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A Change Of Heart At Honda - It's Honda's Fault If Pedrosa Doesn't Win

Pity poor Honda. The company has formed the backbone of the MotoGP class - and the 500cc two strokes before that - since the mid-1990s. Without the 6 bikes that HRC puts on the grid year on year, MotoGP would be in a very difficult place. And yet still the company continues to be the target of a barrage of abuse and vituperation on message boards and fan sites around the world. How could this be?

Ask any MotoGP fan and they will tell you that it is Honda which has driven the decisions which - from a fan's perspective - have ruined MotoGP. It was Honda that killed the 990s and demanded the switch to 800cc, a move which took a lot of the spectacle out of the racing, and it was Honda that killed off the two-strokes in the 250 class, and demanded their replacement with the Moto2 series. Whether there is any truth in these assertions is irrelevant, that is the way that the fans see it, and that image is hard to shake off.

These claims all stem from a perception that at Honda, what matters is the bike, not the rider. Whenever Honda has won championships, it has been quick to claim the credit, yet when riders on other brands of motorcycle have kept Honda from the title, the factory has been quick to blame the rider, rather than the equipment they gave him to compete on. This perception was further strengthened in Valentino Rossi's biography, in which he claimed he left Honda because he felt under-appreciated, and annoyed at the emphasis placed on the bike, rather than rider skill.

So it is truly remarkable to read that Honda seems to have had a change of heart. According to Colin Young of SpeedTV, Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, has said that if Dani Pedrosa does not win the MotoGP World Championship this season, the blame will not lie with Pedrosa, but with Honda. "This is the Honda way," Young quotes Nakamoto as saying. "If we win the championship then the rider is good, if we don't win the championship then bike is not good --- this is the Honda way."

Nakamoto's comments come after Pedrosa - along with several other Honda riders - aimed some very harsh criticism of the 2009 iteration of Honda's RC212V. The chassis is simply not providing the traction the riders need to compete with the Yamahas, and the riders are becoming increasingly frustrated at the perceived refusal of the Japanese engineers to listen to the riders' input. Pedrosa himself reportedly said to the Catalan press "Let's see if they listen to me for once."

Nakamoto's remarks show the HRC boss is trying to make clear that he is listening. "I think Dani's potential as a rider is enough to win the championship but at the moment the machine potential is not high enough," Nakamoto said, a clear sign to both Pedrosa and HRC's engineers. Honda needs to turn the RC212V project around, as ever since its debut, it has consistently underperformed. Before the start of the 800cc era, Honda was expected to walk away with the class, as they had done in the 500cc and MotoGP era, when only bad luck and the brilliance of riders like Kevin Schwantz and Valentino Rossi have kept them from the title. Nakamoto clearly expects Honda to do something to change their fortunes, and put them back at the top of the standings, where they feel they belong.

Videos Of The Final Laps From Three Thrilling Races At Assen

Infront Motor Sports, the company that runs the World Superbike series, does an outstanding job for the most part of making the races it organizes available online for fans who haven't been able to see the races on TV. Not only do they stream the races live on the internet (though tragically, not to all territories in the world), they also have a Youtube channel where you can find highlights from the recent races.

And the highlights from Assen are worth watching again. Three of the five races of the day were decided on the very last lap, Assen's infamous GT chicane determining the outcome of two of them, so here's the last lap from World Superbike race one, the World Supersport race and the European Superstock 600 race. Enjoy!

Ben Spies' courageous last lap dive up the inside of Noriyuki Haga at the horribly fast  Hoge Heide corner:

Eugene Laverty's perfect last corner lunge past Joan Lascorz into the GT chicane:

Gino Rea's brilliant and mature last lap, staying calm while Vincent Lonbois crashes out, then Joey Litjens gets nervous at the prospect of a home win:

WSBK Update - Hopper Out Until Miller, PSG-1 To Miss Flyaways

John Hopkins' luck at Assen went from bad to worse at Assen. After just four laps of free practice at his second ever World Superbike meeting, the American suffered a huge highside and dislocated a hip. Initial reports suggested that no bones had been broken, but once Hopkins had been flown back to California and examined by Dr. Ting, a world-renowned specialist in motorcycle racing injuries, it was found that in addition to the muscle and sinew damage he had suffered in the dislocation, Hopper had also fractured his femur. Dr. Ting operated on Hopkins on Monday, inserting screws to fix the fracture, and the American has already left the hospital to start his recovery at his California home.

Hopkins hopes to be fit again in time for the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah on May 31st, but that may be a little optimistic. Dr. Ting said that these injuries normally require 6 weeks of convalescence before they are ready to withstand the strains of racing, but Miller is just over four weeks away. However, as Miller is Hopkins' home round, there is a good chance the American will gamble on racing not fully fit.

In further news from the World Superbike paddock, the PSG-1 team has announced that they will not be flying to South Africa and the US for the Kyalami and Miller rounds of the World Superbike series. The San Marino-based team is seriously short of cash, and have already reduced their line up from two to just one rider, dropping Ayrton Badovini earlier this year. PSG-1 is further handicapped by their decision to field Kawasakis: as good a road bike as the ZX-10R is, in race trim it has failed to be competitive, either for private teams such as PSG-1 or for the factory-backed effort of PBM Kawasaki.

Lorenzo Linked To Repsol Honda For 2010

Rumors that this is Dani Pedrosa's make-or-break year at Repsol Honda have haunted the MotoGP paddock since Pedrosa not only failed to win the championship last year, but even finished a placer lower at the end of the 2008 season than he had in 2007. It is said that Repsol, the Spanish petroleum giant that funds a large part of the factory team's budget, is growing impatient at the lack of a Spanish world champion which they can use to sell to their home market, and if Pedrosa doesn't deliver this season, Repsol could look elsewhere.

So far, much of the speculation surrounding Pedrosa's potential replacement has centered on Alvaro Bautista, the genial 250cc title candidate regarded as both highly talented and very media friendly. Bautista is helped by the fact that he seems to have a smile permanently fixed to his face, a much more attractive prospect for sponsors to use than the stern countenance Dani Pedrosa usually shows to the world.

There are two serious impediments to this possibility however. One is proposed "rookie rule" which would prevent riders new to the MotoGP class from going straight to a factory team. The rule, designed to help satellite teams secure talent and sponsors, would prevent riders such as Bautista, Marco Simoncelli and Ben Spies joining a factory team without first spending an apprenticeship year at a satellite or junior team, and would rule out Bautista joining the Repsol Honda squad if he moved to MotoGP in 2010.

The other major obstacle is Jorge Martinez' future plans to field a satellite Yamaha squad in MotoGP next year. After failing to obtain extra machinery from both Suzuki and Kawasaki at the end of last season, there is talk that Yamaha may be willing to make more YZF-M1s available next season, and that Martinez is the likeliest candidate to be awarded the bikes. If that is so, then Bautista is almost certain to be one of the riders in a new Aspar MotoGP team, making a switch to Repsol Honda much less likely.

As attractive a proposition as Bautista is, Repsol are reported to have set their sights much higher. At Motegi, the Repsol management met with senior HRC officials to discuss the future of their sponsorship agreement - Repsol are reportedly interested in moving into Formula One - and one of the subjects of discussion was said to be Jorge Lorenzo. According to Road Racer X's editor Chris Jonnum, HRC contacted Lorenzo's management about the 2010 season, but HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto later denied to Motorcycle News that they'd made any approach to Lorenzo.

Signing Jorge Lorenzo would be a major coup for both Repsol and Honda, as well as the sweetest form of revenge for HRC, after Yamaha lured Valentino Rossi away from under Big Red's wing. But there are good reasons to believe this is nothing more than a bargaining ploy on the part of Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo has repeatedly stated that he sees his future with Yamaha, and Yamaha have made it clear that they are grooming Lorenzo as Rossi's replacement once the Italian retires, probably at the end of the 2010 season. Now in his second year with Yamaha, Lorenzo is also well aware of the influence he can have over bike development at Yamaha, and can see the problems Honda's riders have had in getting their wishes respected at HRC, where engineers have traditionally ruled the roost.

Of course, if Repsol want to sponsor a world champion, then their simplest course of action would be to simply switch from the factory Honda squad to Yamaha. That would allow Lorenzo to stay where he is and Repsol may feel that it gives them a better chance of winning a world title.

If Repsol did switch to Yamaha - a move that must be considered unlikely, given Repsol's very long history with HRC - then this would spell disaster for Honda's MotoGP program. It is believed that Repsol stumps up a major part of the funds for HRC's MotoGP racing program, and without the tens of millions of euros coming in from the Spanish oil giant, Honda may decided that MotoGP is not worth the investment it is putting in to it. And if Honda ever decides to pull out of MotoGP, then the series is in very real trouble. With the decision on the single engine contract for the Moto2 series due at Jerez, and thought to be between Honda and Yamaha, Dorna and the FIM may feel it necessary to award the contract to Honda as a way of keeping the manufacturer committed to the series.

Moto2 Engine Will Be Either Honda Or Yamaha

With a final decision expected on who will supply engines to the Moto2 series expected at the Jerez MotoGP race, just a few days from now, word is starting to emerge of the candidates for the position. Initially, it was thought that Kawasaki would be awarded the contract, but today, Motorcycle News is reporting that the Moto2 contract will go to either Yamaha or Honda.

According to MCN's Matthew Birt, Kawasaki had declined to bid for the contract, but both Yamaha and Honda had submitted formal proposals to supply the contract. Under the proposals, the winning bidder would sell the engines to Dorna, who would then provide them to the teams. A crucial point in the discussions centers on the ability of the factories to provide spare parts and engineering backup to the teams, to ensure the continuity of the series.

This point is probably the reason that the contract was only open to the major Japanese factories. As a known quantity with proven track records in building and supplying race-ready engines, the risk of awarding the Moto2 contract to Honda or Yamaha is limited. But the fact that this deal was hammered out in the Grand Prix Commission, which has the MSMA, representing the manufacturers actively involved in MotoGP, as one of its members, makes it hard to escape the suggestion that this was a deal which was never going to be open to outsiders.

The reason for the Moto2 series becoming a single engine series was simple: it was the easiest way of preventing the costs of the new four stroke racing formula from spiralling out of control. Four stroke racing engines are, by their very nature, far more complex and therefore far more expensive to extract performance from than two strokes - though factory-spec Aprilias are hardly a bargain. With multiple engine manufacturers involved in the class, a horsepower war would have been inevitable, and the aim of producing a cheap class where teams and riders can learn their trade would have been lost.

But it is hard not to feel some sorrow at the decision to use a single, spec engine. With a number of small engineering firms expressing an interest in producing engines for the class under a 20,000 euro claiming rule, it seems that a lot of ingenuity and clever new ideas could be lost. And with MotoGP already prohibitively expensive to go racing in, it's hard to see where new manufacturers could go to learn the skills necessary to build a competitive prototype four-stroke racing motorcycle.

2009 MotoGP Motegi Day 2 Roundup - Rain Stopped Play

The fates have been incredibly cruel to the MotoGP series since the 2008 season ended. First, a manufacturer withdraws, then a flurry of rule changes hastily enacted in a bid to cut costs in response to the financial crisis received widespread criticism, and finally, the first race of the season has to be postponed due to rain - in the desert, of all places. Of course, much of the blame for this misfortune can be firmly laid at the door of governing body of the series, the Grand Prix Commission: The switch to 800cc made the bikes radically more expensive; The rule changes were discussed and agreed within a matter of a few weeks, leaving the suspicion of not being fully thought through; And though it may not rain in the desert, Qatar has a wet (well, damp) season too, and running the race at night means that even a small amount of rain can cause the race to be postponed.

But the events at Motegi on Saturday are arguably beyond the power of Dorna to control. Rain had been forecast for Saturday, but that so much water would fall that rivers would start flowing across the track is an unusual event indeed. In the end, Race Direction waited for an hour to see if the weather would improve, and when it didn't, it canceled qualifying. A wise move, all things considered, as the occupants of the safety car sent out to examine the track declared the circuit too dangerous to even drive around, let alone try to ride a motorcycle at race pace on.

Then again, perhaps some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Dorna. Valentino Rossi certainly thinks so, as he labeled the decision to move the Japanese Grand Prix from September back to April a bad move. "For sure it is not a great idea to come to Motegi in April because the weather is always quite bad," Rossi said. Rossi's complaint, echoed by others, was that this left the MotoGP riders with just 45 minutes of dry practice and 45 minutes in the wet. To appease the riders, Dorna decided to extend the Sunday morning warm up from 20 to 40 minutes, but this still leaves the riders short of setup time. With the race expected to be dry, but very windy, everyone will be left guessing entering the race.

The cancellation of practice meant that the grid will be formed by taking the best times from the first two Free Practice sessions, and as FP2 run on Saturday morning was wet, this basically meant that the grid was settled on the first day of the event. Nicky Hayden perhaps lost out the most in losing qualifying: On Friday, the Marlboro Ducati rider had set only the 12th fastest time, while in the wet Hayden had jumped up to 6th, and was gaining speed all the time. "To be honest with you, I was quite looking forward to qualifying in the wet," he said. Sete Gibernau had made similar progress, from 14th up to 8th.

Marco Melandri and James Toseland were quite relieved, however. Both men had tumbled down the standings in the wet, Melandri dropping like a stone from 8th to 18th. Melandri will certainly be hoping for a dry race, as will Toseland, who is slowly recovering his confidence after two big preseason crashes.

Wet or dry, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi look just about unbeatable, with Jorge Lorenzo in with chance of hanging with the pair currently dominating the class. Rumors out of Spain suggest that Lorenzo is talking to Honda about 2010, but Lorenzo has publicly always proclaimed his intention to stay with Yamaha for the long term. Of course, Lorenzo may start to get impatient, for as long as Valentino Rossi is at Yamaha, there can be only one number one, and that's the 8 time world champion.

In the 250 class, Marco Simoncelli has been quickest in the dry, but question marks remain over whether the Italian's newly operated upon scaphoid is can cope with race pace for 40+ minutes. Those question marks are being placed by Simoncelli himself, and so must be taken very seriously indeed. This would leave Simoncelli's title rival Alvaro Bautista perfectly placed to extend his points advantage over Simoncelli, but first Bautista will have to beat Hiroshi Aoyama. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem for Bautista's factory Aprilia, but with Aoyama at home, and on a Honda, he will want to impress Honda's bosses at the track that they own.

In the 125cc class, Andrea Iannone is developing into Julian Simon's chief rival. The Aspar Aprilia rider had utterly dominated the preseason, but the pack has caught up fast since the season started in earnest. There's still a big gap separating the front row riders, with 0.687 between polesitter Simon and the man at the other end of the front row, Esteve Rabat. But behind Rabat, the gaps are much closer with 5th to 12th covered by less than a second.

The race itself should be dry, but high winds are forecast. The weather is likely to remain a factor at Motegi, leaving the outcome highly uncertain. Fortune has smiled on MotoGP for many years now. But in case you hadn't noticed, it's a sneer, not a smile, on Fortune's face at the moment. 

Decisions On Moto2 Engine And 1 Hour Practice Expected At Jerez

Ever since the Grand Prix Commission announced that the new Moto2 class would be contested by 600cc four strokes, the new class has been surrounded by controversy and argument. And argument continues to dog the class at Motegi, but this time, the argument is much more positive. A decision was expected from the Grand Prix Commission on who would be awarded the contract to supply the spec engine to the class at the Japanese Grand Prix, but the members of the commission face a problem.

According to Motorcycle News' Matthew Birt, the problem is that while it was expected that there would be only a single tender submitted, it seems that more than one manufacturer is interested in the class. As a consequence, the bids will have to be studied in more detail before the contract can be awarded, and that therefore the decision will have to wait until the next race at Jerez in a week's time.

Rumors had previously emerged that Kawasaki would be awarded the contract, but the news that other parties are interested complicates the situation. No news is available on who those other bidders might be, although several companies, including the US-based Cosentino Engineering had expressed a firm interest in the class. But the most likely party to be awarded the contract will be one of the major Japanese manufacturers, if only because they already have the capacity in place to supply the 100+ engines such a class is likely to require.

The other subject due for a delayed decision at Jerez is the question of the length of practice. The decision should have been taken at Motegi, but there was some discussion over whether or not a lap limit would be introduced. The problem with limiting laps is that there would inevitably be arguments about the number of laps to be allowed at each circuit, and how they should be counted, taking into account out laps and in laps or not. According to MCN, the limits will be lifted altogether, with the practice sessions reverting to one hour. It is unlikely that the number of laps each rider does will increase greatly, as the main complaint the teams had was that the 45 minute sessions didn't leave them enough time to test and make the changes they wanted to. So most of the extra 15 minutes the riders will have for each session will likely be spent in the pits, talking to their engineers and crew chiefs.

As Jerez is only a week away, the delay for both these decisions will only be short. But even if the extension of practice times is adopted before Jerez, it won't come into effect until the Grand Prix after, at Le Mans.

Rain Forces Cancellation Of Qualifying Practice At Motegi

One of the accusations leveled against the much-criticized night race at Qatar - run a day late because of the rain - was that it need never have been postponed if it had been run during the day, as the rain would not have been a problem in daylight. But as if under instruction by Dorna, the weather gods have decided to prove those critics wrong, to show that just because there's daylight, it doesn't mean there will be any racing.

For the rain is falling so heavily in Motegi - in the middle of the afternoon - that all the qualifying  sessions planned for this afternoon were first delayed due to water on the track. After inspection by the Safety Commission, who went out for a lap of the circuit in a safety car, the Commission pronounced that there was so much water around the track that the conditions were too dangerous even in a car. Sandbags have been located around the circuit to try and hold back the water flowing across the track, but to no avail.

Initially, the decision was taken to wait for an extra hour, to assess whether conditions would improve enough for qualifying to be run later. But as the rain was falling just as hard at the end of that hour as at the start, there was nothing left for Race Direction to do but to cancel the qualifying sessions for all three classes.

With qualifying canceled, grid positions will now be determined based on the combined free practice times set so far. In practice, this means the results of FP1, as times in the wet FP2 sessions were 13 and more seconds slower than FP1 for the MotoGP class, and similar margins for the 125 and 250 classes. Where this leaves the riders who failed to make the qualifying time in the 125 and 250 classes also remains to be seen, though in the past, Race Direction has tended to err in the direction of leniency.

But the cancellation will add to the criticisms of the reduction in practice time adopted as a cost-cutting measure at the start of the season. The loss of QP leaves the riders heading into the race with less than two hours of practice under their belts. Last year, they would have had nearly two and a half hours of practice and warm up time. Setup for the race will be a guess, at the very best, and the latest forecasts still show a chance of rain on Sunday, though mostly in the morning, further complicating matters. With rain at Motegi and a projected sandstorm which could cause problems for the Bahrein Formula One race, it really does look like the weather gods have decided to favor World Superbikes this year. Mostly clear skies with only a very small chance of light rain at Assen mean the WSBK schedule will be completely unaffected.

Aprilia To Pull Out Of 250 Class From 2010?

There's an interesting guest at Assen this weekend: Giampiero Sacchi, VP Racing for the Piaggio Group, here to watch the progress of Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano aboard Aprilia's latest superbike, the RSV4 Factory. But what is surprising the Italian journalists is that the otherwise talkative Sacchi is so uncharacteristically silent. Sacchi's reticence to talk is generating rumors, also emerging from Motegi that Aprilia is about to make a big announcement in the very near future about their vision on motorcycle racing.

What the rumors are predicting, according to two different stories on GPOne.com, one from the World Superbike round at Assen, the other from the MotoGP round at Motegi, is that Aprilia is on the verge of announcing its complete withdrawal from the 250 class from next season. The rumors have some credibility to them, as Aprilia have made no secret of their disgust at the way the decision to dump the two-stroke 250s in favor of a 600cc four-cylinder four-stroke engine was taken, with no regard for either the interests of or the suggestions made by Aprilia. But the rumors must very much be regarded as just rumors, as one of the key pieces of evidence put forward by Claudio Porozzi of GPOne.com is Sacchi's very refusal to discuss the matter.

Another interesting, if rather puzzling, angle to this story is that it would only be Aprilia pulling out of the 250 class. Piaggio, the parent company of Aprilia, would continue to field the two Gilera bikes (currently ridden by Marco Simoncelli and Roberto Locatelli). As the Gilera is basically just a rebadged Aprilia, this would still leave Aprilia with some involvement with the class. The only conceivable explanation for the Gilera decision is to compare it to leaving a ten cent tip on a fifty dollar restaurant bill: a small involvement, like a small tip, would be a greater insult than complete withdrawal. And if it is the Piaggio Group who signed the contract to participate in the 250 class, rather than Aprilia, then Aprilia could withdraw without leaving Piaggio open to the kind of legal threats it is believed was used to coerce Kawasaki into making the Hayate project possible.

But even if Gilera stays, the withdrawal of Aprilia would be a huge blow to the 250 series, and force the hands of Dorna, the FIM and the MSMA. The Grand Prix Commission would have no option but to bring the launch of the Moto2 class forward, and with only 6 months to go until testing for the 2010 season begins, that would leave the teams with little time to prepare their bikes for the coming season. And with an engine supplier yet to be selected - Kawasaki is said to be worried it will be unable to provide the engines for a complete series - this cuts down on preparation time for the teams even further. Revenge for Aprilia could well be served chilled to a tee.

Donington Denies Racing At Risk - "Business As Usual"

Just a few hours after news emerged that Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the company that operates Britain's Donington Park circuit, was being sued for back rent and the forfeiture of its lease to the track, DVLL has acted to quash rumors that it stood to lose all racing at the circuit. The issue is complex, but if the Wheatcroft family, who own the track, have the lease returned for the non-payment of the GBP 2.47 million they claim they are owed, then DVLL would no longer be allowed to operate the track, and unless a company could be found to take DVLL's place, the World Superbike, MotoGP and British Superbike rounds would be in jeopardy of being canceled.

This evening, Donington Park issued a statement on the website denying that any racing would be canceled, and saying that they expected to be running "business as usual". Significantly, the statement quotes "Donington Park staff" as saying that they would be operating the track normally, and the racing would be going ahead. Normally in cases like this, such a statement would come from the CEO or Managing Director of a company, and so two possibilities exist: The most likely is that CEO Simon Gillett may have felt that a statement from himself may have created legal complications should he have to appear in court to defend the claims against the company; But an alternative - and completely unfounded, it must be said - explanation is that the staff themselves are determined to organize the racing however they can, and no matter what the management does.

It is still too early to say which side of the argument will prevail. But with Bernie Ecclestone making significant noises about withdrawing the Formula One contract from Donington, then all bets would be off, and DVLL's chances of securing an investor to stump up the estimated GPB 100 million it would require to fund the project would seem to be very remote indeed.

The full statement, as posted on the Donington Park website, appears below:


Business as usual – races go ahead

Fri 24th Apr 09 - 17:39

Donington Park staff have confirmed that, for the foreseeable future, it is a case of "business as usual" as they re-commence their full programme of race meetings in mid-May.

The Grand Prix Master event, with its array of F1 cars and high powered sportcars, remains on schedule to go-ahead over 9/10 May and the following weekend, the HiQ British Touring Car Championship is set to power into the circuit.

Completing a hectic month, the third round of the ViSK British Superbike Championship is planned to be hosted over Spring Bank Holiday, 23/24/25 May.

The two feature events of the calendar, bringing world championship racing to the Park with World Superbikes and MotoGP, will go ahead as scheduled.

The British, and only round of the World Superbike series in the UK, will be held on 26/27/28 June with Noriyuki Haga and ‘rookie' Ben Spies continuing their duel for supremacy.

And the following month, 24/25/26 July, the sport's elite riders, led by eight times World Champion Valentino Rossi and including local hero James Toseland, will be in action in the British MotorCycle Grand Prix.

Race fans and competitors are assured that the scheduled programme of car, motorcycle and truck racing also continues as planned.

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