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Jorge Lorenzo To Yamaha For 2008?

Well, we have already had our first silly season rumor for the 2008 season, and now the team negotiations seem to be gaining momentum. We had reported last year that Yamaha were interested in World 250 Champion Jorge Lorenzo, and now Autosport.com has further confirmation that Lorenzo is talking to Yamaha for next year. Fiat Yamaha manager Lin Jarvis is trying to downplay the contacts he and Lorenzo have had, but the quantity of smoke emanating from this story seems to suggest that there could well be a bit of a conflagration behind it.

This would leave Yamaha stalwart Colin Edwards without a ride in MotoGP next year. As rumors were very strong last year that the Texas Tornado would go back to World Superbikes, that looks like being his best option for 2008 so far. But there is still a long time to go before contracts are signed in earnest, so anyone keeping lists should only mark them up in pencil for the moment.

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Hopkins Refuses Surgery On Injured Hand

Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins has elected not to have surgery on his injured right hand. He damaged the ligament between the lunar and scaphoid bones in a huge highside during pre-season testing at Qatar in February, and has been riding injured every since. He revealed that he had spoken to doctors about having surgery to fix the tear, but decided against the procedure, which would have required a 6 week layoff from racing. This would have meant that Hopper would have missed at least the Turkey and Shanghai rounds, but the Anglo-American felt that the races were just too important to miss: "Every race is so important that I can't afford to miss any."

Hopkins returns to action next Friday at the Istanbul circuit in Turkey, for the Turkish MotoGP round.

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Another Locatelli Update

Roberto Locatelli, the 250 cc rider who suffered such a horrific crash at Jerez, is recovering well. He is currently at home, having left hospital yesterday. And despite the terrible injuries he suffered when he careened off the track into a tire wall, he is determined to return to racing. Dr Costa has told him he may be ready to race at the Mugello round in June, but Loca himself is determined to return one round earlier, at Le Mans.

This is a remarkable recovery, considering that his life was in serious danger after the crash, and there was doubt that he would ever return to racing, after suffering facial injuries, a badly broken ankle, and chest injuries. His determination to return amply demonstrates the courage, and some would say lunacy, required to succeed in the MotoGP series.

You can read his statement over at Robert Locatelli's website.

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Yamaha To Get More Horsepower After Istanbul

Perhaps the must stunning image of the opening Grand Prix at Losail in Qatar was the Ducati's awe-inspiring power as Casey Stoner pulled away along the front straight, leaving everyone, but most especially the Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, for dead. That image made it blindingly obvious both that Ducati had a huge power advantage, and Yamaha are woefully short of horses. Fortunately for the Fiat Yamaha squad, the next circuit the MotoGP circus visited was Jerez, a track which is much more about maneuverability than about speed.

But now, MotoGP heads out onto the fast track. Of the next five races, four take place at the fastest race tracks of the year. Between now and the middle of June, we visit Istanbul, Shanghai, Mugello and Catalunya, all of which have very long, very fast straights. If Rossi was losing a couple of tenths along the front straight at Qatar, at Shanghai, the Yamaha could lose getting on for a full second, just on the two straights alone. If Rossi wants to regain his title, he can't afford to lose too many points at these fast circuits.

So Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards must have greeted the news, reported by MotoGrandPrix.it, that Yamaha has found more horsepower, which will be tested after Istanbul. Unfortunately, the Yamaha team won't have the bike to race at Istanbul, and what's worse, they are unlikely to have the bike at Shanghai where top speed is king. The good news for Yamaha is that the Honda is also still down on power, and so Rossi's main championship rivals, Dani Pedrosa and reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden, will suffer the same fate as the Yamahas. So far, everyone is playing catch up with the Ducatis. We'll see whether Yamaha have caught up at Mugello, where Yamaha have promised to have the new, faster bike ready.

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One Ilmor Rider Gets A Ride - Pitt To Race Supersport

After Ilmor's withdrawal from MotoGP, the rider people felt most sorry for was Andrew Pitt. He had been dumped by Yamaha from the World Superbike team right at the end of the season, despite winning a race for them, and signed for Ilmor. Then Ilmor withdraw from MotoGP after just one race in the new season. That is a very tough break, by anyone's standard.

So his fans will be heartened by the news that Andrew Pitt will be taking Sebastian Charpentier's Ten Kate Honda in World Supersport for at least the Valencia WSBK round this weekend. The Ten Kate ride is undoubtedly the best bike in the World Supersport paddock, and so puts Pitt in with a good chance of showing off his talents. With injuries currently endemic in the Superbike and Supersport paddock, there's every chance of some more saddle time for Pitt later in the season.

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Ilmor's Terminal Decline, A Study

The medical profession has thrown up many colorful and memorable phrases. One such is "the bed nearest the door", which is said to be where nursing staff would put the patients they considered most likely to die during the night, so they could be removed without bothering the other patients when they did finally pass away. Now, the phrase has come to be used for anyone or anything about to expire. And in MotoGP, the bed nearest the door is currently occupied by the Ilmor GP project.

Once the shining hope of new life in the MotoGP paddock, the Ilmor GP bike is now very near to being pronounced officially dead. Two unrelated sources have confirmed to this website that most of the people involved in the Ilmor GP project are currently looking for work. Sources in the paddock have told us that all of Ilmor's MotoGP race mechanics will be laid off, while another source close to Ilmor's Northamptonshire base has said that most of the engineers working on the project inside the company are also looking for work. When contacted, Ilmor denied that anyone had been laid off, either inside the MotoGP team or on the Ilmor GP project at the factory in Brixworth. They did confirm that the race team have been told that they will be paid until the end of April, at which point it will be clear whether Ilmor can continue to race for the rest of the year.

Everyone, both inside and outside Ilmor, was shocked and upset by the news that Ilmor was withdrawing from MotoGP. Ilmor's arrival thrilled MotoGP followers; the prospect of a proven and respected engineering genius shaking up the established order, then going on to supply engines to a host of privateer teams was a breath of fresh air, and looked like offering a cheap - in MotoGP terms - route into the series for small teams with limited resources, and could have heralded a return to the full grids of the 1980s. Hopes were raised even more when Mario Illien said that Ilmor would not be repeating the mistakes which the other Formula 1 entrants into MotoGP had made, such as Cosworth and Barnard.

And inside Ilmor, the project was a big favorite with the engineering staff: There's nothing an engineer loves more than a new and interesting challenge, and this looked like being the biggest and most exciting challenge Ilmor had seen for several years. Engineers were queuing up to work the project, such was the interest generated, but now that the project's demise seems imminent, those engineers are spending their time hawking their resumes around the many automotive racing companies which, like Ilmor, are situated inside England's F1 belt.

So why are this once highly-motivated people looking for work? Well, the feeling is that if you develop a bike to go racing, it is shameful to pull out after just a couple of races. You either race it for the full season, or you shouldn't be wasting everybody's time. And blaming the whole situation on unexpected sponsorship problems is regarded as a very poor excuse. Considering the current sponsorship situation in MotoGP, it really should come as no surprise that sponsors are not lining up to finance an unproven team that ran a couple of races as absolute backmarkers. With a season of racing under their belts, showing steady improvement, finding people willing to invest in the Ilmor project would have been a whole lot easier.

Perhaps the worst part of the entire debacle is that once again, after Cosworth with the Aprilia, and John Barnard at Team KR, Formula 1 engineering has failed to produce a successful racing motorcycle. Several brilliant engineers with years of proven experience at winning at what is considered to be the very pinnacle of motorized sports have failed, publicly and spectacularly, to make a mark in MotoGP. The fear is that this failure will discourage other people dissatisfied with Formula 1 from moving into MotoGP. And as Formula 1 moves ever closer to becoming a spec class, with engines, engine management systems, tires and many other aspects of vehicle design being legislated into conformity, you have to believe that the temptation to get involved in a pure and mostly unregulated prototype class must be getting greater and greater.

So why is it that Formula 1 engineers fail so consistently to create a competitive motorcycle? Well, that question is best answered with another question, one which the Ilmor engineers reportedly asked of their riders while developing the bike: When discussing the X3's engine behavior through corners, they asked the riders "why can't you just hold the throttle steady at 15,000 RPM?"

The answer is, of course, that it is immensely difficult to balance a racing motorcycle at maximum lean through a corner while holding the bike at high revs and in the segment of the torque curve where the power is building most strongly. High revs mean engine internals such as crankshaft, generator and camshafts are all generating relatively large amounts of gyroscopic force, making getting the bike to change direction is very difficult. And keeping the bike close to the peak torque and power while leaned over demands a huge amount of the tires, using up all of the edge grip on offer, with nothing to spare. Then, of course, you are forced to change gear while you are close to maximum lean, unsettling the already precarious balance of the bike.

The way that the motorcycle manufacturers build racing engines is to try to maximize top end power , while maintaining a nice broad, flat torque curve. Current MotoGP engines could easily produce around 300 bhp/liter, but this would leave them immensely peaky, and with very narrow power bands, and torque curves looking more like the Rocky Mountains than the Great Plains. Formula 1 cars get around this limitation by using lots of sophisticated electronics to smooth the power band out, and stop the cars from sliding out sideways while going through corners at very high revs. But cars have much wider tires and a good deal more grip through corners, and having the stability of four wheels, are much less unsettled by gear changes halfway through turns. A gear change on a motorcycle generates a complex interaction of forces, from the weight displacement caused by something as simple as moving a foot to engage the gear lever, through the change in suspension compression as the torque changes caused by a different gear are propagated through the chain, to the different loads placed on the edge of a tire by a different torque level and a different gear ratio.

So generally, a racing motorcycle will have usable torque between 10,000 and 17,000 rpm, allowing a rider to select the right gear, ride much of the way through a corner, and only get into the hairy part of the power band and the movement-inducing gear change once the bike is closer to being vertical. Round difficult sections, you will often hear riders short-shifting, changing gear well before the engine hits the power band, in order to retain more control over the bike as it powers through the turn.

Seen in that light, any request to "keep the engine at 15,000 rpm" displays a distinct lack of understanding of motorcycle dynamics, and especially of rider feel. When Aprilia first joined MotoGP, the bike was the most powerful machine in the paddock, the Cosworth-build engine pumping out huge power figures. But because its powerband was so brutal, the Aprilia RS Cube was also the most unrideable. The power came in so abruptly that the Aprilia riders had to wait for a very long time before they could open the throttle coming out of turns, by which time the other bikes were all halfway down the straight, and had left the RS Cube for dead.

Probably the epitome of the role of usable power in motorcycle racing is the Ducati superbikes. Ducati's current 999 WSBK bike is probably 20 horsepower down on the four cylinder machines, but is still capable of running with the more powerful bikes, because the 90 degree V-twin layout produces its power in such a smooth fashion that the Ducatis can get on the gas much earlier in the corners, getting better drive out of the turns and a head start on the competition down the straights, leaving the four cylinders playing catch up. This really is a case of less is more.

Until Ilmor, and anyone else entering from Formula 1, understand that motorcycle engines require a fundamentally different approach, an approach focused on control and balance, they will continue to fall spectacularly short of the mark in MotoGP. And that's bad, not just for them, but for MotoGP as well. More manufacturers, and a range of options for private teams, would have a hugely positive influence on the series. So there is a great deal riding on Ilmor's success. Ilmor has been a huge hit with MotoGP fans, and if fan support and enthusiasm were enough, the angular X3 bike would be running at the front every race. But sadly it is not enthusiasm which is needed, but an understanding of motorcycle racing. We can only hope that Ilmor learns quickly.

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It's Raining Sponsors - Team KR Hits Paydirt Again

Only a month after threatening to pull out of MotoGP due to funding problems, Team KR now seem to be welcoming new sponsors on an almost weekly basis. After showing up at Jerez sporting a livery funded by Treasure Island casino and sports management company F1 Max-X, today Team KR announced that Top Oil, a provider of oil products will be sponsoring them for the rest of the season. While this is good news for Team KR, and very encouraging for the rest of the paddock, it is also extremely ironic. Last year, Kenny Roberts Jr rode around bearing the livery of Venture Petroleum, a fictional oil company, as part of a movie about motorcycle racing. And this year, fiction became reality.

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Hodgson Returns To MotoGP - But Only As A Tester

Possibly the biggest mystery in motorcycle racing since Max Biaggi failed to get a ride for 2006 ended today: why Neil Hodgson, a rider who is talented, popular and likeable, could not get a ride for the 2007 season, after Ducati pulled out of AMA superbikes at the end of last year. Surely, everyone believed, there must be someone in need of a fast rider?

Well, it turns out there is. British weekly Motorcycle News is reporting that the Ducati MotoGP team have hired Hodgson as a test rider, substituting for the injured Shinichi Itoh. Hodgson has a vast amount of experience, having ridden lots of different bikes in different series on a wide range of tires, and is consequently a perfect fit in the role of tire testing. As the Bridgestone / Ducati tire tester, Hodgson will also be first in line to replace an injured rider at Ducati, and improve his chance of finding a full time ride for 2008.

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Capirossi Now A Father, But Will It Help?

Well, the waiting is over, at least for Loris Capirossi. Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Capirossi's wife Ingrid gave birth to a son, Riccardo, on April 2nd. Capirossi's impending fatherhood had been widely blamed for the disappointing performance so far of the man widely tipped to challenge for the championship this season. Loris and Ingrid now have 2 weeks to get used to family life, before Capirossi has to leave for the Turkish MotoGP round at Istanbul. Then we will get to see whether Capirossi's poor times are down to distraction or problems with the bike.

We wish Loris and Ingrid well with their new son.

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Silly Season Starts Early - Biaggi Back In 2008?

The MotoGP silly season seems to start earlier and earlier nowadays, but April seems to be taking things a little far. Over at Autosport.com, they are reporting that Alstare Suzuki boss Francis Batta may switch his team from World Superbikes to MotoGP for the 2008 season, taking rider Max Biaggi with him.

The context of this is unsurprising, as the battle surrounding capacity changes hots up inside World Superbikes. Ducati are pushing for the capacity limit for twin cylinder bikes to be upped to 1200cc, so that they could run the new 1098. To compensate for this, the allowed engine modifications would be made the same for both twins and four cylinder machines, as under the current regulations, teams are allowed to modify twins much more heavily. But, whenever rule changes look imminent in any racing class, those with the most to lose immediately start crying foul, and the teams running four cylinder bikes are complaining bitterly about the proposed changes.

And so the next step in this war of words sees Francis Batta threatening to leave. His threat is fairly credible, as his contracts with Suzuki and with his sponsor, Corona, both expire at the end of this year, leaving Batta free to move to another series should he so wish, taking his star rider with him. But two serious problems stand in the Belgian team manager's way:

  1. Firstly, Batta would need to raise significantly larger sums than he has needed in World Superbikes. A competitive superbike is generally thought to cost in the region of $100,000. But the cost of leasing a competitive MotoGP bike is said to be over $3 million, a huge step up in expenditure;
  2. Then there's the small matter of finding someone to supply you bikes. It's an open secret that Honda has blacklisted Biaggi from ever riding one of their machines again, after the Roman Emperor's bitter split with Honda during his final year in MotoGP. Biaggi is also no favorite of Yamaha, after making some rather sharp remarks about the Yamaha when he left the team back in 2003. That severely limits Biaggi's options in the premier class.

Most likely, Batta's threat is just a way of applying pressure to the FIM and FGSport, who run World Superbikes, not to allow the rule changes. So far, of course, no one has pointed out to Batta that his simplest course of action if the rule changes go ahead would be to race the 1098 himself.

Although it's a little early for the silly season to start, it's by no means the earliest silly season rumor in MotoGP so far. James Toseland is already rumored to be going to MotoGP next year, and rumors that Jorge Lorenzo will partner Valentino Rossi at Yamaha in 2008 surfaced as early as September last year. So April is not too bad, if you look at it that way.

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