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David Emmett

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The Twin Ring Motegi circuit is to be home to the Japanese round of MotoGP until at least 2018. Dorna today announced that a contract had been signed with the circuit for it to host the Japanese Grand Prix from 2014 to 2018. Motegi has been on the calendar since 1999, first running the Pacific Grand Prix before taking over the Japanese Grand Prix when Suzuka was axed from the calendar following Daijiro Kato’s death.

There had been some doubt about the future of the circuit in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Motegi is just over 120km away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which was badly damaged by the tsunami, and caused a massive leak of radiation.

There is little that motorcycle racing fans more than a good conspiracy. No mishap, contract dispute, or rider swap is ever the result of chance, error, greed or incompetence; there are always darker and greater powers involved, be it Dorna, Honda, or a major sponsor. They do not let the fact that their theories bear little resemblance to reality in 99.999% of the cases spoil the fun, and rightly so, moving happily on to the next dark conspiracy.

It took less than 10 minutes of the first session of MotoGP free practice before they had plenty to get their teeth into. Casey Stoner barely made it out of the pits before his Honda RC213V packed up, and he was forced to park it up by the side of the track, the bike felled by a mystery electronics issue. Stoner lost a lot of time in that first session, working with just a single bike as his mechanics tried to find out what had caused his first bike to fail. In the afternoon, an issue with the brake caused Stoner similar problems, losing valuable track time he needs to get back up to speed again.

A plot to prevent Stoner from interfering with Dani Pedrosa’s shot at the title? An entertaining idea, but in the reality stakes, somewhere beyond the moon landings conspiracy. Stoner’s problems are the kind of issue that every team has from time to time, with minor technical issues conspiring to work against them.

The press conference room at the Motegi circuit was a busy place on Thursday. The assembled press filed in twice during the afternoon, once to hear the head of Dorna talk about the long-term future of both motorcycle racing world championship series, and then again to hear five world champions talk about this weekend’s racing. There was much to digest.

What Carmelo Ezpeleta had to say about Dorna’s takeover of the World Superbike series has been covered elsewhere, though the irony of Ezpeleta hosting a press conference to talk about what was essentially an end run around HRC’s threats of a withdrawal at a facility owned and operated by Honda was not lost on everyone. The significance of the occasion was clear to all, and the groundwork has been laid for the future of both WSBK and MotoGP, though many fear the outcome.

An hour later, a much lighter mood prevailed when the riders filed in for the usual pre-event press conference. The long term was forgotten for a while, as everyone concentrated on two items: the return of Casey Stoner, and the impact of the Australian’s return on the championship. Will Stoner help Dani Pedrosa in his battle with Jorge Lorenzo for the 2012 MotoGP title? And is he fit enough and fast enough to be able to help if he wanted to?

The repercussions of Bridgepoint’s decision to hand control of the World Superbike series to Dorna are just starting to become clear, as each of the protagonists get to explain their side of the story. After Paolo Flammini spoke to the media at the final World Superbike round of the year at Magny-Cours, at Motegi, it was the turn of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to face the press.

He did so an hour before the traditional pre-event press conference, giving a statement and answering questions from assembled journalists on the implications of the move (a full transcript of the press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website). Ezpeleta did his best to first of all quell any fears among the legions of World Superbike fans that Dorna intended implementing any major changes for the coming season, ensuring the assembled media that all would go ahead for 2013 as planned.

“For next year things will continue as they are, and both MotoGP and WSBK will continue the same way, with exactly the same system of organization and with the same technical rules,” Ezpeleta told the press. “For 2013 the regulations will be the ones that have been approved between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports,” he said in response to questions, “In 2013 it will be exactly as proposed by the different parties involved, there will not be any changes for 2013.”

Beyond 2013 is a different matter, however. Ezpeleta made it clear that his goal was to harmonize the regulations between the MotoGP and World Superbike series, each maintaining their separate identities, but cutting costs and increasing the spectacle in both. “From now, together with the FIM, the manufacturers, the circuits and with the teams, we will try to accommodate these difficult economic times to set up two championships that are able to continue and to grow together,” Ezpeleta said. “This is the main aim of both championships – reducing costs and increasing the show.”

This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season.

If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP’s top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.

So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control.

On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers.

Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.

After the bombshell announcement that Bridgepoint was putting Dorna in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series, the media were keen to get a reaction from either of the Flammini brothers, the two men who had helped to grow the series into the success it is today, and who currently run WSBK. After an initial deafening silence, Paolo Flammini finally made an appearance at Magny-Cours on Sunday morning, to explain his, and Infront’s, point of view. Our friends at the Italian website InfoMotoGP.com were present to record the press conference on video.

Flammini did not say much – indeed, he started his speech with the words “I don’t have much to add to what is written in the press release,” – but what he did say helped clarify the situation a little. Starting off with an understatement – “This step represents a very big moment in the history of World Superbikes”, Flammini told the assembled media – the Italian was at pains to make clear that World Superbikes would face few changes for 2013. “Many people are worried for the 2013 season, but nothing special will happen,” he said, emphasizing that his aim was to keep stability in the series.

John Hopkins is to take a year out from racing to allow himself to recover fully from the multiple serious injuries that have plagued him throughout the 2012 season. In particular, a nagging hip injury first incurred at Monza has forced the American to take a break from racing, in order to allow his injuries to heal completely before attempting to race again.

It is a rare thing for motorcycle racers to make sensible decisions when it comes to recovering from injury, so for Hopkins to take the step to focus on his recovery is a major step. The American has suffered several serious injuries throughout his career, but his 2012 season has been particularly blighted by bad luck and mishap. His season got off to a difficult start, falling heavily at Phillip Island and breaking his hand at a pre-season test in Australia.

He had already been having difficult with that hand, as he had injured it in a crash at Brno aboard Suzuki’s MotoGP bike, an injury that never really healed properly. After having the finger he had broken amputated when it became infected after multiple surgeries, Hopkins appeared to be on his way back until the crash at Monza in which he broke a hip.

It is a risk for Hopkins to take a year out from racing, as securing a ride for 2014 will not be easy. However, his options at the moment are extremely limited, and with Suzuki set to make a return to MotoGP in 2014, he may yet get a second shot at the championship. After the jump is the press release issued by Suzuki on Hopkins’ decision to take a year away from racing:

Sunday was a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title was settled in what was a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO spoke to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.

That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK’s Rolling Stones.

The Power Electronics Aspar Team confirmed today that it has extended the contracts of current riders Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro for the 2013 season. Both the Frenchman and the Spaniard are to remain with Aspar for another year, and will once again contest the season on Aprilia-built ART machines under the Claiming Rule Team regulations. The two teammates are currently battling it out to take the honors as top CRT rider for 2012.

The Aspar team has been the showcase for the CRT rules this season, with both De Puniet and Espargaro closing the gap on the prototype bikes. How the team will fare next year when most of the other CRT bikes will start to use the highly advanced Magneti Marelli ECU, while they stick with Aprilia’s electronics package developed in World Superbikes remains to be seen, and will provide a good yardstick by which to measure the spec ECU on offer.

With the prototype rides all filling up quickly, remaining with Aspar was the best option for both men. With a year of development on them, the Aprilia CRT bikes should be even closer to the prototypes next year, allowing De Puniet and Espargaro to put themselves in the shop window for the 2014 season, when Suzuki makes a return to MotoGP, and more factory rides should be available.

After the jump is the press release from the Aspar team announcing the re-signing of its current riders.

The Texas round of MotoGP is to go ahead. The race, due to take place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas has been confirmed for April 21st, 2013, with Dorna and the Circuit of the Americas issuing a joint press release announcing the date. The race in Texas was one of the two races marked as being subject to confirmation, but today’s announcement leaves just the race in Argentina and the Jerez round to be confirmed.

Confirmation of the race comes despite the ongoing legal action between Kevin Schwantz and the Circuit of the Americas. That legal action should have no effect on the race actually taking place, however. The lawsuit filed by Schwantz against COTA will take some time to actually get in front of a judge, and the most probable outcome is that money will change hands to settle the deal, either one way or another.

The signing of the Austin contract leaves just Argentina and Jerez to be sorted out. The Jerez deal is a question of paperwork and, most likely, money; it is inconceivable that Dorna would pull out of the deal to host the first European round of the season in Jerez, where it has been for several years now.

Argentina, on the other hand, is far more complex: there are reports from local Argentine sources that work on the facilities at the circuit is slow, but the bigger problem is political. The expropriation of Repsol’s Argentinian subsidiary Repsol YPF by the Argentine government has deeply upset the Spanish oil giant, and Repsol has threatened not to allow the teams it backs to attend the race, saying that they cannot be certain that their property will be safe, a claim which the local organizers have denied.

The full press release announcing the MotoGP race in Texas is after the jump.

Casey Stoner is to rejoin the MotoGP paddock at Motegi. In a posting on his Repsol blog, Stoner confirmed that he will fly to Japan with the intention of trying to race. “I’ve been resting, having some physio and following doctor’s orders to recover. The good news is that I feel I can race in Motegi and will be rejoining my team next week and I can’t wait to get back on track,” the reigning World Champion wrote in his Repsol blog.