News 27 Apr 2009

Racing Insider #81

Grand Prix of Japan sparks excitement back into MotoGP with Lorenzo's win. Plus news from MotoGP; Moto2; WSBK; NSWRRC and AMA SX.


Lorenzo leads Rossi and Pedrosa in Motegi - the way that they would finish

Lorenzo leads Rossi and Pedrosa in Motegi - the way that they would finish

This year’s MotoGP World Championship may just be tighter than we first thought, with yesterday’s race at Motegi in Japan proving that Qatar’s sleeper isn’t certain for the remainder of the season.

While all eyes were on championship favourites Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in the Grand Prix of Japan, Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo shocked onlookers as he swept past Fiat Yamaha teammate Rossi and was never seriously challenged on his way to victory.

The former double 250cc Grand Prix World Champion took his second ever MotoGP victory in his second season of racing in the premier class, taking the lead position from Rossi on lap nine before eventually winning by a margin of 1.304 seconds after the 24 lap duration.

Lorenzo’s race was faultless, although not easy, maintaining a steady gap ahead of the Italian eight-time world champion on his way to taking over the points lead after also scoring a podium result at the opening round in Qatar.

You could see the frustration in Rossi at the end of the race as he watched Lorenzo celebrate, and it’s times like these that makes Yamaha’s wall down the middle of the garage a stroke of genius even though they are on the same rubber this year.

But it was still an important result for Vale as he finished two positions ahead of main threat Stoner, who finished fourth following a slow start to the race with brake troubles on his Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici GP9.

The Aussie fought back from as low as seventh, although he couldn’t peg back the surprising performance of Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa, who continues to recover from serious knee injuries suffered in a pre-season crash.

Both Pedrosa and factory Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso put in exceptional performances just days after I wrote Honda off, with Dovi rounding out the top five just 9.207 seconds in arrears of Lorenzo at the race’s end.

And what can you say about Marco Melandri and the Hayate Racing Team on the ex-factory Kawasaki ZX-RR – finishing a comfortable sixth in an effort that surprised even the team and Marco himself.

Following a devastating season last year at Ducati, you can bet that Melandri had a massive grin in his helmet when he passed former teammate Stoner in the early stages of the race.

Melandri was able to top Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and top rookie Mika Kalio, who took his second eighth place in succession for the satellite Pramac Ducati team. Kalio edged out the improving James Toseland on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.

Lorenzo was pumped to take his second MotoGP victory

Lorenzo was pumped to take his second MotoGP victory

It’s about time that JT got on the pace, although his teammate Colin Edwards must be fuming after Italian websites have reported that the team accidently left a wet setting in the electronics for the dry race.

Queenslander Chris Vermeulen was a disappointing 10th on the second of the Suzukis, with electrical problems forcing him down the order after running towards the front in the early parts of the race.

Vermeulen was a front row starter after qualifying was cancelled due to heavy rain, with times from Friday’s practice used and handing Rossi the pole position despite limited track time.

Stoner’s Ducati teammate Nicky Hayden was forced out of the race on lap one when local star Yuki Takahashi took him down on his Scot Racing Honda, while returnee Sete Gibernau was another crasher in the race on his Grupo Francisco Hernando Ducati.

In the 250cc Grand Prix at Motegi it was Spaniard Alvaro Bautista who won for the Mapfre Aspar Aprilia team, with second place going to local favourite Hiroshi Aoyama ahead of Mattia Pasini. Defending world champion Marco Simoncelli was leading the race but had to stop with a flat front tyre mid-race.

Italian Andrea Iannone took his second victory of the season in the Japanese 125cc Grand Prix at Motegi, a clever tyre choice in damp conditions enabling the Ongetta Team I.S.P.A Aprilia rider to beat out Julian Simon and Pol Espargaro after the circuit rapidly dried throughout the race.

Speaking of limited track time, a meeting at this weekend’s third round of the series at Jerez in Spain will likely see the regulations revised to revert practice sessions in the premier class back to hour-long sessions instead of the 45 minutes that were implemented for this year.

Bautista and Aoyama battled for much of the 250GP

Bautista and Aoyama battled for much of the 250GP

Riders have voiced their concerns over a lack of time to adjust settings on the bike in the shortened sessions, also having to deal with one less practice this year after Friday morning’s session was cut from the schedule to cut costs.

It’s now all but confirmed that the sessions will return to the traditional hour-long duration, but more likely for the fourth round at Le Mans in France next month rather than this weekend.

A limited number of laps allowed has been rumoured, although not expected at this point after the team’s association put an end to those suggestions by proposing that it’s opened up for a full hour of track time if they need it.

Also to be decided in a meeting at Jerez in Spain this week is the control engine supplier of the Moto2 category, with both Kawasaki and Aprilia speculated to be in the running at these early stages, although the ultimate decision will come down to who can supply them for every team.

Aprilia would be logical choice since it has supported 250GP racing for so long, although the Italian manufacturer would have to build an engine from scratch if it were to provide the series with a 600cc four-cylinder engine.

Meanwhile, Kawasaki would be a good bet to remain in GP racing as the sole engine supplier, which would be a much cheaper way for Team Green to continue GP racing and they’d also be guaranteed victory!

On the other hand, Honda has supported Moto2 from the very beginning and many of the bikes that we see being developed all over the world feature engines stemming from the production CBR600RR engine.

The engine supplier was supposed to be announced in Japan, although multiple proposals are the reason that the decision has been delayed.

Interestingly, Moriwaki launched the latest version of its Moto2 contender in Motegi, but they’ll only be a supplier for at least the first year and will built the chassis around whatever engine needs to be used in the category. It’s believed Moriwaki already has a great interest in the chassis.

Haga has extended his WSBK lead to 60 points

Haga has extended his WSBK lead to 60 points

Ducati Xerox’s Noriyuki Haga extended his lead in the 2009 Superbike World Championship out to a massive 60 points after just four rounds, taking a second place and a victory at Assen in the Netherlands yesterday.

It wasn’t an easy day for Haga however, with Texan rookie sensation Ben Spies scoring a triumphant win in the opening race following a breathtaking last lap passing manoeuvre on his Yamaha YZF-R1.

Spies won race one from pole position, maintaining his perfect WSBK Superpole record with four straight this season, edging out Ducati Xerox’s Haga and a surprise performance from lone Stiggy Honda rider Leon Haslam.

But the weekend went pear shaped for Spies in race two, crashing out early on and allowing Haga to race to a relatively easy victory ahead of Haslam and Guandalini Ducati’s Jakub Smrz.

Best of the Australian contingent was BMW’s Troy Corser with a pair of 10th places, while Karl Muggeridge had a reasonable weekend with a 12th in race one before crashing out of the second for Celani Suzuki.

Smrz’s teammate Brendan Roberts finished the weekend with 16-13 results, the South Australian continuing to improve in his maiden WSBK campaign. Good news for Roberts is that team manager Frankie Chilli has said that the team isn’t looking to replace Roberts, although he did say he hoped to see him in the points on a regular occasion.

Laverty won his second WSS race of the year

Laverty won his second WSS race of the year

Parkalgar Honda’s Eugene Laverty won the World Supersport Championship race at Assen’s WSBK round, edging out fellow ex-British Superbike rider Cal Crutchlow and Spaniard Joan Lascorz. Mark Aitchison was top Aussie in sixth, Ant West seventh, Garry McCoy 15th, and Russell Holland 17th.

Australia’s world champion Andrew Pitt escaped any serious injury from a crash that saw Crutchlow run over his arm, although it’s a serious harm in Pitt’s championship fight as he fights to fend off the challenge from the British stars.

American John Hopkins suffered a cruel blow at Assen, crashing in the first free practice session of the weekend and dislocating his hip, which also caused a crack at the top of his femur. It’s unknown who will replace Hopper, although he is very determined to make it back as soon as possible considering Haslam’s podium run at Assen.

Mat Mladin’s Oran Park Superbike lap record that he set in 1995 has finally been eclipsed, with current Australian Superbike Champion Glenn Allerton winning the NSW Road Race Championship on the weekend in a dominant display.

Allerton scored pole position and won all five races onboard the same Procon Racing Honda that Shannon Johnson raced to the Victorian titles last weekend, with his best lap of 1:09.383 beating out Mladin’s best of 1:10.200.

Second on the podium was Jason Kain (JK Motorsports Kawasak), with former state champion Richard Zaja (Canberra Motorcycle Centre Honda) finishing third overall for the weekend.

One rider to keep an eye on his North Coast V-Twins Ducati rider Beau Beaton, who challenged the Superbike podium placers at times on his way to winning the Superstock 1000 title.

Stewart has a six point advantage with one AMA round remaining

Stewart has a six point advantage with one AMA round remaining

Defending AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, Champion Chad Reed (Rockstar Makita Suzuki) will need luck on his side as he heads to the final round of the 2009 championship six points in arrears of rival James Stewart (San Manuel Yamaha) this weekend.

Stewart beat Chad on the weekend in Salt Lake Cirty, but only after Stewart’s teammate Kyle Chisholm made contact with Reed as he was getting lapped in the late stages of the race.

Reed was understandably mad after the race, but in saying that he remains focussed for next weekend’s finale. Stewart will now only need to score fourth or better in order to wrap up the series.

Meanwhile, Reed’s teammate Ryan Dungey wrapped up the West Coast Lites regional Supercross title, but it was Aussie Jake Moss (TLD Honda) who made the U.S. teams take notice with a solid ride that saw him lead almost half the main event before he crashed and ended up seventh.