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Suzuki Snags Rizla At Last

For a long time, it looked like it wasn't going to happen, but at last, it's been made official: Today, Suzuki announced that once again, they will be the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP team. Negotiations had been dragging on for months, and after Rizla pulled out of sponsoring the Crescent Suzuki team in BSB, there was a great deal of speculation that they would follow suit for the MotoGP team, which is run by the same Crescent Suzuki organization.

Things started to swing back in Suzuki's favor at the Sepang tests in February. After Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen showed very strongly at Sepang, Capirossi even leading at one point, the talks with Rizla moved up a gear. And with Suzuki now looking a good deal more competitive than they did last year, Rizla may have decided to give it one last shot in MotoGP. At least, that's certainly the way things look, with the cigarette rolling paper company having signed on for just a single year.

The most interesting question will of course remain unanswered, and that is just what price Rizla paid for the highest prize in MotoGP sponsorship: to be title sponsor of a factory team. There is still anger in the paddock at the alleged pittance that the team sold the title sponsorship for. By selling themselves cheap, it was felt, it made it more difficult for other teams to get the true value of a title sponsorship, which should be nearer to 20 million euros for a factory team, rather than 2 or 3 million. On the upside, though, a major sponsor has been kept inside the MotoGP paddock, for another year at least.

At the IRTA Test in Jerez, Suzuki will roll out in their instantly recognizable powder blue livery, rather than the bland and indistinguishable blue and white Suzuki colors. Race fans will be glad of that, and that they won't need to buy a new set of t-shirts and caps for another year.

2009 Estoril 125 And 250 Test - Day 1 - Simoncelli And Simon Fastest Again

The first day of testing at the penultimate test for the 250 and 125 classes saw a fairly full field take to the track, particularly in the 250 class. For Marco Simoncelli, it was the first time to get a good look at the competition he will be facing this year, and going solely by the timesheets, he would seem to have the measure of them.

As ever, though, things are not quite that simple. Alvaro Bautista, down there in a lowly 10th spot, spent much of the day lapping without a transponder, and so his times are at best unreliable. But what is clear is that Simoncelli's first day times are respectable, already faster than the fastest race lap set in 2008, though still three quarters of a second off the race record. Hector Barbera was only a fraction slower, while new boy Mike di Meglio showed just how quickly he is getting up to speed by setting the third fastest time. Simoncelli crashed during the session, but walked away unhurt.

In the 125 class, Julian Simon continued his strong showing in testing, leading the way once again by half a second over Sandro Cortese. Bradley Smith was third quickest, three quarters of a second slower than his Aspar team mate Simon. The big surprise for the 125 boys were the large gaps between the riders, with three seconds difference between Simon and British rider Scott Redding in 10th, who also has a factory spec RSA Aprilia at his disposal.

One place ahead of Redding was the Italian and European 125 champion Lorenzo Savadori. The 15-year-old Italian has made terrific progress during testing, and is definitely a rider to watch for the future. Savadori finished just behind Danny Webb, the De Graaf Grand Prix rider who is entering his third season of 125 GPs, and will also have an RSA spec Aprilia this season.

Testing continues on Monday and Tuesday.

250 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTime
1Marco SimoncelliGilera1'41.282
2Hector BarberaAprilia1'41.299
3Mike di MeglioAprilia1'42.011
4Alex DebonAprilia1'42.668
5Gabor TalmacsiAprilia1'42.804
6Roberto LocatelliGilera1'42.807
7Lukas PesekAprilia1'42.951
8Thomas LuthiAprilia1'42.979
9Karel AbrahamAprilia1'43.307
10Alvaro BautistaAprilia1'43.687
11Axel PonsAprilia1'47.200

Circuit record: 2007, Alvaro Bautista, Aprilia, 1'40.521

125 cc

Pos.RiderBikeTime
1Julian SimonAprilia1'45.864
2Sandro CorteseDerbi1'46.341
3Bradley SmithAprilia1'46.624
4Pol EspargaroDerbi1'47.251
5Sergio GadeaAprilia1'47.252
6Stefan BradlAprilia1'47.651
7Joan OliveDerbi1'47.697
8Danny WebbAprilia1'48.379
9Lorenzo SavadoriAprilia1'48.560
10Scott ReddingAprilia1'48.884
11Esteve RabatAprilia1'48.918
12Dominique AegerterDerbi1'49.089
13Randy KrummenacherAprilia1'50.774
14Efren VasquezDerbi1'55.896

Circuit record: 2007, Gabor Talmacsi, Aprilia, 1'45.027

Talmacsi: "I'd Race At The Hungaroring"

After the promotors of the Hungarian MotoGP round yesterday requested the inaugural race at the Balatonring, scheduled to take place on September 20th, be postponed, there was some discussion about what would take its place. The MotoGP calendar has done nothing but grow over the past ten years, and there was some doubt that it would be allowed to shrink again, a move which would have meant a loss of face for the promotor Dorna.

So at the time the postponement was announced, there was talk of a possible return to the Hungaroring, as we reported yesterday. But having featured on the Motorcycle Grand Prix calendar only twice, in 1990 and 1992, the track has long been felt too dangerous to stage a MotoGP round. When asked by the Hungarian sports paper Nemzeti Sport, Aspar team boss Jorge Martinez said "We would have to rebuild so many parts (of the Hungaroring circuit) to get FIM approval that it simply wouldn't be worth it."

But the man who won a 125cc world title for Martinez, Hungarian rider Gabor Talmacsi disagreed. Speaking to Adam Haraszti of the Hungarian TV channel MTV at the Budapest Motorcycle Fiar, Talmacsi said he would love to race at the Hungaroring. "Actually, I'd be pretty happy to have a race there," he said. "Since I grew up there, I would have a huge advantage. I wouldn't want to name them, but we already race on some tracks that are less safe for motorcycle racing than this one (the Hungaroring)."

As far as the Hungaroring circuit itself is concerned, it was just a matter of money. As the Hungarian government already owns 70% of the the track, the money could be spent if the race was important enough for tourism in the country. Laszlo Palik, president of the Hungaroring said "if it's really necessary, it might be possible (to have the race there), but we need a more appropriate inspection."

In the end, any plans for an alternative to the Balatonring race were quashed by the FIM. The FIM officially removed the Hungarian round from the MotoGP calendar today, and stated there would be no replacement. In the midst of the current financial crisis, and in the light of the extensive cost cutting measures which have already been taken, it was inevitable that the calendar would be cut from 18 to 17 rounds. With a big drive to limit the number of miles run by the bikes, dropping a race was almost the only choice open.

While the loss of their MotoGP round in 2009 may be a tragedy for Hungarian fans in the short term, it may well be a healthy move for the sport in the longer term. If the series comes to Hungary in the spring of 2010, as proposed by the promotors, the paddock should arrive at a track which is completed, and after the economy has started to recover. Fans will hopefully have more money to spend, and won't have to wade through a mudbath to get to the track. And a pleasure delayed is a pleasure enhanced: Hungary's motorcycle-mad race fans are sure to turn up in droves in a year's time, and as long as Gabor Talmacsi is still racing, the round will be a sellout.

Melandri Signs One Year Contract With Hayate

The Marco Melandri saga is finally at an end. Today, Melandri confirmed that he has signed a contract with Hayate Racing to contest the MotoGP championship for one season, after being forced to tear up his two-year deal with Kawasaki.

The deal is a costly one for Melandri, both financially and in terms of his ability to compete. "I had to make a big financial sacrifice, but the most important thing that I wanted was to find trust," he told MotoGP.com.

He will certainly need some trust. Throughout the last test at Qatar, Melandri complained of issues with rear grip, and he expressed his hope that these problems could be fixed quickly. But as rear grip is a problem that the Kawasaki has had for the past two seasons, that sounds more like the voice of a Candide-like hope, rather than a realistic expectation. 

Melandri may feel he has no choice but to live in hope, however. "I have nothing to lose," he told MotoGP.com. "One month ago I had one foot outside the World Championship, and now I have a team that is working solely for me. My motivation is this, and to show Kawasaki that they made a mistake in choosing to pull out their factory support." In another month's time, at the season opener at Qatar, we shall see whether Melandri's hope as justified.

Hungarian MotoGP Round Officially Canceled

After countless rumors of problems surrounding construction of the track, it has finally been made official: there will be no Hungarian round of MotoGP at the Balatonring in 2009. Hungarian Development Minister Tamás Suchman yesterday told Hungarian press agency that because the Spanish investors had missed the deadline by which they should have submitted a credit application required to help finance the circuit, the Hungarian GP will not take place at Sávoly, where the Balatonring is to be built, in 2009.

Vicente Cotino Escriva, President of Sedesa, the group involved in building the circuit, said in a press statement that "the organizer of the Hungarian MotoGP Grand Prix is asking Dorna and the FIM to change the date of the Hungarian Grand Prix, to allow us to organize it in the spring of 2010, instead of September 2009."

István Gyenesei, the Hungarian Sport Minister, said "I voiced my concerns a month ago about the decreasing probability that the Sávoly track would be finished on time. Unfortunately, the events of the past month have confirmed my fears that not very much has happened. I've done all I could to secure the Hungarian MotoGP race, and we are still looking at alternatives. We haven't given up on the race being organized this year, and maybe we could run it at the Hungaroring."

In response to this suggestion, Frank Thomas, Vice President of the Hungaroring Sport Zrt, said that having the race there "is physically possible, but we would have to take a number of steps very quickly."

UPDATE - Official Dorna Press Release

This evening, the news revealed by MotoGPMatters.com earlier today was confirmed by Dorna, who issued the following press release:

Balatonring Zrt., event promoter for the Hungarian Grand Prix, have spoken to MotoGP Rights Holders Dorna Sports with a request to postpone this year’s race until 2010. The request will be sent to the FIM for approval.

The decision owes to a delay in the construction process that means that the circuit would not be complete in time for the September 20th race, a result of harsh winter weather and the current financial situation that has hit Hungary and affected the funding process.  

 

Hopkins Speaks

Whilst Marco Melandri has barely been out of the news since the story of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP broke, the fate of John Hopkins has been cloaked in a deafening silence. The last update on his website dated from December 31st, and other than the odd wild and completely unsubstantiated rumor, nothing concrete has emerged on his future.

It seems that the radio silence has finally got to Hopper himself. Today, a post appeared on his official website, carrying a few hints of what he may actually be doing. His silence, Hopkins says, is down to strict instructions from his management, while negotiations are underway. But he also promises to break news of what he will be doing on his website first, to repay the debt of gratitude he owes his loyal fans.

Whatever Hopkins will be doing, it sounds big. He finishes his message with "you are all in for big treat!!!!!" Hopper has been linked with both the official Paul Bird Kawasaki team and with Stiggy Motorsports in World Superbikes, and many of his fans would certainly regard this as a big treat. But that is speculation, and nothing more. We wait with bated breath.

The full text of Hopper's statement shown below was taken from John Hopkins website:

"Hey everyone....

I just wanted to put a quick post to tell you something you all already know.... I read my website every single day as you guys keep me going, and I enjoy hearing how everyone is doing.

I have been under STRICT instruction from my management not to comment on anything or talk of any plans from here. I notice that someone got a little emotional for me not updating and keeping everybody informed, but I will give you my word right here and now "I promise you all, as payback for your support, as soon as i get the go ahead on what i can do and say this page will have the first press release from myself!".

It seems that anything i say can be twisted or minipulated in the media, so i am choosing to not say much to avoid any confliction or drama. I appreciate all of you that support me, you are true die hards and thats awesome.

All i will say is, you are all in for big treat!!!!!

as always, THANKYOU ALL SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT!!!

Hopper ;)"

Dovizioso: "I Expected A More Competitive Package"

If you were in the happy position to be able to pick any factory ride you wanted in MotoGP, conventional wisdom says you go with Repsol Honda factory team. Over the years, the factory Honda has historically been the bike to have if you want to become a world champion.

Or at least, that used to be the case until the series switched to the new 800 cc format. When the formula changed in 2007, Honda completely misjudged what was needed to build a championship-winning bike, and the once mighty giant has struggled to be competitive ever since. 2007 was a straightforward disaster, with only Yamaha's misfortune allowing Dani Pedrosa to take second place in the championship, while the rest of the Honda riders struggled mid-pack. 2008 was a little better, but Honda's improvement was mostly undone by Yamaha's progression, with Pedrosa slipping to third in the championship, but Dovizioso and battling further up the order.

If one bad season could be dismissed as misfortune, two poor seasons were bordering on a disaster, and after the big shakeup at the start of '08, it was generally assumed that HRC would not allow this to happen again. Honda's pride would not permit another season of failure.

But the omens are not very good so far this preseason. In testing, the Hondas have been significantly off the pace, with Dani Pedrosa once again the only rider capable of getting close to the top of the timesheets. The rest of the Hondas have not just the factory Yamahas and the Ducati of Casey Stoner ahead of them, but also the satellite Yamahas, and even the Suzukis. This is not as HRC had pictured it.

After landing the plum factory Repsol Honda ride after an outstanding season on the satellite Team Scot bike, Andrea Dovizioso is starting to get worried. In an interview with the Italian sports daily Gazzetto dello Sport, Dovizioso expressed his concerns about the state of the Honda. "I had expected a more competitive package," he told the paper. "But I don't know whether that's down to Pedrosa or down to Honda. From what I understand, he doesn't want too many changes."

According to the Italian, the problems are mostly in the braking zone. The bike has problems with stability under braking, which caused the bike to slide around too much in the cold and damp evening conditions at the Qatar night tests. The 2009 RC212V needs work on the clutch and on the engine power delivery, if it is to be competitive.

Although Honda is still developing the bike, Dovizioso is worried about the pace of progress. "I'm happy about the improvements, but it is all too slow. We are having to wait to see small improvements. We need to be more responsive," he told the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Dovizioso also had a few words to say about his working relationship with his putative team mate Dani Pedrosa. The atmosphere in the garage is a little uncomfortable, according to Dovi. And though they don't exchange information, at least Dovizioso has access to all of the data. As for Pedrosa's manager, Alberto Puig, Dovizioso did not expect to be troubled by the Spaniard for too much longer. "Everyone knows that Puig is trying to exert as much power as he can. I think that when the new president of HRC arrives in June, things will be better."

Witteveen Supplying Parts But No Development For Maxtra

When we ran the story that engine guru Jan Witteveen had pulled out of Sir John Surtees' Maxtra project some three weeks ago, the team, in the person of Garry Taylor, was quick to issue a denial. "Jan is on board," is what Taylor told Motorcycle News. A straight denial to a straight question, and the affair looked to be closed.

But it isn't quite that simple. According to one source who had spoken to Witteveen recently, the Dutch two-stroke guru had lost interest in the project, and didn't want to have any further involvement. And this has been confirmed by the German motorsports website Motorsport-Magazin.com. Witteveen spoke to Motorsport-Magazin.com, and told them that although he was still supplying parts for the 125cc two stroke engine, that's where his involvement ended. Witteveen was doing no more development on the engine, but just sending parts to the team when they ordered them. If the engine was being developed, then the work was being done by the Haojue team (as Maxtra is now known) themselves.

And so it turns out that both stories are true, strictly speaking. Garry Taylor's denial is technically accurate: Witteveen is still "on board". But for all intents and purposes, Witteveen is out. He may still be "on board", but what Witteveen is on board as is a glorified spares warehouse. It's a task that the man who helped Aprilia to so many world championships is easily capable of, but hardly one taxing his abilities to the full.

 

Daytona 200 Update

In the aftermath of last night's chaotic Daytona 200, additional information has become available that seeks to clarify the the scoring snafu and finish order. In a press release issued by the AMA, the sequence of events that led to the 6-lap sprint to the finish are as follows:

The lighting system that illuminated the chicane that leads into NASCAR turn 3 experienced a failure on or about lap 36, which brought out the "safety" (AKA pace) car. During this caution an unnamed rider collided with Graves Yamaha's Tommy Aquino, causing Aquino to go down, which brought out the red flag, idling the field for nearly a half-hour.

After a few warm-up laps behind the safety car, racing resumed only to to go back under caution when M4 Suzuki's Kris Turner went down in the Horseshoe. Racing resumed in earnest on lap 49 and did not go back to yellow for the remainder of the race.

""I was eighth (during the caution), then I was fourth," DiSalvo said at the post-race press conference. "I'm not 100 percent on the procedures. I think they need a pamphlet to explain it. I was thinking to myself, 'If I was in the stands right now, I wouldn't have a clue who was where.' "

AMA race director Colin Fraser said that the discrepancy was a mistake and would not make excuses for the foul-up.

Lastly, Paradigm Racing's Barrett Long, after a post-race protest, was given credit for a lap that was not counted during the red flag period which elevated him to 6th place ahead of Chaz Davies.


 

Pedrosa: I'll Do My Best To Be Ready For Qatar

Saturday morning, at 10am local time, Dani Pedrosa and Dr Xavier Mir, of the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, gave a press conference on the state of Pedrosa's wrist and knee, after the Spaniard had undergone surgery to fix a distal radius fracture and an open knee wound on Wednesday. The operation had been successful, and Pedrosa was recovering well, was the general conclusion, but the start of his season was still in doubt.

Pedrosa has completely written off any chance of participating at the IRTA tests in Jerez, preferring instead to concentrate on his chances of recovering in time for the season opener at Qatar. "We'll be doing our best to be ready for Qatar, and when the time comes, we will see whether we are ready to race. The goal is to be ready for the first race," he told the assembled press.

On the subject of his preparation for the season, Pedrosa was frank but optimistic. "You don't get to choose these things," he said, "but we have no choice but to keep moving forward. I've fallen off many times, but I always get back up again. We will be fast on a motorcycle again. It's true that we have had problems this preseason, but we have to keep moving forward."

Pedrosa's - and the medical staff's - chief concern was his knee. "The wrist is less complicated, and I will have it immobilized for a much shorter time than the knee," Pedrosa said. "At the start, my knee didn't look good at all, but the operation has gone well, and I'm happy. I imagine it will be hard for the skin and the knee to regain elasticity. I'll have to get some sleep, and let it start to recover."

The Spaniard reflected on the poor start he got to the season in 2008, too. "Last year I had a broken hand, but it happened in January. This time it's a little more delicate, because it will be a while before I can move my knee."

His main objective now was to recover, and get back on the bike as quickly as possible. "I need to get back so I can start working on the bike again. I may not be 100%, but I should be able to ride, and draw some conclusions about the bike." He conceded he will need to develop the bike during the season, instead of during testing. "The more laps you do, the easier it is. I will have to do it in less time." But Pedrosa was confident that he could make the bike competitive. "We have a bike that works, but it's the details that make the difference. I was planning on working on a number of aspects this winter. Now my objective is to think about which have the greatest priority. But I'm confident in the bike, and I'm confident in my ability," he assured everyone.

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