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It's Off Again - Jonny Rea Out Of Donington GP

Jonathon Rea, the young Irish rider due to make his MotoGP debut at Donington as a wild card on the Team KR bike, has been withdrawn from the British GP by Honda Racing, according to Motorcycle News. The reasons given were his extremely full riding schedule over the next few weeks, with both BSB rounds and the Suzuka Eight Hours race to compete in. Rea is reported to be saddened, but understanding, and pleased to be focused back on attempting to conquer BSB.

No news of an alternative wild card rider for Team KR has been announced.

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Jacque Doubtful For Donington - Nieto Or West Could Substitute

Olivier Jacque's fitness problems continue apace. After injuring his neck during a crash during practice at Catalunya, chances are high that OJ will not be fit to compete at Donington. A spokesperson for Kawasaki told Eurosport that the team is awaiting the results of fitness tests on the French veteran, before making a final decision on whether he will race in the British Grand Prix or not.

If OJ is not judged to be fit enough to race, that will leave the question of his replacement. Spanish Superbike rider Fonsi Nieto took OJ's place the last time he was injured, riding the Frenchman's bike in a sodden Le Mans race. Nieto failed to make a huge impression, finishing 11th. And so Kawasaki might just take a chance on Anthony West, the Australian rider who has made such a huge impact in World Supersport with Yamaha, winning 2 out of the 3 races he has ridden in, and is no available, after parting ways with his 250 GP team after the Barcelona round. West tested for Kawasaki after the Barcelona GP, setting respectable times, leading to speculation that the Australian could join OJ's place should the Frenchman leave Kawaski prematurely. West is under contract to Yamaha to finish the World Supersport season with the team, but details of the contract have not been revealed, so it is not clear whether West would have the option to swap the Yamaha Supersport team to join Kawasaki. Either way, it's been a remarkable ride for Ant West so far this year.

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West And Kawasaki, Or How Not To Negotiate A Contract - Updated

Yesterday, I wrote about rumors from the World Supersport paddock that Anthony West is going to join Kawasaki. And today, those rumors look like being confirmed: A kind reader ("Windsok") posted a link to Ant West's MySpace page, which now bears the following message:
YEEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA lean mean and green HI ALL LOOK OUT TEAM GREEN ANTWEST THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR COMENTS I DONT HAVE TIME TO MSG ANY OF YOU IM STILL ON THE ROAD OK GOTA GO SEE YA antwest

This would seem to suggest that West has actually done the deal, and will be replacing Olivier Jacque at Kawasaki. However, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of Ant's fans (and they truly are fanatical) has hacked West's page and added the message, in the hope of moving the process along. MySpace is, after all, just protected by a password, and the very briefest of introductions to Social Engineering should provide you with a good guess at what someone's password is likely to be. I hope to get clarification from Kawasaki soon. News as soon as it breaks.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

Well, unsurprisingly, Ian Wheeler of Kawasaki could not confirm that a deal has been reached between the team and Anthony West. Interestingly, he also could not confirm whether the team was involved in negotiations with the Australian. Wheeler pointed out that West's MySpace message could refer to the testing that Ant had done for the Kawasaki team at Catalunya.

~~~ UPDATED AGAIN ~~~

The rumor is no longer just a rumor, confirmed at last.

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West And Kawasaki, Or How Not To Negotiate A Contract - Updated

Yesterday, I wrote about rumors from the World Supersport paddock that Anthony West is going to join Kawasaki. And today, those rumors look like being confirmed: A kind reader ("Windsok") posted a link to Ant West's MySpace page, which now bears the following message:
YEEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA lean mean and green HI ALL LOOK OUT TEAM GREEN ANTWEST THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR COMENTS I DONT HAVE TIME TO MSG ANY OF YOU IM STILL ON THE ROAD OK GOTA GO SEE YA antwest

This would seem to suggest that West has actually done the deal, and will be replacing Olivier Jacque at Kawasaki. However, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of Ant's fans (and they truly are fanatical) has hacked West's page and added the message, in the hope of moving the process along. MySpace is, after all, just protected by a password, and the very briefest of introductions to Social Engineering should provide you with a good guess at what someone's password is likely to be. I hope to get clarification from Kawasaki soon. News as soon as it breaks.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

Well, unsurprisingly, Ian Wheeler of Kawasaki could not confirm that a deal has been reached between the team and Anthony West. Interestingly, he also could not confirm whether the team was involved in negotiations with the Australian. Wheeler pointed out that West's MySpace message could refer to the testing that Ant had done for the Kawasaki team at Catalunya.

~~~ UPDATED AGAIN ~~~

The rumor is no longer just a rumor, confirmed at last.

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Rumors From Supersport Paddock Say West To Join MotoGP Team

Anthony West is a remarkable rider. He inspires extraordinary devotion amongst his fans (some even going so far as to offer to sell their kidneys to help fund competitive machinery), and equal parts admiration and misgiving among team owners and sponsors. West's talent goes without question, as whenever the circumstances have allowed the Australian to compete on his usually outclassed equipment, he has been a genuine factor to contend with, finishing well, and even winning, wet races. His two outings on the Yamaha Supersport bike have ended in a 3rd (in the dry at Monza) and a win (at Silverstone in the pouring rain). The margin of West's victory at Silverstone led many people to wonder why this man's talent hadn't been recognized earlier. Yet sponsors are wary of the Australian, whose frankness might best be described as taking openness to a new level. Never afraid to criticize either the bike or the team, he is a fan's dream, and a sponsor's nightmare.

West is at Misano this weekend, currently riding the Yamaha Motor Italia Supersport machine. He left his Team Sicilia ride in the 250 class last week, citing organizational and financial problems, and joined Yamaha in World Supersport to fill in for the injured Kevin Curtain. And yet already the rumors surrounding West have started: It is being whispered in the World Supersport paddock that this will be West's last race for the Yamaha team (despite having just signed a contract with them), and that the young Australian is off to join an unnamed MotoGP team.

Though the rumors carefully avoid naming teams, the obvious candidate would be Kawasaki. After testing for the Kawasaki team in place of the injured Olivier Jacque and Randy de Puniet at Catalunya this week, it was being suggested that West could take OJ's place at Kawasaki. The French veteran has made a miserable return to racing so far this season, and there are serious doubts about his motivation to race at the very highest level. West could be just the man that Kawasaki need to push the ZXRR Ninja to the front of the field. The team have great confidence in the bike (as de Puniet's 5th spot at Catalunya so clearly demonstrated), but feel their riders have so far failed to perform, and taking someone as hungry, and as obviously talented as Anthony West could be a short-cut to better results.

Whether this is just the fevered imagination of the motorcycle racing paddock, or reality, we shall have to see. More news as it becomes available.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

The rumor is no longer just a rumor.

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Casey Stoner Extends With Ducati For 2008, And Possibly Beyond

Italian MotoGP news site GPOne.com is reporting that Casey Stoner has prolonged his contract with Ducati for 2008. The Australian, and current world championship leader, had an option in his contract to sign for another year with Ducati, and after Stoner's outstanding performance so far this year, Ducati were keen to tie him down for 2008. The contract is said to contain further options, which could lead to a very long term relationship between the Australian and the Bologna factory.

The question of Stoner's team mate is still undecided, however. Loris Capirossi is still favorite, but Capirex is said to be considering other offers, believed to include a very generous offer from Kawasaki. Other possibilities, according to GPOne.com, include Andrea Dovizioso and Alex de Angelis, both of which would make a great deal of sense, as Ducati is likely to want an Italian rider on board their bike. The one name which has been ruled out entirely is defending 250 world champion Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner and Lorenzo are believed not to get along (unsurprisingly, as there are very few people in the paddock who do get along with the Mallorcan superstar), and Lorenzo is believed to have already signed a contract with Yamaha for next year, despite opposition from Valentino Rossi.

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Catalunya Post-Race Testing - Day 2

Testing continued today, but with most of the paddock packed up and gone home. Only six riders were out testing today, Nicky Hayden on the Honda, Casey Stoner, Loris Capirossi and test rider Shinichi Itoh on the Ducatis, and Chris Vermeulen and Nobuatsu Aoki on the Suzukis.

Nicky Hayden was the fastest man of the day, after trying the chassis which team mate Dani Pedrosa had used on Sunday. Hayden was happy with the chassis, saying it gave him more confidence in the bike, and hoping it would carry through to Donington. Casey Stoner also tested some 16" rears, and told reporters they were a definite improvement on the package.

Today's test was the last chance until Brno in August. Until then, anything the teams want testing will have to be tested on track, during race weekends.

1 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda Team 1'42.40 *
2 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro Team 1'42.76
3 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'42.90
4 Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team 1'43.09
5 Shinichi Itoh Ducati Test Rider 1'45.51
6 Nobuatsu Aoki Suzuki Test Rider 1'46.01

* All the above times are on race tires. Hayden also did a 1'42.240 on a qualifier.

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Catalunya Post-Race Testing - Pitt And West Join The Fray

After Sunday's spectacular race, the teams were back to work on Monday, testing new parts and tires. The test at Catalunya is important, as it's the last chance for pure testing until after the Brno race in mid-August. Any other testing the teams want to do, they'll have to do during the free practice sessions during races, which is not the best time to be developing a bike.

The times make for interesting reading. John Hopkins improved on Valentino Rossi's pole time by nearly half a second. And while Casey Stoner was setting the same kind of times on race tires that he has set all weekend, he was joined by Valentino Rossi around the 1'42 mark.

Two interesting names on the list are Andrew Pitt and Anthony West. Pitt, who lost his MotoGP ride after Ilmor pulled out of racing after Qatar, is working as a test rider for Michelin, a role taken last year by former Dutch GP star Jurgen van den Goorbergh. West, after riding his last race of the season for Team Sicila in 250s, and before embarking on a challenge in World Supersport on the factory Yamaha, is filling in for Olivier Jacque at Kawasaki. With West already having another ride, it seems unlikely that the Australian will take a full-time ride with Team Green, despite persistent rumors that Jacque will be retired by Kawasaki before the season is over.

1 John Hopkins Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'41.40 *
2 Toni Elias Gresini Honda 1'42.63 *
3 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro Team 1'42.68
4 Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha Team 1'42.72
5 Alex Barros Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1'42.78 *
6 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'43.00
7 Marco Melandri Gresini Honda 1'43.0
8 Randy de Puniet Kawasaki Racing Team 1'43.05
9 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda Team 1'43.16
10 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda Team 1'43.23
11 Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team 1'43.28
12 Shinya Nakano Konica Minolta Honda 1'43.37
13 Colin Edwards Fiat Yamaha Team 1'43.41
14 Carlos Checa Honda LCR 1'43.65
15 Sylvain Guintoli Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha 1'43.80
16 Alex Hofmann Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1'43.83
17 Makoto Tamada Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha 1'43.90
18 Nobuatsu Aoki Suzuki Test Rider 1'44.2
19 Andrew Pitt Yamaha Test Rider 1'44.49
20 Anthony West Kawasaki Test Rider 1'44.73
21 Shinichi Itoh Ducati Test Rider 1'47.0

* Time set on qualifying tire

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2007 Catalunya Qualifying Practice Report

Whenever people talk about the weather affecting MotoGP, it's almost inevitably rain they mean. But it's not just water which affects the grip levels of a track, there's also the blazing sun. This is precisely what has happened at Barcelona, where the pummeling heat and blazing sun of the afternoon is driving track temperatures up towards the 120° mark, softening the surface of the track, reducing grip, and destroying tire rubber. As the riders returned to the pit lane after their qualifying laps, the afternoon's heat had helped to rip their soft qualifying tires to shreds, especially on the right-hand side, a result of the many long, fast right-handers the Catalunya track boasts.

The contrast with the mornings is marked, the early sessions taking place in almost perfect conditions for racing with temperatures in the low 70s and the temperature of the track in the mid-80s. Those conditions suit riders, machinery and tires all to a tee, as witnessed by Casey Stoner's astonishing string of laps in the 1'42s in Saturday morning's session. But in the afternoon, the temperatures rise, and the balance shifts in favor of riders who are good in less than perfect conditions and on sliding tires.

The temperature situation has been complicated by the new tire regulations. With only 14 front tires and 17 rear tires at their disposal, the nature of qualifying sessions has changed, with riders spending much more time searching for the right bike setup and the right tires to use on race day. Previously, qualifying tended to descend into a blitz of fast laps pretty quickly, with riders taking their first qualifiers out earlier and earlier. But no more.

So the first part of qualifying was fairly quiet, as the riders and their teams worked diligently at finding a set up which will work in the heat of the afternoon. But not all the riders: Olivier Jacque had suffered a nasty crash during the morning's practice, and was in a hospital in Barcelona being checked for damage. So far, reports are favorable, and it looks like OJ hasn't broken anything, but not having participated in the qualifying session, he is at the mercy of race direction as to whether he will be allowed to participate in the race.

Alex Barros was the first rider to set a competitive time, breaking into the 1'43 bracket on his Pramac Ducati after 5 minutes. But his time would not last long, as a minute later, Toni Elias posted the fastest time of the session so far with a lap of 1'43.153, the Gresini Honda man already beating his personal fastest time of the weekend by over a third of a second.

In the early part of the session, a pattern started to emerge. From the very beginning, Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins and Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa were fast and consistent, both men stringing together sequences of 1'43 laps with apparent ease, Hopkins, if anything, more regular than Pedrosa. But they were not having it all their own way, as they were soon joined in the 1'43 bracket by most of the field. The difference, though, was where Pedrosa and Hopkins were running low to mid 1'43s, Edwards, Rossi, Elias and Vermeulen were all hovering in the high 1'43 mark.

Casey Stoner, still the championship leader coming into Barcelona, was nowhere to be seen at first. Stoner's string of 1'42s had set the benchmark in the morning, and so there was a little surprise that Stoner's name was stuck persistently in the second half of the timesheets. This was not to last for long though, for when Stoner came out for his second run on the factory Marlboro Ducati, he immediately took a second of his own time, and improved the provisional pole time to 1'43.022. He did three quick laps in succession before diving back into the pits, returning 5 minutes later to put in another pair of laps in the low 1'43s.

After the first 20 minutes, the session settled down into as close to a vision of calmness as you could expect when in the vicinity of 130dB, 225 bhp racing motorcycles. Times remained steady, with the excitement coming from the machines themselves: First, Alex Hofmann parked his Pramac Ducati against the barrier with a clutch problem, causing a flurry of activity in the d'Antin pits as they hurried to get his second bike ready for him. Ten minutes later, John Hopkins ran straight on into the gravel trap at turn 1, his legs flailing wildly in an attempt to hold the bike up. His Suzuki had also suffered some kind of drive train failure, leaving Hopper to rush back to the pits to board his second, and definitely least favored bike.

The waiting, though, was for the qualifying tires. Normally, the Kawasaki riders are first to have a go, taking the first of their 3 qualifiers out shortly after the halfway mark. It's a risky strategy, as taking a third qualifying tire means sacrificing a potential race tire, gambling on the advantage an good start position offers. That's a risk the other teams are not willing to take, preferring a greater choice of tires on race day, willing to fight their way through the pack.

But the halfway mark came and went, and still no sign of the Kawasaki qualifiers. Of course, OJ was in still in the hospital, and out of contention, but where was de Puniet? The young Frenchman had earlier posted some fairly quick times, running with the front 5, but had elected to save himself, as he was suffering with a badly swollen knee, the after-effects of his big crash at Mugello last weekend. He was bound to come out early with a qualifier, the question was, when?

Tension was starting to rise by the 20 minute mark. Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi set a fast lap, then Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, and the speculation started: They were fast, but not that fast. Were they really out on qualifiers? A minute later, the answer came, in the anticipated shape of Randy de Puniet. The young Frenchman came out with 19 minutes to go and obliterated the existing fastest time by over a second, setting a lap of 1'41.901, just a fraction outside Valentino's pole record from last year, set on the 990 cc Yamaha M1. Considering the shape de Puniet was in, it was a very brave performance indeed.

But if de Puniet could go that fast on an injured knee, surely it was only a matter of time before the entire field flew past him on their qualifiers? That proved much harder than it seemed. First Vermeulen took 2nd spot, but still over a second down on de Puniet's time, then Toni Elias took 2nd, followed a couple of minutes later by Casey Stoner. But even Stoner was still over 7/10ths of a second behind de Puniet's pole time, which was looking better and better as each minute passed.

Once again, it was starting to look like the tire restrictions were having an impact: instead of the teams sending the riders out in the last 20 minutes, they now seemed to be focusing on the last 10 minutes of qualifying to throw on the soft sticky rubber and attempting to conquer the grid. As it would turn out, this proved to be an unwise gamble.

With 9 minutes to go, there was one man on the track who was capable of beating Randy de Puniet's increasingly convincing time: Valentino Rossi was at one of his favorite tracks, and was making the most of it. He was absolutely flying, but though the 5 time MotoGP world champion snatched pole from de Puniet, even Rossi could only shave 6/100ths of a second off the Frenchman's time, setting a new lap record of 1'41.840.

As the clock ticked down, the gamble to wait until the last minute was going awry: The crowded track was putting paid to any attempt at getting near the pole time. Rider after rider was baulked on their fast laps, forcing a dash back to the pits for fresh rubber and another attempt. At the end of the session, no one had been able to get close, leaving Valentino Rossi to claim his 4th pole of the season, fractionally ahead of Randy de Puniet's best qualifying performance in MotoGP.

The fastest pair of the day are joined on the front row by Dani Pedrosa, who was fast throughout the session. Casey Stoner, quick in the morning, was relegated to head up the 2nd row in 4th, with the John Hopkins in 5th, and Colin Edwards in 6th. Current World Champion Nicky Hayden is in 7th, and looking surprisingly chipper. Hayden has constantly improved throughout the weekend, and his times during qualifying have looked surprisingly good. Not good enough to win, but certainly good enough to star putting up a worthy defense of his #1 plate. Hayden is joined on the 3rd row by the two Gresini Hondas of Toni Elias and Marco Melandri, with Pramac's Alex Hofmann rounding out the top 10, his best starting position of the season so far.

Today's qualifying was an interesting precursor to tomorrow's race. Although Casey Stoner is quickest by a big margin in the cooler conditions of the morning, his domination disappears in the hot afternoons. It looks like the winner will have to be able to run consistent strings of low 1'43 second laps. And looking at the lap charts, there are three names which jump out at you: Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and John Hopkins. Although Stoner ran several sets of quick laps, he was setting his times in sequences of 4 laps, not the 10 and 12 lap runs that Pedrosa, Rossi and Hopper were running. On paper, Stoner should be able to stick with them, but 24 laps is going to be a very long way on Sunday. Behind the front four, almost anything could happen. Once again, there are 8 or 10 riders who could figure, including Randy de Puniet, Toni Elias, Marco Melandri, Nicky Hayden, the two Pramac Alexes, Colin Edwards and Chris Vermeulen.

Whatever happens, the race is going to be a real war of attrition. The heat is tough on riders, but it's also murderous on tires. The state of the tires coming in after the qualifying laps was horrific, and will be sure to give the people from Bridgestone, Michelin and Dunlop a very sleepless night tonight. It really will be the survival of the fittest tomorrow.

Catalunya Qualifying Practice result in full

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2007 Catalunya Day 1 Report

Where the weather a week ago in Mugello was as unpredictable as the outcome of a 125 race, in Barcelona the forecast was brief: Hot and sunny. And hotter and sunnier in the afternoon. No more worrying about very soft tires to run on a cold morning, no agonizing over slicks, intermediates or full wets, the riders could concentrate just on finding the right tire for the race, and setting the bikes up to go as fast as possible round the Montmelo Circuit on Sunday.

With two sessions gone, it's Dani Pedrosa who has done best at this. The local hero, who grew up little more than a very powerful throw of a small stone from the Circuit de Catalunya, set the fastest time of the day during the morning session. But most impressively of all, he set that time during a 10 lap spell, the last 7 of which were in the 1'43 bracket. Pedrosa has now set the mark for race pace, and set it very convincingly.

But Barcelona boy Pedrosa will not run alone here: There are three others who look capable of keeping him company on Sunday afternoon. Last week's winner Valentino Rossi was another rider to hit consistent 1'43s on the Fiat Yamaha, though he was better in the afternoon than in the morning, but having won the last three races here, he's a hard man to bet against. Title contender and championship leader Casey Stoner ran close to Rossi's pace on his Ducati, but was just a fraction off it, down may a tenth off Rossi. But the other real challenger was Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins. Hopkins was constantly at the top of the timesheets in both morning and afternoon sessions, and led FP2 for most of the hour, until Rossi stepped it up a gear towards the end. Hopkins ran a lot of laps, his times pretty close.

Behind the front 4, there's a large group all running very similar times, including Chris Vermeulen, Marco Melandri, Toni Elias, Colin Edwards and Loris Capirossi. The fight just behind the front could be really close, and anyone qualifying badly will have a very difficult time fighting their way forward.

Further down the field, Nicky Hayden is again making progress, but it's painfully slow. He has one of the fastest top speeds, but is still fighting chatter. The Kawasakis are mostly fighting their riders' injuries, Randy de Puniet even using a special set of leathers to contain his vastly swollen knee. And Team KR are still looking for some answers. They seem to be finding them, but at the moment, they're only finding tenths of a second, rather than the whole seconds they need to return to the thick of the fray.

Testing continues tomorrow morning, with the grid settled during the qualifying practice session in the afternoon.

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