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Jerez November Tests - Day 2

Testing continues today at Jerez, where the weather gods are looking much more kindly upon MotoGP than yesterday, when much of the session was ruined by rain. Testing didn't get underway properly until lunchtime, due to parts of the track still being fairly damp from yesterday's rain, but by 2pm, everyone was out and riding. Motogp.com released the top 10 times as of 2pm, which are shown below. These times are not really representative of the state of play, with most of the riders having only put in some 10 laps or so. By the end of today, most will have put in 40 or 50, with varying set-ups and on different tires, which should give us a clearer picture of the relative standings within the paddock.

The top 10, as of 2pm:
1. Tady Okada, HRC - 1:41.857 (13 laps)
2. John Hopkins, Rizla Suzuki - 1:41.932 (10)
3. Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing - 1:42.381 (15)
4. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda - 1:42.794 (15)
5. Colin Edwards, Yamaha Factory Racing - 1:43.079 (6)
6. Loris Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro - 1:43.100 (8)
7. Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro - 1:43.150 (14)
8. Chris Vermeulen, Rizla Suzuki - 1:43.650 (9)
9. Marco Melandri, Gresini Honda - 1:43.861 (18)
10. Shinya Nakano, Konica Minolta Honda - 1:43.930 (14)

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LCD TVs Replace Tobacco As Sponsor At Gresini

As widely expected, after Toni Elias appeared at Sepang with a large sticker on his screen, Gresini today announced a new sponsorship agreement with Taiwanese LCD manufacturer HANNspree. This is not HANNspree's first venture into motorcycle racing, as they earlier announced that they would be sponsoring the Ten Kate Honda team in World Superbikes, replacing another cigarette brand, Winston.

This agreement opens some interesting perspectives. First and foremost, it demonstrates that motorcycle racing is not as dependent upon tobacco sponsorship as it believes itself to be. Tobacco has always been an easy touch for motorsports in general, after being declared persona non grata by just about all other sports, and being banned from other forms of advertising. With more and more countries putting tobacco advertising bans in place for all sporting events, even motorsports are losing their attraction for tobacco sponsors. The one exception to this rule is currently Marlboro, who, because they have built a brand instantly recognizable by their colors alone, can afford to remove their brand name from sponsorship, and just carry their red and white colors.

The other noteworthy aspect of this agreement is the link with Ten Kate, the "official" Honda team in World Superbike. James Toseland's name has been linked very strongly with a move to MotoGP in the near future, and he was even in the frame for a ride with d'Antin Ducati for 2007, but he decided against moving to MotoGP for an uncompetitive ride. However, Dorna and the BBC would love to see the highly popular young Briton go to MotoGP, to enhance the series' popularity in the UK. And in lapping just over a second off MotoGP pace when he was given the opportunity to ride Dani Pedrosa's RC211V after the final Valencia MotoGP round, Toseland has shown that he is capable of being competive. With both Ten Kate and Gresini on bikes from the same manufacturer, funded by the same sponsor, a move to a competitive MotoGP ride just got a lot closer for Toseland.

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Jerez November Tests - Day 1

The first times are appearing for the first day of the final test of the year at Jerez. The session started rather messily, with Andrew Pitt being forced to return to the pits with mechanical problems on his Ilmor X3, and Ducati's test rider Vittoriano Guareschi suffering a crash, due to low track temperatures. After a break of about 30 minutes, everyone was back at work, though not for too long, as rain halted testing at around 1pm local time. Below are the times set so far:

1. Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Team - 1:41.745
2. John Hopkins, Rizla Suzuki - 1:42.161
3. Colin Edwards, Yamaha Factory Team - 1:42.293
4. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda - 1:44.030
5. Loris Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro - 1:44.307
6. Chris Vermeulen, Rizla Suzuki - 1:44.394
7. Marco Melandri, Gresini Honda - 1:44.876
8. Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro - 1:45.574
9. Shinya Nakano, Konica Minolta Honda - 1:46.200
10. Jeremy McWilliams, Ilmor SRT - 1:47.216
11. Andrew Pitt, Ilmor SRT - 1:48.518
12. Vittoriano Guareschi, Ducati Test Team - 1:50.653

Fastest race lap for each of the manufacturers from the 2006 Spanish GP in March:
Ducati: Loris Capirossi 1:41.248
Honda: Dani Pedrosa 1:41.297
Suzuki: John Hopkins 1:41.598
Kawasaki: Shinya Nakano 1:42.017
Yamaha: Carlos Checa 1:42.161

Lap record:
2005, Valentino Rossi, Yamaha, 1.40.596

Pole record:
2006, Loris Capirossi, Ducati, 1:39.064

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Chaz Davies To Test For Ilmor

In remarkable news, Crash.net is reporting that British rider Chaz Davies is to test for Ilmor. Davies will be testing the Ilmor X3 at Jerez on Wednesday and Thursday, during the last two days of the three-day MotoGP testing session at the Spanish circuit. The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, as Ilmor had previously announced that they would be testing with Andrew Pitt, Garry McCoy and Jeremy McWilliams at Jerez, and will be announcing their team line-up after the tests at Jerez. It was widely expected that the team would consist of two of those three riders, but Davies' appearance casts some doubt on that. Davies is currently signed to compete in AMA Formula Xtreme and Supersport in the US next season, but would undoubtedly leap at the chance of moving straight to MotoGP. This would also solve the BBC's requirement for a British rider, without having to sign a rider as old as McWilliams.

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Ilmor To Announce Riders After Jerez Test

The rider line-up for the 2007 MotoGP season is all but complete. Only two seats remain unclaimed: Ilmor, the newcomer to MotoGP, has yet to announce who will be riding the Illien/Suter-developed Ilmor X3 bike for next season. Many names have been linked to the project, and a gaggle of riders have already tested the bike, but Ilmor have now announced that they will finalize the team at the Jerez tests from 28-30 November.

Ilmor will be present at Jerez with three riders: Jeremy McWilliams, Garry McCoy and Andrew Pitt. All three rode the bike during the tests at Valencia, and McCoy raced the X3 at the final two rounds of the 2006 season at Estoril and Valencia. So, who will it be?

McCoy seems to be the most obvious choice, as he has the most experience on the bike, and has already helped to develop it to its current state. He was previously involved in developing the Kawasaki, during the early stages of its existence, during which time he worked with Eskil Suter, as well as Harald Eckl, who is widely rumored to be joining Ilmor after being released by Kawasaki. The other rider to have worked with both Suter and Eckl is Andrew Pitt, who also spent a season aboard the Kawasaki, and showed a great deal of promise aboard the Yamaha R1 in World Superbikes, before being pushed aside to make way for Troy Corser. Jeremy McWilliams is the oldest and most experienced of the three, but his age could work against him. However, he has the advantage of being the only British rider, something which the BBC, which has the broadcast rights for MotoGP in the UK, is keen to see.

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Ilmor To Announce Riders After Jerez Test

The rider line-up for the 2007 MotoGP season is all but complete. Only two seats remain unclaimed: Ilmor, the newcomer to MotoGP, has yet to announce who will be riding the Illien/Suter-developed Ilmor X3 bike for next season. Many names have been linked to the project, and a gaggle of riders have already tested the bike, but Ilmor have now announced that they will finalize the team at the Jerez tests from 28-30 November.

Ilmor will be present at Jerez with three riders: Jeremy McWilliams, Garry McCoy and Andrew Pitt. All three rode the bike during the tests at Valencia, and McCoy raced the X3 at the final two rounds of the 2006 season at Estoril and Valencia. So, who will it be?

McCoy seems to be the most obvious choice, as he has the most experience on the bike, and has already helped to develop it to its current state. He was previously involved in developing the Kawasaki, during the early stages of its existence, during which time he worked with Eskil Suter, as well as Harald Eckl, who is widely rumored to be joining Ilmor after being released by Kawasaki. The other rider to have worked with both Suter and Eckl is Andrew Pitt, who also spent a season aboard the Kawasaki, and showed a great deal of promise aboard the Yamaha R1 in World Superbikes, before being pushed aside to make way for Troy Corser. Jeremy McWilliams is the oldest and most experienced of the three, but his age could work against him. However, he has the advantage of being the only British rider, something which the BBC, which has the broadcast rights for MotoGP in the UK, is keen to see.

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Nicky Hayden To Miss Jerez Test Due To Injury

Nicky Hayden has announced that he won't be taking part in the final MotoGP test before the winter test ban, as a result of an injury suffered in his crash at Estoril. In this crash, Hayden injured his right shoulder, and also damaged a plate holding his collar bone together, fitted after an earlier accident. The Kentucky Kid attempted to keep his injury quiet in the run-up to the final Valencia race, so as not to give his opponents (a certain V. Rossi) any psychological advantage. This decision was later vindicated after Nicky Hayden became the first man to take the MotoGP championship from Valentino Rossi since the series began in 2002.

Each time news appears about crashes at Estoril, the layers of irony just run deeper and deeper. After becoming world champion, Hayden revealed that he had been carrying a shoulder injury from the crash caused by Dani Pedrosa. In 2005, Pedrosa announced that he had been carrying a shoulder injury, right after he became world 250 champion, in Phillip Island. That sound you hear is history repeating.

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Rossi To Stay for "Two Or Three More Years"

Although Valentino Rossi decided in May that he would stay in MotoGP and not go to Formula 1, that did not end the speculation on his future. His new contract with Yamaha being only for 2007, the speculation shifted on to how long The Doctor would stay in MotoGP instead.

This speculation has only been made worse by Rossi choosing to take part in the World Rally Championship Rally of New Zealand, which finished on Sunday, instead of attending the testing sessions at Sepang, and helping to develop Yamaha's new, and as yet unnamed, 800. But in response to questions about whether he was now considering moving to WRC after MotoGP, Rossi put an end to this speculation by answering: "I love Rallying, but I think I'll stay in MotoGP for two or three more years, then we'll see what happens. Anything is possible, and this (WRC) world really appeals to me, but I still have a strong passion for motorcycles inside." Finishing 11th in the overall standings is exactly where Rossi had hoped to finish, proving that he is capable of contending, but still has a way to go before he is truly competitive. This makes his two to three year MotoGP future a highly credible scenario, allowing him time to equal Giacomo Agostini's record of 8 world championships (Rossi has 5), to beat Agostini's record of 68 senior class wins (Rossi has 58), and beat Angel Nieto's 2nd highest number of 90 all classes wins (Rossi has 84). It would also make it theoretically possible for Rossi to Agostini's record of 123 all classes wins, but, if Rossi remains in MotoGP for 3 years, and rides 17 or 18 races each year, he would need to win around 75% of them, or 13 races a season, beating Mick Doohan's record of 12 wins in a season 3 years in a row. Even getting close will be quite a feat.

What Rossi's excursion into the wonderful world of WRC does prove, however, is that Rallying is his most likely destination after he does, finally, hang up his leathers.

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Sepang MotoGP Testing Wrap-up

The four major Japanese manufacturers wrapped up three days of testing at Sepang today, in the second of the preseason's testing sessions. Though the Japanese manufacturers and teams were present, a number of notable names were absent. Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri both missed the test as a result of minor surgery performed to reduce arm pump, a problem both riders had suffered during the season. The other big name missing was Valentino Rossi, who is currently in New Zealand competing in the WRC New Zealand Rally. After rejecting a move to Formula 1 and Ferrari earlier this year, Rossi is evaluating whether he believes he can be competitive in WRC. Rossi has previously competed in Rally racing at several levels, and is likely to move to WRC after he finally retires from MotoGP.

Testing started with a flashback to the Sepang race weekend: On the first day of testing, all work ceased around 1pm as the track flooded during a tropical downpour. Before the rain came, it was Colin Edwards who had set the fastest time, 1/3 of a second faster than Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, with the Australian's team mate John Hopkins setting the 3rd fastest time. Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque set the 4th fastest time on the 990cc Kawasaki, ahead of Nicky Hayden on the RC212V.

Day 2 of the tests started dry, but with very high humidity. It started later than planned, as sections of the track still had to dry after the previous day's torrential rain, leaving turn 3 chest deep in water. Thursday saw yet another long-awaited debut, as Kawasaki finally rolled out its 800, making it the last manufacturer to unveil its 2007 machine. Where Yamaha had set the fastest time on Wednesday, Thursday saw Colin Edwards slip to 3rd fastest on the day, though he did improve on his time. At the top of the time sheets were the Suzuki pairing of John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen, the order reversed from the day before, though still only 0.1 seconds separating the two of them. Nicky Hayden was the first Honda rider once again, with the 4th fastest time.

Day 3 once again started out dry, though the rain returned at the end of the day. By that time, almost everyone had packed up and left, though Nicky Hayden and Toni Elias took advantage of the conditions to test how the RC212V performed in the wet. The morning had started with an interesting absentee, the Kawasaki team having decided to return to the workshop, after suffering too many problems during the previous day for them to continue testing on Friday. And by the end of the morning session, Kawasaki were joined by Colin Edwards, Makoto Tamada and John Hopkins, who decided to call it a day after making sufficient progress over the past few days. Only Chris Vermeulen, Suzuki's test rider Nobu Aoki, and the Honda men kept going for the afternoon, until the rain came with a couple of hours to go. Once again, it was the Rizla Suzuki riders who headed the timesheets, John Hopkins having set a very fast well inside of 2:02. His team mate Chris Vermeulen set the 2nd fastest time, 0.36 seconds slower, while Colin Edwards was 3rd fastest once again, after having tried out a new Chassis for the Yamaha 800. Nicky Hayden was fastest Honda rider in 4th again, less than 0.1 seconds faster than Makoto Tamada on the Tech 3 Yamaha. The Hondas of Toni Elias and Carlos Checa followed, ahead of HRC test rider Tady Okada.

As the initial test season progresses, plenty of surprises abound. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absolute dominance of Suzuki during the sessions so far, with both Hopkins and Vermeulen consistently heading the timesheets here and at Valencia. The 990 Suzuki's handling has never been in doubt, but since the beginning of the MotoGP era, Suzuki riders have complained about a lack of horsepower. This problem seems to have disappeared entirely with the coming of the 800s, with no obvious explanation.

The other big surprise is the relatively poor performance of the Honda. Everyone expected the RC212V to dominate from the very beginning, as in theory, all Honda needed to do was lose a cylinder from their V5 990. But things have not worked out that way so far, and both Hayden and Elias have complained of a lack of power from the Honda 800. Though it's early days yet, no one expected the mighty Honda to have to mount a title defense coming from behind; the general belief was that Honda would lead right from the beginning. But, as Nicky Hayden said after the tests, "We definitely need to find more power and speed to stay in touch with our rivals". They have a long way to go if they want to hold on to the title.

The times from the tests.

Rider Team Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
1 John Hopkins Rizla Suzuki 2:04.03 2:02.73 2:01.64
2 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki 2:03.9 2:02.83 2:02.0
3 Colin Edwards Camel Yamaha 2:03.56 2:02.91 2:02.43
4 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda 2:04.69 2:03.74 2:03.28
5 Makoto Tamada Yamaha Tech3 2:05.06* 2:04.65 2:03.36
6 Toni Elías Honda Gresini Racing 2:05.02 2:03.87 2:03.55
7 Carlos Checa Honda LCR 2:11.0 2:04.08 2:04.27
8 Tady Okada HRC 2:05.98 2:05.63 2:04.44
9 Olivier Jacque Kawasaki Racing 2:04.02* 2:04.47 -
* aboard the 990cc bike.

Winter testing continues at Jerez on November 28, the final session before the official winter test ban, which starts on December 1 and runs through January 20.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

For news of the January 22nd - 24th tests, see these stories:

January 22, Day 1
January 23, Day 2
January 24, Day 3

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