News Round Up 6th January: No, Ezpeleta Hasn't Been Fired, Nakamoto on the RC213V, and More

The start of a new year, and though there is little going on in the world of motorcycle racing in the first week of January, there is still enough to fill our weekly news round up. Here's what happened this week.

Hoax of the week: Ezpeleta to lose CEO job at Dorna?

It seemed like a huge scoop. Bridgepoint, the major shareholder in Dorna, were looking to oust Carmelo Ezpeleta as CEO, according to Paolo Gozzi, World Superbike correspondent for the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport. Gozzi claimed that Bridgepoint executives were unhappy with Dorna's handling of the Rossi affair at the end of 2015, and of the financial results for 2014 and 2015.

Unfortunately for Gozzi, the entire story was incorrect. Italian website asked Ezpeleta about it, and his response was typically dry: "Is it April Fool's Day in Italy?" Though he did not want to dignify the claims with a response, his answer was simple. "There is no truth in this whatsoever."

That the story is inaccurate should be immediately obvious. However you feel about the outcome of the 2015 MotoGP championship, the affair undeniably sparked a massive increase in interest in the championship, and in the sport. All of a sudden, MotoGP was back in sports bulletins in countries outside of Spain and Italy, and in the sports pages of newspapers, not confined to the specialist press. Google Trends, which measures interest in subjects based on search trends, shows a big increase in interest in MotoGP in 2015, with a massive spike around the period of Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia. More importantly, the drop in interest after the end of the season was to a higher baseline than in previous years, suggesting that interest in MotoGP will be higher in 2016 again.

More interest means bigger audiences, which means better TV deals and better sponsorship deals. That means more money for Dorna, and a bigger return on investment for Bridgepoint, the private equity fund which owns Dorna. Ezpeleta is more likely to be commended by Bridgepoint, rather than sacked. Despite the fact that the success of the series had more to do with Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez than Carmelo Ezpeleta.

Penalty points system to be reviewed

One part of the fallout from Sepang does look set to become reality. As I have written here before, the way in which points accumulate and expire is to be amended. Speaking to, FIM president Vito Ippolito said that this issue will be addressed at the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, due to take place on 4th February, the day after the Sepang MotoGP test.

Ippolito raises the issue which sources inside Dorna have also discussed with Valentino Rossi currently has four penalty points, one picked up at Misano for riding on the racing line during practice, and three for the events at Sepang. The Misano penalty point expires on 12th September, 2016, a year after it was awarded. That would leave Rossi on three points during the Aragon, Motegi and Phillip Island rounds. If he were to pick up a single point before the Phillip Island race, he would have to start from the back of the grid again.

That form of double jeopardy, where a rider could receive the same punishment twice, needs to be addressed, Ippolito said. Dorna sources have indicated to me that their preferred solution would be to have the rules adjusted so that riders would only receive the same punishment once, the next punishment coming when they exceed the next limit. In the case of Rossi, he would not start from the back of the grid again if he were to gain four points in total once the Misano point expired, but he would be forced to start from pit lane if he racked up an extra four points between Misano and Phillip Island in 2016.

Ippolito is in favor of a broader review of the penalty point system, preferring immediate penalties to be imposed. Ippolito is also in favor of a change in the roles within Race Direction, with the current four-person team issuing penalties for the more obvious infractions, such as jump starts, pit lane speeding, ignoring a blue flag, etc. But problems which were a matter of judgment, such as dangerous riding, would be judged by a separate body, either a single judge, or a board of experts.

This issue is far from settled, with opinions varying widely in Dorna, IRTA, the FIM and among the manufacturers. There may not be a clear decision at the Sepang Grand Prix Commission meeting, but a new system will have to be in place for the start of the 2016 season.

VR46 now selling Yamaha MotoGP merchandise as well

Since his run in with the Italian tax authorities, which Valentino Rossi settled by paying €35 million in back taxes, Rossi's business empire has gone from strength to strength. One of the smartest moves was to produce his own merchandise, and expand it to include other racers, including that of his arch rival Marc Márquez, as well as Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow.

Now, his merchandising company, VR46 Racing Apparel, has won the contract to produce souvenirs, T-shirts, caps and other paraphernalia for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, the factory team which Rossi himself rides for. The deal makes sense for both parties: VR46 has both the production facilities and the distribution network in place to maximize licensing income for Yamaha, while at the same time increasing turnover for VR46. It will also allow Yamaha to expand their range of merchandise available to fans, while concentrating on their core business of racing.

The announcement was met with a certain level of paranoia in some sections of the Spanish media, who claimed it was a sign that Rossi was seeking greater control within Yamaha, and that it made Jorge Lorenzo's departure to Ducati for 2017 more likely. That seems entirely improbable. VR46 Racing Apparel operates almost entirely outside of Rossi's control, the Italian still completely focused on racing. The fact that Rossi continues to produce merchandise for Marc Márquez, contrary to fabricated reports in Spain at the end of last year, shows that this is purely a business undertaking, rather than an arm of political control.

Nakamoto – "We still haven't been able to build a less aggressive engine"

HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto is enjoying something of a busman's holiday, spending the first part of January in South America following the Dakar Rally, where Honda have fielded a full factory entry with Joan Barreda and Paulo Gonçalves. Spanish sports daily Marca seized the opportunity to ask Nakamoto a few questions about MotoGP and Honda's F1 program while he was there.

The most interesting part of the interview centered on the progress – or rather, lack of it – HRC had made with the engine of the RC213V. "We are focused on building a less aggressive bike," Nakamoto told Marca, "we are trying various things, but for some reason, we have not been able to build a better bike than the one we had last year. The engineers are analyzing the reasons, and we hope to have a solution before the start of the first race."

Nakamoto's words echo the complaint of all Honda riders at both the Valencia and Jerez tests at the end of 2015. The new engine HRC brought to those tests had a very similar character to the 2015 bike. That engine was universally slated for being too aggressive, making it hard to control wheelie and wheelspin on corner exit, and engine braking on corner entry. The 2016 engine has more bottom-end power, which should make it more manageable, but it remains extremely aggressive. The issue is complicated by Honda's failure to get to grips with the new unified software supplied by Dorna. As neither Yamaha nor Ducati are having too many problems, that seems to be an issue more with HRC than the electronics themselves.

That Casey Stoner interview

With Casey Stoner now officially a test rider for Ducati, an interview with the Australian has been doing the rounds of various websites. The way that story has oozed across the internet is itself instructive of the way journalism often works among some sections of the media.

The interview originated with Australian journalist Colin Young. He spoke to Stoner at the end of 2015, and sold that interview to a number of publications, including the British weekly Motorcycle News. He also sold it to the Italian magazine Motosprint. When Motosprint was published, several Italian websites picked the interview up, and wrote stories for their websites, making generous use of quotes from the interview (beyond what in most jurisdictions would be regarded as fair use). English-language websites then picked up the stories on the Italian websites, translated the Italian quotes back into English, and published web stories of their own.

For those who are interested in seeing the original quotes – on why he switched from Honda to Ducati, on his expanded role as a brand ambassador at Ducati, on how he believes that Marc Márquez and his crew felt threatened by his role as a test rider, and much more – MCN are intending to run a series of stories over the weekend on their website including much of the interview as it appeared in their newspaper, plus a little bit more.

Spanish April Fool's Day is in December, or why Pedrosa and Rossi won't be going to Suzuki in 2017

Every year, a ritual unfolds, which sees English and Italian speaking websites fall into a terrible trap. On 28th December, strange and wondrous stories start appearing in the Spanish press, and, in a period when motorcycle racing news is very thin on the ground, non-Spanish sites leap eagerly on them, and spread them far and wide.

A few hours, or perhaps a day later, the non-Spanish sites then have to either publish a retraction, or update their stories to acknowledge that they had been caught out, and that the story was not true. For the 28th of December is the Dia de los Inocentes, the Spanish equivalent of April Fool's Day. And like the rest of the world, it is a day on which the media likes to plant spoof stories, the best of which are based just enough in the plausible to make people fall for them.

So no, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi won't be signing for Suzuki in 2017. And that video you saw of Marc Márquez doing a backflip? That was fake too.

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The Yamaha merchandise deal with VR46 might be good for both parties, but not the fans. The merchandise from both the VR46 website and Grand Prix stands is ridiculously overpriced to start with and, even worse, completely randomly priced. The same item, a T-Shirt for example, can cost a good 50% more for one rider than it does for the other. Presumably they are pricing this based on rider popularity, but this practice makes a complete mockery of the fans and personally I've tried to refrain from buying anything of them on principle, ever since they took over the field a few years ago. Unfortunately they are now the only ones carrying merchandise for most of the riders, which means they can dictate market prices pretty much at will and fans barely have another choice.

Would have been nice for someone like Clinton Enterprises to get the Yamaha deal instead, they have much more fan-friendly prices and better item selections in my opinion.

stv21... I hear you... Last year while at the Indy MotoGP I thought that I'd drop into the Yamaha tent and grab a T shirt, as I had some "spare" dollars in my pocket... I picked up what was a really low quality T that had a bit of screen printing on it... 5 bucks, max, to knock it out in the volumes that they're doing them in... $50 price tag on it... Back down on the table it went... I spied a ball cap... decent enough quality... but the $40 price tag meant that it ended up back on the shelf rather than in my hand and heading to the check out... In the end I bought nothing and walked out... I don't mind paying a bit of a premium for the logo wear... but getting gouged on cheap crap is out of my realm of fiscal tolerance...

And it's not a situation unique to MotoGP or racing... I'm a Triumph guy... I used to buy their logo wear... But when they went the same route of selling 5 buck crap and hanging $35 & $40 price tags on it... well no more money from me then mate...

The best T I ever bought was from the North American Laverda Owners Club at the AMA Vintage Days in 2008... GREAT shirt, cool graphics and 4 color printing on both sides and for only 15 bucks! A phookin' bargain!! I should have bought two so that I had a back up... wore the sucker slap out...

I don't mind paying a bit more for specialty/logo wear... if it's decent quality and somewhat reasonably priced... and yes, I understand the manufacturing and marketing layers involved... But I'll be danged if I'm going to help underwrite somebody's multi million dollar bank account by paying 50 bucks for a 5 dollar shirt...

I get a ton of sponsor t-shirts and crap because of my job. I use it for workouts and whenever I need clothes that can just be thrown away if it gets ruined.
I'd never dream of paying to wear a logo. They should pay ME to wear their crap if anything.

I'll happily pay a reasonable price for gear that supports a rider I like, but for the sponsors? No way. If the only printing on it is for a company then it's straight up advertising, and they should be paying me to promote their product, or worst case giving it away. Paying to wear the Yamaha/Honda/Repsol, etc logo isn't going to happen.

You don't give yourself much of a break do ya? We appreciate it David, here's to 2016!

Is there any truth in the news that Rossi is nullifying his contract with Marquez to produce his merchandise, or was this really just a Spanish media rumor? Was it true back then, while tensions were raised after 'that' incident, and retracted later upon s o b e r second thought? "VR46 Racing Apparel operates almost entirely outside of Rossi's control." This is completely unbelievable, and is like saying Microsoft operates entirely out of the control of Bill Gates, or Facebook from the Zucker. (As Mark would say: I'm CEO, B****!) There is no way it can be true. Rossi is the Bossi. Fullstoppi. Regarding Nakamoto-San's comments, just two words are all you need: Sand Bagging. Believe HRC is struggling to build an engine and figure out primitive electronics relative to their own at your peril. Maybe they have taken a page from their former employee's book and are engaging in a little bit of subterfuge of their own, some Machiavellian maneuvering that would make the Prince proud. Remember: messing with masters of Ninjutsu is not advisable. And Marquez feeling threatened by Stoner? I'll bet Marc got as good a laugh out of that one as I did. And just so all you fans winding up your routers right about now know, NONE of the very top, top guys - of which Stoner and Marquez both are - EVER feel threatened by one of their rivals. On the contrary, they welcome and lust for the challenge. So let's stop thinking as mere mortals do when we are contemplating the minds of men who are much more than that. Context is everything in such matters as these. (Was this story updated on the 28th of December?) If Team Marquez felt threatened by anything, it would be Casey's irresistible contrarianism potentially muddying the waters of feedback to the rider he ultimately feels threatened and outdone by himself. Bear in mind the psychology of a contrarian is just that.

Request 1: Paragraphs. Now, on to answer your questions.

>Is there any truth in the news that Rossi is nullifying his contract with Marquez to produce his merchandise, or was this really just a Spanish media rumor? 

This was completely fabricated by a Spanish website. Someone on Marquez' PR team told me they had phoned the journalist who wrote the story, and he admitted to making it up, for the sole purpose of generating traffic, something he was under orders to do by his editor.

> This is completely unbelievable, and is like saying Microsoft operates entirely out of the control of Bill Gates, or Facebook from the Zucker.

Unlike Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Valentino Rossi already has one full-time job. That is racing a motorcycle as fast as possible, and it is a job he is rather good at. He does not have time to run a merchandising company. The merchandising exists as a way of protecting his wealth for after he has retired. He is surrounded by smart people who do things well, and he lets them get on with it, in much the same way that he trusts his MotoGP crew to come up with the right solutions to fix the bike.

> Believe HRC is struggling to build an engine and figure out primitive electronics relative to their own at your peril. 

Honda are fantastic at building engines. A little too fantastic. They cannot resist the siren song of horsepower. They could quite easily dial the engine back a little. But that would mean not being as fast as Ducati, and that is entirely unacceptable. 

> And Marquez feeling threatened by Stoner?

Not Marquez. The people who surround Marquez. Different kettle of fish.


1. Got you on the paragraphs. Sorry about that, my block-head seems to like seeing big blocks of text for some reason.

2. Do the people who surround Marquez include his crew as well, almost all of which used to be Stoner's crew along with Suppo (except C. Gabbarini who was sacked for the Phillip Island blunder in 2013??) or are we talking specifically about Mr. Monlau and Co.?

3. I hear you re the merchandising company, but I still think he can run that all as he pleases with his soldiers reporting to him and taking orders and direction as needed. And protecting his wealth? With all due respect David, but that will never be necessary. VR could go on an autographing tour while in a wheelchair and on life support and generate more money than the GDP of many nations every year until he dies. I humbly disagree with you on this. (So would the Prince.)

4. Regarding Ducati power: Has Osamu Goto or anyone associated with him and his company been around the Duc engine labs in the past few years? If so, that would be a story really worth writing - while dressed in full armor and airbag kit for the rest of your life, and a few Blackwater agents on the payroll as well. (Surprising nobody wrote about Osamu's Ferrari association...not)

5. Cheers. I appreciate the reply and hope I didn't/don't offend. (That's the Canadian in me...Eh ;-)

I thought that HRC required Marquez to use Stoner's crew for his first season, because of the experience gap, but that they were all replaced by the 2nd.

I don't believe that Gabbarini made the Philip Is. call (in fact his displeasure with that decision was clear) or was sacked as a result of it.

AFAIK he was retained by HRC as a technical consultant, when Marquez's crew took control, and then later redeployed to crew-chief for Miller.

Ah, that would be the contrarian psychology that made Stoner ride in such a way that his data only served to discombobulate Rossi?

What a talent! Not just riding the bike to podiums (at least), but also leaving a trail of obfuscating data that hindered Rossi and Burgess so much in attempting to set up the Ducati that Rossi was left in the position of saying that he 'couldn't ride the bike the way Stoner rode it' to explain his lack of similar results.

Indeed, Stoner's brilliance in imposing his contrarian nature was evidenced throughout his time at Ducati. I remember Sylvain Guintoli, then on a satellite Duc, saying that they had examined Stoner's data and simply could not believe that any rider could do that. When Mikka Kallio took over Stoner's bike when he withdrew due to lactose intolerance, he was asked: 'what is the secret of Stoner's bike?' and replied ' it's just like mine, no difference.' His results didn't change with the use of the full factory Stoner bike.

Of course, that contrarian nature also extended beyond the mere data to the observation of other extremely talented riders. He was able to disguise things so much, that Ben Spies - the only 'non-alien' to win a race in the period 2007 - 2011 - stated publicly that while he could see why riders such as Lorenzo and Rossi were faster, he could not understand what Stoner was doing with the bike at all.

Yep, Stoner is OBVIOUSLY a contrarian, hiding the facts for his own benefit.

OR, if one were charitable: Stoner rides bikes in a dissimilar way to others. So did Hailwood. So did Roberts. So did Joey Dunlop. All of whom won, on bikes from which others simply could not extract the same level of performance.

imagine being able to just write a check for 35 million in funny money or ? I can't imagine any of these other guys are that rich!

I must be missing something. Would it not be sensible to write the rules in such a way that once a rider completes a penalty, as Rossi did, that those points are removed. I understand the idea of accumulating them whilst ever the total is less than a penalty but to keep them after a penalty has been served?

Glad I'm not the only one to be puzzled by penalty points still in effect after the sentence is served (starting from the back of the grid). Very bizarre and nonsensical.

It might be worth keeping on the books to prevent repeat offending.

accumulate 4 points = start from back of grid
accumulate a further 4 points in a time frame = miss a race

35million pounds is like 100 million Australian bucks?? Fair dinkum, that is one hell of a "bill".
We've been well over the 06/07 tax scandal, but just being reminded how much it was still blows me away.

Got my Australian MCN this morning & got to read the original Youngey article on CS27, my goodness people can twist words & comments in any way they like. Very pleased I got to read the original.

Rossi is a fantastic racer and media person, but one thing he doesn't have is good taste.
The VR46 logo for one is terrible. Some of the stuff, like his helmets, shows his humoristic side - but stylistically its far from pretty.

I don't remember where I first heard it, and it likely isn't true (but entirely plausible), that Yamaha would make Rossi's yearly wage back in a couple of months from merchandise.

As an almost constant VR46 cap wearer I've gotta say, while comparatively expensive, they've gone down in price last couple of years and they are good quality. Things like jumpers and hoodies are insanely priced and I've been stood at a stand waiting to buy my yearly hat and people are handing over £200-£300 constantly. It's completely nuts. Good luck to him though, he's entertained me plenty for years.

I've always found Rossi's designs to be either crazy loud or surprisingly simple with the blaring yellow. Always instantly recognisable though and probably explains why the merchandise designs only have tiny changes from year to year.