The bikes are out at Indy, and the 125s were the first to fill the vast grandstands at the Speedway with the ringing of two-stroke engines. The session started hot and humid, and the thin clouds which have been slowly filling the skies finally started gently shedding their contents over the track in the final five minutes of practice.
Since Mika Kallio crashed Casey Stoner's Ducati GP9 twice at the last race at Brno, one of the things that we at MotoGPMatters.com have been interested in is how the crashes will affect the way the teams view the new rules limiting engine numbers. Now that we are here at Indianapolis, we have an opportunity to ask the people who should know, the crew chiefs and engineers.
The first person we buttonholed was Colin Edwards' Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief Guy Coulon. How has the engine rule worked out so far, we wanted to know. "It's too early to say," Coulon said. "We have only had one race. When we have had three races, then we will know more." Coulon emphasized that he was not particularly worried, and that the work on engine durability was being done at Yamaha, and was not something that the Tech 3 satellite team had much input on.
As for crashes, they were unlikely to be a problem. "Crashes are not a problem for us," he said. During practice, the engines are fitted with a special cutoff, which kills the engine immediately in the event of a crash, and even then, for the Yamaha at least, the design and layout of the air intake means that getting any gravel or dirt in the engine is extremely unlikely. The airbox has an air filter fitted, and the airbox itself is located in such a place that it is very unlikely to be ripped off in the event of a crash.
There is a firmly ingrained belief in Europe that the United States, as a young country, has neither history nor any sense of it. The view back in the Old World is formed almost entirely - and almost entirely incorrectly - from Hollywood and the TV studios, of gleaming glass-fronted buildings, huge and hugely complicated freeway interchanges, and gated communities consisting of a vast sprawl of identikit houses, in the words of the Malvina Reynolds song, little boxes made of ticky tacky.
While it is true that Americans tend to treat their history with a little less respect than Europeans - many a fine 18th or 19th century building has been torn down and replaced with something modern without a second thought, where in Europe zoning regulations and building preservation orders would have made such destruction incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible - the US does have plenty of physical history and a deep understanding and respect for the markers of that history.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a prime example of this European misapprehension. Europe, with its long history and tradition of motorsports, boasts such classic tracks as Monza, Assen and Brooklands. But Brooklands fell into disrepair after the Second World War, the last piece of the original Assen track was pulled up in the changes in 2006, and while both Monza and Assen have a long history, they "only" date back to the 1920s. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the other hand, hosted its first race in 1909, some 13 years before Monza and 18 years before racing first took place on the roads south of Assen.
As widely expected, Suzuki today announced that Loris Capirossi would be staying with the Rizla Suzuki team for 2010. Capirossi himself had dropped hints over the past couple of weeks that he would be renewing his contract with Suzuki, tacitly acknowledging that he had signed in both the Italian and English-speaking press.
Capirex' new contract is just for a single year, to act as the lead development rider on the Suzuki and as a mentor to Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista. 2010 is likely to be Capirossi's final season in the series, as the 36-year-old Italian has hinted that his retirement is now not far off. Capirossi had previously threatened to either retire early, or jump ship to another manufacturer, while development of the Suzuki seemed to languish. But with the new parts the bike has received over the past few weeks, the performance of the GSV-R has improved, taking it much nearer to being a competitive proposition.
The announcement of Capirossi's signing contained an acknowledgement that this meant the end of the line for Suzuki and Chris Vermeulen in MotoGP. The press release thanked Vermeulen for his commitment and his hard work, but Vermeulen's results have failed to impress Suzuki's bosses this season, and the decision to drop Vermeulen in favor of Bautista was a relatively simple one to take. The decision is rather painful, however, as Vermeulen remains the only rider to win on a four-stroke Suzuki in the 8 years of competing.
Vermeulen will now redouble his efforts to remain in the class, and is hoping to secure a ride with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though he faces some very stiff competition for the ride there. If that fails, he is certain to find a very good seat on a factory machine in World Superbikes.
To many hardcore US MotoGP fans, the fans in Europe are absolutely spoiled. In most European countries, the MotoGP race is broadcast live on a free-to-air channel, and the 125cc and 250cc races are also usually shown either in full or as highlights. US fans, on the other hand, are forced to either wait until the race airs on Speed, usually later on the same day, and stay away from the internet all day to avoid finding out the race results; or fork out their hard-earned cash for a MotoGP.com subscription, and watch the races as streamed live over the internet, hoping that their internet connection and Dorna's streaming media servers are up to the task at hand.
Fortunately, this won't be the case for Sunday's Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP race. To the joy of MotoGP fans based in the US, Sunday's MotoGP race from Indy is due to be screened live on Fox. According to that most excellent resource the TV Racer website, the race is due to be screened live at 3pm ET. You can find your local broadcaster through the Fox network / TV Guide listings page, though not being a resident of the US, deciphering the intricacies of cable TV providers was a little beyond me. Qualifying will be shown on Speed TV as usual, at 7pm ET.
UK-based MotoGP fans should be aware that though the BBC is due to show the race live, it will not be shown on BBC 2, which is MotoGP's usual home, but on the digital channel BBC Three instead, from 7:45pm (British Summer Time). So if you don't already have a Freeview or Sky+ receiver, you need to get your hands on one before Sunday. You can check the BBC schedule on the BBC's website.
Yesterday, we reported on Kevin Schwantz' comments on Casey Stoner's condition, which he made during the press teleconference hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of course, Schwantz commented on many more things than just Casey Stoner. The press heard his thoughts on the Red Bull Rookies, Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, his future as a team manager and Moto2. Read all about it in the transcript of yesterday's press conference, hosted by IMS' Paul Kelly.
HOST: Welcome, everyone, to the teleconference for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, the second annual MotoGP event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is taking place next Friday, August 28 through Sunday, August 30th. Our guest today is Kevin Schwantz, American motorcycle racing legend.
Kevin was born in Houston, won the 1993 500cc World Championship, at the time the premier class of worldwide motorcycle racing just like MotoGP is now. Kevin used an aggressive, all-out style to earn 25 victories during his Grand Prix career, second on the all-time list among American riders.
Kevin is still very involved in the sport today. He is an advisor and a rider coach for the Red Bull Rookies Cup series for aspiring MotoGP riders in Europe, and he also runs the Schwantz School which provides classroom and on-track performance motorcycle riding instruction. It's a big weekend for the Schwantz School coming up as it will have a session tomorrow and Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kevin, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.
KEVIN SCHWANTZ: Thanks. Great to be here.
HOST: You were at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP last year working with the Red Bull Rookies Cup and doing media work, among your many other duties. You never stood still the whole weekend. What did it mean to you to see your sport finally compete at the world's most famous racetrack?
As is customary prior to the Indianapolis MotoGP round, the Press Communications staff organize a conference call with a senior figure in American racing to help stir up the already intense interest in the event. Last year, we spoke to Colin Edwards, and this year, the press assembled on the end of the phone lines has the distinct honor to talk to US racing legend Kevin Schwantz. Schwantz is known for his outspoken yet well thought out opinions - his article on what he thought of the DMG's attempt at running the AMA Superbike series over on Superbikeplanet.com is an excellent example - and we were hoping to hear something interesting.
We got that, alright. The first question to Kevin Schwantz, once the mike had been turned over to the press, was from Superbikeplanet's Dean Adams, who asked Schwantz for his thoughts on the situation surrounding Casey Stoner and his mystery illness. A transcript of his replies follows below:
Dean Adams: Can you touch on the Casey Stoner situation a little bit, a lot of mysterious stories going around at the moment. You've been to several MotoGP races this season, what have you heard, what have you seen, what do you think?
Kevin Schwantz: Well I guess first of all what I've heard and what I've seen is that Casey's been struggling with some type of an illness, whether it was a stomach bug or whatever, at a bunch of the earlier grand prix that I went to. Of course the last one I went to at the Czech Republic he wasn't there, still with no form of illness that's been diagnosed by any doctors that I've heard, anyway.
The past few days have been a veritable whirlwind of news, or more accurately, rumor and speculation, about the future of Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been holding up the MotoGP transfer market since early July, when he held off on signing a new contract with Yamaha over the conditions of the deal, and explored the options on offer to him from the other manufacturers. He had, as he took pleasure in pointing out, received offers from all the other manufacturers, and was using those offers as leverage with Yamaha, to try and extract promises of equal treatment from the team. The kind of promises that Lorenzo believed he had from the factory when he signed with them the first time around, for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
In any exciting story, there comes a point where the author is tempted to push the action up another notch, in the hope of making it more exciting still. The danger is that by pushing the envelope, you push the audience from suspending their disbelief into outright incredulity at the improbability of the storyline, and lose them altogether. As an example, think of the sequence in the first Mission Impossible movie, where the scene in which a helicopter is chasing a high-speed train transitions from the exciting to the ridiculous, as the helicopter continues its pursuit by flying into the Channel Tunnel, and does so without crashing due to the incredible turbulence a train generates in a tunnel.
That's just about where we are with the Jorge Lorenzo-to-Ducati story. Rumors started to arise that Ducati had upped their pursuit of Lorenzo during the early part of the Brno MotoGP weekend, and at the time sounded entirely reasonable. With Casey Stoner's health situation unknown, and his return to racing and full fitness for next season uncertain, it made a lot of sense to renew the approach that Ducati had made to Lorenzo earlier in the season. Obviously, to coax him away from both Yamaha and Honda, the early reports of salary offers between 3 and 5 million seemed entirely plausible.
After Mattia Pasini was drafted in to test the Pramac Ducati MotoGP bike, on the official one-day test after the Brno MotoGP round, speculation grew that the Italian 250cc star would be given the nod to race the Pramac bike for the next two MotoGP rounds, at Indianapolis and Misano. To many people's surprise, once he gave the Desmosedici GP9 back to the Pramac mechanics, he thanked them nicely and then told everyone that he had learned what he wanted to know, and that he had no intention of racing the bike. Instead, Pasini said, he would return to the 250cc championship where he is still theoretically in with a shot at the title.
This left Pramac casting about for a replacement. With the 250cc season also coming to a head and the Misano race clashing with the next round of World Superbikes at the Nurburgring, the list of possible substitutes was looking pretty threadbare. But within a couple of days of testing finishing at Brno, the Pramac squad have found a suitable replacement: For the next two rounds, the Ducati left vacant by Mika Kallio's temporary elevation to the factory Marlboro Ducati team will be filled by former 250cc star Aleix Espargaro. According to GPOne.com, Espargaro was offered the ride after former Suzuki rider John Hopkins declined, when the team refused to offer him a contract for 2010 on top of the two wild card rides at Indy and Misano.