Sylvain Guintoli has had a tough season this year. Forced to switch to the British Superbike series at the end of last season once his tenure with the Pramac Ducati team was at an end, he made a fantastic debut, winning his first two races aboard a Superbike, following that up with a double podium. It all went wrong for him after that, horribly fracturing his leg in a warm-up-lap pile-up caused by Australian Josh Brookes.
In the wake of Sylvain Guintoli's move to the Alstare Suzuki team, The Worx Crescent Suzuki BSB team has announced that soon to be former Alstare rider Yukio Kagayama will return to the British Superbike series and ride for the British team in 2010.
Dorna has been notoriously careful with the video footage of its races, and has spent a lot of time and effort getting races and fragments of races taken off of Youtube and other video sharing websites. Indeed, when an online publication such as ours applies for media accreditation for MotoGP races, we are issued with instructions explicitly forbidding us to shoot and use any moving image footage of the race. This is entirely understandable, as the lion's share of Dorna's income is from television broadcasters, and they expect a good deal of protection for the large sums of money they pay for the broadcast rights.
One sign that things are starting to change a little at Dorna was the opening earlier last year of the official MotoGP.com Youtube channel, which hosted various snippets of video from the MotoGP.com website, including the excellent After The Flag official video podcast. It was a start - a careful one, but a start nonetheless.
Now, though, bigger changes are afoot. Perhaps having learned from the World Superbike website, which hosts live video of the races on its website for free in most countries, MotoGP.com is now starting to put some of the old races online. The first race to go up is the complete footage of the 2008 Jerez race, which went up online earlier today. Whether this is the first of many, or just a one-off experiment remains to be seen. At the very least, it is a promising step.
The FIM today released the provisional entry list for the MotoGP series, encompassing the MotoGP, 250cc and 125cc classes. As expected, the MotoGP class has 19 entries, the single tire rule freeing up the equipment for Sete Gibernau's team.
Perhaps the best news is the entry list of 22 riders for the 250cc class. With KTM's withdrawal from the class earlier this year, it looked for a while like there could be fewer than the minimum of 15 entries required for a World Championship to be organized. Since then, a number of privateer teams have entered Aprilia LE's, and Aspar has found sponsorship from the new Balatonring circuit in Hungary to provide former 125cc World Champion Gabor Talmacsi with factory equipment.
FIM Provisional Entry List 2009
The qualifying practice session at the Sepang MotoGP round was to be the penultimate time that the MotoGP riders were to experience the exhilarating and terrifying levels of grip provided by qualifying tires, scheduled to disappear once the single tire rule was introduced. But at the start of the session, it didn't look like they would get to use them at all, the rain appearing between the morning and afternoon sessions having soaked the track.
Two riders had made sure that they would use qualifying rubber, as Kawasaki had decided to send both its riders out on soft tires at the end of FP3. The team had seen the weather forecasts, and mindful of 2006, when the grid was set on the basis of the results in free practice, Ant West and John Hopkins had used one of their qualifiers gambling on the official qualifying session being rained out.
The whirlwind that is MotoGP silly season has just about blown itself out after Indianapolis, helped on its way perhaps by hurricane Ike, and as the seats have continued to fill, there are some three riders still left standing, apparently with no immediate future in MotoGP. Shinya Nakano looks likely to replace the aging Tady Okada as HRC's test rider - a role he is to some extent already filling at Gresini Honda, and Kawasaki are still keen to retain Ant West, albeit on either a World Superbike or World Supersport machine. But for Sylvain Guintoli, the prospects for 2009 were far less obvious.
There were rumors, of course, mostly about a possible future in World Superbikes, but the truth of such rumors is always hard to discern. The one rumor that surfaced most frequently linked Guintoli to the vacant seats at Yamaha Italia in WSBK, but with Tom Sykes - currently riding a Suzuki in BSB - signed to replace the departing Noriyuki Haga, and no clear word on whether Troy Corser would be staying or going, even that ride looked uncertain.
Now, though, evidence has emerged that Guintoli could indeed be heading for Yamaha after all. The Italian site Xracer.it spotted the British-based Frenchman testing Noriyuki Haga's Yamaha R1 at Vallelunga after this weekend's recent World Superbike round at the Italian track.
For most of this year, qualifying has followed a reasonably predictable pattern. A couple of laps after his out lap, Casey Stoner would seize pole position, gradually turning the thumbscrews on the rest of the field. About halfway through the session, Randy de Puniet would be the first rider out on qualifying tires and snatch pole from Stoner. His glory would be short-lived, however, lasting only until Stoner threw on the first set of qualifiers, then the process would repeat itself, the only real question being how big Stoner's margin would be over the rest, and whether Valentino Rossi would manage to qualify on the front row.
|MotoGP State of the Silly Season 2008 - FINALIZED|
|Valentino Rossi||Contract through 2010||Rossi will be staying until he decides to retire from the sport|
|Jorge Lorenzo||Contract through 2009||Lorenzo is Yamaha's future, and like Rossi, will be staying until he decides he's had enough.|
|Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Colin Edwards||1 year contract through 2009||Edwards is signed for '09, but is unlikely to stay for too much longer. Much depends on what happens in the AMA.|
|James Toseland||Took up option to stay through 2009||Toseland started brilliantly, but has stagnated a little. Will need to show a return to form if he is to stay after 2009.|
|Dani Pedrosa||In 1st year of 2 year contract, signed for 2009.|| |
Pedrosa and his manager Alberto Puig have firm grip on the Repsol Honda garage. Pedrosa has been drafted in by Honda to win back the MotoGP title, and Puig has taken advantage to ensure that he controls events inside the team. Pedrosa and Puig are rumored to be demanding a wall separating the two sides of the Repsol Honda pits, and will have a very strong say in who will replace Nicky Hayden in 2009. Unfortunately, Pedrosa doesn't really want anyone as a team mate, so any such quest will be very difficult.
The news from Misano that Pedrosa will be running on Bridgestones from the Indianapolis race onwards will potentially make things even more complicated. The question is whether both Repsol Hondas will be on Bridgestones, or just Dani Pedrosa, with the garage split in the same way as the Fiat Yamaha garage.
|Andrea Dovizioso||1 year contract for 2009 || |
Andrea Dovizioso was officially announced as Nicky Hayden's replacement at Repsol Honda at Motegi, and with it came some interesting guarantees. These included being offered equal treatment, at least until one of the two Repsol riders gains a significant lead in the 2009 title race. But HRC President Hamane also stated that he would prefer to have both riders on the same tires, and pledged that there would be no dividing wall in the Repsol Honda garage.
Whether the Dovizioso / Pedrosa pairing will work better than Hayden / Pedrosa remains to be seen. Much will depend on how the internal power struggle between sponsor and each side of the garage plays out.
|Casey Stoner||Contract through 2010, option extended last year||Casey Stoner, like Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, can stay at Ducati as long as he likes. He has already brought the factory one title, and looks likely to repeat that feat, if not this year, then sometime in the very near future.|
|Nicky Hayden||Contract for 2009 ||Hayden's rumored contract was finally announced formally on the Monday after Indianapolis. Hayden has been with Honda since he was a teenager, and so the move is a big step for the Kentuckian. The Ducati has shown to be a tough bike to ride for everyone except Stoner, though things have improved over the past few races. The question is, can Hayden tame the bike like Stoner can? One thing is for sure: it won't be for lack of effort on Hayden's part.|
|Loris Capirossi||Contract through 2009|| |
Suzuki announced that they have renewed Capirossi's contract after the Misano round. The deal is just for one year, which makes sense, as the Italian veteran's age and long list of injuries has got to make you wonder just how much longer MotoGP's longest-serving son can continue. Retirement beckons, but whether that's in '10, or '11, or via the friendly side route of World Superbikes remains to be seen.
|Chris Vermeulen||Contract through 2009 || |
Chris Vermeulen's position at Suzuki was looking decidedly shaky, at least until two podiums in a row put some firm ground under his feet. But with one of those podiums coming in the wet and the other at Laguna Seca, his best track by a long way, a prolongation with Suzuki was not entirely certain. Vermeulen reportedly fell short of a performance clause at Laguna Seca which would have brought him an automatic extension, and since Laguna, he has been engaged in haggling between himself, the team and Suzuki, about the size of his wage packet.
The deal was finally done after Misano, and announced after the Misano MotoGP round, together with Capirossi's deal being announced. Like Capirossi's deal, Vermeulen's was just for one year. Vermeulen was praised for his development and progress, and this will have to continue if Vermeulen is to remain in MotoGP for another year.
|Toni Elias||1 year contract for 2009 || |
The remaining seat at Gresini Honda was finally wrapped up at Phillip Island, with Toni Elias being formally announced as partnering Alex de Angelis. More intriguingly, it was also announced that Elias would be given a factory-spec RC212V, making it the third factory Honda on the grid.
This is the package that Vermeulen rejected when he decided to stick with Suzuki. Just how smart Vermeulen's move was remains to be seen, although with the single tire contract going to Bridgestone, and the Japanese tire maker talking about drastically standardizing production and reducing the numbers of tires available, Elias, who requires a special front tire to suit his extraordinary style, could well suffer badly, opening the door again for Vermeulen at the end of the year.
Despite earlier reports linking him to Gresini, Marco Simoncelli will be staying in the 250 class.
|Alex de Angelis||One-year deal for 2009|| |
Alex de Angelis has already signed a one-year deal with Gresini, as he has the double advantage of being both fast and Italian, helping in finding sponsors. Doubts remain about his propensity to head into the gravel at every opportunity, however, and the man from San Marino will have to fall off a lot less next year if he is to stay in MotoGP much longer.
|Mika Kallio||Contract for 2009 ||Although Alvaro Bautista may have been the 250 world champion in waiting before the start of the season, he has long been overtaken by two other young chargers. The Italian Marco Simoncelli, currently leading the championship, and the Fin Mika Kallio have both been made offers by Livio Suppo of Ducati to ride for the satellite Alice Ducati team, which is being transformed into the Junior Ducati team, a feat that Ducati have learned from Ferrari. Simoncelli will be staying in the 250 class, for another year, and so has been ruled out of contention. Kallio is willing, and as KTM have decided to withdraw from the 250 class, stepping up to MotoGP is his best career move.|
|Niccolo Canepa||Contract for 2009 || |
By the middle of the season, it was clear that Niccolo Canepa would be racing a Ducati next year. The only question was, which one, and in which series? For a while, Canepa looked like moving up to the Xerox Ducati World Superbike squad, but after impressing Ducati bosses during testing - and being the only man to get close to Casey Stoner's times around Mugello - Canepa has been signed to join the satellite Ducati team in MotoGP. A former FIM Superstock 1000 champion, Canepa could be the surprise of the 2009 season.
|Randy de Puniet||Contract for 2009||The most cash-stricken team in the paddock will be back next year, after renewing with Randy de Puniet. De Puniet keeps showing he is capable of being very fast, but then keeps ruining it by crashing. The Flying Frenchman may be back for 2009, but until he can stay on the bike, his future will continue to be uncertain.|
|Yuki Takahashi||1 year contract for 2009 || |
Being on a 250cc Honda may guarantee that you won't become world champion in the class, but so far, it does seem to guarantee that you will get a ride in MotoGP. Being forced to wring the last drop of performance from a clearly underpowered bike teaches a rider a lot about maintaining speed wherever possible, and makes a great showcase for riders prepared to try and outride the bike. It got Andrea Dovizioso his ride in the MotoGP class, and now, it has done the same for the man who took his seat, Yuki Takahashi. Takahashi is having a good year in 250s, despite being on the underpowered Honda, and with Dovi moving over to Repsol, the logical step was for the Scot Team's 250 rider to step and fill his boots.
|Kawasaki - Withdrawn from MotoGP. The official withdrawal of factory support was announced on January 9th, 2009. On February 25th, the team announced they would be reforming as Hayate, with factory support|
|Marco Melandri||Two-year deal for 2009 and 2010 - but who knows what that means?|| |
After a disastrous year aboard the Ducati, Melandri had to get out. Released from his 2 year contract a year early, Melandri looked elsewhere, nearly went back to Gresini Honda, who would have welcomed him with open arms, but decided he needed to be on a factory bike, to ensure that he had some input into the bike. Kawasaki was the only manufacturer left with a seat open, and so Melandri ended up there.
After Kawasaki pulled out, only Melandri was willing to ride the bike provided by Dorna essentially for nothing, and so Melandri will be riding the Hayate, although as of March 4th, nothing had been officially signed.
|John Hopkins||Contract through 2009, but not riding||Hopkins was safe at Kawasaki for 2009, until the pullout. Since then, little has been seen or heard of Hopper, other than a few appearances at Supercross races as a spectator. Rumors continue that he could find a ride in AMA, or possibly World Superbikes, but he is out of MotoGP for 2009. And that means there must be doubts as to whether he will ever return.|
| Out of MotoGP || |
JiR is the loser from the Team Scot / JIR divorce, and is almost certain to be out of MotoGP. HRC have favored Team Scot instead of the team that did rather poorly when Makoto Tamada and Shinya Nakano rode for them, awarding the RC212V which the joint team ran to Team Scot instead of JiR.
Despite team owner Luca Montiron insisting he had a sponsor and a contract for a bike, as well as a top rider to put on the bike, HRC came down in favor of Team Scot at Motegi. Montiron issued a polite, though bitter, press release announcing his split from Honda, and is likely to move to World Superbikes, to run the Aprilia team with Max Biaggi.
JiR was Ben Spies' last hope in MotoGP, and despite impressing almost everyone during his wildcard appearances, the triple AMA champion instead made the switch to ride a Yamaha in World Superbike. Spies is said to have imposed a condition that he would get promotion to MotoGP in 2010, stepping up to join the Tech 3 Yamaha team.
|Aspar Kawasaki - Out of MotoGP|
|Alex Debon / Shinya Nakano||Out of MotoGP || |
First a Suzuki, then a Ducati, then maybe a Yamaha. Jorge Aspar Martinez has been round almost every manufacturer in his quest to field a team in MotoGP, but after being turned down by almost everyone, it seemed that he had finally reached an agreement with Kawasaki to field a third Kawasaki.
As for the rider, an argument blew up between Aspar and Kawasaki over who to sign. Kawasaki wanted Shinya Nakano to ride the bike, a rider with proven development skills, though with a rather patchy record over the past few years.
Aspar, though, wanted a Spaniard, as they had a Spanish title sponsor lined up to fund the project. At first, Alvaro Bautista looked like being the most likely candidate to join the team, but the Spaniard announced at Misano that he will be staying in 250s for one more season, to attempt to win the championship.
With most of the top Spanish talent already signed, that left Aspar with only the veteran 250 rider Alex Debon. When Kawasaki told Aspar that Debon was not acceptable, and Aspar retorted that if Kawasaki wanted Nakano, they'd have to fund half the project, then that was the end of the project.
There is still a very small chance that Kawasaki will expand the factory team to include Nakano on a third bike, but that would require funding from Dorna. That team, though, would have nothing to do with Aspar.
|Onde 2000 Ducati|
|Sete Gibernau||One year contract for 2009|| |
After test riding for Ducati, Sete Gibernau looked certain to take Melandri's place until the end of the year, with maybe another year with the factory team to follow. But since the Hayden-Ducati deal has almost been finalized, Gibernau had reportedly been offered a ride on the satellite Alice team. The problem Gibernau had was one of money, a problem which is now supposedly solved, by the intervention of the Onde 2000 team. Onde 2000 currently run 2 bikes in the 125 class, but the owner of the construction company running the team has now stumped up the cash to run Sete Gibernau on a 5th bike. The team was presented officially on the eve of the Valencia Grand Prix.
Riders in bold have signed and confirmed contracts.
Updated March 4th, 2009
At the end of the first day of practice at Brno, it was clear that there were two men a long way clear of the rest of the field. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi were over half a second ahead of the man in 3rd, and the only riders capable of cracking into the 1'57s. The timing sheets seemed to tell a fairly clear-cut story of two fast men, a pack of riders all very close to each other, and another disastrous failure by Michelin. The grid seemed to be shaping up nicely.
The problem was, Saturday's weather threw not so much a fly as a whale into the ointment, after a storm front unleashed torrential rain over the Czech track, leaving the circuit completely drenched, though still ridable. With more rain coming in during the day, the grid was going to reflect a slightly different reality than Friday's practice had revealed, and confusing the picture even more, the forecast for Sunday is for the usual warm, bone dry conditions we have come to expect from Brno over the years.
During the morning's free practice session, Casey Stoner had already proved quite emphatically that he is probably the best wet-weather rider in the world, by stomping all over the competition. And as qualifying started in a light drizzle, he continued in the same vein. On just his 2nd flying lap, the Australian took a 5 second lead over the rest of the field, leaving his rivals gasping for breath.
In addition to the great photos from Laguna Seca, Scott Jones also provided us with some superb images from the British Grand Prix at Donington a few weeks earlier. Now, we've made some of his best pictures from that race available as desktop images as well. So far, the images are only available in one resolution, but check back for higher resolutions later.
Alex de Angelis, not happy in the rain: 1024x768
Randy de Puniet, equally fast looking both forward and back: 1024x768
The most consistent of the rookies, Andrea Dovizioso: 1024x768
Colin Edwards, just short of the podium: 1024x768
Toni Elias: 1024x768