Tag Archives: Ducati

Ciao Marco, grazie Loris, wow Casey

After a torrid two weeks for the sport Moto GP has found that the remedy is noise, action and some truly memorable racing. The entire Valencia race meeting that closes the season was run in dedication to Marco Simoncelli. All the bikes from the three classes were led by Kevin Schwantz around the track for a parade lap in Super Sic’s honour before an enormous banner was unfurled and the traditional Valencian fireworks combined with the revving engines to make two minutes of ‘casino’ which sure beats a minute of silence. The Simoncelli family suggested this gleefully raucous ceremony, they knew better than anybody that somebody as exciting as Marco wouldn’t really enjoy everybody being miserable, there has been enough of that.

So that was the official tribute, but with every rider carrying a number 58 on their bike, leathers or helmet there was an atmosphere of appreciation for Marco’s talents and personality all through the paddock. The Gresini pit featured a shrine to their fallen star, the number 58 Honda was placed in its garage exactly as it should have been. Marco’s helmet sat proudly atop its steed, the scene looked like a ghostship where everything is present as it should be except for the people. A lovely touch.

However, there is no better way to celebrate Simoncelli’s short but brilliant career than a win for his team, and that’s exactly what Gresini’s Moto2 arm delivered. Michele Pirro took his first ever victory in the class and looked stunned at this magical feat. The Gresini bikes lined up one-two on the grid but Yuki Takahashi took a terrifying tumble out of the lead to deny them a lockout at the front, luckily the Japanese rider suffered a hit big enough to knock the memories of the race clean out of his head but he will be fine. It could have been worse and Gresini will be relieved. He wasn’t the only faller, even Bradl had a vicious crash on a day when spits of rain made the Spanish track even more tricky than it usually is.

On Saturday there was another nice moment that sums up the good feeling that there usually is in a racing paddock. After Stefan Bradl took the championship his father never quite managed to tame, the young German had secured the crown by default when the white-hot Marc Marquez had to give best to his injuries for the second race running and decided not to compete in qualifying. Bradl headed over to the Repsol pit to commiserate with Marc and his team, a really welcome sporting gesture that will have pleased Marquez as much as it was possible to, I’m sure. Marquez will get another shot at the Moto2 crown as he is racing there again in 2012 before stepping up to Moto GP the year after where he will undoubtedly become the next great Spanish hero.

Before the Moto2 encounter there was emotion of a different kind as the 125cc World Championship bid farewell after over 60 years. Although the bikes will live on in national championships and some will form the basis for the new Moto3 bikes, this will be much-missed formula. In 2011 alone we have seen dead-heats, passing, crashing and a championship battle that went down to the wire as Terol took the final crown while his rival Zarco fell early in the running. Maverick Vinales took the win ahead of Terol to go down in the record books as the final 125cc winner, the youngster recording his fourth win and installing himself as a favourite for the new class before the bikes have even turned a wheel.

Moto GP has not had its most glorious year, but the sparse grid that already lacked local hero Jorge Lorenzo put on quite the show for the final race for the 800cc bikes that haven’t proved to be a hit. The field was decimated further as Bautista and no less than three Ducatis including the works bikes of Rossi and Hayden were down at the first corner. With Casey Stoner out front it was up to Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Spies to entertain us in the early laps. They kept riding hard in the damp conditions with passes being made on nearly every lap, this 190mph dance continuing right until the chequered flag.

Ben Spies came on stronger as the rain fell heavier, exploring the limits of his Yamaha’s brakes. All the riders resisted taking to their wet bikes, staying out there with Spies looking like the quickest and bravest as he took Dovizioso with six laps to go before closing rapidly on Stoner’s Honda that had enjoyed a ten second advantage at one point. With three laps to go the Australian champion was under real pressure and ran wide as he encountered the wet stuff which handed Spies what looked set to be his second Moto GP win. However it was not over. With Stoner’s balls-to-the-wall riding style and the big speed of his Honda he powered back past Spies on the run to the flag to claim the win by a scant 15 thousandths of a second. A more thrilling remedy for sadness you could not ask for.

Meanwhile we said goodbye to Loris Capirossi, the most experienced Moto GP rider of them all having rode in 40% of all World Championship Grand Prix race meetings. The old man’s bike sported the number 58 of his fallen countryman Marco Simoncelli, Loris hustling it through to ninth to score decent points, which is a much better retirement gift than a gold clock. As the paddock said “Grazie Loris” and “Ciao Marco” the cold Valencia circuit became a very warm place indeed. Such is the power of good people and great racing.

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Jorge goes for his annual dip

Jerez is Lorenzo's land. (pic Fiat Yamaha)


Bernie may want rain to spice up F1 races but in Moto GP a little precipitation often does the opposite and ruins the fun. This Sunday was a little different though, the rain in Spain allowed for heroics from some and made headaches for others, it all added up to a spectacular race for the hundreds of thousands of moto-mad fans that make Jerez one of the best Grand Prix of the year. It was race of the week from where I was sitting, so it must have been something else trackside.

The substantial crowd may have been cheering Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi but Casey Stoner was hoping to spoil the party after claiming pole position. The Honda rider was the man to beat at Losail and could have done the same on Spanish soil were it not for the rain and an out-of-control Valentino Rossi. During the thrilling early laps The Doctor blasted through from his poor grid spot to trouble Stoner, Lorenzo and Simoncelli at the front until the Ducati rider fell into the path of the Aussie star sending both into the kitty-litter like skittles. While the marshals rushed to Rossi’s aid they left Stoner frustrated and unable to push-start his still race-worthy Honda. Casey lost his championship lead and had a few choice words for Valentino afterwards including the oldie-but-goodie “you ran out of talent” along with some criticism for the race officials themselves.

The two champions weren’t the only ones to visit the gravel; three of the top nine finishes had all spent time on their bums during the Grand Prix before recovering. Simoncelli was perhaps the most unfortunate, after taking Lorenzo and Stoner on successive laps he wobbled his way out of an impressive lead and onto the floor leaving Jorge Lorenzo to take another win at Jerez. And yes, he dived in the pond again although this time he was already soaked by the relentless drizzle. Pedrosa made it a Spanish one-two while Nicky Hayden got the third spot on the podium, a position that nobody else seemed to want including Ben Spies who even got as high up the order as second before falling off.

There were plenty of great rides throughout the Moto GP weekend but it was the paperclip track at Martinsville that provided my racer of the week. Kevin Harvick picked up his second win on the bounce in Sprint Cup competition after shuffling past Dale Earnhardt Jnr in the last couple of minutes, consecutive wins are a rare thing in Sprint Cup especially on such wildly different tracks.

Although Harvick has to be racer of the week, Johnny Sauter deserves a shout for taking a win in the Camping World Trucks on the micro-oval. The presence of Harvick and Busch in Trucks makes a victory in this series so much more valuable to the few who can break their stranglehold. Expect the Kevin and Kyle show to resume next time out though, it’s not often those two get beaten in a Truck and both of them are driving better than ever in 2011. Watch and learn Mr Raikkonen.

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An Australian star lights up the desert

Casey Stoner rules at Losail and pays tribute to Japan

Doesn’t Casey Stoner look right in Repsol leathers? I have a feeling that it is an association that will come to define him, especially if Casey keeps performing as he did last Sunday night. The Honda super-team of the Doohan and Rossi era has returned in style with the young Australian shining brightest of all under the lights of Qatar as Moto GP kicked off 2011 after an intriguing off-season packed with rider swaps.

The dull circuit was as illuminated by Casey’s inspired riding as it was by the thousands of lights shining in the desert night, earning the Honda-newcomer my racer of the week title. He didn’t just humble the more established Honda riders Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Simoncelli, he also beat last year’s champion Jorge Lorenzo. The lollipop-munching Yamaha rider said he rode at 100% to keep up with Casey, implying he never had to ride his steed quite so fast while battling Valentino Rossi last year, which is a sobering thought.

As for everybody’s favourite Italian nine-time champion, Valentino struggled in the saddle of the Ducati vacated by Stoner. Seventh was all the great man could manage with the eyes of Italy fixated on him and his team. Getting to know the new team sounds like a good excuse for an average result, but a glimpse inside the red squad’s pit box showed plenty of faces that followed Rossi over from Yamaha. A tenth championship is not likely for The Doctor in 2011 as he recovers from injury and tames a radically different bike, while Casey Stoner already looks odds on to seal the second crown of his career.

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Desert, island, reading

Nascar rides into the sunset

Nascar in the desert, Superbikes beside the seaside (pic stevelyon)

The World Superbike season got underway in underwhelming style and Nascar got back to a short-ish track after the drama of Daytona, but it was the boys of World Supersport who put on the best show and claimed my race of the week. Watch them put the ‘super’ in Supersport here.

Carlos Checa made World Superbikes look easy with two wins at Phillip Island, while Max Biaggi had a solid start to his title defence and Marco Melandri made his mark with a podium on his debut. The Superbikes were unusually mute as Ducati’s works absence barely registered, a red bike controlled nearly the whole weekend regardless, so it was left to Supersport to provide the entertainment. After a thrilling contest they nearly had to split the winner’s trophy in three as Scassa, Lowes and home-hero Brock Parkes crossed the line as one, Luca Scassa emerging the winner by a nose. Classic Phillip Island and the best action of the weekend even before the photo-finish.

Meanwhile in the desert Kyle Busch wanted to take home three trophies from Phoenix after a win in Trucks and a rare lights-to-flag victory in Nationwide before saddling up for the Sprint Cup encounter. He nearly scored his hat-trick, as he did at Bristol last year, but then Jeff Gordon popped up to spoil the party to take his first win since 2009. Meanwhile last week’s Daytona fairytale turned into a nightmare for Trevor Bayne as he kept bouncing off the wall all weekend.

Jeff Gordon may have stole the headlines but Kyle Busch rode out of town with the title of twoworlds’ racer of the week by leading hundreds of laps at PIR and coming within nine miles of completing another three-from-three until the number 24 gently shuffled him aside.

We’ve now got nearly a month to wait for the Grand Prix circus to start doing anything of interest. There was no gossip from the F1 world this week as the paddock has read Bernie’s and Briatore’s biographies rendering them speechless…

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Dude, where’s my sponsor?

Looks fast to us - Lorenzo & Spies check out their new ride.

50 years in the business, the two hottest youngsters on the grid and a number one on the fairing – sounds like a recipe for a big sponsor. Except for Yamaha’s works Moto GP squad it isn’t. Jorge Lorenzo is going to defend his title without the backing of a title sponsor, an indicator of just how tough the economy is at the moment.

Valentino Rossi is off to fulfill his destiny by riding for Ducati in 2011 and former sponsor Fiat has left too. Yamaha are putting a brave face on it, in fact they seem rather keen on being able to use their corporate colours and are planning on doing some ‘special’ paint jobs over the course of the season. Good for them, but pity the smaller teams who haven’t got half a century of success behind them and two champion riders under contract. No wonder the Moto GP grid has shrunk over the last few years.

For now we’ll leave Lorenzo and Spies looking at their lovely YZR-M1s and wish them luck for the year ahead. At least the bikes will be a bit lighter without all those pesky decals!

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Haga and Biaggi’s Magny Cours encore

Haga's lucky magic bike

Haga's lucky magic bike - WSBK, Magny Cours 2004

Racing runs on many things, not all of them positive: money, oil, egos, scandals and scoundrels all play their part in sullying the sport we love. Fortunately it is also driven by passion, determination and a healthy dose of adrenaline, all of which were at work in the second race of the World Superbikes at Magny Cours last weekend where we were treated to the bizarre sight of the two leaders continuing to race after the chequered flag. We’ve seen racers pull up before they should, but this was a little more unusual.

Our heroes are ‘Nitro’ Nori Haga, the ever-exuberant Ducati rider who is well overdue a title, and his opponent is one Max Biaggi, he of sharp beard and short stature. After the 23rd of 23 laps the dueling duo appeared to carry on racing hard while their rivals cruised back shaking hands and taking the applause. Haga did appear to slow down and begin his celebrations before picking up the pace and riding the last lap at full tilt with Biaggi only a few bike lengths adrift. The experienced pair eventually called it a day after taking the flag for a second time.

So what happened? It looked as though Max may have missed the flag, while Nori probably saw this and thought “sod it, let’s have another lap then” in Japanese. I wishfully think that the riders were having such a good time they fancied racing until they ran out of fuel. Like a video game you can’t put down, I like to believe they simply had that ‘just one more go’ feeling. In reality it was probably just a daft error on their part, but who could argue with their little encore?

The World Superbike Championship has been a real humdinger with Ducati’s ‘Nitro’ Nori Haga and new Yamaha Moto GP hotshot Ben Spies tussling for the 2009 honours. With each rider taking a win out in the French countryside it was a fascinating encounter. Magny Cours is no Le Mans, but  the action into the Adelaide Hairpin is always a blast and this meeting is the track’s biggest event now that F1 has eschewed its gallic roots.

Seeing Nori leading the way here sent me back to 2004 when some talented friends of mine were enlisted to paint graffiti onto the Renegade Ducatis of Haga and Leon Haslam at Magny Cours. Haga took his one-off colours to victory that day, prompting an excited Japanese fellow in the pitlane to exclaim to my painter pals, “Thank you for lucky-magic-bike!”

Spies, who is destined to become the next Texan Tornado to strike Moto GP after snatching Toseland’s ride at Tech 3 Yamaha, is only ten points adrift of Haga on the works Ducati. Amazingly Haga has never held the World Superbike title before, so at the finale on the fantastic Portimao track Nori will be needing another lucky magic bike.

If you want to check the Magny Cours race for yourself, click right here.

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