As I mentioned previously, it's that time of year again, and the rumors keep rolling in. Crash.net is reporting that Ducati team boss Livio Suppo has given his approval to James Toseland joining Pramac d'Antin Ducati for 2007. Toseland is currently riding a Ten Kate Honda in the World Superbike class, but has made no secret of his desire to move up to MotoGP. In the deal under discussion, Toseland could join MotoGP veteral Max Biaggi on satellite Ducatis, but with Pramac supplying a lot more sponsorship cash, the d'Antin would have more competitive bikes and access to Bridgestone tires. No deal has been signed yet (or even discussed openly), but if the extra money appears, it could be a competitive option. More details, or otherwise complete denials, are likely to appear over the coming weeks.
Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es has an article about possible personnel changes in MotoGP for 2007. The main rumor concerns Andrea Dovizioso, who is said to want to move up the MotoGP class, unless Honda vastly improve their 250 for next season. Dovizioso's name is being linked with the LCR Honda currently being ridden by the young Australian Casey Stoner. LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello is said not to be happy with Stoner's performance in the championship, but this could also be related to persistent rumors of Stoner moving to either Ducati or Yamaha.
The 250 rider which everyone expected to move up to MotoGP was Jorge Lorenzo, who has dominated the 250 championship so far, after a run of back luck at the beginning of the season. Rumors linked Lorenzo to Yamaha, but these proved unfounded, as Lorenzo resigned with Aprilia last week to run in the 250 championship for another year.
The final rumor concerns Makoto Tamada's replacement. It's an open secret that Tamada is riding his last races in MotoGP, after two poor seasons. The question has always been who will replace Tamada at Konica Minolta. With the official team name of the Konica Minolta Honda being Japan Italy Racing, and with the team management being Italian, the most likely scenario is another Japanese rider being brought in. The only other Japanese rider in the class is Shinya Nakano, and Nakano has been rumored to want a more competitive ride, to prove that he really can run at the front. A Honda on Michelins would seem to fit the bill very well indeed. The only other Japanese options would be either Yukio Takahashi or one of the Aoyama brothers, all of whom are currently in 250s.
The frenzied speculation about the new 800cc MotoGP bikes came partly to an end on Monday, after both Yamaha and Ducati unveiled their 800cc prototypes at Brno. Ducati's bike had been seen previously, but Monday was the first time that Loris Capirossi had had a chance to ride the new bike. Amazingly, Capirossi lapped within 1.4 seconds of his 990 time, on his very first outing on the bike. It looks like the bikes are going to be close to the 990s almost from the start. This was also Valentino Rossi's first time aboard the new Yamaha 800. Overall, the bikes looked fairly similar to their 990cc predecessors, with one or two minor changes. The Yamaha looks sharper and slimmer than the 990, the chief difference on the Ducati is the revised exhaust, with the final section being longer and a two-into-one, rather than two separate pipes.
Pictures are popping up all over the internet, so I'll refer you there to get them:
Crash.net has a story on the Ducati, and a story on the Yamaha.
MotoGP.com even has some videos of the Ducati and Yamaha.
The biggest difference between the 990s and the 800s is the sound they make. The 800s sound like they are revving a lot higher, may be up to 2000 revs higher than the 990s. Interesting times lie ahead.
The 800s are being introduced as a result of a rule change in MotoGP for 2007. Capacity of the four stroke bikes is being reduced from 990cc to 800. The reasoning behind this is to make the bikes slower, and therefore safer. But with Capirossi already a second and a half of his 990 time, this argument doesn't look like it will hold water. Another change, maybe down to 500cc, which is rumored to be Honda's ultimate aim, may not be so very far down the line.
Qualifying practice at Brno on Saturday started strangely, but turned into an old-fashioned thriller. Anyone trying to read the signs before practice started would have had a great deal of difficulty, with the names on the timesheets yo-yoing between the top and mid-sheet. What was clear by Saturday morning is that times were going to be fast, after Loris Capirossi clocked a track record in the third Free Practice session.
As a result, no one was really surprised to see Capirossi set the fastest time just a few minutes after the start of the official Qualifying Practice, with a 1:58.399, and before 10 minutes of the session had elapsed, five riders had all put in 1:58s. As all these times had been set on race tires, as the riders searched for the right setup before attempting an actual qualifying time, notice had already been served that Sunday's race was going to be very very fast indeed.
With 50 minutes left in the session, Kenny Roberts Jr put in a fast lap to exactly equal Loris Capirossi's fastest lap, though this was not to last long. A couple of minutes later, it was Nicky Hayden who took the provisional pole back from Kenny Jr by 2/10ths of a second, before Loris Capirossi reclaimed pole with a 1:57.713, just a couple of tenths above Sete Gibernau's pole record. Capirossi then went on to complete another seven laps on the same tires, a clear demonstration that race tires have made a huge leap forward since last year.
With Nicky Hayden sat near the top of the timesheet, and running consistently fast for the first time this weekend, all eyes turned to Valentino Rossi. The Doctor was running way down in 16th place at this point, improving only slowly by the halfway point, eventually climbing to seventh. But given Rossi's previous record at qualifying this year, another fourth or fifth row starting position was looking increasingly likely. Hayden's championship lead was looking stronger than ever.
With less than half an hour to go, we were treated to the first surprise of the session: John Hopkins blasted his Suzuki to a furiously fast 1:57.006, establishing a new lap record by nearly half a second. The surprise was not Hopkins being so fast: he has, after all, been on pole before. But putting qualifiers on at the halfway stage seemed a risky, if interesting, strategy. The unspoken rule of qualifying is that you spend the first 40 minutes of the session on race tires setting the bike up, before sticking on a couple of sets of qualifiers in the last 20 minutes to set a time for the grid. But Hopper has never been overly keen on adhering strictly to rules, and his gamble looked like having a good chance it might pay off.
On the stroke of 20 minutes, however, Loris Capirossi restored order to the proceedings, taking the pole back from Hopkins with a blistering 1:56.441, a full second faster than Gibernau's previous pole record. Seemingly convinced that he had put in the perfect lap and it was impossible to go faster, the diminutive Ducatisti retired to the pits to watch the remainder of the session.
His judgment looked beyond doubt, as rider after rider improved their time, but no one looked capable of challenging Loris' time. With 12 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi came closest, but he was still 4/10ths off the pole time, then 2 minutes later, Nicky Hayden pushed Rossi into third, coming within a quarter of a second of Capirossi's time. Rossi once again improved his time, but it was still not good enough to get back past Hayden, let alone Capirossi.
As the clock ticked down, the pits were a jumble of mechanics frantically changing tires and riders staring desparately at the clock, hoping to get out for one last lap to improve their grid position. Casey Stoner seemed a beacon of calm in the pits, strolling to his bike as a new tire was fitted, with the clock ticking down inexorably to the two minute mark. His pit crew were a good deal less calm, as a lap of Brno takes just under two minutes, and an out-lap several crucial seconds longer. But Stoner was to be punished for his languid pace, failing to get round in time to start a new lap before the checkered flag terminated the session, wasting a set of qualifiers, and leaving the young Australian well down the grid.
With the end of the session looming, Loris Capirossi's belief in his pole time started to wane, and he went out for one last attempt to improve his time. But as the clock ticked down, Capirossi's first pole since the season's opener at Jerez looked ever more certain. Valentino Rossi was out on a fast lap, but though his times for the first half of the track were an improvement on his fastest lap, a pole position seemed out of the question. But as Rossi entered the third section, it was obvious that something special was happening. At the second intermediate timing section, Rossi had reduced his deficit from nearly 2/10ths to 0.036 of a second. At I3, he was 0.039 seconds ahead, and as he crossed the line, after an astonishing display, he was a quarter of a second faster than Capirossi's time, setting a new pole record 1.3 seconds faster than Gibernau's time of last year. It was an imperious display of riding, a text book illustration of how to set a pole. The crowd watched in awe.
Whether Nicky Hayden was intimidated by this display, we do not know. But at least starting on the front row of the grid would limit the damage done by The Doctor's demolishing display. There was, however, one slight fly in the ointment. There was one last fast rider out there, capable of making a stir. Kenny Roberts Jr had had a fairly poor session until the last 10 minutes, being well down on the timesheet, and even being sidelined with a fuel problem. After coming in and switching fuel tanks with less than half the session to go, his times started to improve, and with 5 minutes left, he had fought his way up to 4th spot. But on his very last qualifying lap, Kenny Jr pushed his Honda V5 powered KR211V to a superb 3rd spot, 4/10ths behind Valentino Rossi, but 1/10th ahead of Nicky Hayden, pushing the Kentucky Kid to the second row of the grid, and making his task even more difficult.
With Rossi on pole, and Capirossi and Kenny Roberts Jr taking 2nd and 3rd respectively, there were three different manufacturers on the front row. And with Hayden in 4th and Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano in 5th, the first 5 riders are all on different bikes, with two different tire manufacturers. Beside Nakano is Toni Elias, who seems to have bounced back from his injury at Assen. John Hopkins heads up the third row, with besides him, Rossi's team mate Colin Edwards in 8th, and Dani Pedrosa a slightly disappointing 9th. Randy de Puniet is in 10th, ahead of a poor performance by title challenger Marco Melandri and a strolling Casey Stoner. Chris Vermeulen is having a very poor weekend, and heads up the fifth row in 13th, with besides him Sete Gibernau's replacement Alex Hofmann and the once-again lackluster Makoto Tamada, who, despite putting on an outstanding display of how to slide a bike, still starts from 15th. James Ellison will be delighted to be starting in 16th, ahead of Tech 3 Yamaha team mate Carlos Checa. Besides Checa is the Pramac Ducati of Jose Luis Cardoso, with his team mate Ivan Silva struggling to learn the track in 19th and last place.
So is Rossi back? Judging by the performance which gave him his first pole since Mugello, and only his second of this year, the answer has to be yes. In contrast to previous races, Rossi has been there or thereabouts at very single practice session, and if he can get the M1 to work with qualifying tires, it should be a breeze on race tires. Nicky Hayden must be a little worried, though he has a 51 point lead over Rossi with only 6 races to go. More comforting for Hayden is the fact that his two nearest rivals for the title are a long way down the grid, Pedrosa down in 9th and Melandri in 11th. The Kentucky Kid can ride to defend his title, just staying close to Rossi and trying not to lose too many points, while the riders who are the biggest threat have to fight their way forward before even starting to try and take points from him.
But the trouble is, that's not in Hayden's nature. Hayden must surely be getting sick and tired of hearing just how he owes his lead in the championship to Rossi's bad luck, rather than the fact he keeps landing on the podium. And the briefest study of those podium photos usually show two men looking very pleased, while Hayden looks like he's just heard his brothers are both sleeping with his girlfriend. The only time we've seen joy from the Kentucky Kid is when he's on the top step. He likes to win, and second place isn't winning.
So we're on for another epic battle this Sunday. Rossi has nothing to lose, and really wants to finish the season with the most race wins, as the season's moral victor. Hayden is tired of the criticism, and wants to prove he is the series leader on merit. Kenny Roberts Jr wants to get back on the podium after Catalunya, and Loris Capirossi wants to prove he's back and fighting fit after his injuries at Catalunya. Further down the field, Melandri and Pedrosa have to fight their way forward, and you can bet your bottom dollar that young Casey Stoner will want to make up for his terrible qualifying. On a track where there's plenty of room for overtaking, and where the smallest mistake can be very costly indeed, this has the makings of a classic. I'll barely sleep till Sunday.
|1||46||Valentino ROSSI||ITA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'56.191||300.8|
|2||65||Loris CAPIROSSI||ITA||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'56.441||0.250||304|
|3||10||Kenny ROBERTS JR||USA||Team Roberts KR211V||1'56.603||0.412||300.4|
|4||69||Nicky HAYDEN||USA||Repsol Honda Team||1'56.694||0.503||302.5|
|5||56||Shinya NAKANO||JPN||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'56.770||0.579||300.4|
|6||24||Toni ELIAS||SPA||Fortuna Honda||1'56.875||0.684||300.2|
|7||21||John HOPKINS||USA||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||1'56.913||0.722||299.6|
|8||5||Colin EDWARDS||USA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'56.967||0.776||298.1|
|9||26||Dani PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||1'57.139||0.948||304.8|
|10||17||Randy DE PUNIET||FRA||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'57.185||0.994||298.3|
|11||33||Marco MELANDRI||ITA||Fortuna Honda||1'57.221||1.030||298.9|
|12||27||Casey STONER||AUS||Honda LCR||1'57.679||1.488||303.8|
|13||71||Chris VERMEULEN||AUS||Rizla Suzuki||1'57.894||1.703||299.1|
|14||66||Alex HOFMANN||GER||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'57.906||1.715||303.4|
|15||6||Makoto TAMADA||JPN||Konica Minolta Honda||1'58.239||2.048||302.8|
|16||77||James ELLISON||GBR||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'59.011||2.820||295.7|
|17||7||Carlos CHECA||SPA||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'59.289||3.098||295.3|
|18||30||Jose Luis CARDOSO||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'00.971||4.780||287.2|
|19||22||Ivan SILVA||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'01.433||5.242||293.5|
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
Since I posted this, Dorna and the FIM have announced the official 2007 MotoGP calendar. You can read about it in this post.
Dorna have announced the provisional calendar for 2007. The track at Misano has been added, but no GP has been dropped to make way for it. This means that the MotoGP riders will have to compete in 18 weekends, much to the annoyance of many of them. When the possibility of Misano being added to the calendar was announced, Valentino Rossi made it very clear that, although he was thrilled to be racing at Misano, he felt that 17 races was already too much, and 18 races would be unacceptable.
One notable adjustment is that the flyaway races have been spaced out a little more, with more time between the races. The downside of this (for the riders, but not for the fans) is the length of the calendar: With the first race in the middle of March, and the last race at the end of November, the season is two weeks longer than last year, with nearly 8 months of racing. That leaves less time for development and testing, putting more strain on the teams and riders.
Here's the schedule:
|March 25||Spain||Jerez de la Frontera|
|May 20||France||Le Mans|
|June 24||Great Britain||Donington Park|
|July 22*||United States||Laguna Seca|
|August 19||Czech Republic||Brno|
|September 2||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Misano|
|October 7||Australia||Phillip Island|
|November 4||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo - Valencia|
* MotoGP class only
** Saturday race
Valentino Rossi heads the timesheets after FP2 at Brno, after putting in a blistering time on qualifiers. The big surprise is Randy de Puniet on the Kawasaki in 2nd. The Bridgestones must be working well, as both 2nd place de Puniet and 3rd place Loris Capirossi are using them. The Dunlops aren't doing too badly either, as Carlos Checa put in a very respectable time in 7th. Title contenders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Hondas are way down in 8th and 11th respectively. But looking at the lap charts, it's clear that neither Pedrosa nor Hayden used qualifiers, electing to run a lot of laps on race tires instead. Chris Vermeulen, who started from pole at Laguna Seca, is a very disappointing 16th place, three and a half seconds behind Rossi.
I've just learnt that Kenny Roberts Jr's time was set on a race tire. The four people ahead of him all set their times on qualifiers. The only person faster than Kenny Jr on race tires was Valentino Rossi, who put in a 1:59.050 on race tires.
|1||46||Valentino ROSSI||ITA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'57.871||293.1|
|2||17||Randy DE PUNIET||FRA||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'58.028||0.157||290.3|
|3||65||Loris CAPIROSSI||ITA||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'58.470||0.599||294|
|4||5||Colin EDWARDS||USA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'58.851||0.980||291.9|
|5||10||Kenny ROBERTS JR||USA||Team Roberts KR211V||1'59.119||1.248||306.6|
|6||56||Shinya NAKANO||JPN||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'59.240||1.369||294|
|7||7||Carlos CHECA||SPA||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'59.254||1.383||290.8|
|8||26||Dani PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||1'59.258||1.387||297.7|
|9||33||Marco MELANDRI||ITA||Fortuna Honda||1'59.313||1.442||292.7|
|10||21||John HOPKINS||USA||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||1'59.406||1.535||292|
|11||69||Nicky HAYDEN||USA||Repsol Honda Team||1'59.515||1.644||295.2|
|12||27||Casey STONER||AUS||Honda LCR||1'59.607||1.736||297.9|
|13||6||Makoto TAMADA||JPN||Konica Minolta Honda||1'59.919||2.048||294.9|
|14||24||Toni ELIAS||SPA||Fortuna Honda||1'59.995||2.124||296.4|
|15||66||Alex HOFMANN||GER||Ducati Marlboro Team||2'00.507||2.636||291.7|
|16||71||Chris VERMEULEN||AUS||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||2'01.375||3.504||288.7|
|17||77||James ELLISON||GBR||Tech 3 Yamaha||2'02.426||4.555||288.2|
|18||30||Jose Luis CARDOSO||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'02.730||4.859||281.6|
|19||22||Ivan SILVA||SPA||Pramac d'Antín DUCATI||2'04.244||6.373||286.2|
Crash.net is reporting that Honda will wait until after the Japanse at Motegi to test its 800 cc prototype of next year's bike. Several manufacturers are rumored to have their new 800cc prototypes sitting in their garages waiting to be tested after this weekend' race at Brno, and Honda's decision not to test could be seen as a sign that they want to focus on the 2006 championship, rather than the 2007 championship.
After three weeks of enforced idleness after the thrills of Laguna Seca, the MotoGP circus goes back to work this weekend at Brno in the Czech Republic, refreshed and relaxed from their mid-season break. At least, that's the official story. Unofficially, the MotoGP circus goes back to work frazzled and frayed from three weeks of intense negotiation, speculation, contemplation and insinuation. Mobile phone bills are astronomical, keypads are worn down to the bare metal from frantic dialing, and Dr Costa's Clinica Mobile is awash with irritated ears, inflamed thumbs and chronic hoarseness, as the 2007 MotoGP season commences.
For the summer break is traditionally the start of what journalists tend to call the silly season, but if you're a rider, team owner, sponsor, mechanic, PR guru or even catering kitchen staff, it's deadly serious. With no races to interrupt, and everyone away from their teams, negotiations about who wants to be where, or even just somewhere next season are in full swing. And this year's round of rumors and speculation is just as wild and surprising as the season's races have been.
Much of the speculation has been on this year's most conspicuous absentee. In a stroke of public relations genius, Max Biaggi has been linked variously with the Ilmor / Suter project, a Ducati satellite bike in MotoGP, a works Ducati in World Superbike, and Alstare Corona Suzuki in World Superbike. The Roman Emperor has been much missed this season, as his abrupt departure left MotoGP fans without an obvious villain. Sete Gibernau has occasionally tried to step up to the plate, but has not usually progressed much beyond looking moody. Colin Edwards has been his usual colorful self, but his comments about Nicky Hayden after the race at Assen were too entertaining to turn him into Public Enemy No.1. So the return of The Man They Love To Hate would add a bit of contrast to an otherwise friendly cast of characters in the MotoGP paddock. But Max's biggest challenge is that, despite his huge following and generous personal sponsors, he has trodden on too many toes, and insulted too many manufacturers to get a shot at decent machinery. Persona non grata at Honda, and unbeloved by Michelin, his options are few, and his high profile comes with a high risk. It's too early to write him off for next year, but I wouldn't put my life savings on him making a return just yet.
There are many more riders who fear suffering the same fate as Biaggi at the end of the season. The most obvious looking candidate is Jose Luis Cardoso, who has been utterly unconvincing on the Pramac d'Antin Ducati this season. Ironically, however, he may turn out to be one of the riders who get to stay, as he reportedly pays a lot of money for his ride, money that Luis d'Antin badly needs to keep his team afloat.
Makoto Tamada, on the other hand, is unlikely to keep his ride at Konica Minolta JIR, unless he can pull off a miracle. Yet, if anyone had been brave enough to predict this at the end of 2004, they would have been laughed off the stage. That year, Tamada finished 6th in the championship, with two wins and a second place to his name, and the Japanese rider was widely predicted to be the next big threat. But in 2005, his team switched tires, from Tamada's beloved Bridgestones to Michelins, and he has never regained his form, citing a lack of confidence in the front end. He will need to turn the brilliant aberration of his Sachsenring performance into a regular spectacle if wishes to secure his future in MotoGP. Otherwise, his 2007 season could be history before it even begins.
Another rider looking to secure his MotoGP future is Tech 3 Yamaha's James Ellison. The young British rider has had a tough year, his performance constantly overshadowed by his teammate Carlos Checa, who is having a remarkably successful year, all things considered. While Checa shines on the Dunlop-shod M1, Ellison has struggled, the last rider to be still using the chatter-ridden chassis that the works Yamaha team abandoned after Shanghai. Such were his woes that his crew were reduced to cutting sections out of Ellison's chassis in an attempt to take some of the stiffness out that was thought to be the main culprit. Yet, examine Ellison's times and race after race he has ridden faster during the race than in qualifying, often putting in times on race day 1 or 2 seconds faster than the first practice session. Ellison, like Hofmann, has Dorna on his side, who are keen to see representatives from important TV markets on the grid, but this may not be enough to secure either the Englishman's or the German's future in MotoGP.
Perhaps the biggest name to be concerned about his future is Colin Edwards. The Texas Tornado has run conspicuously midfield this season, a very long way from where a works Yamaha rider is expected to finish, especially one in his second season, on the same bike as the current World Champion. On the rare occasion when Edwards ran at the front, his desperation got the better of him, and he ended up running off into the gravel at the last corner. Works teams do not take kindly to that kind of rookie mistake, especially not from a former world champion in his thirties, and so the Tornado could be looking for another employer come October. Having already had a shot on the Honda, and with a tide of talent looking to sweep into the premier class from the 250s, Colin's chances are not looking good. He may find himself being whisked back into World Superbike, which, with the coming of last year's MotoGP dropouts Barros and Bayliss, is turning into a MotoGP retirement class.
2004's Golden Boy Sete Gibernau has fallen quite a way since the season he came close to beating Rossi. After last year's disastrous season, which started in the gravel pit of the last corner at Jerez, 2006 hasn't been much kinder too him. After a reasonably encouraging start, Sete's run of bad luck got a lot worse after being flung off his bike during the first-corner chaos at Catalunya, fracturing the collarbone he already had a titanium pin in, and keeping him out of contention for two races. And now it's been announced that he won't be racing at Brno, as his shoulder is still too weak after undergoing surgery for the second time after Laguna Seca. Sete is in a difficult situation, and his future is anything but clear.
In fact, the situation at Ducati is pretty vague all round. Although Loris Capirossi is still the darling of the Italian factory, age and injury are starting to take their toll. The courageous, almost foolhardy, performances he put in at Assen and Donington after the Catalunyan catastrophe, where he battled manfully for a handful of points, have robbed Capirex of some of the joy he used to have in racing. If wants to stay, Ducati would undoubtedly give him a contract for another year, but the tiniest filaments of doubt are starting to arise about the Italian imp's motivation.
So potentially, Ducati could be without a rider next year. So who would they turn to? The answer to that (apart, that is, from Max Biaggi, whose name is automatically mentioned for every vacancy which arises) is likely to be found among the massed ranks of 250 riders. The prime candidate is surely Casey Stoner. The young Australian has caused quite a stir so far this season, coming in and taking a pole and podium on a satellite spec Honda. Stoner is very obviously a solid chunk of talent, but he has still has plenty of raw edges: so far Stoner has crashed out of 3 of the 11 races this season, all of them due to pushing too hard. The other thing that makes Stoner a less attractive proposition is his free and frank style of communication. If he is unhappy about anything, he tells people. Loudly, and in the very bluntest of terms. Sponsors, and teams, don't always appreciate that kind of frankness, and so signing the young Aussie is always going to be a risk.
But Ducati aren't alone in their courting of Casey. Camel Yamaha are also rumored to be talking to Stoner's manager, and there is no doubting that Rossi and Stoner would make a high profile pairing. What's more, with Valentino widely expected to retire at the end of 2007, Stoner at Yamaha would make a lot of sense, for several reasons. Firstly, he should find it easy to work with Rossi's crew chief, MotoGP genius and fellow Australian Jeremy Burgess. Secondly, with Dani Pedrosa very obviously being groomed as the future of HRC, having Stoner battle his arch-rival on HRC's arch-rival would make great PR sense as well. We writers would never have to search around for an angle ever again.
Among the other candidates from the smaller classes are Andrea Dovizioso and Alex de Angelis. Both are having great seasons, with Dovizioso currently the only man seemingly capable of snatching the 250 crown from Jorge Lorenzo's hands. Lorenzo looks certain to stay put in 250s for another year, despite being groomed to be MotoGP Champion from the age of 6 by his father. As both Dovizioso and de Angelis are Italians, they would be a natural choice for Ducati, and finishing so far up the 250 tables gives them a shot at the top-flight rides.
The flow from the other feeder class for MotoGP seems to have been reversed, with talent now leaving the 990s to go to World Superbikes. Just 4 years ago, everyone was assuming that, after the switch to four-stokes, Superbikes were the only logical entry point for the top class, as they key to being fast was sliding the rear. But traction control and the astonishing advances in tire technology have revolutionized MotoGP riding, and now corner speed, the touchstone of the 250s, is seen as key. And yet one name from World Superbike keeps being mentioned: the young British rider, and former world champion James Toseland's name is always in the air whenever spare seats at Honda are under discussion. He could take Tamada's ride, or possibly even Toni Elias' place at Fortuna Honda, as the Spaniard has failed to make the transition from the Yamaha to the Honda.
Chris Vermeulen's outstanding rookie year on what is generally agreed to be an underpowered bike has surely paved the way for Toseland. Vermeulen's gamble to take a factory ride, rather than a satellite Honda, seems to have paid off, with lots of teams testing the waters, despite Vermeulen's two year contract at Suzuki, which guarantees him a seat next year. Time will tell whether Vermeulen's success is down to talent, or a miscalculation by team managers about how difficult the switch actually is.
But the biggest question mark of all hangs over the head of the likely world champion, Nicky Hayden. You would think that HRC would do their utmost to hang on to the man who might manage to take back the crown which Honda feels is rightfully theirs, from the man who abandoned them. And yet throughout the year, HRC has made it abundantly clear that the future of HRC is a tiny Spaniard called Dani Pedrosa. Honda, after all, has a history of treating riders like cogs in a machine, rather than the individual artists they more closely resemble. One of the main reasons Valentino Rossi left HRC to go to Yamaha was the emphasis Honda placed on the machine, with press releases constantly praising how well the bike worked, and barely mentioning the rider.
Now Hayden is also showing signs of irritation. The Kentucky Kid has always been the consummate professional, thanked Honda kindly at every press conference, and has managed to say positive things about the bike, even after being given new, unproven parts to test while doing his best to defend his championship lead. But despite his long history with Honda, his commitment to them is starting to slip. Strong rumors emerged that Ducati is talking to Hayden about the 2007 season after the Laguna Seca GP, but doubts remain whether Hayden believes the Ducati is competitive enough for him to defend a title on.
However, the obvious move for Nicky Hayden would be a switch to Yamaha. This would benefit all parties to a huge degree. For Yamaha, it would give them an excellent basis for keeping in the race after Valentino Rossi's expected departure at the end of 2007, by having a proven winner in the pits. It would greatly increase Yamaha's chances of winning a title in 2007, with both Rossi and Hayden title contenders. And most importantly of all, it would upset Honda, especially if Hayden takes the title this year, by taking the #1 plate which Honda has just won and putting it on a Yamaha. For Hayden himself, it would give him the chance of having the team focused around him, instead of working on a bike for his team mate, HRC's intended 2007 champion.
But this remains speculation, with Hayden remaining tight-lipped about his future. Hayden has been very loyal to Honda, as Honda has given him the opportunity of racing at the very highest level, and given him a championship-winning machine. But HRC's weakness, its focus on the corporate, may yet come back to haunt it. Honda has not shown any signs of learning a lesson from Rossi's departure to Yamaha, and it may just be due for a remedial lesson.
What the future will bring is up in the air this stage in the season, and the future of many riders is in doubt. But in a few short weeks, the shape of 2007 should start to become clear. We wait with bated breath.
In yet another blow for the troubled Sete Gibernau, the Spaniard will have to miss out on this weekend's Brno Grand Prix, after a scan of his collarbone showed it was still not strong enough to hold up to the strains of racing. This will be the third race the corner incident at Catalunya has caused the luckless Spaniard to miss, as previous surgery kept him away from the Assen and Donington rounds. The only bright point for Gibernau is that he has another three weeks to recover, as the race after Brno is at Sepang in Malaysia on September 10th.
Pramac d'Antin Ducati rider Alex Hofmann will once again replace Gibernau at Brno. Crash.net has more details of the story.
The Spanish motorcycle magazine is reporting that Nicky Hayden is to star in his own TV show on MTV. The magazine claims that Hayden was due to make a pilot of the show for the global music channel, but that they decided to go straight to production after the Kentucky Kid won the Laguna Seca US Grand Prix last month. Negotiations are currently underway between International Racers and MTV about the show. Dorna will also be involved in the project.