News 23 Mar 2009

Racing Insider #56

Ben Spies' World SBK form has attracted Tech 3 Yamaha, plus MotoGP, World SBK, AMA SBK, ASBK, AMA SX and Oz MX news.


Spies' name could be on a Tech 3 Yamaha in 2010

Spies' name could be on a Tech 3 Yamaha in 2010

Yamaha’s World Superbike rookie sensation Ben Spies has been tipped to join the Tech 3 Yamaha team in the MotoGP World Championship in 2010, with his scintillating early season form in SBK making many premier class teams take notice.

Spies has burst onto the SBK scene with three victories from four starts at the opening two rounds, also scoring Superpole at both rounds in Australia and Qatar to date.

His form has sparked interest from Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal despite the fact that there’s no formal agreement for Spies to enter MotoGP should he win the SBK title at his first attempt.

Poncharal reportedly told European website Caradisiac Moto that he is considering both Spies and defending 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli for rides in 2010, which could mean that current Tech 3 riders Colin Edwards and James Toseland will be racing for their jobs throughout this season.

“Ben Spies frankly amazed me,” said the Frenchman. “Obviously he is an exceptional pilot – I want to have in 2010!”

Poncharal went on to say that he believed Spies would be in the category no matter what, although he did hope that it would be with Tech 3 – also adding that it would add new blood into the MotoGP category.

Another hot topic reported from the European press is that Mika Kallio isn’t happy with the practice reductions, which will see the Ducati rookie lose a session on Friday and 15 minutes off of each practice and qualifying session compared with past seasons.

Kallio’s concern comes just days following Valentino Rossi telling British MCN that he would prefer more testing as this week’s Jerez test in Spain will actually mark the last time that MotoGP riders will be able to test in 2009.

Teams will be able to test just twice this year following the Catalunya and Brno rounds, although those tests will be limited to test riders and not the likes of Rossi, Casey Stoner, or any of the GP regulars.

Speaking of the Jerez test this week, it kicks off on Wednesday with the 125cc and 250cc classes, before the MotoGP testing runs from Friday to Sunday. Sunday’s BMW M Award will be the highlight of the test, where riders fight for the BMW M Series car in a 45 minute ‘Qualifying’ shootout.

One man who will be eager to get out on track at Jerez will be Nicky Hayden, who has experienced comfort difficulties on the Ducati Desmosedici GP9, actually dragging his foot on the rear brake. Ducati has revised the bracket for the American, which should solve his problem and allow him to continue improving on the notoriously hard to ride Desmo.

World Superbike
Regular readers would have seen in our Press Releases section that ex-Kawasaki MotoGP rider John Hopkins has officially signed to compete with Stiggy Racing Honda in the Superbike World Championship for the remainder of 2009, saving his international career following Kawasaki’s shock exit from the GP grid, announced in January.

We first posted the news on Friday morning and it was officially confirmed that afternoon by both Hopkins and Stiggy Racing via press releases from the pair. Hopkins’s break at Stiggy Honda is bad news for Italian Roberto Rolfo, with the American replacing Rolfo alongside Leon Haslam just three rounds into this year’s World SBK campaign.

“I am really excited to get back out on the track and have nothing but good expectations,” said 25-year-old Hopkins. “I have been watching SBK over the past few years and the series is always very exciting. The racing seems a lot tighter than in MotoGP. The machines seem more evenly matched so I’m just really excited to get started.”

This year marks Stiggy Racing’s first year in SBK after years in the Supersport class, with Haslam surprising many with a podium at Phillip Island’s opening round at the beginning of this month.

“Right from the start, in the first race, Leon showed that the bike could be put on the podium,” Hopkins explained. “The Stiggy Racing Honda has already proved that it is competitive and I would just like to adapt to it as quickly as possible. I want to be able to run at the front right from the get-go.”

Hopkins is confident that he can battle for race wins alongside countryman Ben Spies – who Hopkins has had an indirect rivalry with in years past since they both began their pro careers at the Valvoline Suzuki (now M4 Suzuki) team in the AMA championship.

“So far this season, Ben Spies and Nori Haga have shown their abilities to run at  the front and their championship intentions. I believe the bike, the team and myself have every capability of running at the front and dicing with the leaders,” Hopkins concluded.

Hopper’s hopes may seem high considering he has never ridden a World Superbike machine before, although he is very confident of himself following seven seasons in the premier class of both 500GP and MotoGP. Hopkins will have his first test on the bike at Almeria in Spain on 30 March, just days before his first race on 3-5 April.

Mladin is three from three in AMA Superbike 2009

Mladin is three from three in AMA Superbike 2009

American Superbike
Mat Mladin has taken his second and third victories of the season in AMA Superbike at California Speedway in Fontana, battling with Rockstar Makita Suzuki teammate Tommy Hayden on both days. Third on the opening day was Geoff May, while Larry Pegram bounced back from a highside on day one to finish third on the second day. Check out the full reports in the Press Releases section.

Mladin’s dominance in the post-Ben Spies era of AMA racing looks set on paper, but it hasn’t been easy so far, especially since both he and teammate Hayden are still on the 2008 model GSX-R1000. Hayden has been in great form so far this year and could surprise once he gets his hands back on the 2009 model – which he was fast on in testing earlier this year.

It was a solid weekend for the Aussies in the Superbike class, with David Anthony scoring ninth and eighth place finishes, while Aaron Gobert finished with a 10th and 11th for the weekend after his bike had troubles overheating on the Saturday.

Mladin has been vocal on the AMA rules for this year as the bikes are much closer to standard spec than in recent years, although his lap times at Fontana weren’t too far shy of what Spies has done in previous years at the same circuit.

And what about Danny Eslick’s performance for Buell in the Daytona SportBike class on the 1125R against all the factory-backed 600 four-cylinders? It was a great result for the former dirt tracker to take the double in Fontana, and a massive turnaround following him not even having a ride a month out from the season opener in Daytona. I bet the American racing fans love to see an American bike up front, although his competitors have already started to complain about his displacement advantage.

In the post-race press conference on Saturday, second place finisher Jamie Hacking mentioned his Kawasaki’s capacity when asked what it would take to beat the Buell, prompting Eslick to answer straight back that there were other Buell’s (not to mention Aprilia RSV1000s) in the class that didn’t run up front. This class has all of a sudden gotten a whole lot more interesting.

Australian Superbike
Shannon Johnson is riding a KTM Superbike at Eastern Creek today, with KTM inviting the former Australian Supersport Champion to sample its new RC8 R at the national dealer launch for the Austrian company’s new up-spec sportsbike. KTM Australia has imported a small number of race bikes for this year, although it was touch and go whether or not one would arrive in time for Johnson to test it at the Creek.

American Supercross

Reed has an 11 point lead with five rounds to run

Reed has an 11 point lead with five rounds to run

Chad Reed’s victory in the AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, on the weekend (see Press Releases for full report and results) in St Louis could be just what the Aussie needs to take him to his third AMA Supercross title.

The Rockstar Makita Suzuki rider has an 11 point lead with five rounds to go, while arch rival James Stewart continues to lap blazingly fast but struggles to keep it on two wheels. It’s going to be a close battle all the way to Vegas in May, but let’s hope Reed can keep up his current form.

Monster Kawasaki’s rookie Ryan Villopoto sat out the weekend due to a viral infection, leaving Billy Laninovich to fly the Team Green flag alone in his debut in place of Tim Ferry.

Nitro Circus star Travis Pastrana’s night in St Louis was uneventful as he finished 16th in his heat before bowing out of the night with an 18th place finish in the LCQ. The track was designed by TP, and we must say it was one of the most entertaining circuits on the calendar in recent years. Let’s get him to design them all, we say!

Australian Motocross
With the Australian Motocross Nationals fast approaching, Daniel McCoy has returned home following his separation with the Moto Concepts Honda team in the AMA Supercross Championship, and he has been seen testing a Yamaha YZF450 over the weekend. McCoy hasn’t confirmed what bike he’ll be racing the Nationals on, although reports have him looking fast on the Yamaha that he borrowed for training purposes.