You know…you can sense it...it’s coming...slowly but surely…even the weather seems to be picking up. Spring is around the corner – we have lambs in the fields near me - and that means there are motorcycles of all varieties, capacities and manufacturers being started up and sent out for testing at racetracks in Europe, Asia and ‘the gateway to hyperthermia’ (quote courtesy of Barry Sheene Esq.) Phillip Island.
In Spain the most entertaining class of 2011, Moto2 has embarked on its second test of 2012 down at Jerez de la Frontera after a successful 3 day shakedown Valencia last week. Scott Redding came out of that test on top with not only an unofficial fastest lap, but a stunning race simulation too. The Gloucester boy was understandably happy with his first outing of the year on his new Marc VDS Racing Kalex machine and is looking to take that forward to this test and reaffirm his potential as a title contender for 2012.
Bradley Smith wasn’t so fortunate with his first test but, it’s early days yet for the Tech 3 rider. The bike is all new so will take a little time in finding that base setting, but when he does, I expect him to be further up the timesheets. It’s a big season for Bradley; he already has a MotoGP contract in place for 2013 with his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha parent team so he really has to start delivering the results and gain some race-winning credibility before the move up to the big bikes.
I know that testing is exactly what it says it is and the fact is that there are all sorts of smoke screens, double-bluffs and PR artistic licence (not to mention the lack of actual race engines) to fudge the figures so we have to wait until Qatar to see the real picture as always.
It’s been a busy time in BSB – current team previews to be found Part 1 here and Part 2 here and part 3 still to come - after the flurry of announcements in late January. The unfortunate injury to Ian ‘Hutchy’ Hutchinson and his subsequent replacement has been the subject of much debate. Rumours on social media networks linked the ride with such luminaries as Moto2 outcast Ant West and Japanese WSB rider and, hero of many, Noriyuki Haga mentioned as two such possible replacements.
It came as no surprise, to those who read a certain post and the subsequent conversations on twitter last Friday, that Swan Yamaha announced on Monday 13th Feb that fan-favourite Haga was the man chosen to replace TT legend Hutchy for the forthcoming season. All rumour and talk before that Friday announcement pointed to the fact that it was all in favour of West for the vacant seat in Shaun Muir’s team, I would have even put a full £1 coin on it being so...which clearly shows how much I actually know!
However it wasn’t to be the case for West and the likeable Aussie, who after initially and emphatically tweeting that he ‘would NOT be riding for Supersonic BMW’, has now performed a full about-turn and actually signed to ride in BSB for the former World Superbike squad. I personally am really happy to see Westy finally get a ride in BSB to help resurrect his career and can only hope my well-supported twitter campaign of #GetWestyInBSB might have helped...but I doubt it!
On the subject of money and sponsorship - can you imagine a footballer, for instance, being offered a place at major club but be unable to accept it as either he couldn’t bring sponsorship with him to cover his wages or was rejected as he wanted to be actually paid for playing? No, me neither. This is the state of play in our sport and I do worry for the future of it sometimes. I don’t know the in’s and out’s of either Haga’s or West’s deals but somehow somewhere money has, legally obviously, changed hands via a ‘welcome’ or sponsorship deals to enable these appointments to take place.
The one thing that really did leave me scratching my head this week was that even though we have the arrival of new teams and a handful of exciting foreign riders trying their hand at the most competitive domestic series on the planet, our 125cc British Champion Kyle Ryde was scrabbling around trying to raise funds to race for 2012 and almost ended up having to sit out the year due to lack of sponsorship. He was not trying to raise the £1000’s to race in the Spanish series to give him the best shot of a future Moto3 ride, not to race in the World Championship itself or the Red Bull rookies support series, it was just to go out and defend his national title. Seriously, if the sport can afford to warmly welcome non-British entrants in to the big class and secure sponsorship for teams, surely it can facilitate some kind of sponsorship for our own young Champions to help secure the future of racing?!
Another development in BSB was the release of Simon Andrews from the PR Racing Kawasaki squad this week. Now I’ve heard differing reports on this story as to the whys and wherefores of how it came about – one source suggesting PR’s hand was forced and another stating it was Andrews’ contract with Honda for the Roads and Endurance Racing series that saw him leave the Liverpool-based squad, but as Andrews’ rightly went public asking why is it was deemed wrong to try and earn a living from racing. Andrews is currently still injured, with his leg currently behind schedule for healing, but his condition and his Honda contract are all things the team knew before announcing the squad, so it’s all got a little too political behind the scenes. I hope Simon heals fully and does well on the Endurance circuit and the roads this year; he has my full support.
The first series to kick of the race season is, as usual, World Superbikes down at the stunning Phillip Island circuit in Australia. The main protagonists for the 2012 have just completed a 3 day test at the Island with last year’s runaway champion Carlos Checa ominously topping the overall time-sheets on his ‘non-factory’ private Althea Ducati 1098R...with a 6 kilogram penalty weight on the bike too!
It was great to see Tom Sykes at the sharp end of the times on the Kawasaki Race Team ZX-10R, the Grinner could be a good outside bet for a top three place come the end of the season as he hopes to build on his first ever Superbike class win last season.
Saddest news of the test were the injuries to British Superbike runner-up and former MotoGP star John Hopkins and Northern Irish Aprilia new boy Eugene Laverty.
‘Hopper’ has damaged the remainder of the finger that he badly broke in qualifying for the Brno MotoGP round back in August, and had subsequently partially amputated recently, and is expected to be out for up to 6 weeks therefore missing the start of the season and not to mention valuable points in the championship chase. TAS Suzuki’s Aussie BSB rider Josh Brookes has been drafted in as replacement for Hopper for the first round in just 7 days time.
Eugene was a victim of the super-fast Turn 1 at PI, joining a distinguished list of riders to fall foul of the infamous right-hander. Laverty smacked both his left hand and head hard when he fell, breaking a bone in his hand and suffering slight concussion. He has since returned to Northern Ireland to seek further medical advice, although it is expected he’ll be on the grid for the first race.
It’s going to be a great season for WSB if Checa can be reigned in – Laverty, a fit Hopkins, Biaggi, Rea, new boy to the series and former Honda MotoGP rider Hiroshi Aoyama, rookie Chaz Davies, Sykes, Haslam, Melandri and Camier are all potential race winners making it yet another race series that is almost impossible to call!
Like you, I really cannot wait for the season to get under way on all fronts - with WSB kicking it all off just one week from now. There is far too much talk and not enough action to report on, but that is all about to change and, I for one, welcome it with open arms, an open mind and a fully-charged laptop.
As always, thanks for reading.