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Official IRTA Test At Jerez, Day 1

The first day of the official IRTA test, the last test before the season finally gets underway, started inauspiciously. The weather gods, who were so unkind to MotoGP last season, continued to display their fickle nature, with the morning's session almost unusable, with the track neither wet nor dry. The Jerez track has been fairly well drenched throughout the 250 and 125 tests which took place earlier in the week, and the track surface stubbornly refused to dry throughout the morning, yet not wet enough to run rain tires, leaving little to be learnt from such a changeable surface. Only the hard-working test riders, Ducati's Vittoriano Guareschi and Shinichi Ito, and John Hopkins' replacement at Suzuki, Kousuke Akiyoshi were out putting in the laps before lunchtime, the rest of the riders preferring to stay inside a warm garage.

Ironically, it was the first proper rain shower which brought the riders out on to the track, keen to learn from the properly wet conditions. The riders' appearance seemed to appease the entity in charge of the waterworks, as the rained eased, then stopped after an hour or so, and the Southern Spanish track started to dry out properly. But though the action picked up a little, it remained a pretty low key affair, until about an hour from the end of the session, at which point a frenzy akin to the last ten minutes of qualifying broke out, with everyone out running hot laps.

So, thought times were set and a pecking order established, the conditions were far too variable to be able to draw reliable conclusions from the day's results. Even Marco Melandri's fastest time is 2 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi's race lap record, and over 2.6 seconds slower than Dani Pedrosa's fastest time set the last time the MotoGP grid was here, back in November.

But Melandri, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were all fast, with Carlos Checa a little way behind, Alex Barros hot on the Spanish veteran's heels. The big surprises were further down the timesheet, with Valentino Rossi setting only the 13th fastest time, nearly 2 seconds behind Melandri, and reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden down in 19th, over 3.3 seconds slower. But conditions being the way they were, the times were all fairly meaningless.

The test continues tomorrow, with everyone hoping for better conditions.

1 Marco Melandri Honda Gresini 1'42.563
2 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro Team 1'42.634
3 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 1'42.796
4 Carlos Checa Honda LCR 1'43.206
5 Alex Barros Pramac d'Antin 1'43.214
6 Randy de Puniet Kawasaki Racing Team 1'43.315
7 Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team 1'43.475
8 Alex Hofmann Pramac d'Antin 1'43.673
9 Toni Elias Honda Gresini 1'43.687
10 Shinya Nakano Konica Minolta Honda 1'43.817
11 Colin Edwards Yamaha Factory Racing 1'43.845
12 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'44.052
13 Valentino Rossi Yamaha Factory Racing Team 1'44.494
14 Olivier Jacque Kawasaki Racing Team 1'44.659
15 Makoto Tamada Dunlop Yamaha Tech 3 1'45.081
16 Sylvain Guintoli Dunlop Yamaha Tech 3 1'45.208
17 Vittoriano Guareschi Ducati Marlboro 1'45.603
18 Shinichi Ito Ducati Marlboro 1'45.826
19 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda 1'45.901
20 Kousuke Akiyoshi Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'47.191
21 Kenny Roberts Jr. Team Roberts 1'45.937
22 Jeremy McWilliams Ilmor GP 1'47.191
23 Andrew Pitt Ilmor GP 1'49.365

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Akiyoshi To Replace Hopkins At Jerez IRTA Test

After John Hopkins nasty crash on the last day of testing in Qatar, in which he broke a bone in his wrist, it was patently obvious that Hopper would not be able to take part in the official IRTA test which starts on Friday at Jerez in Spain. And now, MotoGrandPrix.it has ended the speculation of whether Chris Vermeulen would be the sole Suzuki rider at Jerez with a report that Hopper is to be replaced by Kousuke Akiyoshi for the duration of the test. Akiyoshi is active in Japanese Superbikes, and put in a creditable performance when appearing as a wildcard rider at the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi last September, finishing 13th in the race, behind Chris Vermeulen, and qualifying in 12th spot, as fastest Suzuki.

Hopkins is expected to be fit enough to race at the season opener in Qatar on March 10th. After Qatar, he will have two more weeks to recover, giving his wrist a decent chance of recovery.

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Team KR: Does King Kenny Play Poker?

After Thursday's shock announcement that Kenny Roberts Sr may withdraw from the 2007 MotoGP season if a sponsor is forthcoming, questions are starting to be asked about Robert's sincerity. King Kenny is known to have a few sharp moves under his hat when it comes to negotiating tactics, and voices were raised almost immediately that this was just a negotiating tactic, to put pressure on either Dorna, or a potential sponsor, to speed up affairs.

It now seems that this reading of events may not be so far from the truth. Speculation on the internet and sources close to the paddock seem to suggest that Team KR already has a sponsorship contract signed and sealed, and that Roberts Sr's announcement was more about pressuring Dorna, and attracting attention to the perilous state of sponsorship in MotoGP, than an actual threat. With the season due to start in just 3 weeks time, we'll find out soon enough whether this was just a bluff, or whether Kenny really is holding an empty hand.

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Bombshell: Team KR May Withdraw From 2007 MotoGP Season

Superbikeplanet.com has an interview with Kenny Roberts Sr in which King Kenny states he may be forced to withdraw from the 2007 MotoGP season due to a lack of funds. This would be a remarkable failure, as the story of Team KR is one of the most interesting in the entire paddock.

What the story does highlight, however, is the chronic and frankly incomprehensible lack of funding for MotoGP. With 320 million fans worldwide, you would think that companies would be chomping at the bit to pour money into motorcycle racing, but nothing could be further from the truth. And the fact is, there are no easy answers why this should be the case. So, if you love MotoGP, want to help, and work for a large organization, drop your marketing department a line. If your company is interested in trying to do business in Southern Europe, there is no better investment for their marketing dollars. You've got nothing to lose but the five minutes or so it will take you to write the e-mail.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

I just finished reading the article, and it's a great analysis of what's wrong with corporate sponsorship. Very soon, viewing figures for MotoGP will catch and then pass those of Formula 1. And yet Dutch bank ING have just poured $100 million dollars into Formula 1, an amount of money for which you could run nearly the entire MotoGP field. MotoGP is where the bang for the buck is. Write those e-mails tomorrow.

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Qatar IRTA Test Day 3 Update: Hopkins In Hospital

Just minutes after posting a blistering 1'55.825 lap, just 0.2 seconds off Casey Stoner's pole record at Qatar, John Hopkins crashed out of the test, and into a local hospital. According to Motorcyclenews.com, Hopkins suffered a major highside out of turn 13. He was immediately taken from the track to a local hospital. Although his situation is unclear, his hands had swollen after the crash, and it looks like he may have broken either a wrist, or possibly bones in both hands. He is out for the rest of the test, and is unlikely to be present at the next official IRTA test in Jerez next weekend. Suzuki are hopeful that Hopper will be back for the season opener at Qatar on March 10th.

Testing continues, with the teams starting to test qualifiers. It seems highly likely that Hopkins' fastest time of the day will be beaten by day's end.

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A Strange Sense Of Timing At MotoGP.com

Something curious is going on over at MotoGP.com, the official website of MotoGP. Right in the middle of the second-biggest pre-season test, as public interest is building towards the start of an eagerly-anticipated season, they have taken the site down for maintenance. They also seem to have switched IP addresses, which would suggest they are moving servers in the middle of an event.

This leaves visitors to the site staring at message apologizing for the maintenance currently under way. This is a pretty frustrating prospect for the more dedicated fans and followers. The only positive spin we can put on this is that it may be an attempt to address bandwidth issues which some users, particularly those based in the US, suffered at the end of last season. This may also be related to the high-bandwidth, high-quality video streams that MotoGP.com is offering to subscribers. If it means a better quality, more reliable service, most fans will be delighted.

The problem, though, is the timing. Halfway through a test, with the eyes of the public focused upon them is not a good time to go upgrading systems. We can only hope that it means the quality of service will be vastly improved over the remainder of the season.

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Updated Site Design

I've updated the design, to make the layout a little easier to use. I hope you all like it, and if it doesn't work for you, let me know, and I'll try and fix it.

~~~ UPDATED 13 FEB ~~~

I've reverted to the old layout for the moment. I shall try and fix the problems you've been having this evening (my time). It seems like it's Internet Explorer which is causing the biggest problems, but I'm going to have to add some padding in the content cell for everyone. But it does seem like everyone prefers the new layout. Now I just have to fix the color scheme.

Thanks for your feedback!

~~~ UPDATED AGAIN 13 FEB ~~~

Right, we're back with a revised color scheme. I've simplified the changes I've made, so your browsers shouldn't get into such a mess. If you have any problems, please let me know! And if you do like it or don't like it, also let me know...

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Rossi Prolongs With Yamaha - Stays In MotoGP For 2008 Season - Updated

Yamaha has announced that Valentino Rossi will be staying with them for the 2008 season as well as 2007. The contract was announced to put a premature end to speculation that Rossi could once again leave MotoGP to race four wheels, either in Formula 1, or, much more likely, in WRC Rallying.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

Both Rossi and Lin Jarvis make explicit mention of "concentrating on racing" in the press release. This seems to me, and to most observers, to be an implicit admission that Rossi's flirt with Formula One last year was a contributory factor to the problems Yamaha suffered at the beginning of the season. After Rossi's appearance in the WRC Rally of New Zealand, speculation began once again that Rossi would leave MotoGP at the end of the year to go Rallying. This speculation has finally been put to rest.

Valentino Rossi being Valentino Rossi, that is, one of the biggest names in professional sports, speculation will, of course, continue. People as diverse as the head of Ferrari, the head of Formula One, and the head of WRC have all stated that Rossi would be more than welcome in their sport, in some cases even hinting that a deal was close to being made. Mostly, these statements have been made in the hope that some of Rossi's public charisma will rub off on their sports.

It is almost certain that Rossi will switch to WRC at the end of his MotoGP career. His annoucement that he will be entering the Rally Of Great Britain at the end of 2007, seems merely to confirm this move. Rallying is his second love, after motorcycle racing, and offers a viable new career path after he retires. But, fortunately for motorcycle racing fans, we still have at least two more years to enjoy his astonishing skills.

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Two Absentees At Phillip Island Test - Kawasaki And Yamaha Missing

Privacy is a precious commodity. And an increasingly rare one, as technology allows ever greater scrutiny. And it seems as if some MotoGP teams sometimes feel the same way. This seems the only plausible reason that both Kawasaki and Yamaha have decided to pull out of the upcoming MotoGP test at Phillip Island in Australia.

Yamaha had announced earlier that they would not be testing at Phillip Island, preferring to run a private test at Sepang in Malaysia, scene of the previous MotoGP test. No official reason was given, but most speculation has concentrated on tires, with the Yamaha riders spending some time testing the new Michelin 16 inch front tire at the previous test. Motorcyclenews.com has quoted Valentino Rossi as saying that Yamaha are in search of "driveability and acceleration". One way of obtaining better driveability is of course by altering cylinder firing orders. Changing firing sequence is the kind of change which is immediately obvious to bystanders, and therefore very much the kind of change you would want to run at a private test, far from the prying ears of the competition.

Kawasaki, on the other hand, have not given a reason for their absence. What makes their absence all the more unexpected are the very fast times posted by de Puniet posted during the last test at Sepang. De Puniet's success suggested that Kawasaki had found answers to the rather disastrous first public outing for the Kawasaki 800, when the new bike blew up after just a few laps, to be returned to the factory for further development work. Possibly, the runs at Sepang may have uncovered a few more minor problems which, though not enough to prevent de Puniet putting in fast laps, could require attention before being subjected to more punishment at a public test.

This leaves the Honda teams, the Ducati teams, Suzuki, and Team KR as the only teams to be present for the Phillip Island tests, which start on Tuesday. The absence of Yamaha will increase the scrutiny of Suzuki's performance, with Phillip Island being a track at which Suzuki has run particularly badly, despite Chris Vermeulen's 2nd place in the rain last year. If Suzuki are fast over the next few days, then it will be yet more proof that this year, the Suzuki threat is for real. This focus will also please Honda, which is due to provide new parts for the Repsol pair of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, in an attempt to remedy what appears to be a woeful lack of horsepower. There's still a long way to go till Qatar.

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The Hayden MTV Show Approaches Reality

According to the US magazine RoadRacerX, MTV's reality TV show based around Nicky Hayden got one step closer to reality this week. The pilot episode has been finished, and is due to be screened to focus groups, before MTV executives finally make the go-no go decision on whether to put the series into production. If the series does receive the go-ahead, then it is unlikely to be aired until the end of this year.

The idea of a show on MTV has not been well received by hardcore racing fans, as they fear it will trivialize MotoGP, and reduce the richness and complexity of motorcycle racing down to a matter of personalities. Their biggest fear is that their beloved sport will be buried under a wave of teenyboppers only interested in Hayden's cheeky smile, rather than his racing skills.

On the other hand, an influx of young fans would be excellent news for the series, and for motorcycle racing in general. Even though MotoGP audiences have been steadily rising over the past few years, the difficulties several teams have had in obtaining sponsorship point to a perceived weakness in its popularity. A show on MTV would open up a new and highly valuable audience to MotoGP, and help attract sponsors targeting the youth market.

The only downside of the show is the timing: if the show goes ahead, and is aired at the end of the year, the season will already be over, and MotoGP's new-found fans will not be able to hook right in to a season of great racing. Hopefully, the show will run until late March 2008, and finish around the time the new season starts.

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