The track had clearly warmed up for the first qualifying session of World Superbikes at Valencia, and the times dropped considerably. Not only were the times a lot different, but the timesheet was completely shook up as well. Max Biaggi topped the Friday afternoon qualifying session on the Aprilia RSV4, with Yamaha's Ben Spies having much improved his times, up from 17th in the morning session just over a tenth behind. Spies took second place by the narrowest of margins, edging out Xerox Ducati's Noriyuki Haga by just one thousandth of a second.
Joan Lascorz continued where he left off from last year at Valencia today, dominating in practice at the track where he won a convincing victory last year. The Lascorz was light years ahead of the rest of the field, with Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow the only rider to get within a second of the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki. Katsuaki Fujiwara's third fastest time suggests that the Kawasakis are pretty fast here at Valencia, though Lascorz is over a second faster than his team mate.
After the Ducatis dominated the early part of the first session of free practice, they were eventually ousted by the Hondas at the end of practice. Ten Kate's Ryuichi Kiyonari was fast for much of the session, but it was Carlos Checa who eventually took top spot, ahead of the Suzuki of Yukio Kagayama and the Aprilia of Max Biaggi.
Once upon a time, what seems like an age ago now, there was fictional oil company sponsoring a motorcycle racing team. The sponsor - Venture Petroleum - was part of the back story for a movie being made set against the background of MotoGP, and their - rather handsome - livery featured on Kenny Roberts' KR211V bike. News of the movie sparked a flurry of interest from hardcore motorcycle fans, but tragically, the film never materialized, disappearing in an argument over image rights between the production company and Dorna. The fans heaved a sigh of disappointment, and went back to hoping that one day, somebody somewhere would make a motorcycle racing film to rival the legendary Grand Prix.
That day may be closer than they think. Much to everyone's surprise, the Guandalini Racing Team turned up with their trailer sporting the following logo:
Frankie Chili, team manager told us "we put the sticker on the bike from now on. We have some details to discuss, but they have already signed the contract with Infront Motor Sports." Asked when he thought the movie would be out, Chili said "It's hard to say for me, but we hope next year to be ready. This year we make some shots, and next we show the movie."
With Infront Motor Sports seemingly more willing to help media companies than Dorna, maybe this time the movie will finally get released. It's one event that fans have been waiting for for a long time.
There is a long and healthy history of international rivalries in motorcycle racing, and these rivalries change with each generation. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a clash of East vs West, as the Japanese manufacturers entered, then dominated the world championship series, forcing out the European makes. In the 1970s and 1980s came the clash of the Americans versus the British, which culminated - and was exemplified by - the Transatlantic Challenge.
In the 21st Century, the chief rivalry has been more provincial. It is a rivalry between two countries separated not by a continent or an ocean, but just a few hundred miles of scenic coastal road. But it is a rivalry perhaps more intense than ever, as it encompasses not just riders or manufacturers, but entire World Championships.
The MotoGP series is a strongly Spanish, or perhaps even strongly Catalan affair, the organizer being based in Barcelona and the series full of Catalan teams and riders. The World Superbike series, on the other hand, is an almost entirely Italian affair, the organizers, the teams, the riders, even the dominant bikes to a large extent Italian. A walk through the World Superbike paddock is like taking a stroll through a small Italian village, with groups of men gathered in small groups talking and gesticulating furiously in that unmistakably Italian style.
So inevitably, there is friction when World Superbikes encroaches on Spanish territory. The Spanish national TV broadcaster, TVE, barely rates the series worth a mention, having splashed a considerable portion of its outside broadcast budget on MotoGP - though the fact that a rival broadcaster has the rights to the series may also have something to do with the lack of interest from TVE.
MotoGPMatters.com is coming to you live from Valencia this weekend (thanks in part to your generous donations, and our kind sponsors), to report on the third round of the World Superbike Championship. We arrived in the area yesterday, dropping off Spain's central Meseta to enter the coastal plain around the city of Valencia. On the drive up from Jerez, the weather had been getting gradually worse, with rain finally greeting us as we headed east from Madrid.
The weather here recently has been fairly dismal, with rain and even snow at higher altitudes in the east of the Iberian peninsula, but the sun is out, with only light cloud protecting the pasty occupants of the press room from serious sunburn. As always on Thursday, the paddock is a hive of activity, as teams assemble their hospitality suites and the late arrivals roll in.
The forecast for the rest of the weekend is good - comfortably warm, dry, yet with occasional clouds to keep off the worst of the sun, and there's every chance of a fascinating couple of races ahead. Will Ben Spies continue to close the gap on Noriyuki Haga, or will he struggle, as some of the European contingent believe he will now that the circus has hit Europe? Stay tuned for news and updates as they happen.
This is the final, official version of the 2009 MotoGP calendar. After being in doubt for a long time, the Hungarian Grand Prix was eventually canceled over problems with the track. It will now make its debut on the calendar in the spring of 2010.
If you're reading this, then you already know the kind of job MotoGPMatters.com does in providing in-depth coverage of the MotoGP and World Superbikes championships. But as ever, it is our aim to keep making the website better, bringing you more news and better analysis from the world of motorcycle road racing. To achieve this aim, we will be providing coverage from track side at a number of events this season, keeping you up to date with the news as it happens.
The season kicks of with David Emmett (Kropotkin) reporting live from the IRTA Tests at Jerez starting from Friday, followed by coverage from the third round of the World Superbike series at Valencia in a week's time. A week after that, Scott Jones will be heading to Qatar to bring you some more of his stunning photos live from the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. More coverage is to follow, as we will also be reporting live from several other MotoGP and World Superbike rounds.
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During the deluge of stories about the Kawasaki catastrophe and the fate of Marco Melandri with the Hai-Karate, sorry, Hayate bike, there was always one question left unanswered: What about Hopper? For though the news was full of the fate of Kawasaki, Michael Bartholemy, Marco Melandri, Jorge Martinez, Carmelo Ezpeleta and a host of other characters, the one name that seemed always to be missing was that of John Hopkins.
That was mystifying for more than one reason, but most of all, because of money. Though Melandri is a big name in Italy, it was unclear what the Italian's role was in bringing sponsorship to the Kawasaki project. As for Hopper, on the other hand, it was an open secret that the Monster Millions came to Kawasaki through the link to the American. Though it was also said that once you took Hopkins' salary away, there wasn't a whole lot left to fill Kawasaki's coffers. It seemed that the combination of the more marketable Melandri and Hopper's PR faux pas at Misano last year - where the American went missing for a day - had swung the scales in Melandri's favor, leaving Hopkins out in the cold.
Fortunately for Hopkins, he wasn't left entirely out in the cold. There was one rumor that emerged a couple of times, and that was that Hopper was about to make the switch to World Superbikes. There were rumblings that Hopkins would replace Makoto Tamada at Paul Bird's Kawaski WSBK team, but as this flew in the face of Kawasaki's traditional demand for a Japanese rider, this was widely disregarded. But the one rumor that proved more difficult to quell was talk of Hopkins' joining Stiggy Racing, to ride a Honda alongside Leon Haslam.
Yesterday, we reported on the consequences of the credit crunch for the World Superbike paddock, but it seems they may not be quite as bad as expected. After we ran the story relaying reports of Gregorio Lavilla being forced to pull out of the World Superbike series, we were contacted by Marco Nicotari, owner and manager of the Pro Ride Superbike team which Lavilla rides for.
Nicotari denied that Pro Ride would be pulling out of the World Superbike series, and have every intention of competing in World Superbikes in 2009. However, Nicotari did say that they will not be racing at either the season opener at Phillip Island or the second round at Qatar. "Our position is to start the season in Valencia," he wrote.
Reports of Pro Ride's withdrawal were based on stories that the team would not have a title sponsor. Nicotari rejected this, pointing out that Mormaii Sunglasses has been their sponsor since November 2008, and had appeared on the fairing at the recent Portimao tests. However, the team had lost two smaller sponsors, and unfortunately, these were the sponsors paying for the first two rounds of the year, making it difficult to travel to the first two flyaway rounds.
"We have decided to skip the first two races due to a loss of 2 important sponsors. They have declared what everyone is declaring now: that this is a difficult economic moment. That was the reason for this hard decision that for sure upset a little bit all of us, including Gregorio, who is a very competeitive person, and who wants to be there racing against the best riders in the world," Nicotari told MotoGPMatters.com.