The testing ban may provide some rest and relief for the MotoGP riders, but the period traditionally starts with a general crowding of operating theaters around the globe. This year was no different, and it was the turn of Toni Elias, Sete Gibernau and John Hopkins to put themselves under the knife once testing finished.
Elias was up first, and had a screw removed from his leg, which was put in to help heal the painful spiral fracture he suffered after a vicious crash at Assen's Ramshoek corner in 2007. Surgeons in Barcelona encountered no problems taking the screw out, and Elias is already working on his physical rehabilitation program.
Sete Gibernau was up next, at the same Dexeus medical center in Barcelona, this time to have a plate removed from his collar bone. The plate was put in during Gibernau's 2006 season, replacing an earlier plate which had been bent during the horrific first-corner crash at Barcelona that year. At first, it seemed that that crash had ended Gibernau's career, but a divorce during 2007 breathed new life in to the Spaniard's will to race. According to Gibernau's doctors, the collarbone is now strong enough to manage without the plate.
The final patient was Kawasaki's John Hopkins, who had all of the metalwork removed from his left ankle, which had been put in place after a crash at Assen, in the same corner that had broken Elias' leg a year earlier. Hopkins was particularly pleased to have the plates removed, as the plates had been rubbing on his tendons when he changed gear, causing his ankle and leg to swell up, as well as causing a great deal of pain. While they were there, the surgeons at Dr Ting's clinic in California also cleaned up Hopkins' knee, injured in the same crash.
All three men should be fit and ready to return to testing at the end of January in Phillip Island in Hopkins' case, and at Sepang in early February in the case of Toni Elias and Sete Gibernau.
As the MotoGP silly season hit full swing around July, the one name that was on everyone's lips was that of Marco Simoncelli, the man who went on to win the 250cc title. Rumors were rife about who had offered the young Italian a contract, and great was the surprise when Simoncelli announced that he would be staying in 250s for next year. Since then, speculation has abounded about just who was offering what to Simoncelli to move up to MotoGP.
In the latest issue of the Italian Riders magazine, Simoncelli reveals just what was on offer. The Tech 3 Yamaha team were the first to approach Simoncelli, Carlo Pernat, the Italian's manager, told the magazine. "Then came an offer from Ducati, for either the factory or for the satellite team. And finally, both Honda Gresini and Suzuki were interested," Pernat said. The salary he turned down? One million dollars.
"I don't want to serve another apprenticeship year," Simoncelli stated, in explanation of why he turned down the offers. "If I keep on going as fast again next year, the offers will still be there."
Simoncelli also revealed where his nickname - Super Sic - came from, and with it, a clue to the improvement in his form in 2008. "Sic isn't an abbreviation of Simoncelli," Aligi Deganello, his crew chief revealed. "It's an acronym for Sbattersene I Coglioni (an extremely anatomical Italian phrase translated very loosely as taking it to the limit - Ed.) We decided, after two bad years, we had to roll up our sleeves, silence the critics and open the gas."
Simoncelli's decision may seem strange at first, but a closer look at the state of the 250 class, and particularly it's future, seems to vindicate his choice. With the 250cc class winding down, and fewer entrants than ever into the series, the talent pool in 250s is drying up, in anticipation of the new four-stroke 600cc formula which is slated to replace it. With MotoGP bosses still not entirely convinced of the merits of World Superbikes as a feeder class for the series, the teams may decided to play it safe for a year, and nurture the talent they have, rather than looking elsewhere for new blood.
Of the few places likely to become vacant in MotoGP over the next couple of years, Marco Simoncelli is assured of one spot, while Spanish rival Alvaro Bautista can be sure of another. The rest of the teams may resort to treading water, waiting for both the financial crisis and the drought of young talent to sort itself out.
The FIM today announced the official and final version of the 2009 World Superbike calendar. The announcement both confirmed some sad news and provided some excellent news for racing fans.
The bad news is that Brands Hatch, the biggest motorcycle race in the UK, and arguably the largest motorsports event in the country, is now officially off the calendar. Its absence is a result of an argument over sanctioning fees between FGSport (or as it is now called, Infront Motor Sports) and MSV, the body which organizes BSB and is run by Jonathan Palmer, which owns both Brands Hatch and a number of other major race circuits in the UK. The arguments may ostensibly be over money, but a whiff of politics hangs over the decision, with the Flammini brothers wanting a great deal more money than last year, while Palmer refusing to pay any more than he did last year. The loss of Brands is a major blow to race fans, both in terms of the circuit - which is a beautiful track, in a rather idyllic wooded area, and in terms of the event. Attendances at Brands were huge, rivalling even the numbers seen at Spanish MotoGP rounds.
The good news, however, is that Vallelunga has been dropped in favor of Imola. There had been rumors that this was to happen, as the track was dangerous and difficult, with a tight section added on in haste to make it eligible for FIM sanctioned international races. And as Vallelunga was thought to be included primarily to draw in Max Biaggi's fans from his native Rome, with Biaggi now a regular part of the series, the need for a round near Rome has been obviated.
The return of Imola sees one of the classic race tracks back on the calendar. Imola has been the site of some classic battles, both in the Grand Prix series and in World Superbikes, but perhaps none have been so famous as the final round of the 2002 World Superbike series, when Colin Edwards beat Troy Bayliss to win the championship.
Purchasers of the MotoGPMatters.com 2009 Motorcycle Racing Calendar need not despair: In a decision which was part hunch, part blatant stroke of luck, we had already included Imola as a possible venue for the World Superbike round to be held on September 27th, so your calendars are still accurate. For those who don't yet have one, you can purchase the calendar, featuring Scott Jones fantastic photographs and full listings of every MotoGP and World Superbike race already marked on the calendar right here.
Official 2009 World Superbike Championship calendar:
|March 1||Australia||Phillip Island|
|March 14||Qatar||Losail *|
|April 5||Spain||Valencia +|
|April 26||Netherlands||Assen +|
|May 10||Italy||Monza +|
|May 17||South Africa||Kyalami|
|May 31||United States||Salt Lake City|
|June 21||San Marino||Misano +|
|June 28||Great Britain||Donington Park +|
|July 26||Czech Republic||Brno +|
|September 27||Italy||Imola +|
|October 4||France||Magny-Cours +|
|October 25||Portugal||Portimão +|
* Saturday race
+ Includes Superstock 1000cc FIM Cup and European Superstock 600 Championship
KTM have made no secret of their distaste for the new 600cc four-stroke class which is to replace the current 250cc class. Indeed, so upset were they at the new rules that they ended their 250 program a year earlier than planned, stating that they saw no point in pouring money into a class which was doomed anyway.
Some inside the paddock saw an ulterior motive for that withdrawal. They claimed that the real reason behind KTM's pull-out was to concentrate their resources on developing a bike to actually compete in the new 600 class. But now, in an interview with Motorcycle News, KTM's racing chief Harald Bartol has dismissed in no uncertain terms any notion that KTM would be interested in the new 600cc formula.
In the interview, Bartol calls the proposed regulations "complete and utter nonsense," and reiterates that KTM's decision to pull out of 250s was down to an economic decision. The new rules also go completely against KTM's racing ethos: "Why should we spend money and develop a new engine when the rules mean you can buy a better one in the shops?" Bartol told MCN.
The Austrian race chief also clearly alluded to who he thought was behind the move to the new 600cc four-stroke formula: "Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Ducati, Aprilia and KTM is not interested in this class, so we know who is and who pushed," he said.
After the rest of the field had already packed up at Jerez, the Kawasaki and Suzuki teams continued testing for one more day at Phillip Island, working mostly on testing new parts to be used on the 2009 versions of their respective MotoGP machines. Though everyone except for John Hopkins - who is still in pain from an injury caused at Assen - improved their times, for all except for Marco Melandri, the improvements were fairly small.
Only Melandri made a big leap, taking 0.7 seconds off his best race time, set on the Ducati. But it is clear that both Suzuki and Kawasaki have a big hill to climb if they are to be competitive. The engineers will now return to their workshops with the data collected from the tests, and prepare the 2009 versions of the machines, which are due to be unveiled at the first test of the year. For Suzuki, that will be in Sepang in early February, together with the rest of the MotoGP paddock, but Kawasaki have chosen to return to Phillip Island once again at the end of January, for another private test.
Times set on day 3:
Fastest times set during the race in early October:
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
Speculation on the future of Valentino Rossi continues apace, and such speculation has only been added to by an interview with The Doctor published by the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport. In it, he tells the paper that he is seriously considering making the switch to Formula One for the 2011 season. "In the hypothetical situation that I could choose between any option I wanted, which is unrealistic, then today the thing that excites me most would be race in Formula One," Rossi said.
This does not mean that he has lost interest in the WRC series, though. "With rallying, I still have plenty of time to decide what I want to do, to race at the top level; But at 35, I'm afraid I'd be too old to race in Formula One."
Rossi was particularly pleased with his pace in the Ferrari at his recent test at Mugello, and was disappointed that it rained on the second day. "If we had the same weather on the second day, we could have gone a second faster. I think we could have run a 1'21," Rossi told the Corriere dello Sport.
For the moment, Rossi still prefers bikes, though. "Riding the bike is more natural to me," he said. "One big difference is that with the bike, a big part of the control is in the movement of your body. With the car, it is all technical. That's the reason I like the bike better than the car."
Testing continued today at Jerez, and despite the damp track in the morning and the continuing cool weather, lap records continued to be shattered. Once again, the battle was between Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa, and while Pedrosa was quickest for a good part of the day, in the end it was The Doctor who finished the day on the top of the timesheets, with a time 1/10th of a second quicker than Pedrosa's time from yesterday, and 7/10ths faster than the lap record here.
The two title hopefuls were also a second quicker than the rest of the field, just as they were yesterday, with Dani Pedrosa setting the 3rd fastest time, a tenth off his own fastest practice time here in March. There was little separating the group behind Pedrosa, with 6/10ths covering 10 riders.
The good news in that group was for the men who had been slow yesterday: Sete Gibernau took 2 seconds off his time from yesterday, and Nicky Hayden slashed a second and a half off his lap times, putting Gibernau up to 10th place, and Hayden up to 6th, just 0.04 seconds off Jorge Lorenzo's 3rd fastest time.
What is already clear is that this is shaping up to be a two-speed championship. Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa are a cut above the rest of the field, with Casey Stoner likely to join that elite group once he returns to action. Behind the front runners, the new tire regulations may have closed the field up, with times closer together than they were last year. But with at least three riders so far ahead, the racing may once again come down to a procession for the podium, followed by some great action fighting over 4th or 5th place.
Testing now ceases, apart from the last day of testing in Phillip Island for Suzuki and Kawasaki on Friday, and the riders and teams all head off for a well-earned break during the winter test ban, which lasts from December 1st to January 20th, though the riders won't be back on the track again until February 5th in Sepang. But though the riders will be able to relax a little, the teams, and especially the R&D departments, will be working flat out on improving the bikes, and getting them ready for the new season. There's still a lot to be done.
Times from Thursday's test:
|Pos.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fastest Lap||Total Laps|
|5||Alex De Angelis||Honda||1'40.486||49|
|Circuit Record Lap:||2008||Dani Pedrosa||1'40.116|
|Circuit Best Lap:||2008||Jorge Lorenzo||1'38.189|
Suzuki and Kawasaki continued their testing at Phillip Island on Thursday, despite rain disrupting the morning session. Rain wasn't the only issue, as the Kawasaki riders also complained about the strong winds which Phillip Island, which sits on the very edge of the great Southern Ocean, is famous for.
The Kawasaki riders all managed to improve their times, with Marco Melandri matching his best time from the race weekend in early October with a 1'31.8, Olivier Jacque taking 3/10ths off his time from yesterday, and John Hopkins being nearly a second faster than yesterday. Suzuki released no times for today, stating that Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen worked mostly on developing the new bike.
The interesting thing is that those were the times given in the official press releases, but the well-informed Italian site GPOne.com tells a different story. They show some fairly remarkable times for Capirossi and Vermeulen, with Capirossi running a 1'29.7, 3/10ths under Nicky Hayden's lap record set in October. The time given for Capirossi was provided by his manager, Carlo Pernat, who spoke to Capirex over the phone. However, GPOne.com also quotes Bridgestone tire technicians as saying that Capirossi would have run a 1'31.0, while Vermeulen set a 1'31.2.
Which of the various sets of times are accurate is impossible to say, though the word of Bridgestone technicians is probably more reliable than the manager of a rider, as managers tend to have a vested interest in presenting their riders in the best possible light. Below are both sets of times, and we leave it to the analytical powers of our readers to decide which is likely to be the more accurate.
Times according to Kawasaki:
Times according to GPOne.com
Interesting news from HRC, and a sign of just how seriously they are taking the 2009 season. Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that HRC has decided that every Honda RC212V on the grid next year will be equipped with an engine which uses pneumatic valve springs. This reverses a previous decision that the satellite bikes would all be running the former Pedrosa-spec engine, which utilized conventional steel-spring valves, but HRC has decided that running single type of valve return actuation in all of the bikes they run is the more efficient option.
There is a good deal of sense in the decision. If the satellite bikes were to run a steel spring bike, then HRC would effectively be forced to continue to develop two completely different engines, as happened in 2008. But once Dani Pedrosa made the final switch to the air valve engine, development on the steel spring bike was always going to be throttled back. Having everyone on a similar spec engine will allow HRC to concentrate more of its efforts on improving the factory bike, and not worry about the satellite bikes.
But this is also good news for Randy de Puniet, Yuki Takahashi and Alex de Angelis, the three riders on the satellite-spec RC212Vs next year. With the satellite bike being closer to the factory Honda, upgrades and improvements should filter down to the satellite teams much more quickly, helping to make them competitive. And it's also good news for MotoGP fans: with 6 Hondas in reasonably competitive shape, there should be more Hondas, and more riders, at the sharp end, and perhaps some closer racing.
The teams will get the new spec bikes at the Sepang test in early February. But first, the engineers and mechanics will be flown to Japan to be trained on the engine. Once the teams hit Malaysia, though, we should see just how much closer the satellite-spec bikes are to the Repsol Hondas and Toni Elias' factory-spec Gresini Honda.
So much for the safety argument. On the first day of testing at Jerez under the new tire regime, Dani Pedrosa took nearly 0.6 seconds off his existing lap record at the Andalucian circuit. It's almost impossible to stand in the way of progress, no matter how hard you try, it seems.
Pedrosa set his time while riding only a relatively few number of laps. Weather conditions this morning were cold, despite the sunshine, and the riders didn't really get under way until early in the afternoon. But while Pedrosa was fastest, the Yamahas are looking strongest, as Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Colin Edwards were 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest respectively.
The gaps are large, though, with Pedrosa 6/10ths faster than Rossi, who is in turn over a second quicker than Lorenzo, the rest of the field bunched up, until we get to the Ducatis.
And the Ducatis are clearly the slowest bikes at the test, with only MotoGP rookie Yuki Takahashi in last place. Former Ducati test rider and now Pramac rider Niccolo Canepa was the quickest of the Bologna bikes, a fraction faster than Marlboro Ducati's Nicky Hayden. Hayden is nearly 2 seconds behind Rossi, and 2.5 behind his former Repsol Honda team mate, though the Kentucky Kid is still getting used to the bike and the Bridgestone tires.
The man who could make the biggest difference to the standings has been watching from pit lane. Casey Stoner was present at the test, but unable to take part. The official Ducati press release stated that Stoner's wrist injury was healing well, and he hopes to begin training on a bicycle again soon.
Testing continues again tomorrow.
|Pos.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fastest Lap||Total Laps|
|5||Alex De Angelis||Honda||1'41.468||53|
|Circuit Record Lap:||2008||Dani Pedrosa||1'40.116|
|Circuit Best Lap:||2008||Jorge Lorenzo||1'38.189|