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Repsol "Not Currently Investigating" Lorenzo As Successor To Repsol

For months now, rumors have swirled around the MotoGP paddock about Dani Pedrosa's future at Repsol Honda. According to the gossips, Pedrosa had been issued with an ultimatum: win the championship this season, or look elsewhere for a ride. With both Pedrosa's contract with Honda and Repsol's contract to sponsor the factory HRC team up at the end of the season, the rumors looked fairly credible.

To investigate just how much truth there was to such talk, Manuel Pecino of the respected Spanish magazine Solo Moto spoke to Repsol's new corporate director of sponsorship, Begona Elices at Jerez. Elices was very clear about Repsol's goals and expectations, and the reason they spend so much money on MotoGP. "Our priority is to be world champion," Elices told Solo Moto.

Repsol are also behind Dani Pedrosa, but Elices' support for the Spaniard was not quite wholehearted. "Dani has done what could be expected of him. In this respect, we are happy with him, but we have to keep moving forward. Our demand is that we have to keep giving the maximum." Elices also made it clear where Repsol thought the problems lie, telling Solo Moto "Our focus is on improving the competitiveness of the bike. We have to listen to Pedrosa, he's an experienced rider who we believe is capable of providing the information necessary to develop a winning machine. Our primary objective is to be fighting for victory."

As for the rumors about Repsol getting Jorge Lorenzo in to replace Pedrosa, Elices dismissed them, but once again, left room for interpretation: "That is not a scenario were are currently examining."

Taken at face value, Elices' interview with Solo Moto is fairly clear about where Repsol stands. However, MotoGP being the hive of gossip and rumor that it is, the tiny amounts of wiggle room Elices left in her comments - either intentionally or not - mean this story isn't going to go away just yet. Probably not until both Repsol and Pedrosa have contracts signed and sealed. Whoever those contracts are with.

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WSBK Replacement List: Nieto For Neukirchner, Lavilla For Roberts, Laverty For Harms

Monza's Disney-style first chicane has decimated the World Superbike field after the multi-rider crash at the start of race one last weekend. Makoto Tamada seemed to clip Brendan Roberts' back wheel, sending the Australian's Guandalini Ducati up the rode to take out the Alstare Brux Suzuki of Max Neukirchner, while Tamada's Kawasaki veered off to hit Tommy Hill's Althea Honda, which in turn took out the BMW S1000RR of Troy Corser. After the dust had settled, Neukirchner was left with a broken femur and broken bones in his foot and ankle, Tamada suffered a fractured wrist, and examination in the local hospital found that Roberts had come away without broken bones, but was very severely bruised.

And so the World Superbike series heads to Kyalami with a host of new - or rather, different - faces filling a range of seats. For in addition to Neukirchner, Tamada and Roberts, Veidec Res Software's Robbin Harms didn't make it out of the first free practice session for the World Supersport class at Monza, and will also be missing in South Africa.

The biggest loss to the series is undoubtedly Max Neukirchner. The German was tipped as a prime candidate for the title before the season began, and entered Monza in 5th place in the World Superbike championship. The severity of Neukirchner's injuries will mean that in addition to Kyalami, the German is likely to miss the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and even a return at Misano in mid-June must be considered doubtful.

In the interim, former team mate Fonsi Nieto looks like taking Neukirchner's place. The Spaniard had signed a contract to ride for the Alstare team this season, but problems with sponsorship left Nieto without the cash to fund a third bike inside the team. After several other options fell through, Nieto found himself riding the LaGlisse Moto2 machine in the Spanish CEV championship. Unfortunately for Nieto, that also fell through when Honda won the contract to supply the Moto2 series with engines, forcing LaGlisse to shelve their Yamaha YZF-R6-based project. At least with Neukirchner out for a number of rounds, Nieto will get a chance to impress some of the many team managers complaining of struggling riders.

Australian Brendan Roberts is one of those men. The reigning FIM Superstock 1000 champion has failed to make much of an impression at the Guandalini team, though his results had started to improve at Assen. Roberts must now fear for his job, as the WSBK and BSB veteran Gregorio Lavilla has been drafted in to take Roberts' place in South Africa while the Australian recovers from the battering he took at Monza. Lavilla already competes for Guandalini in the Italian World Superbike championship, and so a strong result in Kyalami - a track the Spaniard knows having previously ridden there - could seal Roberts' fate.

Makoto Tamada's seat is less at risk, despite rumors that the PBM Kawasaki team are far from happy with the Japanese rider, a rider choice alleged to have been forced upon them by Kawasaki HQ. At first, Stuart Easton, who replaced Broc Parkes at Assen, was expected to replace Tamada, but the team later announced that no one would ride Tamada's machine in South Africa.

In the World Supersport class, there will be an extra Laverty on the grid. Eugene's brother Michael will replacing the injured Robbin Harms at the Veidec Racing RES Software team. Michael will have the advantage of making his debut at a track very few of the rest of the field have ridden at, leveling the playing field for the newcomer, currently riding the east coast rounds of AMA with Barry Gilsenan's Celtic Racing team. But the Veidec team have performed well under par this season: Harms regularly finished in the top 6 with the Stiggy Honda team, but has been much further down the order on the Veidec Honda. Harms has a broken collarbone, and should be back at Miller in three weeks' time.

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Neukirchner Breaks Femur, Out Until Misano? UPDATED

The first corner mayhem at Monza has proven very expensive for the talented young German, Max Neukirchner. Neukirchner entered the first chicane in 3rd place, but a pile up behind him meant that Brendan Roberts' bike slid across the track and slammed into the side of the German's Suzuki. Worse news was to follow, for after examination in the Clinica Mobile, Neukirchner was found to have a twisted ankle and a broken femur.

Neukirchner is likely to undergo surgery this afternoon to remedy the situation, but despite the rapid treatment, the German is likely to be out until the Misano round on June 21st, six weeks from today, and forced to miss the races at Kyalami in South Africa, and Miller in Utah, USA.

Makoto Tamada and Brendan Roberts were also injured in the crash. Tamada fractured a hand, and will miss next week's race in Kyalami. The extent of Roberts' injuries are as yet unknown, GPOne.com is reporting a suspected fractured leg, but no official word has been released. A leg fracture would be a major setback for the reigning 1000cc Superstock champion, as rumors have been swirling around the paddock that Lorenzo Lanzi could replace Roberts on the Guandalini Ducati.

UPDATE

Bikesportnews.com is reporting that Roberts is only badly battered and bruised. The Australian did not take part in either the restart of race 1 or the delayed race 2, but with only bruising to deal with, Roberts may be able to race at Kyalami next weekend.

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Paolo Flammini: "No Conflict Between Moto2 And Supersport"

Ever since the concept of the Moto2 class was announced, all eyes have been on the Flammini brothers for their reaction to a set of rules which seemed to be on a direct collision course with Infront Motor Sports and the World Supersport class. The temperature was raised even further last week, when the Permanent Committee, consisting of Dorna and the FIM, announced that Honda had been awarded the contract to supply engines to the Moto2 class, and that the engine would be loosely based on Honda's roadgoing CBR600RR unit.

So far, all our attempts to obtain a response from the Flamminis and IMS have been unsuccessful, but where MotoGPMatters.com has failed, the extremely well-connected GPOne.com website has had more success. GPOne.com asked Paolo Flammini directly whether he believed that the new Moto2 class as it currently stands conflicts with the World Supersport class run by Paolo and his brother Maurizio, and Flammini said it did not: "The philosophy in Moto2 is correct, in my opinion, because it does not conflict with our Supersport. It's a prototype motorcycle, at least the chassis is prototype and the engine is unique to the class: So it has no relation to our philosophy of motorcycles directly related to those freely available to the public, for use on the roads. In other words, the Honda CBR600RR races in the World Supersport series ... and above all, it races against bikes from four other manufacturers."

The issue is not yet completely settled, though. Flammini made it clear that IMS would be keeping their options open for a while yet. "We may examine the new rules more carefully, to evaluate whether there are points which conflict with our rules and our contracts." It may not quite be a green light from IMS for Moto2, but it's a lot closer to it than it has been for a long time.

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Bayliss To Test Ducati's MotoGP Bike

A remarkable press release from Italy. Ducati have just announced that Troy Bayliss is to test Ducati's Desmosedici GP9 at Mugello next week, at a private Ducati test from May 12th to May 14th. Bayliss is to test Ducati's MotoGP bike alongside regular tester Vittoriano Guareschi, in pursuit of improvements to the difficult Desmosedici. The press release puts it as follows: "The test has been planned for a while and will be repeated during the year at future official sessions of the Test Team. Ducati can thus count on the feedback of a three times world champion, whose talent and experience will contribute to the continuous development work carried out on the Desmosedici GP9 and GP10."

Rumors of Bayliss riding the GP9 had been floating around the internet for a couple of weeks, ever since spy shots of a set of leathers with MotoGP, Baylisstic and Marlboro Ducati logos surfaced on a couple of racer websites. The shots were allegedly taken by someone picking up a set of leathers from the Arlen Ness factory from their racing department, and had unsurprisingly generated a lot of speculation about the legendary Australian Superbike star making a return to racing. Bayliss is preparing to compete in Australia's V8 Supercars series, but is known to still have both close links to Ducati and and a hankering for motorcycle racing - despite an explicit veto by his wife.

The likelihood of Bayliss ever racing in MotoGP has to be fairly slim. After his victory in the final race of the 990 era, Bayliss proclaimed himself done with MotoGP, having gained the revenge on Ducati's MotoGP team that he had sought after being unceremoniously dumped by the squad at the end of the 2004 season. Together with his World Superbike pit crew, specially shipped in as a condition of Bayliss taking Gibernau's ride as a wildcard at the 2006 Valencia Grand Prix, he came in and took victory almost from the very first corner.

But Bayliss being called in to perform testing duty also points to Ducati having recognized that they are still having problems with the GP9. Despite the machine looking almost unbeatable in the hands of Casey Stoner, no one else seems to be capable of getting to grips with the fickle Ducati. The bike is notoriously difficult to set up, the engine mapping making the bike respond differently almost from corner to corner, disrupting the riders' concentration and robbing them of confidence. By bringing in a rider of unquestionable ability, Ducati may hope to find out whether the problem really is with the bike, or with the other riders. Given that three former world champions - Loris Capirossi, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden - all failed to get the hang of the Ducati (though fairness decrees that it is a little early to draw that conclusion for Hayden), it really does look like the problem is with the bike, and not the riders.

When asked by MotoGPMatters.com, a Ducati press officer said that the team would not be releasing times. "It will be behind closed doors, as every other test of the test team is. We may put out a final release." Of course, Bayliss' test puts Ducati in a difficult situation. If they do publish times, then this will unleash a tidal wave of speculation, either about the future of Nicky Hayden if the times are good, or about the state of the bike if the times are bad. And if they don't publish times, then this will generate even more speculation about why they didn't release the times. However, it will at least generate a lot of publicity for both the team and the sponsors.

 

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Moto2 Bikes To Race In Spanish Formula Extreme Series

Now that the rules for the Moto2 series have been finalized - all except the small matter of actually producing the spec Honda engine, that is - the teams interested in the class can finally get on with developing the bikes. To this end, Dorna and the RFME (the Royal Motorcycling Federation of Spain) had initially announced that the class would be allowed to race in the Spanish CEV championship, partly to allow the teams to work on their bikes, and partly to monitor how the class would work out.

Unfortunately, due to the lateness of the announcement and confusion over the rules, only two teams entered the Spanish Moto2 championship, and so the separate races had to be scrapped. Instead, LaGlisse's Yamaha R6-based bike and the Blusens BQR Honda-based bike took part in qualifying for the CEV Formula Extreme championship, in which 1000cc bikes compete under rules which are similar to Superstock spec. The Moto2 bikes were not unsuccessful: The bikes qualified in 5th and 6th place, just over a second off of pole.

With the Moto2 rules now finalized, and new entries from teams such as Inmotec and FTR Moto on the cards, the RFME and Dorna have decided to allow the Moto2 bikes to race. As there will still not be enough entries to field a separate race, the Moto2 bikes will race alongside the Formula Extreme bikes, starting from the next round of the CEV at Jerez on June 6th and 7th. The bikes will not score points for the Formula Extreme championship, but will instead score points for a separate Moto2 championship, not unlike the separate privateer championship in the CEV's Formula Extreme class.

This announcement is likely to generate an upsurge in interest in the CEV, not least because the next round will be at Jerez, the track which has just held the last round of MotoGP. Racing the Moto2 bikes on the same track the 250s have just raced on will allow journalists and fans to finally get an idea of just how close the two classes really are, and whether teams wanting to compete next year - when the Moto2 bikes will race alongside the 250 class - would be better off going for a four-stroke Moto2 machine or sticking with an Aprilia for 2010. We shall keep you posted, and news and results will be available from the CEV championship website at http://www.cevbuckler.com/ (in Spanish).

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Sterilgarda To Sponsor Yamaha's World Superbike Squad - But What About Byrne?

With the withdrawal of the Spanish Banco Santander as the sponsor of the Yamaha Motor Italia World Superbike squad last year - despite the relative health of the Spanish banking system - and the signing of the American Ben Spies, one of the major questions around the paddock was who would be funding what is obviously one of the best-run and most expensive World Superbike programs. Whoever decided to step in would surely be getting a return on their investment, given the fact that Ben Spies has won a race at each of the four World Superbike rounds held so far.

This fact has not been lost on Sterilgarda, as the Italian food giant has decided to step in to take a major sponsorship role for the Yamaha World Superbike team. Starting from Monza, the Sterilgarda brand will feature large on both the fairings of the Yamaha R1 race bikes, as well as the leathers of Tom Sykes and Ben Spies. In a press release, Yamaha boss Laurens Klein Koerkamp said "It's very positive to have such a well known brand in the paddock recognize how successful the Yamaha World Superbike Team is and want to be part of it. We're looking forward to working together and this being the start of a long term relationship," while Nando Sarzi, owner of Sterilgarda Alimenti said "We are really happy to be able to link our brand with The Yamaha World Superbike Team. We're really excited to be able share the racing emotions and success with the team, starting with Monza this weekend, the home race for both the team and our company."

While the signing of major sponsorship for the Yamaha team is to be applauded, the question which remains is where this leaves the current Sterilgarda Ducati team. The team has already had to cut down from two riders to just one, dropping Alex Polita to be able to retain Shane Byrne. And since Byrne's results have been frankly disappointing after his strong results during preseason testing, it must be feared that Sterilgarda's decision to sponsor Yamaha marks not so much an expansion of their program, and more a reallocation of their resources. The future of Borciani's team would look a good deal bleaker should Yamaha's Sterilgarda deal signal an end to the food giant's sponsorship of the Ducati squad.

But Byrne will be heading into the Monza round of World Superbikes with a little more hope than previously. At last weekend's round of the Italian championship, held at the Monza circuit, Byrne dominated the race, winning by over 16 seconds. If Byrne can be as good at Monza this weekend as he was last, Sterilgarda might just stick around the Ducati team.

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Alstare Boss Batta Suggests Scrapping Two Qualifier Rule For WSBK Superpole

The new Superpole format introduced in World Superbikes - three sessions of 12 minutes, with 12 riders eliminated during the first two of those sessions - has generally been met with much enthusiasm. The sessions are much more exciting than the former single-fast-lap format, and have thrown up several surprises. Most of those surprises have been caused by the tire rules: In a twist to the format, the riders are only allowed to use two super-soft qualifying tires. With two tires to spread over three sessions, qualifying has been a bit of a gamble, with riders as prominent as Max Biaggi and Max Neukirchner finding themselves knocked out of the first session, and forced to start from the fifth row of the grid.

The qualifying tire rule has come in for a lot of criticism, from fans, teams and journalists alike, who point to the fact that slower riders have been able to get through the early superpole sessions by throwing in a qualifier at the start, while nominally faster riders who choose to save their qualifiers for an attempt at the front row are being knocked out.

As manager of the Alstare Brux Suzuki team, the flamboyant Francis Batta has also railed against the qualifying tire rule, and according to Motorsport Aktuell, he will be tabling a proposal to change this at Monza. "Superpole has been a lottery," Batta told MSA, who has also complained of the top riders being knocked out. "My proposal is this: the soft qualifying tires will only be given to the last eight riders in the third Superpole session. That way, the top riders will be able to fight with equal equipment."

Although Batta's proposal would save money - at least for Pirelli - it begs the question of why a qualifying tire should be used at all. If the riders are to be on equal tires in each of the sessions, then why not just scrap the qualifiers altogether?

Others have proposed that the riders should be given three qualifiers, to use as they see fit over the three Superpole sessions. The brave could save two tires for the final session, while those who are less sure of their times could attempt to use a qualifier to get them through the first knockout phase.

But all this begs the question of exactly what the qualifying sessions are meant to achieve. If the point is merely to reward the fastest riders, then the grid would look eerily similar at every race - as it has in MotoGP, since the qualifying tires have been scrapped. The top riders are the top riders, and without the breathtaking grip of a super-sticky qualifier and the mixture of foolhardiness and bravery required to get the most out of it, no qualifying specialists have been able to break their hegemony.

The beauty of World Superbike's knockout Superpole system - at least in this commentator's opinion - is precisely that it provides an element of chance into the proceedings. From a simple question of who can put in the fastest lap, the two-qualifiers-for-three-sessions rule turns the early sessions into a game of poker. If you know you're fast enough - Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga come to mind - then you don't need to use up your qualifiers to make it through the first cut from 20 riders down to 16. Only the riders who qualified in the bottom half in practice need to use a qualifier, which in turn forces the riders in 7th and 8th place to gamble on being fast enough on race tires, and save their qualifiers, or use up the first of the super-soft tires to ensure they get through to the second Superpole session.

This pattern is repeated in the second Superpole session, but the cut is much harsher, with half of the remaining 16 riders being excluded from the final 12 minute session. Again, the really fast guys will usually make it without using a qualifier, but the guys in 4th and 5th spot have to think twice about whether to gamble or to play it safe.

For the riders using qualifiers early to get through the first knockout sessions, they know their choices will leave with little chance of taking pole, but starting from the second row on the grid must surely be better than starting from the fourth or fifth row on the grid.

So the teams and riders are forced to work out how much extra time they believe the riders will get from a qualifier, and where that will leave them in the knockout sessions. It is not exactly rocket science, but it does need careful deliberation, and makes it impossible for the teams to exclude chance altogether. As the season progresses, they will get a better feel for the process, and understand when they should gamble and when to play it safe. By the end of the year, there should be fewer major shocks, but still a few surprises.

Only four rounds in is perhaps a little early to be drawing conclusions about the new Superpole format, but personally, I think it's a success. Complaints that it is a lottery should be taken for what they are, complaints by team bosses who want to ensure that their riders are on the front of the grid. After all, with Ben Spies taking pole position at all four race weekends so far, it's a pretty strange lottery that sees the same winner every week.

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Jake Zemke To Replace John Hopkins At Monza

After Assen disrupted John Hopkins' career for the second year in succession, the Stiggy Racing team was left looking for a replacement for the man who had only just joined the team. Hopkins' injury - a dislocated hip with a fractured femur - leaves the American out of racing for at least two, and maybe three rounds.

First of these is magnificent Monza, a jewel of a track set in a huge park on the outskirts of Milan. At that legendary track, another American, Jake Zemke, will ride Hopkins' CBR1000RR. Zemke is the reigning AMA Formula Xtreme champion, a class that has now been replaced by the incomprehensible Daytona Sportbike class in the AMA Pro Racing Championship, and is currently riding for Erion Honda's Daytona Sportbike entry. Zemke previously rode a Honda CBR1000RR for American Honda in the AMA Superbike series alongside Miguel Duhamel.

This will be Zemke's second attempt at Monza. Previously, Zemke was scheduled to substitute for Roberto Rolfo aboard the Althea Honda here in 2008, but last-minute paperwork problems with the AMA prevented Zemke from taking part. This weekend, Zemke will be replacing Hopkins - who replaced Rolfo, though over results, not injury - at the Italian track. Hopkins will also be out at Kyalami in two weeks' time, but that event clashes with the next AMA round at Infineon Raceway, or Sears Point as it was known, ruling Zemke out there. Both Hopkins and Zemke share a manager, a contributing factor to Zemke's taking the ride, but like several American racers, Zemke has indicated an interest in joining the World Superbike paddock permanently.

The problem for Zemke, as for all Americans, will be money: In the World Superbike paddock, it is customary to pay for your ride by bringing in sponsorship, unless you are one of a handful of the very top riders who teams and factories are keen to pay. Unless Zemke can completely blow away the opposition, he is unlikely to be made a similar offer, and with a host of Italian riders and Italian teams turning up at Monza, that is a very tall order indeed.

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More Moto2 Details - Spec Engine Will Be Heavily Modified CBR600 Unit

On Saturday, shortly before qualifying practice for the MotoGP class was about to kick off, the FIM and Dorna released a joint statement announcing that Honda had won the contract to supply the standard engine for Moto2. But the announcement from the Permanent Bureau, as the FIM / Dorna committee styles itself, was light on detail, saying only that Honda "offers high level performance engine," and that "the horse power will be over 150."

After the announcement, Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, spoke to GPOne.com, revealing more information about the engine. The engine, which Motorcycle News reports has been under development for the past two years, will be based on the unit which powers Honda's roadgoing CBR600RR sports bike. The engine will have a wet clutch and unusually for a race bike will not feature a cassette-style gearbox. Cassette gearboxes allow the gear shafts to be extracted from the side of the bike, without having to remove the engine from the chassis.

Honda will provide an ECU for the engine, but it is unknown whether that ECU will have traction control capabilities. The current World Supersport machines are not using a great deal of traction control, but the extra power from the Moto2 engine may make it more of a necessity. The shape and size of the airbox will be unregulated, and up to the teams to get the most out of.

Cost of the unit will be around 24,000 euros, or 17,000 without a gearbox. Dorna will buy the engines from Honda, who will pass the engines on to the team. The engines will have a service life of around 2,000 km, meaning that the teams should only need 3 engines to last a season. The 150 horsepower rating is "obviously more powerful than the engine which is in the Supersport," according to Nakamoto. "We expect to be ready in October," Nakamoto said, "and the engines will be prepared by Honda R&D, as HRC doesn't have the capacity to produce them. But the two departments will collaborate very closely on this." Though the engines will only be ready in October, the teams are expected so receive CAD drawings which they can use to start designing a chassis around within the next few weeks.

With Nakamoto publicly admitting that the engine will be based on the CBR600 unit, the question is how will the Flammini brothers and Infront Motor Sports react. The Flamminis claim they have exclusive rights to production-based motorcycle racing, an agreement which the Moto2 unit could be said to violate, or at least that's what could be argued in the courts. We shall see how IMS responds in the next few days.

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