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Neil Hodgson To Replace Olivier Jacque At Le Mans?

After Olivier Jacque badly gashed his arm in a crash during this afternoon's MotoGP Free Practice session, rumors have been flying concerning a possible replacement. At first, it looked like OJ could be out for several weeks, and probably a couple of races, after damaging muscles in his arm. However, after successful surgery, performed by the doctors of MotoGP's hospital-in-residence, the Clinica Mobile, the Frenchman's chances of recovery have greatly improved, after doctors succeeded in closing up the wound without requiring a skin graft.

With his surgery so successful, Jacque's chances of returning to action in Le Mans in two weeks have vastly improved, though a decision will not be made for a while yet. Unfortunately for Kawasaki, however, they do not currently have a test rider on call, OJ being the test rider for last year, along with Fonsi Nieto, currently competing in World Superbikes. Nature, and motorcycle journalists, abhor a vacuum, and journalists tend to fill the void with speculation and rumor. In the case at hand, the rumor is that former Superbike World Champion and AMA contender Neil Hodgson could take OJ's place at Le Mans, at least according to Toby Moody at Autosport.com.

The interesting thing about this rumor is that it makes a good deal of sense. Hodgson is currently testing Bridgestone tires on a Ducati, substituting for Shinichi Itoh. Though he is riding the Ducati, he is under contract to Bridgestone, and as the Kawasakis are already using Bridgestones, this would leave Hodgson free to take Jacque's seat. We won't learn the truth of this until a few days before Le Mans, when a decision will be made on OJ's chances of racing, but with France being very important to Kawasaki, there is little or no chance that they will choose to run just a single rider at Le Mans.

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IRTA Boss Poncharal: "Teams Too Weak In Finding Sponsors"

It is almost universally accepted that after the withdrawal of the tobacco companies, sponsorship in MotoGP is currently at crisis levels, the withdrawal of Ilmor being the latest and most obvious example of its parlous state. The situation is so bad that virtually everyone involved in the sport is racking their brains looking for a solution. But the big question is, how did it get this way in the first place?

British weekly Motorcycle News has an interview with International Racing Teams Assocation and Tech 3 Yamaha boss, Hervé Poncharal which sheds an interesting light on how the present situation came about. He highlights two major causes:

  1. During the tobacco years, the tobacco companies did everything for the racing teams, supplying money, organizing the marketing, providing the hospitality, even selecting the riders. This allowed the teams to concentrate on the racing, but introduced a fatal dependency, which was exposed once the tobacco sponsors left: The teams didn't know how to sell themselves to potential sponsors, and present an appealing package. They were left virtually helpless in terms of marketing, as they had focused on racing, not on selling;
  2. Now that tobacco has gone, the teams, especially the smaller private teams, are too poor to afford to employ a marketing team, which could go out and find sponsors for them. This is a vicious circle, as without a marketing team, there is no one to go out and sell the team to sponsors, and team bosses make very poor salesmen.

One possible solution suggested at the Dorna sponsorship workshop is for Dorna to put together a marketing team which would assist the non-factory teams in finding sponsors, giving them the professional marketing support they so desparately need. This looks like being a viable way forward, but only time will tell whether it will be successful.

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Ten Kate To Decide On Formation Of MotoGP Team By July

Over the weekend of the Assen round of World Superbikes, Dutch regional newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden spoke to Ronald ten Kate, head of the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda Superbike and Supersport team, about their plans to go to MotoGP. It's an open secret that these plans exist, but so far, Ronald ten Kate has refused to be pinned down on specifics. However, the Dutch paper was rather more successful.

They reported that currently, the team is engaged in a feasibility study of their MotoGP plans, and what they have found so far looks encouraging. Sources inside MotoGP had told Ronald ten Kate that the team would need a budget of around 14 million Euros to be competitive in MotoGP, but Ten Kate's own research suggests they should be able to build a two-rider team capable of scoring podiums with around 9-10 million Euros. Ten Kate expects to make a decision by the end of June on whether to proceed for 2007.

The possibility of a Ten Kate team raises a number of interesting questions. First and foremost is the question of funds. The Superbike and Supersport teams are sponsored by the Taiwanese LCD screen manufacturer Hannspree, and the logical step would be for Hannspree to continue this sponsorship into MotoGP. However, Hannspree currently also sponsor Marco Melandri and Toni Elias' Gresini Honda team, and the prospect of Hannspree sponsoring two teams at the premier level has to be rather remote. Undoubtedly, if Ten Kate enter, that will leave Fausto Gresini looking for funds for next year.

But Gresini could be looking for more than just funds. The Ten Kate team have excellent contacts with Honda, running their bikes in both World Superbikes and World Supersports, and having taken the World Supersport title for Honda every year since 2002. This would mean that if Ten Kate are to enter MotoGP, they would almost certainly run Hondas. But Honda already field 6 bikes in MotoGP, and it is doubtful that even a factory as wealthy as Honda could afford to run 8 of the very expensive V4 800s. Which would mean that two of the current riders on a Honda could be looking for new machinery. Which means, in effect, that either Suzuki or Kawasaki would have to produce more MotoGP bikes. But as the Aspar team is rumored to be talking to Suzuki about running a satellite MotoGP team, realistically, that would leave only Kawasaki.

As far as the riders are concerned, James Toseland is not just the obvious choice, but virtually a dead certainty. Asked about riders, ten Kate had the following to say:

"We would dearly love to finish the job with a rider we have invested in. That's one of our main motivations."

A Ten Kate MotoGP team would also make them an even more attractive proposition for young talent in World Supersport and World Superbike, offering a route through to motorcycle racing's premier class. For ten Kate is very clear about the impact of a MotoGP team on their efforts in World Superbike:

"We will only make the jump if we can take part on all three fronts, World Superbikes, World Supersport, and MotoGP. Why? Our client base is in World Supers, that's what we've built our company on. Let me be clear about one thing: We will always be active in World Superbikes. We have the knowledge and the experience, and we do the tuning in our own race department. By participating in such a broad platform, we can take advantage of huge synergies in technology and organization."

More detail is available on the Dutch-language site Motorfreaks.nl.

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Ilmor Scales Back MotoGP Program - Fires Staff, Focuses On Engine

The announcement the MotoGP world has been expecting since Ilmor withdrew from racing after the Qatar season opener has finally been made. Today, Mario Illien, Ilmor GP Team Principal, and Steve Miller, Managing Director, announced that the current GP team will be scaled down to a "skeleton crew", and switch the focus of the team to engine development. The pair cited problems raising sufficient sponsorship to make racing a "viable option", and announced that most of the Ilmor GP Team staff will be released from their contracts at the end of May. The two riders, Andrew Pitt and Jeremy McWilliams, remain officially under contract until the end of the season, though Pitt has been "loaned" to the Hannspree Ten Kate World Supersport team, where he has performed superbly so far, scoring two second places behind championship leader Kenan Sofuoglu.

Ilmor's decision to concentrate all their efforts on engine development comes as no surprise. Mario Illien's intention in entering MotoGP was always to become an engine supplier to teams whose budgets would not allow them to do both engine and chassis development, reducing costs for the teams while becoming a source of revenue for Ilmor. Sadly, though their engines made plenty of power from the outset, the way that power was delivered made the bike difficult to ride, making the Ilmor X3 highly uncompetitive. The question is how Ilmor plans to convince potential customers that their 75 degree V4 engine is a competitive package without demonstrating its ability on the track. Few people doubted the Eskil Suter designed chassis would work well, Suter having already proved his pedigree in designing the MuZ 500 cc GP racer, which took pole positions in the 98 season, and having a hand in Kawasaki's MotoGP project. So the failure of the X3 was always laid at the door of the power delivery of the X3's power plant. It will be very difficult to build a reputation as an engine supplier if no one has any faith in the power characteristics of the engine you are trying to sell.

Mario Illien remains optimistic that the team will return to racing later in the season. Ilmor continues to look for funding for its project, and Illien attended the sponsorship workshop organized by Dorna in Barcelona in mid March. That meeting made clear that the problem for MotoGP has been explaining the benefits and opportunities of MotoGP to potential sponsors, and that part of this problem was down to the laziness which had come as a result of the easy tobacco money which funded the sport for a long time, once all other forms of tobacco advertising had been banned throughout much of the world.

Here is the text of the official press release:

Brixworth 30.04.07: It has been over a month since Ilmor GP Team Principal Mario Illien announced the temporary suspension of the team's race programme and now it's time for an update…

Today at the Ilmor Engineering factory in Northampton Illien and Managing Director Steve Miller announced that the Ilmor GP race team will be slimmed down to a 'skeleton' crew focusing on the continued development of the engine - as a consequence many of the original Ilmor GP team personnel will be released from their contracts from the end of May 2007 onwards and will be free to pursue other opportunities.

Speaking about the announcement Illien said: "Whilst our commitment to finding a title sponsor and suitable Ilmor GP partners to make racing a viable financial option continues in full force, it is senseless to employ an entire race team when our track activity has ceased albeit on a temporary basis.

"I know that it's hard for people to understand why we have stopped racing and some people have been quick to judge our withdrawal from the MotoGP World Championship but I remain upbeat and I still strongly believe that we will find a financial partner for the team. In the mean time we have to restructure and put in place a smaller team dedicated to engine development."

"I attended the Dorna sponsorship workshop in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago and it is clear that further work needs to be done to make the sport more appealing to commercial partners" Illien added. "Key people outside of the sport don't really understand what MotoGP is and the fantastic opportunity it represents by association. I also think that people perhaps underestimated the impact that the decline in tobacco sponsorship would have on the sport. Added to this potential corporate sponsors are much more environmentally aware these days - I'm a strong believer that environmental issues and professional motorsport shouldn't be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of opportunities to be explored on this front."

Whilst both Ilmor GP riders Jeremy McWilliams and Andrew Pitt remain under contract Illien has been happy to loan Pitt to World Superbike team Hannspree Ten Kate Honda for the race in Valencia whilst Frenchman Sebastien Charpentier recovered from his fractured coccyx and again this weekend in Assen as the team run a third bike at their home race.

Commenting on the riders Illien said: "I'm pleased that Andrew performed so well in Valencia for Hanspree Ten Kate Honda, he demonstrates the flair and ability that we still believe he has. Both Andrew and Jeremy have done a fantastic job for Ilmor GP under difficult circumstances and I want to thank them for their on- going patience and understanding. If all goes to plan and we manage to secure the funding to get back out for the remainer of the 2007 season then of course I would love to have both riders back on board."

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Ilmor Announcement Due On Monday

Crash.net is reporting that Ilmor will make an official announcement about their future on Monday. As we reported earlier, it seems inevitable that what will be announced is a permanent withdrawal from MotoGP, at least as an official manufacturer. Ilmor was 6 million Euros short of the funds required to carry on running the factory team, but with such an obvious development deficit, that money was very hard to come by.

Where Ilmor may have a future is in providing engines to teams. With Team KR making good use of the RC211V powerplant last year, and teams such as WCM and possibly Moriwaki wanting back into MotoGP, there may be a place for an engine supplier. However, Ilmor will still have a lot of work to do to make their engines competitive, for without that competitiveness, the market for their engines will be limited, if not non-existent.

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2007 Istanbul MotoGP Warmup Session

01 27 C.STONER DUCATI 1'53"615
02 24 T.ELIAS HONDA 1'54"070 0"455
03 65 L.CAPIROSSI DUCATI 1'54"155 0"540
04 71 C.VERMEULEN SUZUKI 1'54"216 0"601
05 21 J.HOPKINS SUZUKI 1'54"362 0"747
06 26 D.PEDROSA HONDA 1'54"369 0"754
07 14 R.DE PUNIET KAWASAKI 1'54"387 0"772
08 5 C.EDWARDS YAMAHA 1'54"478 0"863
09 46 V.ROSSI YAMAHA 1'54"537 0"922
10 4 A.BARROS DUCATI 1'54"546 0"931
11 1 N.HAYDEN HONDA 1'54"636 1"021
12 6 M.TAMADA YAMAHA 1'54"759 1"144
13 33 M.MELANDRI HONDA 1'54"778 1"163
14 19 O.JACQUE KAWASAKI 1'54"936 1"321
15 7 C.CHECA HONDA 1'55"110 1"495
16 66 A.HOFMANN DUCATI 1'55"142 1"527
17 10 K.ROBERTS JR KR212V 1'55"192 1"577
18 50 S.GUINTOLI YAMAHA 1'55"338 1"723
19 56 S.NAKANO HONDA 1'55"538 1"923

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2007 Istanbul Qualifying Practice

With Casey Stoner having dominated practice in Istanbul this far, it was with some trepidation most riders approached this afternoon's official Qualifying Practice. The question foremost in their minds was "How do we stop the Ducatis?" And within 5 minutes of practice starting, their worst fears were confirmed, as the young Australian quickly put his Marlboro Ducati at the top of the timesheets. Their worries were compounded when a minute later, Stoner's team mate Loris Capirossi took over the top spot, becoming the first rider to break into the 1'54s.

There was one rider who was not intimidated by this display of Ducati dominance was Valentino Rossi. The Doctor had made good progress towards finding a race setup through the previous sessions, and this process continued apace, the Italian taking top spot 10 minutes into the session, and going on to set a string of fast laps, all well inside the 1'54 bracket.

Behind Rossi, the competition for 2nd spot was fierce. The Ducatis of Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi swapped places with John Hopkins on the Rizla Suzuki and Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda, as they all spent time in search of the perfect race setup. Stoner was consistently fast, and the most confident in his race setup, as he disappeared into his garage at the 30 minute mark, not to reappear for another 15 minutes, when he went out for his first qualifying lap. The other three were less consistent, alternating fast 1'54 laps with slower laps in the high 1'54s and low 1'55s.

At the halfway mark, Randy de Puniet emerged from the pit lane for his traditional early qualifying lap, and took the provisional pole with a 1'53.706. Though he was the first rider to crack the 1'53 barrier, it was pretty clear this wouldn't be fast enough, being only 3/10ths faster than the time Casey Stoner had set on race tires in the morning session. It was good enough to keep his name at the top of the timesheets for a good while though, as the waiting game commenced for the race to the pole.

Before the tire restrictions, this would always kick off with some 20 minutes to go, as the trickle of riders going out on qualifiers turned into a flood, with riders rushing in and out of the pits in an effort to burn through as many qualifiers as possible in the hope of setting the fastest time. Now that tire numbers are limited, the trickle stayed a trickle with riders out sparingly with between 20 and 10 minutes left in the session, allowing a few surprising names to rise to the top. First, Carlos Checa, who has been struggling all weekend, put in a fast lap to take 3rd spot, and a couple of minutes later, Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque shot up the standings to take 4th.

But with 13 minutes to go, The Doctor was back, reclaiming pole position with a blazing 1'53.092, over 6/10ths faster than de Puniet's time. Though fast, whether this would be good enough to give Rossi the pole was not yet clear, especially with Casey Stoner emerging from the pit lane to start his first lap on qualifiers. Stoner was fast, but unexpectedly, nowhere near fast enough. His first qualifying lap was only good enough to take the third time, 8/10ths behind Rossi's provisional pole time. The young Australian rode back to the pits, shaking his head. One qualifier down, and only one more to go.

The action started hotting up in the final 10 minutes of the session, a lot of riders out on hot laps, in a bid to improve their grid position. Dani Pedrosa shot through to take 2nd spot, still over half a second down on Rossi's pole time. Behind him, Repsol Honda team mate Nicky Hayden put in an astounding lap to climb up to 6th, putting an end to the misery of spending the session languishing down in 19th and last position, still struggling with front end grip. Hayden's position was not to last, though, as a gaggle of other riders were now out on hot laps, Chris Vermeulen, John Hopkins and Toni Elias pushing Hayden down the grid, whilst Colin Edwards showed that his Fiat Yamaha team had found some answers to the Texas Tornado's front-end woes, pushing up into 3rd spot.

Then, with just over 4 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi consolidated his grip on pole position. In another terrifyingly fast lap, The Doctor sliced nearly 3/10ths off his previous time, cracking the 1'52 barrier with a time of 1'52.795, good enough for pole by a long way.

By now, all hell had broken loose, as everyone with a qualifier left was out on the track. The hot laps were coming so thick and fast it was hard to keep up. First Capirossi, then Edwards took back 2nd place, but behind them, one man was faster than Rossi through the intermediate timing sections. Dani Pedrosa was flying, and on what looked like the fast track to the pole. But Pedrosa had mistimed his run, waiting for what he thought was clear track, and setting off just as John Hopkins flew past and ahead of him. Hopper was fast, but not quite as fast as Pedrosa, and Pedrosa caught Hopper as they flew through the second section. But no matter how hard Pedrosa tried, he could not get past the Suzuki of the American. He still had 1/10th of a second over Rossi's pole time through the third timing section, and as they flew through the 180mph Turn 11 and crested the hill, Pedrosa tried to outbrake Hopkins into the twiddles of Turns 12, 13 and 14. But if there's one thing that's nigh on impossible to do, it's outbraking John Hopkins, and so Pedrosa was condemned to following Hopper round the slow turns, dropping to 3rd place by the time they crossed the line. Pedrosa later absolved Hopkins of any blame, saying that it was he who had mistimed his run to start so close to Hopper.

In the dying seconds of the session, Nicky Hayden managed once again to salvage his grid position, to set the 6th fastest time, leaving him on the 2nd row of the grid, behind Rossi, Edwards, and Pedrosa, and besides Stoner and Capirossi. He will need a good start if he is to survive, as his times on race tires have been a long way off the rest of the pack.

Though the spectacle was fascinating, the grid is rather deceptive. A number of riders, including reigning champ Hayden, managed to up their game on qualifiers, and finish well ahead of the place they would have managed on race tires. And though Stoner didn't dominate the Qualifying session like he did Free Practice, his lap times make devastatingly clear the race is his to lose. There are only a few riders who look capable of stopping him, but those names include Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Loris Capirossi and John Hopkins. Stoner will not have it all his own way on Sunday, and the fight he will have to put up should make for a thrilling race. Roll on Sunday.

01 46 V.ROSSI YAMAHA 1'52.795
02 5 C.EDWARDS YAMAHA 1'52.944 0.149
03 26 D.PEDROSA HONDA 1'52.971 0.176
04 27 C.STONER DUCATI 1'53.375 0.580
05 65 L.CAPIROSSI DUCATI 1'53.559 0.764
06 1 N.HAYDEN HONDA 1'53.613 0.818
07 21 J.HOPKINS SUZUKI 1'53.637 0.842
08 14 R.DE PUNIET KAWASAKI 1'53.706 0.911
09 71 C.VERMEULEN SUZUKI 1'53.771 0.976
10 24 T.ELIAS HONDA 1'53.835 1.040
11 19 O.JACQUE KAWASAKI 1'53.847 1.052
12 56 S.NAKANO HONDA 1'53.988 1.193
13 4 A.BARROS DUCATI 1'54.082 1.287
14 33 M.MELANDRI HONDA 1'54.143 1.348
15 6 M.TAMADA YAMAHA 1'54.206 1.411
16 7 C.CHECA HONDA 1'54.221 1.426
17 66 A.HOFMANN DUCATI 1'54.421 1.626
18 10 K.ROBERTS JR KR212V 1'54.527 1.732
19 50 S.GUINTOLI YAMAHA 1'54.845 2.050
Circuit Record Lap: 2006 Toni ELIAS 1'52.877 170.309 Km/h
Circuit Best Lap: 2005 Sete GIBERNAU 1'52.334 171.132 Km/h

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2007 Istanbul FP2 Qualifying Report - Day 1

After this morning's cold, damp and crash-ridden practice session, this afternoon saw better weather, a completely dry track, and a warning. The warning was aimed at the entire MotoGP field, the issuer was Ducati, and the message was that if they were scared by the Ducatis at Qatar, they should be terrified here. For perched atop the timesheets are the Marlboro Ducati team mates Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi.

Stoner was fast almost from the start, setting the fastest time with 40 minutes of the session to go, and never relinquished the top spot, setting a succession of fast laps, culminating in a final sequence of laps inside the 1'54 bracket, the only man to do this. He topped the whole performance off with a fastest time of 1'54.2, nearly 8/10ths faster than second place man Loris Capirossi. Stoner has already won here in 250s, and on present form, he has to be the man to watch.

Loris Capirossi seems to have recovered from the shock of becoming a father, as the only other rider to have cracked the 1'54s, if only just. But he won't be satisfied with just the single fast lap he put in, as his lap times for the rest of the session were mostly worryingly low 1'56s. He could have found some speed at the end of the session, so we'll just have to see if he can build on it tomorrow.

In third place is John Hopkins on the Rizla Suzuki, less than a tenth behind Capirossi. Hopper is looking very strong this year, and his string of 1'55s suggests he could be on the pace, though not quite Stoner pace, for the race on Sunday. He could find himself in very good company indeed, as Valentino Rossi, who set the 4th fastest time, was running a similar pace throughout the session. Surprisingly, Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Colin Edwards is running nowhere near as well, languishing down in 15th, 2 seconds off Stoner's time, and a second behind the fastest of the mere mortals. They obviously have some work to do in the Yamaha garage overnight.

The first RC212V on the sheet is Toni Elias' Hannspree Honda, Fat Toni setting the 5th fastest time, a fraction behind Rossi. But what is deeply worrying for Honda is the fact that Elias is the only Honda in the top 8, the next Honda man being Dani Pedrosa down in 9th. All of the Hondas had a very torrid day today, with the lack of front end feel which Nicky Hayden is complaining about increasingly loudly being graphically demonstrated by Marco Melandri and Shinya Nakano, who both fell losing the front, Melandri at the treacherous Turn 1, a downhill left-hander which really tests the front. World Champion Nicky Hayden is way down in 14th, his only consolation that he is keeping the man who was on the podium at Jerez three weeks ago behind him.

The two big surprises at the front are Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque in 6th and Pramac d'Antin Ducati's Alex Hofmann in 8th. Hofmann is making the most of his Ducati's speed, and could well have a very decent finish on Sunday, the hard work put in by the Pramac team finally starting to come off. But OJ's performance is a bit of a shocker. The French veteran has been pretty much the back marker for the first two races, totally outclassed by his team mate Randy de Puniet and the rest of the field, bar the Dunlop-shod Yamahas. But OJ's final run of decent 1'55 laps showed that he really does have the pace to run at the front on Sunday.

Providing the filling for the Surprise Sandwich was Chris Vermeulen, setting the 7th fastest time on his Rizla Suzuki. Vermeulen is showing solid progression, after falling some way behind his team mate in the first two races, despite being fast during winter testing.

Practice continues on Saturday morning, with Qualifying taking place on Saturday afternoon. The morning session is likely to be a bit of a washout again, with temperatures too cool to provide meaningful data, but come the afternoon, it all gets very, very serious. Pole position is at stake, and the final chance to find the setup needed for race day.

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2007 Istanbul FP2 Qualifying - Day 1

01 27 C.STONER DUCATI 1'54.200
02 65 L.CAPIROSSI DUCATI 1'54.979 0.779
03 21 J.HOPKINS SUZUKI 1'55.062 0.862
04 46 V.ROSSI YAMAHA 1'55.120 0.920
05 24 T.ELIAS HONDA 1'55.158 0.958
06 19 O.JACQUE KAWASAKI 1'55.651 1.451
07 71 C.VERMEULEN SUZUKI 1'55.707 1.507
08 66 A.HOFMANN DUCATI 1'55.736 1.536
09 26 D.PEDROSA HONDA 1'55.865 1.665
10 33 M.MELANDRI HONDA 1'55.910 1.710
11 10 K.ROBERTS JR KR212V 1'56.071 1.871
12 14 R.DE PUNIET KAWASAKI 1'56.225 2.025
13 4 A.BARROS DUCATI 1'56.233 2.033
14 1 N.HAYDEN HONDA 1'56.312 2.112
15 5 C.EDWARDS YAMAHA 1'56.320 2.120
16 7 C.CHECA HONDA 1'56.555 2.355
17 6 M.TAMADA YAMAHA 1'56.923 2.723
18 56 S.NAKANO HONDA 1'56.936 2.736
19 50 S.GUINTOLI YAMAHA 1'57.245 3.045
Circuit Record Lap: 2006 Toni ELIAS 1'52.877 170.309 Km/h
Circuit Best Lap: 2005 Sete GIBERNAU 1'52.334 171.132 Km/h

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Turkey To Stop Hosting MotoGP Races After 2007?

On the eve of the Istanbul round of MotoGP, tragedy has already struck. Turkish online newspaper Today's Zaman is reporting that the Turkish Motorcycling Federation will ask the FIM to cancel its contract to host the round. The problem is money. Though the Turkish round is relatively well attended, by flyaway standards - attracting crowds of around 38,000 on race day, 6,000 more than Shanghai, and vastly more than the 3000 that attend at Qatar - the costs of hosting the MotoGP round are still a long way from being recovered.

What's more, according to TMF Chairman Bekir Yunus Uçar, a lack of cooperation from the Turkish authorities does not help. Where track rental in most countries would come in at around $250,000, the Turkish Motorcycling Federation pays Istanbul Park 1.6 million Turkish New Lira, nearly $1.2 million. Then there are the problems with customs, with the Turkish authorities charging the teams exorbitant fees to clear the valuable bikes and equipment through customs. The Turkish federation simply cannot afford to keep hosting the event, according to Uçar.

This would be a tragedy for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the Istanbul Circuit is one of the finest tracks on the MotoGP calendar, featuring challenging turns with plenty of elevation changes, and the terrifying Turn 11, a flat-out, off-camber right-hander leading into a tight, three-corner chicane before the finish line. The track has produced some of the best racing ever seen, with last year's MotoGP race being a tightly fought affair, with Marco Melandri finally coming out on top, and the 2006 250 cc race going down in history as one of the finest motorcycle races ever. The tracks which are lining up to take Istanbul's place just don't have the same splendor.

Secondly, Turkey is on the verge of producing its very own home-grown motorcycle racing hero. Kenan Sofuoglu, impressive last year, is in with an excellent chance of winning the World Supersport championship this year. With the title could come a promotion to Superbikes, and a possible future in MotoGP. A Turkish rider would be a welcome addition to the traditional mix of Italians, Spaniards, Americans and Australians that comprise most of the MotoGP grid, and could help to boost the popularity of the sport in Turkey, and possibly throughout the Middle East, making the series an even more attractive prospect for sponsors.

Of course, one country's loss could well prove to be another country's gain, and the loss of Istanbul would make an Indianapolis round of MotoGP a near certainty.

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