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2006 Estoril Day 1 - FP 1 and FP2

Day 1 at Estoril brought a whole bunch of surprises, as you might expect from this topsy-turvy season. The morning started out almost as an echo of last season, with Valentino Rossi ensconced firmly atop the timesheets, although the times were remarkably slow, Rossi's fastest a 1:39.398, fully 2 seconds off Alex Barros' pole time from 2005. Behind Rossi was his friend and colleague Loris Capirossi, putting the big red Ducati into second spot. Capirossi was followed by John Hopkins, putting on a strong showing in the cool conditions, with the championship leader Nicky Hayden in 4th. Hayden headed up the class rookies Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, with the Yamahas of Colin Edwards and Carlos Checa doing surprisingly well to take 7th and 8th. Behind Checa, the Fortuna Hondas were having a harder morning of it, with Toni Elias leading team mate Marco Melandri, down in 10th.
 

If the morning session had been indifferent for the Fortuna Honda team, the afternoon was positively disastrous. Just a few minutes into the session, Marco Melandri ran wide into one of the left-handers, and dropped the bike heavily onto his left knee. He was immediately taken to the Clinica Mobile, and did not reappear for the remainder of the session. The team later announced that x-rays had shown that Melandri had not broken anything, but his knee was very badly bruised. He is a probable to race on Sunday, but having hurt his knee this badly, the slim shot he had at the title has now evaporated.

If Melandri's title hopes had been killed off, FP2 saw a revival in Nicky Hayden's fortune. The Kentucky Kid posted an excellent 2nd fastest time, at a track that has traditionally been pretty poor for him, behind an unleashed Casey Stoner. Stoner, as yet unconfirmed for 2007, said that he had taken some of the pressure of himself, and the more relaxed attitude to the race seems to have gained him some speed. Stoner's afternoon time was over a second faster than Rossi's morning time, at 1:38.218. Hayden was just 5/100ths behind Stoner, with a surprisingly strong Kenny Roberts Jr in 3rd spot. Behind Kenny Jr, Carlos Checa built on his fine outing in the morning session to take an excellent 4th spot, showing that the Dunlops are making steady progress towards becoming competitive. Both Dani Pedrosa and Colin Edwards moved up a place, with Sete Gibernau posting a respectable 7th. Gibernau later complained of some pain in the shoulder he injured at Catalunya, despite the two operations he had to fix the problem over the summer.

Valentino Rossi must have been a little worried after FP2, setting a time only 8th fastest of the session, over half a second slower than his rival Hayden. Rossi later put his time down to problems with his number 1 bike, causing him to lose time setting up his number 2 bike, and trouble finding the right tire. Although 8th is no disaster, he will need to be much further up the grid at the end of qualifying, if he is to stand a chance of holding off Hayden during the race. Behind Rossi, John Hopkins headed up Shinya Nakano to round out the top 10. Loris Capirossi, 2nd in the morning's session, had a very poor afternoon, failing to improve on the time he set in the morning, finishing a lowly 13th.

But all eyes were on Garry McCoy and the Ilmor SRT X3. Each lap time the Ilmor posted was subject to intense scrutiny and endless speculation. McCoy had been a little off the pace in the morning session, just over 4 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi. In the afternoon, McCoy had cut his lap time by over 1.3 seconds, and closed the gap to the leaders by just over 1/10th of a second. But the most important statistic was the fact that McCoy was not last in either session. James Ellison was slower during the morning session, and perpetual backmarker Jose Luis Cardoso was 2/10ths slower during the afternoon. The X3 was most obviously down on top speed, clocking a maximum of 304.7 at the end of the main straight, 20 km/h, or 12 mph slower than fastest man Casey Stoner. But the Ilmor ended the day within contention, a strong result for a motorcycle with 20% less capacity than the bikes it is racing against.

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Out Of The Closet At Last: The Ilmor X3 Officially Unveiled

Over the past few months, the items I have posted here about the Ilmor / Suter bike have pulled a large number of visitors to my blog, as witnessed by the hundreds of hits from Google with the words "Ilmor" and "Suter" in the search query. Today, the long wait for those news hungry fans has finally come to an end, as the new Ilmor Suter X3 was unveiled at Estoril. The bike, a very sharp, pointed, almost KTM-like design, was presented to huge media interest at a news conference this afternoon, where the team commented on the future of the project, and attempted (somewhat unsuccessfully) to dampen expectations for this weekend.

For the presentation of the Ilmor marks the birth of a new era in MotoGP: The Ilmor X3 is the first of the new 800cc bikes to turn a wheel in anger, and it's performance will be monitored with intense scrutiny. Eskil Suter, the Swiss engineer in charge of chassis development, did his best to temper expectations of the bike this weekend, reminding those present that Ilmor is "running an 800 against the 1000 cc machines", which leaves the X3 at an obvious disadvantage, especially along the 210 mph main straight at Estoril. That will not stop the entire racing world analyzing very closely every lap Garry McCoy turns on this bike.

So, what can we expect? Mario Illien, in a previous interview, said that the Ilmor X3 had already set faster times than the Ducati 800 GP7 during testing. And of course, at the post-race tests at Brno, Loris Capirossi put in a lap within 1.5 seconds of his fastest race lap on the new 800. Ducati notably failed to mention whether this time was set on race tires or qualifiers, so it's a little hard to draw any conclusions from this. With Estoril being a shorter track than Brno, and containing a lot of slowish corners, McCoy should be able to get within 2 seconds of the fastest lap during the race. Anything under a second would be sensation, but if the Ilmor is much more than 3 seconds a lap off the pace, then the bike is likely to struggle to be competitive. The first free practice session on Friday morning will reveal all.

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Scrap Another Name - Dovizioso Stays In 250 Next Year

Well, the influx of young riders from the 250 class seems slowly to be staunching: After Jorge Lorenzo decided to stay in 250s for one more year (I will have more to say about this during the off-season), the only man capable of taking the title from him has also announced he'll be staying in the class next year. According to the Italian site MotoOnline, Andrea Dovizioso has signed a 2 year contract with Honda, staying in 250s for 2007, and moving to MotoGP in 2008.

It will be very interesting to see what Dovizioso will be riding, and for whom, in 2008, as the Honda seats look pretty well booked, even for 2008: Nicky Hayden has a 2 year deal with HRC Repsol Honda, and it's almost inconceivable that HRC won't re-sign Pedrosa when his contract finishes at the end of next season. Which leaves the satellite teams, and there are plenty of candidates for those rides. It certainly complicates the picture for next year's silly season (and this year's hasn't even finished yet ...).

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First, Biaggi, Now Barros?

After all the speculation about Max Biaggi, another ex-MotoGP star is now being named as making a return to the world's premier racing series after a year of absence. US magazine RoadRacingWord is reporting that Alex Barros may be riding in the MotoGP next year. The story quotes Ronald ten Kate, team manager of the highly successful Winston Ten Kate Superbike team, saying that they had been unable to agree on terms with Barros to ride one of their Honda CBR1000RRs for next season, and that Barros is likely to take a ride in MotoGP, either on the Ilmor or the Kawasaki.

This means that both Biaggi and Barros are being linked with the most publicly open seats left in MotoGP. This lends credence to the rumors that Shinya Nakano will be leaving Kawasaki at the end of this season, most probably to ride the Konica Minolta Honda for JIR. Ilmor are known to be in the market for riders to pilot their V4 800 next year, although Garry McCoy looks like a 90% certainty to take on bike. But there is some doubt that Ilmor can afford the exorbitant salary which Barros is reputed to demand, with Ilmor being on a tightly-controlled budget.

A move to Kawasaki would also be a gamble, as Kawasaki is the only major manufacturer which is yet to unveil its 800 bike for 2007. Kawasaki Heavy Industry's refusal to give the bike a public outing has fueled speculation that the bike is nowhere near ready, and will start the new season at a distinct disadvantage. Only time will tell.

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... And Max is Gone Again ...

Well, true to form, Max Biaggi manages to grab the headlines again. And what's more, he did it in style, grabbing the world's attention at a top-secret, low-profile test of the Alstare Corona Suzuki superbike. Rumors that Biaggi had signed a deal with the Kawasaki MotoGP team are starting to look less and less credible, now that pictures have emerged of Biaggi aboard the Suzuki GSXR 1000 superbike at Magny Cours. But with the Roman Emperor, you just never know ...

Full story over on the website of the Motorcycle News UK weekly.

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Biaggi Is Back

Eurosport TV has just reported that Max Biaggi, The Roman Emperor, is back in MotoGP for 2007. Kawasaki is reported to have signed the Roman for next season, despite Biaggi already having signed with the Alstare Corona Suzuki World Superbike team for next year. This is a double blow for Alstare Suzuki team manager Francis Batta, who also learned this weekend that Troy Corser, the man being demoted to a second string bike to make way for Biaggi, is leaving to join the Yamaha Italia Superbike team.

Biaggi's return will be welcomed by many MotoGP fans, as Biaggi has a huge fan following, especially in Italy. It will also likely be very welcome to Kawasaki, as Biaggi has always had very strong, and very generous, personal sponsors. There is a very good chance that Biaggi might be bringing in the JTI/ Camel money, as Biaggi has a long relationship with Camel, indeed, Honda's refusal to give Biaggi a bike for 2006 was instrumental in Camel withdrawing their sponsorship of Sito Pons' team for the 2006 season.

The question of how Biaggi will fare on the Kawasaki is another matter: Biaggi is known to be very hard on his teams, though equally hard on himself. Although undoubtedly very talented, he is a fractious personality to work with, and is not shy with his opinions of the machinery he is riding.

Biaggi's move to Kawasaki means that Shinya Nakano is almost certain to move to Konica Minolta Honda for next season.

UPDATED: The source of this story is said to be Colin Wright, team boss of the GSE Ducati British Superbikes team. Stay tuned ...

UPDATED AGAIN: The Dutch website Racesport.nl is running a story quoting people from FGSports and Alstare Corona flatly denying the story. Francis Batta is quoted as saying:
Max Biaggi has signed a contract to ride for our team in 2007, and the rumors that he also had a contract to ride in MotoGP are nothing more than a fairy tale.

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Finally: Marco Melandri Signs With Gresini Honda

At last, the Melandri Saga comes to a conclusion. Gresini Racing has finally announced that Marco Melandri has signed with Gresini for the 2007 season, to ride a Honda V4 800. No details of the deal have been announced, other than that both parties say they are very happy to be working together for next year. Reading between the lines, it seems like Honda has promised extra support for Melandri, the title runner up in 2005, and this is what finally swung the deal for him.

Gresini also stated that he was still looking for a team mate for Melandri next year, so that the team can compete at the very highest level. This does not bode well for Melandri's current team mate Toni Elias, who, after an outstanding debut season on the Yamaha, has struggled somewhat on the Honda.

There was also no mention of sponsorship. If the rumor that Melandri will be receiving € 3 million for his services next year, if Gresini will be receiving extensive support from HRC, and if Gresini hopes to hire another "top level" rider to partner Melandri, then this will require a sponsor with some pretty deep pockets. With the 2007 season rapidly approaching, Gresini had better hurry.

Melandri re-signing with Gresini now means that Sete Gibernau's seat at Ducati, which Ducati had offered to Melandri, looks much more secure, and Ducati is now rumored to be busy trying to re-sign Gibernau before he signs elsewhere. "Elsewhere" being Kawasaki, where he was rumored to be taking the place of Shinya Nakano, who is the firm favorite to replace the disappointing Makoto Tamada at Konica Minolta Honda.

With the rider merry-go-round starting to grind to a halt, as key riders such as Hayden and Melandri stick to their places like a spanner in the works, there are still a number of options open. The biggest question marks on the team side are the Kawasaki and d'Antin Ducati teams, who have no firm candidates, though plenty of names are being bandied about. Those names include several of the riders currently still on the open market, including Carlos Checa, Toni Elias, Alex de Angelis and Andrea Dovizioso. A few more weeks, and it will all become clear. But not just yet.

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Marco Melandri: The Saga Continues...

Well, where just a few days ago, it seemed certain that Marco Melandri would be going to the factory Ducati team, now it looks increasingly like last year's title runner up will be staying with Gresini on a Honda next year. Both MotoGrandPrix.it and Crash.net are reporting that Fausto Gresini has matched Ducati's reported offer of € 3 million for next season, an offer which would also include strong factory support from Honda, and, surprisingly, Bridgestone tires. The mystery for all this is where the money is supposed to be coming from, as Altadis, the brand behind Fortuna, are leaving MotoGP, taking their large sponsorship budget with them.

If the reports are true, it would put a halt to an expected round of rider shuffles, with Sete Gibernau, the man Melandri was expected to replace at Ducati, staying put and not going to Kawasaki, where he was set to take Shinya Nakano's place. This would then also leave Nakano the option at staying at Kawasaki, and leave the question of who Melandri's team mate will be open. Alex de Angelis is one name being bandied about, as is Carlos Checa, although Checa, who has been very impressive this year on the inferior Dunlop tires, has also been linked with Pramac d'Antin Ducati, who are expected to get Bridgestones for next year.

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MotoGP FAQ Just Started

After a friend asked me to explain the way the Manufacturers' Championship works, I decided to start a MotoGP FAQ, with answers to any questions I receive. The FAQ will be a growing and living thing, with regular updates, so keep an eye on it. If you have any questions you want answered, you can send them to me, and I'll do my best to answer them and add them to the FAQ.

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MotoGP Frequently Asked Questions

Since I started this website, I have received a number of general questions, and seen a number of questions come in via Google. So I thought it would be a good idea to start collecting these questions into a FAQ, for use as a reference. If you have any questions for the FAQ, you can send them to me...

We'll start off with a question from a friend of mine:
How are the standings calculated for the Manufacturer's Championship?

As I'm sure many of you will know, the Riders' Championship isn't the only title being disputed during a MotoGP season. Besides the Riders' title, there are two other official titles up for grabs:

  • The Manufacturers' Championship; and
  • The Team Championship.

The scoring for these titles is the same as for the Riders' Championship, but the way points are awarded is slightly different:

  • For the Manufacturers' Championship, the first motorcycle by a particular manufacturer to finish is awarded the points for that position. So, for example, at the 2006 Motegi round, Loris Capirossi finished first on a Ducati, so Ducati were awarded 25 points, then Rossi scored 20 points for Yamaha, and Marco Melandri scored 16 points for Honda. No other Ducati, Yamaha, or Honda scored points towards the Manufacturers' Championship. The title winner is the Manufacturer which has accumulated the most points according to this system throughout the season.
  • The Team Championship is scored slightly differently. For the Team Championship, all points scored by both riders in a team will awarded to the team in the Team Championship. So to take Motegi as an example again, Capirossi won, and Gibernau finished fourth, and together, they scored 38 points (25 + 13) for the Marlboro Ducati Team. If one of the riders is injured, then their replacement will still score points for the team. So, at Assen, for example, where Alex Hofmann substituted for Sete Gibernau, Hofmann's points were added to the team points for the Marlboro Ducati Team, and he did not score points for his own team, the Pramac d'Antin Ducati team. Wild card riders, such as Suzuki's Kousuke Akiyoshi at Motegi, do not score any points for their team.

Points are scored according to the following system:

Position Points
1st 25
2nd 20
3rd 16
4th 13
5th 11
6th 10
7th 9
8th 8
9th 7
10th 6
11th 5
12th 4
13th 3
14th 2
15th 1

You can find the official FIM MotoGP sporting rules and regulations here:
MotoGP Sporting Regulations.

Adam Haraszti from Hungary sent in the following question:

I have a question for you, about the changed schedules of Qatar (races on Saturday), Donington and Portugal (changed times for the 125cc races). About the Saturday races at Assen I know it's due to the fact that the track used to be much longer, and going through small villages where people used to go to the church on Sunday, but heard nothing about the others so far.

Well, Adam, you are absolutely right about the timing of the Assen race. Back in 1926, when racing first started around Assen, the many little villages south and east of Assen were very religious places, and would not allow any activity on a Sunday. So, racing was organized on the Saturday, and that has stayed the same very since.

The story of Qatar is similar: Qatar is a Muslim country, and the Muslim weekend is celebrated on Thursday and Friday, or Friday and Saturday. To have the race closer to the Muslim weekend, so that more people can attend the races, the Qatar MotoGP is run on the Saturday.

The revised schedules of Donington and Estoril have a more prosaic background. Both Donington in Britain and Estoril in Portugal are in the same time zone, which uses GMT during the winter and Western European Summer Time. But Dorna try to keep the MotoGP schedule as close as possible to Central European Time, so that television broadcasters (particularly in their major markets, Spain and Italy), can show the races at a consistent time. However, because both Donington and Estoril are further west, running the races at their usual times would push the warm up sessions (run on the morning of the race) back so early that the light could be quite bad, and the track could be very cold, making it much more dangerous for the riders in the warm up. So, but running the 125 cc races after the main MotoGP race, they can hold the warm ups later, making it safer for all concerned.

Wes Cupido wrote to ask
Is Troy Bayliss the oldest first-time winner in the premier class of MotoGP/ 500cc?

Well, I finally got round to researching this, which is surprisingly more difficult than you might think at first, as it's difficult to find data on some of the riders from the earliest era of the 500cc class of motorcycle Grand Prix racing. What I did find, however, is that by taking victory at Valencia in 2006, aged 37 years, 6 months and 29 days, Bayliss did not become the oldest first-time winner. During the very early years of Grand Prix racing, several riders were older, including the first World Champion, Leslie Graham, who was 80 days older than Troy Bayliss when he won his first race, the 1949 Swiss Grand Prix in Berne.

The record holder (at least according to my research so far), is Fergus Anderson, who also won the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne, on May 27, 1951. Anderson was born in 1909, making him 42 years old when he won his first Grand Prix.

Of course, this is not really a fair comparison, as Anderson, Graham and their contemporaries had been racing earlier, but the Grand Prix series didn't start until 1949, so riders who may have won races earlier in their career did not show up in the record books until the series started.

Bayliss' feat has not been seen since the 1950s, and as such, he holds a unique place in the modern era of MotoGP.

Albert wrote to ask:
How do the rider numbers work.?

That's a good question, Albert, and one which has both a simple answer and a complicated answer.

I'll start with the simple answer: The riders in MotoGP choose their numbers based on the order which they finished in during the championship in the previous year. Here's what the FIM rulebook has to say:
Each rider accepted for the Championship will be allocated a specific starting number which will be valid for the whole Championship. In general, the starting numbers will be based on the results of the team riders in the previous year's Championship or in other similar events.
So, for example, for 2008, this means that Casey Stoner has the right to display number 1, Dani Pedrosa has the right to display number 2, Valentino Rossi has the right to display number 3, John Hopkins has the right to display number 4, Marco Melandri has the right to display number 5, and so on down the list.

There are a few factors which make using this numbering scheme difficult to operate.

The first is that riders are superstitious. I'm sure you will have noticed that lots of riders have special rituals before they race, such as only getting on the bike from the left-hand side, or lucky colors. They also have lucky numbers, and so when given a choice, the always want to use a particular number. Valentino Rossi is the most famous of these, as he has always used the number 46, even when he was champion and allowed to carry the number 1 plate. But many others have similar superstitions: John Hopkins always wants to keep number 21, Marco Melandri wants number 33.

Of course, this causes problems when it comes to popular numbers, the most difficult of all being number 7, which is a lucky number in a lot of countries. Chris Vermeulen always had a 7 in his number, but really wanted number 7, both as a lucky number, and as a tribute to his friend and mentor Barry Sheene, whose number it used to be. But Carlos Checa had number 7, and so Vermeulen had to wait until Checa left MotoGP before he could take the number 7 plate.

In 2008, Casey Stoner took the number 1 plate, as he finished as champion. But Stoner only took the number after coming under pressure from Ducati, as he really wanted to keep the number he has always raced with, number 27. On the other hand, Dani Pedrosa swapped his regular number, 26, for the number 2 plate, to underline the fact that he finished 2nd in the championship in 2007.

The second reason is one of marketing. Riders become associated with numbers, and therefore all of their merchandising such as t-shirts, caps, badges, stickers, bags etc etc has their race number on, for their fans to identify with. It becomes so important to riders, their teams and their managers, that they are reluctant to take a different number.

There is also a difficulty for riders coming in from other series. In 2007, both Jorge Lorenzo and James Toseland won the world championship in their respective series, and so both have a claim to a number 1 plate. But as they are not champions in MotoGP, and as the champion is already carrying the number 1 plate, they have had to revert to their previous favorite numbers, 48 for Lorenzo and 52 for Toseland.

Finally, one number has been retired and is no longer available. Number 34, which belongs to Kevin Schwantz has been retired, as a mark of respect for Schwantz by the FIM.

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