Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, April 15, 2005

Livin\’ in the wrong country…

Author: site admin
Category: Motorcycles

“Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
— Bruce Springsteen, 57 Channels

Despite my working in the TV industry, I’m not really a big fan of television. Other than spending many Sundays and Tuesdays watching motorcycle racing on SpeedTV I rarely turn on the old boob tube, preferring instead to play on the computer, read or even play in the garage. But because of my addiction to MotoGP, AMA, World Superbike and other forms of motorcycle racing, I’ll never throw the damned thing out.

Its a Nascar Nation

While I’m glad that SpeedTV still covers the major motorcycle series, I’m definitely sick of all their NASCAR programming. I don’t have anything against NASCAR, car racing is car racing whether its lawnmowers, American sedans or Formula 1 its just that I’m not into cars. Perhaps you’ve heard the motto “Four wheels bad, two wheels good”. If SpeedTV covered Formula 1 all the time I’d be sick of that too. I’d complain more but I know that the number of viewers which tune into NASCAR mechanics reality TV or whatever is on Thursday nights is ten times the number that will tune into a motorcycle roadrace. There are times I get upset, like last weekend when the MotoGP color commentary guys announced the winner of the yet-to-be-televised 250GP race. There are times I’m frustrated by their schedule, waiting two weeks to show the 125GP races. But ultimately, I’m grateful for the motorcycle racing that is available on TV and try to quietly enjoy it while I can.

Dorna, the commercial rights holder for the MotoGP series sent out an interesting press release after last weekend’s MotoGP race at Jerez, Spain which has caused me to be a little less quiet this week. What their press release included were some statistics on viewership of Eurosport’s coverage of the race…The full press release is available on the Team KR website but the Cliff Notes version is just this: Motorcycle racing is real damned popular in Europe, just as popular as NASCAR is in this country. The average percentage of TVs in Spain and Italy tuned to the *4 hour* live broadcast of the GP races at Jerez, was around 33%. That means that one third of the TVs were tuned to Italy’s Italia1 and Spain’s TV-E during the race. During the “the incident” where Rossi and Gibernau clashed in the last corner between 40% and 45% of viewers were watching in both countries. That’s nearly half the TV viewing population. Amazing! Now that indicates an interest in my kind of reality TV!

Now I’m wishing I could get some sort of pirate broadcast of Eurosport and watch motorcycle racing the way the Europeans do. In the meantime, I’ll be tuning into SpeedTV this Sunday to watch the two hour, tape delayed MotoGP and 250GP races. Then I’ll spend the following two weeks trying to learn Spanish or Italian until I can finally catch the 125 race…

[image from the SpeedTV web site.]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pay attention or you might pay for it…

Author: site admin
Category: Motorcycles

I got a quick lesson in paying attention tonight. I ended up working late, thanks to a maintenance outage my team was doing on some equipment in our computer lab at work, and finally got on the road at 10pm. It was pretty chilly out thanks to the two foot of snow we got two days ago and which is still melting out. What’s more, I’d gotten pretty caught up in work and had missed dinner so my body was reminding me that it was time to *EAT*. After getting on my electric jacket liner, my fleece, my winter gloves and my normal riding gear, I got on the bike and headed for home.

Boulder Police

I normally ride 5 to 10 mph over the posted speed limit which generally puts me either with or slightly faster than the bulk of the traffic. My theory, in addition to just thinking faster is more fun, is that I’d rather be passing cars than having them pass me. This way I get to make the decision about when I am in their blind spot, when I speed up and when I slow down. Anyway, as I’m approaching the city of Boulder, I suddenly see a City of Boulder patrol car on the shoulder on the inside of a right hand turn about 50 feet away. Wow, I nearly missed seeing him completely. Was I zoning out or what? I checked my speed, saw I was doing 70 in a 65 and figured I was safe. Well, the office figured differently and pulled me over.

Let me back up for a second here and explain my commute. Going from work to home, the first 10 miles are on a controlled access, divided highway. Its four lanes of fast moving traffic (during the day 75 or 80 isn’t unusual for the bulk of traffic), it is relatively straight and pretty boring on a motorcycle. Then there is 10 minutes of playing red light-green light through the city itself, mainly because the traffic control engineer somehow managed to make it so you have to stop at every traffic light whether you are going north to south or east to west. At the far western edge of the city, the road starts going up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and its 20 miles of fantastic curvy mountain roads for the rest of the commute. This last bit is usually the highlight of the ride but melting snow (refreezing into ice at this time of the night) and fine gravel (used instead of salt to melt snow but just little ball bearings when there isn’t any snow to melt) made it less so at this particular time. The last 200 yards is a dirt road. Well, it is normally a dirt road. This morning it was a minor mud bog and tonight it was sort of like leftover creme brulee with a crunchy ice topping and a cold slimy filling.

So anyway, I was more than a little apprehensive about riding home at 10 o’clock at night on sandy roads, potentially icy *and* sandy roads, in cold weather though deer infested woods on an empty stomach. I was a bit preoccupied on the ride which was only made worse when I started trying to work out what I was going to write about on the blog tonight rather than thinking about what I was really doing which was riding a motorcycle over a mile every minute. Well, the muse had a funny way of striking tonight….it was wearing a police officer’s uniform!

To make a long story short, the officer was quite a nice guy. He informed me that the speed limit dropped from 65 to 55 at the point were he was parked. You’d think I’d know that, given that I ride this road every day but just never noticed the sign…maybe because there is usually a lot of traffic moving around at that point with people trying to get into and out of an exit only lane… Since I wasn’t doing anything particularly heinous, he let me off with just a warning. I am convinced that this was helped by the fact that:

    1) I was riding a big fat Beemer with bigger and fatter saddle bags. He may have thought his radar was in error and that the pig of a bike couldn’t actually go 71 mph!

    2) I was wearing full riding gear (plus two layers of cold weather gear) including my helmet, gloves, boots and riding suit. Surely any safety freak dressed like this didn’t *mean* to be going that fast.

    3) Said riding suit has all the stylish appeal of the Michelin tire guy in a bright puke yellow EMT jumpsuit. Who am I going to impress even if the bike will go faster than the speed limit?!?!?

    4) I was respectful, removed my helmet and generally made sure I kept my hands where he could see them at all times. Yes sir, I am an idiot sir, thank your for pointing that out sir.

    5) I had all my paperwork: license, registration, insurance card easily accessible. I probably helps that I haven’t had a ticket in four or five years, too.

    and finally

    6) I have a head and beard full of grey hair so looked more like an aging hippie than a crazed speed daemon.

I appreciate the officer giving me a break, it saved me about $100. But I’m still kicking myself for being so out of it that I wasn’t paying attention, either for the changing speed limit signs or looking out for police. I’d certainly have deserved a ticket, had I been given one. I guess I better go help some little old ladies across the street or be nice to our management at work, ’cause I’m sure I need to make a deposit into the karma bank to cover this one.

[image from the City of Boulder Fleet Services web site.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Doctor, doctor, gimme the news…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Just before the official IRTA MotoGP tests, I did a blog entry commenting on how generally healthy the MotoGP riders were at the start of the season. Well, after two test sessions and one race, the injury report looks completely different.

The biggest news is the shoulder injury to Honda’s Sete Gibernau. After the impact with Rossi on the last lap of the Jerez GP, Sete immediately grabbed his left shoulder. According to a press release from Team Gresini, Gibernau has an injury to his previously damaged shoulder and is now questionable for this weekend’s race at Estoril in Portugal. The Spanish press has already picked up the story and is no doubt fanning the flames of the millions of Spanish fans that are on the war path for Rossi’s head. How much of this press release is true, and to what extent it is true, is open to debate but if there is really a chance Gibernau may not make the next race it will be a blow to the series. I doubt the all-Italian FIM would actually take any action against Rossi, even if it was obvious that he was reckless in the Jerez incident, but I do believe they should take a close look at what effect potentially having one of their three stars out of the championship race at only the second event will have and then take stricter measures to discourage contact in future races.

On a more positive note, Honda’s Nicky Hayden had his injured thumb checked out after Jerez and his x-rays came back negative for any breaks. It looks like he just has a sprain and will be cleared to race for this weekend. I’m sure he’ll still feel the pain when the next green flag starts. Whether he can repair his broken momentum after his Jerez crash is another issue.

Capirossi watches from the pits

Also questionable for Esotril is Ducati’s Loris Capirossi. The Ducati team hung around Jerez for another day after last weekend’s race to get in some additional testing but Loris missed the session because of his fractured ankle. While he is likely to race this weekend despite the injury he will have an even more difficult time than last Sunday, when he finished 13th, because Estoril is a short, tight and physically demanding track.

Meanwhile, his teammate Carlos Checa did test at Jerez on Monday despite the shoulder injury which slowed him last weekend, where he finished 10th. His times from Monday’s test were better that his race times so hopefully his shoulder wasn’t re-injured during his bump with Tamada during the previous day’s race. Like Capirossi, it is likely that Checa will also be held back by his injury at the Portugese bullring this weekend.

The only other possible injury from last weekend’s race was Ruben Xaus who crashed on the first lap but he is such a pro at crashing that he undoubtedly came away uninjured. Other than causing another wound to Yamaha’s racing budget thanks to more shattered bodywork, the Fortuna rider will show up in Portugal ready to race.

In a freak situation, Shane Byrne actually had an accident *after* the race when he was involved in a pit scooter crash which took some skin off his hands and arms. This is another set back for the KTM-Proton team so don’t expect their results to improve at the second race.

With four factory riders slowed by injury, including the second place finisher from the first race, along with the rider from one of the “privateer” teams, the injury list now looks a lot worse than it did just a month ago.

[image from the GP One website.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

We Build Excitement…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

Okay, so this is about Pontiac, Michigan and not the Pontiac cars…in case you didn’t catch the connection, I snagged the marketing slogan for the GM subsidiary as the title of this blog entry…

The excitement in Pontiac this past weekend was two fold as the AMA 125 East division would crown its champion and the 250 class would see another head-to-head battle among its star studded ranks.

Langston digging in

In the 125 class, it was an interesting race. Not because of the close racing but because of the point battle and the required finishing positions of the three men in the title hunt. In the race, Josh Hansen pulled out to an early lead, which was pretty much required since he has a long list of enemies that would have been happy to put him into the tuff blocks and because the AMA probation after his altercation with Josh Grant meant he in turn had to be cautious around other riders. Grant Langston and Davi Millsaps both had bad starts giving Hansen a mathematical chance at winning the title. Millsaps, with nothing to lose, charged through the pack to eventually finish second to Hansen. A great ride but not enough to swing the championship his way. Finishing third was the relatively unknown Joaquim Rodrigues. He rode an excellent race but unfortunately his podium was overshadowed by the point battle between other riders. Langston had to bring the Kawasaki home in forth to tie Hansen in season points, at which time Langston’s superior number of wins would determine the tie-breaker and give him the championship.

After looking very smooth in most of the races this season, Grant looked particularly sloppy in the 125 main. He took a major slide in the first corner on the start, nearly ending his race right there. All through the race he was visibly riding worse that is his norm but yet he still managed to hold onto forth position though the middle stages of the race. Late in the race Steve Boniface started to challenge but Grant ultimately held it together for the forth place finish and the 125 East title. In the post race interview he admitted to being very nervous and riding very tight. Fortunately, he’s talented enough that even when riding poorly he could do what he had to do.

Congratulations to Grant on his Championship.

In the 250 race, everyone was watching the Stewart-Carmichael-Reed show. Fortunately, after a string of races in relative obscurity, Windham was able to re-emerge as a front runner by winning his heat race over Reed. Stewart again beat Carmichael in the second heat, giving these four the primary gates for the main. The rest of the gates might as well have been empty, now that these four riders have so completely taken over the focus of the Supercross spotlight. Everyone was else was out there just to fill out the grid…

When the gate dropped there was another surprise as Windham pulled the holeshot and started to lead the race. After having been so thoroughly beaten by Stewart, Carmichael and Reed lately, I’d basically written the Honda rider off but he showed he’s still a solid rider by keeping everyone at bay for over half the race. I think he has been slow to rebuild his confidence in his riding but this day appeared to be a big step forward for him. If he can keep these performances up for the last few races, he should be in great shape to start the outdoors back in the role of a title contender.

Stewart was the next one to shake things, as he put the Kawasaki into the dirt on lap four after gaining a position on each of the previous laps. He crashed while going after Carmichael for second position. Last week, I was raving about Stewart and his dominating win in Dallas. Well, this week I’d have to say the doubts are back. He’s crashed in all but one of his 250 SX races, meaning he’s tasted dust in four of five appearances. While its commendable that he came back to finish forth after his crash the trend is still something to be concerned about. People that regularly crash, no matter how talented, will eventually get hurt. In Bubba’s case, that would be hurt again since he just finished healing up from his wrist injury sustained at Phoenix. Sure, the front four riders are so good that even if they crash they’re nearly guaranteed a fourth place finish but that’s playing dangerous odds. Stewart still has to learn the patience not to push too hard to soon, the ability to pace himself so he only rides as fast as necessary to win and the championship mentality of taking points when you can, even if it means passing up standing on top of the podium.

Reed showed solid form in running down Windham and Carmichael, then going on to take the win. His string of wins have to be helping rebuild his confidence, something that will help keep his SX championship dreams alive and put him in good shape for the upcoming outdoor season. He’s won four SX races so far this season, second only to RC’s seven, and three of those wins were in the last four races. Certainly a positive trend for the Aussie rider.

Finally, the real winner coming out of Pontiac was Ricky Carmichael. He has, at least momentarily, put his crashing trend behind him and rode with skill and brains. He was able to run down Windham in the middle part of the race, then ride smart after being passed by Reed, since he knows that a second place puts him closer to the title. Had he tried to run with Chad and ended up making a dumb pass on a backmarker or sliding out on the very hard and gravely Pontiac track, he would have lost more than he possibly could have gained. At this point he needs to sew up the title, then try to return to the psychological warfare against his opponents at the season closer in Vegas.

But at the end of the night last Saturday, it wasn’t the 250 guys that made the front page news. It was Grant Langston who finally, after four years of trying, finally brought home an AMA Supercross trophy. That’s building excitement!

[image from Grant Langston’s web site.]

Monday, April 11, 2005

MotoGP Smackdown…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Sometimes even the predictable can be unpredictable and today’s MotoGP race proved to be one off those times. From the first laps, it was obvious that the race would boil down to three men: Gibernau, Rossi and Hayden. The three immediately pulled out away in front with the young Melandri showing fantastic speed to follow but still steadily falling back. After just the first few laps, the front three pulled a gap over Melandri who then pulled a gap over surprise fifth place Nakano.

As the race wore on, the race came down to the bitter enemies from last year, Yamaha’s Valetino Rossi and Honda’s Sete Gibernau with Sete leading from the front and Rossi parked on his rear tire. The scene was eerily reminiscent of last season where Rossi regularly stalked Sete during races and, with one exception, was always successful.

The first thing that showed the race would be unpredictable was the scene of Nicky Hayden pushing his Honda out of the gravel. After looking so fast and comfortable at the last test session (at Jerez) and all through practice and qualifying, he ended his race in the pits with a dusty RC211V and with a hurt thumb.

The friendly part of the podium

With two laps to go, Rossi put the move on Gibernau that everyone had expected for the previous 25 laps. Rossi cut up the inside of him with ease but didn’t pull away. Instead, Sete hung tough. On the final lap, Rossi made a mistake and Gibernau charged through into the lead. Rossi made another bid for the lead halfway through the final lap but still came into the last turn in second. At the final left hander, the reigning champ threw his Yamaha up the inside of the Honda mounted Spainard and ended up punting Gibernau into the gravel trap. The Italian crossed the finish line first with the Spanish crowd going haywire at the indignity of seeing their hero treated so harshly. Melandri, well back from the leading pair, crossed the finish line in third. The podium finish a credible way for the new Honda recruit to start the season.

With the race over, a number of newsworthy items were highlighted.

First, the ruthlessness of Rossi’s pass. Valentino ended the 2004 season with a reputation that he was willing to mix it up with his rivals to earn both a points and psychological advantage. Some of his more aggressive moves, like hitting Gibernau at Assen, were brushed off as mistakes. Given Rossi’s near complete mastery of his bike, as well as his shrewd race strategy, I am highly skeptical of this explanation. Thus when Rossi made what appeared to be a banzai move on Gibernau in that last corner and then appeared so jubilant when crossing the finish line after sending his Honda rival off the track I tend to think it wasn’t an innocent “that’s racing” accident. Personally, I think Rossi owes Gibernau a public apology but I know that the psychological stakes are too high. Not only that, I think Rossi was aware that the only way he would make it through that final corner was to push Gibernau out of the way. Its too bad that the season is starting surrounded with such bad blood and that racing this year may be more physical that in years past. Any sport with 200 mph top speeds doesn’t need any more danger.

I was also sorry to see that Hayden is still making rookie mistakes. He’s been in MotoGP for three years now and should have known that third place points are better than starting a season injured and with a goose egg for his points tally. He had Melandri comfortably covered and wasn’t likely to catch the front two. Whether he was sent down by a dusty track or overly aggressive braking, the end result is that he wound up in the kitty litter and the others didn’t. Now he’ll have to get his head around his failure, hope that his thumb isn’t too badly injured and try to re-build the momentum he had going into this race.

Making it a two-for-two, lets talk about the other Repsol Honda rider, Max Biaggi. It seems that Max decided to try something different this year. After years of coming apart like a cheap shirt at the end of the season while contending for the championship, he apparently decided to come apart at the first race this time around. He ran poorly at Jerez in the pre-season test, blaming his team for his lackluster times, and has followed that up by qualifying horribly in 16th and running outside the top ten for most of the race. His seventh place finish shows some attempt to recover but considering the misfortune of other racers even that finish was a gift: Checa is riding with an injured shoulder, Capirossi is riding with a fractured ankle, Roberts Jr. DNF’ed with a mechanical, Hopkins was fighting the flu, Xaus crashed on the first lap and, as already noted, Hayden crashed near the end. Surely, neither Honda nor Biaggi are satisfied with finishing like that.

Ducati apparently decided not to send its battered riders out into the race with their new electronics package after both were again smacked to the ground during pre-race practice because of it. What was revealed just before the race is that the reason for Ducati’s insistence on the high tech addition is their concern over fuel consumption on their GP bike now that the fuel tank capacity has been reduced to 22 liters. The Ducati is clearly a powerful motorcycle and they either have to reduce engine power or find new ways of improving fuel efficiency while maintaining their current engine design. Fortunately, both riders made the finish line without running out of fuel but the folks back in Bologna better decide what hurts there championship chances the most, fuel usage or injured riders.

Edwards wasn’t the factor that he appeared earlier in the week. A poor qualifying result didn’t help but ultimately his pace was that of the mid-pack bunch rather than the front runners. As the #2 man at Yamaha, he’s expected to be taking points from the front Honda men, not fighting with the Kawasakis and Suzukis. As with Checa last year, being a teammate to Rossi may not be the dream job Colin thought when it was first offered. Rossi can get pole position, lap record and win on the bike so the pressure is really on Edwards.

My final MotoGP comment is giving some props to the Kawasaki team. Their pre-season testing indicated they we struggling with their new “Big Bang” engine layout but the riders had commendable showings at Jerez. Both qualified well and Nakano finished a phenomenal fifth, continuing the results he had last year. Hoffman finished in eleventh so both Team Green riders brought home points in the opening race. Kawasaki’s performance over the past two seasons should have the engineers at Ducati and Suzuki glowing red with embarrassment. Clearly I underestimated them and I’m glad to see them doing so well as the series needs all the competitive equipment it can get.

The 250GP race wasn’t nearly as excited as I had expected, mainly because Pedrosa started from pole position and a fantastic hole shot. When the young Spanaird is ahead on the first lap, he can get into his rhythm and just run away from everyone else. Despite the talented field stacked up against him, no one could get ahead of him in the first laps and turn it into a passing battle. Porto showed he’s able to run fast but couldn’t quite match Pedrosa in the closing laps. Perhaps it was the Spanish crowd willing him own that gave Pedrosa that extra little tenth of a second advantage or may Pedrosa was just sand bagging in pre-season testing. Either way, he had them all covered at Jerez.

The main news item here is just that Pedrosa is still a force to be reckoned with and it is the “old timers” that came closest to running with him rather than any of the class rookies. Pedrosa was consistently fast last year and it appears he is carrying that momentum with him this year.

Like Pedrosa, Stoner and de Puniet picked up exactly where they left off last year by both throwing their bikes down the track. These guys, clearly following in the footsteps of Melandri and Xaux, seem to have decided that spirited crashing is their ticket to MotoGP stardom. Maybe they are the real reason that Aprilia went bankrupt last year. Both, along with Porto, are probably the only people that can run Pedrosa’s pace but these two don’t have a prayer in the championship race unless they can stop falling off their bikes.

Dovizioso, the 2004 125GP champion, had a fantastic opening race in the 250s with a forth place finish. He appeared to be well off the pace of the front two but he beat many others who have a lot more 250 experience. He also used his head and stayed on his bike with others fell off. In fact, twelve different riders failed to finish including spectacular crashes by Aoyama and Jenker, in addition to the ones already mentioned by Stoner and de Puniet. Smart riding by the young Italian and something to build on throughout the season. Bravo.

I’ll have to wait two weeks to watch the 125GP race, since Speed isn’t showing it until April 26th. So I can’t really comment on it yet.

Anyway, it was an interesting start to the season. With the next race just a week away in Portugal, I suspect that the simmering hatred between Sete Gibernau and Valentino Rossi will not have cooled any. I suspect hoards of Spanish fans will trek to Estoril giving Pedrosa overwhelming fan support. Riders like Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner will have their opportunity to get back on the horse, hopefully before their recent crashes get too far into their head. …and TV viewership in Spain and Italy will be at an all time high! I certainly plan to catch it on Speed this coming Sunday.

[image from the Gresini Racing web site.]

Friday, April 8, 2005

Lighting the fuse on the MotoGP rocket…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The opening race of the 2005 MotoGP season is this weekend at the Jerez Circuit in the Andalucia region of Spain. The final IRTA test of the season was held at Jerez a couple of weeks ago so all the teams have some recent test time there under their belts. This is in marked contrast to past seasons where the opening race has been held in South Africa, a track that is at high altitude and where the teams rarely test. As a result, all the teams should have their bikes dialed and their riders confident when the flag drops this Sunday.

The whole galaxy of MotoGP enthusiasts are, like last year, orbiting around Rossi. He has been such a force in Grand Prix over the past eight years that every conversation starts with him. Well, I can be different. I can talk about the other bright stars in the MotoGP universe. I can but I’m not. I mean really, you have to start the 2005 MotoGP with the assumption that Rossi will win since he’s spent the past few years steadily surpassing every doubt people have had about him.

So, with that excuse out of the way, on to talking about Rossi (again). The one thing that is still obvious, after all the laps of winter testing, is that Yamaha look set for another good year. The pairing of Rossi and Edwards on their factory bikes, without a question the two best development riders in the world and both very, very similar in riding style, means they have put together a solid test plan for the winter and executed it without a hitch. Sure, the new version of the M1 appears to have some of the same chatter problems that plagued the Hondas last season but Yamaha appear to have worked through them. As some of the expert journalists like Julian Ryder, Toby Hirst and Dennis Noyes have pointed out, Rossi and Edwards ride their bike the same way. As a result, they could split their winter testing program so that Edwards could focus on testing tires for Michelin, something perfect for him given his longstanding relationship with the French company, while Rossi could focus on going through bike testing as Yamaha released new parts. For any other pair of riders this would be disastrous because the tires wouldn’t fit the bike when the two were combined. Yet with these two, they could both return to cutting fast laps when the testing was done and both have a bike that suited their style.

The secondary Yamaha team of Xaus and Elias have struggled all through testing. Ex-250 racer Elias has to adapt to the big four stroke and Xaus is just too big for the bike. Still, Xaus’ experience in MotoGP is undoubtedly being passed down to rookie Elias and Elias’ setup information has surely helped Xaus, since the lanky Spaniard missed the first two test sessions with butt injuries from squeezing onto the tiny M1. Neither rider is on the pace of the lead Yamaha team, nor the Hondas, but both have the talent, team and bike to pick it up as the season progresses.

Sete stands up to be counted

In contrast, Honda has seven amazing riders but with one possible exception, also has seven seperate test programs going on simultaneously. There is certainly no love lost between Hayden and Biaggi and their riding styles can’t be more different. Gibernau is probably willing to share setup information with his teammate Melandri but Gibernau is rumored to be on full factory tackle while Melandri works with the “b” level bike. A lot of Sete’s setup information probably isn’t valid for Marco. Tamada, unquestionably a superb rider, is in a team by himself so the information that has been gathered from his fast laps isn’t going anywhere. That leaves the Pons team of Barros and Bayliss. They are probably willing to share information but both have generally been off the pace and both have opposite riding styles. What’s the point of sharing data if it isn’t the right info? Despite these hurdles, it appears that Honda’s isolated development efforts have born fruit since many of their riders have topped the timing charts at the tests and have put in consistent race-speed laps when doing race simulation tire tests.

The other big topic has been the end-of-testing speed shown by the Suzuki. Its only been at two tests that Suzuki have performed well, so its really to early too say, but at least at this time they appear to have finally found the direction to go with their bike. While I doubt Hopkins or Roberts will fight for the win, and probably not even for the podium, at least they appear to be pulling a gap on the backmarker teams.

Kawasaki has taken a bold approach in completely changing their engine, like Yamaha did, to have a “Big Bang” format but haven’t impressed anyone with any new found speed. After having such a spectacular year in 2004, it seems they haven’t leaped forward as fast as some of the other teams. Their target last year was the podium, something they achieved multiple times, but this year I think they’ll simply be trying to beat the Suzukis and Ducatis.

Speaking of Ducati, it looks like they have slipped up the most. 2004 was a step backwards from their freshman year and it seems they haven’t gained much in the off season. Like Aprilia before them, Ducati seem to be trying out a lot of fancy electronics to tame their always fast but usually brutal Desmosedici. These gizmos seem to be getting about the same reception from the riders as they did back at Aprilia with Checa and Capirossi both having crashes rumored to be caused by the new equipment. We’ll have to see if during the first few races they can recover the test time they lost in trying out spiffy electronics and become competitive again. I’m guessing no…

That leaves the others…Blata-WCM, KTM-Roberts and D’Antin. The least dim star here should be the KTM powered, Roberts framed bike with Byrne at the controls. The bike is unlikely to run with the Japanese but should better the others. With only one rider, development goes half a fast but at least they seem to have a solid starting point and good tires. D’Antin, with last year’s Ducati in his hands, would look best in this regard but he has a MotoGP rookie in Rolfo (a talented GP rookie with past 250GP success…but a MotoGP rookie nonetheless) on the bike, crap Dunlop tires, only a single rider and perhaps a smaller budget than even KTM-Roberts. The struggles this team will face would make a fan cringe were it not for Blata-WCM having an even bleaker future. As forecast, they have been unable to build their v-6 GP bike fast enough to make the first race of the season. Instead, Ellison and Battaini will start with last years inline-four bike. This bike could barely run fast enough lap times last year to qualify for races and, with the step forward made by other teams, may not even make the grid this year. What they have to look forward to is a humiliating start to the season, followed by trying to frantically build and develop a brand new bike while racing it. Just ask Team Roberts about how well that works out.

This huge gap between the top four or five teams and the last three, along with losing two teams from last year, signals that the costs required to race at the MotoGP level may finally be reaching a watershed moment. Even Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati are struggling to spend money as fast as Yamaha and Honda, so that gap between the top two and the mid-pack bunch may continue to grow as well. In the end, I believe that the ever increasing financial requirements to race prototype four stroke motorcycles will kill off half the grid, will prevent companies like BMW or KTM from joining and will eventually boil down to a struggle between the two giants of Honda and Yamaha.

In that vein it looks to be another Honda versus Yamaha year, with Yamaha the pre-season favorites. At the last test session in Jerez, there was a lot of talk about how some of the youngsters like Hayden, Melandri and Hopkins were the top names on the timing charts. While I’m glad to see these guys getting press and I do hope they all prove worthy of the faith people are putting into them, I personally didn’t read too much into these fast times. Any time the top guys in the class, namely Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi aren’t topping the charts I’m willing to bet there is a reason. In this case, I believe its a sign of their experience in the series. They had one final weekend to cram before the start of the season. As a double incentive, the first race would be held at Jerez, the location of the final test. I think these teams were smart enough to put away the qualifying tires, ignore the time sheets and spent those last critical hours making sure their bike was ready for the first race.

Things are very interesting in the 250GP class, where experience also seems to have the advantage. Reigning class champion Pedrosa has been fast in testing but has generally been matched in pace by his rival from last year, the Argentinean Porto. With the first race being run on Spanish soil, Pedrosa will have the home field advantage but will have more than just Porto to worry about. Also returning from last year will be fast guys like de Puniet, Aoyama, West and de Angelis. Newcomers joining the class include last years 125 GP champ Dovizioso and 125 stars Vincent, Locatelli, Stoner, Barbera and Lorenzo. Given the relatively weak field of the 250GP class last year, this should be a much more exciting season. I think Pedrosa, Porto and de Puniet will be the ones to watch but I’m not willing to predict a champion.

The 125 GP class is full of new talent this year and with Dovizioso moving to the 250GP class there isn’t a defending champion to be the odds on favorite. The 125 class always provides close racing, perhaps the most exciting class at the GP level, and this year’s new faces mean it should be even more fun since we’ll get to watch the cream of the crop rise to the top. My best guess is that past champion and ex-250GP rider Poggiali will be the one to beat, if only because he has more experience that anyone else. He also has great motivation because if he’s not at the top, given his abysmal performance in 250s last year, he’ll be out of a job next season.

So when the green flag drops on Sunday, I hope to see a big group fighting for the lead in every class and I hope that continues throughout the whole 17 race series. But in the end, I think the earth would have to move before the bright star that is Rossi will be eclipsed. The 250s should be excellent given its depth of field and I’ll got out on a limb and say Porto will take the first race. In the 125 class, I’ll take Poggiali but it will probably be a tight pack all the way to the finish. Whoo hoo, its GP racing time again!

[image from the Italian Rai Sport web site.]

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Better late than never…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

The last two Supercross races have brought two of the most visible racers back to the series after recovering from injuries and had two completely different results.

First, the bad news. As many, including myself, predicted Travis Pastrana’s return to the Supercross season was short lived. Very short lived. In fact, he made it through morning practice but crashed on the second lap of the first heat and injured his right leg. He came back a little later to win his semi-final and earn a spot on the gate for the 250 main but a gash in his leg, general body bruising and that all too frequent sense of deja-vu meant he didn’t make the race. Now I know that accidents happen and I know that Travis has sometimes been taken out in the past by other riders but really now, how many times does someone have to miss most of a season with injuries before he gets bounced off his factory ride? Sure, Travis is a PR and Marketing gold mine but if he’s on Suzuki’s insurance policy, he’s already cost them more than they would have spent just giving people free bikes. Ultimately, Travis seems to lack focus. Maybe he wants to race Supercross, maybe he wants to do Freestyle, maybe he wants to race Rally cars, maybe he wants to race SCCA cars, maybe he wants to race beach races, maybe he doesn’t know what he wants. I don’t know either. I do know the guy is talented but in the end the history books only list the folks with championship titles, not the ones that had a big fan base for a couple of years. Suzuki has given Travis more than enough chances…he isn’t spending much time on the SoBe Suzuki so give it someone with the will and focus to win.

Bubba flying high

But Travis crashing, yet again, is such small news compared to the bombshell of the Dallas SX that it is hardly worth mentioning. The real headline news was James “Bubba” Stewart. After his impressive showing at Orlando, which lead to his third crash in three races, there was still a big question mark in the air about whether Bubba could get it together. Well, consider those concerns were well and truly squashed.

Let me back up a second and give a quick re-cap of the season up until the Dallas round. Basically, the AMA Supercross season had boiled down to two riders: Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed. In fact, it didn’t really boil down to that, it boiled down to Carmichael consistently stomping the field with Reed struggling to find the pace. Periodically, Reed would surge and get the job done but mainly it looked like RC had the whole season under control. In the last few races, RC started having uncharacteristic front end problems, leading to crashes, but generally he still seemed to be able to run a faster pace than Chad and certainly faster than anyone else. Summary: Ricky Carmichael is the best Supercross rider on the circuit. That has been the case in both SX and MX for the past few years.

Now, lets catch back up to this past weekend and Stewart’s performance. After crashing out of the lead in Orlando, Bubba apparently had that mystical moment of transcendence. All was clear and Stewart came to Dallas full of confidenceand ready to race. He then put on a showing that surely shocked everyone. From the first lap of practice he was fast but it was in the races that he really blew everyone’s mind. When the gate fell in his heat race, he pulled three bike lengths in the sprint race to turn one…that is amazing enough but Ricky Carmichael was in that heat not just a bunch of mid-pack guys. Eye opening! Within three laps, Bubba had a *six* second lead. A six second lead over the person that has demolished the Supercross field. Carmichael tried to pick up the pace and run with Stewart only to crash. Twice. Okay, so maybe RC had a problem. You can’t judge a man on one race alone.

Well, then it comes time for the main. Before the start, Bubba explained in an TV interview that he realized in Orlando that he could slow down and still win races. Whew, that’s confidence! Stewart, Carmichael, Reed, Windham and everyone else lined up for the main with all the anticipation originally built up for the opening race at Anaheim last winter. The gate drops and *boom* there goes Stewart with another two bike lead going into the first corner. Three laps later, its another six second lead this time over Reed. He pulls out to an eight second lead by mid-race, then cruises for awhile. Reed and Carmichael give chase but aren’t really getting close to the incredible lap times thrown down by the Kawasaki rider in the opening laps. With a few laps to go Bubba cranks it up again and wins easily. In the end, James “Bubba” Stewart gets his first 250 Supercross win. Reed gets taken out by a back marker and RC gets second to extend his points lead in the championship. In the post-race interview, Bubba explained that he lost his front brake after the first lap and ran the entire race without it. Wow.

What does it all mean? Well, it means that Stewart is truly an awesome rider. He’s another Galileo showing the earth isn’t flat…before this weekend everyone thought that Carmichael was the best Supercross rider in the world. Now Bubba has shattered that belief. I’m still in disbelief over what I saw. It also means that, for the first time, Ricky Carmichael’s mental strength is going to be challenged. He came apart in his heat race in Dallas so we’ll see how well he responds to this pressure for the rest of the season. As for Chad Reed, I didn’t think I could feel any more sorry for the guy but he was again a sad case after Dallas. He’s taken a beating from RC all season and dug deep to rebound again and again. Now the pressure has been ratcheted up again. How will he respond this time? And the big picture? Well, its too late for Bubba to win the SX title this season but when the outdoor Motocross season starts this summer, he could be re-writing record books every weekend.

As a final note, I do want to again commend Ricky Carmichael on his sportsmanship. When he’s been beaten this season by Chad Reed, he’s always publicly congratulated him and lauded the accomplishment. When he got trounced by Bubba at Dallas he again showed what a fantastic representative of the sport he is by being the first to congratulate Stewart and even going so far as to hold Bubba’s hand in the air. RC is not only full of talent, he’s full of class too. Bravo!

[image from the MX Large web site.]

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Aussie rules…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP, WSBK

The second World Superbike event of the season went off this past weekend with a few notable highlights.

Troy Corser flies the flag at Phillip Island

First, the continued dominance of the Suzuki GSXRs in the hands of Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama. In both races, the two Suzuki’s held a commanding lead over all the other bikes. For a short time in the second race it appeared that factory Ducati rider Regis Laconi had a shot at second place finish but the rain stoppage and mixed conditions restart sent him into the kitty litter rather than onto the podium. Meanwhile Corser was untouchable and Kagayama was again spectacular. In the first race, it was the Corser of old: A blazing start followed by fast laps early on while the other guys were waiting for their tires to warm up and their fuel load to go down then controlling his pace till the end. While other guys were sliding around and spinning up their tires, Corser was smooth and perfect lap after lap.

In the second race, things got more interesting. Not only did the torrential downpour reshuffle the deck taking riders like Laconi, Pitt, Neukirchner, Vermeulen and Abe out of podium contention it also gave some folks on underpowered bikes a chance to shine. The best example of this was Chris Walker who actually led on the track (though not on corrected time when combined with the times from the first leg) on the ZX-10R before overdoing it and tossing the bike down the track. Likewise, Ben Bostrom was able to move his privateer Honda into the top ten for a short time before falling back to 11th by the finish. Nieto, who didn’t finish the first race, was suddenly able to get into the top 5 in the wet race two and Corradi came from nowhere to get sixth. These are not guys we’ve seen this high up the running order so far this season.

The most fascinating detail in the second half of the second race was watching the psychological battle between Corser and teammate Kagayama. (As an aside, WSBK race announcer and racer James Haydon jumped all over this which was much better journalism that past TV announcers have offered during races. Good show, James!) Anyway, for three laps Corser and Kagayama pushed the pace faster and faster, despite the damp track, passing and re-passing each other. At one point the TV camera panned to team owner Francis Batta and he looked downright nauseous. These two know they are the class of the field right now and both were trying to get that mental edge over the other by showing they were willing to push just a little more in these tricky conditions. In the end, Kagayama went fastest but Corser still won the race based on aggregate times…this time it was another draw. Fascinating stuff to watch.

The second interesting thing highlighted by this second WSBK weekend is that they were again racing at a track which is visited by the MotoGP series. In fact, the GP boys had used Phillip Island as one of their pre-season test tracks in mid-February so there were relatively recent times available for comparison. As with Qatar, there is a contributing circumstance which means a direct overlay of times isn’t revealing the whole truth…that factor was the weather. For the WSBK weekend it was raining on and off which means that even when the track was dry, it was green without any rubber to increase traction. Nonetheless, the fastest times from both series show that there is still a big difference between the two classes of bikes.

At the February MotoGP test session, the fastest lap was a 1:29.68 thrown down by Rossi. This lap probably used a Michelin qualifying tire though its hard to know since those details aren’t always released. The fastest qualifying time for the WSBK guys on their Pirelli tires was a 1:33.24 from Kagayama. Obviously, Rossi could be a special case so looking further down the time sheets from the MotoGP session you will see that every rider ran a fastest lap under a 1:33. In fact, the slowest fastest lap time from the MotoGP test, turned in by Tony Elias on the Yamaha, was a 1:32.9 and he was supposedly slowed by physical exhaustion from the recent tests.

Just like Qatar, the lead MotoGP riders appear to be three or four seconds faster than the fastest of the WSBK riders. I’d hope that this would sink into the heads of the folks who continually question whether Troy Corser or Mat Mladin would do better on the MotoGP bikes than Roberts or Hopkins who currently hold those seats. The fact is that a production based GSXR Superbike can turn a fastest lap, with qualifying tires, of 1:33.2. The Suzuki MotoGP bike, on the other hand, turned a 1:30.8 at the hands of John Hopkins. Even Nobuatsu Aoki, the Suzuki test rider, turned a 1:32.4 on the GSV-R while testing parts (and presumably not using a qualifying tire)making him the slowest of the Suzuki MotoGP riders at the test. Also for comparison, the fastest race time from this past WSBK weekend was a 1:34.92 from Corser in the first race. Lets face it, the multi-million dollar GP bikes have a definite advantage over the production bikes, no matter how much money is thrown at the GSXRs and no matter who is sitting in the seat.

But within the context of the World Superbike series, this weekend shows that the GSXR is the most amazing bike on the track and that Corser rules the top seat of the points table. Combine this with Mat Mladin’s dominance at Daytona in the AMA series and their dominant win in the first event of the World Endurance championship and it seems like Suzuki will be selling a lot of bikes on Monday based on how well they have been performing on Sunday. Perhaps I should have called this entry “Suzuki rules…”

[image from the Suzuki web site.]

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Daytona (is) history…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

Since I left for Europe the morning after the big race day at Daytona, I didn’t get a chance to post anything on the blog about the Superbike race or the Daytona 200. They’ve been thoroughly covered on all the other sites but nonetheless I’ll say my piece…

First, the Superbike race picked up right where it left off last season with Mladin controlling the race from the first lap to the checkered flag. In the past, Suzuki has had to work fast to get their GSXR ready for the race season due to domestic test sessions being washed out by rain. Suzuki took the first step three years ago by sending the US Yoshimura squad over to Malaysia early in the year to get in some setup time before the first race. This season they went one better by heading over to southern Asia immediately after the last race of 2004’s champagne went flat. The affect has to be demoralizing for the other teams since Mladin showed up at Daytona after heading all the pre-season tests and showing dominating form from the first lap of practice. Everyone else’s best efforts were still nearly a second a lap slower than Mat. That’s a harsh start to the season for the other racers.

Neil surfing in Florida

Every other story from the Superbike race is a bit of a stretch to make sound interesting.. The closest story worthy of some bits and bytes was Neil Hodgson’s performance. The ex-World Superbike champ learned the tricky Daytona track faster than I’m sure anyone expected and was clearly the second best person on the track. His performance highlighted one other issue, that being just how bad his teammate Eric Bostrom is struggling with the odd handling Duc. Neil was faster than Eric from the first lap, despite EBoz being a past Daytona pole sitter and having the previous year’s experience on the bike. If Eric doesn’t get something figured out soon, his stock back in Bologna will drop faster than an Italian bike manufacturer can go bankrupt. Neil, on the other hand, is showing that the Ducati 999 isn’t a complete dog which is perhaps the best the red bikes can hope for based on the thumping Mladin seems ready to hand out.

Mladin’s teammates Yates and Spies showed that the GSXRs may well sweep many races this season by consistently setting fast laps in Superbike. Continuing this trend, the customer Suzukis from Team Jordan and Team M4 finished top 10 as well. The Hondas, meanwhile, showed that they should probably have done some time Malaysia this winter since they are way behind compared to their historical trend of heading the speed gun measurements at Daytona. Their decision to bring Superbike development in house may pay rewards in the future but they have to make some huge strides before the second race at the end of April if they are gonna have a chance of slowing Maldin’s march to a sixth title or stop Suzuki from ruling the podium all season.

So with that bleak outlook off my chest, how about a review of the Daytona 200? Well, I’m afraid the news there isn’t much better as it was even more predictable than the Superbike race. As expected, all three podium spots were filled with the Hondas. Duhamel was the commanding winner with Roberts and Zemke completing the rostrum. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the forth Honda of Alex Gobert was outside the top ten. The only interesting part of the Daytona 200 was watching the three youngsters of Eslick, Peris and Perez go through their trials of Daytona 200 crashes and pit stop fiascoes to card respectable finishes. Like in years past, the Daytona 200 was an interesting race up until the first pit stops, then changes in pit strategy and problems lapping slower riders strung the field out. Roberts and Duhamel actually put on an entertaining show for the first 10 or so laps. Nonetheless, Duhamel does deserve credit for putting a fifth Daytona 200 trophy on his mantle despite the criticism raised by others. No matter how much people try to downplay his achievement, winning the 200 is a trial of man and machine as much as a competition against other racers. Being able to race hard for two hours is reason enough to garner respect.

In my opinion, Saturday at Daytona lived up to expectations but that is only because the results were generally predictable and the expectations rather low. The classes were still confusing and not having all the factories competing in a single class just amplified that. Thankfully, also as predicted, there weren’t the tire problems that the past years have demonstrated so now its a matter of putting the excitement back into the premier class (or classes). Otherwise, the “support” classes will gain more popularity since both of those races were exciting and unpredictable. Lets hope the AMA Superbike and F-X seasons turns out to hold some big surprises…

Finally, I wanted to at least acknowledge that I’ve been pretty monotonous in using photos of guys doing big burn-outs in my blog entries. As penance I’ll say ten hail Rossis and try to find some different cool photos for future write-ups.

[image from Tim Huntington’s Web Page.]

Monday, April 4, 2005

  • I’m back from our Edelweiss tour of the Andalucia region of Spain and we had a great time. I have put some photos up on our travel web site: Some of the highlights from our trip were: 1) The art and architecture in Barcelona - Jonna and I are both big art fans so the works by Gaudi, Picasso, Miro, Dali and Goya were all incredible to see. The Miro museum and some of Gaudi’s buildings like Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera were particular highlights. !@(afimages/Blog/2005/4/spaintour.jpg:R200 popimg: “One of the great roads in Spain”) 2) The roads in Spain - I don’t think that Andalucian civil engineers own rulers because their roads are all curvy, even the ones that go through flat areas. There may be no obvious reason for a road to have a turn but damned if there won’t be curves left, right and center. The road surfaces aren’t always great but on a big BMW GS that didn’t really matter. 3) The scenery is stunning - Andalucia is nearly all mountains and hills. The highest peaks around over 4,000 ft high which doesn’t sound like much until you realize its only 50 miles from beach to mountain top. What makes this even better is that fact that Spain has set aside large areas for National Parks and Nature Preserves, so a days ride is pretty much guaranteed to be beautiful. 4) History is everywhere - Whether it is Cathaginian, Roman, Moorish, Medieval or Renaissance there is something interesting nearly everywhere. We particularly enjoyed towns like Granada and Ronda which seem to have focused on preserving their Moorish past. The Alhambra is incredible and justifies a trip to Granada all by itself. We also enjoyed the Pueblas Blancas, the white villages, which are in the hills of central Andalucia. These towns seem frozen in time as they existed during Medieval times. Nice! 5) The food - Jonna had some incredible meals, though I’m admit that Spain isn’t the most vegetarian friendly country so I had pretty limited options (salad, cheese sandwiches and spaghetti). Still the ability to stop and get tapas, small appetizers served in bars, meant that we could try lots of different things whenever we wanted. Being near the coast much of the time meant Jonna got plenty of great seafood and also got to try regional favorites like paella and Andalucian beef. 6) That Spain is so bike mad - Like our trip to Italy, its always cool to be in a country where everyone rides and appreciates motorcycles. MotoGP is one of the most popular sports second only to Soccer. The MotoGP boys were in both Catalunya and Jerez while we were visiting and large crowds showed up just to watch the guys *practice*. Sunday’s timed laps were actually shown live on TV. GP stars like Gibernau, Pedrosa and Rossi were used in advertisements everywhere, even in clothing shops. If only America was so interested in motorcycle racing! Now that I’m back, I’ll try to get caught up on some things I missed like a review of Daytona, the SX races in Orlando, the final MotoGP tests and this weekend’s World Superbike race in Australia. [image from my photo collection.] (6)