After several long, dark months of near silence on racetracks around the world, motorcycle racing fans can ready themselves for a feast of on-track action. For 10 of the next 14 days will see every international race class on track testing, with the bonus of the opening round of the World Superbike championship to top it off.
First up is a major outing for the Moto2 and 125cc classes at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit. A total of 42 riders are expected to take to the track, including the cream of the 125cc crop and some of the major players in Moto2.
In the 125cc class, the four favorites for the title will face off for the first time. The Derbis of Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez will be up against the Aprilias of Bradley Smith and Nico Terol, as the teams and riders prepare for the championship.
Smith returns to the Aspar fold, after failing to find a place in Moto2. In compensation, however, Smith will start the season with the best chance of becoming the first British World Champion since Barry Sheene in 1977. He knows the bike and the team, and his biggest challenge may come from his still growing body, as he inches north of 5'8, outgrowing the ideal size for a 125 racer.
Fortunately for Smith, his prime challenger Marc Marquez is having the same problem. The Spanish Ajo Motorsport Derbi rider has shot up since winning his first race back in 2008, and is rapidly approaching human size. His growth spurt didn't prevent him from putting in a very strong season in 2009, and more should be expected in 2010.
But most of the interest will go out to the Moto2 class, where a large contingent of over 25 riders is scheduled to hit the track, including some of the favorites for the title. Development will continue on the Kalex Pons of Sergio Gadea and the Aspar RSVs of Julian Simon and Mike di Meglio. Tech 3 will continue the development of their home-grown chassis, with Yuki Takahashi and Raffaele de Rosa due to take to the track. Two British-based chassis will also be in action, with American Kenny Noyes joining Joan Olive on the Antonio Banderas sponsored Promoharris bike, built in conjunction with Harris Performance, alongside the FTR ridden by Alex Debon of the Ajo team.
The FTR bikes destined for the Speed Up team of Gabor Talmacsi and Andrea Iannone are not yet ready to take to the track, and so Talmacsi will be running a tuned CBR600RR with racing wheels and the standard Dunlop tires, instead. Meanwhile, Ant West, who had previously tested at Valencia aboard a CBR600RR Supersport bike, will be giving the MZ its first outing, despite MZ not being officially accepted as a Moto2 entry.
Japanese chassis specialists Moriwaki will only have Spanish riders Fonsi Nieto and Yannick Guerra out on track, though they will be supplying bikes to 6 riders of the current grid. But the largest contingent will be from Swiss engineering firm Suter, who will have a whole gaggle of bikes out, in the hands of luminaries such as Hector Faubel, Roberto Rolfo, Jules Cluzel, Stefan Bradl and British rider Scott Redding.
Despite all these various chassis, the times are still going to far more difficult to interpret than a neutral observer might hope. The level of engine tuning employed is still varying wildly, from 125hp stock engines with just an exhaust and ECU, to Superstock-spec engines in the Tech 3 machines, to 140+hp full-blown Supersport engines in the MZ and several of the Suters. The philosophies are still radically different, one team choosing to focus on chassis development and setup where another is looking more towards getting their riders up to speed.
At least as interesting are the names of riders who will be absent. Former MotoGP rider Alex de Angelis of the Scot team will be missing, as well as former 250 star Mattia Pasini and former 125 standout Andrea Iannone. Teams are still struggling with both development and funds, and several teams have chosen to wait until the official engine arrives for the tests at Jerez on March 1st before starting to spend their money.
Perhaps even more interesting is the name of a not-so-neutral observer, who will be attending the test but not riding. Toni Elias, the red-hot favorite to be the inaugural Moto2 champion, will be appearing at the test as a spectator, but will only be able to stand idly by. The Gresini team have elected to skip this test as they have others, saying that they are waiting for the latest version of the Moriwaki MD600 to arrive. They had initially proposed that Elias test the previous version of the bike, but Elias rejected this idea, preferring to test at Misano next week, according to MotoWorld.es.
This news is fueling unconfirmed rumors that the team is short on funds, and is still struggling to put a budget together for the year. The truth of these rumors will become apparent in 13 days' time, when the teams take to the track for the first test with the official engine at Jerez. For Elias to miss the Barcelona test may be regarded as a misfortune, for him to miss Jerez rather looks like something else altogether, to paraphrase a great Irish writer.
There is also good news for anyone who happens to be in the Barcelona area over the next three days. The track is to be opened to the public for free on all three days, starting at 9am. Access is via Gate 3, and there will also be a pit walk and rider autograph session on Thursday from 5pm local time, according to Spanish magazine Motociclismo.
Once the Moto2 and 125 tests are over, fans have a day's rest before the next test begins. On February 21st, the World Superbike series takes to the track for the last test before the 2010 season kicks off with the first race on Sunday, February 28th. Between the WSBK test and race, MotoGP returns to Sepang for another two days of testing on Thursday the 25th and Friday the 26th. And then on the Monday after the World Superbike opener, Moto2 heads to Jerez for three days of testing with the official Honda 600 engine, and a chance to see how the cards truly lie in Moto2.
Test and race schedule for the coming few days:
|Moto2 & 125 Test||Feb. 17 - 19||Barcelona|
|WSBK Test||Feb 21 & 22||Phillip Island|
|MotoGP Test||Feb 25 & 26||Sepang|
|WSBK Race, Round 1||Feb 26-28||Phillip Island|
|Moto2 Official Test||Mar 1-3||Jerez|