Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Your parka, Mr. Ba‘al Zebûb…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

It must be getting a tad chilly down under these days, and I don’t mean in Australia. Honda just did a press release confirming they they are in discussions about supplying engines to Kenny Roberts’ MotoGP team for the 2006 season, assuming that Team KR can find the sponsorship necessary to lease the motors from Big Red. This is surprising for a few reasons…

King Kenny on his Yamaha

First and foremost, is the fact that Honda and Kenny Roberts have never been on particularly friendly turns. Roberts made his reputation as a motorcycle racing demi-god by campaigning Yamahas. First against the might of Harley and Honda in American dirt track, then road racing against Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki in the AMA Formula One and finally winning three consecutive 500 GP titles against Honda and Suzuki. Did you notice the name that was consistent across all those years of racing rivals? Additionally, Roberts has stated publicly for the past eight years that his aim for creating his TeamKR GP bikes was to best the major manufacturers in general and Honda in particular.

On the other side of the coin, Honda is a very traditional Japanese company where loyalty is the highest virtue. When a rider, a manager or a vendor breaks that bond then they are rarely ever invited back into the hallowed halls of Honda. Given Honda’s long history of working against Roberts, not to mention his long history of bad mouthing the Japanese firm, it seems strange from both sides that the two would come to an agreement to partner up in MotoGP.

From Robert’s perspective he may not have a choice. With KTM dissolving their partnership midway through the ‘05 season and with sponsorship money become harder and harder to find, I’m sure Team KR knows they can’t rejuvenate on their old V5 development program in order to build a competitive motor. As I said in a blog write-up this past February, building motors is the downfall of most small motorcycle producers and I’m sure many of the same roadblocks lie before a small race shop as well. The current Honda motor is among the best in the class and I’m sure they have a head start over everyone else in developing their 800cc engine. Having a competitive motor would allow the Roberts gang to cut costs and focus on handling which is where the TeamKR bikes have always excelled.

From Honda’s perspective I think that working with TeamKR, like their partnership with Moriwaki, would accomplish a few things. First, it would keep another team in the MotoGP championship which I’m sure is vitally important to both Honda and the FIM since a world series with only two or three manufacturers involved loses all of its legitimacy. Second, Honda has always promoted the idea of having strong involvement in the GP series by factory supported satellite teams. In the 90s, Honda created a lower cost (but only marginally competitive) 500cc V-twin specifically to provide to satellite teams that couldn’t afford the astronomical leasing costs of the four cylinder bikes. They have done the same in the 250cc class by retiring their NSR GP racer and instead using a more mundane RSW250 which is available to other teams (but using factory kit parts to bump up its performance for star riders like Dani Pedrosa). To that end, having another bike on the grid powered by a Honda motor would help fulfill their dream of moving MotoGP more in the direction of Formula One where companies build engines and teams build chassis.

Okay, so all that makes sense. What’s the rub? Well, if there was ever someone that is not a company mouthpiece it has gotta be King Kenny. That Honda would align themselves with someone that has been so blatantly critical of them for the past three decades is amazing. Additionally, look at the risks involved. If the Honda powered Roberts bike could actually be competitive it would be taking prestige away from Honda. After all, if the TeamKR bike wins then it implies the Honda chassis is flawed. If the bike, like the current Moriwaki project, can’t hang with the big boys then KR is probably the first person who will be critical of the partnership and/or the engine’s capabilities which isn’t going to do Honda’s marketing department any favors. Either way, there is definitely a lose-lose situation brewing.

Another person that will likely be hurt by his is Yamaha. While the relationship between Roberts and his former employer has been tenuous at best over the past few decades there has nevertheless been a continual effort by Yamaha to use Roberts’ successes in their marketing. Lets face it, Yamaha built their entire 50th Anniversary celebration at this year’s USGP around Robert’s GP victories in the early 80s. If Honda starts supplying motors to Kenny’s race team the facade of him bleeding yellow will certainly be broken. I’m not sure who will faint first at the sight of a Honda ad with Roberts in it, the marketing department at Yamaha or the fans who grew up watching bumblebee bikes dominating the AMA series in the 70s.

Don’t get me wrong, as I said when KTM stepped in with motors earlier this year I think it is fantastic to have Kenny Roberts involved in the sport. Not only does his involvement represent the best of the David versus Goliath situation, his personality harks back to a time before riders were hired as mouthpieces for sponsors rather than to win championships. The very issues that make a potential partnership with Honda so unlikely are the same reasons I want to see him in the paddock in ‘06. Still, no matter what the personalities and corporate cultures that are involved, the real trick will be for TeamKR to find the cash required to go racing with *any* motor, Honda or otherwise. Once they’ve overcome that hurdle then we can see if a V5 Honda appears in their chassis.

Once before on this blog I mentioned that Hell must be freezing over and that was when Mick Doohan was let go by Honda. With this latest rumor of a partnership between Roberts and HRC I’m sure the demons are buying ski gear in hades tonight!

[image from the Saro di Bartolo web site.]

Monday, October 24, 2005

Coming of age…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The Internet rumor mill was churning for the past week with a series of reports about what HRC’s General Manager Tsutomu Ishii may or may not have said concerning Honda’s lead riders for 2006. The first report claimed that Ishii-san declared development of the final version of the RC211V would be put squarely upon the shoulders of Nicky Hayden and Marco Melandri. Then, a few days later, a story was released denying any such thing and saying development may yet fall to more experienced riders.

Well, after watching this weekend’s innaugural MotoGP race at the Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey, I’d have to say Honda should have stuck to the initial story. Both Melandri and Hayden have looked spectacular at the past few races and both put on strong performances at Turkey to prove they have Valentino Rossi in their sights for next year. Besides, who else could Honda depend on for bike development next year? The Repsol team, which has always carried the standard for HRC, will be Hayden teamed with 250 star Dani Pedrosa. HRC will be looking to Pedrosa for leadership on the smaller 800cc bike in 2007 but surely they wouldn’t make him their lead rider in his first season in MotoGP. Likewise, Melandri will be joined by Toni Elias on the Gresini team. Elias has improved steadily in 2005 but won’t be ready to upstage his new teammate, especially if Melandri ends the season runner-up to Rossi this year. The Sito Pons team will be Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa. Both riders bring a lot of experience (and sponsorship cash) but based on their results this year it would be suicide to bank on them next year. Finally, Makoto Tamada will likely be back and while Honda always likes to back Japanese riders it would be a political nightmare to give him the development role while passing over faithful Honda teams like Pons or Gresini. I think the first release was correct but probably leaked out too soon (IE: before the contracts with Tamada, Checa and Elias have been inked). Whatever the official line may be right now, expect the eyes and ears of HRC’s engineers to be focused on Hayden and Melandri next year.

But at the start of this weekend all eyes were again on Sete Gibernau. Both Gresini Movistar Honda riders were fast from the first time bikes turned a wheel on the Turkish track and both set the pace in qualifying as well. However, it was the Spaniard who threw down the fastest lap once the sticky tires came out and thus would be starting from the pole position. With Gibernau’s string of crashes and mistakes over the course season the entire motorcycle racing world had to be wondering if Istanbul would finally be where Sete would turn things around.

Marco Melandri in Turkey

Come race day though it was Melandri who was feeling his oats. From the time the lights went green he was on a mission. Melandri lead early but Gibernau made the pass for the lead within a few laps. However, on lap six Sete’s brain fade once again struck as the Spaniard took a tour of a Turkish gravel trap. This gifted the lead to Melandri with Hayden suddenly finding himself fighting for the lead after the Rossi curse struck Gibernau. Rossi, meanwhile, had a horrible start and was working his way past fellow Yamaha riders Colin Edwards and Toni Elias.

As few interesting things happened as the race progressed. First Shinichi Itoh, subbing for the injured Capirossi on the Ducati, was given the meatball flag for a jumped start but then failed to pull in for his penalty. He was eventually black flagged out of the race. Equally interesting, but for a more positive reason, was Chris Vermeulen who ran in the top 10 for most of the race ahead of both Makoto Tamada and Max Biaggi. He made a mistake late in the race which allowed the Japanese rider past but still stayed ahead of Biaggi till the end.

After Gibernau’s mistake on lap six the race turned into a bit of a procession. Rossi got around Hayden but seemed unable, or at least unwilling, to press the issue of the race win against his buddy Melandri. At one point Rossi turned in a record lap (later bested by Melandri on lap 17) and he repeatedly up’ed his pace whenever Hayden turned in a flier so it seemed the Italian was capable of running with Melandri. Nonetheless, all three riders ran for the final eight laps separated by a little over a second each with little change in the gap from lap to lap. Further back, Gibernau recovered from his side trip off the circuit to work back up through the field to a lonely fourth. Carlos Checa was equally alone in fifth, having gapped the chasing Yamahas but not really able to close the distance on the Honda ahead. Toni Elias turned in another impressive ride for a MotoGP rookie in this case nipping Colin Edwards at the line for sixth. Chris Vermeulen brought the Honda home in a credible 11th place.

Going into the last race of the season it looks like the battle for second place in the points has boiled down to Hayden chasing Melandri. The Kentucky Kid will have to pull 10 points on the Italian at the Valencia race in two weeks to claim the runner-up spot and that seems like a tall order given how well Marco is riding. Edwards still has a mathematical shot at second but in order for him to make up 25 points he would have to win the final race and have something bad happen to both Melandri and Hayden. Edwards could be overtaken for fouth by Biaggi since only eight points separate the two but given the Roman’s form of late that ’s not likely to happen. Gibernau needs to make up thirteen points on Mad Max to take fifth which is a distinct possibility if Biaggi has another round plagued by mysterious suspension problems and if Sete can stay out of the Spanish gravel traps.

Based on the races at Qater, Phillip Island and now at Istanbul, it seems clear that Honda does need to throw its development weight behind the youngsters. If anyone is going to beat Rossi in ‘06 it is most likely to be Melandri or Hayden. If not, and with Rossi looking likely to leave the sport in ‘07, then Melandri and Hayden will surely be the stars of the future. I have a lot of respect for the results that Biaggi has brought teams over the years (as well as respect for the sponsorship money Checa has brought those same teams) but these elder statesmen of the paddock should no longer be the leads for HRC’s R&D. Let them race for financial, political or even marketing reasons but its time for Honda to look to the future.

[image from the GPone web site.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

No more Thanksgiving jokes…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Yes, its true. I’m going to avoid the obvious Thanksgiving pun when describing this weekend’s inaugural MotoGP Istanbul event in Turkey. Since this is the first motorcycle event at the track it will be a new experience for crews, riders and fans. Other than some ideas about that track which riders may have gleaned while watching the F1 car races back in August all the racers will be starting with a clean slate.

Istanbul Park Circuit track map

The Istanbul Park Circuit is an interesting one having been designed by the same architect that sculpted the F1 tracks in Sepang and China. Best of all, he placed little odes to famous tracks around the world in his layout so riders will immediately have a little familiarity at certain places on the track. The builders weren’t stingy with the asphalt either as the track is 3.31 miles in length and 40 to 50 feet wide in places. It shows it’s non-European roots by bucking the continental trend and being run in the counter-clockwise direction. This means that left hand curves predominate (of the 14 turns 8 are left-handers). Since no one has yet ridden the track it is hard to predict how the track is going to work out but looking at the map and specs a few things seem to be likely.

First, like Sepang, the track should allow for plenty of passing. There are a wide variety of corners including some slow, tight turns that are proceeded by relatively straight fast sections. This is the norm for F1 tracks, since it is pretty much the only place the cars can make passes, but it makes for good bike racing as well. This is particularly true in three places: The 90 degree left hander after the start/finish straight, the tight left at teh bottom of a hill that is around the halfway point of the lap and, finally, the last corner on the track is a chicane with a downhill entrance and an exit leading onto the front straight. Like Phillip Island, these downhill braking zones will probably be a natural place for a rider to go for the inside line and pick up positions.

These corner descriptions bring up another interesting aspect of the track which is the elevation. The long track length, which includes four different “straights”, and the constant elevation changes mean that the teams better bring their horsepower this weekend. That usually means the Ducatis and Hondas need to be watched since they always show up with extra ponies. Finally, the track width means that multiple lines can be used going into corners and that should help encourage more passing. Since passing is what makes watching a race so exciting that is definitely a good thing.

As I mentioned above, the circuit has a little of everything. Most of the corners flow together but there is a mix of rhythm sections, slow turns, fast bends and straights. Bike setup will be tricky since the front forks have to be stiff to deal with the two hard downhill breaking areas but will then be too hard for the two ultra fast right hand kinks (one exiting the first turn and the second in the middle of the back straight). The bikes need to be stable for the long straights and to deal with the acceleration/deceleration areas but that then means they will be a handful when transitioning side to side in the “s” sections. Riders will have to decide where they want to make their compromises and that means certain people will be fast in some sections and others fast in different parts of the track.

The tire situation will again be one to watch. Since this is a new track neither Michelin nor Bridgestone have any bike set-up information. Both tire companies supply F1 teams so it will be interesting to see which company has the best transfer of information between their cage and bike divisions. It will also be interesting to see just how conservative the two companies are with their selection of tires for the weekend. Since the track has a very fast layout, expect tire wear to be a concern all weekend long. We’ll have to see if either company gambles wrong when it comes to tire life.

Naturally, there is still a lot of interesting news in the paddock. Silly season is coming to a close but there are injuries, replacement riders and job hunters still to be mentioned. After last weekend’s Australian GP, Capirossi and Roberts Jr are nursing wounds and neither will make the show in Turkey. Likewise, Bayliss and Hoffman are still out and neither will likely re-appear on a MotoGP bike this season. Ducati is replacing Capirex with Bridgestone test rider and GP veteran Shinichi Itoh. Jacque is again filling in for Hoffman at Kawasaki and Honda superstar Vermeulen is still subbing for Bayliss. All three of these riders are hoping for GP rides next year though it sounds like their current rides will not be available. Itoh is rumored to be a possibility on the D’Antin Ducati squad, Vermeulen may or may not be heavily in talks with Suzuki and Jacque is begging for something better than another year as Kawasaki’s test rider.

The first question, as always, is whether anyone can beat Rossi. The only time he has really been bested all season was when he had to learn a new circuit at Laguna Seca. The Americans had ridden there before and their 1-2 finishes over Rossi were thus explained away as home field advantage. It will be interesting to see if anyone can win against The Doctor when the track is equally new to everyone. The layout should favor Hayden because of the left hand turns so expect him to be fast. Likewise, Melandri is mostly healed from his foot injury and has returned to his early season form with strong finishes at the past few races. Since he is fighting with Nicky for second overall in the championship Marco will be up front. Checa has also woken up here at the end of the year and will want to close out his career on the Ducati with strong finishes. Expect the Duc’s power to be very helpful when accelerating out of the slow corners in Turkey. Gibernau, who has gone backwards at the last few races, will want to close to his season with Honda with an upswing before trading bikes with Checa for next year.

Then there is Rossi. Ever time a track looks to suit the faster bikes the Italian wonder boy shows that his incredible talent trumps everything. I expect to see Rossi pull some amazing passes at the Istanbul circuit especially into the downhill tight turns. Rossi was given some push back at Phillip Island by the youngsters Hayden and Melandri. I doubt he’ll be able to break away from the faster Hondas in Turkey but expect him to rule the turns.

It should be an exciting race. Fortunately, SpeedTV is showing both the MotoGP and 250GP race this Sunday so I’ll be able to settle in for an afternoon of race watching. I hope you can do the same.

[image from the Istanbul MotoGP web site.]

Monday, October 17, 2005

No man is an island…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”
– John Donne, Meditation XVII

That quote may be true in it’s context but there is one man that certain stands alone in the world of MotoGP and he’s quickly becoming permanently associated with an island. In this case the man is Valentino Rossi and that island is Phillip Island.

The weekend started off interestingly enough. As I mentioned in my preview on Friday both Loris Capirossi and Kenny Roberts Jr crashed their way out of the event in practice on Thursday. These wouldn’t be the only riders bitten by the high speed corners before the weekend was over.

Qualifying was typically thrilling. Carlos Checa, always a rider that seems to find his pace when contract time rolls around, was consistently fast. Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau were also near the front for most of the session. However, when the clock started winding down it was Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden that set the pace. Both put in fast laps once the Q-tires came out but it was Hayden who ultimately did the business to win his third pole position of the season by setting a new lap records for the Phillip Island circuit. Rossi and Gibernau completed the front row with all three riders seperated by just 1/3 of a second.

At the other end of the grid, Franco Battaini on the WCM failed to make the 107% cut-off and thus wouldn’t normally line up for the race. For whatever reason the FIM waived the rule thus allowing him to race. I have two theories for this: First, Battaini is Italian and, coincidentally, so is most of the FIM board. I’ve bitched already this season about how Rossi wasn’t penalized after his Motegi accident when Spaniard Lorenzo was suspended for a similar accident in the 250GP class that same day. Naturally, I’m not surprised that an Italian rider is given a reprieve from the rules when it might otherwise mean he wouldn’t be riding. My second theory has to do with the depleted field caused by the absence Team Proton and then compounded by Capirossi and Roberts accidents. Surely the FIM knows that a grid of 18 bikes is bad for marketing and that losing one of those because of qualifying rules hurts even more. The FIM needs bikes on the grid to have a viable product to sell to the fans, especially with the World Superbike Series showing such strong growth this year. At this point the FIM needs everyone on a bike that they can get and thus can’t afford to disqualifying someone even if they can to compromise safety to do it. Bad juju either way.

Okay, I’ll move beyond the qualifying controversy… Once the race got under way it was Hayden who led the way off the line. The young rider from Kentucky looked confident perhaps because the track contains so many ultra fast left turns which may play to his past as a dirt tracker in America. One rider who didn’t have such a great start was Max Biaggi as the Italian crashed out about halfway through the first lap. Since Biaggi had been leading the battle for second in the points his early exit, along with Capirossi’s absence, threw the door wide open for Hayden, Melandri and Edwards to capitalize.

Rossi and Hayden battle at Phillip Island

Almost immediately the race soon broke into small groups. The lead battle was Hayden, followed by Rossi and Melandri. Behind them, Gibernau, Edwards and Checa were locked in their own battle. Behind them came Barros, Tamada and Nakano. Rossi soon made his way to the front and brought Melandri with him. Despite showing speed in his pass on Hayden, Melandri was unable to go once Rossi had clear track in front of him and could cut fast laps. The American Repsol Honda rider, on the other hand, re-passed the Italian aboard Gresini Honda and re-closed the gap to the World Champ out front. The Yamaha rider tried his best to out pace the Honda but couldn’t shake the Kentucky Kid.

Further back, Olivier Jacque had another tough race on the Kawasaki this time pitting early with tire problems. It was announced this weekend that Jacque’s countryman Randy De Puniet will be riding the Kawasaki next year so it looks like Jacque may again be out of a job in the GP paddock. He needed some strong rides in these last wild card appearances to convince team bosses he’s got what it takes and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Another rider that needed a good result this weekend was Alex Barros. Unfortunately, the Brazilian threw his Honda down the track at the ultra fast Haystack corner and was lucky to survive the crash with only severe bruising. Still, a DNF wasn’t what he needed this weekend especially with rumors floating around the Carlos Checa was in talks with Sito Pons about a ride on the Camel Honda in ‘06.

Around half race distance Vale realized he couldn’t break the field and so he shifted tactics and slowed the pace. Nicky initially didn’t take the bait but with lap times two seconds a lap slower than those run by the trailing pair he eventually re-passed for the lead. However, the damage was already done. Melandri and Carlos had closed the gap and what had been a mano-a-mano struggle was now a four rider scrap. Once the gap was closed Rossi again went to the front and again dropped his lap times in an effort to break away. Meanwhile Hayden was fighting for position with Melandri and couldn’t immediately respond. It took two laps for Hayden to shrug of the pursuing riders but by then Rossi had built up a one second gap. Nicky took back a few tenths but there wasn’t enough time left to catch back up. Valentino managed the gap and won the race. Carlos used the power of the Ducati to pip Marco’s Honda at the line for third. Sete was a lonely fifth, followed by an equally lonely Colin in sixth.

Valentino Rossi’s win accomplished two things. First, it marks the Italian’s 11th win of the season. This ties his previous best record for single season victories. It also puts him just one race away from equalling Doohan’s all-time record of twelve race wins in one year of GP racing. With two races left this season, Rossi still has a chance to break that record if he can sweep both of them. The second thing accomplished by his victory was locking up Manufacturer’s Title for Yamaha. This gives Rossi a perfect trifecta for the year having won the Rider’s Championship, the Team Championship and the Manufacturer’s Championship for ‘05.

Hayden’s second place moves him into a tie with Marco Melandri for second in the championship. Edward’s sixth place finish moves him to fourth overall eight points behind the two Honda riders. Biaggi falls to sixth a further three points behind Edwards and Capirossi slips to sixth eleven points behind Biaggi. With 50 points still available in the final two races, the season runner-up is still a long way from being decided but it is quickly narrowing down to a Hayden, Melandri and Edwards contest.

…but out front Rossi is still an island unto himself.

[image from the Motocourse web site.]

Friday, October 14, 2005

Island Paradise…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Australia is a place with a reputation. It is a place where the rugged individual shines, a place with a harsh landscape that doesn’t coddle the weak and a place where men are men. Down under you entertain yourself by spending weeks on a walkabout in the desert, wrestling with a crocodile and ordering beers the size of buckets. Macho behavior is the norm and bravery is a prized virtue. Its not surprising then that when it comes to road race circuits Australia boasts a track which is not for the weak of stomach.

This weekend the MotoGP crowd shows up at the incredible Phillip Island circuit. The first sign that this isn’t your average race track is the fact that it’s located on a small island off the southern coast of Australia. The nearest major city is Melbourne but the track itself, as the name would suggest, is on Phillip Island. By being on an island, the weather can be downright tropical one minute and then blasted with gale force winds or drenched with torrential rain the next. If the riders aren’t busy fighting the conditions they are probably dodging the sea gulls. Did I mention already that riders who like the comfortable life aren’t welcome here? However, those challenges are offset by the circuit itself. Most tracks built for MotoGP are amazing venues but this track tops them all. Not only is the 2.763 mile long track one of the best designs of any track in the world it also offers a stunning back drop with the Bass Strait just a few hundred yards from the race track. On TV, the views of bikes cresting the hill at Lukey Heights is enough to make any roadrace fan want to buy a plane ticket on the spot.

Phillip Island track map

The track is simply amazing. Technically, it is listed as 12 turns (8 lefts and 4 rights) but in reality is more like a roller coaster. There are two slow right turns (Honda and MG corners) but everything else is just one high speed lean after the other. Three of the turns are taken in third gear at around ninety miles an hour but it is the turns of Doohan Corner, The Hayshed and Turn 12 that really make this an Aussie style track. All three are taken in fourth gear with the bikes going around 120 mph. Then, as if that wasn’t fast enough, the long Gardner Straight has the bikes nearing 200 mph. Since Doohan corner comes immediately after this top speed run it means the bikes are scrubbing off around 80 mph and then sliding the bike through the right hander at a buck twenty. While the bike is still scrubbing off speed the riders have to transition from one side to the next for the Southern Loop left hander which is taken in third gear at around 80mph. The faint of heart need not apply at this track.

Because of the incredibly high average speed and because the slowest spots on the track are still above 50mph the bikes have to be set up soft. No need to stiffen up the front forks for hard breaking instead keep the bike a little loose so the riders have the feel they need while banked over in the Hayshed. With ultra fast left turns dominating the track the tires are crucial. Bridgestone and Michelin have been going at each other in the past few races so it will be interesting to see which tire brand has the advantage on the Island. Keep a close eye on the bikes as they accelerate through Turn 12 and onto the front straight as that will be the first place shagged tires start to show themselves.

When it comes to the riders a few things have already sorted themselves out. During the first practice session on Thursday two riders had sickening violent accidents. First, Kenny Roberts Jr was high-sided off his Suzuki at 180mph at the end of the Gardiner Straight. The resulting rag doll routine through the gravel trap resulted in a broken left wrist. Since Roberts is still unsigned for ‘06 and since this injury will probably take him out for the rest of the season this is particularly tragic for the ex-world champion. It will be doubly so if it rains on Sunday. The second accident was nearly identical as Loris Capirossi was ejected from his Ducati at the same spot and at the same speed. At first the Italian seemed uninjured but Thursday night started feeling some chest pain and was brought to the hospital for tests. It was found that he had badly bruised his lungs and was bleeding internally. He’s been in the med shack ever since. He is out for the Aussie race and probably for Turkey as well. Capirossi was in the amazing battle that has been raging for second place in the championship and given the momentum he has had after his Motegi and Sepang victories he looked good to win that runner-up spot. His crash not only hurts Ducatim but also hurts Bridgestone since he was probably their best hope for a win as well.

Bayliss is out for the rest of the season with his broken wrists and with the recent announcement that he’ll be racing for Ducati in World Superbike in ‘06 he won’t be seen anywhere near the Camel Honda garages for the remainder of the season. One Australian’s loss is another’s gain as Chris Vermeulen makes his MotoGP debut while subbing for Bayliss. All the young WSBK star has to do is stay upright, run mid-pack and show he can cope with 250hp. If he can pull that off, he’s pretty much assured a Honda MotoGP ride next year. Hoffman is still of the Kawasaki due to injury but is again being replaced by Olivier Jacque. After the Frenchmen’s visit to the hospital in Doha from his practice crash I think he probably has the same goals as Vermeulen…stay upright and finish the race. Melandri is still recovering from his foot injury but given his fifth and second place finishes since Japan it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Expect him to run up front.

Of those not on the injured list Rossi again tops the list of riders to mention. He pulled a seemingly impossible move last year to win the race. Phillip Island is perfect for the agile Yamaha as the transition from side to side at high speed is where the bike really shines. Like Mugello, the M1 may get beaten down the straight by the Hondas and Ducatis but expect Rossi to own the first and second turns. Perhaps the second rider to watch is Nicky Hayden. He’s always done well at the Island, including a third in ‘03, and is coming off a podium at the previous race. As has been said before, the Honda rider needs momentum and he started that in Qater. Biaggi needs a good race to bounce back from his disastrous weekend at the Losail circuit. He’s also still looking for a job so needs to put in that little bit extra. Capirossi being out takes some pressure off the Roman but the gap he has over Melandri, Edwards and Hayden for second overall is still only seven points. Speaking of which, all three of those riders were faster than Biaggi in the opening practice so keep an eye on them… As much as I hesitate to say it, another rider with a history of strong finishes in Australia is Sete Gibernau. The only momentum the Spaniard has had recently is with making mistakes so he could desperately use a little Phillip Island magic to rejuvenate his confidence. Finally, there are the guys that always seem to pull something out of the hat at the end of each season in an effort to get a ride. GP veterans Barros and Checa were both fast in the early practice and both are desperate to get offers for ‘06. They may show a little extra Aussie-like manliness on Sunday if it will help impress the team bosses.

SpeedTV is showing the MotoGP race at 9am (MDT) on Sunday but sadly are delaying coverage of the 250s until Tuesday. Its bad enough that they have been delaying World Superbike and AMA but now MotoGP? Speed, I thought you were our friend? Et tu, Brute? What do you guys expect me to go on Sunday afternoon, go on walkabout?

[image from the Australian Motorcycle GP web site.]

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Family business…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Word leaked out of the Team Kenny Roberts Proton camp this week that they are going to be testing their old 2004 V5 in a couple of weeks to see if it can be made race ready for the season ending MotoGP race at Valencia on November 6th. This isn’t really a surprise because Team KR said just before the Japanese GP that they would be skipping the fly away races and were hoping to come back for the last race of the year. What is surprising is that the rider tipped to be sitting on the bike at this test is Kurtis Roberts.

Alright, so why am I surprised at that you must be thinking. Now I’m plainly aware that Kurtis is the son of Team KR owner Kenny Roberts and I’m also aware that Kurtis is currently without a ride for ‘06. What strikes me as at least a little bit odd about this situation is that despite Robert, Sr calling the shots over in the Proton garage the MotoGP world is still a viciously political place. Take the following into consideration:

Kurtis Roberts racing for Team KR in '04

In 2004 Kurtis raced the Proton V5 for dear old pops. That season, by everyone’s account, was a disaster. The bike lacked power, the engine was unreliable, the Dunlop tires were crap and Kurtis spent nearly as much time crashing as racing. At the end of the year Kurtis was pretty liberal with the press with his view of the state of the bike and opined on a few occasions that he felt he’d been mislead by the team at the beginning of the season as to the competitiveness of the bike. This sort of verbal spewage is the norm for Kurtis, and for that matter for his father, so no surprise there. The youngest son of King Kenny split not only with the Team KR crew but also with his management company and returned to the US to race Superbikes for Erion Honda in ‘05.

While I’m sure the paternal bond between KennyR and KurtisR was strong enough to smooth over that bump in the familial road it probably still stuck in the craw of some of the management and crew back at the offices in Banbury. I suspect that when Kenny casually walked into the place and mentioned that he was inviting his son to test the bike in a couple of weeks more than a few people were gritting their teeth and mumbling behind their hands. (If the bike grenades in the first test session and sends Kurtis flying into a gravel trap I’m guessing it won’t be from an actual mechanical failure). Basically, it shows both how thick the blood in the Roberts clan is and how much control Robert Senior wields over his shop that a rider who was blatantly critical of their bike can get invited back into the team after less than a year.

The second reason I’m surprised by this is what Kurtis himself could be risking. When Kurtis returned to the US for ‘05 aboard a Honda Superbike it seemed he was returning to his destiny after a short international vacation in MotoGP. While I’ve never been happy about his attitude I’ve also never questioned his talent and at least from that perspective was glad to see him back in this country. Kurtis left the AMA series immediately after winning two Superbike races and looked for a short time there like he could be the one to challenge the dominance of Mat Mladin. In ‘04, the Honda CBR Superbike was a potent weapon and it was Superbike rookie Jake Zemke that took the fight to the Yoshimura Suzuki rider that year. By the time Kurtis returned to a place aboard a Honda Superbike the landscape had shifted significantly. American Honda brought their superbike development effort in house and the three riders (Zemke, Duhamel and Roberts) were given the task of turning the CBR into a contender. That never really happened throughout the season and the Erion squad suffered the worst in this new role since they lacked the resources of American Honda. Rather than fighting for the wins Kurtis was usually struggling to break the top ten.

Giving a remarkable rider uncompetitive hardware is bad enough but giving the vocal Roberts a pile is just asking for trouble. Roberts did what he does best…he bitched and moaned about the bike to the press at every opportunity. While Team KR may be forgiving of harsh criticism, Honda has never been known to have that particular trait. Someone probably pointed this out to Roberts because he toned down the negative comments considerably after the mid-point of the season. I don’t know if Kurtis has already been shown the door at Big Red since it doesn’t appear there is a ride available there next year but I’m sure that riding for one of their rivals (no matter how uncompetitive the bike may be) at the last race of the MotoGP season isn’t going to do him any favors in the land of sushi. Maybe the Proton test is just a sign that he has not other options left open to him for next season.

Alright, so I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The youngest Roberts kid is a great rider. He should be on a competitive bike at least in the AMA series if not in an international one. However, he also needs to prove he deserves it. That isn’t just by being fast or winning a few races but by putting away his truck load of pride and getting down to the task of riding whatever he’s given. If he can get a gig in ‘06 riding his Pappy’s Proton, he should take it. Developing the original two-smoke Proton is how his older brother earned the Suzuki ride that eventually took him to a championship. If Kurtis gets invited back under a Honda tent in ‘07 he better show up with a smile and ask what he can do to help build the bike into something that can run at the front even if that means testing forks springs for weeks on end or riding around in 12th place for every race. And primarily, no matter where he ends up, he better learn to zip it. This just means he’ll have to work doubly hard because, as we all know, *that* skill doesn’t run in the bloodline.

[image from the Team KR web site.]

Monday, October 3, 2005

Nothing in the desert…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

“No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”
— Prince Feisal, _Lawrence of Arabia_

There was so much racing this weekend that I’ll have to split up my coverage in blog entries over the next week or so. First up, the MotoGP race at Losail circuit in Qatar…

Like Sufi mystics, a handful of riders headed out into the burning confines of the Qatar desert with the hope of finding something inside themselves. For Loris Capirossi, it was finding the strength to win a third straight race. For Sete Gibernau, it was breaking his one year old dry spell of victories in the premier class. For Max Biaggi it was to get beyond having his championship chances dashed at Sepang and to now focus on consolidating his second place in the championship. For Colin Edwards it was another chance to build confidence by matching his teammates’ spectacular results. For everyone else it was a chance to prove to themselves and the world that they deserve a ride for next year. …and for all of them the dry sands of Arabia were a harsh place indeed.

Things started out strong for Capirossi who earned his third straight pole position. Unfortunately, other than his one lap wonder on the impressive Bridgestone qualifying tires his lap times weren’t very impressive which meant he would be fighting an uphill battle if he hoped to win the race. Gibernau also came out swinging while the stop watches were ticking to take second on the grid. Also, his practice lap times indicated he had could run the presumed race pace and thus had a chance at breaking “The Curse” and taking a win. Rossi qualified in third position at the track where he crashed last year after the grid cleaning fiasco to make it three different brands on the front row. That kind of machine diversity is good for a series that has been primarily dominated by a single brand all season long. Also, on paper the circuit looks like it would favor the Hondas, as Gibernau’s second and fifth place Melandri proved, so it was nice to see both of the Yamahas and both of the Ducatis in the front two rows showing that overall the bikes may be on a more even footing that the season’s results might initially indicate. While Capirossi was shining at the front his countryman Max Biaggi was sulking near the back of the grid. Biaggi qualified a miserable 12th and his only consolation was that he still out did fellow Honda rider Alex Barros who was one position further back. Things weren’t looking for for the two veteran riders.

When the race got started on Saturday the wind was horrible. Not only does the wind play hell with the bikes stability it also blows a fine dust onto the track surface which makes a slick track even slicker. Capirossi took advantage of the Ducati’s killer horsepower to launch off the line while Hayden and Gibernau resumed their turn one game of bumper cars just as they had done in Sepang. Gibernau again came out the better in the shoving match to join Capirossi, Melandri, Rossi, Hayden and Edwards at the front. Slightly further back, Robert Rolfo was running in an astounding seventh which is about ten places higher than the Dunlop shod, one year old Ducati can normally be found. Biaggi and Barros followed up their awful grid positions with equally poor starts and both were well outside the top ten in the first first few laps.

Two of the men who came to the Losail Circuit with such high hopes had their bubbles burst relatively early in the race. First, Biaggi pulled into the pits with yet another mysterious bike problem. As has been the case a few times earlier in the season the Roman made some vague comments which described some kind of handling problem and retired rather than ride around the problem. Whatever the real problem, there is definitely an attitude problem and his leaving the race is bad for Honda, bad for his sponsors and bad for his image. It is also bad for his chances of strengthening his second place in the championship. The second rider to have a problem was Capirossi who ran wide in one of the many sweeping turns and ran through the gravel trap. Given how dusty the outside edges of the track are, combined with the lack of traction on the plastic astro-turf used around the track instead of grass, the Italian was lucky to keep the bike upright. He rejoined the race but the off track excursion put him out of touch with the lead pack and fighting just to stay in the top ten.

Up front, Gibernau took control and tried to break the following pack of Rossi, Melandri, Hayden and Edwards. He pulled a slight gap but then a few laps later Rossi and Melandri had closed right back up again. During this battle , Nicky Hayden turned in an screaming 1.57.903 lap to break the old track record and cut the gap to third place in half. Edwards, meanwhile, was starting to lose the pace and started the slow drift back from the lead pack. Further back, Suzuki mounted Hopkins had to pull in for a new rear Bridgestone.

At half race distance Melandri passes Rossi for second and immediately starts to pressure his Spanish teammate for the lead. With five laps to go Melandri makes a couple of pass attempts but runs wide in both to immediately hand the position back to Gibernau. However, the pressure is apparently too much and Sete runs off the track and into a gravel trap. He manages to keep the bike upright and returns to the track but like Capirossi earlier he has lost the lead pack. He probably also left a big chunk of his self-confidence sitting in that Losail gravel trap. I don’t know how many more times the talented Spaniard can return to the well to replinish his soul before he comes up dry. Riders like Rossi can suck the spirit right out of competitors and every mistake Sete makes while leading races is just handing his rival the siphoning tube.

Rossi, Melandri and Hayden at Qatar

With Melandri and Rossi out front the pace continues to be fast and Hayden slowly starts to fall back leaving the lead battle to be a mano-a-mano scrap between the two friends: Melandri and Rossi. As we have seen so many times this season Valentino waits until the penultimate lap to make his move passing Marco for the lead. On the last lap Melandri tries a gutsy pass in turn eight but runs a little wide gifting the win to Rossi. The Honda rider recovers before running too far off track and holds onto second place ahead of Hayden.

With Rossi’s 10th win of the season and Edward’s fourth place the Gauloises Yamaha team score enough points to wrap up the Team title. This bucket load of points also helped them to close in even more on the Manufacturer title. Pretty much a perfect weekend for Rossi and the boys but a pretty bleak time for everyone else.

When the points were tallied Max Biaggi still holds onto 2nd but only by two points over Marco Melandri who jumps up to third in the title race. Edwards rises to fourth overall and trails Melandri by five points. Hayden continues to climb up the points table and is now in fifth just two points behind Edwards. Capirossi’s eventual tenth place finish drops him from third to sixth but the race for second overall is still close with only 11 points covering the group from Biaggi to Capirossi.

Other notables finishers were Toni Elias who managed an eighth place finish. The Spanish MotoGP rookie has earned finishes inside the top ten on four different occasions this year all while riding the second string Yamaha. He has also consistently bested his teammate Ruben Xaus (who was 14th at Qater) which is perhaps a better measuring stick for his success. Shinya Nakano brought his Kawasaki home in seventh which isn’t that notable except that it is a finish which is something that has eluded the Japanese rider at the last two races. Alex Barros charged up through the field to eventually finish in ninth. After looking so strong in the middle part of the season Barros needs to finish strong to have any chance of riding in MotoGP next season. Lackluster results now may finally close the book on his long GP career. Suzuki’s continued their trend of frustrating results with Roberts getting 11th and Hopkins the last of the finishers in 17th after his tire change. Rolfo eventually brought the ancient D’Antin Duc across the line in 12th, one spot ahead of Camel Honda replacement rider Shane Byrne. Oddly enough, Byrne ended his final stand-in race on the RC211V in roughly the same ranking as he was earning earlier in the season aboard the Team KR/Proton bike. Food for thought, huh?

Was anyone other than Rossi really a winner in Qatar? Well, Hayden and Melandri both re-closed the gap in the battle for second but neither earned enough points to solidify anything. Biaggi, Capirossi and Gibernau would rather forget about the race all together as none of them accomplished their goals. No one really put in the kind of performance that will help them get a ride next year so it appears everyone will have to hope for better in the greener pastures that are Phillip Island. In the meantime, all the riders came back out of the desert with only Rossi having found any answers.

[image from the MotoGP web site.]

Friday, September 30, 2005

Another one bites the dust…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto, MRA, MotoGP, WSBK

This weekend will be another one that is jammed packed with racing. Since there are a lot of racing I’ll just say a little about each one.

Losail Circuit in Qatar

First up, the MotoGP guys return for their second ever race at the Losail circuit in Doha, Qatar. The race is being held on Saturday, in deference to the local Muslim population, which means the bikes, teams and riders have had to get from Malaysia to Qater in just four days to be ready for first practice on Thursday. The 3.36 mile, 16 corner track has a right hand bias with 10 of the turns heading in that direction. Like most of the new tracks built primarily for F1 the track surface is billiard table flat and the asphalt is almost perfectly smooth. In the the only negative thing that can be said about the track, because after all it is in the middle of a freakin’ desert, is that it is hot and sandy. This means that it will again be a race where tires may be the deciding factor. Because the track is so smooth and the circuit is so flowing the bikes can be set up with a relatively soft suspension. This is definitely a good thing because it will help the riders with all important front tire feel which is essential due to the heat and sand. It is especially true in turn 1 were the riders are slowing down from around 200mph for one of the slowest parts of the track. Last year this race was the most dramatic of the season with the now infamous penalty against Rossi’s team for their cleaning his grid position by doing burn-outs with a pit scooter. One of the repercussions of that was the Rossi “curse” which was placed on Gibernau forecasting that the Spainard would never win again. After Sete won at Qatar last year, that prediction has held true. If Gibernau could win at Qatar it would be an amazing turn of events. The favorite going in, other than Rossi, has to be Capirossi who has won two in a row on the resurgent Ducati. Biaggi desperately needs a good race to maintain his spot as #2 in the title chase. Melandri is still riding hurt after his foot injury in Motegi. Hoffman and Bayliss are still out. Jacque is riding the Kawasaki while Byrne is again subbing at Camel Honda. Finally, there should be some more silly season info leaking out this weekend so watch for that news.

Next up is the World Superbike race at Imola. This is the penultimate race for the WSBK series so the riders hoping to claw their way back into the championship points battle better be on the ball at the Santamonica track. Obviously, all eyes will be on the championship battle between Chris Vermeulen and Troy Corser. Both of the Australians will probably be at the forefront all weekend though both have histories of having championship runs fizzle at the end of a season. The other riders to watch at Imola will be the Ducatis. With Bologna only a short hope away, the riders of the Italian equipment will be under a lot of pressure to perform for the bosses. To add to that pressure, the four year history of WSBK coming to Imola shows Ducati have won five of the eight races and that every race has been won by a v-twin. Talk about big expectations! Toseland is probably looking for a job next year and thus needs to impress. Laconi is coming back from injury and needs to settle any lingering doubts among his bosses that he should be their star rider in ‘06. Superstar Lanzi is back with the privateer team but now armed with factory bikes. He’s looking to solidify his position as Laconi’s teammate at the factory next year. The field of honor for this weekend’s event is a historic track with a fantastic layout. The 3.01 mile long track has 16 turns with over half of those being of the left hand variety. Nearly half a lap at Imola is spent at high speed making flip-flop transitions through fast, flowing turns. There are three tight left hand turns and one right hander but otherwise its a high speed circuit. Add in a rough track surface and you have an event where the suspension guys will be earning their money. The always slippery Pirelli tires will get a workout so expect some guys to have tire trouble in the later stages of the first race unless everyone decides to run the hardest thing in the tire truck.

The big finale of the AMA Supermoto series is being held this weekend in Reno and it promises to be a hoot. Both the Supermoto and Supermoto Unlimited classes are yet to crown a champion, though Jeff Ward will almost certainly tie up the former but with double points being paid in the second race there is still a chance for second place Jurgen Kunzel to win the thing. The Unlimited class champ is anyone’s guess as three riders are all bunched within six points of each other: Darryl Atkins, Micky Dymond and Troy Herfoss all have a shot at the title this weekend. Even David Baffeleuf and Robert Loire still have a long shot chance being only 23 and 24 points back respectively. Mark Burkhart has already sewn up the Supermoto Lites championship. The track is a mix of really cool stuff and some pretty boring stuff. The 12 turn, 1 mile track has a small but technical dirt section and a interesting sounding banked turn that goes up onto the side of a building. Sadly, about half of each lap is a point-n-shoot style square going around a city block with three short straights connected by 90 degree right hand turns (why not turn the track around 180 degrees so these turns become left handers and thus give the dirt track guys an advantage?!?). Not exactly the most inspired layout in that sense but with this being in the middle of downtown Reno it is example of the philosophy that Supermoto racing can be set up anywhere. I *love* Supermotos so I suspect the track will prove exciting and the racing will be good. It bad enough that I can’t be there to watch but to add insult to injury OLN isn’t broadcasting the race until mid-November.

Finally, another series is coming to a close this weekend. With fall right around the corner here in Colorado this Sunday marks the season ending race for our local MRA club. As as been the tradition the past few years the final race of the season is being held at Second Creek Raceway out by Denver International Airport. As is typical of the tracks our club races at the place is small. In fact, it is only 1.7 miles in length but with 10 turns crammed into that short space. Despite its size the the layout is actually interesting and it makes for some great racing. Shane Turpin has already tied up the premier Race of the Rockies GTO title but needs to win this weekend to complete a sweep of every race for the season. Likewise, he has already locked up the Race of the Rockies GTU championship as well but a uncharacteristic fourth at Pikes Peak ruined any chance of him sweeping every Race of the Rockies event this year. I’m heading down on Sunday to watch the racing and to catch up with my buddies ‘05 SuperTwins GTO champ Jim Brewer and Modern Vintage GTU points leader Tony Baker.

[image from the Losail Circuit web site.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, MotoGP, WSBK

Well, another page of my MotoGP calendar needs to be turned over and that means it is time for another of my monthly Odds and Ends “catch up” postings. September has been really busy, especially with both silly season and new bike announcements trickling out, so I’ll have to skip a few things just to keep this post from being too long.

Rossi checks out the Ferrari F1 car

First up, is a news item about newly crowned ‘05 MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi. No matter how talented the guy is on the track his real talent is his ability to constantly keep his name in the news. He has monopolized the headlines for most of September as people focused on what he was already doing in 2005, questioned his 2006 plans and speculated about what he would be doing in 2007. For 2005, he has been winning races but has also now had two controversial accidents. The season opener at Jerez with Sete Gibernau and now one with Marco Melandri at Motegi. I’ve covered all this in my MotoGP blog entries but the overriding message is that Rossi continues to keep people guessing. As for 2006, I covered Rossi’s re-signing with Yamaha in my August Odds and Ends posting so that isn’t new news but who will be sponsoring the Italian superstar’s Yamaha has been the topic of endless speculation. Rossi is currently sponsored at Yamaha by Altadis’ Gauloisis cigarette brand but has apparently asked to be run without tobacco sponsorship on this bike in ‘06. The most likely reason for this, other than a possible dislike of tobacco companies, is that he is still flirting with racing a Ferrari F1 car in the near future. The best way to avoid problems with Philip Morris, the long time sponsor of Ferrari, is to make sure he has no contractual obligations to a competing tobacco company. What colors Rossi will be running next year is yet to be decided but the rumors continue to pop up on motorcycle racing news sites. Finally, there is the constant speculation about Vale becoming a F1 driver in ‘07. Again, the flurry of rumors continued all through September. First, Ferrari sent out a press releases claiming Rossi was basically signed as a test rider in 2006 then Rossi responded with a harsh public statement saying no such thing had been signed and finally Ferrari sent out another message which back pedalled considerably from their earlier claims. Presumably Valentino’s manager has been frantically fielding phone calls from Yamaha, Ferrari, Altadis and Philip Morris all month long and I suspect the actual situation probably isn’t clear to any one of these people yet. All the while, Rossi’s popularity is growing ever stronger and his name is showing up in news reports the world over. We’ll see if October brings any answers…

The rest of silly season has been so completely dwarfed by the Rossi story that very little has made the news. It seems that most of the 2005 championship winners (or likely championship winners when you look at the two international series) are already tied up for 2006. In the AMA series, Mladin (Suzuki), Yates (Suzuki), Duhamel (Honda) and Hayden (Kawasaki) are all staying put for at least another year. The biggest news in the AMA paddock has been Eric Bostrom’s move from Ducati to a Supersport/Superstock ride with Yamaha which, in my opinion, seems like a waste of his talent. The MotoGP silly season has been excruciatingly slow to play out this year and many of the top riders are still unsigned for next year. Leading that list is Sete Gibernau who may be back with Movistar Honda or may be riding for Ducati. Max Biaggi will almost certainly stay with Honda but probably won’t be in Repsol colors. Whether he ends up with the Movistar or Camel team is probably dependent on where Sete ends up. Bayliss and Barros, both teammates at Camel Honda, are unsigned for next year as is Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts Jr. It also appears that Yamaha’s Ruben Xaus, Ducati’s Carlos Checa, Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman, and all the smaller teams riders like Shane Byrne, James Ellison, Franco Battaini and Roberto Rolfo are without contracts for next season. It seems pretty late in the year for this many teams to be without a signed rider but that may be because the current season still has four races to go. I expect all of these riders to have clarification within the next month. As far as World Superbike goes, it seems certain that Corser will be back with Suzuki next year. However, both Ducati riders, Regis Laconi and James Toseland, appear to be up in the air. Likewise, most of the Yamaha riders (Haga, Pitt, Abe, Gimbert) are still looking for jobs. Honda is rumored to be moving Chris Vermeulen to MotoGP so that opens up a seat at Ten Kate, though presumably his teammate Karl Muggeridge will stay on another year. Who knows what is happening with Kawasaki. Again, I suspect a lot of the WSBK riders will be confirmed in the next month but in the meantime you can always follow who is going where on my silly season web page.

Speaking of the AMA series, a tentative 2006 race schedule has already been announced. Combine this early release of dates for next year with the long term commitment that the AMA Pro Racing board announced earlier this summer for the superbike class rules and you’d almost get the idea that they have been listening to the criticism that has been leveled at them for the past decade. These efforts to get things nailed down early and with more solidity mean that teams can better plan and prepare for the upcoming year. Even better than the AMA’s promptness in this regard is the content of the proposed ‘06 series: As late as February of last year there were only nine circuits listed on the ‘05 schedule while the tentative ‘06 schedule already shows 11. Only three ovals are on the list (Daytona, Fontana and PPIR) while the remaining eight rounds will be at true road race tracks. This year the AMA raced at the same three ovals (and eventually at VIR to make ten rounds) so I’m glad to see that the new addition to the schedule is a venue with a true road race track. Racing at more places that don’t just cram a flat infield into a NASCAR oval will help make the sport safer and will keep the racing more interesting. It is only a baby step but adding one new track is definitely a step in the right direction. Now if only they can find a series sponsor!

Speaking of the new road race track the AMA announcement shows a mid-June date for the inaugural Superbike race at the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006. Even better, this is currently slated to be a doubleheader round so it increases the races on next year’s calendar by *two*. I’m excited about this news for two reasons, the first of which is simply that its close enough that I can actually attend which means I should hit three AMA Superbike races in ‘06: Miller Motorsports Park, PPIR and Laguna. Second, the AMA adding another event in the Rocky Mountain region means that they can now seriously consider dropping PPIR event off the schedule in the future. Its a crappy track for road racing and losing it from the ‘07 AMA schedule wouldn’t be much of a loss. Lets hope the clock has started ticking on how much longer the AMA guys will have to suffer through going round and round the PPIR merry-go-round.

Another bit of exciting AMA Superbike news as the announcement at the Kawasaki dealer show that Team Green would be racing the ZX-10R in Superbike next season with Tommy and Roger Lee Hayden as their riders. This again is great news for the sport because it gets the premier superbike class that much closer to having full participation by all the major manufacturers. Additionally, it puts two of the most talented riders in the series into the top class in the series which again increases the excitement of the racing. Both riders deserve a shot at the top prize in AMA road racing and I’m thrilled to see they are getting their shot. Kudos to Kawasaki for taking up the challenge. Now if only Yamaha was so brave.

Also on the domestic front the AMA Pro Racing board made news this month when they handed down fines to motocross riders Mike Alessi and Matt Walker after the Tedesco/Alessi/Walker incident earlier this month at Glen Helen. At issue was an accident in which Alessi appeared to intentionally take out 125cc championship rival Ivan Tedesco but ended up taking himself down as well. Alessi then stood on Tedesco’s still running bike to prevent him from being able to continue the race. Meanwhile Tedesco’s teammate Walker doubled back on the track to knock Alessi of the Kawasaki so Ivan could get back underway. The AMA decided that because of his actions Alessi needed to take a $5,000 hit to his wallet, as well as a disqualification from the entire Glen Helen round and a 12 month probation. Finally, and perhaps the most painful, is that Alessi is also taken out of the running for the AMA Pro Racing Rookie of the Year award. Walker was deemed to have also acted in a way that negatively affects the sport and was given a $2,500 fine, a disqualification from the second moto at Glen Helen and a was put on probation for next year’s Supercross and Motocross seasons. I have mixed feelings about the reprimand for Walker but I’m thrilled to see Alessi get such a heavy penalty after acting so immature. Bravo to the AMA for taking action on this.

Shifting gears completely, let me mention two completely unrelated things to close out this month’s Odds and Ends.

First, Yamaha did an initial announcement of their new bikes earlier this month and included in that a quick photo of the ‘06 FJR1300 sport touring bike. Then all the info associated with the FJR was removed from their web site which caused all sorts of rumors to start flying around the net. Well, at the Paris Motorcycle Show today the European model FJR was officially announced and the mystery was finally revealed: the 2006 FJR will be released with a semi-automatic transmission. This means it will have a conventional gearbox but will use electronics to handle the shifts without the rider having to use a shift lever. It remains to be announced if this auto tranny will be available on US models or not. This will be the first production street bike since the old Hondamatic and Moto Guzzi Convert to have an automatic transmission so this is pretty big news from a technology stand point. However, as a rider I have zero interest in such a thing as shifting gears is a fundamental part of the motorcycle experience for me.

Finally, I wanted to mention that a new motorcycle movie about New Zealander HJ “Bert” Munro has been released Down Under called The World’s Fastest Indian. I doubt this movie will make it to US theaters but it should eventually be available on DVD some time next year. If you haven’t heard of HJ Munro he build Indian motorcycles in the pre-WWII era as land speed racers. Like John Britten, who came along much later, Munru hand build most of his bike’s parts in a little shed in on the south island of New Zealand and was a real innovator at a time when the application of technology to motorcycles was still at a relatively early stage. His story is a fascinating one to anyone interested in the people who pushed the limits of motorcycles during the infancy of the sport. I think it will make a nice addition to my library of motorcycle movies so I hope the DVD does make it to the US so I can buy a copy. Maybe it will inspire me to finally buy that welder for the garage I’ve been dreaming out…

That’s it for this month. Thanks for reading.

[image from the web site.]

Monday, September 26, 2005

Steam room…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The weather in Malaysia this time of the year is always a challenge for the MotoGP teams and riders. When its raining, its dumping water like only a monsoon can. When its not raining its so hot and humid it still feels like a steam room. Temperatures over 100 aren’t unusual and track temperatures can easily reach 125 degrees. Racing in this kind of sauna means that the riders have an even greater reliance on the tires than normal. As a result, my coverage of the Sepang race has as much to do with the rubber as the riders.

The first sign of this came in the first practice sessions. Despite never having visited the podium at Sepang before, the Bridgestone tires seemed to have a big advantage from the first time wheels turned on the track. As if the hot temperatures and a rain shower on Friday weren’t making life hard enough for the tire technicians there was the added problem of a dirty track. Unlike past years, it seemed that dirt had somehow embedded itself in the track surface and significantly reduced tire traction. The lap times in practice were slower than expected and it was the Bridgestone bikes that rose to the top. In fact, qualifying showed just how big the tire technology gap was in terms of dealing with the unique situation found in Malaysia. Four of the top five bikes were wearing ’stones including pole sitter Capirossi. Gibernau managed to snag second on his Michelins but Hopkins in third and Nakano in fourth were close behind to make it four different bike brands in the top four positions. Anytime the Kawasakis and Suzukis are on the front two rows you know that either hell has frozen over or the tires are dictating the results.

When the boiling hot sun rose on Sunday there were rumors that Michelin had brought in a special container of tires on Saturday night to address the problems found during practice on Friday. These new tires gave a new lease on life to many of the riders as Gibernau topped morning practice with Hayden in third and Rossi in sixth. As long as these new tires could go the distance it looked like the Michelin riders could line up for the race without bringing the proverbial knife to a gun fight.

The race was slow to get underway because the starting lights appeared to malfunction but when things finally went green it was Loris Capirossi that won the drag race to turn. Second place was a four way traffic jam as Melandri on the far inside and Hayden in the middle of the track were split by Gibernau who went in too hot pushing Hayden out into Checa’s space. Hopkins, who was out run off the line on his underpowered Suzuki and was on the outside of the track, got shoved out wide by Checa. The whole gaggle had to work hard to keep everything under control and fortunately no one went down. Melandri was gifted by the turn one chaos and came out of turn two in second place with Nakano in third and Hayden recovering to fourth. Two laps later, Gibernau was again rubbing on Hayden to make the pass into the top four but at the end of the same lap tried a banzai passing move on Nakano for second only to crash and take them both out. This makes for two DNFs in a row for both of those riders. A lap later, Nakano’s temporary teammate Jacque was out with a mechanical problem. Giving Kawasaki another disappointing weekend of having to pack up their pit space early.

at Sepang

As things calmed down, Melandri started to slide backwards while Rossi moved forward. Just a few laps in and it appeared the battle was going to boil down to a firefight between Capirossi, Rossi and Hayden. Those three riders pulled a gap over the following riders and all of them seemed to be running similar lap times. Just over half race distance Rossi made the pass on Hayden for second and then continued past Capirossi for the lead. Rossi was able to up the pace but both following riders were able to stay with him. As the laps wound down, Capirossi used the power of the Ducati to move back to the front, Hayden began to lose the pace and slide backwards and Carlos Checa started to charge forward on his Ducati. With just a few laps to go, the front pair spread out as Capirossi pulled a half second a lap on Rossi. The following pair closed up with Checa making two successive pass attempts on Hayden but ran wide on both allowing Hayden back through. On the penultimate lap Checa made pass stick on Hayden and then quickly closed the gap to Rossi. On the last lap, Capirossi cruised to a comfortable second consecutive victory while Checa came up on turn short on making the pass on Rossi. Rossi’s second place earned him the points necessary to win his fifth premier class title and his seventh world championship.

Hayden came on home fourth while Melandri struggled with his seriously injured foot for a fantastic fifth. Biaggi has another puzzling weekend to finish sixth. The Bridgestone’s carried Suzuki to two top ten finishes, a seventh for Roberts Jr and a ninth for Hopkins, the two riders split by Honda mounted Alex Barros. Colin Edwards rounded out the top ten.

Ultimately, it was a Bridgestone weekend. Some riders not normally seen in the top ten all had strong finishes. Had both Nakano and Jacque not been taken out early, though through no fault of their own, they were on course to improve the Bridgestone record even further. Having two Ducatis on the podium is fabulous for the series but only time will tell if this is an improvement in the bikes, the riders or just a tire advantage in the unique Malaysian conditions. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise I’m fairly certain the later explains the top ten finishes for the two Suzukis.

As for the Michelin riders their tires just couldn’t handle the heat. Both Rossi and Hayden faded in the final third of the race while the two Ducatis were still turning consistent lap times. Nicky’s retreat from second to fourth is disappointing but I’m willing to cut him a lot of slack since he was the top Honda and the second Michelin rider behind Rossi. Sure, he still has some room for improvement but I don’t think he’s to blame for missing the podium in Sepang. Besides, I still think the real battle for him is to continue to beat Biaggi so he can keep his Repsol ride next year. He definitely managed that. Finally, I want to reiterate how amazing it is for Melandri to bring his Honda home in fifth considering he has thirty stitches hold his foot together. MotoGP racing in general requires amazing endurance but doing so in the Malaysian heat with a big hole in your foot is extra-ordinary. Melandri showed back his 250 days that he has an amazing capacity to race through injury and he has proved that one again.

With the Asian sun setting over Kuala Lumpur, its obvious that Capirossi is hot but Rossi is positively radiating. Seven championships and most of them with dominant performances is astounding, including his sewing up this year’s championship with four races left to run. I think Rossi will make it an even eight next year so the other riders better hope the rumors are true that Rossi will go to F1 in ‘07…

[image from the MCN web page.]