Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Farewell, Shoya.

We'll always remember your smiles, Tomizawa-san.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bologna Bail-Out! Ducati Quit WSBK!

Next year's World Superbike Championship will see no factory Ducati team for the first time ever. After blowing megabucks signing Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, the Bologna bike builder have bailed out of production-based racing.

For a long, long time, the Italian-owned World Superbike Championship revolved around Ducati's cheat on Sunday, sell not very much on Monday strategy. Rules were rigged and re-rigged to make sure the power-lacking V-twin Ducati motors had a chance against the howling Japanese bikes. This led to about a million championship victories for British and Australian Ducati riders, usually with a capacity or technology advantage over the Japanese Rice Rockets.

The only manufacturer to beat them at their own game was Honda, when they built a homologation special V-twin at monstrous expense, and Colin Edwards, a truly outstanding Superbike rider, won two world championships on it. Against Troy Bayliss (i.e. proper competition).

However, the Dukes have looked more like Ducks this season, waddling aimlessly around the farmyard that is the WSBK paddock. The BMW team stole legendary Ducati team manager and ex-rider Davide Tardozzi, and pilfered a few Ducati data engineers too. This year's Ducati 1198 has been very poor, despite its 200cc capacity advantage, and will be replaced with a completely different bike. The team's riders, Haga and Fabrizio, are a has-been and a never-was.

To top it all, the WSBK organizers have a new love: Aprilia. The other Italian factory were booted out of the 250 Grand Prix championship when it was replaced with Moto2. WSBK welcomed them with open arms, giving them the position of chief cheats by letting them run aftermarket valve gear. They are now heading for a title victory with their old boy Max Biaggi.

Fact is, there are two reasons for Ducati's escape from MotoGP.

Firstly, they have put all their eggs in the MotoGP basket by hiring Valentino Rossi. It's a match made in heaven for all of Italy. They simply don't need WSBK to sell bikes any more.

Secondly, their long marriage with WSBK has come to an end. While Ducati helped World Supers through some tough times, now the production championship is in rude health, and the Ducati bike isn't the one to have. Although people are bound to go around saying things like "WSBK without Ducati is like Boremula One without Ferrari", it's not that big a deal. There are plenty more manufacturers out there, and they're all in World Supers.

It's over. They may well be back. They may well have a semi-factory team like the Japanese factories run, where a national importer gets a bit of technical help but not much cash. It'll be strange, but Ducati have been AWOL in World Supers this year anyway. Bye Bye, Bologna.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Valentino Rossi Rides Again!

Good news, everyone! Valentino Rossi, The Doctor, has self-diagnosed himself fit and ready to return to MotoGP at the Sachsenring in Germany.

This comes after he went for a bit of a play on a World Superbike Yamaha R1 round the awesome Brno track in the Czech Republic. And lapped at the same pace as the boys in World Supers did the previous day.

That Rossi character is rather quick on a motorcycle.

He set those fast laps despite his leg being held together with chunks of metal and his shoulder barely being connected at all.

MotoGP just isn't the same without Valentino, even though I'm a fan of Jorge, Dani, Casey and potential alien Ben Spies. I for one can't wait to see how he goes in East Germany in his crocked state. Will we see an understandably mediocre performance (i.e. about 40 seconds faster over the race distance than his replacement, Yoda, or whoever he is,) or will we see something special?

Either way, all eyes will be on Valentino. And will he announce his signing for Ducati? The Italian factory will be keen to grab some publicity after losing their quick but whiny alien Casey Stoner to Honda. Could this be the time they choose to reveal that they've signed Rossi to ride the Bologna Bullet? Most Italian MotoGP fans will be wearing their rosary beads down to the string praying for the Rossi-Ducati move to be confirmed. And nearly everyone else wants to see it too.

Can the Greatest Of All Time win top class championships on three different manufacturers' machines? Can Casey be as wickedly quick as he was on a Honda 990, but without the crashes? Can Jorge win the title against a fit Valentino Rossi? Can Dani Pedrosa win more than 3 races in a year? There's only one way to find out.... FIGHT!!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Valentino Rossi Back On A Bike Already

Valentino Rossi has demonstrated his superhuman powers of healing by riding a motorcycle around his local track, Misano.

"The Doctor" wanted to try riding in order to see whether he could return to MotoGP at Sachsenring, on the grounds that it's not a very tough track physically and even if his leg fell off on the grid he'd still be about 12 seconds a lap faster than his Japanese no-hoper replacement.

It was reported that Valentino would be riding a street bike, but it turned out to be a Yamaha Italia World Superbike. In other words, a 200+bhp fire-breathing monster that bears only a passing resemblance to the street bike it's based on. (WSBK machines aren't far off MotoGP power levels or top speeds, but are a bit heavier and have larger, more torquey engines. They run full race suspension, the forks and swingarm of the donor roadbike having been chucked into a convenient skip.)

The hobbling Italian managed to lap just over a second slower than regular Yamaha Italia rider Cal Crutchlow did on an identical bike in the WSBK meeting at Misano, which is hugely impressive, because although Cal is familiar with gravel traps the world over, he's eye-wateringly quick on a flying lap and has bagged a few WSBK pole positions this year. (Rossi may have been riding on snazzy Bridgestone tyres rather than the usual WSBK Pirellis, but even so it was a great lap time.)

This means that Rossi knows he's quick enough to race at Sachsenring without making a complete horse's arse of himself, so it's just a question of stamina. The German track is short, so there are about a million laps. On the plus side, it isn't unknown for the weather to be pissing down in East Germany on race weekend. A wet race would be a massive boost as Rossi wouldn't have to put up with the full force of acceleration, cornering and braking as he would on a dry track.

What we've learned from this is that Rossi is a proper nutter who loves racing bikes. OK, we knew that stuff already, but it's impressive nevertheless.

The only question is, when does he announce his shock move to Ducati?