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Suzuki Pull Out Of World Supersport Championship

Just as the global financial crisis appears to be approaching its nadir, it has claimed another victim in motorcycle racing. As we reported yesterday, the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team has withdrawn from the World Supersport Championship with immediate effect. The team has simply run out of money, and the potential sponsors which the team had been talking to had been unable to provide the funding which the team needed to continue for the rest of the season.

Marc Hoegee, team owner, manager, and the driving force behind preparing the race bikes, said in a press release: "I started this great adventure in 2005, and togethe with the whole team and everyone involved, we've had a chance to demonstrate just what we are capable of in a very short time. Despite all our efforts, we have not been able to find new sponsors fast enough to be able to continue both responsibly and competitively. That competitiveness is very important to me. The fact that we have to stop now really breaks my heart. Everyone has invested a huge amount of energy into this project, but this is reality and we just have to accept it. I'd like to thank the riders and the other team members for the fantastic effort they have shown again this season. We really fought for this, but the sponsorship climate is extremely unfavorable - and not just in racing. I would also like to thank all of our sponsors and everyone who has supported us over the years."

The team had been remarkably competitive at the end of last year, Barry Veneman getting his first podium at Magny-Cours, and regularly scoring top 6 finishes. He ended up 8th in the championship, the best result for a Suzuki rider since 2003. The team's withdrawal also leaves Suzuki without an entry in the World Supersport Championship, in the commercially crucial 600cc sport bike segment.

It seems improbable that Suzuki can afford to let this situation stand for long - with all of their rivals fielding competitive machinery in the class, with the sole exception of Ducati, who do not have an eligible machine - but the factory simply does not have the money to fund participation in every single international class. Even Suzuki's continued existence in MotoGP is by no means certain, and may depend in part on their success in signing Alvaro Bautista, and securing the publicity the up-and-coming Spanish star will bring with him.

Even if Suzuki did decide to continue in the class, their options would be limited. Dutch Suzuki importer Nimag supported the Hoegee Suzuki effort for the past few years, and before that, Francis Batta's Alstare team fielded Suzukis in Supersport. But Alstare is having enough trouble just funding its Superbike operation, without finding the extra cash to develop and race GSX-R600s alongside their GSX-R1000 Superbikes.

The Hoegee team did express the hope that they could be back next year. The press release stated that although sponsorship talks had failed for this year, they offered some interesting options for 2010. The question is, will the team members and their combined experience still be available come next season?

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Scans Reveal Pedrosa's Femur Fractured In Practice Incident - Updated

Dani Pedrosa's annus horribilis continues unabated. Just as the Spaniard was returning to full strength after surgery on his knee, Pedrosa suffered a bizarre hip injury during an incident during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello. Pedrosa was nearly flicked off his Repsol Honda early in the Saturday morning FP2 session, landing badly and tearing a tendon at the top of his thigh. Pedrosa later crashed out of the race at Mugello, though fortunately without further aggravating his injury.

Back in Barcelona on Monday, scans revealed that Pedrosa's injury is worse than had been feared. The Spaniard also fractured the greater trocanther, a structure near the top of the femur which the hip is connected to with a supporting ligament. Pedrosa must now spend the next 10 days immobilized, after which point he will evaluate whether he will be able to race at his home Grand Prix at Barcelona.

The injury comes as another huge setback to the Spanish rider's championship hopes, and will leave his fitness suffering even further. Pedrosa was just starting to get back to training from his knee injury, suffered during preseason testing, and will be unable to train for some time to come. The only small comfort for the Spaniard is that he will have a further 13 days' rest after the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona before the Dutch TT at Assen. But then, Pedrosa faces four MotoGP races in five weeks, as the season hots up before the summer break. If Pedrosa isn't back to reasonable fitness by then, he's in for a tough summer.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

The Repsol Honda team have just issued a press release on Pedrosa's condition. The release is shown below:

Dani Pedrosa today returned home to Barcelona where Doctor Xavier Mir, at the USP Institut Universitari Dexeus, confirmed that the Repsol Honda rider had not suffered any further injuries during his crash in yesterday’s Italian Grand Prix.

Pedrosa had started the race injured after a big rear wheel slide and subsequent shake from his bike in Saturday morning’s practice session caused the unlucky Spaniard to incur severe stretching in his right hip. The scans today also showed that the initial diagnosis at the circuit on Saturday had been correct and Pedrosa had pulled the gluteus medius muscle, which caused a small crack in the greater trochanter (thigh) bone where the muscle attaches.

The factory Honda rider will now rest up ahead of the Grand Prix of Catalunya in just under two week’s time. His physical condition will be assessed next week and Pedrosa is hoping to be fit for his home race.

Dani Pedrosa:

"It's a relief that the tests today didn't show up anything new because I think I have enough to contend with already. The injury from Saturday is still quite painful obviously but with luck it will improve over the next week. The timing of this a real shame because I was feeling as though I was returning to something close to race fitness and could ride the bike as I wanted. Still, this is where we are so we'll just get on with it and try to make a quick recovery. I really hope I can be fit for the next race because it's a very important one for me and the team."

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Haojue Sacks Witteveen For "Failure To Deliver"

Another chapter has been added to the long-running Haojue / Maxtra saga, with the team announcing that it has torn up the contract it had with former Aprilia two-stroke guru Jan Witteveen. The relationship had been rocky for a very long time, with sources close to Witteveen reporting multiple times that the Dutch engineer wanted nothing to do with the project, and had scaled back his involvement just to supply parts. Witteveen's reluctance has now caused the team to draw a line under the relationship, and issue a very public and very damning press release announcing that they were terminating Witteveen's contract to develop the engine.

The language used in the press release is harsh, and reflects the bitterness at the way the project has progressed. Haojue decided to skip this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, in order to focus on engine development in the hope of returning with a more competitive bike. Whether the team will be at Barcelona in two weeks' time for the Catalunya Grand Prix is not yet known, as the question remains over who is to develop the bike. Harris, the company building the chassis, have been working on the airbox for the bike, though so far failing to deliver the huge gains the project needs to be competitive. Meanwhile, Ilmor has indicated an interest in being involved in the project, and taking on the engine development.

The statement from the team is shown below:

"Jan Witteveen was contracted to deliver a state-of-the-art, race competitive 125cc GP engine and continue its development over a three year period.

However, after 18 months of development it is clear from the engine's lack of performance in the early 2009 GP events, where the Haojue riders have either failed to qualify or sometimes crashed due to engine failure, that the engine is neither race competitive nor reliable.

As well as the continued lack of performance and the reliability problems which make the machine potentially dangerous for the Team Haojue riders and other riders on the track at the same time, the Haojue team management has been deeply concerned by the lack of progress and communication from Witteveen on plans to overcome the problems."

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Bautista To Suzuki, Simoncelli To Tech 3 In 2010?

It's an open secret that MotoGP could see another wave of rookies enter the class in 2010. The two main protagonists in the 250 championship, Alvaro Bautista and Marco Simoncelli, are both widely expected to go to MotoGP, while American World Superbike sensation Ben Spies has been linked with MotoGP, but has publicly been keeping all his options open.

A decision on Bautista's future could come as early as the Catalunya Grand Prix, according to the Spanish online magazine Motoworld. The Spanish publication is reporting that Suzuki have offered Bautista Chris Vermeulen's seat for 2010, who looks certain to be dropped at the end of the season. Suzuki are said to have asked Bautista to give them a reply at the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona in just under two weeks' time. Bautista is believed to be very keen on the Suzuki ride, as Suzuki is the only factory team that will be allowed to field series rookies from 2010, under the new so-called "rookie rule". As Suzuki doesn't have a satellite team, the factory would not be able to sign class rookies at all without this exemption.

Suzuki isn't Bautista's only option, however. The Spanish magazine is also reporting that Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team is at an advanced stage of negotiations with Yamaha to field a single bike team in MotoGP next year. Martinez has been trying to get into MotoGP for the last couple of years, his efforts failing on a dispute with Kawasaki over rider choice at the end of 2008. But with the 2010 regulations allowing only 6 engines for an entire season, Yamaha have indicated that his could free up enough extra capacity in their race department to allow them to field a single extra bike. Martinez is determined to enter the MotoGP class, and while he has made clear that his preference is to take Bautista with him as the rider for his team, the project will not stand or fall on Bautista's participation.

Meanwhile, Marco Simoncelli is a man much in demand. Aprilia have already expressed their intention to persuade the Italian to make the switch to the World Superbike series, and race a factory RSV4 for them, but Simoncelli has been pressing to stay in MotoGP. Simoncelli's prime option has been to join the Tech 3 Yamaha team, though the question remains as to who he would replace. Colin Edwards has also been linked to a return to World Superbikes, but the Texan's strong results have made clear his intention to stay in MotoGP for at least another year. Team mate James Toseland looks like the most obvious candidate for replacement, the Briton having struggled so far this year. However, Dorna is widely known to be keen to keep a British rider in the MotoGP series, as a way to ensure that the BBC continues their lucrative TV deal with Dorna. Of course, a British rider in MotoGP does not necessarily mean that this must be James Toseland, or that Toseland has to stay with the Tech 3 team.

The other candidate for a seat with Tech 3 is Ben Spies. The Texan has shook up the World Superbike series this season, taking a record 7 poles in a row and pushing Noriyuki Haga very hard for the title this year. Spies has told the American press that his first option is to stay with Yamaha, and that he is perfectly happy in World Superbikes at the moment. But Spies has been approached by Suzuki to join their MotoGP team, and Herve Poncharal has made no secret of his intention to sign Spies for next season. Spies himself has glossed over the subject, telling the press in Utah "there's a couple of little conversations here and there, but nothing down yet."

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Veneman Quits Hoegee Suzuki, Team To Withdraw From World Supersport?

Suzuki's efforts in the World Supersport class suffered a serious, and possibly fatal blow today. Lead rider for the Hoegee Suzuki team, Barry Veneman announced on his personal blog that he would be leaving the team with immediate effect after the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Veneman made it clear that the reason for the split was a dispute over contracts, rather than over the machine or the team, and made it clear he hoped to be back racing soon.

"Over the past few days I have been a little vague in my blog postings, so I shall be clear now," Veneman wrote. "This was my last race aboard the Hoegee Suzuki. And let me make it clear from the start that this has nothing to do with the bike or the team or the sponsors. This is about a dispute between myself and the new team management which center around contracts. It's a terrible blow, because after last season, I was really determined to score some good results, and had quit my job (Veneman had a PR position with the Dutch Suzuki importer - Ed.) to focus full time on racing. I don't know what the future will bring, I want to keep racing and show that I belong among the top racers in the world. I hope I get that chance. When I'm ready to, I'll explain what led up to this step."

Rumors inside the Dutch motorcycling world suggest that the "contractual dispute" revolves around money. The Hoegee Suzuki team parted ways with its main sponsor, RES Software, at the start of the season, the Dutch maker of desktop administration software moving over to sponsor the Veidec Racing team fielding Robbin Harms, Arie Vos and Jesco Gunther. Since then, the team has run without a title sponsor, funded mainly through Suzuki's racing program.

Worse could be to come for Suzuki, though, as rumors are also circulating that the Hoegee team could pull out of the championship altogether, leaving Suzuki with no representation in the crucially important World Supersport class. It is believed that the team will announce its withdrawal on Tuesday, though no confirmation of this has yet been received.

Veneman has had an indifferent start to the season this year, his best results a couple of 8th places at Assen and Valencia, and is currently 12th in the championship. Much greater things had been expected of the Dutch rider, as Veneman had had a very strong finish to the season in 2008, scoring consistently in the top 6 from Brno onwards, and finally bagging his first podium at Magny Cours in October. His 8th places in the championship in 2007 and 2008 were Suzuki's best title results since 2003. But the new season simply hasn't brought the results Veneman or the team had hoped for.

Suzuki's lack of results in the World Supersport class are down to a simple factor: A lack of investment from the factory, the money going instead into Suzuki's MotoGP program. But the reasoning behind the decision not to invest in the race series for the biggest-selling class of sportsbikes remains an enigma. The bike has the potential, as Suzuki's results in both the AMA and BSB series have demonstrated. But the strategic decision not to invest in Supersport remains, and without that investment, Suzuki will not achieve the results they might otherwise expect. If the Hoegee team does pull out of the World Supersport series, we shall see whether Suzuki feels it can afford not to have any bikes at all in the class.

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Sunday Images from Miller Motorsports Park WSBK

Sunday was all about Ben Spies' domination of his home WSBK round as the Texan was simply unstoppable. Once again we had weather that started clear and grew increasingly cloudy as the hours passed.

 

Spies lead each of the three starts into the first corner.

 

Within a few laps he'd gapped those chasing him and seemed to be running away into the distance.

 

Last year's double-winner Carlos Checa was able to repeat on the podium for the first race while Michel Fabrizio cemented his position as contender for top three in the championship.

 

In a terrific Supersport race, Eugene Laverty led every lap, followed closely until lap 14 of 18 by Cal Crutchlow, championship points leader, and Joan Lascorz.

 

But it was Kenan Sofuoglu who would go from third to first on the last lap to take the Supersport win.

 

In the second Superbike race, Spies delivered his knockout blow for the weekend, leading from start to finish and making up valuable points on Haga.

 

Spies treated the crowd to a little show after his second win of the day.

 

Johnny Rea represented Ten Kate on the podium this time, though in third place.

 

A result he was very pleased with.

 

Ben Spies' performance pleased the local crowd, young and old.

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World Superbike Race 1 At Miller Red Flagged

Race 1 of the two World Superbike races at Miller Motorsports park was red-flagged, after Celani Suzuki's Karl Muggeridge suffered a strange highside which saw his bike and himself left lying on the track. With the riders lying on the track, the race directors had no option but to red flag the race.

After lying on the track for a few minutes, Muggeridge got up under his own power, and walked to the ambulance, where he was whisked off to the medical center for examination.

The race is due to be restarted in a few minutes, with the winner to be decided on aggregate times, meaning the times from the two races will be added together, the winner being determined by the total time from both heats.

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Simoncelli: "Punishment Completely Unfair"

While many people feel that Marco Simoncelli's fine, imposed for forcing Alvaro Bautista off the track in a reckless pass, was less than surprising, the protagonist himself is less than impressed. According to the Spanish sports daily AS.com, the Italian feels that the punishment was totally unjustified, and a product of the double standards applied in the 250 class.

"The punishment is completely unfair," Simoncelli said, "When the Spanish riders do this kind of thing, nothing ever happens." Speaking in the press room at Mugello, the Italian then went on to sum up a string of maneuvers pulled by Bautista, Alex Debon and Hector Barbera which disadvantaged others yet went unpunished. "The rules should be applied equally to everyone, and today's punishment was unfair," Simoncelli added.

Simoncelli acknowledged that the move he made was a mistake. "I have apologized already, but it isn't fair what's been done." Simoncelli said that he couldn't have done anything else. "If I'd have braked, I would have crashed. I tried to keep as straight as possible, but there was nothing I could do," he said.

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Regis Laconi Recovering Well, Walking Without Assistance

Excellent news from South Africa, where Regis Laconi is recovering in Sunninghill Hospital after the horrific crash at Kyalami, which saw him fracture to vertebrae in his neck. The Frenchman's DFX Corse team issued a press release on Sunday saying that Laconi is making remarkable progress in his recovery, and has even walked without assistance during his physical therapy sessions.

The doctors are now optimistic that Laconi will be able to return to his native France very soon, and Laconi is scheduled to fly straight to his home in Aix en Provence on Tuesday, June 2nd. The doctors feel that Laconi will no longer need to stay in a specialist clinic for his recovery, as originally planned, but will be able to recover at home instead. The Frenchman still has a long way to go before he is back to full fitness, and will still need several weeks of absolute rest for the remains of the intercranial hematoma to disperse.

But the best news is that the outlook is good for Laconi. Though he still faces a long path ahead of him, Regis Laconi looks like making a full recovery, eventually.

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Simoncelli Fined And Warned For "Irresponsible" Move On Bautista

The 250cc race at Mugello turned into the usual thriller, with close-fought racing all the way to the flag. The passes were mostly the kind of robust hooliganism we have come to expect from the 250 class, but one move in particular went a little too far. On lap 11, while dicing for the lead with Alvaro Bautista, Marco Simoncelli exited Casanova and tried to dive up the inside of Bautista going into the Savelli corner. It was a move that was never going to be successful, but it didn't prevent him from trying the move anyway.

As Bautista cut back towards the apex of Savelli, he found Simoncelli right in his blind spot, and Bautista smashed into Simoncelli's fairing. Even worse, the collision had unbalanced both riders, and they both ran wide and off into the gravel, handing the lead of the race over to Mattia Pasini, Simoncelli rejoining 5 seconds behind Pasini, and Bautista over 9 seconds behind the leader. Both men were lucky not to have fallen, a testament to their skill and a reward for all the training both men do on motocross bikes.

The incident was serious enough for Race Direction to decide immediately to investigate the matter, and after hearing testimony from the two riders, Race Direction decided to punish Marco Simoncelli with a fine and by issuing the Italian with a warning, meaning that if he tries anything like this again, he could face suspension for one or more races.

The incident does little for Simoncelli's repuation at Mugello. Last year, the Italian swerved violently down the front straight, causing Hector Barbera to clip Simoncelli's fairing with his front brake, catapulting the Spaniard up the straight at over 250 km/h. Simoncelli received a warning for that incident too, and a year later, he is punished for a similarly harebrained move. Perhaps this time Simoncelli will have learned his lesson.

The text of the decision issued by the FIM is displayed below:

"On Sunday 31st May, during the 250cc race, rider Marco Simoncelli (ITA) rode in an irresponsible manner, causing danger to rider Alvaro Bautista (SPA), which is an infringement to the Art. 1.21.2 of the 2009 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations. The Race Direction has decided to penalize rider Marco Simoncelli with a warning as to his future conduct, which means any further incident of the same nature this year may result in a suspension and to impose him a fine of USD 5,000.

No appeal has been lodged.

The decision of the Race Direction is final."

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