WSBK: State of the Silly Season -- Dog Days

When the days grow long and hot and summer is in it's shank, a race fan's thoughts naturally turn to...next year!  All sorts of juicy rumors have been floating about who might be doing what for whom in 2011.

The most visible drama is in the Yamaha camp. The  scenario goes like this: If Valentino Rossi accepts an offer from Ducati to see how he looks in red leathers, then Ben Spies would take his seat at the factory team, neatly leaving a seat open at the Tech 3 team for 2009 World Supersport champion Cal Crutchlow. Never mind that Crutchlow, although undeniably promising, probably isn't ready for prime time (oooh, I'm going to get hate mail) -- he's under contract to Yamaha, he's British, which would please the BBC and, well, who else is there in the pipeline? Assuming that all the above happens, Crutchlow's current employer, Sterilgarda Yamaha, would be left in the lurch. There have been rumors, expressly denied by team management, that if Crutchlow moves on, Yamaha will yank the plug on the WSBK team, much as they did in WSS after the 2009 season.

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Rossi's Replacement And The Rookie Rule

Within minutes of Valentino Rossi's terrible crash at Mugello, once it became apparent that the Italian's leg was broken, speculation began on who would replace the Italian. During the first update the assembled press received in a hushed media center at Mugello, one journalist, with blatant disregard for taste and decency (mea maxima culpa), pressed the Fiat Yamaha PR spokesperson on whether the team was working on a replacement. The spokesperson rightly pointed out that as the incident had happened less than an hour previously, it was perhaps a little too early to be thinking about this.

Once the dust Rossi's crash had settled, though, and it became clear that The Doctor will be out for the next three to four months, the debate began in earnest. The list of possible replacements was already surprisingly long by Saturday night, and has only grown since then. Disregarding wishful thinking (Troy Bayliss and Garry McCoy) and the downright impossible (Max Biaggi, Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis, all under contract), the two options most commonly named are moving a rider up from the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team (Ben Spies being most frequently named in this regard) or bringing in one of Yamaha's test riders to take Rossi's place.

Sooner or later, however, all discussions of a replacement for Rossi get bogged down in the same swamp: the muddy wording of the so-called Rookie Rule, which prevents rookies from being signed to factory teams. The exact wording of the rule is as follows:

1.11.11 Riders who enter the Championship for the first time (Rookies) must be entered by a non factory team.

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Whither HRC? The Tribulations Of Honda

It is no secret that the atmosphere among the riders in the Repsol Honda garage is, to say the least, a little strained. The wall which divides the garages of Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa is, more than any other garage dividing wall, a symbol of the problems which wrack the team. The wall divides the riders, but also the technicians and the data, with virtually nothing shared between the two sides of the garage.

The blame for this split has mainly been put on Dani Pedrosa's side of the garage, but that belies the history of problems that the Repsol team has had. Ever since Valentino Rossi took himself and his crew to Yamaha, the team has struggled, and often been riven by strife. Alex Barros was the first replacement for Rossi, but neither the Brazilian nor his teammate Nicky Hayden won a single race in 2004, something that non-factory riders Sete Gibernau, Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada managed to do repeatedly.

In 2005, Max Biaggi finally got the chance he had wanted for so long, moving into the Repsol Honda team with his technical guru Erv Kanemoto. But the Repsol team's year got off to a bad start, Biaggi crashing into Hayden in pitlane at the first test the two men had together. The rest of Biaggi's year was not much better, the Italian not winning a single race, while Hayden took his maiden victory at Laguna Seca. The season ended in bitter recriminations, Biaggi dropped from the team after voicing trenchant criticism of Honda, and left without a ride for the following year.

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LCR Honda Fantasy Bike: What GIVI Should Really Do

Lucio Cecchinello, the team boss behind the LCR Honda, is renowned for his ingenious approach to raising sponsorship for his team, as he explained to us in an interview last year. But as innovative as Cecchinello is, MotoMatters.com reader Chris Hough felt he was missing a trick. After all, if you are sponsored by motorcycle luggage manufacturer GIVI, why not do it properly?

Randy de Puniet's LCR Honda - With Hard Luggage

And so Chris sent us the following photoshop creation, showing the possibilities GIVI could have seized, if they had used their imaginations just a little bit more. We really like it, and think LCR Honda and GIVI ought to get together and actually build the bike. The publicity would be absolutely astounding.

If Chris' photoshopped RC211GIVI tickled your fancy, then we strongly recommend you head on over to his blog, and look at some of his other work. Always an entertaining read, and Chris is forever digging up little gems from all around the world.

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Simon Buckmaster: The Thin WSS Grids Are An Alarm Call

One thing that loyal readers may have noticed is that MotoMatters.com does not usually carry press releases. This is a conscious choice, as most press releases are a little too bland to be of much great interest, albeit for a number of very good reasons.

There are always exceptions, however, and the outspoken Parkalgar Honda World Supersport team manager Simon Buckmaster is very much one of them. In his latest Simon Says column, which the team sends out as a press release, Buckmaster covers a number of extremely interesting points. He discusses the reasons the World Supersport grid is so thin this year, the options the Parkalgar team is considering for 2011, and the strange qualifying schedule that has been foisted upon the World Supersport class. A very interesting read indeed.

Simon Buckmaster:

THE biggest talking point of the moment is the reduced grids with the main focus on the Supersport class. For the opening race of the season in Australia we had only 17 riders on the grid which was of course disappointing after much fuller grids for so many years. Back in Europe we have 18 full time riders with a couple of wild cards thrown in which normally means at least 20 on the start line.

I spoke to the people at In Front at the end of last season and told them if more was not done we would be in the same position as Moto GP sooner than they thought. I must admit I did not think it would be the very next season myself. They took absolutely no notice of me anyway. Even now nobody seems that bothered and if they are they certainly have not shared their concerns with us.

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The Price Of Success - How The 2010 Silly Season Will Cost Millions

Two unrelated themes dominated the 2009 MotoGP season: Cost-cutting and the Rise of the Aliens. Drastic reductions in testing, a limited number of engines and the dropping of Friday morning practice were all aimed at turning the Niagara Falls of cash the series consumes into a more manageable torrent. Meanwhile Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner took a near whitewash of podiums, cleaning up 44 of the 51 rostrum spots available during the year.

2010 is likely to continue where 2009 left off, but these two different aspects are on a collision course, due for impact around midsummer this year. For though the manufacturers and teams continue to meet in the Grand Prix Commission, to discuss further ways of trimming the costs of racing, the fact that the contracts of the four finest riders of their generation all expire at the end of the season will unleash a bidding war unlike anything ever seen in MotoGP.

The Aliens, as Loris Capirossi has dubbed them, already command the lion's share of rider salaries in the series. Numbers are hard - if not impossible - to come by, but Valentino Rossi alone probably earns more than all of the riders except the Aliens combined, and Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner will each earn many times the salary of any of the other Mortals. It may not be fair, but given that the Aliens won every race but one and hogged 86% of podiums this year, it is the only guarantee of getting your bike and your sponsors onto TV. Success sells, and without an Alien on your bike, success is a very scarce commodity indeed.

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Passing The Torch

Since the rumblings began emanating from the machinations of Colin Edwards’, Hervé Poncharal’s, and Lin Jarvis’ closed-door meetings to figure out how to get Ben Spies and Tom Houseworth into MotoGP in 2010, and the subsequent announcement last Fall, one of the most popular ways to cast the story (and indeed, one of the few speculative avenues that doesn’t automatically involve Silly Season 2011) is to suggest that the tensions between Colin Edwards and James Toseland will somehow be amplified in the arrival of the superior abilities of Ben Spies. I realize magazines and newspapers need to manufacture material in the off-season to sell copies, and we who post on The Web need to draw traffic when potential advertisers don’t care that the sport is on hiatus. But I am here to tell you that this particular road is a dead end street. Headlines of “Tension at Tech 3”, “Monster Battle Brewing”, and “Trouble in Paradise” (a city in Texas, but not home to either rider), can be summarily ignored.

Consider that, though he has no wins in his 7 years of not missing a start in MotoGP, Colin Edwards has an enduring career because it was quickly realized he provides useful data for bike and tire engineers. He is a developer who brings home the equipment and can communicate intelligently about it. Every team needs at least one of those and having two is a godsend, especially if the information is somewhat transferable between the riders.

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2010 WSBK Preview

After a long, cold, lonely winter, the World Superbike racing season is finally upon us again. With 26 machines on the grid, the series is down a bit in participation, but considering the depressed world economic climate, it could be a lot worse. Despite the drop in sheer numbers, there are seven manufacturers with factory (or the equivalent) teams. There has been some shuffling of  marques and talent on privateer teams, but participation is fairly strong on that level as well.

Reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies has abdicated his throne for the theoretically greener pastures of MotoGP and there are a crop of both familiar and new faces eager to claim his title. There doesn't appear to be someone who is going to grab the series by the throat and make it his own in his rookie year like Spies did, but then no one could have predicted that at the beginning of last season either.

The Empire Strikes Back

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In Defense of Toni Elias

Now that the 2009 season has come to a close, and Toni Elias has signed with his current team boss to move down a class for 2010, there will be a temporary ebb in the debates about who this man is and where he belongs in the sport. There is a long-developing opinion espoused, subscribed to, or at least tacitly accepted by a growing number, that Toni Elias takes the first half of a season to lazily absorb his life in the top tier of motorcycle racing before beginning a mid-season panic where he must suddenly show results good enough to secure a job for the subsequent season. I don't know when this line of reasoning began, but since it seems to pass for critical thinking these days, I, for one, have had enough.

I'll save you some time and give you the punchline up front: Toni Elias has never been on the same bike two years in a row since entering the MotoGP class. How good would your first half of the season be?

Toni Elias, Donington Park

Name the current riders who have had great success (say, a win, or frequently on the podium) in their first year on a bike... let's keep it to the MotoGP era: Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa. There's a familiar list, right? Loris Capirossi with a couple of wins for Ducati. After that, it's a long way to Colin Edwards who featured on the podium a couple times in his first year with Honda and then again with Yamaha, followed by Nicky Hayden in his rookie year, and then Andrea Dovizioso with one podium appearance in his rookie year. Name the rider(s) who scored wins in his first year with more than one team: Rossi.

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WSBK: Portimao Preview -- The Payoff

On his Twitter page Ben Spies has the saying "Put in the time....It will pay off someday.." This statement is more than an aphorism to the young Texan, it's a reflection of the philosophy that has brought him 3 AMA Superbike championships and has brought him to the brink of seizing a World Superbike crown. Spies never seems to get overly excited (well, except after being forced out of a race by an equipment failure or a fellow competitor's bonehead move) and approaches racing in a seemingly workmanlike manner, solving problems and moving step-by-step to the desired end. This calm and methodical system has led to Spies capturing a record-tying 10 Superpoles and winning 13 races so far in his rookie season.

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