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Jacque Withdraws From Le Mans

Half of the announcement expected today has finally come: In a press release, the Kawasaki Racing Team has announced that Olivier Jacque will not take part in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans. The wound the French veteran sustained in a get off in Shanghai had become infected, preventing him from working on recovering strength and movement in his arm. After discussions with his doctors and the team, OJ reluctantly decided to skip the French Grand Prix, and focus on returning at Mugello instead.

The question of who will replace Jacque was skillfully glossed over in the press release. Ian Wheeler, communications manager for the team, stated that "as Olivier will miss only one race there is no obligation for Kawasaki to field a replacement rider, although the possibility of running a second rider alongside Randy de Puniet will be discussed internally," which while true, seems highly unlikely The Kawasaki team has very strong links to France, and regards the Le Mans round as the closest thing they have to a home Grand Prix. It is looking like there are internal disagreements about who should take OJ's place, and these need to be ironed out before an announcement can be made. We await with bated breath.

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Nieto Favorite To Substitute For OJ

Still no official announcement so far on who will be replacing Olivier Jacque on the Kawasaki at this weekend's Le Mans MotoGP round. Unsurprisingly, but rather unwisely, Jacque is determined to take part in his home grand prix, despite his doctors advising him against it, but it seems unlikely that he will be able to take any meaningful part in the proceedings. The most likely consequence is that Fonsi Nieto will take OJ's place on the Kawasaki, as the Spanish World Superbike rider has a verbal agreement with Kawasaki that he would get the first chance at a substitue ride in case of rider injury.

The only slight fly in Nieto's ointment is the fact that the agreement was made last year, when Harald Eckl was running the team. However, following Eckl's acrimonious split with Kawasaki at the end of last year, the status of that agreement must be in at least some doubt. This could leave the door open to Bridgestone tester Neil Hodgson. The former World Superbike champion is without a ride this season, having gambled perhaps a little too much on Carl Fogarty being able to put a team together. But with Hodgson's proven record, both in Superbikes and in MotoGP, the temptation must be great to renege on Nieto's verbal agreement, and bring in the British veteran.

The Kawasaki Racing Team have said that they expect to make an announcement early on Tuesday.

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OJ's Replacement - Will It Be Hodgson, Or Will It Be Nieto?

Ever since Olivier Jacque was forced to withdraw from the Shanghai MotoGP round, after an innocent-looking crash caused a very deep gash in his forearm, requiring surgery to close it up again. The injury is so serious that Olivier Jacque looks unlikely to take part in the Le Mans MotoGP round on May 20th, despite his recovery proceeding better than expected. And so the question of who will replace OJ in France raises its ugly head.

Initial reports linked Neil Hodgson, currently working as a test rider for Bridgestone's MotoGP tires, with the Kawasaki ride. The link was confirmed by Kawasaki's press spokesman, Ian Wheeler. But unfortunately for British rider Hodgson, Kawasaki already have a verbal agreement with Spanish rider Fonsi Nieto, currently racing the Kawasaki ZX-10R in World Superbikes. However, in an interview with AS.com, Nieto seemed phlegmatic about his chances of taking the Le Mans MotoGP ride. "I'll do whatever Kawasaki tells me to," he told the Spanish daily. The Spaniard said that Kawasaki have promised him a MotoGP ride before, but the ride has yet to materialize.

The Kawasaki MotoGP team is expected to make an announcement on Jacque's fitness to race on Friday, at which time a decision about OJ's possible replacement will be made public.

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Another Door Opens For James Toseland - Ducati Want JT For Satellite Team

James Toseland, the man currently holding a commanding lead in the World Superbike Championship, is a man in demand. As reported earlier, Toseland is likeliest candidate for the Ten Kate MotoGP team, which is expected to compete the 2008 season, presumably on Hondas. And now, Eurosport are reporting that Ducati want JT for the Pramac d'Antin team.

One interesting aspect of this offer is that Toseland turned down the Pramac d'Antin ride for this year, after speaking to fellow former World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson. Hodgson's advice was that the only way to be competitive in MotoGP was aboard a factory ride, or something very, very close, and at the end of the 2006 season, the Pramac team looked like being anything but competitive, with Alex Hofmann and Jose Luis Cardoso struggling around at the back of the field, only relieved when Ilmor joined the series for the last two races. This season, though, the d'Antin team has much better equipment, with bikes very close to the factory GP7 machines ridden by Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi, and excellent support from their new tire supplier, Bridgestone.

Although an interesting proposition, it is hard to see how the offer of a satellite Ducati ride could tempt Toseland away from the well-oiled Ten Kate team, which next year is likely to be running the Honda RC212V. Right now, Honda's 800 is a less attractive proposition than the Ducati, but knowing Honda's history, it would be a very foolish person to bet against the Japanese giant having the bike back to winning form by the start of next season.

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Honda Admits "We Got It Wrong" On The 800

The Spanish sports daily AS.com has an interview with HRC boss Satoru Horiike, in which the man ultimately responsible for the new 800 cc Honda RC212V admits that Honda got their assumptions completely wrong when designing the new Honda. "We were surprised at the times the new bikes ran. We believed that it would take quite a while for the 800s to equal the times set by the 990s, but the 800s have been faster right from the start." Hondas have traditionally been the most powerful bikes on the grid, the engineering might and brilliance of HRC finding ways to generate more power than their rivals in previous years. But this time they underestimated what was needed, leaving them struggling behind the other factories, and Ducati in particular.

But it's not just a lack of power which is hampering the Honda. The chassis has also failed to impress, with all of the Honda riders complaining of a lack of front-end feel and rear-end grip. Horiike has promised that HRC are working on solutions, for both engine and chassis troubles. Veteran test rider Tady Okada is hard at work, testing upgrades. These include changes to both inlet and exhaust tracts, aimed at producing more power, as well as new rear shock mounts to improve handling.

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Another Possible New Entrant - Aspar To MotoGP In 2008?

Jorge Martinez is considering fielding a one man team in MotoGP in 2008, according to the MotoGP.com website. The boss of the Aspar team has been extremely successful in both 125 and 250, and having a rider in the premier class would be a logical move. Martinez did not reveal any further details, other than that he was in discussions with MotoGP manufacturers, but it would allow Martinez to build a fantastic conduit for young talent, taking them up through the 125 and 250 classes, before pitching them into the hurly burly of MotoGP.

The Aspar team currently leads the 125 cc championship with Hungarian rider Gabor Talmacsi, and holds 3rd and 4th place in the 250 championship, with Alex d'Angelis and current 125 world champion, and future superstar Alvaro Bautista.

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2007 Shanghai Qualifying Practice

The rain that has been threatening Shanghai all weekend stayed away on Saturday, the day getting brighter and warmer, and the haze that obscured the view down the long back straight gradually drawing up its veil on a fascinating's day of practice. The morning's free practice session saw times improved by nearly 3/4 of a second, and set a benchmark for the kind of pace that will be necessary to win a race, with John Hopkins and Casey Stoner running consistent laps in the high 2:00 mark.

So an expectant, and thankfully, clearer air hung over the afternoon's qualifying practice session. From the start, the surprise of Shanghai continued at the front, John Hopkins quickly setting the fastest lap time on his Rizla Suzuki, and improving on it over the course of his first very long run of 15 laps, nearly 3/4 race distance. Hopkins held the advantage until 5 minutes before the halfway mark, when the odds-on favorite to win Sunday's race put in a very quick lap of 2'00.311 to set the fastest time of the weekend so far, during a sequence of laps in the mid 2'00 bracket.

Stoner's lead was not to be long-lived however, as within a couple of minutes, Frenchman Randy de Puniet had put on his usual set of early qualifiers to become the first rider to crack the 1'59 mark, setting a lap of 1'59.985. The conventional approach to tires is to only take 2 qualifiers, now that new regulations restrict the number of tires taken, but ever since the first race in Qatar, de Puniet has ignored such thinking, taking an extra rear qualifier in the hope of improving his grid position. Other riders are now cottoning on to the young Kawasaki rider's trick, and with 25 minutes to go, Alex Hofmann of the Pramac d'Antin Ducati team roared across the line to set the second fastest time on a qualifier.

All eyes were now on the works Ducati team, and their young rider Casey Stoner, the man leading the world championship and winner of 2 of the 3 races run so far this year. The Ducati's speed down the back straight was not in question, Alex Barros having been clocked at 332 km/h, or around 208 mph. Surely Stoner would wrest back the pole position, the only question being by how much. But the next time we saw Casey Stoner it was not the sight of the young Australian flashing across the finish line having set a new pole time. Instead, it was Stoner sitting up rapidly going into Turn 1, the clutch pulled in, and the engine of his Ducati Desmosedici GP07 seized solid, judging by the way his rear wheel skidded as Stoner tentatively released the clutch to see if the bike would start. No official word has yet been released about the cause of Stoner's pull-up, but although Turn 1 is at the end of the shorter of the two long straights, the suspicion must be that the stresses of those straights are taking their toll on the engines, especially one as highly strung as the Ducati. The bikes spend 9 seconds at full throttle in top gear down the back straight, 3 seconds longer than last year, and a very long time for an engine turning at over 19,000 rpm. Stoner's engine blow up could well be an omen of things to come on Sunday, especially if the weather is hotter than it was during Qualifying. It will be interesting to see if the Ducati's top speed is diminished during the warm up on Sunday morning, a sure sign that the Ducati engineers have decided it to play it safe and turn the engine down a few notches, from what is reputed to be its highest setting of "11".

With 15 minutes to go, the dogs of war were unleashed, as ever they are at this point in qualifying, and the timing screens were awash with red and blue of riders setting fast times. Shinya Nakano, who has done so poorly so far this season, stormed to 4th spot; Nicky Hayden blew through into 2nd, only to have Yamaha's Colin Edwards take 2nd from him a minute later, with a time just 2/1000ths shy of the 2'00 mark. A couple of moments later, John Hopkins flew through into 3rd place, pushing Hayden down the standings, and behind Hopkins, Randy de Puniet came close to improving his time, but fell just a few thousandths short of improving his own best time.

But behind them all, The Doctor was coming. His intermediate times had been astonishing, and as he crossed the line, those watching fell speechless. Valentino Rossi, on a bike with 190 cc less displacement and significantly less power than last year, on the track with the longest straights and the highest top speeds, destroyed last year's pole record time by nearly 9/10ths of a second, setting a fastest lap of 1'58.424. A time 1.5 seconds faster than de Puniet's previous fastest lap. Rossi rode what is surely as close to a perfect lap as it is possible to come, Michelin's front qualifying tire allowing Rossi to brake deeper and harder into turns, and maintain more corner speed than ever before.

Behind Rossi, Marco Melandri's 2nd place-setting time went almost unnoticed, despite being faster than previous pole sitter Randy de Puniet's. But Melandri's time, as good as it was, was still some 1.4 seconds slower. The question was, with 8 minutes left in the session, could anybody beat it?

The answer took until the end of the session to come. Many tried, and many improved their times, some of them trying by hanging onto the tail of the Ducati to do so, much to the annoyance of Casey Stoner, but the only man to even get close was The Doctor himself, Valentino Rossi demonstrating that his pole time was no fluke, setting a second lap in the mid-1'58s, just a tenth short of his amazing record lap.

As the clock finally ticked down, Rossi sat regally on pole, with a handsome margin of nearly 0.9 seconds back to second place man John Hopkins, the only other man to break Dani Pedrosa's pole record. Hopkins has been very impressive indeed all weekend, and anyone looking at the lap times Hopkins can run during his long practice session can do nothing but conclude that Hopper has an outstanding chance of taking his first podium on Sunday. Hopkins ended as the filling in a Fiat Yamaha sandwich, with Colin Edwards returning to Texas Tornado form to take 3rd. Edwards was fast on a qualifying tire, but there are doubts about his race pace. Edwards can hit low 2'01s all day, but it looks like it will need 2'00s to win this race.

In 4th spot, at the front of the second row, sits Casey Stoner on the Marlboro Ducati. Stoner is having his toughest weekend of the season so far, with pressure mounting as they young Australian leads the championship. Added to this pressure is his anger at several riders, and Toni Elias in particular, who have spent the practice sessions hanging around at the start of the back straight waiting for the Ducati to pass, both to grab a tow and improve their times, but also to see how much they are losing down the straight, and how much they can gain on the brakes going into the slow hairpin at the end. The Ducati's blown engine, if that's what it was, has piled on even more worries. Stoner will face his first real test of character on Sunday, and if his bike holds together, we will now what he is made of. The young Aussie has race pace, but he have race toughness?

In 5th spot sits last year's pole sitter and race winner, Dani Pedrosa. The Spanish prodigy is facing his longest winless spell ever, and is quickly coming up on a year since his last victory. Pedrosa simply dominated here in 2006, and though he is clearly the best of the Hondas, he starts from a much weaker position than last year. Pedrosa seems to have found the necessary pace on race settings during qualifying, and was the only bike gatecrashing the Ducati party in the top speed charts, but he will have to stay with the leading pack to stand a chance of a repeat.

Where the gaps between 2nd to 5th spot are negligible, Gresini Honda man Marco Melandri sits in 6th place on the grid, a quarter of a second behind Pedrosa, and is just off the pace in terms of race pace. 7th place man Randy de Puniet, who held the fastest lap time for a large part of the session, seems to be closer to having race pace, and with the extra horses that Kawasaki have found helping him stay with the Ducatis down the back straight, could be the surprise package on Sunday.

Pramac d'Antin's Alex Barros put the fastest Ducati down the back straight into 8th spot, ahead of reigning world champion Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid has had more new parts for his Honda RC212V, and as each session progresses, seems to be coming to terms with the new bike more and more. Though he is still a little short of pace for Sunday, with every race, Hayden gets closer to putting up the kind of title defense he believes is worthy of world champion. Shinya Nakano rounds out the top 10 on the Konica Minolta Honda, another rider who is slowly getting to grips with the new bike, and in Super Shinya's case, the new tires. Nakano is clearly stronger on qualifiers, but is still a second down on the times needed to run at the front during the race.

So, despite all the speculation before the start of the weekend, the Ducatis have so far failed to dominate anything but the speed charts. Loris Capirossi, Stoner's veteran team mate, is languishing way down in 14th spot on the grid, not where you would expect him to be after his podium spot at Istanbul 2 weeks ago. In fact, if you had predicted the Ducatis would be 4th, 8th, 11th and 14th on the grid, you would have been laughed out of the room. But that is exactly where they stand. Capirex can take some small comfort from finishing ahead of Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, who continues to put in poor qualifying performances. But his grid position may once again turn out to be deceptive, as he is much closer to the necessary race pace than his lowly 15th spot suggests. That Capirossi and Vermeulen should be together on the grid is somehow very apt, as both men came together and crashed while they were trying to set fast laps. Fortunately, neither rider was hurt, but Capirossi's leathers tore open on his upper arm, probably as a result of being trapped by the bike, a rather worrying development after something similar happened to Olivier Jacque, where the Frenchman suffered a very serious gash to his upper arm during practice yesterday.

All in all, it looks like being a fascinating race on Sunday, pitting Stoner's and Pedrosa's flat out top speed against Rossi's and Hopkins' agility and strength in braking. All the signs are that we could have a repeat of Qatar on our hands, with three nationalities on four makes of bike dueling it out for the top honors. On paper, if Stoner still has company on the final lap, you would still have to say that Stoner should win it, by powering away from everyone down the back straight. But that means he will have to stay with Rossi and Hopkins till the end. All will be revealed on Sunday.

MotoGP Shanghai Qualifying Practice Result.

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2007 Shanghai Qualifying Practice

The rain that has been threatening Shanghai all weekend stayed away on Saturday, the day getting brighter and warmer, and the haze that obscured the view down the long back straight gradually drawing up its veil on a fascinating's day of practice. The morning's free practice session saw times improved by nearly 3/4 of a second, and set a benchmark for the kind of pace that will be necessary to win a race, with John Hopkins and Casey Stoner running consistent laps in the high 2:00 mark.

So an expectant, and thankfully, clearer air hung over the afternoon's qualifying practice session. From the start, the surprise of Shanghai continued at the front, John Hopkins quickly setting the fastest lap time on his Rizla Suzuki, and improving on it over the course of his first very long run of 15 laps, nearly 3/4 race distance. Hopkins held the advantage until 5 minutes before the halfway mark, when the odds-on favorite to win Sunday's race put in a very quick lap of 2'00.311 to set the fastest time of the weekend so far, during a sequence of laps in the mid 2'00 bracket.

Stoner's lead was not to be long-lived however, as within a couple of minutes, Frenchman Randy de Puniet had put on his usual set of early qualifiers to become the first rider to crack the 1'59 mark, setting a lap of 1'59.985. The conventional approach to tires is to only take 2 qualifiers, now that new regulations restrict the number of tires taken, but ever since the first race in Qatar, de Puniet has ignored such thinking, taking an extra rear qualifier in the hope of improving his grid position. Other riders are now cottoning on to the young Kawasaki rider's trick, and with 25 minutes to go, Alex Hofmann of the Pramac d'Antin Ducati team roared across the line to set the second fastest time on a qualifier.

All eyes were now on the works Ducati team, and their young rider Casey Stoner, the man leading the world championship and winner of 2 of the 3 races run so far this year. The Ducati's speed down the back straight was not in question, Alex Barros having been clocked at 332 km/h, or around 208 mph. Surely Stoner would wrest back the pole position, the only question being by how much. But the next time we saw Casey Stoner it was not the sight of the young Australian flashing across the finish line having set a new pole time. Instead, it was Stoner sitting up rapidly going into Turn 1, the clutch pulled in, and the engine of his Ducati Desmosedici GP07 seized solid, judging by the way his rear wheel skidded as Stoner tentatively released the clutch to see if the bike would start. No official word has yet been released about the cause of Stoner's pull-up, but although Turn 1 is at the end of the shorter of the two long straights, the suspicion must be that the stresses of those straights are taking their toll on the engines, especially one as highly strung as the Ducati. The bikes spend 9 seconds at full throttle in top gear down the back straight, 3 seconds longer than last year, and a very long time for an engine turning at over 19,000 rpm. Stoner's engine blow up could well be an omen of things to come on Sunday, especially if the weather is hotter than it was during Qualifying. It will be interesting to see if the Ducati's top speed is diminished during the warm up on Sunday morning, a sure sign that the Ducati engineers have decided it to play it safe and turn the engine down a few notches, from what is reputed to be its highest setting of "11".

With 15 minutes to go, the dogs of war were unleashed, as ever they are at this point in qualifying, and the timing screens were awash with red and blue of riders setting fast times. Shinya Nakano, who has done so poorly so far this season, stormed to 4th spot; Nicky Hayden blew through into 2nd, only to have Yamaha's Colin Edwards take 2nd from him a minute later, with a time just 2/1000ths shy of the 2'00 mark. A couple of moments later, John Hopkins flew through into 3rd place, pushing Hayden down the standings, and behind Hopkins, Randy de Puniet came close to improving his time, but fell just a few thousandths short of improving his own best time.

But behind them all, The Doctor was coming. His intermediate times had been astonishing, and as he crossed the line, those watching fell speechless. Valentino Rossi, on a bike with 190 cc less displacement and significantly less power than last year, on the track with the longest straights and the highest top speeds, destroyed last year's pole record time by nearly 9/10ths of a second, setting a fastest lap of 1'58.424. A time 1.5 seconds faster than de Puniet's previous fastest lap. Rossi rode what is surely as close to a perfect lap as it is possible to come, Michelin's front qualifying tire allowing Rossi to brake deeper and harder into turns, and maintain more corner speed than ever before.

Behind Rossi, Marco Melandri's 2nd place-setting time went almost unnoticed, despite being faster than previous pole sitter Randy de Puniet's. But Melandri's time, as good as it was, was still some 1.4 seconds slower. The question was, with 8 minutes left in the session, could anybody beat it?

The answer took until the end of the session to come. Many tried, and many improved their times, some of them trying by hanging onto the tail of the Ducati to do so, much to the annoyance of Casey Stoner, but the only man to even get close was The Doctor himself, Valentino Rossi demonstrating that his pole time was no fluke, setting a second lap in the mid-1'58s, just a tenth short of his amazing record lap.

As the clock finally ticked down, Rossi sat regally on pole, with a handsome margin of nearly 0.9 seconds back to second place man John Hopkins, the only other man to break Dani Pedrosa's pole record. Hopkins has been very impressive indeed all weekend, and anyone looking at the lap times Hopkins can run during his long practice session can do nothing but conclude that Hopper has an outstanding chance of taking his first podium on Sunday. Hopkins ended as the filling in a Fiat Yamaha sandwich, with Colin Edwards returning to Texas Tornado form to take 3rd. Edwards was fast on a qualifying tire, but there are doubts about his race pace. Edwards can hit low 2'01s all day, but it looks like it will need 2'00s to win this race.

In 4th spot, at the front of the second row, sits Casey Stoner on the Marlboro Ducati. Stoner is having his toughest weekend of the season so far, with pressure mounting as they young Australian leads the championship. Added to this pressure is his anger at several riders, and Toni Elias in particular, who have spent the practice sessions hanging around at the start of the back straight waiting for the Ducati to pass, both to grab a tow and improve their times, but also to see how much they are losing down the straight, and how much they can gain on the brakes going into the slow hairpin at the end. The Ducati's blown engine, if that's what it was, has piled on even more worries. Stoner will face his first real test of character on Sunday, and if his bike holds together, we will now what he is made of. The young Aussie has race pace, but he have race toughness?

In 5th spot sits last year's pole sitter and race winner, Dani Pedrosa. The Spanish prodigy is facing his longest winless spell ever, and is quickly coming up on a year since his last victory. Pedrosa simply dominated here in 2006, and though he is clearly the best of the Hondas, he starts from a much weaker position than last year. Pedrosa seems to have found the necessary pace on race settings during qualifying, and was the only bike gatecrashing the Ducati party in the top speed charts, but he will have to stay with the leading pack to stand a chance of a repeat.

Where the gaps between 2nd to 5th spot are negligible, Gresini Honda man Marco Melandri sits in 6th place on the grid, a quarter of a second behind Pedrosa, and is just off the pace in terms of race pace. 7th place man Randy de Puniet, who held the fastest lap time for a large part of the session, seems to be closer to having race pace, and with the extra horses that Kawasaki have found helping him stay with the Ducatis down the back straight, could be the surprise package on Sunday.

Pramac d'Antin's Alex Barros put the fastest Ducati down the back straight into 8th spot, ahead of reigning world champion Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid has had more new parts for his Honda RC212V, and as each session progresses, seems to be coming to terms with the new bike more and more. Though he is still a little short of pace for Sunday, with every race, Hayden gets closer to putting up the kind of title defense he believes is worthy of world champion. Shinya Nakano rounds out the top 10 on the Konica Minolta Honda, another rider who is slowly getting to grips with the new bike, and in Super Shinya's case, the new tires. Nakano is clearly stronger on qualifiers, but is still a second down on the times needed to run at the front during the race.

So, despite all the speculation before the start of the weekend, the Ducatis have so far failed to dominate anything but the speed charts. Loris Capirossi, Stoner's veteran team mate, is languishing way down in 14th spot on the grid, not where you would expect him to be after his podium spot at Istanbul 2 weeks ago. In fact, if you had predicted the Ducatis would be 4th, 8th, 11th and 14th on the grid, you would have been laughed out of the room. But that is exactly where they stand. Capirex can take some small comfort from finishing ahead of Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, who continues to put in poor qualifying performances. But his grid position may once again turn out to be deceptive, as he is much closer to the necessary race pace than his lowly 15th spot suggests. That Capirossi and Vermeulen should be together on the grid is somehow very apt, as both men came together and crashed while they were trying to set fast laps. Fortunately, neither rider was hurt, but Capirossi's leathers tore open on his upper arm, probably as a result of being trapped by the bike, a rather worrying development after something similar happened to Olivier Jacque, where the Frenchman suffered a very serious gash to his upper arm during practice yesterday.

All in all, it looks like being a fascinating race on Sunday, pitting Stoner's and Pedrosa's flat out top speed against Rossi's and Hopkins' agility and strength in braking. All the signs are that we could have a repeat of Qatar on our hands, with three nationalities on four makes of bike dueling it out for the top honors. On paper, if Stoner still has company on the final lap, you would still have to say that Stoner should win it, by powering away from everyone down the back straight. But that means he will have to stay with Rossi and Hopkins till the end. All will be revealed on Sunday.

MotoGP Shanghai Qualifying Practice Result.

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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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