Valentino Rossi's test to see if he is fit enough to compete at Aragon was brought forward a day. The poor weather expected for Tuesday and Wednesday forced Rossi to take to the track at Misano on Monday afternoon, according to reports from well-informed local paper Rimini Today.
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Michael van der Mark may be flying to Aragon to replace Valentino Rossi at the fourth Spanish round, but it is still not 100% certain that the Dutch Yamaha WorldSBK rider will get to make his MotoGP debut aboard Rossi's Movistar Yamaha M1.
According to reports in various Italian media, Valentino Rossi is to test his fitness on a Yamaha R6 at Misano this week. Just 18 days after breaking the tibia and fibula of his right leg and having surgery to insert titanium pins into the bones to fix them, Rossi will attempt to ride an R6 to gauge whether it will be worth his while flying to Spain for the Aragon round of MotoGP.
The provisional calendar for the 2018 MotoGP season has been released, and as expected, there are few surprises. The schedule has been expanded to 19 races with the inclusion of the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has a contract to host a race through 2020.
The addition of Thailand hasn't altered the schedule much. The 2018 schedule is almost identical to this year's calendar, with just a few minor variations. The season kicks off a week early in Qatar, and to accommodate that earlier start, the time of the race is to be changed to 7pm local time. Starting earlier will mean that MotoGP avoids the evening dew that can render the track so treacherous.
Will MotoGP survive the loss of Valentino Rossi? From the evidence of Misano, the answer is yes. According to the official figures released by Dorna, the attendance over all three days was down just 133 fans. Not bad, when the three-day attendance was over 158,000. The Sunday numbers – a better measure, as the three-day figures are mostly derived by double and triple counting – were down a little, from 100,000 to 96,000.
Disregarding the official numbers (justifiably, as there are plenty of good reasons to suspect the books are well and truly cooked at some circuits), judging visually, the grandstands and grass banks were pretty full, almost as full as last year. Despite the horrendous rain which was heaviest as the fans were making their way to the circuit, and continued all the way up until the flag dropped.
Valentino Rossi is irreplaceable as an icon of the sport, known both inside and outside motorcycle racing. But the cast of characters, heroes and villains, which the sport now has, and the intense and close racing we see is enough to keep the overwhelming majority of the fans watching. There will undoubtedly be a drop in attendance and TV figures, but on the evidence of Misano, it will be nearer a survivable 10%, not a disastrous 40%. MotoGP will survive the loss of Valentino Rossi, once he goes.
All three MotoGP classes gave the fans a reason to keep watching. The rain created a spectacle of its own, with crashes shaking up the outcomes. The early leaders crashed out in both Moto2 and MotoGP, with major consequences for the title in the Moto2 race. Though the winner checked out early in Moto3, the battle for the podium – and as a result, for the championship – heated up behind. And both MotoGP and Moto3 were decided in the last few laps, as riders launched attacks and either saw them rebuffed, or got through to seize glory.
It feels like the two days of practice we have had at Misano are set to come to naught. With a cold first day of practice, a cool morning on the second day, and a hot afternoon, conditions have been hard enough to track, especially after heavy rain on Thursday scoured any rubber from previous events from the surface. But the riders have had no practice in the wet, and with rain set to fall on Sunday – exactly when, we don't know, but fall it will – everything is very much up in the air.
The five factories who tested here should be used to it. The track feels totally different from the test here back in August, grip levels radically lower. Tires feel very different too, despite Michelin insisting they are using the same tires this weekend as they brought to the test. It's all a bit topsy turvy, so why should adding a bit of rain make it any more complicated.
A wet Sunday would be a shame in more than one way. The Misano races in all three classes are shaping up to be fantastic spectacles. In Moto3, four of the top five in the championship start from the first two rows, with Enea Bastianini thrown into the mix for good measure. Moto2 pits Franco Morbidelli against a resurgent Mattia Pasini, the Italian veteran making it four pole positions in a row. Tom Luthi may be on the third row, but his qualifying position belies his pace. Sadly, Alex Márquez will be absent, the Spaniard having banged up his hip badly enough that it's trapped a nerve.
MotoGP is fated not to escape the influence of the weather this season. There has barely been a race which has not been affected in one way or another. Even when it hasn't rained, it has been stiflingly hot, sizzling tracks causing tires to wilt. So why should things be any different at Misano?
Heavy overnight rain left the track still spotty and damp in patches in the morning, Moto3 getting the worst of it, MotoGP just being left to deal with the occasional stubborn spot of dampness where the water took longer to dry. It caused a spate of crashes in the morning, and though the track dried nicely and blue skies dominated, it was cooler than normal. When Marc Márquez tried the hardest front tire, that proved just a little too critical, the Repsol Honda rider washing out the front in the final corner.
The rain had also washed any residual rubber from the track, radically altering the grip level. That was a major setback for the factories which had tested at Misano prior to Silverstone, in preparation for this Grand Prix. "The feeling is completely different than at the test," Aleix Espargaro complained. "It looks like all the settings we had were not working. The grip is completely different. No grip at all. It feels like ice."
Does the absence of Valentino Rossi from the Misano race make much difference? It is too early to tell. Certainly the media center feels a little more empty, but this is a trend which has been underway for a while. Print media has less money to spend, and non-specialist media is increasingly choosing not to report from the race track, taking their information from publicly available sources such as the ever-expanding TV coverage.
Specialist print media and websites are also suffering, though their very rationale depends on being at the track, and so they have little choice. So maybe a more empty press room is a sign that Italian newspapers have decided against sending a correspondent because Valentino Rossi is not racing. Alternatively, it could just be a sign of a more general decline in media presence.
The paddock feels pretty busy, but then it was only Thursday, and the real frenzy doesn't start until the bikes hit the track. We won't really know how badly Rossi absence affects the Misano race until the flag drops on Sunday, and official figures and empty spots on grandstands tell the true tale.
After the announcement that Tito Rabat is to take the GP17 at Avintia Ducati, there is only a single seat still left open on the 2018 MotoGP grid. Xavier Simeon is expected to take that seat, but nothing is yet decided. There are still question marks over Bradley Smith's future at KTM, team bosses unhappy with the Englishman's performance this year. A decision on Smith will likely be taken after the Aragon round of the series.
Below is the line up as it stands on the Thursday before Misano:
Tito Rabat is to race for the Reale Avintia team in 2018. The move had been widely expected, talks having started when it became clear there was no future for Rabat at his current Marc VDS Honda team.
Rabat is to ride a Ducati Desmosedici GP17 at Avintia. The second seat at Avintia is the only seat still left open for the 2018 MotoGP season, and whoever Avintia choose to put on the bike - Belgian rider Xavier Simeon is the current favorite, bringing a sizable sum of money to the team - will use a GP16. The current MotoGP rider line up is here.
Will we get a glimpse of a MotoGP future without Valentino Rossi at Misano? The news that the Italian icon had broken his right leg in an enduro accident will have caused hearts to sink at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, just a few kilometers from Rossi's home in Tavullia. Recent editions have been packed to the rafters. With motorcycling's biggest draw out of action, ticket sales, the biggest source of revenue covering the cost of hosting a MotoGP race, are likely to be down.
How much, is the question, of course. Yes, Valentino Rossi is still unquestionably the biggest name in motorcycle racing, but there are plenty of reasons to be watching right now, and plenty of things for Italian fans to cheer for. An Italian rider, Andrea Dovizioso, is leading the championship on an Italian motorcycle, the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. The racing is closer than it has ever been, with any of five or six riders in with a realistic shout of the win, and a handful more a chance of a podium. More often than not, races are won on the last couple of laps, and surprisingly often, in the last corner. Though the loss of Rossi is an undeniable blow, the show will likely be as good as ever.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the signs are that numbers will be down. There are still plenty of tickets on sale for Sunday at Misano, both in the grandstands and for general admission. Normally, tickets would be few and far between. There is every chance that the grandstands, and more especially the paddock, will be a lot quieter than in previous years.
The Movistar Yamaha team have today confirmed that Valentino Rossi is to miss the Misano round of MotoGP. The injury the Italian sustained in a training accident last week is sufficiently severe that he will not be fit for his home round.
Yamaha had widely been expected to withdraw Rossi from Misano, given the fact that he had broken both the tibia and fibula of his right leg, and only had surgery to pin the bones in the early hours of Friday morning. The last time Rossi broke his leg, it was 40 days before he returned, making Motegi the earliest Rossi is likely to return.
When news came in that Valentino Rossi had broken his leg riding an Enduro bike while training, the eternal discussion kicked off among fans about why MotoGP riders are allowed anywhere near an off road bike outside the track. The question is doubly relevant, as this is the second Italian race for which Valentino Rossi has managed to injure himself riding a dirt bike.
The simple answer, of course, is that people whose job it is to race motorcycles need to practice riding motorcycles to do their jobs. And riding a bike off road is a lot safer than riding a bike on the road (crashing at 70 km/h on dirt doesn't hurt as much as crashing at 200 km/h on asphalt).
Fans, however, are impervious to such arguments. So instead of journalists explaining why MotoGP riders ride dirt bikes, here are a bunch of quotes from MotoGP riders, explaining in their own words why they ride off road.
Valentino Rossi had surgery in the early hours of Friday morning to insert metal pins into the fractured broken bones in his lower leg. The operation was deemed a success, and Rossi is to start his recovery as soon as possible. Surgery was carried out in Ancona, after the Italian had originally been treated in hospital in Urbino, where he had been taken after the enduro training crash in which he broke his leg.
Yamaha have confirmed that Valentino Rossi has broken his right leg in a training accident. The Italian suffered a displaced fracture of both the tibia and fibula of his right leg. This is the same leg Rossi broke at Mugello in 2010.
Rossi is to undergo surgery as soon as possible. The normal procedure for displaced fractures of the tibia and fibula is to insert either a metal pin or a metal plate to fix the bone in place.
Valentino Rossi has broken his right leg in a training crash, according to various Italian media. The 38 year old was riding enduro with the youngsters from the VR46 Riders Academy, when he fell heavily and broke his leg. Reportedly, Rossi broke both the tibia and fibula of his right leg.
Rossi was transported directly to the hospital in Urbino, where he has been examined and is scheduled to have surgery to pin the bones tonight. Requests to Yamaha for comment have as yet gone unanswered.