2012, Stoner has made it very clear in interviews that he has no intention of making a return to the series. My own research, talking to friends of Stoner's, corroborated this. Nobody felt that Stoner had any desire whatsoever to race in MotoGP again. Both the politics and the excessive and increasing influence of electronics on the MotoGP bikes were factors which soured him to the sport. Testing seemed to fulfill his need for speed, and RC model car racing scratched his competitive itch.
Perhaps the news that Casey Stoner is to race at the Suzuka 8 Hour race in July, was a sign that the Australian is ready to make some small, limited return to motorcycle racing. At just 29 years of age, he is still young enough to start racing again, should he so desire. Given all that Stoner has said, the chances of the Australian making a full-time return to MotoGP seem extremely unlikely, if not impossible. But coming in as a substitute rider, or who knows, even a wildcard, now seems a very real possibility.
On a personal note, Stoner's return has clearly proven me wrong, and not for the first time. I have always believed that Stoner was done with MotoGP altogether. I remember the look of barely suppressed irritation whenever he had to speak to journalists like us, especially the ones who had written him off in the past, attributing his success on the Ducati to electronics, and casting aspersions at his absence due to lactose intolerance. I caught a glimpse of Stoner as he drove out of the paddock for the last time, on the Monday of the Valencia test in 2012, after he had said his goodbyes to his team. The look of relief was palpable. Perhaps, now that he has had time away from the paddock and from racing, the sport is a little easier for the Australian to bear.