It is ironic that now we are getting into the meat of the motorcycle racing season, there should be so little news to speak of. But perhaps it is a matter of perspective: there is plenty of real news to be found in motorcycle racing, but it is to be found and read where you would expect to find it, in the middle of every race weekend. That is especially true now that MotoGP and World Superbikes have returned to a more fan-friendly schedule, the two world championships alternating weekends again, with BSB, the CEV and MotoAmerica filling in any gaps when they appear.
Then again, at this stage of the season, all of the focus is on the coming races, rather than next year. It is too early for silly season, especially as all the factory rides are locked up for 2016, and even Jorge Lorenzo's option to leave early removed. There are plenty of attractive seats to be filled for 2016: the contracts of both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders are up at the end of the year, Cal Crutchlow is on a one-year contract, Yonny Hernandez has a one-year deal at Pramac, and the seats at Forward and Aspar are all being filled by riders with one-year contracts. Speculation about those seats will only start in earnest around mid-season, once team managers have half a season's worth of results to start drawing conclusions, and see who might be available to make the move up from Moto2.
That does not mean that nothing has happened in the past week or so. Here's a quick cast around the world of racing over the last seven days.
Viva El Rea!
Jonathan Rea already proved he was fast around Imola last year, when he did the double on the asthmatic Honda CBR1000RR. He underlined that once again last weekend, taking two wins from two races on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. The first was won in a six-lap dash, the first attempt at race one being red-flagged after David Salom crashed heavily, fracturing a wrist in the incident. Imola is a wonderful track, beautifully situated, but she can be a very cruel mistress indeed when you crash.
Rea's double win gets him off to the best start of a season since Neil Hodgson's championship season in 2003. He now has 240 points from a possible maximum of 250, having missed out on the top step only twice this season, at Phillip Island and at Aragon. But, to paraphrase the great American writer Gore Vidal, it is not enough to succeed, others must fail. Rea's lead is now 87 points over second place man Leon Haslam, due in no small part to the misfortune of Rea's rivals. Chaz Davies suffered a double technical failure at Imola, taking his deficit to Rea from a worrying 67 points to an almost insurmountable 117 points. Haslam could not follow the Kawasakis in race one, and crashed out in race two, adding another 37 points to his deficit. Kawasaki teammate Tom Sykes is moving up the championship table, but at the same time, the gap to Rea is widening every race.
If Rea continues at this rate, the WSBK title could be wrapped up very early. If he keeps scoring points at the same rate, the championship could be over as early as Sepang, at the beginning of August. A little more misfortune for his rivals, and it could be all over by the middle of July, when WSBK heads to Laguna Seca. But, as Nicky Hayden likes to say, that's why they line up on Sunday, because you never know what will happen. The season ain't over till it's over.
The Pata of tiny feet?
An intriguing rumor emerged at the Imola WSBK round. According to Paolo Gozzi of the Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the most respected and well-informed journalists in the World Superbike paddock, Pata, the Italian snack maker, is considering abandoning Honda and cozying up to Yamaha when they return to WSBK in 2016. According to Gozzi, Pata are disappointed with the results Honda have brought them, with just two podiums for impressive Dutch rookie Michael van der Mark, while reigning World Superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli has not managed to finish any better than fifth.
The plan, Gozzi writes, is for Pata to leave Honda and back the Yamaha squad who will be returning to WSBK in 2016. The team running Yamaha's WSBK effort would then be the VR46 team owned by Valentino Rossi. Rossi already has a personal tie-in with Pata, who are personal sponsor to the Italian racing legend.
But Gordon Ritchie, another giant of the WSBK media pack, is reporting on the German website Speedweek that such stories are entirely unsubstantiated. Ritchie asked Carlo Fiorani, head of Honda Europe's racing program, about the possibility, and Fiorani dismissed the story out of hand, as a "typical non-story from the Italian press." Pata has a two-year contract with Honda, for 2015 and 2016, and no option to end it early. Furthermore, Pata is backing not just Honda's WSBK program. The Italian snack firm also has an interest in the Ten Kate Honda World Supersport team, as well as sponsoring the European Junior Cup, which is run with strong support from Honda, racing Honda CBR650F bikes. Stepping away from that is much more complex than just dropping support from Honda's World Superbike team.
Ducati's Mugello test – fast times and dislocated shoulders
While most of the rest of the MotoGP men went testing on the Monday after Jerez, the factory Ducati team took a week off, then went to Mugello for a private test. What were they testing there? According to the press release, they were testing electronics set ups and chassis parts introduced at Jerez, as well as preparing for the Mugello MotoGP round, which is due at the end of the month. The times set were impressive: on a track with only Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone circulating, alongside Michael Laverty testing for Aprilia, Iannone posted a 1'47.5 and Dovizioso a 1'47.8. Those are pretty much the times the two men set during qualifying last year, in the middle of a race weekend, with all the adrenaline that involves.
The times bode well for the Mugello race, where a Ducati win would be a dream result: an Italian rider on an Italian bike at the Italian Grand Prix. That could be difficult for Andrea Iannone, however. The Italian suffered a very heavy fall at Arrabbiata 2 towards the end of the test, dislocating his shoulder in the incident. He has provisionally been declared fit for Le Mans, but racing may be a little painful for Iannone.
Were Ducati using the test to try something new and secret? Probably not, though we have no real way of knowing. The GP15 is still a very new motorcycle, with lots of potential to be extracted. A couple of days to play with the bike, change set up and test what really works would be invaluable to the Ducati team. It will be a few more races before they start pursuing radical new directions again.
Dani dashes dreams
It may be old news, but worth commenting on nonetheless. Dani Pedrosa is finally to make his return at Le Mans, after pulling out of Jerez at the last minute. The Repsol Honda rider is finally satisfied with the recovery process after the surgery to remove the fascia from around his right forearm. He posted on his Repsol blog that he felt vindicated for taking the extra time to recover. But he and we will only really how his forearm holds up after Sunday's race. Le Mans has a lot of hard braking for hairpins, and few places to rest and recover, so it will be a real test of the surgery.
Pedrosa's return should finally quell the speculation and gossip surrounding a possible return of Casey Stoner to the Repsol Honda team. It should, but it won't. Stoner's fans still dream of a return, and news media know that Stoner MotoGP return stories sell newspapers and magazines, and drive internet page views. However unlikely a Stoner return may be, the chatter will continue until his daughter Alessandra starts her racing career...