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Kawasaki To Announce Top Rider At Sachsenring

It's an open secret that Kawasaki are trying to hire a top racing talent to do justice to their current MotoGP bike. Although both Randy de Puniet and Anthony West are doing very well on the updated Ninja ZX-RR, the Kawasaki Racing Team feel they need an experienced and talented rider to put their machine on the box, where they feel it belongs.

And now, it seems, a decision could be near. Motorcycle News is reporting that Kawasaki will announce that they have signed either Loris Capirossi, Marco Melandri or John Hopkins at the Sachsenring MotoGP round in Germany on the weekend of July 15th. Loris Capirossi is believed to be the most likely name to be signed, as the Italian veteran is deeply unhappy at his treatment by Ducati. He has been waiting for Ducati to make him a new offer, but Ducati are not in any hurry, after Capirossi's poor performance so far this year. Indeed, Capirossi could even be jeopardizing his own chances of signing with Kawasaki by holding out. As each week passes, and Capirex finishes way down the order, his market price falls, and doubts grow about his ability to adapt to the 800s.

Marco Melandri is probably the second choice for Kawasaki, but Melandri looks close to doing a deal with Ducati to take Capirossi's place. But Melandri is also not making himself popular, after making extremely disparaging remarks about the Honda RC212V, saying it is "the worst bike I have ridden in MotoGP, worse than the 2003 Yamaha," alienating his team boss Fausto Gresini, and raising doubts about his ability to function with a team.

John Hopkins is the name who is most in demand, but Hopper is sitting pretty at Suzuki. The GSV-R keeps getting better, and Hopkins is getting closer and closer to the front, so there seems little reason for the American to jump ship to a bike which is probably about equal with the Suzuki.

Where this leaves Ant West is the question. West has been very impressive in his first two races, and although Randy de Puniet is likely to be offered another contract by Kawasaki for next year, the team are likely to become ever less keen to let West go. The only way out of that dilemma would be for Kawasaki to run a third bike, something which Dorna is very keen for both Kawasaki and Suzuki to do, to increase the grid size. But Kawasaki have yet to confirm any action taken on this.

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Hopkins To Announce Future At Sachsenring

With the season at its halfway point, the MotoGP carousel is starting to gain momentum, as riders start to announce their intentions for the 2008 season. Already, Honda have announced that they expect Dani Pedrosa to re-sign his contract with HRC and Repsol Honda for 2008, and now, Motorcycle News is carrying a story about another key player.

According to MCN, John Hopkins will be announcing his future plans at the Sachsenring MotoGP round. Hopkins told MCN that he had three firm offers on the table from various manufacturers: An offer to renew his contract with Suzuki; An offer of a factory ride for Kawasaki; And an offer to join the Tech 3 Yamaha team. In addition, Hopper had had some interest from Ducati, and talks with Fausto Gresini's satellite Honda team, but neither of these had gone further than initial conversations.

Hopkins' list of options raises some interesting issues. The Tech 3 Yamaha offer is of particular interest, as it implies that Tech 3 are looking to move away from using Dunlop tires, and towards something more competitive. This would tie in nicely with the speculation about Jorge Lorenzo being offered a ride with Tech 3 Yamaha, but with full factory support and Michelin tires. If Tech 3 are still on Dunlops, Hopkins is unlikely to be interested, as the Dunlops are still lagging behind the Michelins and Bridgestones and in need of development.

What's more, a switch from Bridgestone tires to Michelins could be a risky move for Hopkins, as so far, no one has yet to make the transition successfully. Both Shinya Nakano and Makoto Tamada have done dismally since switching from Japanese rubber, complaining continually about a lack of feel from the front tire. As Hopper has a similar riding style to Nakano, with a lot of focus on the front end, there is plenty of reason to believe that Hopkins could also struggle on Michelin rubber.

There is little to choose from between the Kawasaki and the Suzuki in terms of performance, so it seems like it could just come down to money. But with the Suzuki in as good a shape as it is, it would seem foolish to gamble on a move to Kawasaki.

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It's Almost Official - Indianopolis To Host MotoGP Round In September '08

The news has been in the air for a long time, but finally it's starting to be something like official: The US will get a second MotoGP round at Indianapolis, which will run in September 2008, according to MotorcycleNews.com. No dates have been set for certain yet, but a provisional calendar could be announced at the Sachsenring MotoGP round in Germany next week, or else at the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Running at Indianapolis would also make huge commercial sense in the United States, as the US would have two races, on opposite sides of the country, at locations which are within a couple of hours' drive of very large population centers.

There are a few downsides to holding the second US GP at Indy. First and foremost for regular MotoGP fans is that the track layout they are expecting to use (which is basically the current track used by Formula 1 run backwards) is not particularly inspiring, very much as you would expect of a road track built to fit inside an oval. And that oval brings us on to another problem: At the Indy 500 race, attendance is usually close to 300,000, filling the vast grandstands which surround the oval. With Laguna attendance around the 50,000 mark for race day, the Brickyard's huge seating areas are likely to look very empty, despite a fair turnout. And thirdly, though September is a reasonably dry month in Indianopolis, it can see fairly severe rainstorms, which could make riding pretty difficult.

A second US MotoGP round will not mean that the calendar will be expanded to 19 rounds from its current 18, but rather that one of the current events will be dropped. Current favorite for the chop is the Turkish Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit, which is struggling financially. To add to the track's woes, it has been taken over by F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone, whose first act as owner of the circuit was to increase the fees charged to the MotoGP teams for testing by a factor of 10.

Dropping Istanbul would be immensely unpopular with both riders and fans, as the Istanbul Park circuit is one of the finest the MotoGP circus visits, the majestic and terrifying sweep of Turn 11 currently the fastest corner in MotoGP, taken flat out in 5th or 6th by the bravest riders. Most fans could easily come up with a list of other tracks which they would gladly see the back of, with Shanghai, Qatar and Sepang heading the list. But commercial realities dictate that Istanbul be the round to make way for Indy.

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Elias' Replacement At Laguna Seca: Zemke Or Duhamel?

It seems that secrets are almost as hard to keep in MotoGP as discovering the truth behind the hundreds of rumors permeating press and public. Just two days ago, we reported that Jake Zemke was the hot favorite to ride Toni Elias' bike at Laguna Seca, for the US GP there in three weeks' time. Now, it seems, it wasn't Zemke Honda were after, but his American Honda team mate Miguel Duhamel. Such is the confusion that nobody really knows what's going on, including Miguel Duhamel.

Piecing together the story from the various sources and tatters of information at our disposal, it seems that this is the most likely course of events:

  • Honda Europe sent an e-mail to American Honda inquiring about the availability of riders to take Elias' place at Laguna Seca - a useful PR move, as it would generate even more local interest in the race;
  • A mole at Honda Europe told an Italian journalist "we'll be getting one of the American Honda riders to ride for us, either Zemke or Duhamel," which the Italian journalist reports;
  • Someone at American Honda decides to ask Miguel Duhamel whether he'd be interested in the ride, as Duhamel has previous experience;
  • A mole inside American Honda contacts an American journalist and tells them that Duhamel has been approached about the ride.
  • The conflicting stories are reported on either side of the Atlantic.

As far as I can tell, it seems like the whole deal is up in the air, as Duhamel himself said that Fausto Gresini has not yet been approached about this. Details, genuine, factual details, are sure to emerge over the next couple of weeks.

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Ten Kate Unlikely To Go To MotoGP After All

Over the past few months, rumors had been building that the Ten Kate Racing team would be entering MotoGP in 2008. Ronald ten Kate had himself admitted that they had been studying the possibilities, and believed that they could run a MotoGP team surprisingly cheaply. With a young British rider in outstanding form, in the shape of James Toseland, the move to MotoGP seemed to be an obvious step for Ten Kate.

Now, however, Motorcyclenews.com is reporting that Ten Kate are highly unlikely to go to MotoGP next year, preferring instead to focus their efforts on an expanded Superbike and Supersport effort in the World Superbike series. The team are planning to run four Honda CBR1000RR Fireblades in World Superbikes next year, and four Honda CBR600RRs in World Supersport starting in 2009.

However, it appears that Ten Kate have not ruled a MotoGP team out entirely. MCN quotes Ronald ten Kate as saying "There is still time to put in an official request for MotoGP but we haven’t launched it." This would seem to suggest that they believe they still have time to mull things over, and get a MotoGP team together should they decide to enter the premier class.

This leaves James Toseland in a quandary: He must soon make a decision on whether to move to MotoGP in 2008 or not. He cannot afford to wait too long before making the switch, as Colin Edwards advised Toseland to make the switch as early as possible, to give himself more time to learn the bikes. On the other hand, however, if Ten Kate don't go, then Toseland is at the mercy of the MotoGP market, with several other riders ahead of him in the pecking order for a factory or factory-supported ride, something which Toseland has stated is a prerequisite on several occasions.

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Design Rossi's Yamaha For Valencia And Win

If you live in Italy, and are blessed with outstanding design skills, then this is your chance to design the livery which Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards will use at the final MotoGP round of this year at Valencia in Spain. First prize will include having the Yamaha team run the design you created, plus two paddock passes for the Valencia round, including travel and accommodation.

The competition is being organized by the official Fiat Yamaha team website. You can visit the special competition website for more details, such as the competition regulations, or download the stencils required to get started on your own design.

Good luck, and if you win, send us an e-mail to tell us all about it!

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Yamaha To Turn To Pneumatic Valves For Horsepower

The 800cc Yamaha M1 remains, as Colin Edwards put it, "the fastest motorcycle in a circle". Sadly for the Yamaha, however, racetrack designers have a nasty habit of adding straights to their circuits, meaning that time made up in the corners can be lost again down the back straights. In Qatar and Shanghai, this is exactly what happened to Valentino Rossi, although by the time the Yamaha got to Catalunya, some of this weakness had been rectified.

Some, but not all. The Yamaha M1 is faster, but still down on power compared to Ducati's ballistic missile GP7, and so Yamaha need still more power. The fastest route to more power is to spin the engine faster, but with the Yamaha already nudging 18,000 rpm, Yamaha are starting to run into the limitations of the physical properties of valve springs, with the springs simply incapable of returning the valve quickly enough to create a good seal, and heat and fatigue building up in the valve spring.

The solution is finding an alternative means of closing valves. Ducati have their own solution: the Desmodromic system, in which the valves are both opened and closed by mechanical rockers, rather than by springs. Suzuki and Kawasaki are using pneumatic valves, using compressed air to close the valves. And now, it seems, Yamaha is considering using the same system, both the Gazzetta dello Sport and Autosport.com are reporting. There are several advantages to pneumatic valves, the most important being that they allow the engine to rev higher, and that they close a lot more quickly, allowing the valves to be open for longer, letting in more air/fuel mixture, or more exhaust fumes out. The big disadvantage (as Suzuki found out last year) is that if you lose pneumatic pressure, the engine stops working. Sometimes very noisily, and very expensively.

Yamaha are said to be looking at introducing the new engine with pneumatic valves at the Brno MotoGP round in August. It's possible that the engine will only be used in the post race test, rather than the race itself, as it could be too risky to run it in the race.

On a side note, Honda has so far ruled out categorically that they would use pneumatic valve springs. If the other manufacturers all start using them, and start making more power than Honda can manage to produce with conventional steel springs, it remains to be seen just how long this resolve will last.

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Jake Zemke To Substitute For Elias At Laguna Seca?

The redoubtable Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that American Honda has received an e-mail request from Honda Europe inquiring about the possibility of Jake Zemke taking Toni Elias' place on the Gresini Honda for the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Zemke is currently riding a CBR1000RR for American Honda in AMA Superbike, and is in 3rd place in that championship. That is better than it sounds, as Zemke is the first rider behind the tediously dominant Yoshimura Suzuki pair of Ben Spies and Mat Mladin, whose bikes are basically a second a lap quicker at ever track the AMA visits.

Although the deal to put Zemke on the Gresini bike would make a good deal of sense from a sponsorship point of view, with Gresini able to help promote his main sponsor Hannspree with a local rider, it would not be a long-term substitution, as Zemke is relatively unknown outside of the US. At 32, he is also a little old to be switching series.

Having Zemke take Elias' place would point to Gresini believing that Elias will be back by Brno. Under the current FIM rules, a team is allowed to turn up at one race after a rider was injured without a replacement, but if the injured rider is going to be out for more than one race, they must field a substitute. This would allow Gresini to run just Marco Melandri at the Sachsenring, then add Jake Zemke as a temporary replacement at Laguna Seca, giving Toni Elias 7 weeks to recover enough fitness to compete at Brno on August 19th. If Elias is not yet fit enough for Brno, then another substitute could be drafted in for that race, giving the Spanish fan favorite an extra two weeks to recover.

But with the Sachsenring 2 weeks from now, and Laguna another week after that, everything is still possible, and the rumors will undoubtedly continue to fly.

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Toseland Out As Substitute For Elias

Ronald ten Kate, head of the Ten Kate Racing World Superbikes and World Supersport team, has ruled out any chance that James Toseland could replace Toni Elias at Gresini Honda, according to Autosport.com. Toseland's team boss emphasized that the young Briton's main priority is winning the World Superbike championship, which he is currently leading.

Although Toseland's name immediately came up after Elias crashed out, sharing both a bike manufacturer and a sponsor with the unfortunate Spaniard, riding in MotoGP would be a high-risk strategy for Toseland, with the potential to both do poorly on what is still one of the worst bikes in the paddock, and lose out on his World Superbike title by not being concentrated on one goal.

The names currently being bandied about as Elias' replacement include Neil Hodgson, who is currently testing for Bridgestone, and Michel Fabrizio, who replaced Elias last year, before crashing out and suffering injury himself.

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2007 Elias Assen Injury Update - Elias Out For 3-7 Months?

Eurosport commentators Toby Moody and Randy Mamola have reported that Toni Elias' broken leg is worse than at first feared. Elias is said to have suffered a spiral fracture, or torsion fracture. This is a very serious kind of fracture, which takes a long time to heal. Elias could be out for up to 11 months, ending his season, and possibly much of next season as well. More information will follow, as it becomes available.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

The Clinica Mobile press release speaks of Elias being operated on immediately, and a special dynamic pin being inserted in the broken femur. The normal recuperation period for such an injury is 7 months, but Dr Costa, MotoGP's own medical specialist, believes that Elias could be back as early as Brno. According to the other-worldly poetry that make up Clinica Mobile press releases:
If this happens, the merit will certainly go to surgery, but also to the heart of this diminutive great racer, who loves to climb the enchanted mountain of motorcycling with only the stars in the sky above him.

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