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And So It Begins

The 2009 MotoGP season got underway today in Losail as each team presented a bike to the media. Concerns about the weather for this weekend's race grew as we felt small drops of rain for a few moments out on the grid. The wind was more consistent than the rain drops, blowing over display ropes and photographers alike. In the distance, the Qatari sands swirled, turning the sky cloudy with dust, and causing worry about the condition of the track here at Losail. 

The 2009 bikes showed noticeable changes in fairings, vent size and design, and exhaust systems. Some of the new liveries have changed very little, while others have changed dramatically or are brand new. The Tech 3 color scheme is darker with its new Monster sponsorship than it was with Michelin blue, and DePuniet's Honda retains his distinctive 14 but looks much different with the Playboy black and white.

One bike made it clear that we are in Qatar, as the Marlboro logo makes a rare appearance on the factory Ducatis.

Final Night Test For 250s And 125s - Smith And Bautista Fastest Over Two Days

Results for the final test of the year for 125 and 250 classes, before the MotoGP series kicks off in earnest at Qatar on Friday night.

Qatar night test 250 results, day 2, Tuesday

Pos. Rider Time
1 Alvaro BAUTISTA 2'00.496
2 Hiroshi AOYAMA 2'00.873
3 Hector BARBERA 2'00.922
4 Mike DI MEGLIO 2'00.946
5 Roberto LOCATELLI 2'01.061
6 Karel ABRAHAM 2'01.094
7 Raffaele DE ROSA 2'01.129
8 Thomas LUTHI 2'01.152
9 Mattia PASINI 2'01.170
10 Ratthapark WILAIROT 2'01.222
11 Alex DEBON 2'01.563
12 Jules CLUZEL 2'01.719
13 Gabor TALMACSI 2'01.772
14 Lukas PESEK 2'01.797
15 Alex BALDOLINI 2'02.249
16 Hector FAUBEL 2'02.293
17 Shoya TOMIZAWA 2'02.781
18 Imre TOTH 2'03.733
19 Axel PONS 2'05.293
20 Vladimir LEONOV 2'06.892
21 Aitor RODRIGUEZ 2'08.559
22 Bastien CHESAUX 2'10.020

Qatar night test 125 results, day 2, Tuesday

Pos. Rider Time
1 Julian SIMON 2'06.808
2 Bradley SMITH 2'06.908
3 Andrea IANNONE 2'07.021
4 Sandro CORTESE 2'07.090
5 Stefan BRADL 2'07.104
6 Scott REDDING 2'07.464
7 Marc MARQUEZ 2'07.695
8 Jonas FOLGER 2'07.726
9 Joan OLIVE 2'07.923
10 Pol ESPARGARO 2'07.927
11 Lorenzo ZANETTI 2'08.034
12 Nicolas TEROL 2'08.042
13 Takaaki NAKAGAMI 2'08.108
14 Sergio GADEA 2'08.114
15 Danny WEBB 2'08.283
16 Johann ZARCO 2'08.607
17 Dominique AEGERTER 2'08.660
18 Randy KRUMMENACHER 2'08.679
19 Efren VAZQUEZ 2'08.693
20 Cameron BEAUBIER 2'08.792
21 Esteve RABAT 2'08.836
22 Simone CORSI 2'08.914
23 Lorenzo SAVADORI 2'10.260
24 Luca MARCONI 2'11.503
25 Tomoyoshi KOYAMA 2'11.526
26 Jasper IWEMA 2'11.599
27 Lukas SEMBERA 2'11.636
28 Michael RANSEDER 2'12.410
29 Alexis MASBOU 2'12.764
30 Matthew HOYLE 2'14.758
31 Luca VITALI 2'15.317

Qatar night test 250 results, day 1, Monday

Pos. Rider Time
1 Hector BARBERA 2'00.545
2 Alvaro BAUTISTA 2'01.121
3 Karel ABRAHAM 2'01.406
4 Hiroshi AOYAMA 2'01.685
5 Mattia PASINI 2'01.994
6 Thomas LUTHI 2'02.085
7 Roberto LOCATELLI 2'02.252
8 Gabor TALMACSI 2'02.278
9 Alex DEBON 2'02.442
10 Mike DI MEGLIO 2'02.469
11 Lukas PESEK 2'02.575
12 Ratthapark WILAIROT 2'02.580
13 Hector FAUBEL 2'02.991
14 Alex BALDOLINI 2'03.150
15 Raffaele DE ROSA 2'03.522
16 Jules CLUZEL 2'03.839
17 Imre TOTH 2'04.480
18 Shoya TOMIZAWA 2'05.051
19 Axel PONS 2'06.151
20 Bastien CHESAUX 2'08.172
21 Vladimir LEONOV 2'10.123
22 Aitor RODRIGUEZ 2'11.578

Qatar night test 125 results, day 1, Monday

Pos. Rider Time
1 Bradley SMITH 2'06.568
2 Andrea IANNONE 2'06.708
3 Julian SIMON 2'07.042
4 Sergio GADEA 2'07.843
5 Joan OLIVE 2'08.062
6 Jonas FOLGER 2'08.391
7 Sandro CORTESE 2'08.502
8 Pol ESPARGARO 2'08.531
9 Esteve RABAT 2'08.617
10 Randy KRUMMENACHER 2'08.783
11 Scott REDDING 2'08.985
12 Lorenzo ZANETTI 2'09.297
13 Takaaki NAKAGAMI 2'09.371
14 Efren VAZQUEZ 2'09.460
15 Johann ZARCO 2'10.098
16 Tomoyoshi KOYAMA 2'10.684
17 Jasper IWEMA 2'11.270
18 Lorenzo SAVADORI 2'11.496
19 Alexis MASBOU 2'12.256
20 Luca MARCONI 2'13.318
21 Michael RANSEDER 2'13.750
22 Lukas SEMBERA 2'14.153
23 Matthew HOYLE 2'17.277
24 Luca VITALI 2'18.415

 

Pedrosa To Ride At Qatar

Ever since Dani Pedrosa's monster highside during the night tests at Qatar just over a month ago, his presence at the first race of the MotoGP season, up this weekend, has been in doubt. The Spaniard came down hard during testing when track temperatures cooled, but his real misfortune was to be speared by his bike as it landed. Pedrosa fractured a wrist and reopened an old knee injury he had just had surgery to fix over the winter, requiring a skin graft to fix.

The wrist injury was painful, but was unlikely to have prevented Pedrosa to have missed the IRTA Test at Jerez, let alone the first race at Qatar. But the knee problem was much worse. The surgery required to fix the problem meant that Pedrosa's knee had to be immobilized for four weeks, and that he would have to build up motion carefully and slowly after that, to ensure the wound does not open once again. The videos of Pedrosa limping about his flat, together with reports emanating from journalists who know Pedrosa personally seemed to suggest that racing at Qatar could well be an impossibility for Pedrosa, rather than just unwise.

The good news for Pedrosa and his fans is that the Spanish star has decided he will attempt to race at Qatar. In his personal blog on the Repsol website, Pedrosa announced that he felt he would be fit enough to race. He said that he was recovering well, but he would only just be fit in time: "The truth is that time has been very tight; when the practice was held in Jerez I could only bend the knee 90º. But over the last ten days it has been getting better and in the end, making use of the time right up to the last moment, we have decided to go to Qatar and race in the first round of the 2009 World Championship."

Pedrosa also frankly acknowledges the risk he is taking. "I am pleased that I can return to racing this weekend, but I have to tell you that I am not 100% fit, so I am well aware that I will be at a disadvantage in Qatar," he wrote. But the Spaniard feels he has no choice if he is to keep his title hopes alive. "Even though I have made good use of the last two weeks and we have made good progress, I am aware that in Qatar I will only be able to win a few points, but points which at the end of the season could be very valuable. The overriding reason being not to begin the second race of the season with a gap of 25 points to make up on my rivals."

And Pedrosa's situation found caught between a rock and a very hard place indeed. If Pedrosa does not ride, he starts the season 25 points behind two of the toughest rivals ever to have graced a MotoGP track. But if he does race, and crashes, he could make his injury much worse, and leave him 25 points behind with the prospect of missing even more races. If the 2009 MotoGP championship is going to be a fair contest between the greatest riders in the world, Dani Pedrosa needs to be fit, and needs to be racing. Here's hoping he can do both.

Simoncelli Breaks Scaphoid Training - Doubtful For Qatar

It goes without saying that motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport, but what people tend to forget is that training for motorcycle racing is often even more dangerous. After all, the only way to train the skills required to control a motorcycle close to the limit is by riding a motorcycle close to that very same limit. And the penalty for getting it wrong can be pretty harsh indeed.

This is a lesson that Marco Simoncelli has learned the hard way. The reigning 250cc World Champion fell during motocross training at the quarry used by Valentino Rossi and his friends, and fractured his right scaphoid. Simoncelli was taken to hospital at Modena where the fracture was diagnosed, and was later treated by Dr Costa of the Clinica Mobile which accompanies both the MotoGP and World Superbikes series around the world.

Simoncelli's fracture puts his participation in the first round of the 250 World Championship at risk. According to GPOne.com, the fracture isn't serious enough to rule Simoncelli out altogether, but he will be far from 100% at Qatar. Dr Costa told GPOne.com "whether Marco rides at Qatar or not does not depend on his wrist, but on the will of Marco to ride."

Whether Simoncelli rides or not, his season will get off to a bad start. With Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista pushing each other hard during preseason testing, Simoncelli's fractured scaphoid gives Bautista an immediate advantage.

Pedrosa Out For Qatar?

Ever since Dani Pedrosa broke his wrist and reopened an old wound on his knee, his participation at the first race in Qatar has been in doubt. The skin graft to his knee meant that the Spaniard's leg had to be completely immobilized for 4 weeks. There was little chance that he would ever make it to the IRTA Test at Jerez, but the Repsol Honda team had hoped to have Pedrosa back for the opening race at Qatar.

That was optimistic, and Pedrosa was never going to be at 100% for Qatar, but the possibility of even riding is looking ever more remote. The World Superbike paddock is not the first place you would expect news about MotoGP to surface, but as the series is currently in Valencia, there's a large contingent from the Spanish press present, and wherever the press gather, rumors persist.

The latest rumor among some of the well-informed sections of the Spanish press is that Pedrosa will not be riding at Qatar. His condition is not improving fast enough, and he will instead choose to sit the first MotoGP round out, in the hope of being in better shape to contest the rest of the season. The decision is a sensible one, as the night race at Qatar can prove treacherous, with temperatures dropping rapidly, making setup and grip unpredictable at best. Missing one race would leave Pedrosa at a distinct disadvantage in the championship race, but racing with the risk of crashing and making his injury worse could potentially rule the Spaniard out of title contention.

So far, no official word has been forthcoming from the team, and it is unlikely to emerge until shortly before the race itself. But we should learn soon enough whether this rumor is just that, or whether the MotoGP championship will start its opening round with just 17 riders.

Ten Kate Lose Interest In Moto2 Over Single Engine Proposal

When the Moto2 class was announced, the purpose behind the series was immediately clear. The introduction of a 20,000 euro engine claiming rule and the emphasis on a prototype chassis was aimed at tempting private companies into the series to build chassis for lightly tweaked production engines. After years of Aprilia being able to pick and choose winners by deciding who to supply with factory-spec 250s, and often ending up with the highest bidder, something had to be done about reducing the price of competing in MotoGP's support class.

And after the rules were announced, a number of teams and chassis builders showed an interest in the class, just as Dorna and the FIM had predicted and hoped. There was, however, a rather large fly in the ointment. The elephant in the room during all these announcements was the agreement that FGSport - now Infront Motor Sports - claims to have with the FIM, giving them the monopoly on world championship racing with production motorcycles, and allowing Dorna to race with prototypes. 

At the IRTA tests in Jerez, the FIM and Dorna shocked the motorcycle racing world by announcing a possible solution to this thorny problem: the MSMA had proposed that a single engine supplier be appointed for the class, eliminating the most costly part of running a bike in the class. A sensible proposal, and realistically the only way around the problem of using production engines, but the proposal has also had the unfortunate effect of scaring off the very people the class was intended to attract. 

The Ten Kate team, for example, had previously indicated that they were very interested in the series. But the single engine proposal had changed their minds. MotoGPMatters.com cornered Ronald and Gerrit ten Kate of the Ten Kate Honda team about the new proposals, and asked their opinion.

MotoGPMatters.com: You said earlier that you were interested in Moto2, but does the announcement that this will be a single series change anything?

Ronald ten Kate: If Honda is the engine supplier, then we could still be interested. In all the racing series we do, we're allied with Honda. If another manufacturer is selected, we definitely won't be participating. But if they do go with a single engine, then ...

Gerrit ten Kate: ... then it'll take all the fun out of it for us. It becomes a Cup series - Honda Cup, Kawasaki Cup, Suzuki Cup ...

Ronald ten Kate: We're not a mass manufacturer.

MotoGPMatters.com: Well the idea is that the series becomes interesting for chassis builders, where the chassis can make the difference. But are you more engine tuners than chassis builders, or is that exaggerating?

Ronald ten Kate: Not really. Of course it's all connected, if you take a look at what we do now, we never just sell an engine on its own. We always send out complete bikes, a complete package with customizations for riders, data packages for data engineers, we send out a complete package. But neither Gerrit or I are fans of the whole Cup-type idea. If you're going to have a single engine, why not just make it a proper Cup series, and have the rider be the differentiating factor.

Gerrit ten Kate: I think they (Dorna) have lost their way a little. Someone told me that they're just like grasshoppers, one minute they're here, the next they hop off somewhere else. They decide something, then when they hear Rossi doesn't agree with them, they say something else.

Ronald ten Kate: It's about time that the people who make decisions there engage their brains before opening their mouths. That's not happening right now. Because of the financial crisis, there's such a sense of panic, that they keep announcing news instead of staying calm, and examining the situation. The whole Moto2 situation at the moment, there's nothing there yet.

Gerrit ten Kate: They made a lot of noise about introducing Moto2 in Spain this year, but so far, there's only one bike.

Ronald ten Kate: So at the moment, Moto2 is not really interesting for us. There's so much turbulence surrounding it at the moment, it's no good.

Venture Petroleum Returns To The Paddock

Once upon a time, what seems like an age ago now, there was fictional oil company sponsoring a motorcycle racing team. The sponsor - Venture Petroleum - was part of the back story for a movie being made set against the background of MotoGP, and their - rather handsome - livery featured on Kenny Roberts' KR211V bike. News of the movie sparked a flurry of interest from hardcore motorcycle fans, but tragically, the film never materialized, disappearing in an argument over image rights between the production company and Dorna. The fans heaved a sigh of disappointment, and went back to hoping that one day, somebody somewhere would make a motorcycle racing film to rival the legendary Grand Prix.

That day may be closer than they think. Much to everyone's surprise, the Guandalini Racing Team turned up with their trailer sporting the following logo:

Venture Petroleum Guandalini Ducati trailer

Frankie Chili, team manager told us "we put the sticker on the bike from now on. We have some details to discuss, but they have already signed the contract with Infront Motor Sports." Asked when he thought the movie would be out, Chili said "It's hard to say for me, but we hope next year to be ready. This year we make some shots, and next we show the movie."

With Infront Motor Sports seemingly more willing to help media companies than Dorna, maybe this time the movie will finally get released. It's one event that fans have been waiting for for a long time. 

Those Honda Supersport Crankcase Pumps

There was a flurry of excitement in the Italian media a little over a week ago over the parts being used by the Ten Kate Honda Supersport machines. The Italian website Motocorse.com reported that the Ten Kate CBR600RRs had been forced to remove a crankcase pump by the scrutineers after the practice session at Qatar, and that this was what had made it possible for Eugene Laverty to beat Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt's Ten Kate bikes on the Parkalgar Honda.

The story was right in all particulars, except for one. The Ten Kate Hondas had practiced with an electric crankcase pump (used to reduce the pumping losses created by the pistons going up and down in the crankcase), and after practice, it had been declared illegal by the scrutineers, despite protests. But this wasn't the reason that the Parkalgar Honda wasn't competitive. For the Parkalgar bikes had had exactly the same thing happen: They too had practiced with exactly the same part, and been forced to remove it by the scrutineers.

Speaking to MotoGPMatters, Parkalgar's Eugene Laverty said, "We had something on for the practice, but we were told to take it off for the race. It wasn't illegal but we had to do it anyway. We didn't run it in the race." If the removal of the pump meant Ten Kate were down on power, the same applied for the Parkalgar team. Laverty's victory over World Supersport title favorites Sofuoglu and Pitt had nothing to do with the loss of an artificial advantage for Ten Kate, and more with the strength of Laverty and the Parkalgar team.

Flammini: "Rookie Rule Is A Gift To World Superbikes"

The atmosphere at the official IRTA tests at Jerez was rather subdued. The global financial crisis has had a palpable impact on the paddock, not least of all the disappearance of the Kawasaki team, now reliant on crates being shipped from place to place, rather than having their own transporter. In an effort to respond to the worsening financial crisis, the FIM and Dorna announced a swathe of measures aimed at cutting costs in the series

The measures announced varied from eminently sensible (adding 2kg to the minimum weights), to currently unnecessary (the ban on variable exhaust systems and composite ceramic brakes, which nobody is using anyway), to the completely pointless (the ban on GPS, which is easy but more expensive to circumvent). But the one rule change that is exercising people the most is the "rookie rule" - a rule which some people are calling the "Ben Spies rule" but which could just as easily be called the Alvaro Bautista rule or the Marco Simoncelli rule. 

Under the proposal - which came from IRTA, which represents the teams, rather than the manufacturers - riders eligible for the Rookie of the Year award (basically anyone doing their first full season of MotoGP) would not be allowed to go straight to a factory team, but would have to spend at least a year on a satellite or private team. The reasoning behind the rule is that this would give the satellite teams a shot at signing riders with the publicity value to attract proper sponsorship. 

Of course, in practice, the rule is likely to work completely differently. As Paolo Scalera of GPOne.com pointed out in the press conference announcing the rule, a factory wishing to sign a big name rookie will simply set up their own "satellite" team, leaving the existing satellite teams in the cold, just as happened when Honda set up the "satellite" Nastro Azzurro team with all of Mick Doohan's former crew for Valentino Rossi in 2000. 

Worryingly, this might even end up as the best-case scenario for MotoGP. Promising young riders such as Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista may decide that if they can't get a factory ride in MotoGP, they'll accept one in World Superbikes instead. With Simoncelli already having tested a World Superbike machine over the winter for Aprilia, this is no flight of fancy. 

And that is certainly the opinion of Paolo Flammini, President of Infront Motor Sports, and the driving force behind the World Superbike series. Speaking to GPOne.com, Flammini said, "I believe that this decision can contribute to making the World Superbike Championship more attractive for young riders." With World Superbike's star rising, who could doubt he is right?

 

 

MotoGPMatters.com Live From Valencia

MotoGPMatters.com is coming to you live from Valencia this weekend (thanks in part to your generous donations, and our kind sponsors), to report on the third round of the World Superbike Championship. We arrived in the area yesterday, dropping off Spain's central Meseta to enter the coastal plain around the city of Valencia. On the drive up from Jerez, the weather had been getting gradually worse, with rain finally greeting us as we headed east from Madrid.

The weather here recently has been fairly dismal, with rain and even snow at higher altitudes in the east of the Iberian peninsula, but the sun is out, with only light cloud protecting the pasty occupants of the press room from serious sunburn. As always on Thursday, the paddock is a hive of activity, as teams assemble their hospitality suites and the late arrivals roll in.

The forecast for the rest of the weekend is good - comfortably warm, dry, yet with occasional clouds to keep off the worst of the sun, and there's every chance of a fascinating couple of races ahead. Will Ben Spies continue to close the gap on Noriyuki Haga, or will he struggle, as some of the European contingent believe he will now that the circus has hit Europe? Stay tuned for news and updates as they happen.

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