2012 Catalunya MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Of Italian Earthquakes, Ducati's Electronics and MotoGP's Backyard

If MotoGP can be said to have a backyard, then the Montmelo circuit just outside Barcelona is surely it. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of the city, and the Catalunya region - and especially the dormitory towns surrounding Barcelona - has provide a rich seam of riding talent, a seam almost as rich as its Italian counterpart surrounding the Misano circuit, comprising Cattolica, Riccione and the immediate area. So this is a home race for everyone, almost literally for some people. Where normally, nearly everyone in the paddock stays in hotels or rented accommodation, Dorna staff and some team members are now commuting to work from their homes in Barcelona.

And there are plenty of riders in more or less the same boat. Jorge Lorenzo lives in the city, Dani Pedrosa is from Sabadell, the industrial town just south of the track, while the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol are from Granollers, the town just a stone's throw from the Montmelo track. The pressure is enormous, as both Dani Pedrosa and Lorge Lorenzo acknowledged in the press conference today. Media appearances go through the roof, friends, family, sponsors, business contacts, everyone wants a piece of the Spanish riders, and they barely get a moments rest. Actually riding a MotoGP bike at the limit feels like a blessed relief.

After Casey Stoner dropped not so much a bombshell as a tactical nuke at the previous pre-event press conference at Le Mans, announcing he would be retiring, Thursday at Barcelona was a positively tedious affair, with little of any novelty or excitement to report. Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo all gave their thoughts on the Rookie Rule (see other story here), both Rossi and Pedrosa pointing out that whatever team Marc Marquez ends up on, the bike he gets will be a full factory affair. "As a rider, maybe you wish to go to a factory team," Pedrosa remarked, adding "if it's a factory bike, obviously it doesn't change much. If you're a talented guy, it doesn't matter much."

Jorge Lorenzo added some levity to the press conference, when asked by a long-time Dutch journalist about his relationship with Dani Pedrosa. The two had a long-standing feud, the low point being perhaps the podium at Jerez in 2008, where it took Juan Carlos II, the King of Spain, to get the two men to shake hands. Yet at Qatar, Lorenzo and Pedrosa embraced after the race as if the rivalry had been between two men who had always been friends. What had happened, asked Henk Keulemans? "In 2003 we were enemies, in 2005 we were worse enemies, and in 2008 even worse enemies. Now we can have a hug," Lorenzo quipped. "Maybe in two or three years we will get married."

One real subject of interest was the private test Ducati ran at Mugello. Several new parts had been tested, including eagerly-awaited engine upgrade - or should that be downgrade - parts to smooth power delivery. The new engine parts had been a disappointment, both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi told the media. Though bottom end power had been improved, it had meant sacrificing too much top end, meaning that Hayden had been slower with the new engine than with the old one. Those modifications will be shelved, Hayden stating that he did not believe it was worth pursuing further. A major upgrade is expected at Laguna Seca, and Rossi and Hayden are confident that that will make a difference.

What will also make a difference is the new electronics package. "Nicky had a big smile on his face", Vitto Guareschi told me when I asked him about the new electronics, and both Hayden and Rossi were encouraged by the changes. The first touch of throttle was much less aggressive, making it easier to get out of the corner. Both men will be using the new electronics package at Barcelona, giving their expectations a boost.

Valentino Rossi will also be using the new aluminium swingarm that he and Hayden test at Mugello, as he really liked the feeling that it gave. Hayden was mildly positive, liking the feeling of the aluminium swingarm, but staying away from it for the moment as it also created chatter. That chatter was not a problem for Rossi, and the two #46 Ducatis were already equipped with the new part ready to go on Friday.

One of the main topics of conversation in the paddock is the earthquakes that have rocked the Emilia Romagna region, the area in which so many of the Italians involved in MotoGP live. Almost every Italian I spoke to reported having felt the quake, though almost miraculously, there is only one person reported as being affected by it, Alex de Angelis' crew chief having been forced out of his home after it was badly damaged. But a number of people also reported having moved for a night or two to the beach, as the safest place to be at the moment. The earthquakes are believed to be part of a so-called "earthquake swarm" with shocks expected to keep happening over the course of several months. Just as Italy is struggling under financial austerity measures forced upon them in the wake of the economic crisis, they are faced with the extra cost of dealing with the aftermath of these earthquakes. We can only hope that the earthquakes pass quickly, and with minimal damage.

MotoGP's Silly Season should offer some light relief to the tales of woe, but after Casey Stoner's nuclear strike at Le Mans, everyone is going through their options before making approaches, and so Silly Season is at a rather low ebb at the moment. After the story I wrote earlier this week about the other side of Silly Season - where Casey Stoner's crew might end up - I had a long and interesting chat with Stoner's crew chief Cristian Gabarrini. He said he had yet to give the matter much thought, though his preference was to stay with HRC for the foreseeable future. "I still have so much to learn," Gabarrini said, adding that this what appealed to him so much about working in racing. He then rather surprised me, confessing that at some point in the distant future, he might like to work in either Enduro or Motocross, perhaps even the AMA Supercross series. When I asked him why, Gabarrini said that whenever he talks to some of his friends involved in motocross, he always learns of different approaches to what is effectively the same problem: how to get the most out of the grip available to get around a circuit as fast as possible. There may be lessons there that could be applicable to motorcycle road racing, despite the massive difference in grip levels. For the moment, though, he has no intention of going anywhere, but talks have yet to be opened. A significant catch, wherever he goes.

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Here's something no to much on-topic about Casey I just don't understand: Ezpeleta reiterated the other day that the change to 800 was imposed by Honda (apparently they had agreed to 900 and at the last minute Honda said 800) this is pretty much the story I've always heard. Yet Dennis Noyes says Casey told him Dorna imposed the change to Honda (something that baffled Dennis). Confirming that, today (I think) Casey talked once more about the things he didn't liked about Dorna and he said one of the worse technical changes was going to 800 (the worse being the constant changes themselves). How can this be? Casey is the first person I've ever heard saying this. Does he know something we don't?

I too read that here:


"The biggest mistake was the switch to 800cc engines - the Australian opined - The return to 1000cc was to be expected, especially because it's a more attractive displacement for the manufacturers. But the important thing is to stop changing the rules, because it's costing the manufacturers a fortune. In turn, they then pass some of those expenses down to the private teams with the high leasing costs."

This is baffling to me as to why he would say this. Does he not know of Honda's lead charge to 800's, complete with a diminutive rider in tow?

Stoner had absolutely zero influence at Honda - or anywhere else - when the move to the 800s was made. Pretty much every commentator on the planet has expressed the same opinion - that the 800s were a wrong move - so just because Stoner rides for Honda, should he say something different? Just about every motoGp rider has said the same thing, and many of those were /are riding for the teams that make up the MSMA.

His comments indicate a good awareness of the difficulties that constantly changing the rules make for the manufacturers so he's not dumping on his employer: assuming that the urban intelligence of Honda promoting the 800s is right, well, they got it wrong. Since this comment comes from the mouth of the man who had the most success in the 800s class, surely it should be taken as an honest appraisal from the person with the least axe to grind of any for the failings of the class to produce the sort of racing we were all hoping to see? He has absolutely the least to gain of any rider by commenting on the failings of the class he has excelled in.

Oscar, this is what Stoner said in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais, published yesterday:
R. Los problemas económicos los ha creado el propio campeonato desde hace años imponiendo cambios constantes que no han hecho más que incrementar los costes. Creo que el objetivo era echar a las grandes fábricas. Con las nuevas normas imponen cada vez menos exigencias a las CRT y piden más cambios en los prototipos, en los equipos de fábrica. Si dejaran de cambiar las normas, poco a poco, todo se igualaría. Si quieres carreras, necesitas a las fábricas. Pero, con tanto cambio, han colocado al campeonato en una situación económica delicada, especialmente para los patrocinadores.
Translation: the economic problems have been created by the championship itself going back a good while by constantly imposing changes that have done nothing except raise costs. I think the aim was to get rid of the big factories. With the new rules they are imposing fewer restrictions on the CRT and asking the factories to make more and more changes, if they stopped changing the rules, things would start to equal out. If you want races, you need the factories. But with all the changes, they've put the championship in a precarious position economically, especially for the sponsors.
This version of events seems to me to show that Stoner is not aware that up until very recently, the manufacturers had total say over technological decisions in the championship and that this power was only wrestled from them by Dorna after the debacle of the 800 era. You might say that everything he says about CRTs and factories is true, and I would agree that it is, but it's what he starts out saying that im taking issue with. The claim that the aim of all the changes was to get rid of the factories when it was the factories themselves who were instigating these changes is outlandish. And we know from one of Dave's round-ups of a press conference at an earlier race this season that when Stoner verbalized this narrative, he was set straight by journalists in attendance. It would seem from this interview and others comments he has made, referred to in this thread, that Stoner has not listened to what he was told and is sticking to his understanding of events. You call that honesty. I call it something else.

It is unquestionably the case that Dorna would like more motorcycles on the grid in MotoGP - and more competition, not a two-tier field. Clearly the factory bikes (just six of them now) and their 'satellite' off-spring are very expensive. One of the reasons for that is because they are four-strokes, and limited edition ones at that. The so-called CRT bike regulations appear to have been written to allay the fears of the manufacturers - and their race team managers - as well as In Front Media & Sport. I am sure if it were not for these two forces, Dorna would go straight to Formula 1000 with any type of engine - especially production-based engines with less restrictions than they currently face. The last thing the tiny little band of men who control the factory racing budgets want is for the special, mega-buck factory bikes to be beaten by a bike with a production-based engine. One can imagine the discourse at factory HQ: "Why we spend 500 million Yen on works bike when Team 'X" can win with our production-based engine. Why don't we make modified versions of our production engines and sell them to the teams?" So it is simply patch protection. Take out the factory bikes and many of these overpaid team bosses will be looking for something else to do. Don't forget, Honda cancelled its entire Formula 1 operation only a few years ago to save millions. It could do the same in MotoGP. If that happened, then for sure Dorna would have to move fast to free-up the current restrictions imposed on its CRT bike's engines. Of course, if Dorna had not been so influenced by Honda earlier, it would never have introduced the Moto2 class. It would simply have come up with a claiming rule for the 250GP class, and done the same in 125. Moto2 and Moto3 were brought about as a 'punishment' of Piaggio for not listening to the complaints about the 1.2 million Euro/year cost of leasing its top line 250cc V-twins. One wonders how much Moto2 has really saved the teams. And with the piston for a Honda 250 four-stroke going for 1000 Euro, it is clear the Moto3 class is also mega expensive. All this makes Superbike a very attractive viewing option. More nationalities, more manufacturers and no spoiled Spanish brats who are allowed to ride as they please. Superbike is a class for fully grown up men.