If you'd like to have desktop-sized versions of Scott's fantastic photos, you can become a site supporter and take out a subscription. If you'd like a print of one of the shots you see on the site, then send Scott an email and he'll be happy to help.
The line up for the Suzuka 8 Hour Race looks to be the strongest for years. Today, Yamaha confirmed that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider pairing of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro are to race for the factory entry at Suzuka, alongside Yamaha test rider and Japanese Superbike champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga. Smith and Espargaro will face Casey Stoner and Michael van der Mark, who will be racing for the Honda factory team.
Rumors that Yamaha were taking their entry for the race very seriously first emerged at Jerez, where paddock gossip had Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo entering the race in the factory team. At the time, both men pleaded ignorance, saying that they had heard nothing about such a decision. Having the Movistar Yamaha riders race at Suzuka would have placed a massive strain on the team, as the race falls directly between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis MotoGP rounds. With Rossi leading the title chase, and Lorenzo in second place, Yamaha appear to have decided on an alternative strategy, using the riders from the satellite teams instead.
That does not mean that the Movistar Yamaha men are not involved, however. Valentino Rossi has been testing the new Yamaha R1 in endurance trim at the Misano circuit on several occasions in recent months. Whether this is part of preparations for Suzuka is unknown, as those tests have been private.
The choice of Smith and Espargaro may also be a chance for Yamaha to assess the commitment of the Tech 3 pairing. Both men are in the final year of their contract, Smith on a one-year deal directly with Tech 3, Espargaro in the final year of a two-year contract directly with Yamaha. So far this year, Smith has outperformed his teammate, leading Espargaro by 11 points in the championship. Winning the race for Yamaha would be a major boost for their chances of staying at the Tech 3 team, as the Japanese factory has not won there for 19 years, when Colin Edwards teamed up with Nori Haga.
Below is the press release from Yamaha announcing the participation of Smith and Espargaro:
Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. Announces YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM Rider Line-up at the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race
Iwata (Japan), 25th May 2015
Round 2 of the 2015 FIM Endurance World Championship
The 38th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race
Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is proud to announce that the YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM will be competing in the 38th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race, which is to be held at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture from July 23 to 26, 2015. This will be the first time since 2002 that Yamaha has fielded a factory team for this prestiguous race.
The team‘s rider line-up will consist of reigning JSB1000 class champion of the All Japan Road Race Championship Katsuyuki Nakasuga and MotoGP riders Pol Espargarò and Bradley Smith. They will ride a factory machine based on the new YZF-R1 and specially developed for competition in the Suzuka 8 Hours as they set out to win Yamaha its first victory in this event in 19 years and its fifth in the race‘s history.
Nakasuga is one of the top Yamaha riders in Japan and is currently in contention to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the premier class of the All Japan Road Race Championship. He has raced in the Suzuka 8 Hours seven times before, with a best result of fourth place in 2014
Espargarò and Smith will be entering the Suzuka 8 Hours for the first time and will bring to the challenge their vast experience in the world‘s premier motorcycle road racing category, MotoGP. They finished the 2014 MotoGP season ranked 6th and 8th, respectively.
Serving as team manager will be Wataru Yoshikawa, the manager of the YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM in the All Japan Road Race Championship. Encouraged by the cheers of Yamaha fans, the team members, riders and sponsors will pull together as they aim for a coveted victory at the Suzuka 8 Hours.
Yamaha Motor participates in racing activities around the world under three basic policies: branding, feedback of technology and promotional activities. This season, Yamaha Motor is once again fielding factory teams in three All Japan championships (road racing, motocross and trials) and, with the introduction of the new YZF-R1, new programs have been launched to further stimulate its racing activities in countries around the world.
Factory participation in this year‘s Suzuka 8 Hours is one example of these racing activities, and through this participation Yamaha Motor seeks to prove the performance potential of the new YZF-R1 while at the same time gaining technological expertise, promoting development of human resources and sharing the excitement of rewarding experiences in motorsport as an embodiment of the “Revs your Heart” brand slogan.
Rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga
“This season I am serving as a factory rider for the first time in an attempt to be the first rider ever to win four consecutive titles in the premier class of the All Japan Road Race Championship, while using the new YZF-R1. Now I am very glad that I am being given another new challenge of competing on the factory team in the Suzuka 8 Hours, which I am excited about like never before. I am also looking forward to competing together with two such outstanding riders as [Pol] Espargarò and [Bradley] Smith, and I feel this will be a good opportunity for me to improve my racing skills. Of course, I will be going for nothing less than the win. I will work together with the team to show that the new YZF-R1 is the fastest machine on the track, and I will do my best to bring an experience of the greatest possible Kando* to the fans that have waited so long for the comeback of the Yamaha factory team and a Suzuka 8 Hours victory. I hope everyone will come to the circuit during race week to cheer us on.”
Rider Pol Espargarò
“I am really happy that Yamaha has chosen me to represent them at one of the most famous motorsport events, which is the Suzuka 8 Hour race. I feel honoured to take part in it, but there will be a lot to learn. I am under no illusion that it will be easy as I have never raced in an endurance event before and I don‘t know the YZF-R1, even though a lot of people speak very highly about it. In addition, the MotoGP calendar is very demanding and we will have to work through the training for the event, in between the races. Therefore, we need to work as much as possible in order to be prepared for the race, but I‘m very excited to get this opportunity. Moreover, it will be nice to work with Bradley as a partner where we will fight together, instead of against each other. I think we will complement each other very well and have a great time. The only thing is that neither of us know the Suzuka track, so I hope Nakasuga-san can help us with everything, which includes the circuit, the bike and the correct strategies that we need to have a successful eight hour race. It will be special and we will do our best to reward the faith that Yamaha has put in us.”
Rider Bradley Smith
“Firstly, I want to give Yamaha a massive thank you for considering me to be part of their Suzuka 8 Hour team, which is a legendary event. I‘m looking forward to trying a new form of motorcycle racing and even more so along with my MotoGP teammate Pol and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, who has a strong record at this special race. I think it will be an unforgettable event and it will add another chapter to my life with Yamaha. I‘m also very excited to try the new Yamaha YZF-R1, which I have heard a lot about and it will be really great to finally get the opportunity to ride it. Of course, I will take this event very seriously as we are going to be part of the official Factory Team effort, so I will head to Japan with the full intention of getting a high scoring result for Yamaha.”
Team Manager Wataru Yoshikawa
“This time we have assembled a great team that really has me personally very excited. [Katsuyuki] Nakasuga is a rider with a wealth of experience racing at Suzuka Circuit and in the Suzuka 8 Hours, and in addition to running fast times, we will need his presence as a team leader to help propel us to victory. A critical point for our success will be to have [Pol] Espargarò and [Bradley] Smith learn from Nakasuga‘s Suzuka experience and then deliver the performances that they are capable of as such outstanding riders. To do this, we will need to supply them with a highly competitive machine that they will feel good riding on, and to create an environment that enables them to concentrate fully on their racing. The Suzuka 8 Hours is a very tough race, but we are determined to win it and show that we are the strongest team of all. To win, it is also vital that we have the support of the fans. Let‘s all strive together to get the victory and share the Kando that it will surely bring.”
Indonesia may finally get the MotoGP race it has long desired. Carmelo Ezpeleta and Javier Alonso met with senior Indonesian politicians and the management of the Sentul International circuit, to talk about the possibility of staging a MotoGP race in the country from 2017 onwards. Though the meeting produced no concrete agreement, the two sides expressed their commitment to working together to make an Indonesian round of MotoGP happen.
Dorna and the manufacturers have been eyeing Indonesia for some time now. The populous Southeast Asian country is one of the biggest markets for motorcycles in the world, sales consisting mostly of small capacity scooters. The numbers are mind boggling, in the tens of millions of units in total. So the factories are very keen to get their riders in front of Indonesian fans and help promote their brands. The fact that the Indonesian distributors of both Honda and Yamaha are sponsors to the factory teams speaks volumes in this respect.
Dorna, too, are keen to capitalize on the opportunities presented by Indonesia. The country is a major source of internet traffic for most racing-related websites, and supplies a large proportion of followers on social media to racers, teams and journalists alike. With a growing economy and a fast-expanding middle class with expendable income, Dorna has its eyes on the TV market and on selling merchandise, video content and mobile apps to Indonesia.
Two problems have always faced any attempts to race in Indonesia. The first is the smaller of the two: the lack of a suitable venue. Facilities at the Sentul International circuit, where MotoGP last raced in 1997, have fallen into a state of disrepair, and the track is in no way capable of hosting a round of MotoGP as the track stands. There have been constant rumors of new tracks being built, but so far, nothing has come to fruition. During the meeting on Wednesday, Sentul director Tinton Soeprapto promised to work towards complying with all of the demands of the FIM, but also asked for their help.
The bigger issue in Indonesia is the corruption in the country. At Sepang, I spoke to one senior member of the paddock, who asked not to be named, who expressed both the great desire of all concerned to go to Indonesia, and the problems which corruption caused when putting on a race. The teams feared problems at every level: getting equipment in and out of the country, moving people in and out of the country, and even something as simple as getting into and out of the track, my source told me. Planning for a race was almost impossible if you could not be sure your equipment had made it through customs, been transported from the airport to the circuit, and deposited in the right place. Costs were impossible to estimate if each of these steps required bribes to be paid to various officials. The support of the police was vital, but that, too, was often subject to financial inducement, both at the highest level and at the level of individual police officers demanding money to let team staff past to enter the circuit.
Arranging a race in Indonesia is only possible with support from the highest levels of government. The presence of Indonesia's Minster of Tourism, Arief Yahya, was a very positive step in this regard. Though getting rid of corruption would be the best solution, that is beyond the remit of even Dorna. The subtext of Carmelo's Ezpeleta's visit seemed to be ensuring that Dorna have the backing of the Indonesian government before committing to holding a race.
Though Dorna expressed the hope that Indonesia will be able to host a race from 2017, there is clearly still a lot of work to be done to make it happen.
The 2015 MotoGP round at Brno is still not certain to go ahead as a result of a battle for control of the race. According to German-language website Speedweek, circuit owner Karel Abraham Sr. and South Moravian governor Michal Hasek have been arguing since August last year over who will organize the Czech round of MotoGP at the Masaryk circuit in Brno. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has given them an ultimatum, saying that if the situation is not resolved by the first week of June, the 2015 Brno MotoGP round will be canceled.
The dispute at the heart of the problem is about control, and about money. Circuit owner Abraham Sr claims he cannot afford the €2.73 million sanctioning fee demanded by Dorna to host the race, and was therefore subsidized by the city council of Brno and the regional government of South Moravia. Abraham Sr told Speedweek that over €1 million of the amount promised for the 2014 race has yet to be paid. Governor Hasek, meanwhile, has been trying to persuade Dorna to award the contract to the South Moravian government, and allow them to organize the race, according to Speedweek. Ezpeleta is reported to be wary of any such deal, as the government has no control over the race track. Organizing the practical side of the race becomes much more difficult if the track is owned by Abraham Sr, but run by the South Moravian government. Negotiations over the numbers of marshals, medical marshals, etc, become very complex when it is not clear where the responsibility lies.
What is not clear is why Abraham Sr claims that he does not have the funds to organize the Czech round of MotoGP. Last year, there were 138,000 spectators on Sunday, and over 240,000 over three days. The cheapest tickets on sale for this year's event retail at 68 euros. If everyone who attended only bought GA tickets, that would generate nearly €9.4 million in turnover. According to Speedweek, the race is profitable if they get over 170,000 visitors over the three days of the event. The Brno race is the most popular on the calendar, and exceeds that number by 40% or more every year.
Ezpeleta has now issued an ultimatum to both Abraham Sr. and Hasek. If the two cannot reach agreement on the situation and in the week following Mugello, then the 2015 Brno round will be canceled with immediate effect, and there will be a three week break between Indianapolis on 9th August and Silverstone on 30th August. Ezpeleta hopes to force the two parties, who have refused to speak to one another for several months now, into action. Both parties want the race to go ahead: the event is profitable for the circuit, and it brings a large amount of money into the South Moravia region, generating employment and tax revenue. The problem is that neither party appears willing to concede.
This is not a new problem. The race has been shrouded in uncertainty for several years now, with arguments over money, and who should fund the race, at the heart of the issue. With MotoGP due to return to the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria in 2016, that would provide a race in the same region, and offering an alternative to the Czech race.
The loss of Brno would be a tragedy, though. The circuit is one of the few which allow the MotoGP bikes to truly stretch their legs, and the challenging layout has often provided memorable races. The race is extremely popular with fans - in part due to the generally low prices for accommodation, and especially food and beer - and the setting is stunning, the Masarykring track snaking up and down steep wooded hills. We can only hope that common sense prevails in the near future.
The era of Honda's monopoly in Moto2 could be drawing to an end. Today, the FIM announced that they were putting the engine supply for Moto2 out to tender, and asking for proposals from potential engine suppliers. The Moto2 class is to remain a single make engine class, with engines managed and supplied by the series organizer.
The announcement comes as a result of Honda's CBR600 powerplant, which has powered the Moto2 bikes since the inception of the class, reaches the end of its service life. The engines are virtually unchanged since their introduction in 2010, and Honda cannot guarantee the supply of spares for the engines beyond the current contract, which ends after the 2018 season. A replacement will be needed, whether it comes from Honda or from another manufacturer.
The first stage of the new process will be to consult with manufacturers on the basics of the class, while retaining the cornerstones of the Moto2 class: affordability, reliability, and a level playing field. Unfortunately, that is likely to rule out small, specialist engine builders, as Dorna and IRTA (who represent the Moto2 teams) will want to ensure the long-term (6+ years) supply of engines. Switching engine suppliers once, at the end of 2018, will be traumatic, as it will mean having to throw away all of their old chassis, and start to build up experience with the new bikes almost from scratch. What they will not want to do is to have to switch again after two or three years, as that would then send costs through the roof. Once the consultation process is complete, then the contract will be formally put out to tender, and open to bids from interested manufacturers.
So who might those manufacturers be? Certainly, the major Japanese manufacturers engaged in MotoGP would be interested. Both Honda and Yamaha submitted bids for the initial contract, for the start of the 2010 season, with Honda eventually getting the contract. But Suzuki and even Kawasaki could equally be interested, given that they have 600cc sports bikes which could supply suitable engines. KTM has previously expressed an interest, especially in build 500cc twins using the same 81mm bore as a Moto3 and MotoGP bike. That engine would basically be twice a Moto3 bike and half a MotoGP engine. However, the Austrian engine maker has always said they are only interested if there was engine competition, and that will not happen.
Losing Honda will upset the teams. The Moto2 class has proven to be extremely popular with the teams, as it is an extremely affordable class. A team can obtain a chassis, engine, and brake and suspension supply for a full season for well under €200,000. A bike in Moto3 costs between €300,000 and €500,000 per season, depending on the manufacturer (and despite the cost cap in place). The teams all have a vast amount of data and experience with the chassis, and all this will be lost when Honda goes.
Below is the press release from the FIM announcing the move.
FIM opens consultation with potential Moto2 engine suppliers
Following the announcement that Honda Racing Corporation would continue to be the official engine supplier for the FIM Moto2 World Championship for three more years (2016 to the end of 2018), the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) and Dorna Sports will now start talks with other potential candidates for the exclusive engine supplier for the class from 2019 onwards.
The goal of this first stage of consultation will be to take in feedback from manufacturers to further foster the key values of the Moto2 class: keep it accessible and affordable, and offer a level playing field to teams and riders by providing reliable and consistently performing engine units.
The FIM and Dorna will be listening to and engaging in discussions with interested manufacturers until the end of the season, ahead of the actual tender process that will be launched by the end of the year, in order to elect the official engine supplier from 2019 onwards.
Pol Espargaro has had surgery on his right arm to fix a problem with arm pump, the rider's management team has announced in a press release. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was operated on in Madrid by Dr. Angel Villamor, widely regarded as one of the top authorities on treating compartment syndrome, and the surgeon who treated Dani Pedrosa. The surgery is judged to have gone well, and Espargaro is due to be examined again at the end of the week.
Espargaro had suffered sporadic problems with arm pump for some time, but had not felt the problem was bad enough to require surgery. After the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, the Tech 3 rider had undergone extensive physiotherapy to try to treat the condition, but a more severe attack during the race in Le Mans, had decided that surgery was the only option to cure the problem. Espargaro had suffered a severe lack of strength in his right arm from lap 7 of the French GP onwards, and this had been the deciding factor. In the press statement, Espargaro said "in reality, I had noticed this feeling in my forearms several times before, but never gave it too much importance. But in the last two races it was a bit worse. In Jerez, I put it down to the type of track and the effort I had used in the first laps trying to follow Lorenzo and Marquez, and then Rossi and Crutchlow, but in Le Mans it was worse, because it affected my riding very quickly."
Espargaro elected to have surgery as quickly as possible, so that he had as much time as possible to recover ahead of the next race. The Italian Grand Prix at Mugello takes place in twelve days time, giving him time to prepare for that race.
It has been a busy week in medical terms for both Espargaro brothers. While Pol was having surgery for arm pump in Madrid, Aleix was under the knife to fix the ligaments he tore in a crash in FP3 at Le Mans.
Aleix Espargaro is to have surgery on the hand he injured at Le Mans. The Spaniard had a massive highside during FP3, falling heavily and injuring his hand. The scans he had at the time showed no sign of fractures, but examinations on Monday by Dr. Mir turned up a torn ligament in his right thumb, a condition more commonly known as skier's thumb.
Espargaro is to have an operation in Barcelona on Tuesday to fix the problem. The surgery will be performed a the Dexeus Clinic, and Dr. Mir is to update the media on Tuesday afternoon, after the operation. The aim is for Espargaro to race at Mugello, but the doctors are unwilling as yet to give an estimate for the recovery period. With just over a week to go to the first practice for Mugello, recovery time is very short indeed, especially as this is the thumb of his right hand, which is so important to motorcycle racers.
Below is the press release from Suzuki.
ESPARGARO TO UNDERGO SURGERY TOMORROW IN BARCELONA
Team Suzuki Press Office – May 18th
Aleix Espargaro will undergo surgery tomorrow morning in Barcelona, Spain after the injury he suffered on his right hand in the crash he had on Saturday in Le Mans.
The Spaniard went to Barcelona today to be examined by Doctor Xavier Mir, who has done several tests on Aleix’s hand and has finally diagnosed a rupture of the collateral ligament of the thumb of the right hand.
Dr. Xavier Mir:
“Aleix suffered a rupture in the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpophalangeal joint of the right thumb, confirmed by ultrasound and x-rays. This injury causes joint instability and therefore a surgical repair is necessary.”
The surgery will take place tomorrow at 11am at Clinica Dexeus in Barcelona. After 4pm the interested media will be received by Doctor Mir for a post-surgery update. The Team SUZUKI ECSTAR press office will also report the updates.
After the surgery Espargaro will stay in the hospital for the whole night, but at the moment it is impossible to anticipate the exact time he will need for recovery.
His objective is to be ready for the next GP of Italy at Mugello at the end of the month.
It is ironic that now we are getting into the meat of the motorcycle racing season, there should be so little news to speak of. But perhaps it is a matter of perspective: there is plenty of real news to be found in motorcycle racing, but it is to be found and read where you would expect to find it, in the middle of every race weekend. That is especially true now that MotoGP and World Superbikes have returned to a more fan-friendly schedule, the two world championships alternating weekends again, with BSB, the CEV and MotoAmerica filling in any gaps when they appear.
Then again, at this stage of the season, all of the focus is on the coming races, rather than next year. It is too early for silly season, especially as all the factory rides are locked up for 2016, and even Jorge Lorenzo's option to leave early removed. There are plenty of attractive seats to be filled for 2016: the contracts of both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders are up at the end of the year, Cal Crutchlow is on a one-year contract, Yonny Hernandez has a one-year deal at Pramac, and the seats at Forward and Aspar are all being filled by riders with one-year contracts. Speculation about those seats will only start in earnest around mid-season, once team managers have half a season's worth of results to start drawing conclusions, and see who might be available to make the move up from Moto2.
That does not mean that nothing has happened in the past week or so. Here's a quick cast around the world of racing over the last seven days.
Viva El Rea!
Jonathan Rea already proved he was fast around Imola last year, when he did the double on the asthmatic Honda CBR1000RR. He underlined that once again last weekend, taking two wins from two races on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. The first was won in a six-lap dash, the first attempt at race one being red-flagged after David Salom crashed heavily, fracturing a wrist in the incident. Imola is a wonderful track, beautifully situated, but she can be a very cruel mistress indeed when you crash.
Rea's double win gets him off to the best start of a season since Neil Hodgson's championship season in 2003. He now has 240 points from a possible maximum of 250, having missed out on the top step only twice this season, at Phillip Island and at Aragon. But, to paraphrase the great American writer Gore Vidal, it is not enough to succeed, others must fail. Rea's lead is now 87 points over second place man Leon Haslam, due in no small part to the misfortune of Rea's rivals. Chaz Davies suffered a double technical failure at Imola, taking his deficit to Rea from a worrying 67 points to an almost insurmountable 117 points. Haslam could not follow the Kawasakis in race one, and crashed out in race two, adding another 37 points to his deficit. Kawasaki teammate Tom Sykes is moving up the championship table, but at the same time, the gap to Rea is widening every race.
If Rea continues at this rate, the WSBK title could be wrapped up very early. If he keeps scoring points at the same rate, the championship could be over as early as Sepang, at the beginning of August. A little more misfortune for his rivals, and it could be all over by the middle of July, when WSBK heads to Laguna Seca. But, as Nicky Hayden likes to say, that's why they line up on Sunday, because you never know what will happen. The season ain't over till it's over.
The Pata of tiny feet?
An intriguing rumor emerged at the Imola WSBK round. According to Paolo Gozzi of the Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the most respected and well-informed journalists in the World Superbike paddock, Pata, the Italian snack maker, is considering abandoning Honda and cozying up to Yamaha when they return to WSBK in 2016. According to Gozzi, Pata are disappointed with the results Honda have brought them, with just two podiums for impressive Dutch rookie Michael van der Mark, while reigning World Superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli has not managed to finish any better than fifth.
The plan, Gozzi writes, is for Pata to leave Honda and back the Yamaha squad who will be returning to WSBK in 2016. The team running Yamaha's WSBK effort would then be the VR46 team owned by Valentino Rossi. Rossi already has a personal tie-in with Pata, who are personal sponsor to the Italian racing legend.
But Gordon Ritchie, another giant of the WSBK media pack, is reporting on the German website Speedweek that such stories are entirely unsubstantiated. Ritchie asked Carlo Fiorani, head of Honda Europe's racing program, about the possibility, and Fiorani dismissed the story out of hand, as a "typical non-story from the Italian press." Pata has a two-year contract with Honda, for 2015 and 2016, and no option to end it early. Furthermore, Pata is backing not just Honda's WSBK program. The Italian snack firm also has an interest in the Ten Kate Honda World Supersport team, as well as sponsoring the European Junior Cup, which is run with strong support from Honda, racing Honda CBR650F bikes. Stepping away from that is much more complex than just dropping support from Honda's World Superbike team.
Ducati's Mugello test – fast times and dislocated shoulders
While most of the rest of the MotoGP men went testing on the Monday after Jerez, the factory Ducati team took a week off, then went to Mugello for a private test. What were they testing there? According to the press release, they were testing electronics set ups and chassis parts introduced at Jerez, as well as preparing for the Mugello MotoGP round, which is due at the end of the month. The times set were impressive: on a track with only Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone circulating, alongside Michael Laverty testing for Aprilia, Iannone posted a 1'47.5 and Dovizioso a 1'47.8. Those are pretty much the times the two men set during qualifying last year, in the middle of a race weekend, with all the adrenaline that involves.
The times bode well for the Mugello race, where a Ducati win would be a dream result: an Italian rider on an Italian bike at the Italian Grand Prix. That could be difficult for Andrea Iannone, however. The Italian suffered a very heavy fall at Arrabbiata 2 towards the end of the test, dislocating his shoulder in the incident. He has provisionally been declared fit for Le Mans, but racing may be a little painful for Iannone.
Were Ducati using the test to try something new and secret? Probably not, though we have no real way of knowing. The GP15 is still a very new motorcycle, with lots of potential to be extracted. A couple of days to play with the bike, change set up and test what really works would be invaluable to the Ducati team. It will be a few more races before they start pursuing radical new directions again.
Dani dashes dreams
It may be old news, but worth commenting on nonetheless. Dani Pedrosa is finally to make his return at Le Mans, after pulling out of Jerez at the last minute. The Repsol Honda rider is finally satisfied with the recovery process after the surgery to remove the fascia from around his right forearm. He posted on his Repsol blog that he felt vindicated for taking the extra time to recover. But he and we will only really how his forearm holds up after Sunday's race. Le Mans has a lot of hard braking for hairpins, and few places to rest and recover, so it will be a real test of the surgery.
Pedrosa's return should finally quell the speculation and gossip surrounding a possible return of Casey Stoner to the Repsol Honda team. It should, but it won't. Stoner's fans still dream of a return, and news media know that Stoner MotoGP return stories sell newspapers and magazines, and drive internet page views. However unlikely a Stoner return may be, the chatter will continue until his daughter Alessandra starts her racing career...
Dani Pedrosa is to return to racing at the Le Mans round of MotoGP. His return brings to an end an extended absence following surgery to cure a persistent arm pump problem. Pedrosa missed three rounds in total, skipping Austin and Argentina, then making a last-minute decision to withdraw from the Jerez round.
That decision was regarded with some suspicion. Jerez is a track where Pedrosa has performed very strongly in the past, and missing a home GP is a major wrench of any MotoGP rider. However, after testing his forearm by riding a supermoto bike, Pedrosa was concerned that his arms were not recovering as hoped. Now, with two weeks more rest, Pedrosa believes his arms will be strong enough to withstand the stresses of racing a MotoGP bike.
There is a small irony in Pedrosa returning to action at Le Mans. The French circuit marked the beginning of one of the Spaniard's darkest periods in racing. Pedrosa fractured his right collarbone when he was knocked off his Repsol Honda by a hard-charging Marco Simoncelli. The subsequent surgery to plate the collarbone left Pedrosa suffering Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which caused numbness and weakness in his right hand, and made it very difficult for him to race. That problem was only solved by new surgery, which involved removing the screws from his plated collarbone, one of which was believed to be creating the TOS issue by temporarily blocking an artery when Pedrosa was held in a racing crouch. Before the issue was resolved, Pedrosa was giving serious consideration to retiring permanently from racing. The whole episode has left Pedrosa with a deep-seated aversion of surgery. It has also left him determined only to return to racing when he can do so at full fitness, and not before.
Pedrosa's return will bring to an end an uncomfortable period for HRC. Honda bosses had faced a barrage of questioning over both Pedrosa's extended absence and their decision to field Hiroshi Aoyama as Pedrosa's replacement, despite an offer to ride from Casey Stoner. Livio Suppo and Shuhei Nakamoto did their best to quash the gossip in a fractious press conference at Jerez, but question marks remained. The Repsol Honda team will now hope to turn its attention to racing.
The press release issued by the Repsol Media Service, covering its riders in both MotoGP and Moto3, appears below:
France welcomes Repsol riders on Pedrosa’s return to action
- Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to compete at Le Mans this weekend, where they have won for the past two seasons. In Moto3, Fabio Quartararo competes in home race, alongside Jorge Navarro and Maria Herrera.
- Marc Marquez has reached 40 races in MotoGP, in which he has taken 20 wins, a further 12 podiums, 24 pole positions and 2 titles.
- Marquez won last year at Le Mans and has been on pole the past three seasons (2 in MotoGP and 1 in Moto2) also taking his first career pole there at the 2009 125cc race.
- Dani Pedrosa has 4 victories at Le Mans (1 in MotoGP in 2013, 2 in 250cc in 2004 and 2005 and 1 in 125cc in 2003) plus 6 poles (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012).
The legendary Le Mans circuit hosts the fifth MotoGP round of the season this weekend. It will be a special event for the Repsol riders, as Marc Marquez will be further recovered from his finger injury for a race that he won last season. He will be accompanied by teammate Dani Pedrosa, who returns from forearm surgery. In Moto3, Fabio Quartararo will contest his first home GP.
The Bugatti circuit at Le Mans is a track at which Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa have shone in recent years. They were winners in 2014 and 2013, respectively, and both have a host of wins, podiums and poles from previous seasons. In Moto3, Quartararo, Navarro and Herrera rode there for the first time last season in the FIM CEV Repsol, with Quartararo winning that event.
"Since Jerez we’ve been able to rest and now I’m feeling much stronger for this weekend. I visited Dr. Mir for a check up and my finger is definitely improving and healing well. I haven’t trained much this past week in order to give my finger a chance to restore back to 100%, which was our main goal. I like the Le Mans track, the weather is always changeable but last year it was really good and I took my first win in the MotoGP class, so let’s hope it’s the nice for us again this year!"
“I’ve been doing a lot of therapy in the past few weeks since the operation and I am improving step by step. I’m beginning to feel stronger and looking forward to getting back on the bike –after all, this is the best way to check the feeling after all the rehabilitation work. It will be good to get back to my team and catch up with them all after this time and of course to see all the fans in Le Mans, so let’s hope the weather is kind to us again like in 2014!”
"This is my home Grand Prix; although I live in Spain and it’s like a second home, it’s very special to ride in France and I will try to do the best I can. I know the track a little, although I’ve only ridden there once. It’s a ‘stop and go’ circuit with hard braking. We have been competitive at the first four races, so I am confident that we can go fast there as well –especially after the good work we did last week in testing."
"Le Mans is a track we rode at in the FIM CEV Repsol last year and it went well for us, but things change a lot in the World Championship. We will have to be focused and work well from the start. The test we did last Tuesday allowed us to take a step forward, so we will arrive there more confident and I hope that we continue improving at this race. We worked a lot on the setup and I was able to ride fast, so we will try to be up there with the lead group again and progress further."
"I know the track fairly well because of the race last year. Arriving there with references is positive. I was fast, but we can’t let up and will have to push from the first session, because this is the World Championship. In France you don’t know if it will rain or not, but our work so far this season and at the test last Tuesday mean that I believe we will be ok. I have spent a few days at home and my foot is better, so we will push hard to have a good weekend."
Ducati could have their concessions removed a year early. The manufacturers' association, MSMA, are proposing to introduce the concession point system, which was due to start in 2016, to apply from this year. That would mean that Ducati would be forced to race in 2016 against Honda and Yamaha under the same regulations, including frozen engines, seven engines a year instead of nine, and testing limited to official tests.
The success of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 has shown up a gap in the regulations. The system of concessions allowed to manufacturers without a recent win has universally been hailed as a success, allowing Ducati to catch up with Yamaha and Honda, and Suzuki to already close the gap. However, as the rules are due to change in 2016, the system of concessions will also change. Under the system which applies this year, a factory which has not had a dry win in the last three years gets extra fuel, a soft rear, 12 engines instead of 5, freedom from the engine freeze, and freedom to test with factory riders. From 2016, all of the teams will have 22 liters of fuel and will be using the same tires, and so there will be fewer concessions. Factories will get 9 engines instead of 7, not be subject to an engine freeze, and be allowed to test with factory riders.
The system for calculating when a factory loses concessions will also change. A new system of concession points will be introduced for 2016, awarding 3 points to a win, 2 points for a second and 1 point for a third. If a factory with concessions racks up 6 concession points, in whatever combination, they will lose concessions. The unlimited testing will stop immediately, and for the following season, they will have only 7 engines and be subject to the engine freeze.
However, that leaves a gap which would allow Ducati to continue with concessions for 2016, despite having booked an awful lot of success with the GP15 this year. If Ducati do not win in the dry this year, then they would start 2016 still with more engines, free testing and the ability to develop the engine through next season, until they scored a total of 6 concession points. With Andrea Dovizioso's three second places in the first three races, and Andrea Iannone's third place at Qatar, Ducati would already have scored 7 concession points had the 2016 system already been in effect.
At the MSMA meeting at Jerez, the manufacturers discussed applying the points system in 2015, to affect concessions for the 2016 season. This would mean that Ducati would lose their concessions for 2016, having already scored more than 6 points this season.
Speaking to MotoMatters.com, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo explained the situation. "There is some confusion, because we are overlapping two different sets of rules. What is clear is that as the MSMA, we said we start these concessions last year, basically. But at the end it is something we think we should keep, because there is much interest for KTM, Aprilia, Suzuki, and it is good for the sport, so we all agree that we should try to keep this kind of advantage for the manufacturers which are rookies, and which are not competitive."
The overlap between the two sets of rules is what was causing the problem, Suppo said. "This is clear, if you do six concession points in 2016, in 2017, you will be without concessions. Then we didn't think for 2016! Our opinion is that if this will work for 2016 to 2017, it should be the same for 2015 to 2016. That's a normal understanding because the spirit of the rule is, we help manufacturers who are struggling."
Unsurprisingly, Ducati were not in favor of the change, pointing to the fact that there is already a system in place, and the FIM had already clarified the rules. "The problem is that Ducati start to say, we need to win three dry races this year, because to lose the tire, we need to win races. But this is another story!" Suppo said. "Then they say, we need to win one race, because there is an FIM press release which speaks about one win, before we were speaking about podiums. Then suddenly, Mike Trimby (of IRTA) proposed the concession points. Probably it's better, because it's more clear. We agreed that it works, everybody agreed that from next year, it will be like that. Honestly, why not from this year?"
Suppo pointed out that the intention of the rule was to help manufacturers who are struggling to be competitive catch up with the more successful factories. Applying those rules to Ducati, who are clearly competitive, seems to go against the spirit of the rules. "If the spirit of the rule is to help people who are struggling, sorry, when I talk with Gigi (Dall'Igna) at the meeting and told him Gigi, you have done a very good job, but don't pretend you are not competitive and need help next year! Because in theory, they can win this championship." Suppo told us.
It wasn't just a question of being fair to the other factory teams, Suppo said, allowing Ducati another year of concessions would be unfair on the satellite Honda and Yamaha teams. "It's also in my opinion not fair for the other manufacturers, and also for satellite teams that pay a lot of money for our bikes and for Yamaha's bikes, and then they have many Ducatis in front of them. Forget about the factory team, but also for Lucio [Cecchinello of LCR Honda], for Marc VDS, they have a factory bike, why should they fight against another factory bike which has some advantage? It's difficult for them to survive. So it's not just difficult for other manufacturers. And the fact that even Suzuki says that if you get six concession points this year, then we lose the concession."
At the moment, this is still in the discussion stage, and has not been accepted into the rules. For that to happen, it must first be put forward by the MSMA, and then put to a vote by the members of the Grand Prix Commission. Obviously, the proposal will not have the unanimous backing of all of the MSMA members, as Ducati are still clearly against it. That will not matter, however, if the proposal is accepted by a simple majority in the GPC.