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Hopkins Dislocates Hip At Assen, Unlikely To Race

Assen has not been kind to John Hopkins. The last time Hopper visited the Dutch track, a huge crash saw him smash his leg and ruled him out of racing for two races, and the injury left him struggling for form and riding in pain for virtually the rest of the season. To add insult to injury, the American lost his ride for the 2009 season when Kawasaki pulled the plug on its MotoGP operation.

His fortunes looked to have revived after Hopkins found a new home in World Superbikes with the Stiggy Racing team. His first races on the bike were solid, given that he had spent just a few hours on the bike, and was up against a host of riders who were on their third race of the season.

But his revival has been short-lived. After just four laps of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike round at Assen, Hopkins had a huge crash, injuring himself badly enough to be transported to a local hospital. The doctors there found he had suffered a badly dislocated hip, an injury painful enough to rule him out of racing this weekend. The team has not confirmed that he will not be taking part in Sunday's races, but a team spokesperson told MotoGPMatters.com that Hopkins was in so much pain that he is highly unlikely to be taking part.

The silver lining for Hopkins is that he didn't break any bones in the crash. It is as yet unknown whether he will be fit in time for the next round of World Superbikes at Monza on May 8th.

2009 MotoGP Motegi Day 1 Round Up - Cold Conditions Make Setup Difficult

Practice at Motegi commenced earlier today for the MotoGP series, starting under cool and cloudy conditions. The combination of the cold temperatures and rain expected on Saturday and possible on Sunday meant that most of the teams sent their riders out on the hardest of the compounds that Bridgestone had brought to the track, as this is the tire which is thought will last race distance. The 45 minute session - the proposed return to one hour is yet to be agreed, with lap totals not settled yet  - was once again dominated by Casey Stoner from the start, but the Australian Ducati rider didn't have it all his own way.

Throughout the session, Valentino Rossi whittled away at Stoner's lead, taking over top spot after the flag had fallen. But Rossi's margin was only very small, just 0.056 seconds, though it remains to be seen just how sensitive a blow the loss of top spot is to the Australian.

Yamaha and Suzuki were clearly the bikes to have, with Jorge Lorenzo taking 3rd, while Suzuki men Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi took 4th and 6th respectively, sandwiching Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards between them. James Toseland recovered some of his form, ending the day in 10th spot, slowly getting his confidence back.

Marco Melandri was once again the surprise package, setting the 8th fastest time on the Hayate / Kawasaki. If the purpose of the Hayate's form is to impress upon the Kawasaki bosses the magnitude of their mistake in pulling out of MotoGP, then Melandri's performance so far has to be rated a success.

The biggest loser of the day must be the Motegi track owners, Honda. Andrea Dovizioso was the best of the Honda's taking 7th in the standings, but with Toni Elias in 9th, Dani Pedrosa in 11th, while Yuki Takahashi and Alex de Angelis are just inside the top 15, it is clear that HRC are in trouble. The RC212V is still not coping with the Bridgestone tires, and are in need of some improvement. Dani Pedrosa revealed that he would not be testing new parts in Japan, as he didn't feel he was sufficiently fit to push hard enough to get any usable data.

Only Ducati is doing worse than Honda, though they have the consolation that Casey Stoner is still the second fastest man of the day. Stoner's team mate Nicky Hayden is way down in 12th, while Pramac men Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa are down in 17th and 18th place respectively. The Ducati remains a treacherous beast to tame.

MotoGP FP1 Results

In the 250 class, Marco Simoncelli had little difficulty with his recently operated on scaphoid, dominating the 250 practice by over 6/10ths. Hiro Aoyama gave Honda some comfort by taking 2nd spot, ahead of Simoncelli's arch rival Alvaro Bautista. Whether Simoncelli's wrist will last all race is open to question, the Italian only running relatively short sessions during practice, but Simoncelli badly needs to claw back some points after missing the first race at Qatar.

250cc FP1 Results

In the 125s, Andrea Iannone took the top spot from the man who looked like dominating the season during the winter, Julian Simon. The Bancaja Aspar rider was under 2/10ths behind Iannone, but could not get close enough to beat the Spaniard. Third place man was the German Stefan Bradl, who refound some of his form. Simon's British team mate Bradley Smith could only manage the 7th fastest time, while fellow Britons Danny Webb and Scott Redding finished down in 13th and 16th respectively. American Cameron Beaubier was 23rd fastest.

The difficult circumstances took their toll on the smaller classes, with large numbers not making qualification. In the 125cc class, Britain's Matt Hoyle was the unlucky one, while five riders failed to make it under the 107% limit.

125cc FP1 Results

Donington Risks Losing MotoGP, WSBK And BSB In 2009

To many MotoGP fans, the news that Donington was to lose the British Grand Prix was bad news, as many prefer Donington's flowing layout - at least, the first half of the track, before the notorious car park section - to Silverstone's relatively flat circuit. It was seen as a loss, with another classic track disappearing from the calendar.

But it may not be such a loss after all. Ever since Donington embarked upon the project to redesign the track to make it suitable for Formula One, a stream of bad news has emerged from the circuit. First of all, the track had to reschedule and postpone a number of events after complaints about the construction. The new paddock access tunnel being built between Macleans and Coppice had meant run off in that area had been severely compromised, and the situation was only rectified after Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd promised to address the problems.

Now, Donington has an even bigger problem: The owner of the track, Tom Wheatcroft, has started legal proceedings against Donington Ventures Leisure Limited for unpaid rent. Wheatcroft claims that they are owed GBP 2.47 million by DVLL, which has a 150 year lease for the track, and are demanding payment of the arrears, which dates back to September 2008. Even worse news for DVLL is that Wheatcroft is also demanding that the lease be forfeited, effectively regaining control of the circuit.

Ever since the announcement that Donington would be hosting the British Formula One Grand Prix from 2010, there have been doubts about the feasibility of the project. DVLL needed to raise GPB 100 million to fund the massive construction planned for the new track, something many people believed would prevent a challenge at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a recession.

If DVLL is unable to rectify the situation, it could be more than just the Formula One race which is at risk. The British round of MotoGP, due to be held on July 26th, as well as the World Superbike and BSB rounds are at risk, and could well be canceled. The loss of Donington would be a particularly severe blow for MotoGP, which has already lost the planned Hungarian round due to financial problems. 2009 is a tough year in racing.  

Assen Gets A Street Circuit Back - Solex Style!

As a rule, the official pre-race media events on both World Superbike and MotoGP tend to be rather bloodless, even dull affairs. A select group of big name riders participate in a local tradition in a picturesque setting, as a tribute to the culture of the country the series is visiting, and to help publicize the race. In Valencia the riders helped cook a giant Paella dish, and in Qatar, they rode camels. 

Normally, when visiting Assen, the organizers would try to do something typically Dutch and eminently forgettable, such as visit a wooden shoe factory or a windmill, or go and watch cheese being produced. Fortunately, this year the organizers of the World Superbike round at Assen came up with something a little less obvious, and far more entertaining: They organized a Solex race through the streets of the city of Assen. The Solex - a type of moped with a small petrol engine mounted directly over the front wheel, which it drives using a rubber wheel - has a cult following in Holland, after becoming vehicle of choice for Holland's first '60s youth cult, the Nozems. So the bikes are still hugely popular, and a surprisingly common site on the streets and cycle paths of Dutch cities.

The atmosphere of the Solex race was heightened by dressing the riders - Noriyuki Haga, Ben Spies, Johnny Rea and local Supersport men Barry Veneman and Arie Vos - in 1960s helmets and full-length leather overcoats. And luckily for us, the Dutch motorcycling blog Oliepeil was there to capture the whole occasion on film:

 

MotoGP Practice Sessions To Be Extended To One Hour Again

One of the biggest changes made to the MotoGP series as a result of the cost-cutting measures introduced over the winter has been the reduction in the length of practice. The Friday morning sessions have been scrapped, and the three remaining sessions have been cut from 1 hour in length to just 45 minutes. The aim was to reduce the number of miles put on the engines, reducing the amount of maintenance the engines would require.

But the reduced practice time came under a lot of criticism at Qatar, the first time this was tried in practice. The short sessions left the riders - especially the rookies - much less track time to get used to the bikes, and put huge pressure on the teams and riders to hurry through changes to settings, without enough time to think them through properly. The Grand Prix Commission was sympathetic to these concerns, and studied proposals to fix the issues.

Now, a compromise has been found, according to Motorcycle News. The Grand Prix Commission is due to meet prior to the Motegi Grand Prix, and will approve the sessions will be extended to one hour again, to give the riders more time to get the bikes sorted out. But to enforce the object of the rules - reduced engine mileage, making the bikes last longer between engine rebuilds - a limit will be placed on the number of laps the riders will be allowed to do, depending on the length of the track, ensuring that more time does not equal more laps.

The extension of the sessions is to be welcomed: longer practices mean more time for the teams, and more entertainment for the fans, but with the rules being changed again after just one Grand Prix, the initial cost-cutting measures adopted at the start of the season are starting to look like a hurried, poorly-thought-out decision, rushed through without sufficient consideration. As we argued back in January, the first test that any rule changes will face is the law of unintended consequences, and that seems to be exactly what has happened here. If the intention is to reduce the number of miles put on an engine, then it would seem obvious to impose limits on the number of laps the bikes do, rather than limiting the amount of time the bikes have to do them in. As Qatar proved, limited track time just means that the teams will try to squeeze the maximum number of laps into the time available, with the busy sessions often resembling 125 practice rather than MotoGP.

The problem the new rules raise is of course how you define a lap? If a rider goes out, discovers a problem, and comes straight back into the pits, will that be deducted from his total number of permitted laps? Or will only the number of full laps completed count? If the GP Commission decides to count only the full laps completed, discounting in and out laps, then you can expect to see teams risking a fast single lap coming straight back into the pits without crossing the line, and trying to use the data from the rear of the circuit to get a good general setup.

But if all laps are to be counted, including in and out laps, then teams will be want to minimize the number of laps lost to leaving and entering the pits. Riders will be sent out for longer stints, meaning that though more data will be collected, there will be fewer opportunities for making adjustments. Whatever the final rule adopted, the one thing that is clear is that the reduced track time is rewarding the team that gets the bike and setup right straight from the start. Teams simply cannot afford to get things wrong, and spend time chasing setup, placing more emphasis on crews and crew chiefs, and the communication with their riders.

If the changes are adopted, as expected, then they will be go into force at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi this weekend.

First Run Out For Moto2 Bikes In Spanish Championship

The transition from 250cc two strokes to 600cc four-stroke Moto2 bikes  has been nowhere near as smooth as the move from 500cc two-stroke GP bikes to the 990cc MotoGP machines. The main culprit for the difficulty is a question of semantics, and arguments about how to define production racing. To avoid a confrontation between Infront Motor Sports, who run the World Superbike series, and Dorna, who run MotoGP, a decision has been made to make the series a single engine manufacturer series, getting round the problem of production engines altogether. Hopefully.

But while Dorna and the Grand Prix Commission examine the practicalities of the series, in the Spanish Championship (the CEV, coincidentally - or perhaps not - also run by Dorna), the Moto2 bikes have already taken to the track in anger. The LaGlisse YM2, based on a Yamaha R6, and the Blusens BQR bike, using a Honda CBR600RR powerplant, both took part in qualifying for the Formula Extreme race - a class most akin to Superstock 1000 - at the CEV season opener at Albacete, and acquitted themselves highly respectably. The LaGlisse YM2 qualified in 5th, just over 1.3 seconds off Ivan Silva's pole time, set using a Kawasaki ZX10R, while the Blusens bike set the 6th fastest time just a tenth slower than the LaGlisse bike.

The bikes did not take part in today's race, as they were not eligible, and with only two bikes currently entered, they are a long way away from having a full enough grid to organize a race. But according to Dennis Noyes, whose son Kenny races in the series, the pace they were setting is roughly comparable to the times a 250cc Grand Prix bike would set around the circuit. Considering that development has only just started on the machines, the bikes should be easily capable of beating the existing Aprilia 250s if they are introduced a year ahead of schedule in a joint 250/Moto2 championship.

As they stand, though, the bikes will not be eligible for the class. With a spec engine supplier yet to be appointed, both LaGlisse and BQR have based their bikes on existing production engines, an option the Flammini brothers will not allow to stand. What's more the LaGlisse YM2 will be setting off plenty of alarm bells at Infront Motor Sports' headquarters: the profile and fairing are almost indistinguishable from the standard Yamaha R6 parts, which both violates the existing rules (which specify that both chassis and bodywork must be prototype) and goes against the IMS monopoly on racing production motorcycles.

The two bikes are shown below. The black #47 bike is the LaGlisse YM2 machine, while the blue and white #7 bike is the Blusens BQR Moto2 machine. More photos can be found on the official website for the Spanish CEV championship.

The LaGlisse YM2 and BQR Moto2 machines at Albacete, 2009

Photos courtesy of http://www.cevbuckler.com/

The Last Of Scott Jones' Photos From Qatar

Sadly, we are coming to the end of the fantastic photos Scott Jones took for MotoGPMatters.com at the opening round of MotoGP in Qatar. So enjoy the final shots, as the next race Scott will be attending will be the World Superbike round at Miller Motorsport Park in Utah at the end of May, before he makes it to the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca on the 4th of July weekend.

Colin Edwards, Qatar MotoGP

Colin Edwards had a strong weekend, finishing fourth in the delayed race

Andrea Dovizioso, Honda, MotoGP Qatar

Andrea Dovizioso put up a fight in the first half of the race, but couldn't hold on to his early pace

Marco Melandri, Hayate, Kawasaki, MotoGP Qatar

If Marco Melandri hadn't gotten so overexcited at the start of the second lap, he could have been well up the field

Casey Stoner, MotoGP Qatar

There was just no stopping Casey Stoner at Qatar ...

Valentino Rossi, Qatar, MotoGP

... No matter how hard Valentino Rossi tried

Niccolo Canepa, Qatar, MotoGP

Niccolo Canepa struggled in his MotoGP debut

Loris Capirossi, MotoGP Qatar

... Fortunately for Canepa, Loris Capirossi crashed out, saving the rookie from the indignity of last place

Randy de Puniet, MotoGP Qatar

Randy de Puniet: Sadly for the men, the Frenchman didn't have Playboy sponsorship at Qatar. Sadly for the women, he kept his leathers on all weekend.

Marco Simoncelli's bike, Qatar, 250, MotoGP

Marco Simoncelli's bike didn't leave the pits on race day

Mike di Meglio passes Ratthapark Wilairot, 250cc, Qatar

Mike di Meglio got on the podium at his first attempt in the 250 class, while Ratthapark Wilairot had an outstanding race to finish 8th on the Honda

Jules Cluzel, Matteoni Racing, 250cc, Qatar

But the man of the 250 race was Jules Cluzel on the privateer Matteoni Racing Aprilia. Cluzel replica helmets are surprisingly affordable.

Rain at the 2009 MotoGP race at Qatar

The 2009 Qatar MotoGP race in a single shot: Rain, half-empty grandstands ... and goats, for some reason.

Lorenzo Lanzi To Replace "Underperforming" Rider In WSBK - But Who?

Intrigue haunts the World Superbike paddock at the moment, after rumors emerged that British rider Tommy Hill was to be replaced at Althea Honda. There was a quick response from the Althea Honda team, who issued a press release officially denying the story. The press release stated: "With reference to reports on several websites and forums regarding the substitution of our Superbike rider Tommy Hill with Lorenzo Lanzi, the Honda Althea Racing team wishes to deny this news, which is considered to be totally groundless."

A comprehensive denial. So what is fueling the rumor? Part of the problem is the replacement rider being named: Lorenzo Lanzi is an undeniably talented rider, and a winner at Valencia last year. The Italian started the season riding for Stefano Caracchi's KTM Scuderia Corse team in the Italian Superbike championship, but on the eve of the first round of the season, Caracchi and Lanzi have issued a joint statement announcing that Lanzi had been released from his contract to allow him to pursue opportunities in World Superbikes.

That press release is one of the things fueling the speculation, for it is refreshingly honest in why Lanzi is being released:

"Lorenzo Lanzi and Stefano Caracchi have decided to end their agreement for 2009 season, but not due to a disagreement between the two, on the contrary! A rider with Lorenzo's talent was never going to be out of the WSBK arena for long, and when the World Superbike circus returned to Europe, some teams, not completely satisfied with the choices made at the beginning of the season, contacted him. Stefano Caracchi has not had the heart to stop Lorenzo seizing this opportunity, and dissolved the agreement with him, though of course with great regret."

So though the Althea Honda team have denied that Tommy Hill will be replaced, it looks certain that Lorenzo Lanzi will be coming to World Superbikes. A number of rumors are doing the round, but they are nothing more than rumors. One possible option is that Lanzi could end up running alongside Hill, rather than replacing him, a possibility only if Lanzi could bring enough sponsorship to the team to cover at least part of the extra costs of running two bikes instead of one. But Lanzi's name is also being mentioned in connection with the Guandalini Racing team, where the team is said to be disappointed with the results of both Jakub Smrz and Brendan Roberts.

Though we must take Althea Honda's denial that Hill would be replaced at face value, they didn't help their case with the wording of the press statement. The statement went on to say, "as reported in the team press release on the tests carried out last week at Monza, we wish to confirm that Tommy will take part in the Assen races on the Honda CBR 1000 RR prepared by Massimo Tulli and his technical staff, in order to continue with the development of our bike and reach the results that our team and rider are capable of." The statement that Hill will take part at Assen merely fuels speculation about the rest of the season. After all, there are ten more rounds after Assen, and those with fevered imaginations will be wondering why there was no mention of those races.

The truth of the matter is likely to be revealed at Assen next week. Now freed from his contract with Caracchi, Lorenzo Lanzi is almost certain to be in the paddock at the event, even if only as a visitor. We shall keep a close eye on his whereabouts, and check which garage he spends most of his time in.

Even More Of Scott Jones' Great Photos From Qatar

The photos from Qatar taken by Scott Jones have been extremely popular, just as we expected. And luckily for us, Scott still has plenty more where they came from. Below are some of Scott's photos taken during practice and qualifying, and over the next couple of days, we'll put up some more from race day. Enjoy, and stay tuned!

Nicky Hayden's Ducati blown up during practice at the Qatar MotoGP

Nicky Hayden had an awful weekend, including a blown engine during practice

Mika Kallio, Qatar MotoGP

Mika Kallio, on the other hand, had a strong debut on the GP9

Valentino Rossi, Qatar MotoGP

Valentino Rossi showed his support for the earthquake-stricken Abruzzo region of Italy

Mattia Pasini, Aprila, Qatar MotoGP

Mattia Pasini was the most spectacular generator of sparks all weekend

Marco Simoncelli, Qatar

Marco Simoncelli practiced, but didn't race, his scaphoid giving him too much trouble

Bradley Smith, Aprilia, Qatar

Bradley Smith was fast during practice, but outclassed by his team mate

Chris Vermeulen, Suzuki, MotoGP Qatar

The Suzukis ran well, Chris Vermeulen ending on his race number

Lukas Pesek, Qatar, 250cc

Lukas Pesek showed that the differential between the customer LEs and the factory RSAs was smaller than expected

Alex de Angelis, MotoGP Qatar

Alex de Angelis had a strong, but controversial race

Scott Redding, Qatar, 125cc

Scott Redding, Britain's other great hope in the 125cc class

Hector Faubel, Honda, 250cc, Qatar

Hector Faubel's Honda was sponsored by the Valenica soccer team

Mattia Pasini, Qatar

Mattia Pasini is from Rimini. They know about cool in Rimini.

Yamaha - Petronas Sponsorship Worth $8 Million A Year

The MotoGP race at Qatar brought more than just controversy over night races, and rain in the desert; It also brought some good news too. At the event, Yamaha announced that it had clinched a sponsorship deal with the Malaysian oil giant Petronas, due to last for three years. The deal sees the Petronas name appearing on the team clothing, and on the belly pan of both Fiat Yamaha M1s.

What was not announced at the time was the size of the deal: according to the sports marketing publication SportsPro Magazine, the three-year contract has a total value of $24 million, or $8 million a year - a sizable sum by any account, and more than enough to fund a satellite team (for comparison, the same source claims that the Monster - Tech 3 Yamaha deal was worth $2.5 million a year). But it also puts into perspective what the relative value of Valentino Rossi's marketing magic is: The deal is also larger than the $7 million which Rizla is said to be paying Suzuki for title sponsorship in 2009.

Interesting as these numbers are, they should probably be treated with a grain of salt. It is highly unlikely that the $8 million Petronas is said to be paying Yamaha will be a single lump sum - the oil giant was already cooperating with Yamaha on their MotoGP project, and so a sizable chunk of that money could well be in the form of making race gasoline, oils, consultancy and other services available.

Mention these numbers to people in the paddock, though, and they will laugh in your face. Multiple sources inside the paddock have confided to MotoGPMatters.com that the Rizla deal, for example, was closer to half a million dollars, rather than the seven million reported by SportsPro, and similar numbers were bandied about for the Monster deal with both Tech 3 and Kawasaki. Of course, the people passing on these numbers had them at second hand too, and their own roles leave them far from unbiased observers, making their comments interesting, though perhaps not as reliable as we might hope for.

Whatever the truth of the matter, what the Petronas tie-up does show is the real problem with MotoGP is a matter of perspective. One view is that costs in the series are getting out of hand, and that they need to be gotten back under control. But you could equally assert that the series isn't generating enough income for the exposure it generates, and teams are selling themselves out too cheaply. Which of these is correct depends on where you choose to view the situation from.

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