Coming to Misano always feels like a vacation, but then that's hardly a surprise given that Misano lies on Italy's Adriatic coast, and the stretch of coast from Gabbice Mare just south of Misano to Trieste on the Slovenian border is Italy's vacation heartland, and is lined with restaurants, hotels, and seafront stores selling the most incredibly gaudy junk imaginable. It is truly a magical place.
And for so many riders, teams and crew, Misano is not so much a holiday as a homecoming. Andrea Dovizioso is from Forli, 30 minutes' drive away, Mattia Pasini is from Rimini, Alex de Angelis is from San Marino, and Marco Simoncelli is from Cattolica, though as our waiter pointed out to us yesterday, he actually lives in Coriano, a few miles back from the coast.
The laid-back atmosphere may also be a side-effect of both the scorching Italian weather - the mercury barely drops below 30ºC during the day, and only a little cooler during the evening - and of a latent jet lag, the teams, riders and assembled hangers on barely off the plane from the Indianapolis round of MotoGP last weekend.
So the daily round of riders and press conferences turned out to be a rather subdued affair. The press conference saw Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Ben Spies, Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi in attendance, but everything the "young guys" (by the 38-year-old Capirossi's standards, everyone else on the grid is young) had to say was vastly overshadowed by Capirex' announcement that he would be retiring at the end of the year (see separate story). The last few years of struggling on inferior equipment had taken their toll, Capirossi said, and though he had good offers - one to ride a CRT bike in 2012, another to race BMW's S1000RR in World Superbikes - he could no longer suffer the motivation to endure sub-par results. He decided instead to retire, and pull out of racing altogether.
The announcement was deeply emotional, and watching Capirossi as he spoke, it seemed almost like a rite of confession. As he announced that this would be his last Italian Grand Prix, the emotion became too much for him, almost as if the realization only finally sunk in when he uttered the words bringing release. Capirossi's announcement was met with a couple of standing ovations by the assembled media, all of whom hold the impish Italian in special regard, despite some of the more dubious moments in his career - the utterly cynical T-boning of Tetsuya Harada at Argentina to secure the 1998 250cc World Championship being perhaps the ultimate example. "He is all heart," leading Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles said. "He may never have been a champion in MotoGP, but he raced with his heart."
Little else of interest was said at the pre-event press conference, the only statement raising any eyebrows being Valentino Rossi's response to questions on Motegi that he was still undecided on attending. The pressure is being applied on the riders from all sides, with sponsors, manufacturers, Dorna, the FIM and IRTA all making it clear that they expect everyone to be in Japan. Even Valentino Rossi is coming under pressure, and as rider support for his campaign to boycott the race has waned, the Italian is giving up on concerted and collective action by the riders. Carmelo Ezpeleta told Eurosport commentator Toby Moody that the race would be on, whatever the teams and riders decided, and with such a push to attend the race, a boycott is out of the question.
Debate still rages on whether it is safe to race in Motegi, the arguments falling broadly into two categories. Since the ARPA report commissioned by Dorna found no discernible extra radiation at the circuit and the facilities, those fearing the effects of radiation from the track are fewer in number. Most of the argument now centers on the possible effects of another major earthquake on the still stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant if it should strike while the MotoGP race is on. The radiation fears appear to have the least merit - especially when coming from those who spend half the weekend out the back of the garage having another cigarette, an activity with a chance of over 17% of producing lung cancer over the lifetime of the smoker. To be told by Carlo Pernat pontifically "Carlo don't go", only to watch him meander out of the press room for yet another Marlboro with journalists does not lend much credibility to his argument.
The effects of another quake on the plant are a realistic fear, though even there, the odds are stacked against anything much happening. The window of exposure is small, and all of the aftershocks so far produced since the monster Earthquake back in March have not affected the plant or its recovery work at all. It is conceivable that another large quake could strike the area, but the odds of that happening during the race weekend are fairly slim. And even if a really large quake did hit, the nuclear plant would be the last of everybody's immediate worries. Not having the ceiling of your hotel room collapse on your head would be the biggest worry, and after that, getting out of the country, especially if the airports are badly affected.
All in all, staging the race in 2011 is unlikely to pose a significant danger to those in the paddock. In later years things could be different, especially if the water being used to cool the reactors spills into the groundwater, or a reactor core finally does melt through the reactor floor and hits bedrock, for then the groundwater could become contaminated and pose a genuine threat to the populace, and anyone visiting the area. That, however, will not be a problem in 2011, but could well jeopardize a Motegi race in 2013 and beyond.
A more interesting press conference was held before the riders conference, with Filippo Preziosi facing the media for the second time in 3 weeks. The Ducati boss faced endless questioning about the chassis, and handily skirted around any talk of just what they were doing to fix the machine. When asked whether they were building an aluminium chassis, Preziosi said this was old news, pointing out that they had built one already in 2009 (when an aluminium chassis was tested against the carbon fiber design currently being used. He then restated his belief that the material is not the problem, saying that what was required were characteristics, and there were many options for achieving those characteristics.
When asked if Ducati was either building a twin spar frame or having one built by an outside party - as reported earlier here - Preziosi emphatically denied that Ducati had approached outside parties to build them a chassis, while at the same time leaving the door ever so slightly open to allow that an outside party could be building them a chassis. Preziosi said that the chassis and swingarms are Ducati's core competence and they would never farm that production process out. However, he then went on to say that Ducati's steel trellis frame was manufactured by an outside company, though entirely to Ducati's specifications. "The concept, design and calculation are done in Ducati," Prezioso emphasized. A highly cynical interpretation - and the press corps is fully of cynical souls - of Preziosi's words might be that Ducati have designed an aluminium twin spar chassis, but have farmed the fabrication out to a third party. That would be the fastest way for Ducati to have something ready for next year. The truth will eventually come out, but Preziosi was also perfectly clear. "We will never tell you what we are doing," the Italian said, "though we might show you what we have already done."
Ducati's main objective remains 2012, though if anything was produced that could be fitted to the GP11.1 for use this year they would give it a try. What Ducati were really missing was testing, but Preziosi said they had not asked for extra testing days, and they would go along with what the majority of the Japanese members of the MSMA (Yamaha and Honda) asked for ahead of the 2012 season.
Two parts of the 2012 season remain open before next year takes shape: the calendar for 2012 needs to be published, and the empty seats need to be filled. IRTA General Secretary told me today that the 2012 schedule would be announced at the next round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit in two weeks' time. And the MotoGP silly season is starting to hot up, with decisions being made and seats being filled soon. An announcement that Colin Edwards will be riding a CRT bike for the Forward team in 2012 is expected on Friday, with more deals to follow. We are currently working on a full roundup of the silly season, which we hope to have ready in a couple of days. We might even be able to fill in a few more of the blanks by then.