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David Emmett

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Another Brno, that is the hope of every MotoGP fan around the world after qualifying sessions like the one at Motegi on Saturday. The breathtaking battle in the Czech Republic, which saw Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo on each others’ tails all race long and the result settled in almost the final corner, was the natural outcome of two equally-matched men on very different, but equally-matched machines. There was nothing to choose between the two during qualifying at Brno, and there was nothing to choose between them during the race.

Motegi is shaping up to be similar. Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa have very similar pace, and both have the consistency, the talent, and the desire to push to the end. Jorge Lorenzo may have taken pole – the 50th of his career and one of his finest, with a blistering lap in near-perfect condition to destroy the existing pole record – but Pedrosa’s race pace is fractionally faster than that of the polesitter. Where Lorenzo’s near-robotic consistency has him lapping in the low 1’46.1s, Pedrosa is posting high 1’46.0s. The two men are separated by hundredths of a second only, and appear to have the measure of each other.

The wildcard in all of this is chatter. The problem, which has plagued the Honda all year, reappeared with a vengeance in the middle of qualifying for Pedrosa, leaving him struggling to get up to speed and to mount a serious challenge for pole. “Suddenly I had some big chatter,” Pedrosa said at the press conference, “I was in and out of the box trying to change things.”

The problem was all the more unsettling for being so unexpected. “It’s a bit strange,” Pedrosa said. “We didn’t have chattering in the morning or yesterday, just today in the qualifying. Not even in the first part of the qualifying.” Whether the issue is being caused by the setup Pedrosa uses when chasing a qualifying time remains to be seen, but if Pedrosa’s crew cannot eliminate it in tomorrow’s warm up, the Repsol Honda man’s title chances could be over.

The mystery of the final MotoGP prototype seat has been solved: after months of negotiations, Alvaro Bautista has finally retained the Honda RC213V ride with the San Carlo Gresini Honda team. The Spaniard will remain with the Italian team for another season.

The contract extension has come at a cost, however: Bautista has had to take a drastic cut in his salary to stay with the team. According to the Spanish website Motocuatro.com, Bautista’s wage has been slashed to five figures, with the amount of 90,000 euros being passed down the paddock grapevine.

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.