How serious is Honda about winning the 2011 MotoGP World Championship? At Team Gresini’s MotoGP launch at Monza today, it was quietly confirmed that the San Carlo Honda Gresini squad has been given the keys to the candy store, turning the team into a factory-backed effort. While Marco Simoncelli was already assured factory support from Honda for the 2011 season, the move adds Hiroshi Aoyama to the factory rider list, and likely makes Gresini’s life infinitely less complex by not having to manage between a factory and non-factory split garage.
“Veni, Vidi, Vici” might as well be stenciled on the four factory Honda RC212V race bikes of Stoner, Pedrosa, Dovizioso, and Simoncelli, as the foursome has dominated the Malaysian track over the past three days of MotoGP testing. Casey Stoner takes the top prize though, climbing once again to the top of the time sheets, with Dani Pedrosa right behind him as the only other man to crack under the two minute barrier at Sepang. While these results aren’t too surprising to those following the off-season closely, the time sheets speak an interesting story for the rest of the field.
The Top 13 riders are clumped by manufacturer, and who leads each group is a bit surprising. Ben Spies bested teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who also found himself behind Colin Edwards from the satellite Monster Yamaha Tech3 squad. In the Ducati camp, it was Hector Barbera who had the fastest time, ahead of Hayden and Rossi who both shared a best lap of 2:01.469 in Day Three. Even Alvaro Bautista’s Suzuki made a surprisingly quick journey around the track at Sepang, as the Spanish rider was 8th fastest overall for the day.
Casey Stoner set the pace today at MotoGP’s second off-season test at Sepang. The Australian, and the rest of the four factory Honda riders, proved to be very impressive on the Malaysian track, as the 2011 Honda RC212V seems to be hitting its stride just before the season opener in Qatar in a few weeks.
The Honda riders don’t have things all sewn up though, as the Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo was looking very fast, as were Americans Ben Spies and Colin Edwards. Earlier in the day, nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi even cracked into the Top 5 on the standings, and despite finishing the day just over a second behind Stoner, the Italian was upbeat about the team’s progress and his physical condition.
Finally official after months of speculation, Pramac Ducati has announced the addition of MotoGP veteran Loris Capirossi to its quasi-satellite Ducati team. Signing a one-year contract, Capirex has already been released from his post-season duties with Suzuki, and will ride the green and white Pramac Ducati during the Valencian test in two week’s time.
Suzuki is not expected to replace Capirossi, and has instead forged a deal with Dorna that sees the Japanese company staying involved in GP racing through 2013. There is however some speculation that Hirosihi Aoyama could land on a satellite Suzuki, but that idea seems to be more wishful thinking, then a well formulated plan (the factory Suzuki had a hard enough time keeping up with the satellite squads, so how would a satellite Suzuki fare?).
It’s a bit of irony that Casey Stoner was the first MotoGP alien to to make his move in the 2010 silly season, yet is the last MotoGP alien whose fate we know completely. Signing with Honda it was assumed that Stoner would be a part of a three-man team within Repsol Honda, with HRC saying as much during its press announcement with the Australian rider. When the budget necessary to field a three-man team failed to materialize from Repsol, HRC began looking for other options, with the most prominent being a single-man team (likely with Casey Stoner), possibly sponsored by Red Bull. Unable to get the energy drink company to foot the bill, HRC then turned to satellite squad Gresini, where Marco Simoncelli, another HRC contracted rider, currently resides.
Andrea Dovizioso seemingly drew the short-straw in that arrangement, with HRC pressuring the Italian to move into Gresini with the promise of factory support being made for both riders. Dovizioso is reported as having a performance clause in his contract that guarantees him a seat in a factory team should he meet certain criteria. With Dovi honoring his end of the agreement, he looked to HRC to honor its side of the contract, and a Honda Gresini ride is not what the Italian had in mind. Making matters worse is HRC’s history of not honoring support agreements to riders once they leave the folds of the factory team. As such Dovizioso held his ground, and rightfully so.
With the 2011 season likely to see four factory-backed Honda riders, something had to give, and that something seems to be Repsol Honda. According to MotoWorld, Repsol Honda agreed at the Australian GP to up its MotoGP funding from €10 million to €15 million, and support a three-man Repsol Honda factory team. With Stoner, Pedrosa, and Dovizioso tucked away under one tent for the 2011 season, and Marco Simoncelli staying in Gresini Honda, that leaves a vacancy in the quasi-satellite team that will surely be filled by Hiroshi Aoyama.
Good news comes from the Interwetten Honda Racing team this week as Hiroshi Aoyama has been cleared to ride this weekend at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Aoyama has been siting out MotoGP racing ever since his highside at Silverstone, which fractured one the Japanese rider’s vertebrae. Missing nearly two months of racing, Aoyama participated in MotoGP’s test at Brno two weeks ago, and seemed ready to come back to the sport. In his absence Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi and Alex de Angelis have been carrying the Interwetten banner. Riding at Brno, Aoyama was instantly faster than de Angelis, proving that the Japanese rider’s decision to let his back heal naturally was the better course of treatment than having his vertebrae fused together.
Hiroshi Aoyama will test at Brno on Monday to see how his fitness is progressing from his highside at Silverstone, which broke the Japanese rider’s lower vertebrae. Aoyama has missed four GP starts so far this season because of the crash, and has seen Kousuke Akiyoshi and Alex de Angelis ride his Interwetten Honda during the interim of his absence. Deciding to let his T12 vertebrae fracture heal naturally, rather than go under surgery, Aoyama feels he is nearing the point where he can return to MotoGP.
After the collective groan that emanated from MotoGP fans around the world when Wataru Yoshikawa was announced as Valentino Rossi’s replacement, Interwetten Honda is feeling a bit frisky about MotoGP’s next stop at Barcelona for the Catalan GP.
As such the team has challenged the Fiat-Yamaha substitute rider to battle with their own replacement for Hiroshi Aoyama: Kousuke Akiyoshi. With neither rider likely to make much of a showing against the MotoGP usuals, Interwetten Honda boss Daniel Epp sees a battle of the backmarkers as a way to spice up the race.
After getting another examination in Barcelona by a specialist, Hiroshi Aoyama has been ruled out from racing for at least two months, after the Japanese ride fractured his T12 vertabra. Taking Aoyama’s place will be Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi, which will keep MotoGP from fielding only 15 bikes on the Dutch grid this weekend. Akiyoshi will race for Interwetten Honda at Assen, and also at Barcelona for the Catalan GP.