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Sepang MotoGP Testing Wrap-up

The four major Japanese manufacturers wrapped up three days of testing at Sepang today, in the second of the preseason's testing sessions. Though the Japanese manufacturers and teams were present, a number of notable names were absent. Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri both missed the test as a result of minor surgery performed to reduce arm pump, a problem both riders had suffered during the season. The other big name missing was Valentino Rossi, who is currently in New Zealand competing in the WRC New Zealand Rally. After rejecting a move to Formula 1 and Ferrari earlier this year, Rossi is evaluating whether he believes he can be competitive in WRC. Rossi has previously competed in Rally racing at several levels, and is likely to move to WRC after he finally retires from MotoGP.

Testing started with a flashback to the Sepang race weekend: On the first day of testing, all work ceased around 1pm as the track flooded during a tropical downpour. Before the rain came, it was Colin Edwards who had set the fastest time, 1/3 of a second faster than Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, with the Australian's team mate John Hopkins setting the 3rd fastest time. Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque set the 4th fastest time on the 990cc Kawasaki, ahead of Nicky Hayden on the RC212V.

Day 2 of the tests started dry, but with very high humidity. It started later than planned, as sections of the track still had to dry after the previous day's torrential rain, leaving turn 3 chest deep in water. Thursday saw yet another long-awaited debut, as Kawasaki finally rolled out its 800, making it the last manufacturer to unveil its 2007 machine. Where Yamaha had set the fastest time on Wednesday, Thursday saw Colin Edwards slip to 3rd fastest on the day, though he did improve on his time. At the top of the time sheets were the Suzuki pairing of John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen, the order reversed from the day before, though still only 0.1 seconds separating the two of them. Nicky Hayden was the first Honda rider once again, with the 4th fastest time.

Day 3 once again started out dry, though the rain returned at the end of the day. By that time, almost everyone had packed up and left, though Nicky Hayden and Toni Elias took advantage of the conditions to test how the RC212V performed in the wet. The morning had started with an interesting absentee, the Kawasaki team having decided to return to the workshop, after suffering too many problems during the previous day for them to continue testing on Friday. And by the end of the morning session, Kawasaki were joined by Colin Edwards, Makoto Tamada and John Hopkins, who decided to call it a day after making sufficient progress over the past few days. Only Chris Vermeulen, Suzuki's test rider Nobu Aoki, and the Honda men kept going for the afternoon, until the rain came with a couple of hours to go. Once again, it was the Rizla Suzuki riders who headed the timesheets, John Hopkins having set a very fast well inside of 2:02. His team mate Chris Vermeulen set the 2nd fastest time, 0.36 seconds slower, while Colin Edwards was 3rd fastest once again, after having tried out a new Chassis for the Yamaha 800. Nicky Hayden was fastest Honda rider in 4th again, less than 0.1 seconds faster than Makoto Tamada on the Tech 3 Yamaha. The Hondas of Toni Elias and Carlos Checa followed, ahead of HRC test rider Tady Okada.

As the initial test season progresses, plenty of surprises abound. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absolute dominance of Suzuki during the sessions so far, with both Hopkins and Vermeulen consistently heading the timesheets here and at Valencia. The 990 Suzuki's handling has never been in doubt, but since the beginning of the MotoGP era, Suzuki riders have complained about a lack of horsepower. This problem seems to have disappeared entirely with the coming of the 800s, with no obvious explanation.

The other big surprise is the relatively poor performance of the Honda. Everyone expected the RC212V to dominate from the very beginning, as in theory, all Honda needed to do was lose a cylinder from their V5 990. But things have not worked out that way so far, and both Hayden and Elias have complained of a lack of power from the Honda 800. Though it's early days yet, no one expected the mighty Honda to have to mount a title defense coming from behind; the general belief was that Honda would lead right from the beginning. But, as Nicky Hayden said after the tests, "We definitely need to find more power and speed to stay in touch with our rivals". They have a long way to go if they want to hold on to the title.

The times from the tests.

Rider Team Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
1 John Hopkins Rizla Suzuki 2:04.03 2:02.73 2:01.64
2 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki 2:03.9 2:02.83 2:02.0
3 Colin Edwards Camel Yamaha 2:03.56 2:02.91 2:02.43
4 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda 2:04.69 2:03.74 2:03.28
5 Makoto Tamada Yamaha Tech3 2:05.06* 2:04.65 2:03.36
6 Toni Elías Honda Gresini Racing 2:05.02 2:03.87 2:03.55
7 Carlos Checa Honda LCR 2:11.0 2:04.08 2:04.27
8 Tady Okada HRC 2:05.98 2:05.63 2:04.44
9 Olivier Jacque Kawasaki Racing 2:04.02* 2:04.47 -
* aboard the 990cc bike.

Winter testing continues at Jerez on November 28, the final session before the official winter test ban, which starts on December 1 and runs through January 20.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

For news of the January 22nd - 24th tests, see these stories:

January 22, Day 1
January 23, Day 2
January 24, Day 3

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Eckl And Kawasaki Split

Though it can hardly be unexpected, as rumors had resounded round the paddock for a long time, Kawasaki have announced that they are ending their collaboration with Harald Eckl to run their MotoGP racing team for 2007. The Japanese factory will take over running the team themselves for 2007, basing their team in either France or The Netherlands. The split with Eckl will have no consequences for the rider line up, but it is likely that most of the team personnel will be replaced.

Whether this means the end of MotoGP for Harald Eckl is unknown. It is widely believed that he will move to Ilmor, as he has a history with Eskil Suter, who was involved in the inception of the Kawasaki MotoGP team. His experience in running a MotoGP team would be a logical and welcome addition to the British-based team's MotoGP challenge.

Read more about this on the Dutch racing site racesport.nl.

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MotoGP Winter Testing Schedule

Although the season is over, there's no rest for the riders just yet. They have a full schedule of testing to prepare themselves and the bikes for the 2007 season, starting March 10, in Qatar. So if you're near one of these circuits over the winter, drop by and see the future take shape.

Dates Circuit Country
November 15, 2006 - November 17, 2006 Sepang Malaysia
November 28, 2006 - November 30, 2006 Jerez Spain
December 1, 2006 - January 20, 2007 Winter Testing ban: No testing is allowed to take place during this period, giving the riders the nearest thing they have to a vacation.
January 22, 2007 - January 24, 2007 Sepang Malaysia
January 30, 2007 - February 1, 2007 Phillip Island Australia
February 5, 2007 - February 7, 2007 Sepang Malaysia
February 13, 2007 - February 15, 2007 Losail Qatar
February 23, 2007 - February 25, 2007 Official Irta test, Jerez Spain

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MotoGP Winter Testing Schedule

Although the season is over, there's no rest for the riders just yet. They have a full schedule of testing to prepare themselves and the bikes for the 2007 season, starting March 10, in Qatar. So if you're near one of these circuits over the winter, drop by and see the future take shape.

Dates Circuit Country
November 15, 2006 - November 17, 2006 Sepang Malaysia
November 28, 2006 - November 30, 2006 Jerez Spain
December 1, 2006 - January 20, 2007 Winter Testing ban: No testing is allowed to take place during this period, giving the riders the nearest thing they have to a vacation.
January 22, 2007 - January 24, 2007 Sepang Malaysia
January 30, 2007 - February 1, 2007 Phillip Island Australia
February 5, 2007 - February 7, 2007 Sepang Malaysia
February 13, 2007 - February 15, 2007 Losail Qatar
February 23, 2007 - February 25, 2007 Official Irta test, Jerez Spain

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It's Official: Gibernau Retires

As everybody expected, Sete Gibernau officially announced his retirement from the highest level of motorcycle racing. "Racing doesn't make me happy any more, and I don't need to do it for the money," the Spaniard said at an emotional press conference in Barcelona. Gibernau will be 34 in December, and had suffered a series of injuries and operations this year. He has been racing in the MotoGP series since 1996, and finished MotoGP championship runner up in 2003 and 2004. An interesting detail is that Gibernau specifically mentioned retiring from the "highest level" of motorcycle racing, leaving the option open to return to some other form of racing at some point in the future.

~~~ UPDATE ~~~

Roadracerx.com have a transcript of Gibernau's press conference. Well worth reading.

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Sete Gibernau To Announce Future On Wednesday Morning

Since losing his ride at Ducati, there has been much speculation about just what Sete Gibernau will be doing next year. As the final seats have disappeared over the course of the past few weeks, Gibernau's options have become ever more limited. With only the Ilmor seats now left open, rumors that the Spanish rider is to retire are growing louder.

But now, the speculation is due to come to an end, as according to MotoGP.com, Sete Gibernau has called a press conference for Wednesday morning. He has stated that he will announce his plans in Barcelona on Wednesday.

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The 800s - The First Day Of Testing

Well, official times are coming from Valencia, and times have dropped since the reports I heard in the afternoon. Fastest time of the day was set by Valentino Rossi, who put in a 1:33.1 on one of the 43 laps he rode. Surprisingly, Rossi also put in 27 laps on the 990, clocking a fastest time of 1:32.7. The second fastest on the track was Loris Capirossi on the Ducati, and the two Suzukis of John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen, who put in a 1:33.14 and 1:33.17 respectively. Dani Pedrosa on the new RC212V was next fastest, followed by Casey Stoner and freshly-crowned world champion Nicky Hayden, on his first outing on the 800. The times are pretty phenomenal, all very close to the lap times set in the race, with Rossi coming within a whisker of breaking the previous lap record set by Marco Melandri in 2005.

It has to be said that the highly twisty nature of the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, Valencia suits the 800, which have a higher corner speed than the 990s, as a result of the lower gyroscopic effect of the mass of internal moving parts. At faster tracks, the time differential will be bigger. But so far, MotoGP watchers are agog at just how fast they were.

Valentino Rossi wasn't the only person out on the 990. The Gresini team, with Marco Melandri and Toni Elias were out trying out the new Bridgestone tires, as was MotoGP returnee Alex Barros. Barros, on his first outing on the d'Antin Ducati, put in a time of 1:33.6, 1.5 seconds faster than either of the d'Antin riders put in on Sunday on the same bikes, but with Dunlop rubber.

The season has started, and it's already shaping up to be outstanding. See MotoGrandPrix.it for more details.

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How Fast Are The New 800s?

Today marked the unofficial opening of the 2007 MotoGP season, just 3 days after the 2006 season ended. For today, the new 800 cc MotoGP bikes hit the track in earnest, after the 990s were retired on Sunday. The question in everyone's minds is, of course, just how fast the new 800s are. Although no official times have been released so far, sources close to the Valencia track are reporting that the Honda and Ducati 800s are running in the mid 1:33s. To put this into perspective, the fastest race lap on Sunday was 1:32.924, just 0.6 seconds faster. Whether the 800s were running qualifiers or race tires is as yet unknown, but either way, the times are just plain fast. If you compare the times of the only 800 for which we have actual data, the Ilmor, they are well ahead of the British firm. It's looking increasingly like it won't be long before lap records start tumbling once again ...

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Andrew Pitt The Latest Name Linked With Ilmor

Many names have been already linked with Ilmor, but the latest rider to be spotted hanging around the British manufacturer's pit box is former Yamaha World Superbike racer Andrew Pitt. Pitt was dropped unexpectedly this year by Yamaha, to make room for Troy Corser who was unceremoniously dumped by Corona Suzuki at the end of the year. There can be no doubt that Pitt has talent: he is a former World Supersport champion, and has improved during each of the 3 seasons he has spent in World Superbike. What's more, he is a good deal younger than either of the other names currently being linked with Ilmor, the 34 year old Garry McCoy, or the 41(!) year old Jeremy McWilliams.

More details on this, and the rest of the first day's testing at Valencia, over on MotoGrandPrix.it

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The Final Seats - Guintoli To Tech 3, And McWilliams Rumored For Ilmor

French 250 cc rider Sylvain Guintoli has announced on his website that he will be riding for the Yamaha Tech 3 team next year. No official confirmation has been seen yet, but as Guintoli has tested with Tech 3 several times this year, it would be a logical step, despite Guintoli's mid-pack performances this year. Guintoli's addition to the grid will bring the total of French riders in MotoGP to 3.

In other news, the BBC is reporting that British veteran Jeremy McWilliams may join Ilmor next year. Although McWilliams is a very experienced development rider, which would benefit Ilmor enormously, he is already 41 in a sport dominated by the young. Whether he actually gets the ride next year remains to be seen.

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