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Casey Stoner To Withdraw From Brno?

After a mystery illness left Casey Stoner drained and exhausted at the past four races, it was assumed that a return to his native Australia would provide Stoner with a welcome break. The rest, coupled with further consultations with doctors he has worked with before and whom he has much confidence in, would surely allow the 2007 World Champion to return to racing at Brno, if not completely recovered, then at least in better shape than he left the series after Donington.

But apparently, this is not to be. According to the Spanish website Motoworld.es, Ducati will be announcing tomorrow that Casey Stoner will not race at Brno. No one will be brought in to replace Stoner, according to Motoworld.es, something that Ducati would have to do if Stoner to miss the following round at Indianapolis two weeks later.

The report does not cite any definite cause for Stoner's decision to skip Brno, but Motoworld.es is alleging that the problems are mainly psychological, and a question of self-confidence. Stoner underwent a battery of tests after the US GP at Laguna Seca in early July, after which the team announced that the Australian had been diagnosed with mild gastritis and slight anemia. However, at Donington, Stoner denied that this was a problem, telling the press it was so minor as to be irrelevant, and that the problem must have another cause.

Being diagnosed certainly hasn't help solve Stoner's problems. According to Motoworld.es, sources inside Stoner's inner circle are reporting that if anything, his condition has got worse since the Barcelona race, rather than better.

The article goes on to compare Stoner's ailment with that of double world champion Freddie Spencer. In 1985, Spencer won both the 250 and 500cc classes in the same season, and it is said that the mental and physical effort of that year placed such a strain on him that he never fully recovered, and Spencer never won another Grand Prix race again. This however, must surely remain just speculation, and MotoGP fans around the world will surely be hoping that Stoner makes a full and speedy recovery, ready to challenge for victory again soon.

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Herve Poncharal Marathon Interview Part 1 - Why The Rookie Rule Is A Good Thing

Since the end of 2008, Herve Poncharal has found himself a very busy man indeed. As head of both the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and the IRTA representative in the Grand Prix Commission, Poncharal has had his hands full both on and off the track. With the global financial crisis impacting MotoGP so heavily, Poncharal has been especially busy finding ways to cut costs and secure the future of the championship, working in tandem with the other members of the Grand Prix Commission.

So when we had a chance to speak to Poncharal on Thursday night at Donington Park, prior to the final British Grand Prix to be run at the track, we jumped at it. We had hoped to get maybe half an hour of his time, but we got so much more than we bargained for. Like all good cub reporters, we had brought a list of questions, and had prepared ourselves mentally to go through them in the hope of getting some interesting answers. As it turned out, Poncharal had been preparing for us, too, and we ended up covering subjects as diverse as the role of an independent MotoGP team, cost-cutting in MotoGP, the Moto2 class, the proposals from the MSMA to supply cheaper engines, how tobacco sponsorship nearly destroyed MotoGP, the benefits of sponsoring MotoGP, James Toseland and Ben Spies. So wide-ranging was the interview that we have been forced to cut it up into several parts.

We started off the interview talking about the rookie rule. Or rather, the Tech 3 Yamaha boss took us to task for not understanding the importance of the rule to the satellite teams. Here's what Herve Poncharal had to say:

Herve Poncharal: I know MotoGPMatters. Maybe 5 times a day, I'm going to Crash.net, GPOne, MotoGPMatters, MCN, a French site called Caradisiac, everybody's reading each other when there is something. This is a good website; sometimes there is a little bit too much polemic - which is good, because we need to create some polemic.

But one thing I read which I thought was not too accurate was that the rookie clause was no use and no meaning, and because Simoncelli signed with Gresini and signed with Honda, it was proof that it would be useless. Not at all! Because without that rule, Simoncelli would have been with HRC. I was also talking to them, so I know very well, and if Simoncelli went to Honda it's because Japan on Honda's side got involved and Yamaha Japan didn't think they had to get involved. Anyway, because of that rule, Gresini managed to catch a top rider, even though Gresini could not afford him, because HRC wanted him. Signing Simoncelli has helped him to sign San Carlo [the Italian snack manufacturer which sponsors the Gresini team], because San Carlo was saying "I'm out of here with the result we have and the riders we have." So it helped him to sign instantly and it helped him to have the factory paying for him. So the rookie rule has been helping the independent teams.

And the reason why we had this rule, when we went to Bologna, you know, we were all like this "What can we do to save money? What can we do especially to support the independent teams?" Because clearly, everybody is suffering, but the factories are suffering less than us. So I proposed the rule - and I don't want to say this to brag about it - but anyway I think it was the only good idea that came out of all of it, because for sure when you know how important is the rider for the result in this world, when you know how important the rider is to try to secure sponsors, when you have a profile like Simoncelli, this is a big bonus.

And clearly, before that rookie clause was voted Simoncelli wanted to follow what Pedrosa, Lorenzo did, straight to a factory team! And I remember I talked to him earlier this year at Assen and he was quite happy, and then later, his manager, Carlo Pernat, told the press "Why should he go to a B team?" So for everybody, we're B! And instead of making the gap bigger and bigger, you have to make it closer and closer.

I know an independent team is not going to win the championship, because we don't have the same spec. What we want to do is at least to be competitive, to find a sponsor, to be competitive on track, and to still be alive! And not to be, say we have 20 bikes on the grid, 10 A championship and 10 B championship, and basically the second 10 are only here to fill up the grid. Anytime you talk to a rider, if he's a good rider, he says "Pfft, I'm not talking to you, you're B, I want to go to an A team."

This is what I wanted to try to change, is the mentality, because, Dovizioso followed the independent team route and it didn't prevent him from having a factory ride in year two, Casey did that too, and I think if Lorenzo had been with us last year, I don't think he would have done a lot less. Because at the end of the day, we are independent, because it's an independent company which is running this, but there are no private bikes here. It's not like in 250 or in Superbikes or in other championships; ALL the bikes here are factory supported, supported by Honda, Ducati or Yamaha even though they are in an independent team. But if Yamaha wants to give me the same treatment for Lorenzo as Lorenzo is going to have with them, they can do that, because I have a Japanese engineer in my side of the garage, so what's the difference? Only the color of the bike, the transporter which is moving a bike from one track to another.

MGPM: The danger I see in the rookie rule is that right now, in the short term, it's good for the independent teams because the independent teams say they get the publicity, they get the sponsors, but in three or four years time, maybe if a rider goes to an independent team, has some bad results and a couple of a couple of mechanical DNFs, the factories might say, "right, we won't work with with that team any more."

HP: Not at all...

MGPM: Why not just set up their own satellite teams?

HP: Because, as I told you, there are no private teams, so you have a lot of Japanese staff in the team and they can judge what is happening. I have a lot of Japanese in my team, and if for example Simoncelli would signed for me, had disappointing results, and then blamed the team, it's not a team problem.

Because at the moment, let's face reality, what does a MotoGP team or MotoGP mechanic do? He's changing the wheels, and doing the maintenance. That's all. The level of support, if the machine breaks down, it's not us, we never touch the engine, we never open the engine, you know? We are told, change the engine, we are told, do this, do that, this is the new part, this is what you have to do. Basically, a bolt which is not tight, this is the only mistake that a team can do. I don't think at the moment, any rider could say I did not have good results because the team was bad, not any more. Because there is almost no input from the team into the bike. Now, the tires, you don't have to decide, just soft and hard and that's it. Basically Bridgestone is telling you don't go for soft or don't go for hard and everybody is almost always having the same. Some with with a bad grid position, sometimes they want to gamble. What else? We have an Ohlins guy, we have a Yamaha engine management guy...

MGPM: So basically, Yamaha is telling you what settings to run on your engine, Ohlins is telling you what suspension settings ...

HP: Yeah, we work together, but we have a Yamaha engineer, from Japan, and every time the bike is out on track we have a minimum of one Japanese guy per rider, we have an Ohlins guy for the team, we have a Bridgestone guy, we have Brembo guys.

DE: So there's less and less for you to do ... Is it still interesting for you as engineers?

HP: This is complementary. This year, Moto2 is also very exciting for a lot of people, but we have to understand that with 18 races - and possibly more in the future, if you want to have more money - you can't spend all your time on developing and working on a bike and follow all the races.

So clearly now, R&D is done by Japan, by Honda, Yamaha, or in Italy by Ducati, and we are what we call in Formula One a "team d'exploitation". So OK, our field of activity has been narrowed, because of the one tire brand, because of this, because of that . But still this is exciting, because guys like Colin, James, to work on that very very high level bike, and to share with the engineers, it is still exciting.

And it is still interesting, but we have to face reality, you know. When we used to race with Olivier Jacque with a standard 250, between each race, we were on a dyno trying to modify or build an airbox, modify this piece here, this here, change the pipe, work on the carburettor. This is not possible any more, the technical level is too high.

MGPM: Is that because four strokes are inherently more complicated than two strokes?

HP: Yes, but also because now, as I said, we have 18 races, 3 or 4 test sessions, so it means our mission is to take care of the set up on a specific track with a specific rider, taking into account specific weather conditions, etc etc. This is our mission. And I think this is quite a lot of work already. And we can be feeling the past was better, but this was different. But I'm quite happy to work on such a high-tech bike, and I think any technician is. But for sure, also now to be involved in the building process of a Moto2 bike is very exciting for Guy and the rest of the team. And I think the two of them are going to make us for sure happier.

But to get back to the rookie rule, I wanted to say that I personally think that the rookie thing is going to help us, and it's not going to hurt anybody's career, and it's not going to hurt the sport or the show.

MGPM: Like I said, my fear is that the factories decide to cut out the middle man, and build their own satellite teams...

HP: The factories are richer than us, but at the moment they are (simulates someone choking). But even if they were very rich, one day they could say like Kawasaki did, "Our job is to sell bikes and racing is worth the investment or not" and they might say "No more". It depends on who is at the top of the company, if he likes racing or not, there are so many things that can happen. I don't think factories are looking to expand their financial involvement.

Read more of our interview with Herve Poncharal tomorrow.

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2010 Silly Season Round Up Part 3: The Unknown Unknowns

In the final chapter of our summer break round up of the MotoGP season, we turn towards the unknown. After our discussions of the things we know for sure, and the things which are extremely probable, we stray from the path of solid research, head down the trail of the likely, making a left turn into the tangled brush and undergrowth of the possible and onwards to wishful thinking and the frankly bizarre. Once past the certain and the obvious, the options become more open, more varied and more improbable. Whereas you could have safely placed a small wager on the rider movements discussed yesterday, the options presented below are a pretty good way of losing your money.

We shall start our journey with the most likely scenarios, and descend into the unknown from there. Of the riders we have not yet discussed, Randy de Puniet has the best chance of securing a decent ride for next year. Since his switch to the spec Bridgestone tires, the Frenchman has been transformed from the man most likely to crash to a podium hero at Donington, and his stock has risen enormously.

De Puniet is currently in negotiations with his current team boss Lucio Cecchinello about signing for LCR Honda again for next year, but the Frenchman's main demand is not money but equipment. De Puniet wants a more competitive bike, and though Cecchinello would dearly like to oblige, that depends both on the team's ability to raise the necessary funds and HRC's willingness to supply a better bike.

And so de Puniet is also talking to - who else? - Tech 3's Herve Poncharal. At Tech 3 the Frenchman would be assured of excellent support and his best shot at more regular podium appearances. The only point of contention would be money, and unless de Puniet can bring extra sponsorship dollars to the Tech 3 team, his salary demands would have to remain modest.

Helping to keep down Herve Poncharal's wage bill is the fact that competition for the final Tech 3 seat is pretty fierce. Current incumbent James Toseland is still in with a shout, and the money he brings from Dorna for the BBC TV deal leaves the Englishman well in contention. But with young Britons such as Bradley Smith, Danny Webb and Scott Redding on the way and just a couple of seasons from joining the premier class, the need for a British rider in MotoGP is diminished, and Dorna may feel inclined to reduce its contribution to Toseland's cause. If Toseland does lose the Yamaha seat his most likely destination is World Superbikes, where he has options with a host of top teams.

Another former World Superbike rider is also in contention for Toseland's seat at Tech 3. Chris Vermeulen's place at Rizla Suzuki is looking precarious, though it is by no means certain that he won't be back there. But Vermeulen has also expressed his frustration at the lack of progress from the Hamamatsu factory in producing a competitive bike, and so may decide his interests are best served by jumping to a different manufacturer and hoping to score well enough at a satellite team that he will be offered promotion to the factory squad. If not, Vermeulen, like Toseland, will return to World Superbikes, and have another chance of securing the title there.

The other group hoping to take the Tech 3 ride is the Spanish contingent. Alvaro Bautista has been linked to the ride, though the Spaniard looks much more likely to go to Suzuki or possibly Aspar Ducati next year. But fellow Spaniards Toni Elias and rookie Hector Barbera are also serious candidates to take the seat. Elias is certain to be dropped from the Gresini Honda squad at the end of the season and is scraping around for a replacement rider. As a former race winner, he should be able to secure a seat, but with competition this intense he could find himself losing out. Tech 3 and the Pramac squad are just about Elias' final hopes, else he could find himself moving either across to World Superbikes or down to Moto2 if he can't find a ride soon.

Hector Barbera is the rookie with the weakest bargaining position, though he may be able to bring sponsorship to any team he joins. Poncharal has acknowledged that he has had talks with the Spaniard, but Barbera's most probable destination is the Aspar Ducati. The team will most likely be backed by a sponsors from the Spanish province of Valencia, and as a native of the region Barbera would be an attractive proposition. Of course, if Aspar's preferred choice of rider Alvaro Bautista takes the seat, then Barbera could find himself struggling to find another ride.

At the bottom of Jorge Martinez' rather short list of candidates to ride his new Aspar Ducati is Alex Debon. The 250 veteran has been on the verge of breaking into the MotoGP class a couple of times, but has never quite made it. If Aspar runs out of options elsewhere, Debon's Valencian roots will help him secure the seat ahead of non Spanish riders.

After Yuki Takahashi lost the Scot Honda ride to Gabor Talmacsi in mid-season, the ascension of Hiroshi Aoyama to the MotoGP class became a great deal more likely. Aoyama is having his best year ever in the 250 class, leading the championship and in with a very strong chance of clinching the title this year. The Japanese rider has been tipped to progress to the MotoGP class for a few years now and many in the paddock were surprised that Takahashi was picked ahead of Aoyama at the end of last year. With no Japanese rider currently in the series, the Japanese factories - more specifically, Honda - are likely to push hard for a seat for Aoyama somewhere.

His most likely destination is either LCR Honda (as De Puniet's replacement if the Frenchman goes to Tech 3) or possibly inside Scot Honda. Gabor Talmacsi is almost certain to remain at Scot Honda, but Dorna and Honda may find enough money to fund an extra bike for the Japanese rider. Honda's motive would be to have a Japanese rider in the series, while Dorna will want to compensate for the loss of Kawasaki and keep 18 riders on the grid.

Alex de Angelis' future is among the most uncertain in the MotoGP series at the moment. The man currently riding the second Gresini Honda will be out of a ride at the end of the year, and with very limited options. He recently told the Italian press that he was close to a deal with Pramac Ducati, but since then, no more news has been heard. His manager, Carlo Pernat, was seen recently at the Misano round of World Superbikes, but de Angelis vehemently denied he was interested in a ride in the rival series. De Angelis may not have much choice, though the man from San Marino may instead choose to move down to the Moto2 class, where his experience with four strokes could give him an advantage over the 250 riders in the first year of the class and put him in the frame for a championship.

While de Angelis' future in MotoGP is uncertain, Ben Spies is almost certain to move up to MotoGP. Herve Poncharal put Spies' chances of being in the series in 2011 as "99.999%" but that still leaves the question of next season. If Spies fails to secure the World Superbike title, then the consensus is that the Texan will remain another year in the series for a second shot at the championship, but after that he is certain to make the switch.

The question is, with whom? Yamaha is still the odds-on favorite, with the seat currently occupied by Colin Edwards being reserved for Spies. But with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo likely to be hogging the seats at the factory Yamaha squad, Spies could be tempted to look elsewhere. The most obvious alternative would be Suzuki, though Rizla Suzuki boss has refused to be drawn on whether they are attempting to attract the man they rejected last year back to the fold. Spies himself, though, may feel that Suzuki is a bad bet, with the bike failing to perform and the factory at the top of the list of manufacturers most likely to pull out of MotoGP in the near future.

Honda would be an alternative for Spies, but at the moment, HRC doesn't have a suitable destination for the Texan. That could be remedied relatively easily if HRC smelled a chance to get their revenge on Yamaha, and sign the one rider from outside the series thought capable of challenging the Fantastic Four currently dominating the series.

Then, of course, there's Ducati. Livio Suppo recently told Motorcycle News that they were very interested in Spies and were keeping a seat free for him at the Pramac squad, but Ducati continues to suffer from the reputation the Desmosedici has for being impossible to ride. Spies is unlikely to want to risk his reputation aboard a bike that he has no guarantees of being able to get to perform. Suppo's comments seem more like angling rather than a calculated and serious approach to Spies.

There is one final rider who could also make his way into the MotoGP series. Swiss 250cc rider Thomas Luthi has made no secret of his ambition to make it into the premier class, and his Emmi Caffe Latte team is also keen to make the switch, team boss Daniel Epp saying so to the press at every opportunity. The problem, as ever, is one of equipment, and until the manufacturers start making more machinery available - either as complete bikes, or just leasing engines which they could do under a recent proposal made by the MSMA and due for further discussion at Indianapolis - then Luthi's options, like those of many other riders keen to take a shot at the class, will remain very limited indeed.

Yet help could be on the horizon, and coming from Luthi's native Switzerland. Former MuZ, Kawasaki and Ilmor designer Eskil Suter has announced that he is currently building a new bike, powered by a 240 horsepower V4 engine. The engine, Suter has been keen to emphasize, has nothing to do with the Ilmor power plant, and has been designed completely from scratch. Suter will be embarking on this project together with Jean Christophe Ponsson and the Gil Motor Sport team, currently racing in the World Supersport series. The project is due to be finalized on September 30th, and Ponsson and Suter have presented their plans to Dorna already.

But plans are not enough, as has been made amply obvious many times before. The main problem is one of money, of course, with designing, building and developing a racing motorcycle a very expensive business indeed. There are also worries about the likely performance of the bike itself, though. The projected power output - 240 bhp, according to Suter - would make it the most powerful bike on the grid by a significant margin, but that power may not be enough. The Swiss designer's previous projects - the Ilmor chassis, the early Kawasaki - suffered problems with chassis stiffness and weight distribution, and were incredibly difficult to set up and make competitive. Suter will undoubtedly have learned a great deal in the intervening period, but the question is whether it will be enough to make the difference between being several seconds off the pace and close enough to the rest to attract the necessary millions in sponsorship.

Of course, much of the above is all based on speculation, hearsay, rumors and guesswork, but until Jorge Lorenzo signs with Yamaha, that's all we have to go on. The 2010 MotoGP grid could turn out completely differently, but right now it's too early to tell. We'll be keeping track of the official signings over on our 2010 MotoGP rider line up page, which we'll be updating regularly. Bookmark that page and check back regularly if you want to know who will definitely be going where next year. Meanwhile, we shall be keeping up with the rumors and speculation on our news pages.

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2010 Silly Season Round Up Part 2: The Known Unknowns

Yesterday, we covered the things we know for sure about the MotoGP riders market in 2010. So today, we turn our attention to the known unknowns, the riders and teams that we are fairly sure are going to be in MotoGP but with no certainty as to how or where or with whom. Naturally, that lack of certainty means that what follows is partly speculation, but is based on information which has so far proven to be reliable for the most part. If you're fond of a flutter, it might be worth taking a shot on some of what follows, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on any of it.

The biggest dependency in the MotoGP Silly Season so far was touched upon yesterday. Jorge Lorenzo is the juggernaut stopped at the crossroads, holding up the traffic behind him, deciding whether to take the fork to Honda or to continue on along the road with Yamaha. The news emerging from various sources in the media and the paddock is that Lorenzo is most likely to stay the course with Yamaha and demonstrate that he can beat Valentino Rossi on equal machinery.

If, as we expect, Lorenzo stays, then this will precipitate a host of changes through the rest of the field. The most significant of these, as we covered yesterday, will be Dani Pedrosa. With the option of a move to Yamaha effectively blocked - Yamaha could neither afford nor would they want three of the top four riders in the world, as they have their hands full already just handling two of them - Pedrosa will most likely remain at Repsol Honda, perhaps with some extra guarantees of performance from HRC extracted with some extra pressure from Repsol, who grow tired of pouring many millions of euros into the factory Honda squad without seeing the desired return (a Spanish MotoGP champion) on their investment.

Andrea Dovizioso is likely to retain his seat alongside Dani Pedrosa, his hand having been strengthened by his victory at Donington Park just a couple of weeks ago. But as HRC is quietly accumulating talent in the background, with Marco Simoncelli already signed for Gresini next year and one or two other names already popping up on the HRC radar, Dovi will most likely be given another one year contract for just the 2010 season, so that HRC can reshuffle its cards at the end of next year. HRC's hands are also tied by the limited options available. Yamaha has successfully corner a sizable chunk of the talent market, and the only rider eligible and qualified to move up to the Repsol ride would be Marco Melandri, who has proved again this year that he can still ride, just as long as what he's riding wasn't built in Bologna.

With the major factory rides more or less tied up, MotoGP's most desirable destination right now is the Tech 3 Yamaha team. The Yamaha M1 is clearly the pick of the bunch in terms of performance, and the level of support Yamaha is giving to Tech 3 makes the satellite team's bikes much closer to the factory M1s than, for example, the satellite-spec Hondas. This makes the Tech 3 team a talented rider's best hope of a podium on a non-factory machine and the list of interested parties is very long indeed.

Though Tech 3 has two seats to offer, only one of those is decided at the sole discretion of team boss Herve Poncharal. The other belongs to Yamaha Japan, and the factory decides who to put there. Right now, that seat is held by Colin Edwards, and his prospects for remaining are looking strong. With Lorenzo likely to stay at Yamaha, Ben Spies' route into the Yamaha factory team has been closed off. With Spies probably out of the equation for this year (more on that tomorrow), the pressure on Edwards diminishes, and the Texan's strong results and highly regarded bike development skills are likely to secure him the Japanese seat at Tech 3. According to Motorcycle News' Matt Birt, no decision will be finalized until some time in October, but Edwards probably has little to fear. The other seat is wide open, though, and we will cover the options Poncharal has tomorrow.

At Ducati, a similar situation applies. Casey Stoner is locked in for 2010, and Ducati have an option on Nicky Hayden for next year as well. As Hayden's fortunes have started to improve - at Donington, Hayden said that he was finally starting to use his own settings as a base and not rely on settings taken from Stoner - so the Kentuckian has looked more likely to stay. Hayden has certainly looked happier at the last two rounds than he did at the beginning of the season, and Ducati has also shown ever more faith in the American. With Hayden 848 replicas selling out almost as soon as they were announced, Ducati understands the marketing power that the Kentucky Kid has in the USA, one of its most important markets. Ducati has until September 1st to exercise the option they have on Hayden, which would make for a repeat of last year's high-profile announcement at Indianapolis.

The other certainty at Ducati is Pramac's Mika Kallio. The Finnish rookie has impressed Ducati bosses with the speed with which he adapted to the fearsome GP9, and despite his somewhat erratic results - varying anywhere from a strong 8th to being out of the points - Ducati see a lot of potential in Kallio. The Finn is almost certain to stay with the Pramac satellite squad for another year, and have another chance to impress Ducati enough to be moved up to the factory team in 2011.

A year ago, Marco Melandri (whose birthday it is today) was a broken man, with doubts hanging over his future. But his frankly brilliant performance on an underpowered, undeveloped Kawasaki has regained him the respect of the fans he brought to the brink of despair when he was on the Ducati. Although Kawasaki will be gone from MotoGP next season, Melandri has done more than enough to earn himself another chance in MotoGP.

His most likely destination is the Gresini Honda garage, alongside 250cc prodigy and fellow countryman Marco Simoncelli. But this "dream team" in terms of sponsorship is likely to leave Fausto Gresini with a major problem. The Italian will probably only receive one factory-spec RC212V to run from Honda, along with one less competitive satellite-spec bike. Does he give the factory bike to Simoncelli, the man with the HRC backing but still just a rookie in the class, or does he give the bike to Melandri, a proven winner for the team and on the bike?

While Gresini wrestles with an embarrassment of riches, the Suzuki squad is in more difficult straits. On the one hand, the Rizla Suzuki team has an exemption from the Rookie Rule, allowing riders entering the class for the first time to join the squad despite it being a factory operation. But on the other, Suzuki have consistently failed to produce a competitive machine, their bikes never able to build on the form they so often show in pre-season testing. This latter problem has caused Loris Capirossi to demand that Suzuki step up their efforts, or the Italian veteran will walk away from the team. Suzuki is keen to retain Capirex, though, and if they can provide him with the guarantees he wants about the competitiveness of the bike, he is almost certain to stay for a final year before retiring.

Who Capirossi will be sharing the garage with is still open to debate. The hot favorite is Spanish star Alvaro Bautista, who is certain to move up to MotoGP, but whose options are slightly limited. Bautista has two main choices: join the Rizla Suzuki team and enjoy the benefits of being on a factory team; or stay with Jorge Martinez and Aspar to ride the single Ducati the Spanish-based team will be fielding next year. Bautista has not been keen to ride the Ducati, having seen the bike disfigure the careers of so many others, but he also knows Martinez and the Aspar team very well, and knows that they are a quality outfit. In the end, the lure of factory backing is likely to prove too much for Bautista to resist, and the Spaniard will probably end up in blue next year.

The last of the probables is the man with the money, Hungarian superstar Gabor Talmacsi. The former 125cc World Champion has learned quickly on his limited outings on the Honda RC212V, and has closed the gap to the rest of the field. With Talmacsi bringing hard cash in the underfunded Team Scot, through his high public profile in his native Hungary, the odds of Talmacsi holding on to the Scot Honda ride for 2010 are very strong.

Of course, this leaves the team with a problem, as Hiroshi Aoyama, currently leading the 250cc title chase on the Scot Honda, looks set to make the jump up to MotoGP next season. But the future of Aoyama, along with others such as Toni Elias, Chris Vermeulen, Randy de Puniet and James Toseland, is far less clear cut, so we will save that for tomorrow, when we will be discussing the unknown unknowns, or some of the more interesting, if not to say bizarre permutations of riders and bikes.

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2010 Silly Season Round Up Part 1: The Known Knowns

Although MotoGP's traditional silly season - the point at which teams and riders decide who will be going where next year - is currently being blocked by one man (a certain Spanish rider by the name of Jorge Lorenzo), it is still time to start taking stock of the current state of the market, and marking out who will be staying and who will be going. Over the next few days MotoGPMatters.com will be running a series of articles on the state of the silly season, to help you keep track. All the official signings will be recorded on the 2010 MotoGP rider line up page, which will be updated as and when contracts are actually confirmed.

So far, that list is pretty short. Only Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Marco Simoncelli have confirmed contracts for 2010, the rest is all up in the air. Rossi is halfway through his two-year contract with Yamaha, and is likely to extend that at the end of next season; Stoner has exercised the option he had to remain with Ducati for next year, though his disappointment with Yamaha and Honda for not offering him a factory ride at the end of 2006 has a role to play in the decision; and Simoncelli is the first victim of the rookie rule, the Italian expected to go to a factory team, but being prevented by the rule barring new entries into the class from signing directly with a factory team and forcing them to serve an apprenticeship year - and help bring some much-needed sponsorship into - a satellite team.

Though the list of confirmed riders is short, there are still plenty of things we are sure about for the 2010 MotoGP season. The first of these is the entry of the Aspar team into the paddock, taking over the Ducati left vacant by the surprise withdrawal of Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando squad. Aspar has dominated the lower classes, Julian Simon taking the team's 100th victory at Donington at the end of July, and has been trying to break into the MotoGP class for the past couple of years. Although no rider has yet been confirmed for the Aspar squad, what we can be sure of is that both the rider and the title sponsor will be Spanish, and possibly even Valencian. Aspar has been trying to persuade his protege Alvaro Bautista to join him in MotoGP, but Bautista is believed to be wary of the career-wrecking ability of the Ducati.

Whether he goes to Aspar or not, Alvaro Bautista is certain to be one of a number of rookies entering the class. Bautista will be joining current arch rival Marco Simoncelli in MotoGP, perpetuating the Italian-Spanish rivalry that exists at all levels of MotoGP. Hector Barbera is almost certain to join Bautista and Simoncelli, the only question being where, though his name is being touted around a number of destinations in the paddock.

To make way for the arrival of these new riders, an exodus of older names is also on the cards. At least one former World Superbike rider is certain to return to the series, and it is likely there will be more than one rider to return to the WSBK fold.

The other near certainty is the end of Kawasaki's participation in MotoGP. The factory only acceded to Dorna's request to continue in the series after coming under serious pressure (and implied legal threats) from Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to remain, but after the promised year, Kawasaki is likely to be gone. Their withdrawal is doubly tragic, as the atmosphere in the team is exceptionally cheerful, everyone working both harder and probably better than ever, partly as a result of Marco Melandri's remarkable performance on the Hayate.

The final certainty we have about the 2010 season is that Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa will not be in the same team. Lorenzo is yet to decide between Honda and Yamaha - though highly reliable sources say that the Spaniard will be staying with the Fiat Yamaha squad - but if he switches to Honda, Dani Pedrosa will leave. Pedrosa has repeatedly denied that his decision will be based on what is best for Dani Pedrosa, not reliant on what Jorge Lorenzo does, but Lorenzo would not join Honda without a guarantee of equal treatment at the very least, and Pedrosa would not accept anything other than a guaranteed number 1 position in the team.

More of that tomorrow, though, when we move from the known knowns to the known unknowns, to use Donald Rumsfeld's awkward yet supremely useful phrase.

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Pedrosa: "My Future Does Not Depend On Lorenzo"

That Jorge Lorenzo is holding up the MotoGP riders market is universally acknowledged. Whether Lorenzo decides to stay at Yamaha or make a dramatic switch to Honda will have a huge effect on the rest of the silly season, with seats opening up and being filled differently depending on the direction Lorenzo takes. Perhaps the most important of the players to be affected by Lorenzo's decision is Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, with just about everyone believing that Lorenzo's entry at Repsol Honda would be immediately followed by Pedrosa's departure.

Dani Pedrosa doesn't see it that way, however. In an interview with the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, the Repsol Honda star is adamant that it is he who will make the decisions on his future, and what other riders do is irrelevant. "It doesn't matter to me what Mister Lorenzo does, he should do what he likes or what he can, but my future depends on how I'm feeling and my situation. If I'm not in the right place or have better opportunities, I'll try to take them. But I won't look at what Lorenzo does," Pedrosa told Motociclismo.

That decision may depend in part on how the Honda RC212V is performing. Pedrosa acknowledged that between his injuries and a lack of testing, the bike was nowhere near as competitive as it should have been. The problem, according to Pedrosa, was one of consistency: "You could go fast [on the bike] for a few laps, but making it work all race long has been the most difficult thing."

Things are starting to improve, however. Both Pedrosa and team mate Andrea Dovizioso received a new engine at the Sachsenring. This had made the bike easier to ride, but it is only one part of the puzzle. "A bike is built around an engine, but once you have the engine, you have to build a chassis, and how the chassis is depends on the engine," Pedrosa explained. "We are trying to see if what we have is sufficient, or whether we need to make modifications."

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Colin Edwards - Human Quote Machine

We're not much for regurgitating press releases here at MotoGPMatters.com - you can find those all across the internet, or even get them straight from the teams themselves - but there have been one or two honorable exceptions to this rule. Today, another one landed in our inbox, an e-mail from the outstanding PR department at Indianapolis Motor Speedway containing a compilation of the best of Colin Edwards' quips from his Tornado Warning column over on the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix website. Edwards is always entertaining - whether you agree with him or not - and a highlight reel should keep you chuckling all day long, so we have reproduced it verbatim below, with just a brief word of warning that Edwards' language is occasionally, well, colorful, so those who are easily offended should probably look away now.

Colin Edwards at Laguna Seca

COLIN EDWARDS' GREATEST QUIPS: THE BEST OF 'TORNADO WARNING'

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Aug. 4, 2009 – American MotoGP superstar Colin Edwards has participated in an exclusive interview series, "Tornado Warning," with the official Web site of the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, www.redbullindianapolisgp.com, before every MotoGP event since early in the 2008 season.

The colorful, outspoken Edwards, from Houston, never shies from speaking his mind on a variety of topics in the world of motorcycle racing, usually with great insight and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor.

Edwards is visiting Camp Atterbury near Indianapolis on Wednesday, Aug. 5 to fire weapons, eat lunch with troops and participate in an armored car rollover procedure. He is often seen at races around the world sporting a U.S. Marines ball cap and is an avid supporter of the military. Edwards will return to Indianapolis Aug. 28-30 to race on his Tech 3 Yamaha in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway along with fellow American star Nicky Hayden and MotoGP stars Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and more.

The following are selected quotes from "Tornado Warning" that provide a glimpse into the mind and conscience of the popular rider known as "The Texas Tornado."

"The guy has stopped impressing me a long time ago because he just seems to do it all the time. But what is it? I don't know what it is. You could say he's getting in the zone, but I think he's maybe permanently stuck there." – June 2008, about the brilliance of six-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi

"I ride a lot better when I'm pissed off, anyways. Always seemed to have. I was like: "Screw it. Chuck it into the gravel or let's see how far we can get up." – July 2008, about his reaction to finishing third despite dropping to last place on Lap 1 of TT Assen in the Netherlands

"Maybe I just look at pressure differently. I just look at pressure as if there's just no option. Not pressure like, 'Oh, my God, I've got to do good; I've got all these people here.' I look at it as like: 'Well, there's no frickin' option now. I've got to kick some ass because they're watching.'" – July 2008, about the pressure of racing on home soil at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis

"The last two or three laps, man, they were just … Hell, I almost crashed going slow. I was going slow, and I went to flick into a corner, and a gust hit me and pushed me out to the white line. I missed the apex by about, I don't know, 10 yards, and I thought, 'Jesus Christ, this is jacked up.'" – September 2008, about the treacherous weather conditions during the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis GP

"My heart goes out to these guys, and I see what the reaction is, and that pisses me off more than anything. Here we've got guys who are giving their lives to fight for our freedom and yet you still have people who are so against … I can understand being against the war, but at the end of the day, you still have to support the guys who are out there doing it. It doesn't matter what your belief might be … At the end of the day, they just don't get enough respect. That's the only thing I can do." – September 2008, about why he wears a U.S. Marines ball cap at races

"Yeah, I am. This week, in particular, I went out and shot the .50-caliber yesterday. Blowin' stuff up, and it feels like any other week. But every time I think about it or rest at night, I know I got the first race coming up. So yeah, I get excited about it." – April 2009, about his growing anticipation to start the 2009 season

"I like the night race. I think it's a cool little scenario. It's something special; you only have one a year. It's something a little bit different. I tend to ride faster when I can't see where I'm going. Everything works out better that way." – April 2009, about the night race at Qatar

"I think it's me; I think it's the bike. I've had one good result there, and I don't know why, there are a couple of corners on that track that, I don't know, I just seem to be dorking around there. There are a couple of corners that I follow somebody, and they pull like a bike-length or two on me through them, and I'm like, 'What am I doing wrong?'" – May 2009, about his inability to find pace on sections of the Jerez circuit in Spain

"Well, you can take that carbon-fiber shell. I don't want anything to do with that. When I crash, I want to get as far away from all that action as possible. That's the mentality of a motorcycle racer. It's like: "I want to get away. It's just me, with a whole road of gravel. Not me and some 2,000-pound vehicle fricking hurling into a wall. I'm out on that gig." – June 2009, about the difference between the mentality of motorcycle racers and auto racers about crashes

"I think they've done a good job to try and screw everything up after all the changes to the track, to be honest with you. Obviously, when I first started going there on Superbikes, the track was just, whew, ahh, it was amazing. Every little part about that track was just amazing. If you messed up one corner, hell, it'd screw you up for four corners down the road. They've butchered it. I don't know, man. This gets back into politics and all this other stuff why they changed it. Hell, there's a motorcycle track there, and then people move in and start complaining about the noise. Go figure. If you didn't want to live by a motorcycle track, then pack your (stuff) and move on. You get enough people that complain, and next thing you know, they had to change the track for noise control. The track has been there for, hell, I don't know how many decades. Which is just, it's ridiculous why they had to change it. But welcome to socialism." – June 2009, about his opinion of changes to the circuit at Assen, Netherlands

"That Turn 1 is still a mother. It doesn't even look like a turn. But honestly, going over that thing fifth gear tapped, it will put a little pucker in your buttocks region occasionally if you did it wrong." – June 2009, about Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, home of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix

"Hell, Valentino and Lorenzo were like scalded cats. They were gone." – July 2009, describing the fast pace of fellow Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo at Sachsenring, Germany

"Everybody has got it. Traction control, anti-wheelie control, frickin' scratch-your-ass-while-you're-racing control; whatever control it is, there's always some new thing they're coming out with … Our cornering speeds right now are so just astronomical that if you didn't have traction control, man, you would be in orbit every other frickin' race." – July 2009, about the use of electronics in MotoGP

"You know, being a right-wing extremist, the rules are made to be broken. That's the reason you implant a rule in the first place so a few years later you can come in and change it. I think it's B.S. … I just think whoever works the hardest makes the most money. I just think whoever rides the best gets the best rides. And when you try to implement any rules saying, no this or that, I don't know, I think it's all bullsh*t." – July 2009, about a rule in 2010 that will prohibit rookies from riding on MotoGP factory teams

***

2009 IMS tickets: Established in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long prevailed as an icon of motorsports excellence. Beginning in 2009, the Speedway celebrates its Centennial Era, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the facility in 2009 and the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 2011.

Tickets for the final event in 2009 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the Red Bull Indianapolis GP – can be purchased online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com at any time.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

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De Puniet Breaks Ankle During Training

After the joy of his surprise podium at Donington Park, Randy de Puniet had misfortune to deal with last weekend. The Frenchman was training with his coach, former motocross champion Yves Demaria, at a track near Aix-en-Provence when he crashed his motocross bike, falling heavily on his leg. He was immediately taken to a local hospital where X-rays revealed a fractured in his left ankle. A screw was immediately inserted to fix the bones, and de Puniet was immediately discharged from hospital.

The Frenchman is due to meet with Clinica Mobile staff over the next few days to discuss his physical rehabilitation, and expects to be able to ride at the next MotoGP round at Brno in ten days time. A press release by the LCR Honda team quoted De Puniet as saying "I am very disappointed about this setback but training is very important for me in order to be in good shape in MotoGP. I will do my best to race in Brno and I am sure that the Clinica Mobile staff will support me in the best way."

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Lorenzo Saga Nearing Conclusion - It's Yamaha. Probably.

The Silly Season log jam is getting close to being breached. Reports from two of the most respected sources in the MotoGP paddock - MCN's Matthew Birt and GPWeek's Michael Scott - are suggesting that Jorge Lorenzo has decided to bite the bullet and accepted Yamaha's offer. Lorenzo had been openly flirting with a switch to the Honda team - a move which would have seen Dani Pedrosa instantly departing from the Repsol squad - and had insinuated that Yamaha were not offering what he felt he was worth.

However, Lorenzo's results at the Sachsenring and Donington undermined the Spaniard's bargaining position sufficiently that he is believed to have caved in and signed back on with Yamaha again. After the race in Germany, where Rossi beat Lorenzo by just 0.099 seconds, Lorenzo was brutally frank about his prospects: "I have to beat him [Rossi]" Lorenzo replied in a tangential answer to a question about his contract negotiations. Lorenzo was in position to do just that at Donington, but his eagerness to win saw him brake on the white line and lose the front, crashing out of the race, hurting his negotiating position even further.

Just how serious Lorenzo's approaches to Honda were are open to question. There is no doubt that the Yamaha is the best bike on the grid at the moment - the Fiat Yamaha duo lead the riders championship, the team leads the team championship, Yamaha lead the constructors championship and the Tech 3 Yamaha team is the first satellite team and ahead of the factory Suzuki team in the team standings - and Honda has struggled to produce a truly competitive bike since the switch to the 800cc formula. The RC212V has clearly improved recently, but it is still lacking in both corner entry and engine response in comparison to the Yamaha M1. Lorenzo will have been all too aware of these facts, and if his ambition is to beat Valentino Rossi and become world champion - which it surely is, despite his denials earlier this year - then having the best machinery at his disposal is his best chance of success.

However, as reliable as the sources are suggesting that the deal has been done, it is neither official nor certain. So far, no word has been forthcoming in the Spanish press, which is unusual to say the least. Speculation in Spain had passed well beyond fevered and was verging on the delusional, and at Donington, members of the Spanish press spent much of their time either rushing from the Repsol Honda garage to the Fiat Yamaha hospitality, or else huddled in corners discussing the latest developments in conspiratorial tones. On at least one occasion, as I stood chatting to Dennis Noyes, a respected journalist in both the US and Spain, he was dragged off for hushed exchanges by other Spanish journalists, prefaced by the words "we don't want anyone listening in ..."

So for there to be no word at all in the Spanish media is strange to say the very least. Even the normally garrulous Italian press has had little to say on the matter, other than the usual "will he or won't he" stories. The only concrete reporting on the matter is on the Spanish Motoworld.es site, which is quoting Marcos Hirsch, Jorge Lorenzo's personal trainer and manager, as saying that Yamaha remains Lorenzo's priority.

Despite the radio silence from Spain, the chances of Birt and Scott being correct are very strong indeed. But until there is an official announcement - most likely at the Brno Grand Prix in two weeks' time - Jorge Lorenzo will continue to hold up the riders market, and keep MotoGP reporters everywhere on the edge of their seats.

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End Of An Era: Mat Mladin Retires From Racing

Some names are almost as big as the sport, and when they leave, part of the sport dies too. That is almost certainly true of Mat Mladin's not-so-shock announcement that he will be retiring from motorcycle racing at the end of the 2009 season. Mladin has dominated roadracing in the United States for over 10 years, winning six AMA Superbike titles (and currently on course for a seventh) and 82 races along the way. It took the raw talent of Ben Spies on equal machinery to take titles away from the Australian, Spies beating Mladin to three championships, but that was no easy feat. Spies won the 2007 AMA Superbike championship by a single point, and the 2008 championship after some controversial scrutineering decisions saw Mladin disqualified for an illegal crankshaft after Virginia International Raceway round, despite Mladin and Spies' bikes being ostensibly identical. After Spies moved to World Superbikes, Mladin once again became the biggest name in the AMA, and his retirement leaves a gaping hole in the series.

The reasons for Mladin's retirement are varied, but there can be no doubt that a large part of his decision is political. Mladin has been at war with the Daytona Motorsports Group, the entity that took over the running of the AMA series early in 2008, over their decisions on the direction of motorcycle racing in the US. Some of Mladin's objections centered around the bikes to be raced, but Mladin has always been one of the strongest advocates of safety in American motorcycle racing, and Mladin was particularly caustic about the safety aspects of the AMA Pro racing program. The decision to add Heartland Park Topeka and New Jersey Motorsports Park to the calendar, added to the statements made by DMG boss Roger Edmondson about the need to race in the rain at some venues Mladin and a number of other riders consider to be treacherous were too much for Mladin to stomach.

But there's more to it than just politics. Mladin is 37, and though still riding as well as he ever has, he knows that he is approaching the end of his career, and is choosing to go out on top and on his own terms than hang on for a couple of seasons, and slowly fade away. Better to go out a champion, than to hang on and get beaten by younger, faster guys, and risk serious injury racing at tracks he is not comfortable at anyway.

The initial press release (shown below) left room for interpretation. Mladin announced his retirement from AMA racing, not motorcycle racing, leading to inevitable speculation that the Australian could follow his former team mate Ben Spies into the World Superbike paddock to race in Europe. Mladin had told the press earlier this year that he had been having a long hard look around the World Superbike paddock, and had had serious talks with a number of top teams. In the end, though, Mladin decided against it, and according to Superbikeplanet.com, Mladin is finished with racing completely.

Mladin's decision not to race in World Superbikes will leave undeserved question marks hanging over the Australian's head, especially in Europe. For years, European insiders dismissed Mladin's performance as irrelevant, a mixture of vastly superior machinery and an inferior talent pool in the US. Since Ben Spies arrived in World Superbikes and proceeded to hand out drubbings to allcomers on a brand new, undeveloped bike at tracks he had never seen, Mladin's status has been reappraised in Europe. After all, if Spies had to work so hard to beat Mladin and Spies is clearly the talent of the World Superbike paddock, then surely Mladin would put up a pretty good fight for a WSBK title, given the opportunity.

It is not to be sadly, and his decision not to come to World Superbikes will always be held against him. He has aired his reasons extensively in the press in the past. He always said that his experience as a young rider at Cagiva racing in Grand Prix made it clear to him that you could only be successful in either Grand Prix or World Superbikes if you signed with a top team. This factor, combined with the fact that in the AMA, Mladin was making probably 5-10 times the salary that he could earn in World Superbikes, meant that Mladin was reluctant to risk his reputation and his bank balance by coming over to Europe and racing on the world stage with teams of uncertain reputation. Mladin knew that this decision left European fans questioning his ability, but being the forthright, rather abrasive Australian that he was, frankly, he didn't care.

That abrasive personality filled many US journalists with dread. Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet.com described his horror at the prospect of having to sit through another year of stilted, painful post-race press conferences in the AMA, a trial that Adams and the rest of the US-based motorcycle racing press will no longer have to endure.

For me, Mat Mladin was best summed up by a visitor to the MotoGPMatters.com forum, and a keen student of racing. "Mat Mladin," she wrote "is made of win."

Mat Mladin's retirement announcement is reproduced below.

After so many great years of racing in the USA, I will retire from AMA racing at the end of the 2009 racing season in New Jersey.

My career has been long and above and beyond my wildest expectations. I won my first national championship on dirt bikes back in 1981 (28 years ago) and have had an amazing career ever since.

If I had my time again, I would not change a single decision I have made, in life or in racing.

I would like to thank my team for their constant hard work. Without these guys, the 80+ race wins and multiple championships would not have been possible.

I wish to thank my fans. I want you to know that you all have helped me achieve so much. I will miss you.

I want to thank my mum and dad for getting me involved in such a fantastic sport that turned into my profession. I love you both.

My brother and sister for all the miles you done cramped into the back of a little pick up / ute in the early days. These were great times and the ones in racing I will cherish the most. You mean the world to me.

My daughters are growing fast and it is time I put my efforts into their future.

My wife, what can I say? You have unselfishly given your time and efforts to this lifestyle of ours. Racing had its down days, but with you by my side it was easy to get up and smell the fresh air, and realize how lucky I am. You have been a rock for so long, and if I could live another 100 years I still would not have the time to repay you for your commitment. I love you, babe.

Mat Mladin

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