It has been a busy week for racing, with the World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island followed by the MotoGP test at Sepang, including the extra day of testing on Michelins. There has been a lot of news, but between MotoMatters.com's star WSBK reporter Jared Earle and I, we got most of it covered, with an extra bonus of photos from top Australian shooter Andrew Gosling.
But there have been one or two things we may have missed, so here's our weekly round up of racing news.
Scratching the itch: Young Gun vs Old Master
There were a lot of happy faces at the Australian round of World Superbikes. Troy Bayliss, three-time World Superbike champion and arguably, WSBK's last superstar, made a return to the series, replacing the injured Davide Giugliano on the Aruba.it Ducati Panigale. The replacement was at very short notice, Giugliano having crashed during the test which preceded the opening round and fractured a couple of vertebrae.
Expectations among the fans were high, unrealistically so, with many expecting Bayliss to end up on the podium. They overlooked the fact that Bayliss has not raced a Superbike for five years, and was stepping in to race against riders in the middle of their careers, and coming off a month of preseason testing. In the end, Bayliss acquitted himself extraordinarily well, finishing in 13th in race 1, 16th in race 2. He had run much further up the order early on, but had pitted with tire troubles, perhaps a result of a lack of testing with the latest generation of 17-inch Pirelli tires.
The trouble with scratching an itch is that it often just makes the itch worse. With Giugliano out for 90 days, that leaves the factory Ducati team with at least three, perhaps four more races to find a replacement. Though Bayliss had at first said the Phillip Island appearance would be a one-off, he has been bitten by the bug again. Racing flat track in Australia helps keep his racing habit under control, but it appears that it is merely methadone, not the hardcore heroin of world championship road racing.
So Ducati have to make a choice for a replacement, at least for the upcoming Thai round of WSBK at the Chang circuit. Initially, their options had been official test rider Michele Pirro or Xavi Fores, racing with Ducati in the German IDM Superbike championship. With Pirro set to complete a MotoGP test at Qatar from 14th to 17th of March, that would leave him with a day and a half to get to Thailand, ready for practice on Friday. Fores was looking more and more certain of getting the WSBK ride.
Bayliss throwing his hat into the ring (or so we may deduce from the post he made on social media recently) has complicated the situation. Since then, Spanish fans have started a counter campaign to get Xavi Fores the ride. Using the hashtag #XaviForésWSBK, they have been tweeting their support for the rider.
Who will it be? With Bayliss suffering an engine problem at the opening round, there may be a tactical advantage for the team to allowing Bayliss to have the ride. WSBK's arcane engine rules mean that if he races in two rounds, he uses his own allocation, not Giugliano's, who he is replacing. Two factors suggest it might be Fores, though. The Spaniard is younger, fitter, and had already planned a couple of WSBK wildcards with his IDM team, 3C Ducati Corse. He is the obvious candidate to replace Giugliano at the other rounds the Italian must miss. The second, and perhaps more important one, is that Bayliss would need the blessing of his wife Kim. Kim Bayliss was a major factor in Bayliss' decision to retire, and she would be far from delighted if he were to start racing again. Bayliss is a genuine family man, and if push came to shove, would choose his family over racing.
A decision is expected soon. The fans, meanwhile, are on tenterhooks.
EBR – Extremely Bashed 'Round?
Davide Giugliano is not the only rider injured at Phillip Island. Niccolo Canepa, the Italian rider who has been extremely impressive on the EBR 1190RX, snapped a tendon in his left ankle in a crash in race one. Though no bones were broken in the crash, the tendon is likely to require surgery to repair. Though the injury was severe, Canepa is confident of racing at the Thai round. Should that not be possible, he would at least have three extra weeks in which to recover.
Despite denials, the Melandri saga continues
It has been a tough return to MotoGP for Marco Melandri. The Italian didn't really want to switch to MotoGP, but was left little choice when Aprilia announced they would be winding up their World Superbike squad to focus on MotoGP. Melandri followed them to the premier class, but his reluctance has been on public display ever since.
Melandri has totally failed to gel with the Bridgestone tires. He has no confidence and no faith in them, and has found it hard to push. His struggles have left him dead last in the standings in the two Sepang tests, and a couple of seconds behind his teammate, Alvaro Bautista.
Seeing his predicament, there have been calls from many quarters – most notably, respected World Superbike journalist Paolo Gozzi – for Aprilia to swap Melandri and Jordi Torres, who is racing for the Aprilia-backed Red Devils team in WSBK. The argument runs that such a change would allow Melandri to chase a WSBK title again, and give Torres a chance to help develop the Aprilia RS-GP.
Over the past week, both Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano and Marco Melandri have denied that such a swap is possible. Speaking at Sepang, Albesiano told GPOne.com "we haven't considered a change like that. I am absolutely convinced that Marco has the potential to do well in MotoGP." For his part, Melandri has said he has had to change his attitude, and is thinking more like a tester than a racer. That, for a man with ambition, is a very tough thing to do.
Then, of course, there is Jordi Torres. The Spaniard is delighted with how well he has started the season, and believes he can be competitive in World Superbikes. Far more so than on the Aprilia in MotoGP. A swap would not be an attractive option for Torres.
So Melandri remains in MotoGP. The road will be long and hard.
Hoodlums on Hondas
The oppressive heat of Sepang can cause tempers to fray, riders responding rather more forcefully than they might otherwise. But sometimes, the gesturing is justified, rather than the result of heat-induced irritation.
Such was the case between Scott Redding and Karel Abraham on the final day of the Sepang test. Abraham had been cruising for a tow on the Cardion AB Honda RC213V-RS, and he managed to get in the way of Redding on a number of occasions, rolling off in front the Marc VDS rider when he was on a hot lap. Redding did not take this kindly, and a lot of fist shaking and gesticulating ensued.
It was not the first time Abraham found himself embroiled with other riders at Sepang. The day before, it had been the turn of Cal Crutchlow to vent his ire on the Czech rider, for exactly the same tactics.