Thousands of Spanish fans, and many observers, including your humble reporter, expected the Gran Premi de Catalunya to be a festival of Spanish racing, with Spanish, or rather Catalan, riders starting from the front row of the grid, to take a Catalan win in front of their home crowds. The fact that most of the Catalan riders are on Michelins, the tires which dominated last year's race weekend, only reinforced this expectation. But this evening, the bars of Barcelona will be filled with despairing Spanish fans, wondering what happened to their local heroes. Sometimes, things just don't work out as you expected.
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Motorcycle racing is a sport haunted by injustice. Chance lies waiting at every corner, turning a dream race into a nightmare, where engines can blow, tires can tear themselves apart, or an overcooked corner can end in the gravel traps. But sometimes, Fate takes a step aside, and races turn into a direct reflection of the real strengths in the paddock. That this should happen at Mugello seemed only fitting: great races belong at great racetracks.
It should come as no surprise that the Italians are highly motivated at Mugello this weekend. Valentino Rossi had already jumped up the qualifying rankings at Le Mans, after setting some very poor practice times in earlier races, and had dominated both Free Practice sessions on Friday. Not to be outdone, Ducati's Loris Capirossi had set the fastest time in Saturday morning's free practice session, slashing a second off Rossi's time. The only Italian missing from the party was Marco Melandri, who seemed to settle for running around 7th or 8th place.. So all eyes were on the Italians before qualifying, with much pressure on them to get a pole in front of their home crowd.
As qualifying opened, just about everyone took to the track to try and set a semi-respectable time, yesterday's semi-wet FP2 session still fresh in their memories. The weather seems destined to be a factor this season, and with this in mind, no one was taking any chances. It was clear that the Italian riders were serious right from the start, with Loris Capirossi setting the weekend's fastest time so far at 1:50.133 with over 53 minutes of the session left. Four minutes later, Capirossi broke into the 1:49s, setting a 1:49.819. Most riders having set a time they were comfortable with, the session quietened down, riders concentrating on finding tires and a bike setting to last the distance of tomorrow's race.
Well, I touched upon this in my Mugello round preview, and I'm starting to think I might just be psychic. According Crash.net, Dorna has announced that the San Marino Grand Prix will be run at Misano in 2007. It's not clear whether one of the existing GPs will be dropped, or whether the season will have 18 races, but my money is on either Shanghai or Qatar being dropped to make way for Misano.
The race is to be run on a "heavily modified" version of the track, in the reverse direction.
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
Since I posted this story, Dorna have announced the official calendar for next year. You can find it here.
After last week confirming that he would not move to Formula 1, Valentino Rossi has confirmed that he will be staying with Yamaha for 2007. This will be the first year of the new 800cc bikes, and Rossi is keen to stay with the team that has brought him so much success. You can find the official Yamaha Racing press release here.
Crash.net have an interesting quote from Rossi:
- "In the future I'm sure that I will do car racing, but maybe not Formula 1."
- The other car which Rossi tested this winter was a works WRC Subaru. My money is on The Doctor going to WRC Rallying in 2009.
The rain clouds which had caused problems during this morning's free practice session had disappeared by this afternoon, allowing the track to dry out and warm up a little. The strong winds, which had earlier blown a temporary commentary unit over, complete with worried journalists, remained, however. With everyone worried about the possibility of the rain returning later in the session, all 19 riders took off as soon as the green flag dropped, reasoning that a half-decent time might turn into a pole if the track got wet. After the first ten minutes, John Hopkins topped the timesheets with a respectable 1:36.22, with Sete Gibernau in second. The Yamahas and Kawasakis were prominent in the times, including Frenchman Randy de Puniet. De Puniet has plenty to live up to, having scored podiums at Le Mans for the last four races in a row, albeit in the 250 class. Aboard the Kawaski, in his first season of MotoGP, he faces a much tougher task this year.
As expected, the last free practice session before this afternoon's official qualifying practice was dogged by rain and difficult conditions. With the rain expected to continue this afternoon, the result looks interesting. Accomplished rain riders had a mixed morning, some doing well, others doing surprisingly dismally. Kenny Roberts Junior, after starting the session slowly, shot to the top of the standings with 10 minutes to go, putting in a series of consistently fast laps, over a second ahead of the rest, only to have his time beaten by a great lap by Casey Stoner aboard the LCR Honda. In third place is Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano, another rider who was at the front for much of the session.
I'm sure many of you will have seen the fantastic film Faster, the story of the last year of the 500 cc two-strokes, and the first year of the MotoGP bikes. It's a sumptuously filmed and directed documentary, the restrained style of the commentary beautifully juxtaposing the white-knuckle action of onboard and trackside footage. For those of you who haven't seen it, you really are missing one of the best sports documentaries ever made.
Now the director of that great movie has made another film about MotoGP:
The Doctor, The Tornado And The Kentucky Kid
This film is about the 2005 US MotoGP round at Laguna Seca, a fantastic race won in a superb showing by Nicky Hayden, the race which turned Nicky, who had been struggling to be consistent until then, into a contender. Laguna is a fantastic track, with one of the most demanding and frightening sections in the world, as the riders crest a blind left-hander, travelling fast, before swooping down into the sweeping Corkscrew, heeled hard over with the suspension gone light from the crest, riding a fine line between glory and disaster. If Faster is anything to go by, this can only be a great movie. Check it out.
Either Yamaha have found a solution to their problems, or the cold weather is reducing grip enough for the Yamaha not to suffer its usual chatter. This afternoon's session was another Yamaha 1-2, this time with Texan Tornado Colin Edwards taking top spot after leading throughout the session, followed closely by team mate Valentino Rossi. 2/10ths behind Rossi we have Nakano on the Kawasaki and Hopkins on the Rizla Suzuki. Le Mans is the Kawasaki's home test track, so it's no real surprise to see Harald Eckl's Green Machine doing well here. Hopkins is obviously on a roll, from his excellent fourth place in Shanghai.
In my race preview, I ventured that poor weather would favor rain riders, the Yamahas and the Suzukis. I was part right, as today's first Free Practice session, held in cold and cloudy conditions, were dominated by the Yamahas, Valentino Rossi being over a second quicker than everyone else for most of the session. With Edwards second fastest, it's still unclear whether these fast times are down to the new Yamaha M1 chassis, or the reduced grip induced by the cool conditions.
After struggling to cure the chronic chatter problems which have plagued the 2006 Yamaha M1, it looks like the engineers have finally admitted defeat. Valentino Rossi will be riding a bike fitted with a new chassis, based on the chassis of his championship winning 2005 Yamaha. It's a big gamble to take, as Rossi's pit crew, led by Jeremy Burgess, will have to work flat out to find a setup which works with the new frame, but with The Doctor trailing by 32 points in the championship, they cannot afford to lose any more points, especially after chatter helped to destroy his front Michelin in Shanghai.
The full story can be found on Crash.net
Well, as expected, it rained all day Friday, providing another day of wet practice. And as expected, Bridgestone showed it has good rain tyres. What was less expected was that Yamaha seems to have found some kind of a solution to their problems this year, with Valentino Rossi topping both qualifying sessions.
Results Free Practice 1:
Last year, the Istanbul Park Circuit provided a thrilling spectacle, as Rossi and Melandri slugged it out at the front of the field. In just its second year, the track laid claim to a place in motorcycling history, providing some of the closest and most exciting racing imaginable. After an astonishing 250 race, in which any one of four riders could have won, the MotoGP race turned into one of the best races that MotoGP has seen for a very long time. The track challenges bike and rider, rewards risk, and offers plenty of places to attack the opposition. The fast Turn 11, before the heavy braking for the Turn 12 - 13 - 14 combination, nicknamed the "Tilke Twiddles" after the track designer, the last turns before the finish line, means that if you can stay within spitting distance on the last lap, you are in with a chance of the win.
With the track dry, and no sign of rain, everyone expected the Suzukis to get swamped quickly, and start dropping off the back from the get-go. Vermeulen's fantastic display in qualifying, taking pole, together with Hopkins in a season's best 5th spot certainly made up for the dismal showing at Qatar, but without rain, they weren't expected to use the advantage the Bridgestone rain tires so obviously afforded during qualifying. As it happened, tires were indeed to play a crucial role, but manufacturers than the seasoned heads were saying.
The grid was out in force this morning, to get some track time on a drying track. The damp spots which were still present early in the session had dried up by the end, and times dropped fairly dramatically. Interestingly, even though the track was dry, the top of the timesheet is still heavily populated with Bridgestone riders. Both the Ducatis looked very fast, with Gibernau looking very impressive. Vermeulen, who dominated yesterday's qualifying, was anonymous today, finishing 16th behind James Ellison; fortunately for Suzuki team mate Hopkins took over the reins, leading the times for much of the session, to finish 4th. The only Michelin rider in the top 3 was Stoner, who was good yesterday and looks good today.