If there was one thing that commentators, fans and team managers alike could agree on prior to the 2007 MotoGP season, it was that this was to be the year of the former 250 riders. The season that we switched from the point-and-squirt 990s to the smooth, high corner speed 800s would be the second season for the phenomenal class of former 250 rookies, and the year that they would demonstrate exactly what they were made of. The weight of expectation lay heavily on Randy de Puniet, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.
With Casey Stoner having dominated practice in Istanbul this far, it was with some trepidation most riders approached this afternoon's official Qualifying Practice. The question foremost in their minds was "How do we stop the Ducatis?" And within 5 minutes of practice starting, their worst fears were confirmed, as the young Australian quickly put his Marlboro Ducati at the top of the timesheets. Their worries were compounded when a minute later, Stoner's team mate Loris Capirossi took over the top spot, becoming the first rider to break into the 1'54s.
If anyone was in any doubt that Casey Stoner means business in Istanbul, then he put them straight this morning. Stoner topped the timesheets again, taking over 1/10th of a second off his time from this afternoon. But what was far more impressive was the long run he put in the middle of the session, posting 10 fast laps, mostly in the mid 1'54s on his Marlboro Ducati. That looks like being Stoner's race pace, and it looks like being unbeatable.
After this morning's cold, damp and crash-ridden practice session, this afternoon saw better weather, a completely dry track, and a warning. The warning was aimed at the entire MotoGP field, the issuer was Ducati, and the message was that if they were scared by the Ducatis at Qatar, they should be terrified here. For perched atop the timesheets are the Marlboro Ducati team mates Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi.
As expected, the day dawned cool and bright at Istanbul, making for a session that saw little action until the end. Because of the cold conditions, most of the riders chose to run relatively few laps, hoping to conserve tires for a bigger choice on Sunday, and because there was little they could learn from the cold morning session. Colin Edwards' fastest time was nearly 5 seconds slower than Toni Elias' record lap set during the race last year.
To those of us in the West, the Orient has always been an exotic place, shrouded in mystery. Throughout history, the East represented aromatic spices, spectacular colors and an unfathomable and alien world. Most of all, the East stood for adventure, a place where anything was possible, and reputations and riches could be made or lost.
On the eve of the Istanbul round of MotoGP, tragedy has already struck. Turkish online newspaper Today's Zaman is reporting that the Turkish Motorcycling Federation will ask the FIM to cancel its contract to host the round. The problem is money.
Well, we have already had our first silly season rumor for the 2008 season, and now the team negotiations seem to be gaining momentum. We had reported last year that Yamaha were interested in World 250 Champion Jorge Lorenzo, and now Autosport.com has further confirmation that Lorenzo is talking to Yamaha for next year.
Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins has elected not to have surgery on his injured right hand. He damaged the ligament between the lunar and scaphoid bones in a huge highside during pre-season testing at Qatar in February, and has been riding injured every since. He revealed that he had spoken to doctors about having surgery to fix the tear, but decided against the procedure, which would have required a 6 week layoff from racing.
Roberto Locatelli, the 250 cc rider who suffered such a horrific crash at Jerez, is recovering well. He is currently at home, having left hospital yesterday. And despite the terrible injuries he suffered when he careened off the track into a tire wall, he is determined to return to racing. Dr Costa has told him he may be ready to race at the Mugello round in June, but Loca himself is determined to return one round earlier, at Le Mans.
Perhaps the must stunning image of the opening Grand Prix at Losail in Qatar was the Ducati's awe-inspiring power as Casey Stoner pulled away along the front straight, leaving everyone, but most especially the Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, for dead. That image made it blindingly obvious both that Ducati had a huge power advantage, and Yamaha are woefully short of horses. Fortunately for the Fiat Yamaha squad, the next circuit the MotoGP circus visited was Jerez, a track which is much more about maneuverability than about speed.
After Ilmor's withdrawal from MotoGP, the rider people felt most sorry for was Andrew Pitt. He had been dumped by Yamaha from the World Superbike team right at the end of the season, despite winning a race for them, and signed for Ilmor. Then Ilmor withdraw from MotoGP after just one race in the new season. That is a very tough break, by anyone's standard.