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Yamaha To Get More Horsepower After Istanbul

Perhaps the must stunning image of the opening Grand Prix at Losail in Qatar was the Ducati's awe-inspiring power as Casey Stoner pulled away along the front straight, leaving everyone, but most especially the Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, for dead. That image made it blindingly obvious both that Ducati had a huge power advantage, and Yamaha are woefully short of horses. Fortunately for the Fiat Yamaha squad, the next circuit the MotoGP circus visited was Jerez, a track which is much more about maneuverability than about speed.

But now, MotoGP heads out onto the fast track. Of the next five races, four take place at the fastest race tracks of the year. Between now and the middle of June, we visit Istanbul, Shanghai, Mugello and Catalunya, all of which have very long, very fast straights. If Rossi was losing a couple of tenths along the front straight at Qatar, at Shanghai, the Yamaha could lose getting on for a full second, just on the two straights alone. If Rossi wants to regain his title, he can't afford to lose too many points at these fast circuits.

So Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards must have greeted the news, reported by MotoGrandPrix.it, that Yamaha has found more horsepower, which will be tested after Istanbul. Unfortunately, the Yamaha team won't have the bike to race at Istanbul, and what's worse, they are unlikely to have the bike at Shanghai where top speed is king. The good news for Yamaha is that the Honda is also still down on power, and so Rossi's main championship rivals, Dani Pedrosa and reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden, will suffer the same fate as the Yamahas. So far, everyone is playing catch up with the Ducatis. We'll see whether Yamaha have caught up at Mugello, where Yamaha have promised to have the new, faster bike ready.

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One Ilmor Rider Gets A Ride - Pitt To Race Supersport

After Ilmor's withdrawal from MotoGP, the rider people felt most sorry for was Andrew Pitt. He had been dumped by Yamaha from the World Superbike team right at the end of the season, despite winning a race for them, and signed for Ilmor. Then Ilmor withdraw from MotoGP after just one race in the new season. That is a very tough break, by anyone's standard.

So his fans will be heartened by the news that Andrew Pitt will be taking Sebastian Charpentier's Ten Kate Honda in World Supersport for at least the Valencia WSBK round this weekend. The Ten Kate ride is undoubtedly the best bike in the World Supersport paddock, and so puts Pitt in with a good chance of showing off his talents. With injuries currently endemic in the Superbike and Supersport paddock, there's every chance of some more saddle time for Pitt later in the season.

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Ilmor's Terminal Decline, A Study

The medical profession has thrown up many colorful and memorable phrases. One such is "the bed nearest the door", which is said to be where nursing staff would put the patients they considered most likely to die during the night, so they could be removed without bothering the other patients when they did finally pass away. Now, the phrase has come to be used for anyone or anything about to expire. And in MotoGP, the bed nearest the door is currently occupied by the Ilmor GP project.

Once the shining hope of new life in the MotoGP paddock, the Ilmor GP bike is now very near to being pronounced officially dead. Two unrelated sources have confirmed to this website that most of the people involved in the Ilmor GP project are currently looking for work. Sources in the paddock have told us that all of Ilmor's MotoGP race mechanics will be laid off, while another source close to Ilmor's Northamptonshire base has said that most of the engineers working on the project inside the company are also looking for work. When contacted, Ilmor denied that anyone had been laid off, either inside the MotoGP team or on the Ilmor GP project at the factory in Brixworth. They did confirm that the race team have been told that they will be paid until the end of April, at which point it will be clear whether Ilmor can continue to race for the rest of the year.

Everyone, both inside and outside Ilmor, was shocked and upset by the news that Ilmor was withdrawing from MotoGP. Ilmor's arrival thrilled MotoGP followers; the prospect of a proven and respected engineering genius shaking up the established order, then going on to supply engines to a host of privateer teams was a breath of fresh air, and looked like offering a cheap - in MotoGP terms - route into the series for small teams with limited resources, and could have heralded a return to the full grids of the 1980s. Hopes were raised even more when Mario Illien said that Ilmor would not be repeating the mistakes which the other Formula 1 entrants into MotoGP had made, such as Cosworth and Barnard.

And inside Ilmor, the project was a big favorite with the engineering staff: There's nothing an engineer loves more than a new and interesting challenge, and this looked like being the biggest and most exciting challenge Ilmor had seen for several years. Engineers were queuing up to work the project, such was the interest generated, but now that the project's demise seems imminent, those engineers are spending their time hawking their resumes around the many automotive racing companies which, like Ilmor, are situated inside England's F1 belt.

So why are this once highly-motivated people looking for work? Well, the feeling is that if you develop a bike to go racing, it is shameful to pull out after just a couple of races. You either race it for the full season, or you shouldn't be wasting everybody's time. And blaming the whole situation on unexpected sponsorship problems is regarded as a very poor excuse. Considering the current sponsorship situation in MotoGP, it really should come as no surprise that sponsors are not lining up to finance an unproven team that ran a couple of races as absolute backmarkers. With a season of racing under their belts, showing steady improvement, finding people willing to invest in the Ilmor project would have been a whole lot easier.

Perhaps the worst part of the entire debacle is that once again, after Cosworth with the Aprilia, and John Barnard at Team KR, Formula 1 engineering has failed to produce a successful racing motorcycle. Several brilliant engineers with years of proven experience at winning at what is considered to be the very pinnacle of motorized sports have failed, publicly and spectacularly, to make a mark in MotoGP. The fear is that this failure will discourage other people dissatisfied with Formula 1 from moving into MotoGP. And as Formula 1 moves ever closer to becoming a spec class, with engines, engine management systems, tires and many other aspects of vehicle design being legislated into conformity, you have to believe that the temptation to get involved in a pure and mostly unregulated prototype class must be getting greater and greater.

So why is it that Formula 1 engineers fail so consistently to create a competitive motorcycle? Well, that question is best answered with another question, one which the Ilmor engineers reportedly asked of their riders while developing the bike: When discussing the X3's engine behavior through corners, they asked the riders "why can't you just hold the throttle steady at 15,000 RPM?"

The answer is, of course, that it is immensely difficult to balance a racing motorcycle at maximum lean through a corner while holding the bike at high revs and in the segment of the torque curve where the power is building most strongly. High revs mean engine internals such as crankshaft, generator and camshafts are all generating relatively large amounts of gyroscopic force, making getting the bike to change direction is very difficult. And keeping the bike close to the peak torque and power while leaned over demands a huge amount of the tires, using up all of the edge grip on offer, with nothing to spare. Then, of course, you are forced to change gear while you are close to maximum lean, unsettling the already precarious balance of the bike.

The way that the motorcycle manufacturers build racing engines is to try to maximize top end power , while maintaining a nice broad, flat torque curve. Current MotoGP engines could easily produce around 300 bhp/liter, but this would leave them immensely peaky, and with very narrow power bands, and torque curves looking more like the Rocky Mountains than the Great Plains. Formula 1 cars get around this limitation by using lots of sophisticated electronics to smooth the power band out, and stop the cars from sliding out sideways while going through corners at very high revs. But cars have much wider tires and a good deal more grip through corners, and having the stability of four wheels, are much less unsettled by gear changes halfway through turns. A gear change on a motorcycle generates a complex interaction of forces, from the weight displacement caused by something as simple as moving a foot to engage the gear lever, through the change in suspension compression as the torque changes caused by a different gear are propagated through the chain, to the different loads placed on the edge of a tire by a different torque level and a different gear ratio.

So generally, a racing motorcycle will have usable torque between 10,000 and 17,000 rpm, allowing a rider to select the right gear, ride much of the way through a corner, and only get into the hairy part of the power band and the movement-inducing gear change once the bike is closer to being vertical. Round difficult sections, you will often hear riders short-shifting, changing gear well before the engine hits the power band, in order to retain more control over the bike as it powers through the turn.

Seen in that light, any request to "keep the engine at 15,000 rpm" displays a distinct lack of understanding of motorcycle dynamics, and especially of rider feel. When Aprilia first joined MotoGP, the bike was the most powerful machine in the paddock, the Cosworth-build engine pumping out huge power figures. But because its powerband was so brutal, the Aprilia RS Cube was also the most unrideable. The power came in so abruptly that the Aprilia riders had to wait for a very long time before they could open the throttle coming out of turns, by which time the other bikes were all halfway down the straight, and had left the RS Cube for dead.

Probably the epitome of the role of usable power in motorcycle racing is the Ducati superbikes. Ducati's current 999 WSBK bike is probably 20 horsepower down on the four cylinder machines, but is still capable of running with the more powerful bikes, because the 90 degree V-twin layout produces its power in such a smooth fashion that the Ducatis can get on the gas much earlier in the corners, getting better drive out of the turns and a head start on the competition down the straights, leaving the four cylinders playing catch up. This really is a case of less is more.

Until Ilmor, and anyone else entering from Formula 1, understand that motorcycle engines require a fundamentally different approach, an approach focused on control and balance, they will continue to fall spectacularly short of the mark in MotoGP. And that's bad, not just for them, but for MotoGP as well. More manufacturers, and a range of options for private teams, would have a hugely positive influence on the series. So there is a great deal riding on Ilmor's success. Ilmor has been a huge hit with MotoGP fans, and if fan support and enthusiasm were enough, the angular X3 bike would be running at the front every race. But sadly it is not enthusiasm which is needed, but an understanding of motorcycle racing. We can only hope that Ilmor learns quickly.

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It's Raining Sponsors - Team KR Hits Paydirt Again

Only a month after threatening to pull out of MotoGP due to funding problems, Team KR now seem to be welcoming new sponsors on an almost weekly basis. After showing up at Jerez sporting a livery funded by Treasure Island casino and sports management company F1 Max-X, today Team KR announced that Top Oil, a provider of oil products will be sponsoring them for the rest of the season. While this is good news for Team KR, and very encouraging for the rest of the paddock, it is also extremely ironic. Last year, Kenny Roberts Jr rode around bearing the livery of Venture Petroleum, a fictional oil company, as part of a movie about motorcycle racing. And this year, fiction became reality.

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Hodgson Returns To MotoGP - But Only As A Tester

Possibly the biggest mystery in motorcycle racing since Max Biaggi failed to get a ride for 2006 ended today: why Neil Hodgson, a rider who is talented, popular and likeable, could not get a ride for the 2007 season, after Ducati pulled out of AMA superbikes at the end of last year. Surely, everyone believed, there must be someone in need of a fast rider?

Well, it turns out there is. British weekly Motorcycle News is reporting that the Ducati MotoGP team have hired Hodgson as a test rider, substituting for the injured Shinichi Itoh. Hodgson has a vast amount of experience, having ridden lots of different bikes in different series on a wide range of tires, and is consequently a perfect fit in the role of tire testing. As the Bridgestone / Ducati tire tester, Hodgson will also be first in line to replace an injured rider at Ducati, and improve his chance of finding a full time ride for 2008.

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Capirossi Now A Father, But Will It Help?

Well, the waiting is over, at least for Loris Capirossi. Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Capirossi's wife Ingrid gave birth to a son, Riccardo, on April 2nd. Capirossi's impending fatherhood had been widely blamed for the disappointing performance so far of the man widely tipped to challenge for the championship this season. Loris and Ingrid now have 2 weeks to get used to family life, before Capirossi has to leave for the Turkish MotoGP round at Istanbul. Then we will get to see whether Capirossi's poor times are down to distraction or problems with the bike.

We wish Loris and Ingrid well with their new son.

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Silly Season Starts Early - Biaggi Back In 2008?

The MotoGP silly season seems to start earlier and earlier nowadays, but April seems to be taking things a little far. Over at Autosport.com, they are reporting that Alstare Suzuki boss Francis Batta may switch his team from World Superbikes to MotoGP for the 2008 season, taking rider Max Biaggi with him.

The context of this is unsurprising, as the battle surrounding capacity changes hots up inside World Superbikes. Ducati are pushing for the capacity limit for twin cylinder bikes to be upped to 1200cc, so that they could run the new 1098. To compensate for this, the allowed engine modifications would be made the same for both twins and four cylinder machines, as under the current regulations, teams are allowed to modify twins much more heavily. But, whenever rule changes look imminent in any racing class, those with the most to lose immediately start crying foul, and the teams running four cylinder bikes are complaining bitterly about the proposed changes.

And so the next step in this war of words sees Francis Batta threatening to leave. His threat is fairly credible, as his contracts with Suzuki and with his sponsor, Corona, both expire at the end of this year, leaving Batta free to move to another series should he so wish, taking his star rider with him. But two serious problems stand in the Belgian team manager's way:

  1. Firstly, Batta would need to raise significantly larger sums than he has needed in World Superbikes. A competitive superbike is generally thought to cost in the region of $100,000. But the cost of leasing a competitive MotoGP bike is said to be over $3 million, a huge step up in expenditure;
  2. Then there's the small matter of finding someone to supply you bikes. It's an open secret that Honda has blacklisted Biaggi from ever riding one of their machines again, after the Roman Emperor's bitter split with Honda during his final year in MotoGP. Biaggi is also no favorite of Yamaha, after making some rather sharp remarks about the Yamaha when he left the team back in 2003. That severely limits Biaggi's options in the premier class.

Most likely, Batta's threat is just a way of applying pressure to the FIM and FGSport, who run World Superbikes, not to allow the rule changes. So far, of course, no one has pointed out to Batta that his simplest course of action if the rule changes go ahead would be to race the 1098 himself.

Although it's a little early for the silly season to start, it's by no means the earliest silly season rumor in MotoGP so far. James Toseland is already rumored to be going to MotoGP next year, and rumors that Jorge Lorenzo will partner Valentino Rossi at Yamaha in 2008 surfaced as early as September last year. So April is not too bad, if you look at it that way.

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250 Update - Roberto Locatelli - Updated Again

I know that many of my readers follow both the 125 and 250 cc world championship, in addition to MotoGP, so I'm posting this for all of you who saw Roberto Locatelli's horrific crash during practice at Jerez last weekend. Eurosport is carrying a story that Roberto Locatelli did not suffer brain damage as a result of the freak accident, which saw Locatelli inexplicably veer off into a tire wall, hitting it at high speed. Locatelli suffered a badly broken ankle, a collapsed lung, chest injuries and broke a lot of bones in his face. He has been kept in a drug-induced coma since he was admitted to hospital. His season, and possibly his career, is at an end, but at least it looks like he got away without suffering brain damage.

I, and I'm sure many of you, wish Roberto a speedy and full recovery.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

According to Autosport.com, Roberto has regained consciousness and has talked to his girlfriend and the medical staff. Unsurprisingly, he can remember nothing of the crash. He is already asking questions about when he will be able to get back to racing, so at least mentally he is in good shape. Good news.

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MotoGP At Indianapolis: September 2008?

The fact that the owners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway are talking to Dorna in an attempt to get a MotoGP round run at the track is an open secret. FIM officials have already visited the legendary American circuit for a safety inspection. And now, rumors are surfacing that the race is scheduled to take place in September 2008. No details are available, other than paddock scuttlebutt, but the month of September is the firmest mention of a date yet.

Looking at the current calendar, it's hard to see how they could fit another round in, as September sees the Misano, Portugal and Motegi rounds. However, if the other rumor turns out to be true, that China is the GP that will be dropped, then that would allow the Australian round to move to April and the Australian autumn, with much better weather conditions, and mean the Japanese round could be moved up a couple of weeks. The logistics of the program are still vague, and very, very complex.

More as more information surfaces.

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2007 Jerez MotoGP Qualifying Practice Report

After the enigmatic shifts up and down the timesheets between morning and afternoon sessions, this afternoon's qualifying practice session would at least enforce some semblance of order among the riders. And though Dani Pedrosa rode a great lap to take pole position, the semblance of order created was a very fragile thing indeed, with grid positions being won and lost by hundredths, and in a couple of cases, just thousandths of a second.

The first part of the session was spent in the continuing chase of race set up. With the serious temperature differences between the morning and afternoon, the track being up to 40 degrees fahrenheit warmer in the afternoons, several riders, including Valentino Rossi, had complained that the morning sessions were almost useless for testing tire and suspension setups they may use in the race. Casey Stoner led for this part of the session, having put in a decent lap in the mid 1'41s during a set up run.

And the first 40 minutes or so gave us a chance to see who had race pace, a clue to who would be able to run at the front on Sunday. Carlos Checa put in a couple of runs with very consistent, low 1'41 laps, as did Valentino Rossi. Dani Pedrosa was faster, but less consistent, cracking the 1'40 barrier on a couple of laps, but also hitting 1'41.8 repeatedly. The most intriguing part of the afternoon's session was the number of riders seemingly capable of running a 1'41.5 pace almost at will: Colin Edwards, Casey Stoner, Toni Elias, John Hopkins, Marco Melandri, and even Nicky Hayden, the current world champion seeming to be closer to the pace today than yesterday, when he was a worryingly long way down the grid.

Then, with 20 minutes left in the session, Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet drew first blood in the war of the qualifiers, taking over pole from Dani Pedrosa, who had previously set a fast time on race tires. A couple of minutes later, he was joined at the front of the grid by team mate Olivier Jacque. Though few thought de Puniet's time would stand, the young Frenchman had set his time early, and looked like he would repeat his strategy of using 3 qualifying tires, where the consensus among the other teams is only to use 2 qualifiers, preferring not to squander their precious tire allowance on qualifiers, but take an extra race tire.

Six minutes later, the Ducatis disabused the Kawasakis of any notion of holding on to pole. Loris Capirossi started out on pole pace, before losing time in the last section, but Casey Stoner held on to smash the 1'40 barrier, by setting a lap of 1'39.940. The qualifying action then started in earnest, with fast laps coming thick and fast, and pole times being shattered in rapid succession. Stoner's fast lap stood for just 3 minutes, before Valentino Rossi took nearly a tenth off to set pole at 1'39.878. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Colin Edwards was also quick to get in on the action, as a couple of minutes later, Edwards took another tenth off, setting pole at 1'39.765. Four minutes later, Stoner was back, with another fastest lap of 1'39.524, but this was also to be short-lived. Within 30 seconds, The Doctor was back, taking pole back with a lap of 1'39.453.

But this too, would not be enough. A couple of minutes later, after a barrage of blistering laps, the grid being shook up every time a rider crossed the line, Dani Pedrosa finally settled the pole in his favor, setting a time of 1'39.402, just 5/100ths under Rossi's previous fast time. The Spanish crowd were delirious, having their home favorite starting from the front of the grid tomorrow.

Behind Pedrosa, Rossi hung on to 2nd place, with Carlos Checa, the man who has impressed the crowds all weekend, taking the third and last place on the front row. Checa's lap meant Texas Tornado Colin Edwards was forced back to head up the second row, ahead of Casey Stoner in 5th and another strong showing by John Hopkins. Konica Minolta's Shinya Nakano leads the third row, finally finding some grip from his Michelins, ahead of Hannspree Honda team mates Toni Elias and Marco Melandri. Kenny Roberts Jr steered his KR212V to 10th, with Nicky Hayden forced down to 11th, besides Alex Barros on the Pramac d'Antin Ducati.

But the grid order is almost arbitrary. Less than half a second cover the first 12 riders, and Olivier Jacque is the first rider to be over a second slower than pole sitter Pedrosa down in 16th. And when I say over a second, I mean just three thousandths of a second over a second. That basically means that the first 12 riders are within a half a percent of one another.

How all this plays out remains to be seen. But it's clear that the new tire regulations are obviously beginning to bite. And we have tested at both Qatar and Jerez prior to the season beginning. In a month's time, the MotoGP circus ups sticks to move to Istanbul, a track the riders haven't visited for almost a year. How they will manage with tire selection then will be a real mystery.

But back to tomorrow: with the times so incredibly close, it's hard to make any kind of sensible predictions about Sunday's race. It's clear that Rossi, Checa, and possibly Pedrosa all have genuine race pace, and starting from the front of the grid, must be favorites for the victory. But there will be a veritable horde of riders breathing down their necks, ready to pounce on a single mistake. The racing could be closer than it's been in many, many years. I can't wait.

MotoGP Jerez Qualifying Practice Result.

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