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Qatar IRTA Test Day 3 Update: Hopkins In Hospital

Just minutes after posting a blistering 1'55.825 lap, just 0.2 seconds off Casey Stoner's pole record at Qatar, John Hopkins crashed out of the test, and into a local hospital. According to Motorcyclenews.com, Hopkins suffered a major highside out of turn 13. He was immediately taken from the track to a local hospital. Although his situation is unclear, his hands had swollen after the crash, and it looks like he may have broken either a wrist, or possibly bones in both hands. He is out for the rest of the test, and is unlikely to be present at the next official IRTA test in Jerez next weekend. Suzuki are hopeful that Hopper will be back for the season opener at Qatar on March 10th.

Testing continues, with the teams starting to test qualifiers. It seems highly likely that Hopkins' fastest time of the day will be beaten by day's end.

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A Strange Sense Of Timing At MotoGP.com

Something curious is going on over at MotoGP.com, the official website of MotoGP. Right in the middle of the second-biggest pre-season test, as public interest is building towards the start of an eagerly-anticipated season, they have taken the site down for maintenance. They also seem to have switched IP addresses, which would suggest they are moving servers in the middle of an event.

This leaves visitors to the site staring at message apologizing for the maintenance currently under way. This is a pretty frustrating prospect for the more dedicated fans and followers. The only positive spin we can put on this is that it may be an attempt to address bandwidth issues which some users, particularly those based in the US, suffered at the end of last season. This may also be related to the high-bandwidth, high-quality video streams that MotoGP.com is offering to subscribers. If it means a better quality, more reliable service, most fans will be delighted.

The problem, though, is the timing. Halfway through a test, with the eyes of the public focused upon them is not a good time to go upgrading systems. We can only hope that it means the quality of service will be vastly improved over the remainder of the season.

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Updated Site Design

I've updated the design, to make the layout a little easier to use. I hope you all like it, and if it doesn't work for you, let me know, and I'll try and fix it.

~~~ UPDATED 13 FEB ~~~

I've reverted to the old layout for the moment. I shall try and fix the problems you've been having this evening (my time). It seems like it's Internet Explorer which is causing the biggest problems, but I'm going to have to add some padding in the content cell for everyone. But it does seem like everyone prefers the new layout. Now I just have to fix the color scheme.

Thanks for your feedback!

~~~ UPDATED AGAIN 13 FEB ~~~

Right, we're back with a revised color scheme. I've simplified the changes I've made, so your browsers shouldn't get into such a mess. If you have any problems, please let me know! And if you do like it or don't like it, also let me know...

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Rossi Prolongs With Yamaha - Stays In MotoGP For 2008 Season - Updated

Yamaha has announced that Valentino Rossi will be staying with them for the 2008 season as well as 2007. The contract was announced to put a premature end to speculation that Rossi could once again leave MotoGP to race four wheels, either in Formula 1, or, much more likely, in WRC Rallying.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

Both Rossi and Lin Jarvis make explicit mention of "concentrating on racing" in the press release. This seems to me, and to most observers, to be an implicit admission that Rossi's flirt with Formula One last year was a contributory factor to the problems Yamaha suffered at the beginning of the season. After Rossi's appearance in the WRC Rally of New Zealand, speculation began once again that Rossi would leave MotoGP at the end of the year to go Rallying. This speculation has finally been put to rest.

Valentino Rossi being Valentino Rossi, that is, one of the biggest names in professional sports, speculation will, of course, continue. People as diverse as the head of Ferrari, the head of Formula One, and the head of WRC have all stated that Rossi would be more than welcome in their sport, in some cases even hinting that a deal was close to being made. Mostly, these statements have been made in the hope that some of Rossi's public charisma will rub off on their sports.

It is almost certain that Rossi will switch to WRC at the end of his MotoGP career. His annoucement that he will be entering the Rally Of Great Britain at the end of 2007, seems merely to confirm this move. Rallying is his second love, after motorcycle racing, and offers a viable new career path after he retires. But, fortunately for motorcycle racing fans, we still have at least two more years to enjoy his astonishing skills.

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Two Absentees At Phillip Island Test - Kawasaki And Yamaha Missing

Privacy is a precious commodity. And an increasingly rare one, as technology allows ever greater scrutiny. And it seems as if some MotoGP teams sometimes feel the same way. This seems the only plausible reason that both Kawasaki and Yamaha have decided to pull out of the upcoming MotoGP test at Phillip Island in Australia.

Yamaha had announced earlier that they would not be testing at Phillip Island, preferring to run a private test at Sepang in Malaysia, scene of the previous MotoGP test. No official reason was given, but most speculation has concentrated on tires, with the Yamaha riders spending some time testing the new Michelin 16 inch front tire at the previous test. Motorcyclenews.com has quoted Valentino Rossi as saying that Yamaha are in search of "driveability and acceleration". One way of obtaining better driveability is of course by altering cylinder firing orders. Changing firing sequence is the kind of change which is immediately obvious to bystanders, and therefore very much the kind of change you would want to run at a private test, far from the prying ears of the competition.

Kawasaki, on the other hand, have not given a reason for their absence. What makes their absence all the more unexpected are the very fast times posted by de Puniet posted during the last test at Sepang. De Puniet's success suggested that Kawasaki had found answers to the rather disastrous first public outing for the Kawasaki 800, when the new bike blew up after just a few laps, to be returned to the factory for further development work. Possibly, the runs at Sepang may have uncovered a few more minor problems which, though not enough to prevent de Puniet putting in fast laps, could require attention before being subjected to more punishment at a public test.

This leaves the Honda teams, the Ducati teams, Suzuki, and Team KR as the only teams to be present for the Phillip Island tests, which start on Tuesday. The absence of Yamaha will increase the scrutiny of Suzuki's performance, with Phillip Island being a track at which Suzuki has run particularly badly, despite Chris Vermeulen's 2nd place in the rain last year. If Suzuki are fast over the next few days, then it will be yet more proof that this year, the Suzuki threat is for real. This focus will also please Honda, which is due to provide new parts for the Repsol pair of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, in an attempt to remedy what appears to be a woeful lack of horsepower. There's still a long way to go till Qatar.

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The Hayden MTV Show Approaches Reality

According to the US magazine RoadRacerX, MTV's reality TV show based around Nicky Hayden got one step closer to reality this week. The pilot episode has been finished, and is due to be screened to focus groups, before MTV executives finally make the go-no go decision on whether to put the series into production. If the series does receive the go-ahead, then it is unlikely to be aired until the end of this year.

The idea of a show on MTV has not been well received by hardcore racing fans, as they fear it will trivialize MotoGP, and reduce the richness and complexity of motorcycle racing down to a matter of personalities. Their biggest fear is that their beloved sport will be buried under a wave of teenyboppers only interested in Hayden's cheeky smile, rather than his racing skills.

On the other hand, an influx of young fans would be excellent news for the series, and for motorcycle racing in general. Even though MotoGP audiences have been steadily rising over the past few years, the difficulties several teams have had in obtaining sponsorship point to a perceived weakness in its popularity. A show on MTV would open up a new and highly valuable audience to MotoGP, and help attract sponsors targeting the youth market.

The only downside of the show is the timing: if the show goes ahead, and is aired at the end of the year, the season will already be over, and MotoGP's new-found fans will not be able to hook right in to a season of great racing. Hopefully, the show will run until late March 2008, and finish around the time the new season starts.

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The Michelin Conundrum

The tire situation in MotoGP presents us with a rather puzzling situation. French tire maker Michelin has dominated MotoGP for many years now, taking every championship since 1992. Bridgestone has only started to compete seriously since the introduction of the four-strokes in 2002, and is now starting to be a truly competitive force. But Michelin continues to dominate the class, taking 13 of the 17 races last year. Kenny Roberts Jr only agreed to join his father's Team KR project on condition that the team got Michelin tires and Öhlins suspension. Ilmor paid a large amount of money to get hold of Michelin tires.

And yet, with all that experience, problems remain. Especially at the front end. Makoto Tamada, who won two GPs on a Bridgestone-shod Honda, was a mere shadow of his former self after his team switched from Bridgestones to Michelins. He complained continuously that he could not gain any confidence in the front end. Casey Stoner proved to be blisteringly fast this year, when he could stay aboard. But he pushed the front, and crashed out of five races in 2006. Each time, he lost the front end, his front Michelin suddenly losing grip. Since moving to Ducati, and, as a by-product, to Bridgestones, he has praised the feeling and feedback from his front tire.

Michelin is obviously aware of the problem, for at Sepang, they were testing a new 16 inch front tire. Valentino Rossi was one of the riders to put in laps on the tire, and afterwards, praised the improved feel. The French tire maker is obviously working flat out for more feel at the front end. Riders have previously complained that the front tends to let go without warning, making it hard to feel comfortable pushing the front as hard as possible.

So, why do I mention this? Well, Shinya Nakano, tired of never making any real forward progress at Kawasaki, decided to leave Team Green to try his luck on a Honda. With a better machine, he felt he had more of a chance to get onto the podium and compete for a win. His switch from Kawasaki to Japan Italy Racing, sponsored by Konica Minolta, meant that he would move onto the race-proven Honda, a safe bet in anyone's books. But the switch also meant that Nakano would also be using Michelins instead of Bridgestones, despite team manager Luca Montiron's rumored attempts to obtain Bridgestone rubber. But his choice may not turn out to be as fortuitous as he had hoped. For one thing, the Honda RC212V has proven to be much slower than everyone was expecting, posting times at the wrong end of the testing timesheets. And for another, according to Eurosport, Nakano is complaining of chatter and a lack of grip from his front Michelin.

So the mystery remains: why can't Michelin make a front tire as good as Bridgestone's?

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Some Wild Predictions For MotoGP In 2007

As the winter test ban draws to an end, and the teams start heading out towards Sepang for the start of the MotoGP pre-season, it's time to gaze into our crystal ball and see what the future holds for MotoGP in 2007. But this is not yet the time for balanced discussion, calm comment and objective analysis of what has happened and what is to come. It's too early for that. So instead, here's some wild and unreliable guesswork, based on pure speculation and gut feeling. It's time for my

2007 MotoGP Predictions:

Pedrosa To Fail

It is said that 2007 will be the year of Dani Pedrosa. Most commentators believe that if he does not win the championship outright, then at the very least, he will push Rossi all the way to the wire. However, regarding Pedrosa's ascendancy as a foregone conclusion is to neglect a few very important points:

  1. With Sete Gibernau retired, and Max Biaggi over in World Superbikes, Valentino Rossi will be able to focus the full power of his mind games on little Dani. We already got a foretaste of this during 2006. Rossi's monster burnout celebration in the winner's circle at Donington, for example, after Pedrosa had romped home to his second win of the season. And I won't even mention "the chair" at Sepang. Anyone doubting the power of Rossi's voodoo need only take a close look at the careers of Gibernau and Biaggi, once they started getting in The Doctor's way. Things are about to get very tough for Pedrosa.
  2. Honda are the only manufacturer to try a completely new engine configuration for 2007. Everyone else will be using the same engine layout they used last season. Although it seems a fairly trivial exercise to trim one of the cylinders from a 990cc V5 and turn it into a V4, it's really not that simple. Everything you've learnt about firing order, firing intervals and engine balance is lost, and you have to start all over again. That this affects even the Mighty HRC is apparent from the timesheets: So far, the Hondas have been much further down the time sheets than any had thought possible, and almost every rider to test the RC212V has complained about the lack of power. HRC have much further to go than anyone expected.
  3. Pedrosa has set fast times during testing so far. But these times have always been on qualifying tires, his times on race tires have been significantly less impressive. With the advent of the new tire regulations, qualifiers will be less of a factor in 2007. Don't be fooled by Pedrosa's times.

The New Tire Regulations Will Change Everything

As I alluded to above, the new tire regulations are going to have a major impact. If there's one field where huge strides have been made over the past few years, it has been tires. Arguably, the improvements in traction control have been driven by the developments which have taken place in tires. The changes mean that each rider will have to select 14 front and 17 rear tires on Thursday evening, to use over the course of 5 practice sessions and 1 race during the weekend. Considering that last season, riders would regularly use as many as 60 tires in a weekend, choice is being severely limited. Add in the possible combinations of compound mixes, with different compounds possible on the left and right hand edges of the tires, as well as in the middle, and you begin to understand just how drastic the limits are.

In practice what this means is that a qualifying tire has just lost an awful lot of value. Where in previous seasons, riders might use 3 or 4 qualifiers in a weekend, reducing the choice of rears even just by one may be too big a gamble, if you limit your options for race tires. You stand a better chance of fighting your way through the field from a poor grid position on a good race tire, than you do defending a front row position on a race tire which isn't working. This will turn out to be the most underestimated factor in MotoGP for 2007.

How Fast?

Here's a bold prediction (well, not that bold): The 800s will start breaking lap records almost from the word go. The race record won't fall at the second round at Jerez, but it will be very, very close. By the time we get to the Sachsenring in Germany, it will be all over. I predict that the lap record at the Sachsenring will be shattered in July, and broken at 5 of the remaining 7 tracks with an existing record. So much for being slower.

More Winners In 2007

The switch to 800cc will reduce the disparity between the bikes. It will be easier for good riders to stay close to the front, and harder for good riders to drop other good riders just on sheer horsepower. If the 800s are more like the 250s, as everyone says, then a glance at 2006 should tell you all you need to know. In 2006, 5 different riders won a Grand Prix in the MotoGP class. In the 250 class, 6 different riders won.

Suzuki Finally Delivers

At every test held so far, the Suzukis have been very close to the front. And when you disregard the times set on qualifiers, the Suzukis top every time sheet so far. Suzuki followed an interesting strategy for 2006: they basically spent all year developing the 800. Obviously, the bike was a 990, but each modification to the bike was made with the 800 in mind. The same could be said of Hayden's Honda, of course, but the difference between Hayden's RC211V and the Suzukis is that Hayden was a lone development rider, caught up in the middle of a title race. Hopkins and Vermeulen both put in significant effort to getting the GSV-R ready to go once they dropped the 800 V4 in. I predict that one of the Suzukis will end the year in the top 3, at least one of the Suzukis will win a Grand Prix, and both riders will be podium regulars. What's more, the top position in the team is at stake. Neither Hopkins nor Vermeulen will want to finish behind the other, despite the fact they work quite well as a team, so the internal team rivalry will be intense.

Barros Will Podium

The Pramac d'Antin team had a dismal 2006. Permanent tail enders, they looked like so much grid filling last season. 2007 will be different though. First of all, the team will be using bikes which are very near to being works Ducatis, for the simple fact that there are no 2006 Ducati 800s available. Combined with this is the fact that d'Antin will no longer be running the still (sadly) uncompetitive Dunlops, but will have access to Bridgestone rubber, making it possible for the riders to get, and stay, in the thick of the battle at the front. Then, of course, there's Alex Barros. Barros had a tough year in World Superbikes in 2006, but if you consider that for most of the year, he was on 2nd rate material, and spent the first half of each race fighting his way up through the field, his performance was actually pretty good. He will be as motivated as Carlos Checa was last season, and on decent material. And once Barros gets the Pramac bike on the podium, riders will be lining up to ride for D'Antin in 2008.

The Resurrection Of Makoto Tamada

Once HRC's Golden Boy, and thought to be the Japanese rider capable of winning the title for Honda after the sad demise of Dajiro Katoh, Tamada failed utterly on Michelins. He complained constantly of a lack of confidence in the front end, after switching to Michelins, and was constantly the final Michelin finisher in 2006. But here's a little food for thought: Carlos Checa settled on a front Dunlop tire early on in the season, and was happy enough with it not to bother changing it, concentrating his efforts on developing rear tires instead. With Tamada now using Checa's front Dunlop, expect him to regain confidence in the front end, and to start flying again in 2007. Tamada will finish further up the standings in 2007 than he did in 2006.

Stoner Will Crash

Predicting that Casey Stoner will crash in 2007 is about as difficult as predicting it might be quite hot out in Sepang. But of Stoner's 5 race crashes in 2006, all 5 of them were due to Stoner losing the front end. With the Bridgestone generally accepted as a better front tire than the Michelin he used last season, Stoner will fall off less, finish more, and become a more regular sight on the podium.

Rookie Of The Year: Sylvain Guintoli

This is actually cheating. Guintoli will be the only rookie in MotoGP. All the other "new" riders in the class have already ridden. Still, you might be able to find a bookie to take the bet...

Hayden To Be Top Honda

There has been concerted criticism of Nicky Hayden since winning the world title. The statistic most often quoted is the fact that Troy Bayliss, who rode one race in MotoGP in 2006, led for more laps (30) than Hayden did all year. But this neat little number misses the fact that Hayden spent much of the year defending his championship lead, rather than going for wins, while at the same time trying to develop the bike which was to become the Honda 800cc RC212V. In 2007, Hayden will have fewer development duties, and a freer hand just to race. What's more, he'll have the Number One plate on his machine, and that means more to Hayden than many people think. He will want to defend the Number One plate with dignity, which means going out and riding the wheels off the bike, preferring to risk it all for the win, rather than stay on board and podium. Hayden's title defense will remove any question marks about the way he won the championship.

Repsol Honda: The War Continues

Though Dani Pedrosa made up for his Estoril Error at Valencia, by letting Hayden past and attempting to hold up the field behind him, there's still the small matter of Number One Honda Rider to settle. Alberto Puig will continue to pull strings and apply pressure, despite the number on Hayden's RC212V. The power struggle behind the scenes will get vicious, and occasionally spill over into the public arena, magnifying every on-track incident. As Pedrosa struggles, and Hayden charges, the situation will get rapidly worse. By the end of the year, Puig may find his position within HRC greatly weakened.

And The Winner Is ...

This is easy. Valentino Rossi is out for revenge. His father, Graziano, has already said that Rossi is more motivated than ever. And with no more Formula 1 excursions to distract him, Rossi can concentrate on getting the new Yamaha 800 ready to regain the title in 2007. That doesn't mean that it will be easy. Last year's class rookies have all had a year in the top class, Capirossi will be out to obliterate the memory of his crash at Barcelona, the Suzukis will be competitive, and Hayden will put up a fierce defense of his title. But Rossi will prevail. He'll never dominate, winning 11 races as he did in 2001 and 2005, but he'll still win enough to take the title. 7 races will be sufficient.

At the end of 2007, Rossi will then announce that ... He's signing with Yamaha for another year. Rossi will stay in MotoGP for 2007 and 2008, and probably for 2009 as well. After that, he will have broken a few more records, taking Giacomo Agostini's record for the most 500/MotoGP wins, passing Angel Nieto for the record of all class wins to take second place behind Ago, and will leave to go and race in WRC Rallying. He will be sorely missed, but will leave us with a vibrant class, a handful of contenders to take his place, and some fantastic racing to come.

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John Hopkins: Interview Over On Soup

Anyone who has followed the MotoGP winter testing will by now be aware that Suzuki are going to be extremely competitive when the new season kicks off in March. Both the Suzukis have been very fast at the track, and with John Hopkins entering his 6th season in premier class motorcycle racing, and Chris Vermeulen set to build on the promise he showed during his rookie year, Superbikeplanet has a timely interview with Hopper about his thoughts on racing. The conversation is wide-ranging, from subjects such as racing as a kid, to the role of his father in racing, to his view of where the Suzuki MotoGP project is at. A great read.

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MotoGP Table Game: Almost Like Being There

Imagine the scene: It's June 10th, 2007. You and all your MotoGP fan friends are gathered around your TV / computer / video ready for the Catalunya GP from Barcelona. You have a fridge full of cold beer and good food, a room full of company, and a body full of adrenaline, in anticipation of the spectacle to come. Then, the local nuclear power station explodes and showers you with radiation. But far, far worse than this, you're going to miss the race. What are you going to do?

Well, now there's a solution: You break out your Table MotoGP game, and run the race yourself! The game consists of 6 boards representing race tracks, 19 miniature MotoGP bikes in the correct, if not realistic, colors for the 2006 season, a set of cards representing factors such as fuel, crashes or extra horsepower, dice, and score sheets. The tracks consist of a number of squares, to be negotiated by throwing the dice. The squares carry perils and penalties, with a danger of crashing around corners, and forfeiting fuel down the fast straights. You can even get called into the pits for a ride-through penalty (caused by throwing three sixes in a row from the start). Once you're done with the six tracks supplied, you can purchase add-on packs of eleven extra tracks.

Having read the instructions, I have to say it all sounds rather complicated, and may become a little confusing once you and your assembled band of MotoGP fans have worked your way through most of the contents of the fridge. But it definitely looks like it might be a fun way of passing a wet winter evening before the season starts in earnest.

Table MotoGP has one more thing to recommend it: The version of the Assen track includes the old layout, with the old, long, and spectacular North Loop. On its own, almost reason enough to buy it. But don't take my word for it, take the word of one of the game's biggest fans: Randy Mamola!

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