The catastrophic earthquake that hit northeastern Japan on March 11th caused devastation beyond comprehension to a large section of the Pacific nation, the tsunami the quake triggered adding further destruction. Even though the thoughts of everyone either involved in or following MotoGP were first and foremost with the nation of Japan and its people, they could not help but consider the fate of the Japanese Grand Prix, due to take place on April 24th.
The initial response of Dorna was the only sensible one: to wait and gather more information on the ground. As the scale of the devastation became clear, it became evident that racing would be impossible on the scheduled date. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told Mela Chercoles of Spanish sports daily AS that the decision lay in the hands of the Motegi circuit: "we will do what they ask us to do," Ezpeleta said.
News is now emerging that the Motegi circuit and Dorna have decided that a postponement is the only option. The race has now been rescheduled to October 2nd, filling in the four-week gap between the Aragon round of MotoGP and Phillip Island, creating three flyaway races in a row, just like last year after the Japanese GP was rescheduled due to the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjalla. The difference this year is that not all three are back-to-back; there will be two weeks between the Japanese round and Phillip Island, with Sepang following a week later.
The decision to postpone the race was the only realistic possibility for the race organizers. Reports from the town of Mito, which accommodates most of the teams and part of the press, has suffered serious structural damage, and the highway leading from Mito to the Motegi circuit is badly damaged in places. There are even reports of damage at the circuit itself: Honda had at first denied this, but later acknowledged that the Honda Museum, located at Motegi, had suffered some damage, and there are reports from the Times of Malta that cracks have appeared in the circuit itself.
And the news from Japan just seems to get worse: The Fukushima nuclear power station is having massive problems containing three of its six reactors, and high levels of radiation are reported to be measured around the plant. The situation has become so bad that the Italian foreign ministery has issued a travel advisory to avoid traveling to Japan if at all possible, according to GPOne.com.
The rescheduling of the Japanese MotoGP round to October 2nd gives the Motegi circuit and the nation of Japan a chance to recover and rebuild, before the MotoGP circus is due to descend upon the track. But given the scale of the disaster, even that may be too early. There are already some calls for the round to be canceled altogether, and for Dorna to put the race sanctioning fee it would otherwise have received from the track into a reconstruction fund for Japan, though the practicalities of such calls are open to debate.
The problem is that MotoGP has nowhere else to go right now: Motorland Aragon was designated as a reserve circuit for the 2010 circuit, and then given the Grand Prix after construction of the Balatonring in Hungary never really got started. For 2011, there is no reserve circuit, and there are very few tracks capable of housing and hosting a Grand Prix. The only realistic alternative would be to take MotoGP to the Portimao circuit on the Portuguese Algarve coast, but a sixth Grand Prix on the Iberian peninsula might be a little bit too hard to sell.
For now, the Japanese Grand Prix has been moved to October 2nd. But booking flights for the race may yet prove to be a little bit premature.
The big technical news of MotoGP testing, in case you missed it, is Honda's mystery gearbox. Speculation has centered so far on a system either identical or similar to the Xtrac Instantaneous Gearchange System, which uses a system of ratchets to allow two gears to be engaged simultaneously while driving only one.
The system provides several benefits, not just in terms of time gained in changing gears, but even more in terms of stability. Andrea Dovizioso explained that the biggest benefit of the system is that it keeps the bike much more stable when shifting gears while leaned over, making it easier to get drive out of corners.
With Honda obtaining yet another technical advantage, speculation has turned to how soon the other manufacturers will respond with a system of their own. That might come sooner than expected; MotoMatters.com found Yamaha's MotoGP engineering guru Masao Furusawa - due to start his official retirement and move into a consulting role after this test at Qatar - and asked the Japanese engineer whether Yamaha is working on a system of their own. "Sure we are working on a system back in Japan," Furusawa said, "but it is not ready yet."
The problem, Furusawa explained, was torque transfer. The sudden transfer of load from one gear to another under power was the key to a solution, and a problem that Yamaha had yet to crack. Yamaha's work and Honda's progress had made him very curious about HRC's problem, Furusawa said. "I am very interested to know their solution, but I have not been able to work it out yet."
But Furusawa downplayed the advantage that an instantaneous shift system had to offer. "It will only give a small advantage on the track," Furusawa told MotoMatters.com. The Yamaha boss was more interested in another advantage that the Hondas have, emphasizing the the big difference is Honda's bottom end drive coming out of corners. Cracking that problem would be the key to beating the Hondas, Furusawa suggested.
With the MotoGP season opener now just a week away, the final test before the season starts feels more like a couple of extra days of practice rather than a genuine test, especially with the Qatar race being spread over four days instead of the usual three. A point made repeatedly by the riders themselves, none of whom really had anything positive to say about the new four-day format. They all understood why it was being done, but it was a problem they felt could be fixed by holding the race later in the year, when the humidity which suddenly rolls into the circuit at about 10:30pm every night in March and early April would be less of a problem.
So with most of the big decisions already made - HRC has its chassis, the "standard 2011" version, the new version introduced at Valencia last year and the slightly stiffer of the two options Honda had been preparing for this season - teams are starting to work on minor tweaks, adjustments to setup rather than major revisions of new parts. Casey Stoner has two identical bikes with just seating positions and height differences, Dani Pedrosa has been working solely on mapping and electronics, and Jorge Lorenzo had a new swingarm to test.
Despite the relative lack of novelty on the technical front, there was still plenty to learn from the test. That a Honda topped the timesheets at the end of the day should come as absolutely no surprise, that the two fastest men were on Repsol Hondas even less. Even the fact that a San Carlo Gresini satellite bike (well, factory-spec satellite bike) ended 3rd is not that much of a surprise, were it not for the fact that that Gresini was being ridden by Hiroshi Aoyama.
It wasn't just one fast lap either. Aoyama put in a string of mid 1'56s in the middle of the test, though he spent most of the test in the 1'57s. Whether Aoyama could run 1'56s for the full duration of a race is uncertain, and the Gresini team left the paddock before the press got to grill their riders.
Casey Stoner, on the other hand, ran 1'56s just about all day long. You don't need to ask the Australian how he feels about his switch to Honda, you can see it in his body language and in everything he says and does. Stoner is relaxed, focused, and very, very fast.
The one problem that Stoner has is the one that has dogged the Hondas throughout, chattering in middle of the corner. Watching from the track, you could see the Hondas enter the corner smoothly, but as the bike was tipped over to maximum lean, the rear would start to pump in an unsettling, if controllable way. The problem had been improved, all the Honda riders said, but it had still not gone away. They can afford to wait, though: "If we're this fast with this problem," Stoner explained, "we've got nothing to worry about."
Honda's secret is in the gearbox, and standing by the side of the track, the difference between the different bikes is astonishingly audible. The Ducatis come by sounding as if they need to be kicked between gears like a motocross bike; the Yamahas shift gear with a loud boom as the quickshifter cuts the power and the escaping unburnt gas self-ignites; but the Hondas pick up with the gear changes barely audible. The bike sounds silky smooth, something which both Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner acknowledged was a big advantage. The bike, they said, would not get unsettled when you shift gears while still heeled over. Both Stoner and Dovizioso confirmed that Honda's magic is in the gearbox, not in the clutch. Those commentators pointing at Instantaneous Gear Shift technology appear to be heading in the right direction.
Over in the Ducati garage, they have plenty to worry about, with the factory Marlboro Ducatis of Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden ending in 8th and 9th, over three quarters of a second off the pace of Pedrosa. The original "flexi" package has been set aside for now, left to Ducati's test team to work on until its been developed further. Instead, Valentino Rossi has gone back to the setup used by Casey Stoner for the race in 2010, as they work to figure out a base setup, and a starting point for their adjustments.
Turning the bike remains the big problem, the machine requiring much more physical effort to force it round the corners. It is a particularly intractable problem, to which the extremely hard work of the Ducati team is providing only small steps forward, instead of the giant leap they need to catch the Hondas.
And yet looking at the full list of times, the situation may not be quite as bleak as it seems. Rossi spent a lot of time lapping in the low 1'57s, still 6 tenths of Stoner's race pace, but not as far down the timesheets as it seemed. A repeat of Welkom in 2004 - when Rossi went out and won on his first race aboard the Yamaha - is extremely unlikely, but a podium is not beyond the realms of the possible. It is not an outcome worth betting the house on, but a discrete flutter with an upstairs window may turn out to be profitable.
Rossi's shoulder continues to trouble him, though, the Italian complaining of pain after a long day of testing. He continues to receive treatment on the shoulder, but shoulders are complex things, and recovery from injury can be a time-consuming business.
Over in the Yamaha camp, there were much happier faces than in Sepang. The more flowing nature of the Qatari circuit means that the Yamahas aren't losing out to the phenomenal drive the Hondas have off the corners. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies kept the Hondas within sight at Qatar, though both men continued to emphasize that they would really like some more horsepower.
Ben Spies was the fastest of the factory Yamahas, just over a tenth quicker than teammate Lorenzo. That was pretty impressive, but a closer examination of the full timesheets suggests that it is Lorenzo who is the quicker of the pair. Lorenzo was knocking off very low 1'57s and high 1'56s, while Spies was a fraction off Lorenzo's pace. Both men, notably, were not that much faster than the pace being set by Valentino Rossi, suggesting that the race on Sunday could be more interesting than you might otherwise surmise.
Suzuki, smallest of the manufacturers, have lost some of the grip that the heat of Sepang provided them, and have slipped further down the field. Bautista continues to improve on the GSV-R, but the bike clearly needs a lot more money poured into it than Suzuki is prepared to invest. It's probably going to be a tough year for Suzuki.
Testing continues tomorrow, by which time we should be able to see the shape of the early season in MotoGP. It is still looking like being one of the most interesting seasons for years.
Josh Hayes led 14 laps of today's American Superbike race at Daytona International Speedway, unfortunately, the race was 15 laps long. Yoshimura Suzuki's Blake Young, however, got the measure of the Graves Yamaha rider at the stripe much as he did the previous day. Hayes led from the start with Young, Tommy Hayden and Martin Cardenas in hot pursuit. Those last three diced for P2-4 through much of the race until Lap 13 when Cardenas dropped 1.5 seconds behind Hayden in 3rd. Coming into the ultimate lap it was Hayes, Young and Hayden separated by a quarter second. Young used the draft off NASCAR 4 to get by Hayes for the win, his second of the new season.
1. Blake Young
2. Josh Hayes
3. Tommy Hayden
4. Martin Cardenas
5. Ben Bostrom
6. Larry Pegram
7. Chris Clark
8. Eric Bostrom
9. David Anthony
10. Chris Peris
About 99.9% of the time, motorcycle racing is treated with deadly earnest, but from time to time, something comes along to remind us that in the grand scale of things, it rates pretty low down, only marginally above the question of the height of Paris Hilton's heels, to pick a celebrity with at least some connection to racing. This was brought home all too sharply by the news that Japan was hit by a massive earthquake in the early hours of Friday morning, wreaking havoc and destruction. The huge shock - magnitude 8.9, the largest ever recorded in Japan - also created a huge tsunami, inundating the coast of Honshu, Japan's main island.
The scale of the disaster was merciless, touching every corner of Japanese life. Industry and business came to a halt, all transport was stopped dead in its tracks, gas and electricity supplies are badly hit, and patchy in places. The disaster even touched Japan's motorcycle industry, with one worker dead and thirty injured at Honda's R&D plant in the Tochigi Prefecture. The effects of the quake could affect production, and supplies of some selected Honda motorcycles are expected to be limited, according to the respected motorcycle news site Asphalt & Rubber.
The disaster may even affect MotoGP. The Motegi Twin Ring, home to the Japanese Grand Prix, is located to the north-west of Tokyo, and a few hundred kilometers southwest of the earthquake's epicenter, just off the Japanese coast. The circuit itself is tucked away in the hills, far from the coast and the tsunami that destroyed much of the region there.
But being so isolated, Motegi is dependent on the surrounding areas, and two dependencies could threaten the running of the Japanese Grand Prix. The first is Tokyo Narita airport, the airport where most of the teams and equipment fly into on their way to Motegi, located just outside the Japanese capital. Tokyo itself was badly affected, and even now it appears that parts of the city are still without electricity. Tokyo Narita shut down shortly after the quake, but has recently been partially reopened, to at least allow outbound flights to depart, and alleviate the strain that stranded passengers would put on an already overloaded system. The airport appears to have survived the quake in relatively good condition, and should be back up to full capacity within the next couple of weeks.
The same cannot be said of Ibaraki and Mito, two areas where many of the teams reside during the weekend of the race. The authoritative Italian website GPOne.com is reporting that damage in the area could affect the ability of the region to house the teams and fans, making staging the Japanese Grand Prix an extremely difficult proposition.
So shortly after the quake, it is extremely premature to make any judgement on the wisdom of staging the race, and Dorna - the company running the series - is waiting for the situation to stabilize before considering their best course of action. If the Japanese MotoGP round had to be rescheduled or even canceled, it would be a double blow to Japanese race fans, after another natural disaster forced the rescheduling of the 2010 race. The ash cloud generated by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjalla brought Europe's air traffic to a halt right before the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix was due to take place, leaving most of the MotoGP personnel and riders stuck in Europe and unable to get to Japan. Dorna was forced to move the race from April 25th to October 3rd, by which time the Icelandic volcanic eruption had subsided and the race could be staged.
The tragedy in Japan reminds us of the central place that nation takes in motorcycle racing in general, and MotoGP in particular. Though you may be surrounded by the Italian and Spanish languages on any trip through the paddock, you will also encounter a significant number of Japanese faces: with three Japanese manufacturers supplying a sizable contingent of race engineers, a small army of Japanese tire engineers from Bridgestone and, to a lesser extent, Dunlop, and a smattering of Japanese riders and engineers in the paddock, MotoGP has a distinctly Japanese flavor. And everyone, from Italian journalists to Australian mechanics and Dutch truck drivers, knows someone from Japan. Twitter and Facebook have been full with the best wishes of everyone involved in the series for their Japanese friends and colleagues.
And taking a bit of a tangent, the Japanese engineering excellence so prominently displayed in MotoGP is also evident in the incredibly low numbers of casualties from the quake. Just over a year ago, a quake of 7.0, a thousand times less powerful than Friday's Sendai quake in Japan, struck just off the coast of Haiti, and 300,000 people died. Thanks to Japan's strict building codes and outstanding engineering, the earthquake and ensuing tsunami have so far claimed just a few hundred deaths, though that total will surely rise. The incredible survival rate after the quake is a testament to Japanese ingenuity, engineering and discipline, most Japanese workers and students trained to know exactly how to react in the case of an earthquake.
Our thoughts, and we are sure we speak for our readers here as well, go out to the people of Japan, both those involved in the motorcycle industry and those who are not. It would be nice if the Japanese MotoGP round could go ahead as scheduled, but on the list of priorities for the nation of Japan, motorcycle racing must necessarily come a very long way down the order.
1. Josh Hayes Yamaha 1:38.228
2. Tommy Hayden Suzuki 1:38.322
3. Roger Hayden Suzuki 1:38.614
4. Blake Young Suzuki 1:38.767
5. Ben Bostrom Suzuki 1:38.955
6. Martin Cardenas Suzuki 1:38.980
7. Chris Peris BMW 1:39.023
8. Eric Bostrom Kawasaki 1:39.023
9. Larry Pegram BMW 1:39.248
10 Chris Ulrich Suzuki 1:40.531
Tommy Hayden sat at the top of the timesheet for a good portion of the session, 'til Josh Hayes put in a screaming 1:38.228 in the dying seconds to take pole. Surprise of the day has to be a revitalized Roger Lee Hayden on the front row.
As the countdown to the start of the 2011 MotoGP season continues, the spotlight is intensifying on Valentino Rossi. The pressure created by the magical combination of two Italian legends, Rossi and Ducati, has got marketing and media machines going into overdrive. It has become quite frankly impossible not to write about it.
Rossi himself is managing the situation with great attention to detail. Firstly, with carefully selected media appearances, and secondly, with a carefully constructed media messages. So it came to pass that Rossi turned up on Italian TV, on a talk show called Chiambretti Night, in which he got the chance to talk about his shoulder, his rivals and the Ducati.
Rossi emphasized that his shoulder was still troubling him. Despite the surgery he had in November of 2010, one of the biceps tendons had still not healed correctly, leaving it a little short and leaving him with some weakness in the shoulder. Earlier in the week, at the presentation of Andrea Iannone's Speed Master Moto2 team, Alessio "Uccio" Salucci had told the press that Rossi's shoulder was recovering well, and that the nine-times World Champion would now be able to concentrate on improving the technical aspects of the Ducati, rather than just riding round his shoulder. But Rossi told Italian TV that he was still in pain from the injury, and that his doctor had told him that his shoulder was not fully recovered.
Naturally, Rossi was asked for his opinion of his rivals, and the Italian made sure he got his retaliation in first. He annointed Casey Stoner as favorite for the title, though he did so "only to jinx him," Rossi joked. He gave the Australian 10 points out of 10, saying that his speed was beyond question, but that Stoner lacked tactical acuity and racecraft. Rossi's comments on his former teammate Jorge Lorenzo left no room for doubt about the antipathy that exists between the two. "He has succeeded in uniting everyone, in the sense that everyone is united in their dislike of Lorenzo," the Italian quipped. He described the Spaniard - in barbed terms - as "not intelligent, intelligent is a big word, but cunning." Rossi rated Lorenzo as 9.5 out of 10 for the championship.
The Italian reiterated again that he would like to retire to World Superbikes once he is finished in MotoGP, though here, too, he damned the series with faint praise. "It like the Serie B," he said, comparing it to the Italian soccer league's second division. Rossi also scotched any talk of a switch to Formula 1, the prospects of which have been receding since Rossi decided to stay in MotoGP at the start of the 2006 season.
Rossi's appearance on Italian TV was carried off with the charm, with and candour that has enamoured legions of fans to the Italian. But along with the smiles, Rossi ensured he got in a few precisely aimed barbs for his rivals. Whether he can make those barbs hit home will depend on Rossi's shoulder, and on whether they can fix the Ducati. The test on Sunday and Monday at Qatar should tell us more, and the season opener a week later will leave no place to hide.
The 2011 MotoGP season has many things to be excited about - Valentino Rossi on a Ducati, Casey Stoner on a Honda, Ben Spies on a factory Yamaha, and so much more. But the 2012 season is probably just as eagerly anticipated, even though it is still over a year away. For 2012 sees the return of the 1000cc machines, and hopes are high that having the larger capacity back will see closer, more exciting racing.
But the 1000cc bikes face a problem: Over the past couple of years, testing has been cut back enormously in an attempt to cut costs. So far, this has not been too much of a problem, with less testing merely meaning less development, which was fine as long as the capacity remained unchanged. However, the 1000cc bikes will need significant work to get them raceworthy, and that means having the current riders test the machines. The teams and machines will require more than just the two 1-day tests scheduled for the Estoril and Brno rounds of MotoGP if they are to get to work on both the existing 800cc bikes - which they still have to race for the rest of the season - and the new 1000cc (or whatever capacity the major manufacturers settle on as optimal) for 2012.
GPOne.com is now reporting that an extra day of testing will be added to the schedule, to take place after the Mugello round of MotoGP. With Estoril being so early in the season, all of the focus there will be on developing the 2011 bikes, and data from the Brno test in August will arrive back at the factories later than they would prefer to be able to build nearly completed bikes for the Valencia test two-and-a-half months later. So adding an extra day of testing after Mugello will allow some factories to roll out the first versions of their 2012 bikes at the end of July, to provide preliminary feedback in time for the Brno test.
So who will actually be rolling out their 1000s at Mugello? So far, participants are extremely uncertain, though the Italian-language site MotoCorse.com has taken a tentative guess at who might be there. Given that Mugello is just a few miles down the road from Ducati's Bologna headquarters, it seems a racing certainty that the Italian manufacturer will have a version of its 1000cc (or 900, or 930cc) machine to test. That will depend on the progress of the GP11, though: if Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden believe that the current bike is too far behind the Honda and Yamaha in terms of development, they could decide to focus on the GP11 instead; being competitive in 2011 remains a priority for the Italian factory. Both Yamaha and Honda have traditionally been rather conservative in rolling out their new bike too quickly, preferring to test the new bike at private tests in Japan, until they are ready to hand over a version relatively close to racing spec to their permanent riders. As a consequence, Brno is the earliest we can probably hope to see a Yamaha or Honda.
Of course, the point of the new 1000cc rules was also the hope of seeing new entrants into the class. Mugello could therefore be the place where we see the first CRT bikes, and perhaps even a new manufacturer or two. The people behind the Inmotec project have hinted at making a wildcard appearance at Jerez with their 800cc project, and the Spanish engineering firm has been linked with various 1000cc projects in the past. They were even linked to a deal to supply engines for Norton's MotoGP project, but that linkup has never proceeded beyond the rumor stage. Inmotec admitted they were talking to Norton about building an engine for the legendary British brand, but the deal is believed to have fallen apart over costs.
Where that leaves Norton's MotoGP project is unknown: the British manufacturer has two slots on the 2012 grid, but the company is still in talks with Dorna about actually racing. Norton is believed to be keen to go racing, but question marks remain over where they would source a competitive engine.
Of the other manufacturers, both Aprilia and BMW have reported an interest. Dorna would only accept Aprilia back in as a full factory prototype entry, something that Aprilia is not keen on, as that would mean racing with just 21 liters of fuel rather than 24. BMW, meanwhile, looks more likely to act as an engine supplier rather than a bike manufacturer, but the close links between the Munich factory and Dorna would mean that BMW would be welcomed into the fold with open arms. Earlier BMW projects have come to nothing, though, so there is little certainty that BMW will actually build a bike.
As for the "pure" CRT entries, the Marc VDS team will almost certainly turn up with the Suter prototype for further testing. Rumors also persist of both FTR and Kalex building MotoGP machines, or at least supplying chassis for teams. Kalex' project is rumored to be further along than the FTR project, but given the amount of mystery still surrounding both projects, it seems unlikely that either machine could make the test at Mugello.
There is still time for a few surprises, though, and with so few 1000s likely to take to the track, Mugello could be a place for a team to pull a rabbit out of the bag, and grab some extra publicity by rolling up with a 1000s. We shall know for sure on July 4th.
When Valentino Rossi speaks, the world listens. The popularity of the nine-time World Champion is such that fans (and consequently, the media) hang on his every word. Since Rossi switched from Yamaha to Ducati, the scrutiny has become even more intense, every word and action being analyzed a million times for extra levels of meaning.
So when Rossi spoke to Italian magazine MotoSprint (English highlights over on Autosport), there was plenty for the fans and media to get their teeth into. First subject was of course the Desmosedici GP11, and Rossi's struggle to master what is proving to be a highly wayward beast. The problem, Rossi explained, is getting the bike to turn. The Ducati does not want to turn in corners, and Rossi said he was having to slide the rear to get the bike to turn through corners. The team continues to work on setup changes to alter this behavior, and Rossi told Motosprint that he believes that part of the problem will be solved quickly through electronics changes.
Fundamental problems remain, however. "The problem is that we lack handling. We need to try to make this bike turn better: at the moment the Desmosedici has a lot of understeer," Rossi told Motosprint. Major changes were needed, but with limited testing and the season just a week away, there is little time to develop and test those changes. For now, Rossi's only option was to adapt his style to the bike, and try to find further setup changes to help the bike to turn. Rossi's hope was that the cooler temperatures at Qatar and the upcoming European rounds would make the Ducati a little easier to handle.
Rossi also told Motosprint that he was aware he had his detractors among racing fans, especially among a specific section of Ducati fans. Those Ducati fans, Rossi believes, have become so used to having him as a target, that they are finding it hard to get used to seeing the Italian aboard their beloved marque.
Perhaps one of the reasons that some of the hard-core Ducatisti are so opposed to the coming of Rossi is that his signing is blamed for Ducati's withdrawal from World Superbikes, its spiritual home - an accusation which is not entirely unjust, as Alan Cathcart explained so adeptly in last week's issue of Cycle News. To appease these Ducati fans, Rossi once again repeated his ambition to race in World Superbikes, expanding on his previous commitments. Last year, Rossi said his only interest was in racing one or two races in World Superbikes, but Rossi told Motosprint that he may well end his career in World Superbikes once he retires from MotoGP. That will be later, rather than sooner, however. Speaking at the launch of the Speed Master Moto2 team, Rossi's best friend Alessio "Uccio" Salucci told the media, including Italian website GPOne.com, that Rossi would like to spend two years' racing World Superbikes, adding that it would be another five years before Rossi was ready to make the switch. With MotoGP about to make the switch to 1000cc, perhaps the MotoGP class could turn out to be the ideal preparation for World Superbikes ...