Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We have a winnah…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Since I’ve been slowing down on the blog postings, I haven’t been following all the races that have gone over the past month. Time to catch up on who has been hoisting the trophies lately.

Hengeveld on the Honda

First up is the big surprise that Honda has won the 38th running of the Baja 1000 with Steve Hengeveld, Johnny Campbell and Mike Childress on board their big XR. Not only did Honda best everyone in the desert but also brought home the runner up honors as well with XRs finishing 1-2. Even though this was Honda’s ninth consecutive win in the Baja 1000 they at least they made things a little easier on the competition since star rider Johnny Campbell was sick with a stomach ailment and struggled during his stints on the bike.

As if Honda’s win at Baja wasn’t surprising enough Brit Michael Rutter won the 39th annual Macau GP. This was the sixth win for Rutter on the dangerous street circuit. This ties him with Ron Haslam on all time winners list. Unfortunately, Rutter’s fantastic win was overshadowed by the death of Frenchman Bruno Bonhuil who was killed in an accident on the armco lined track. Many of the European riders sat out the event in honor of their fallen rival. There was a UK sweep of the podium as second place went to John McGuinness and third was Les Shand.

Dominance was the name even with two new events. David Knight has blown away the offroad community this year as the overall winner at the 2005 ISDE event, as champ of the 2005 Enduro at Erzberg and by bringing home the 2005 World Enduro 3 championship. He then showed up at the inaugural Red Bull Last Man Standing event and dominated from start to finish. At the end of the day, be brought home nearly $18,000 in cash. His win is all the more impressive since he raced the grueling event with the flu running two 40 miles loops during the day and then two 30 miles loops at night on his KTM. Second was Nathan Kanney and Michael Lafferty rounded out the podium.

As if being crowned the Last Man Standing wasn’t enough, David Knight then won the second annual AMA EnduroCross this month in Las Vegas. This added another trophy to his mantle, another $10,000 to his wallet and another boost to his reputation as the best off-road racer in the world. Just to prove that he always likes doing things the hard way he crashed on the first lap of his heat race. This not only meant he had to go through semis to make the final but that he was also racing with some pretty serious bruises. He got a horrible start in the main and crossed start/finish in nearly last place but then worked his way through for the win. Also impressive in the EnduroCross was old man John Dowd who came in runner up. Ricky Dietrich came home in third.

Okay, so really no surprises in any of these cases but great racing nonetheless. The Campbell/Hengeveld pairing aboard their Honda XR have dominated the Baja 1000 in a way that even Rossi or Carmichael would envy. Michael Rutter has found success at the Isle of Man but his career will probably be defined by his successes over the years on the Macau GP circuit. Finally, there is David Knight who is winning everything he enters this year. He is the best enduro rider in the world and has proven himself to more flexible than any other rider as well.

Great stuff from all of them.

[image from Dirt Rider Magazine web page.]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Killing winter time…

Author: site admin
Category: Motorcycles

As regular readers will have noticed I decided to take a break over the last couple of weeks. Some of this was to recoup a small amount of sanity after being so focused on the blog over the last year and part was to enjoy a relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. However, I didn’t just sit around eating bon bons and dreaming of motorcycles but I also went on the offensive in my annual war to stave off the boredom of winter. As the snow flakes fell up here in the mountains of Colorado and the outside thermometer struggled to get above freezing I spent some time gathering provisions for the upcoming four month campaign I’ll be fighting against the bleak days between November and March.

Primarily, the supplies I need for this protracted battle are books. Specifically, books about motorcycles. To that end, I’ve stocked up a few that should keep my attention focused on bikes even when my own motorcycles are stored away in a chilly garage for the year.

Peter Egan's Leanings 2 book

Topping the list is Peter Egan’s Leanings 2. I’ve been a reluctant subscriber to Cycle World for over a decade and yet I continue to give them some money each year to keep their magazine arriving at my door step. I’m not a big fan of the publication as a whole but the simple fact that they continue to employ the two best writers of motorcycle stories in the world keeps me addicted to the rag. Those two are Peter Egan and Kevin Cameron. Two years ago, Egan put out a book which pulled together many of his feature articles from the past 30 years and called it Leanings. I read the thing cover to cover in a single weekend and then mourned the fact that I didn’t string out the pleasure over a longer period of time. Now he’s released a follow-up tome which collects many of his one page columns from that same time period. I’ve already burned through half the book in just two days and I’m torn between finishing it this week or dragging it out over the entire winter. Peter Egan is the high water mark of moto-journalism and re-reading his articles both shames me as a writer and inspires me as a motorcycle enthusiast.

Queued up next on the night stand is Dr. Claudio Costa’s autobiography titled Doctorcosta. I bought this a few months back but haven’t found the “Round Tuit” in order to crack the cover. Dr. Costa is the paddock hero of MotoGP and the stories of what he’s seen in his multiple decades of following the GP circus, along with the miracles he has personally performed in patching up injured riders, should make this an incredible read. I figure I’ll have it finished before Christmas and will then suffer the agony of waiting three more months before MotoGP action resumes.

Keeping with the MotoGP racing theme is Mick Walker’s Giacomo Agostini: Champion of Champions which is the biography of the fifteen time GP champ. The topic of Rossi being the greatest racer of all time is hotly debated and the best counter argument is just saying the word “Ago”. I figure this book is worth the purchase price just to see the cool photos of Ago during his prime but it should also be a fantastic story as it traces Agostini’s story from childhood to motorcycle greatness.

The final book on my winter reading list, which coincidently is also another story of racing greatness, is Ed Youngblood’s Mann Of His Time. This is the biography of AMA legend Dick Mann. This guy is the iron man of motorcycle racing and was a hero to most of the racers I consider great: Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and others. If there was ever an era when motorcycle racers had to do everything, it was the age of the AMA Grand National Champion when riders had to race dirt track miles, half-miles, TT and road races in order to be considered the best. During these grueling years, Mann accomplished this lofty title twice. If I finish this before spring, I’ll still have time to write letters to Chris Carr begging him to come back road racing in ‘06, along with his flat track program, so we can see a multi-talented champ like they did it in the old days…

But man (or probably even Mann) can’t live by books alone. Also on the list for winter entertainment are a few DVDs:

First and foremost is the long awaited release of the Long Way Round DVD which will finally be available on December 13th. It has only taken them a year to release the thing! This isn’t the best motorcycle story ever told but it is good enough to watch again and again if only to inspire us to follow our dreams. Sure, we aren’t all rich movie stars but as long as we own a bike we can point that front wheel somewhere new and go for a ride. Besides, watching Ewan and Charley struggle through Mongolia should help prepare me for following my buddy Todd through Costa Rica.

Next month I’ll also be placing an order with Bruce Brown’s Monterey Media to pick up his newly released Moto Classics Box Set which includes footage Brown recorded while making On Any Sunday but hasn’t previously released. I have all the rest of the On Any Sunday movies so there is no way I’ll pass up getting this boxed set. Should make for some fine visual entertainment while watching the snow drifts build up on the deck some frigid February afternoon.

Speaking of Bruce Brown, I’m yet to watch his son Dan Brown’s Dust to Glory DVD but I have it on my “to do” list to finally pick it up for a little cold weather relief. What better contrast to a Colorado winter than to watch guys on motorcycles blast through the desert during the Baja 1000.

Finally, my Christmas wish is for Duke Video USA to finally release a NTSC DVD version of Best Bike GPs of the Decade. I first saw this film ten years ago and immediately wanted to own it but have held off year after year waiting for it to be available on DVD. A few months ago it was finally released in the UK in PAL format but they haven’t brought it stateside yet. US distribution of Duke Video products has just changed hands so hopefully the new company will speed up getting some of the PAL stuff converted over for us yanks. Come on, Santa, bring me this DVD!

[image from the Road & Track Magazine online shop web page.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Who is humping who…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The past few weeks have really pulled back the curtains on the ugly inner workings of the MotoGP paddock. There has been a shake up in the bizarre love triangle that is the factory-rider-sponsor relationship and the fall out has given us a glimpse at exactly who calls the shots when it comes to racing at the highest level of the sport.

I’m going to use three different examples to illuminate this situation:

Max when he still had a Honda ride

First up is a tale of riches to rags with one Max Biaggi as the star of the show. One year ago the word came down from the people on high at Honda that Biaggi was finally being given the opportunity of his lifetime. A ride on the factory Repsol RC211V with famed tuner Erv Kanemoto at his side. All of Honda’s development effort would be resting squarely on the shoulders of the veteran Italian rider and he was expected to wrest the MotoGP title away from rival Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha. That dreamy state lasted until the first race at Jerez and then quickly slipped into a nightmare season for the Roman.

As the races wound down Biaggi started making more and more negative comments to the press about the state of the bike and support he felt he was (or perhaps more accurately wasn’t) receiving from Honda. When the big bosses back in Tokyo heard about this they were less than impressed. In fact, they tried to keep him from racing at the final race at Valencia and promptly thereafter sent out a mandate to all the Honda teams saying that Biaggi would not be given a Honda for 2006. When Camel, Biaggi’s personal sponsor, heard this they threatened to pull their millions from Sito Pons satellite team. This set up a show down between Honda, Sito Pons, Biaggi and Camel. If there was ever a situation that would show who calls the shots in MotoGP, this would be it. And the result? Biaggi won’t be riding red next year and Pons won’t be getting any financial support from Camel for this team. Clearly Honda has shown that for next year they intend to be completely in charge of their MotoGP teams, even at the risk of ruining a faithful partner’s funding and maybe even threatening the team’s ability to exist. It also shows that Honda has no problem telling a major backer to go stuff themselves if the sponsor disagrees with corporate policy. Interesting.

Next up, is the state of affairs just down pit row in the factory Yamaha pits. There is a huge lawsuit brewing between Yamaha and Altadis who was their primary sponsor for the past year. Altadis signed a contract with Yamaha to sponsor the factory team under the Gauloises banner for the upcoming season. At the time the contract was signed there was not commitment from Rossi to ride the factory bikes and once that contract was signed it was with the understanding that Rossi would not run branding from a cigarette company on his bike, presumably to clear the way for future work with Ferrari and their primary sponsor Marlboro. (Why, exactly, Rossi didn’t sign with the Ducati team for 2006 since they already have Marlboro sponsorship is unknown).

When Yamaha told Altadis that Rossi would not be on the factory team Altadis deemed this a breech of the sponsorship agreement. As a warning shot Altadis pulled their Fortuna sponsorship from the Tech 3 satellite team for next season which has put them in a serious money crunch. However, Yamaha hasn’t backed down and now look likely to run without Altadis sponsorship in ‘06. What is surprising is that Yamaha approached Telefonica Movistar with an offer of having Rossi run under their colors but were turned down. In this case, Rossi laid down the law about the terms of having him ride with a tuning fork on his tank and the factory followed suit even at the risk of having to pay the full tab for both their factory and satellite team’s costs next year. In this case, the seven time world champ is the one in the cat bird seat and both the team and the sponsor have to play by his rules.

Finally, there is another conflict which also involves Honda but in this case it is with the Gresini satellite team. Gresini’s primary sponsor for 2005 was the Spanish telecom giant Telefonica Movistar. In addition to putting huge amounts of money into the Honda team they also had 250GP star Dani Pedrosa under personal contract and had brought up the Spanish youngster through the GP ranks. In fact, the company spends huge amounts of money in GP sponsoring not only individual teams but also paying for title sponsorship of some rounds of the series and also to sponsor some European feeder classes which development future talent. Telefonica is the dream partner for both the MotoGP series and the Honda teams.

At the end of this last season Dani Pedrosa’s contract with Telefonica expired and before it could be renewed Honda offered the 250 World Champion a direct contract and a chance to ride on the factory Repsol team as replacement for the departing Max Biaggi. Telefonica was furious that their star rider had been scooped out from under them and that he was put on the Repsol sponsored team rather than the Telefonica sponsored Gresini team. As reprisal, the telecom giant pulled their money from MotoGP altogether (even refusing the Yamaha/Rossi offer…something any other company would have begged to get) and brought their big fat check book to the Formula One cage racing series instead. Fortunately for Honda, they were able to sign Spanish star Toni Elias to Team Gresini and Altadis decided to spend their Fortuna backed support to the Honda team after pulling it away from the Tech 3 Yamaha squad. Honda set the tune and both Gresini, Pedrosa and Telefonica had to dance to it.

So what does all this mean? Well, I think it means that ultimately the entire GP paddock is following the lead of Valentino Rossi. Yamaha needs Rossi and had very little say in the terms. Honda has gone into desperation mode and will do whatever is necessary to build a rider line-up capable of challenging Rossi even if it means losing long time sponsors or pissing off faithful team owners. It seems clear that the factories have become tired of sponsors, particularly cigarette companies, being the ones that call the shots and have completely reshuffled the power pyramid in MotoGP. Whether the riders or the factories are in contol depends on the rider’s last name but there is no doubt that both are playing alpha dog over the sponsors right now.

[image from Moto Forum web page.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Champagne on a beer budget…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Lately I’ve been doing a write up for each of the major international motorcycle expos like Paris, Tokyo, Birmingham and Milan. All of these shows represent the pinnacle of motorcycle marketing. The major manufacturers, along with hundreds of aftermarket companies, spend significant portions of their annual budget to make a big splash at these shows. From the stand point of a fan I’ll admit that getting an opportunity to attend one of these shows would be an incredible experience. Unfortunately, the cost associated with jetting off to Europe for a couple of days just doesn’t match up with my current salary no matter how much I fantasize about being able to do so.

Sierra dreams big at the '02 Cycle Show

However, I do have the time and money to attend the much more mundane Cycle World International Motorcycle Show which has been occurring at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the past four years. An international show like the International Motorcycle Exhibition that is going on in Milan, Italy this week will be characterized by amazing concept bikes, surprise new bike announcements, hundreds of vendors, test ride courses, on-site race events, live music and more. Sadly, the smaller Cycle World Show is lacking much of this and is instead more like an uber dealership where one can ogle the latest bikes, try on some of the more popular bits of gear and see some popular accessories like tires and exhausts. The show in Denver will often have some kind of stunt show, either trails demo or a freestyle MX crew, that is pretty much the extent of the entertainment.

On the positive side, most of the major manufacturers have a presence at the Cycle World show and this year it looks like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Buell, Aprilia, Cagiva, Polaris/Victory, Star, Triumph and Ural will all have bikes on display. Sadly, the expo will once again lack participation from KTM…the fourth straight year that the Austrian company has stood up show goers.

Let me take a moment to pull out my soap box here. What the hell is KTM thinking? They are gaining market share in the US faster than any other motorcycle company. KTM has made a recent push to build a line of street bikes that they hope will be as popular as their off road models. The KTM Adventure has enjoyed strong sales in the US and they are launching new street bikes like the 950 Supermoto this year. KTM is competing directly with BMW, Triumph and Ducati for street bike sales in America. Surely only a small increase in bike sales would be all that is necessary to offset the relatively minor hit to their marketing budget that would be required to have a booth at the show. Then again, maybe its better they don’t show since then I’d have to bitch them out for not importing the 990 Super Duke.

Okay, back to the show. The bikes, gear and parts aren’t the only things going on at the show this weekend. They will again have the BOSS brothers and their Ball of Steel stunt show. Additionally, newly signed Yamaha racer Eric Bostrom will be at representing the Racing 2 Save Lives charity. There will also be a display of vintage bikes which is always a highlight of the show. Beyond that, though, the appeal drops off dramatically. The food court chow is both unappealing and expensive. Parking sucks. Oh, and there is a lot of stuff is packed into a relatively small display area so some of the walkways are more crowded than necessary.

So why am I going? Well, first of all my wife needs a new electric vest and I want to have her try on the electric jacket liner from Gerbing. Second, I want to pick up a Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket for my upcoming trip to Costa Rica. Third, I always enjoying seeing the new bikes in person and seeing them all in one place is more convenient that driving around to all the dealerships. Finally, well, $12 is much cheaper than a flight to Milan…

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Happy 1st Birthday…

Author: site admin
Category: Uncategorized

Happy Birthday

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary since I was stupid enough to tinker around with a blog. At the time, I just thought I’d post a few things to see how it worked and then move on to something more important like creating a Wiki of motorcycle racing information. However, this minor side trip into the world of online information quickly became an obsession and the Wiki never got beyond the initial install point.

As for the blog, for my first year I set myself the goal of writing one article per day of the work week and then taking weekends off to have something that resembled a life. As a result I have typed up nearly 250 articles and have kept to my schedule except for when vacations have pulled me away from the computer. I’ve covered almost every MotoGP, AMA and World Superbike race. I’ve also covered many of the AMA Supercross and Motocross races, some of the Supermoto races and done entries about the major motorcycle shows. In addition to motorcycle content I’ve tried to inject my perspective and strong opinions about the topics I cover rather than just regurgitating press releases or web pages. Finally, I’ve experimented with creative approaches to things in the hopes that I will improve as a writer and it prove interesting to readers.

In some cases I think I’ve been successful while re-reading some of the postings show they are pretty lame. On one hand I’m thrilled that I was able to successfully follow such a strict publishing schedule and that the sheer number of postings meant that I could cover so many different aspects of motorcycling. On the other hand, many of the postings seem rushed with perhaps more quantity than quality. Additionally, it takes between two and three hours for me to create, proof and publish each article which is a pretty significant time investment, no matter how much I enjoy maintaining the blog.

For the second year of my blog, I’m going to take on a more relaxed publishing schedule. I plan to continue writing when I have a topic in mind but won’t necessarily be posting every day. Hopefully, this will mean I have some extra time to do data collection and proof-reading on some of my postings rather than feeling pressured to keep up my daily postings. Maybe I’ll even find some time to start on that Wiki idea…

Finally, I want to say “Thank you” to everyone that has read my blog. My web stats show around 2,000 hits per month on my main blog page and another 2,000 per month as rss feeds. I’m indebted to everyone that has taken the time to read any of my writings and doubly appreciative of those who repeatedly visit my site. My birthhday wish for the blog is to hope that everyone who visits finds something interesting, enjoyable or informative.

Thanks for your support!

[image from the web site.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Italian style…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

A couple of weeks ago, I did a motorcycle show intro about the British NEC show. This was a follow-up to postings I’d done earlier about this Fall’s Paris and Tokyo motorcycle shows. Well, this coming week is the last and biggest of the major shows: The International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan, Italy. Since this is the final of this year’s major expos expect any manufacturer that hasn’t already blown its marketing wad to unveil new products and interesting concept bikes this coming week. Since the Milan show is the granddaddy of all bike shows, at least in terms for floor space set up for exhibitors, it is more of a spectacle than any of the other shows.

Historically the Milan show, like the Munich and Paris shows, has been a biennial event but it’s popularity has grown to the point that it is now going to be held annually. Lets throw out a few numbers to show just how popular this thing really is. First, over 1,500 exhibitors are scheduled to be at the Milan Show. Think about that for a second…that kind of turn-out highlights just how incredible the motorcycle market is in Italy. Next up, the exhibition area is nearly 700,000 sq ft in size indoors and over 600,000 sq ft outside. In addition to the traditional booths and displays that will be set up inside the Nuova Fiera Milano convention center there will be a large number of activities happening in the outside space including freestyle motocross demos, supermotard and supercross races, trials performances, riding classes, motorcycle and scooter test drives and live concerts. Wow.

You know, reading the descriptions of what all happens at the NEC and Milan shows really brings to light how the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show is incredibly lame. If, somehow, the Cycle World show in Denver could be combined with the CycleFest held annually at Copper Mountain (with demo rides, supermoto racing, organized rides, etc) then it would be getting close to the scope of one of these major international shows. One can always dream that the US motorcycle market will eventually grow to the point where an American expo will be considered equal to a Paris, a NEC, a Tokyo or a Milan show. ‘Course, given the current grown in the US motorcycle market such a show would probably be made up primarily choppers anyway. Sigh.

…but I digress. Now where was I? Oh yes, talking about the Milan show. Well, the excitement has built continually all Fall as each of these major shows has revealed an increasing number of new bike announcements and radical prototypes unveillings. Thus Milan is bound to have a few surprises in store. The current rumors are:

MV Agusta F4 Senna to be introduced at Milan

First, MV Agusta will announce the new F4 Senna which is their Ayrton Senna replica but using the 1000cc F4 1000S instead of the earlier 750cc version. Likewise, MV Agusta should also show off their 910R Brutale naked bike. It is hard to beat a MV when it comes to a lustworthy and exclusive bike, so expect their showing to be the biggest news coming out of Milan.

Benelli, freshly returned from the dead thanks to a last minute infusion of money, are rumored to be showing two versions of their three cylinder Tornado sport bike and an updated version of their TNT naked bike. The Benelli triple was an innovative bike when it was first made a decade ago but their lingering financial problems have prevented development and the bikes are pretty dated now. They need to find about 20 hp and do a redesign to get the bikes up to modern spec.

Aprilia, also saved from bankruptcy after being purchased by Piaggio last year, is starting to show some movement. Their big news at Milan should be the overhauled RSV Mille sport bike, as well as updates to their European bread-n-butter two stroke sport bikes like the RS-125 and RS-250. I think the RSV Mille Factory is one of the prettiest sport bikes available so hopefully their updates have been aimed at keeping it competitive in a market where performance is improving year to year. I’m looking forward to seeing one of the new Milles when they finally make it to the states.

Bimota, yes yet another Italian motorcycle company that was out of money just twelve months ago but is now back in business. In this case, a consortium of Italians raised the money to start making Bimota motorcycles again. All the new Bimotas will use Ducati engines but very little is known about the new model they are expected to announce other than that the name will be the Delirio.

Ducati has already shown its new bikes but the Monster S4RS which uses the S4R frame but with the water cooled three valve motor from the Multistrada should be officially announced. Otherwise, not much excited from Ducati at their home expo.

The last of the Italian motorcycle companies rumored to be showing new product next week is the small manufacturer Moto Morini. This company is…wait for it…back from a bankruptcy induced dormancy that has lasted for the past decade. They have designed their own 1200cc V-Twin and are creating a line of bikes around this motor. The first was the Corsaro sport bike and now their follow-up, the 9.5 naked bike, should be unwrapped in Milan.

Naturally, the main players in the Italian scooter market like Piaggio (aka Vespa), Cagiva, Gilera, Aprilia will be showing new step throughs, as will Peugeot. The Japanese all pulled the cover off their scooters at the Tokyo show so its up to the Europeans to answer with their own prototypes and concept scooters.

But the Italians aren’t the only ones popping off some surprises in Milan. BMW is expected to announce some new models as a follow-up to their NEC show unveilings. First is a sport-touring version their newly announced 800cc parallel twin which will be called the F800ST. Keeping with the sporting trend they will roll out the R1200S sport bike and a K1200GT.

Finally, KTM is also bringing the big guns to Italy with two versions of their Adventure using the 990cc motor, a factory built enduro using the 950cc motor and probably showing off their 990cc sport bike prototype again. In my opinion, KTM has now completely overtaken Ducati as the most innovative and rapidly reacting motorcycle company in the market. Now if they could just get that big 990cc certified in the US so they could import all these cool bikes…

Alright, so I’m again jealous of the motorcycle treasures which are cascaded upon the heads of the European motorcycles. As if our government wasn’t enough of a reason for me to head across the pond now these shows are adding even more temptation. With the race season over, the silly season nearly settled and now the bike shows finishing up, it is starting to look like a long winter is ahead…

[image from the Beaudry Motorsports web site.]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Unveiling the new look…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

With the echos of the thundering MotoGP bikes still echoing off the grandstands in Valencia from last weekend’s last race and the trophies still warm from the hands of the championship winners it was immediately time to roll up the shirt sleeves and start work for the 2006 season. On Monday, the day after the final race, much of the MotoGP paddock was back in action testing bike parts and new tires. The main reason for such a prompt turn around from racing to testing is because there are only three weeks before the mandatory test ban which starts in December.

As I mentioned last year, I think the test ban is particularly difficult on the smaller teams and that was true again this year as neither TeamKR nor WCM were in attendance this week. However, the big dogs of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Ducati were all present and accounted for as soon as the track was available.

The first order of business was giving the press a chance to sample the bikes. In the past only the top one or two bikes from a given year were handed over to the hoards of crazed journalists for a flogging but over the past three years it has become a tradition for nearly all the bikes to be ridden back-to-back in the same day by the scribes. Honda is the only standout as they prefer for their bike not to be directly compared to the other bikes so a separate press outing on the RC211V is always scheduled after the end of the season. For the other manufacturers their 2005 bikes are put through their paces by the pen pushers and then the smoking ruins which are left behind are hastily rebuilt so that proper testing for the factory teams can begin the next day.

In the past it was always the run of the mill press hacks which were set loose on the GP bikes but that has changed over the past few years as professional riders have been brought in by some magazines to test the bikes a little closer to their limits. The big names riding the bikes for the press this year were current 250GP racer Jakub Smrz and ex-500GP winner Luca Cadalora. Presumably the magazines running reports from these guys may actually contain accurate information about the bike’s performance and the feedback from these riders may actually be useful for the teams. A real win-win…

When the scribes were done it was time for the company big wigs to give out some complimentary rides as a year end bonus. For Honda, this mean handing the key to a RC211V over to 2005 125GP champion Thomas Luthi, 250GP rider Andrea Dovizioso who finished third this year and World Superbike rookie Max Neukirchner. All three were being rewarded for their hard work on Honda’s behalf this year but their test ride also shows that Honda is looking to them as possible future MotoGP racers. Meanwhile, Yamaha and Honda both looked to the past as well by offering rides on their bikes to past Grand Prix greats Giacomo Agostini and Fausto Gresini. Yamaha let 15 time World Champ Agostini out for a spin on Rossi’s M1 while Honda allowed Fortuna Honda manager Gresini take one of his teams’ bikes out for a few laps. (As an aside, a certifiable motorcycle racing geek like myself would give up a kidney to watch someone like Agostini or Gresini ride so this was really an pretty rare and amazing event. Anyone that got to watch it should consider themselves very lucky.)

Next up was the task of testing prospective riders for near season. This year a few of the second string teams were in a position to scope out new talent so a few racers suited up in an effort to earn a job. First up were ex-WCM rider James Ellison and ex-GP and current WSBK rider Jose Luis Cardoso who both went out on the D’Antin Ducati. It looks as if the D’Antin team will have access to near factory spec 2006 Desmosedici bikes and may also have the funding to run a two rider team next year. While it seems likely that Roby Rolfo will be one of the riders there may still be an open seat alongside him. Ellison would seem the more obvious choice of the two new testers, given is age and recent GP experience. However, Cardoso has a long history of racing with D’Antin and, like nearly any rider with a Spanish passport, probably brings wads of sponsorship bucks with him.

A less obvious try out was Kurtis Roberts who stuck around after racing his father’s bike last weekend to turn a few laps on the Suzuki GSV-R that was recently vacated by his older brother. It would seem that Suzuki is already full up for next season with Hopkins and Vermeulen on their bikes but appeared to be checking out Kurtis nonetheless. It seems unlikely that this test would progress to anything further with Suzuki but the experience on the V4 will probably be helpful if Kurtis races his father’s Honda powered Proton in ‘06.

Speaking of which, Kenny Roberts Jr was scheduled to test a Honda this week but his wrist injury from the Phillip Island crash prevented this. Like his bro’s test ride on the Suzi, having KRJr test a Honda probably wouldn’t have been for a ride (though there my still be a Pons seat available) but would likely have been arranged to give TeamKR’s prospective lead rider some time to get acquainted with the Honda motor. Too bad that KRJr was unable to make the ride and given Kurtis’ rocky relationship with Honda of late it wasn’t bloody likely that Big Red was going to let him try out the bike…

Pedrosa on a four stroke

Finally, it was time to get down to the business of testing bikes. The most exciting part of this was getting a first glance at the riders who are new to the series or at least on a new team for next season. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate so relatively little testing was actually done over the three days available but each of the riders did get a little time aboard their new bikes.

Honda had a few fresh faces in the garage with two time 250GP title holder Dani Pedrosa making his debut on the Repsol Honda and ex-Yamaha rider Toni Elias throwing his leg over the Gresini Fortuna Honda. In the next garage over, ex-Ducati pilot Carlos Checa (unofficially the second Pons rider) and his new teamate 250GP runner up Casey Stoner were giving their now unsponsored Honda a run down. Checa went a little further by also testing the crash-worthiness of the bike on lap three of his inagural ride. Ouch! Just down the paddock row ex-Honda racer Sete Gibernau was able to get his first laps aboard the Marlboro Ducati. Finally, two MotoGP rookies were becoming acquainted with their slower bikes as WSBK runner-up Chris Vermeulen checked to see if the Suzuki is faster than his old Ten Kate Honda World Superbike and 250GP front runner Randy De Puniet stretched the Kawasaki’s throttle cables trying to keep his old rivals Stoner and Pedrosa in sight.

In addition to the newcomers, most of the old guard were back in action starting their serious testing for next year. MotoGP runner ups Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden were both testing suspension, frame and tire improvements for Honda. Ducati brought out their test rider Vittoriano Guareschi to help sift through new parts for the Duc. Kawasaki test rider Olivier Jacque was doing the same testing of evolutionary changes to the ZX-RR. Under the Suzuki tent, both John Hopkins and test rider Nobuatsu Aoki were punching the clock to start their winter test program with the hopes of finding some more power for their bikes.

There were a few notable absentees, in addition to TeamKR and WCM. First and most interesting was World Champion Valentino Rossi who skipped out on the week of testing to go off and drive a Ferrari F1 car for a few days. Likewise, his teammate Colin Edwards was a no-show leaving Yamaha with no testing during this first window of opportunity. Kawasaki’s Shinya Nakano was scheduled to test but instead flew back to Japan to have the hand that was injured in his pre-race Valencia highside looked at by a doctor. Another Japanese disappearance was Monitron Konica Minolta’s Makoto Tamada who had apparently flown back to Japan after last weekend’s race.

In the end cold weather and rain washed out most of the three days of testing though a few determined riders like Nicky Hayden did venture out to test rain tires today. Many of the teams will be back in action over the next three weeks, most of them at Sepang this coming weekend, as they try to put new parts through their final paces before being integrated into the 2006 bikes. Laps times this early in the year are generally meaningless but as would be expected it was the two young Honda riders who topped the time sheets this week at Valencia. Of the class rookies, Casey Stoner was the fastest just a second or so off Hayden’s fastest times during the test. Of those testing or getting guest rides it looks like James Ellison was the fastest, just 1.5 seconds down on Hayden’s high water mark. In fact, of the times that were reported, the young racers were all clustered in a 10 second window with elders Agostini and Gresini another 10 or so seconds off the slowest times of the other riders. (Still for a 44 year old team owner like Gresini to turn in laps just 20 seconds off the fastest time of the test after having not ridden a bike in 10 years is pretty impressive stuff!).

This was just our first glimpse of the new teams, the new sponsors and the new riders. Expect their potential to shake out at the tests this month and then to really start to shine when they start testing the 2006 bikes early next year.

[image from the Official MotoGP web site.]

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Thorns, poison and camouflage…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

With the ‘05 MotoGP season finally over I have a lot of thoughts about the season that I’ll be posting over the next week. Here is one of them…

Nature is a fascinating thing. Millions of years of evolution have created an amazing amount of biological diversity. Plants, in particular, illuminate this spectacular variation. There is a ruthless war happening in the taxonomical landscape that is your back yard: insects, bacteria, UV rays and even other plants are making a constant assault on the flora and fauna. For its own defense the vegetation has adapted to these attacks with the full spectrum of biological weaponry. Some plants have thorns or spines, others secrete toxic chemicals, others hide or mimic other varieties and some others grow armour. Every species reacts differently but they all react. But this blog is about motorcycles not botany so what’s the point you might ask?

Well, there has been a ruthless assault taking place in the MotoGP paddock this year and the aggressor has been one Valentino Rossi. What has been intriguing to watch is how the other riders have developed their own unique defense mechanisms to protect their egos. Here is my take on a few of the racers and their strategies for protecting their self image.

First up is the most obvious example of a Rossi target: Honda’s Sete Gibernau. The history of the champs’ psychological barrage on the Spaniard has been well documented in the motorcycle press since it started at the 2004 Qatar GP. What hasn’t really been highlighted as been the public response from Sete. Reading back through the post race interviews with Gibernau this season I regularly hear the Honda rider talking about his races in the first person plural grammatical form. For example, he might say “We had some bad luck.”. As my co-worker Jeff once said “We? What, does he race with a mouse in his pocket?” It seems to me like this is a pretty straight forward attempt to avoid taking personal responsibility for bad results. By talking about “we” rather than “I” there is an implication that the team was also to blame. In some cases this may be true but in others, like Gibernau’s tour of so many of the gravel traps at this season’s circuits, it is just case of outright rider mistakes.

A mad Max Biaggi

The second rider to view the MotoGP Rorschach ink blot and see a menacing Vale is Honda’s Max Biaggi. The veteran Italian has been squarely in the sights of Rossi since 2000 when Valentino joined the premier class. Max has always struggled to develop an effective shield but his most common method of defense is to blame the bike. In fact, he was so adamant about problems with his RC211V this year that he has talked himself right out of a coveted Honda ride in 2006. One of the first rules of a motorcycle racer is to promote the company and that means when you win, it is because of the bike and when you lose, it is because of a mistake by the rider. Thus racers have to possess a particularly thick skin so they can take the blame for problems while still promoting the bike. Clearly Biaggi has fallen down in this regard. What’s more, he is complaining about what is probably the best bike in the world while he is the star rider for the best organized team in MotoGP and while he has one of the most experienced GP tuners as his adviser. Everyone else on the grid would love to have those kinds of bike issues. Nope, I think the truth is that Max failed to lead development of the 2005 RC211V in a positive direction and that is why he has struggled. The finger needs to point back at the rider. Sometimes the truth hurts…

Less clear is the case of Honda mounted youngster Marco Melandri. After a weak 2004 season on the Yamaha M1, the Italian moved to the Gresini Honda team this year. He quickly came of age as a MotoGP rider in 2005 and was a serious threat to Rossi as early in the season as Assen. The two Italians had been friends at the beginning of the season but that didn’t stop Rossi from leveling some strong criticism at Melandri as soon as he accomplished a confidence sapping defeat of the younger rider at the Dutch circuit. Melandri then went into a mid-season slump that was characterized by successive crashes at Laguna Seca and Donnington then two results outside the top five at Sachsenring and Brno. It was only after the accident and resulting injury in Japan that he regained his mojo and finished the season strong. What’s more, Melandri’s response to the mind games was to basically quit talking. His comments in Honda press releases were short and somewhat robotic. It is as if he was just trying to disappear off Rossi’s radar rather than submit himself to the whithering glare of his friend. Clearly Melandri has shaken off those concerns the last five races of the year and is now the strongest contender for the champ going into 2006. What’s more, he has also found a way to maintain his friendship with his rival, something Gibernau was unable to do in 2004.

Another rider with an interesting reaction to suddenly being considered a championship contender is Honda’s Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid said early in his MotoGP career that he wasn’t intimidated by the GP regulars because he had grown up being schooled by AMA dirt track riders like Scotty Parker, Jay Springsteen and Chris Carr (not to mention in roadracing by the master Matt Mladin). Nonetheless, it seems that Hayden’s advancement as a MotoGP front runner took a definite side track in the middle of the 2004 season and then started out slow in 2005. Being beaten by Rossi can really rock a rider’s self-image and while Hayden rarely talks trash he does sometimes appear to defer to his ex-teammate in press releases. I think that for awhile Nicky honestly doubted whether he could beat the Italian superstar and it was only his competitive ride at Assen, followed by his break through win at Laguna, that finally erased those doubts. Perhaps Nicky has shrugged the doubt demon off his back and will start next year with his head eld high and his eye on the prize.

Finally, lets look at Rossi’s current teammate at Yamaha, Colin Edwards. It is bad enough to be racing during the reign of a dominant rider like Rossi without having the additional pressure of sharing a garage with the guy. If anyone can pull it off the laid back Texan could be the one. Nonetheless, I think even Edwards has wrestled with the psychological effects of being soundly beaten by Valentino while riding what is basically the same bike. The biggest outward sign of this is that Edwards basically abandoned his previous Superbike inspired form of riding that relies on squaring off corners for strong acceleration and has tried to re-develop a riding style more like that used by 250GP riders who rely on high mid-corner speed for a good lap time. I think that Colin, no matter how talented he may be, is groping for an answer as to why Rossi is winning while Edwards is fighting at the tail end of the top ten. This is especially baffling since the pre-season talk centered around how similar Edwards’ setup is to that used by Rossi. Same bike, same setup but different lap times. Ouch. To his credit at least the American has reacted by knuckling down to the hard task of becoming a better rider rather than just shrugging it off as a bike or team problem.

Alright, so I’m hardly an arm chair psychologist. Outside of a few classes in college (a *long* time ago) I have no training whatsoever in the study of the mind. What I am is a racing enthusiast and someone that listens when riders talk. Rossi is phenomenal and I think every rider has to find a way to protect their self-image when racing against the master. I don’t blame the riders, in fact I think it is a necessary form of mental self-preservation. However, I also think their are productive ways to respond and non-productive. What’s more, I think the results of these non-productive defense mechanisms can be plainly seen in the results turned in by Gibernau and Biaggi during the 2005 season while the more productive methods are reflected by the other rider’s clustering in the second through fourth places in the championship standings.

Perhaps in 2006 we’ll get a chance to see what Rossi’s defense mechanism will be if he finds himself being pressured for a change.

[image from the Max Biaggi web site.]

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Money makes the world go around…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

We would all like to think that MotoGP is all about the best riders on the best bikes and that those two factors alone would guide the sport.. Well, not so…

Marco Melandri at Valencia

One of the big surprises for the ‘06 season is that with Sete Gibernau leaving Team Gresini Honda for Ducati and with rising Spanish superstar Dani Pedrosa being moved to the official factory Repsol Honda team Spanish company Telefonica Movistar is pulling their money out of MotoGP and heading to Formula One. Altadis, who is mad at Yamaha, is then moving their Fortuna brand (and the associated sponsorship bucks) to follow Spaniard Toni Elias in his move to the Gresini team as Marco Melandri’s teammate. This leads to the chicken and egg question of whether Fortuna is following Elias or whether Fortuna moved to Gresini and bringing Elias with them. In other words, who is calling the shots out there? The factory? The team owner? The sponsor? The rider?

The answer to those questions becomes even more clouded when you look further down the paddock. First, there is the whole Honda-Camel-Biaggi deal going on where Honda is upset with Biaggi because of some comments he made in the press and are refusing him a ride in 2006. Camel, a major personal sponsor of Mad Max, got involved and in a huff pulled their sponsorship of Sito Pons’ team. It is likely that if someone can find a seat for Max next year they will also get a big fat check from Camel in return. Who knows who will step up to stick their logo on the side of the Pons bike.

Then there is the Yamaha-Rossi-Altadis legal battle which really clouds the issue of exactly how important sponsorship is in the high dollar (or perhaps high Euro or high Yen) world of motorcycle racing. One would assume that Yamaha would want all the financial help they can get in order to offset the monsterous cost of Rossi’s salary (rumored to be somewhere north of $15 million for one year!). However, Rossi doesn’t want to run in Gauloises colors next year since that could complicate his hopes of testing Ferrari’s F1 car in 2006 (since Ferrari is sponsored by Marlboro). As a result, Yamaha plans to run Rossi with his own private sponsors and that has really pissed off Altadis, the owner of the Gauloises brand. A lot of lawyers have been seen walking in and out of the Yamaha HQ of late. Apparently money isn’t the only thing guiding policy in the Yamaha garages.

But back to the original issue which is Telefonica leaving MotoGP and being replaced by Fortuna as main sponsor of the Gresini Honda squad. This change up could end up being very important to Marco Melandri. Honda’s contract with major sponsor Repsol has for years stated that only the official factory Repsol bikes could get the latest development parts from HRC. This has always meant that the “best” Hondas were the Repsol Hondas and parts only trickled down to the other Honda teams after the mid-point of the season. Well, last year Movistar (a telecommunications giant) and Respol (a multi-national oil empire) started doing business together. As a result of that corporate intermingling it appears that Repsol was willing to loosen the contractual leash on HRC which allowed Sete Gibernau to have a “third” factory bike starting at the beginning of the year.

The assumption for ‘06 was that the good stuff would be given to Melandri who, along with Repsol rider Nicky Hayden, would develop the RC211V in ‘06. But now Movistar is no longer in the picture. While none of us, outside of a few Japanese lawyers, will ever really know what is or isn’t in the Repsol contract, it is possible that Gresini will not be eligiable for the fancy parts since Respol may not be obligated to share their HRC access with Fortuna. This could mean could shake up both Melandri and HRC’s plans.

However, sponsorship isn’t the be all, end all of the MotoGP story. Some teams, most notably Suzuki, have been running without any outside money for a few years. Then again, it seems like Suzuki could have a few extra pennies in their bank account to fund engine development so maybe they aren’t the best example. Two other teams, WCM and Kawasaki, have gotten by with relatively little additional funding. Then again, I suspect their rider salaries aren’t anywhere near the dosh being spilled out by Honda and Yamaha so again this may not tell us much.

It will be facinating to watch all these stories lines shake themselves out over the next few months. For now the only answer to any of these questions is that money is always going to be a major issue as the costs of competing in MotoGP continue to spiral.

[image from the Roadracing World & Motorcycle Technology web site.]

Monday, November 7, 2005

Waiting till the last moment…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

It is a well known saying that you shouldn’t wait till the last minute to do something. Well, that was the theme for this weekend’s MotoGP finale at the Valencia Circuit in Spain.

The first person to wait a little too long to take care of business was the 2006 MotoGP champ, Valentino Rossi. When qualifying got underway Rossi was one of the first to show he had the pace to win at Valencia. He was consistently running laps at the anticipated race pace and was turning in laps early in the session that indicated he had what it would take to start from the front row. This being particularly important at Valencia because passing is so difficult. Unfortunately, he waited until late in the session to put on his first Q tire and then had an uncharacteristic crash which destroyed his number one bike. Vale was uninjured but wasn’t able to get things together in time to improve his qualifying time. The result was an atrocious 15th place starting position which meant he would be lining up on the fifth row.

While Rossi waited too long, the Movistar Honda riders did everything right to end up with Gibernau on pole with a new lap record followed by his young teammate Melandri. Hayden finished out the session in third to create the second successive all Honda front row of this year. While Gibernau hasn’t done any winning this season he has put in exceptional qualifying performances at each round. This consistency was good enough to win him a new BMW M5 car because of a contest the German company was sponsoring to reward the best qualifier of the year. The second row of the grid was a mix of brands with Checa on the Duc, Biaggi on the Honda and Edwards on the Yamaha. Capirossi headed up row three with Barros separating him from Nakano…this being important because the two came together in practice which resulted in both crashing. Shinya was okay but then had a nasty highside later in the day which beat up his left hand pretty well. Loris is riding with tender lungs after his crash at Phillip Island but fortunately wasn’t further hurt in his crash.

Biaggi, perhaps not wanting Nakano, Capirossi and Hoffmann (who is still recovering from a broken foot) to feel bad, crashed his bike in the morning practice before the race and banged up his side. Clearly the Honda rider was waiting until the last minute to throw his RC211V into the kitty litter so he would have a better excuse for a poor ride than a mysterious front end chatter. However, his team put in a super human effort to get the A bike put back together before the race erasing that possible defense. Still, Mad Max’s accident meant three guys out the top 10 were riding with help from Dr. Costa.

Honda riders at Valencia

Some 124,000 fans packed into the Valencia circuit to watch the last race of the 2005 season. Stop and let that sink in for a second as that is over twice the crowd that showed up on Sunday this year at Laguna Seca. Clearly, all eyes would be on Rossi to see what he would do with his fifteenth place starting position. Perhaps the crowd should have watched that all Honda front row instead, because all three riders got off to a great start. Then again, had the fan’s focus been slightly further back they would have seen Rolfo bump with Nakano in the first turn which resulted in the Ducati rider getting punted into the gravel.

Melandri decided not to delay punching the clock and instantly started throwing down lap record laps back-to-back. This opened up a small gap over his teammate Gibernau and Hayden who were holding down 2nd and 3rd. On lap four ominous smoke started pouring from the Spaniard’s motor and he pulled off with a frag’ed motor giving Hayden an open invitation to run down Melandri. While the intra-Honda scrap was going on Rossi was busy making the rest of the grid look like chumps by charging from 15th to 3rd in just four laps. Vale could basically pass anyone, anywhere.

Next came the laps of shame for some of the back markers as first Aoki pulled out with a mysterious electrical failure on the Suzuki. Then Kurtis Roberts wheeled the TeamKR V5 into the garage on lap 17. Finally, Ellison dropped out on the WCM. Lessee, if one considers WCM, TeamKR, D’Antin Ducati and Suzuki are all racing to not finish a race in last place then it seems clear that their 50% failure rate ruined their competition this weekend. (Battaini eventually earned the highly coveted “back of the pack” award when the racing was done for the day.)

Back at the sharp end of the pack, Hayden shadowed Melandri for the entire race. Rossi worked his way up to third pretty easily but by lap four he was six seconds down on the leading pair and was unable to close the gap once he had clear track ahead of him. At various times during the race both Melandri and Hayden turned in laps faster than Rossi’s best time for the day though on average Rossi was slightly quicker which meant he slowly whittled down the gap. Ultimately, the champ just didn’t have time to overcome the advantage he gifted to the two youngsters during those first four laps and crossed the line around two seconds behind the leaders.

With two laps to go and with the Kentucky Kid parked on his rear wheel Melandri uped the pace. Hayden was able to match the Italian’s speed and closed up again for a last lap pass. Unfortunately, Nicky left it too late to make his move. Melandri got the rear tire spinning on the entrance to the last left hand turn but that threw Hayden off as he was bearing down for a pass at the exit of the turn. Hayden hesitated for a moment to see whether he should go inside or outside and that was all it took for Marco to close the door. The American couldn’t go around the outside and didn’t get a good enough drive for a draft pass. Melandri won with Hayden second and Rossi third. Next came the Geritol brigade with Checa, Barros, Biaggi and Capirossi all in a parade across the stripe. Further back Edwards lead Tamada with Elias, Nakano, Kiyonari, Hopkins, Hofmann, Xaus and Battaini rounding out the finishers.

Clearly Melandri and Hayden both showed they have stepped up to become the new challengers for Rossi’s crown. It was too little, too late, in terms of stopping the juggernaut that was Rossi in 2005 but their performance at Valencia is bound to leave every MotoGP team chomping at the bit for the ‘06 season to get underway. Having the season end in such an exciting way is perhaps the best thing Dorna and the FIM could have hoped for in terms of keeping interest in the series going over the winter. Now the governing body just has to figure out how to manage costs so that they can keep the smaller players in the game for another year.

When the bean counters finished with the math Melandri earned second in the championship by 14 points over Hayden in third. Proving consistency beats race wins, fourth went to Edwards and fifth to Biaggi despite neither winning a race. Two time winner Capirossi held on to sixth despite missing races with his lung injury. Gibernau somehow got seventh despite spending a much time in the gravel traps as on the track. Barros may have won in Portugal but he could only manage eighth in the overall championship followed by Checa and Nakano to close out the top ten.

Elias got the rookie of the year award due to his 12th place overall but really there were no other rookies for competition except some wild card rides and the guys on the back-o-tha-pack gang.

Finally, there was a whole slew of of silly season news most of which centered around Honda. Gibernau confirmed his plans with Ducati which freed up a spot at Gresini Honda which was then taken by Toni Elias. Next Honda implied that they would not be resigning Biaggi for ‘06 because of some negative comments he made about Big Red in an interview. This suddenly opened the door for Casey Stoner to get a surprise offer to ride for Sito Pons. Biaggi’s dismissal ticked off Camel, Pons’ sponsor, who promptly yanked their considerable dollars away from the Honda team. (I suspect WCM, D’Antin, TeamKR, Suzuki and Kawasaki all burned up the speed dial on their cell phones calling Camel once that news leaked out!) Without someone holding the corporate money bags for next year, Pons then stalled on his offer to Carlos Checa who, coming full circle, was let go from Ducati to make room for Gibernau. Who will get the Pons seat? Biaggi? Checa? Barros? Either way, you can be sure the rider will be closer to an AARP membership than any of the other racers currently signed with Honda for next year.

Finally, TeamKR confirmed their plans to run a Honda motor in 2006 and hope to have a modified version of their frame available for winter testing by early December. They may find it cold when they do go testing because, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, Hell has undoubtedly frozen over if Roberts and Honda are working together.

The off season officially starts now with just four and a half months until the first green flag of the ‘06 season…but don’t wait till the last minute to start following the season as the first testing starts his week at Valencia.

[image from the Honda Racing web site.]