After the burst of activity leading up to last week, things have once again calmed down in the world of international motorcycle racing. Neither MotoGP nor World Superbikes are testing – though BSB are preparing for their season by testing in Spain – and as a consequence, news is thin on the ground. But not completely absent, so here is our weekly round up of what is happening in MotoGP and WSBK. And in this case, further abroad.
Casey Stoner to make a sort of return?
The fact that Casey Stoner spent a few days lapping at Sepang at the request of HRC came as no surprise. Stoner is, after all, a fully paid-up Honda test rider, and has been put to work to help develop the Honda RC213V for this year and next. When HRC issued a press release casually mentioning that Stoner had put in a few laps on the Suzuka 8 Hour CBR1000RR endurance bike, that raised an eyebrow.
The other eyebrow was raised when a blog by Max Temporali on the website of the Italian broadcaster Sport Mediaset stated that Honda were preparing for Stoner to race for them, although nothing official has yet been decided. Several Honda sources were cited, including Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo, and Honda Europe bosses Carlo Fiorani and Marco Chini, though all of them merely refused to confirm the news, merely admitting that Stoner was considering the idea, but had not made a decision. Fiorani and Chini said that they were currently looking at riders, with an announcement to be made at the end of March. Michael van der Mark, World Supersport champion and currently racing for the Pata Honda WSBK team, looks certain to be one rider for the Suzuka 8 hour, but there others are still to be decided. When contacted, a Honda spokesperson issued the following statement from Livio Suppo: “Honda is not asking Casey to do the 8 Hours, but of course, if he would like to do it, we would be happy. Nothing planned anyway in this moment.” However, previously this year, Honda sources had intimated to me that Stoner could appear at a couple of special events this year, though those sources refused to be specific when pushed.
If Stoner does decide to race, that will not presage a return to MotoGP for the Australian. In a long and fascinating interview with the On Track Off Road online magazine, Stoner told Adam Wheeler that he had no desire whatsoever to come back to MotoGP. “I have zero 'want' to go back to that championship,” Stoner said, citing the electronics as the source of his objections. The advanced software keeps the wheels in line, software engineers ensuring the optimum balance between slip and grip. “The bikes are not as enjoyable to ride as they used to be, because of the electronics and the things they have on them now,” Stoner said. “I really just want to ride a raw bike again, and I have been enjoying my enduro riding and motocross and getting out there and ripping it for real. Being on real bikes is my thing.”
Nice to see you, to see you …
With no action on track for any of the world championship classes (MotoGP resumes testing on 14th March, Moto2 follows on the 17th, and then the second round of WSBK starts on the 20th), a number of teams have seized the opportunity to hold team presentations for the media. TV studios and halls in Spain, Italy and Japan are fully booked over the next couple of days.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of the Team Sky VR46 squad to launch their 2015 Moto3 effort. The team have kept KTMs, their blue and black color scheme, and Romano Fenati, but there have been many changes in the squad as well. Fenati has a new crew chief in Pietro Caprara, and a new teammate in Andrea Migno. The colors of the bike have stayed the same, but the design has changed a little, reflecting the change to the KTM Moto3 bike. The bike's strength is in acceleration, Fenati explained, but the team still need to work on braking.
Fenati is now fully fit, recovered again after crashing and breaking his collar bone in a supermoto accident over the winter. The Italian acknowledged that this was the year of truth for him, and he was expecting to fight for the title this year. The main competitors he faced would be Efren Vazquez, Danny Kent, and especially Fabio Quartararo. Andrea Migno's goal was a little more modest, aiming to finish in the top ten of the championship this year.
Thursday is a big day for introductions, with Aprilia launching their MotoGP, World Superbike and Superstock teams in Milan, and the Estrella Galicia 0,0 / Marc VDS Racing squad presenting their combined efforts in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP in Madrid. The contrasts and similarities between the two launches are many and varied, not least because of the relative competitiveness of the various teams and riders.
The Estrella Galicia launch is really the presentation of three separate teams run by two separate entities, with the Monlau squad running the Moto3 entries, in both the World Championship and FIM CEV series, and Marc VDS running the Moto2 and MotoGP teams. The joint squad is confident of fighting for the championship in both Moto3, with Fabio Quartararo, and Moto2, with Tito Rabat. Elsewhere, there is more work to do. Alex Márquez is going through a period of transition, as he adapts to Moto2. Scott Redding is finding it harder than expected to ride the Honda RC213V MotoGP bike, a much more demanding machine to ride than the RCV1000R he raced last season. Progress has been slow so far, but at least it has been steady.
The most intriguing launch is of Aprilia, who will be presenting their MotoGP, World Superbike and Superstock teams in a TV studio in Milan. The Italian factory will be unveiling the color scheme they will be using in MotoGP, which frankly, is a bit of a shame, as the current strong red and black scheme is utterly stunning. They will also be presenting their riders, Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri. Bautista faces the challenge of helping to provide input for the new bike expected in 2016 with good cheer, but Melandri is struggling badly with both motivation and the feel for the Bridgestones. At the second Sepang test, Melandri made some headway, finally accepting his role as a tester, rather than a rider chasing a championship, but it has been hard.
The bike to be presented at the launch will not be a surprise, the RS-GP a further evolution of the Aprilia ART machine, though with pneumatic valves and a larger, 81mm bore. At the moment, the biggest challenge the Italian factory faces is getting the chassis right, as so far, the 2015 chassis has not found favor with the riders.
The World Superbike and Superstock teams will also be present, with Jordi Torres and Leon Haslam having both impressed in the Red Devils Aprilia team so far. The RSV4 has adapted better than expected to the 2015 WSBK regulations, with Haslam currently joint leader in the WSBK standings after Phillip Island. Torres, too, has surprised a lot of people, making a fast transition from the Moto2 squad. I will be present in Milan to cover the launch, so expect a more detailed look at the teams at some point over the weekend.
Finally, Suzuki is also set to launch its 2015 MotoGP campaign, with a presentation to be held in Japan. The GSX-RR has been a positive surprise throughout testing, with Aleix Espargaro putting the bike much closer to the front than expected on the basis of tester Randy De Puniet's results. Espargaro and new teammate Maverick Viñales have both praised the handling of the bike, though it is clearly down on power. There is still much work to do for Suzuki, but they are closer than they had any right to expect.
The team also has two very strong riders in Espargaro and Viñales. Aleix Espargaro has grown as a rider on the Aprilia ART, and was very impressive on the Forward Yamaha. The elder of the two Espargaro brothers will lead the development, and will expect to get among the leaders as quickly as possible. Viñales' main task is to adapt to MotoGP, something he has done at a very rapid rate. The Spanish youngster has been impressive from the outset, and great things are expected of him.