Good news for Carlos Checa, as the Althea Ducati race team has finally extended the reigning-World Superbike Champion a contract for the 2012 season. Recently, Checa was in the precarious position of having clinched the 2011 World Superbike Championship, and yet had no contract for the 2012 season. Stuck in the tug-of-war between Althea Racing and Ducati Corse, as well as the scandal currently gripping Althea Ceramics, Checa’s future with the Ducati squad was in question to such an extent that the BMW Italia team offered the Spaniard €800,000 to ride one of its BMW S1000RRs in 2012.
Testing concluded today in Estoril, with MotoGP teams getting another day to sort out their 2011 race motorcycles on the Portuguese track. The day was perhaps most anxiously awaited by the Ducati Corse squad, who brought out new chassis parts to address the issues with the Ducati Desmosedici GP11. Feedback from both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi was positive about the changes, and the Ducati Corse team seems to be heading down the right course of softening up the GP11.
“It was a positive test because the new updates were immediately better. The bike was more sensitive to changes made to the front, which makes it easier to work on a setup that works better for me,” said an upbeat Valentino Rossi. “I realized that as soon as I got on the bike and then, over the course of the following hours, we constantly progressed. We also had an engine with a slightly smoother power delivery that I liked a lot.”
“We’ll start using it when the rotation plan allows it. I liked the tyres that Bridgestone had us try, they seemed very good. Of course the other riders also made great progress, and the less positive about today is the gap to the front on my best lap. Anyway, everything that the Ducati technicians brought worked, and that means that we’re on the right path. We have to continue working, but today’s test gives us confidence.”
The Portuguese GP proved to be a thinking man’s race, but the pre-race press conference showed that some riders can switch their brains off from time to time. With Marco Simoncelli making strong impressions during the Free Practice sessions at Estoril, and Jorge Lorenzo on sitting on the pole, tempers flew a bit as the Spaniard and Italian minced words over riding styles and reputations.
Starting with a prompt as to whether Simoncelli had read some disparaging remarks made by Jorge Lorenzo in the media, the two riders had a heated exchange about past incidents of questionable riding conduct, while a bemused Pedrosa had to remain seated next to them during the handbag tussle. From there, the following transcript ensued. Read it after the jump.
MotoGP riders were blessed with dry weather conditions today at the Portuguese GP, as the rain decided to wait a bit longer in making its appearance at Estoril. Accordingly, today’s MotoGP race provided dry, but still tough, conditions as more than one rider had to contend with the cooler temperatures affecting their Bridgestone tires. With MotoGP racing being absent for four weeks because of the postponement of the Japanese GP, the eyes of the paddock were trained on several riders who took the downtime to recuperate and have operations for nagging injuries.
Perhaps the most prominent of this group was Dani Pedrosa, who had a plate removed that was pinching a nerve cluster removed from his shoulder. Similarly, Cal Crutchlow had a his arm operated on for issues with arm pump, while Randy de Puniet had a screw removed from his leg from a injury he suffered at Sachsenring last season. Of course the return of Álvaro Bautista to MotoGP racing was big news, as the Rizla Suzuki rider had missed the first two races of the season to a broken femur, and made his astonishing recovery in just 42 days’ time.
At Estoril, pre-race action heated up on the track with impressive lap times from Marco Simoncelli, who has shown a noticeable improvement on his pace from last season. Off the track, the spotlight also followed Simoncelli, as he and Jorge Lorenzo exchanged some less than friendly words about each other during the pre-race press conference. This latest spat comes on the heels of the one between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, the pair having gotten entangled during a crash at the Spanish GP.
With tempers still simmering off the track, it was cooler heads that prevailed at Estoril this weekend, as patience proved to be the better virtue for a number of riders at the Portuguese GP. Read all about it after the jump.
Jorge Lorenzo was the top dog today in Estoril, Portugal, as the Spaniard claimed the pole position for the start of tomorrow’s Portuguese GP. The top qualifying result is the fourth in a row for Lorenzo at Estoril, which according to Monopoly Rules means the Spanish GP rider can now build a hotel at the Iberian track.
Lorenzo’s result is undoubtedly impressive, but Italian Marco Simoncelli might be stealing some of the World Champion’s spotlight, as the sophomore MotoGP rider has ridden an impressive week thus far, and will start from the second grid spot on Sunday afternoon after being just a tenth of a second slower than Lorenzo.
Despite the pace of Simoncelli’s factory Honda, surprisingly the Repsol Honda crew was farther down the grid, with Pedrosa and Stoner taking third and fourth place spots respectively, while Andrea Dovizioso will start sixth, behind Ben Spies. The factory Yamaha Texan struggled earlier in the week, but was able to find a setting he liked on the mostly dry track, and qualify seven tenths of his teammate’s pace.
For the Ducati squad, Estoril has proven to be quagmire, as Ducati Corse has been unable to find a setup that gives Rossi and Hayden the feeling they need on the track. Despite their strong showing in the rain at Jerez, Ducati is hoping for a dry race tomorrow as they try and improve the Ducati Desmosedici GP11. Rossi will start 9th, while American Nicky Hayden wills start from the 13th position (behind both Hector Barbera and Karel Abraham). Check after the jump for the full qualifying results.
In the press release announcing Álvaro Bautista’s intent to race in the Portuguese GP, the heading describes the Spaniard as having “true grit” during today’s Free Practice sessions at Estoril. Now normally with MotoGP press releases, these headings are a bit of hyperbole, but considering just over a month ago Bautista’s femur, the largest bone in the human body, was in two pieces, we’re inclined to agree that the Spanish rider has shown remarkable determination in getting back onto the saddle of the Suzuki GSV-R.
Initial estimates pegged Bautista’s return to be at Le Mans for the French GP, but hard work at his physical therapy sessions, and an obscene amount of time in a hyperbaric chamber have accelerated Bautista’s healing process. With today’s work in the Rizla Suzuki garage showing that he has the ability to ride on his leg just a mere 42 days after he broke it, the young GP rider has earned a lot of street cred in the MotoGP paddock.
Good news for Álvaro Bautista fans today, as the Spanish rider has been medically cleared to participate in the upcoming Portuguese GP by MotoGP’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarmento. After giving Bautista a thorough examination, Dr. Sarmento deemed that the Spaniard was fit enough to ride a motorcycle, which will occur during tomorrow’s first Free Practice.
Rizla Suzuki and Bautista will asses his riding fitness from there, and decide whether the Álvaro will compete in the Portuguese GP, or if Suzuki test rider Nobuatsu Aoki will take over the reigns for the race weekend. If he races on Sunday, Bautista will have made his recovery from a broken left femur in a remarkable 42 days.
Álvaro Bautista is hopeful that he will return to MotoGP racing this weekend, as Rizla Suzuki heads to Estoril, Portugal for the third round of the season. Bautista was sidelined at the season-opener in Qatar when he broke his left femur during a high-speed crash, and many pegged his return to MotoGP at a much later round, like Le Mans for instance.
To get back in the saddle, Bautista has been undergoing intensive physiotherapy, and will test his fitness on the Suzuki GSV-R during Friday’s first practice session. Should he not be ready to race at the Portuguese GP, Suzuki test rider Nobuatsu Aoki will fill-in for Bautista, as John Hopkins has duties in British Superbike this weekend.
Posting the fastest time of the official World Superbike test in Portugal, Jakub Smrz was the fastest man at Portimao. A feat in its own right, Smrz’s accomplishment is compounded by the fact that the Portuguese track saw three days of continuously changing weather. In a climate that kept the bikes off the track, and the riders bored in the garages, Jonathan Rea and Eugene Laverty rounded out the fastest three riders at Portimao, with times set also on Wednesday afternoon. The first day was fair, though conditions worsened greatly overnight, making Thursday morning entirely unappealing for test laps. Luckily, Friday dried out through the afternoon, but no one was able to best Smrz’s early mark of 1:43.503 during the testing sessions.
All too often winter testing provides plenty of data for the teams and riders, but not nearly enough for journalists and fans who wish to prognosticate. While teams might focus on a certain sector during one lap and another the next, they hide their own flaws and keep their best performances to themselves. Combined with poor weather conditions, a rider sitting out to recover from surgery (Chris Vermeulen), and an entire team testing at another location, the WSBK winter test leaves very little actual story to tell before the start of the racing season.