Casey Stoner's 2010 MotoGP season has been blighted by crashes. Starting at Qatar, where the Australian crashed out while leading the race after dominating throughout practice, Stoner faced a number of front end issues with his Ducati Desmosedici, adding a second crash at Le Mans to his troubles.
Things started to improve from Mugello, where Stoner's side of Marlboro Ducati garage decided to go back to the narrower forks they had used in 2009, and the crashes stopped happening. This still left Stoner struggling with front end grip though, and unable to find a setup that he felt comfortable enough with to push at the front.
That all changed at Aragon: Casey Stoner's team finally found the solution they had been chasing, and since making those changes to the bike, Stoner has gone on to win three out of four races, dominating in eerily familiar form. Only an early race crash at Sepang prevented Stoner from making it four in a row, the Australian doing penance by destroying the rest of the field at his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island.
The fears that the MotoGP grid would once again be short of full strength at Estoril have been allayed, at least for the time being, with the news that Loris Capirossi is to attempt to race in Portugal, despite the pain from his fractured foot. The veteran Italian is far from healthy, with a torn adductor muscle in his leg and multiple fractures in his right foot, but Capirossi heads to Estoril hoping that he will be able to race despite his injuries. In a statement in the Rizla Suzuki press release, Capirossi said that the fractured cuboid and metatarsal in his foot should not be an issue, as he had ridden with the injured foot at Phillip Island. The bigger question mark is over the Italian's thigh muscle, which ruled him out of the race in Australia.
Further confirmation - if any was needed - that Valentino Rossi will be taking his entire crew with him to Ducati when he leaves. After Jeremy Burgess told Henny Ray Abrams at Phillip Island that he will be leaving Yamaha with Rossi, Rossi's mechanic Alex Briggs finally came clean on his Twitter page: "Next year I will be working at Ducati with the rider & all the gang. The choice was easy & made months ago."
Briggs had spent the last couple of months fending off a barrage of questions about his future on Twitter, as the amiable Australian has been a fervent and fascinating user of the social networking site, interacting eagerly with his 6000+ followers. Once Burgess had finally let his guard slip, Briggs could no longer keep up the pretense. In a further post, Briggs added some more detail about his decision to move:
MotoGP's silly season is almost at an end, with only a few loose ends left to tie up. The names of the riders are all known now, though contracts remain to be signed and announcements to be made, as the final details of deals are hammered out among the various parties.
While Honda's factory line up has been known for a couple of months now, the exact line up and organization has remained unclear. HRC had three riders under contract to ride in the factory team, with Casey Stoner joining Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa for 2011, but there was some doubt about the way the trio would be organized. At Aragon, HRC Marketing Director Livio Suppo told MotoMatters.com that there would be four factory Honda riders for 2011: Stoner, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, who also has a contract with HRC directly. After talks failed to tempt another sponsor in to run Casey Stoner in a separate team, Honda put pressure on Andrea Dovizioso to take a seat in the San Carlo Gresini Honda team alongside Simoncelli, with the promise of full factory support in the Gresini squad.
If the news that Valentino Rossi was going to switch to Ducati for the 2011 MotoGP season was the worst-kept secret in the paddock, the fate of Jerry Burgess and the rest of Rossi's pit crew was probably the best-kept secret. Although it was widely expected that Burgess would follow Rossi to Ducati, all questions on the subject put to the Australian and the rest of the crew were met with a positively sphinx-like silence. Even hardened paddock veterans couldn't get a straight answer out of Burgess, Briggs, Ansiau, Stephens or any of the other members of Rossi's entourage.
Until now, that is. In a forthright interview with veteran US journalist Henny Ray Abrams over on the website of Sport Rider magazine, Burgess finally comes clean about his intention to move to Ducati along with Rossi. His reasoning was simple: the timeframe for Rossi's career fits in perfectly with Burgess' own plans. Rossi, currently 31, is likely to race in MotoGP for another 3 to 4 years, before moving off to race elsewhere, most probably in the World Rally Championship. Burgess is currently 57, and Rossi's retirement from the sport would come at about the time that Burgess himself would be looking at retiring.
It was an open secret for some time, but now it has been officially announced: Mika Kallio is to leave the Pramac team with immediate effect, and miss the last two races of the season at Estoril and Valencia. Speculation has been rife all year about problems for Kallio, including reports of personal problems in the Finnish media. The press release and Kallio put the Finnish rider's problems down to a nagging shoulder injury that Kallio picked up in a crash at Le Mans, earlier this year. Kallio is to return to Finland from Australia and seek treatment for his shoulder, in preparation for next season, which will probably find him in Moto2.
It appears the decision the world has been waiting for has finally been taken: According to MCN's Matt Birt, Valentino Rossi will be allowed to test the Ducati at Valencia. It appears that Rossi was told by Masao Furusawa on Saturday night that he would be allowed to test after the final MotoGP round of the year.
The decision had been almost inevitable, but Yamaha had been holding off on announcing for as long as possible. It has long been customary for factories to allow their departing riders to test for their new teams after the final race, the only exception in recent history being Valentino Rossi, after he left Honda to join Yamaha. Ducati had already set an example by releasing Casey Stoner early to test for Honda, the team he joins for 2011, and Rossi had expected Yamaha to do the same. Yamaha, however, had been playing their cards close to their chest, in part as this was the only leverage they had over Rossi to ensure he did not hinder his teammate Jorge Lorenzo's bid for the 2010 championship.
With the weather greatly improved from Friday, our shooter-on-the-scene Andrew Gosling of TBGSport ventured beyond the confines of pitlane, and sent us back the following shots:
Although MotoMatters.com's very own photographer Scott Jones is unable to make the long trek across the Pacific to Phillip Island, we have some help from a local. Andrew Gosling of TBGSport is on hand, braving the elements to bring us shots from the edge of the Bass Strait. We think you'll like them:
Even though Valentino Rossi has not yet heard whether he will be allowed to test the Ducati after the final MotoGP round at Valencia - a fact Rossi once again made a point of mentioning in the pre-event press conference at Phillip Island - preparations are already underway at the Bologna factory for the Italian's arrival. According to the Italian magazine Motosprint, Ducati are once again evaluating whether to use a screamer or big-bang firing order in the Ducati, and will be bringing a bike with one of each engine type to Valencia should Rossi be given the all-clear to test by Yamaha. Ducati team boss and former test rider Vito Guareschi has been seen studying Rossi's riding style very closely at a number of tracks to evaluate which bike to give Rossi first.
As the season winds towards its conclusion, the effect of the engine rules is starting to become clear. With 15 out of 18 races already having been run, reliability problems have been given plenty of time to rear their head, and what's been remarkable is the fact that there's been so few problems in this regard - with the exception of the Suzukis, who will will be glad that they got their permitted engine allocation expanded to 9 engines instead of 6.
In the reliability stakes, Honda rather unsurprisingly comes out on top, with just three engines withdrawn from a grand total of 36 allocated to the six riders on an RC212V. What's more, the Hondas have a lot of spare engines unused, and engines with just a few sessions on them. The inevitable dark murmurings of that the engine rules were drawn up at the behest of Honda will be further fueled by these numbers, but whether there is any truth in them or not, there is no doubt that HRC has done a fantastic job on engine reliablity
Carlos Checa confirmed today that he is seriously in contention to ride the Pramac Ducati at Estoril and Valencia in place of Mika Kallio. In a video posted on Twitter, Checa is shown testing the Ducati Desmosedici GP10 at Mugello today, evaluating whether he is ready to race the GP10 or not. A decision is expected sometime shortly after the test.
Below is the video Checa just posted:
After a promising rookie year in MotoGP, Mika Kallio has struggled in 2010 on the Pramac Ducati. So mediocre has his form been the past six month, that Kallio has decided to call it quits early. According to reports in the Spanish media, Kallio will not be riding the last two races of the season for the Pramac Ducati squad, and his season will end after Sunday's race at Phillip Island.
Taking his place will be yet another Spaniard: After an outstanding year in the World Superbike championship aboard a Ducati 1198R, finishing 3rd behind Max Biaggi and Leon Haslam, and well ahead of the factory Xerox Ducatis of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, the 38-year-old veteran Carlos Checa is to replace Kallio at Estoril and Valencia. Checa last rode in MotoGP back in 2007, when he raced for the LCR Honda squad currently fielding Randy de Puniet, after which the Spaniard moved to World Superbikes.
With MotoGP grid sizes currently shrinking almost on a daily basis, judging by the news from Sepang, it was clear that something would have to be done to stem the losses. The latest count was just 15 bikes on the grid in 2011, with Pramac and Suzuki down to one bike each, and Interwetten Honda out altogether.
The latest paddock rumors from Sepang - assembled by our friends over at GPOne.com - suggest that Dorna is stepping in to shore up grid numbers for next year, by providing support in a couple of key situations. The first move is to help get Toni Elias back into MotoGP. The way that Elias has dominated the brand new Moto2 championship, culminating in the 2010 title he secured at Sepang, has generated a huge call for the popular Spaniard to be given a ride in MotoGP. Elias' options looked very good, either taking the second bike at Suzuki, replacing the departing Loris Capirossi, or else taking over Randy de Puniet's seat at LCR Honda, should the Frenchman have plumped for the Suzuki seat before Elias. Once the second bike at Suzuki disappeared - looking more like a racing certainty with every passing day - that plan fell through, leaving Elias to look for a ride in Moto2.