Monday, September 21, 2009

SBK: Showdown at Imola.

Lately, the flow of racing endorphins has dried up for motorcycle junkies. There hasn't been any bike racing on the world scene since Labor Day weekend (ok, so there has been BSB and *yawn* endurance racing). The sight of once-proud motorcycle journalists posting trivia like a list of the ages of racers as news items is a pitiful one and the most heated topic of discussion is the silly season. Cold Turkey is an ugly experience indeed.

Luckily for us, the drought is nearly over and the World Superbike series will resume this weekend at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, near Imola, Italy. When we last met at the Nurburgring, American rookie sensation "Big" Ben Spies had wrested the lead in the series from Xerox Ducati's "Nitro" Noriyuki Haga as a result of the Texan's win in race one and second place in race two while Haga was knocked went down as a result of contact with Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea. At the end of the day, Spies found himself atop the leader board, 18 points ahead of Haga.

With 6 races left in the season, the championship has become Spies' to lose. The Yamaha Italia team tested at Imola last July and Spies was at or near the top of the time sheets most of the time. Spies was also fast at the season-ending Portimao test last year on a bike he'd never seen before. That leaves Magny Cours as the only track that the American has no prior seat time at, not that lack of track knowledge has been much of an impediment to his meteoric rise to the top.

Nori looks to have mostly recovered from the broken wrist and shoulder blade incurred at Donington Park in June. Haga finished a close second to Spies in Race one in Germany and was running at the the front before he was taken out. Haga's Xerox Ducati team mate, Michel "Mr. Fabulous" Fabrizio hasn't provided much of an assist to Haga, other than his failed pass in race 1 at Brno that sent both himself and Spies into the kitty litter.

The most improved rider as of late has been young Ulsterman Jonny Rea who has taken to his Ten Kate team's new Ohlins suspension like a duck to water. Teammate Carlos Checa has had a recurrence of his annual bout of "Checa's Syndrome", a mysterious condition whereby his results get better as contract time nears.

The real news during the hiatus has concerned the Silly Season in both the SBK and MotoGP paddocks. When it was announced prior to the Indianapolis MotoGP round that Ben Spies had signed with Yamaha for 2 more years, Yamaha stated that the team "foresaw" that Spies would be in SBK in 2010 with a possible bump up to the Tech 3 satellite team in Moto GP. Reports in MCN (it *must* be true!) that Spies had committed to appearing in MotoGP in 2010 seem to indicate the the tuning fork crystal ball was cloudy and the future is a lot closer than it seemed a few weeks ago.

Spies' departure could and probably will set in motion a veritable domino effect of team restructurings and rider placements in the weeks to come. Most likely, we'll start to see some official movement soon, maybe this weekend. Whatever happens, us racing junkies will be comfortably numb with a fresh supply of our favorite drug.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Canepa Saves Seat; Kallio Re-Signs? is reporting that Niccolo Canepa has retained his ride at Pramac Ducati -- for now. Despite heavy rumors to the contrary, Canepa, against the wishes of Paolo Campinoti, Pramac Team boss, will not lose his ride for the last 4 races of the season to newcomer Aleix Espargaro, despite Espargaro's beating the Genovese rider in his substitute appearances on the finicky Desmosedici. Reportedly, a provision in Canepa's contract couldn't be overcome w/o heavy litigation. In other Pramac news, it looks like, as expected, Finn Mika Kallio has agreed to terms and has signed for another year at the team.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spies to Tech 3 in 2010?

MCN (It*must* be true!) is reporting that American Ben Spies will join fellow Texan Colin Edwards on the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team in 2010. Announcement will reportedly happen at the Imola WSBK round weekend after next.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Espargaro in at Estoril?

Spanish site is reporting that Aleix Espargaro, who impressed the MotoGP paddock with striking performances in relief of Mika Kallio (including a frankly amazing 5th fastest lap at Misano) on the heretofore finicky 800cc Desmosedici has agreed to a deal that would see him on the Pramac Ducati in Portugal and possibly for the rest of the MotoGP season. Ducati is apparently making sure that they have a full complement of riders should Casey Stoner be unable to appear at the next round. If Stoner does return as expected, Niccolo Canepa will probably be forced to step aside in favor of the frankly surprising Spaniard. Canepa and his manager are reportedly meeting with Pramac brass today to determine the young Italian's future with the team, which includes a possible Moto2 ride in 2010.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

SBK: Hopper Likely to Miss "Rest of the Season"

More bad news for John Hopkins. "Hopper" has been plagued by injuries in his rookie World Superbike season and in the aftermath of a horrific crash at the Nurburgring that left the American unconscious for 16 minutes, it looks like that season is at a merciful end. In a video on Youtube, Hopkins revealed that he had to surgery at Dr. Ting's for torn ligaments and tendons in his left shoulder, scaffoid damage,a bone separation in his right wrist that required the bones to be fused, and tendons repaired in his previously injured hip.Also, CT scans revealed Hopkins had bruising and bleeding on the brain that will need to be monitored for 6 to 8 weeks with no dangerous activity allowed, which makes it likely that he won't race again this year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Suzuki Superbike Rumors

A spate of interrelated 2010 Suzuki WSBK rumors have wafted in through the ether in the last few days. Let's take a look:

1. Alstare Suzuki bids adieu to Yukio "Crash" Kagayama?. Team owner Fat Frankie Batta has made no secret to the fact that he needs two top riders on the team in order to be competitive (he also thinks he needs 2-3 million more Euro, but that's a different story). Batta reckons that the currently injured Max Neukirchner fills the bill, but the other current rider, Yukio Kagayama, doesn't. Kagayama is intermittantly fast, to be sure, but he historically suffers from a distinct inability to keep the machinery out of the scenery. With no podiums in 2008 and but one in 2009, the good will that he garnered with his 2007 Suzuka 8-hour win may not be enough to keep him on the factory team. Current rumors have Kagayama heading back to British Superbikes or to a rumored new Suzuki team that we'll discuss in a bit...

2. If Kagayama is gone, who'll ride for Alstare? Frankie Batta has a wish list of potential riders, allegedly starting with Soon To Be Departed From MotoGP riders Chris Vermeulin and James Toseland. Trouble is when Frankie goes to Tokyo to talk to Suzuki brass, he always has big dreams that don't get funded. Also, Vermeulin is allegedly high up on Aprilia's wish list and Toseland is reportly cozying up to former employer Ten Kate Honda, who are reportedly trimming their roster to two riders for 2010.

3. Yoshimura Suzuki in World SBK? With their long-time #1 rider Mat Mladin retiring back to the outback and Suzuki's direct involvement in the American AMA/DMG superbike series heavily rumored to be at an end, Yoshimura is reportedly casting their nets upon international waters. Reps of the California based company were reportedly at the Nurburgring to scope out the scene and to meet with reps of a European Superstock team and are supposed to renew the conversation at Imola. Other rumors indicate that a Yoshimura team could be a lily-pad for factory favorite "Crash" Kagayama.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Espargaro in, Canepa out at Pramac?

Reports from Europe indicate that Aleix Espargaro, replacement rider for Mika Kallio at Pramac Ducati, underwent successful surgery today for compartment syndrome ("arm pump") in his right forearm, at the USP Hospital San José de Madrid. Why you ask, is this important? Wasn't Espargaro a temporary replacement rider without a steady gig in MotoGP or anywhere else, FTM?

Whispers across the pond indicate that Espargaro might become a permanent (for the rest of this year anyway), replacement for Niccolo Canepa. It's no secret that Ducati has been disappointed in Canepa's performance to date in the premiere class, although to be fair, Superstock to the big show was a huge leap for the 21 year-old Genovese rider. Adding fuel to the rumors is the quickness that the surgery was performed after yesterday's San Marino race. With 3 weeks before the Estoril round, Espargaro should have ample time to return to fitness.