‘It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Or so it said on the back of Jorge Lorenzo’s Astronaut look-a-like helmet here at Estoril. And he finished it off by stopping in front of his fan club at Turn 6 and moon-walking across the kitty-litter before sinking to his knees under a deafening roar from the Lorenzo Land posse. Jorge had said he wanted to wear the Astronaut helmet as soon as he heard he would be wearing a white and silver suit to promote a new car model launched by Yamaha team sponsor Fiat so he could be a spaceman. The Neil Armstrong-inspired helmet design even included the American Stars and Stripes on it! How cool?
The result was never really in doubt. Gorgeous George had dominated every practice session, while teammate Rossi struggled for a set-up all weekend. Even crew chief JB’s legendary race day morning and post warm-up ‘final tweaks’ couldn’t pull the proverbial rabbit from the hat on this occasion and Vale had to settle for a distant but championship-in-mind fourth. Indeed, Lorenzo’s main challenge came from returnee Casey Stoner, who has come back a new man. Although Lorenzo had checked-out by the time Casey got by usual fast starter Pedrosa, he kept the pressure on and was really relishing throwing his Ducati around again after his enforced absence due to his mysterious energy-sapping illness. The Championship gap is now a more obtainable 18 points, which will no doubt keep Rossi honest over the last 3 rounds.
The main interest and gossip away from MotoGP involves the 250cc GP class and its replacement baby MotoGP bikes for 2010, Moto2. A list of 25 accepted teams consisting of 39 riders was published here on Saturday, with two teams on the reserve list. Some familiar names include: Gresini, Pramac, Scot, Tech 3 and Hayate, all of MotoGP likeness. A very big welcome return to Team Roberts as well. The rest of the grid will be made up of existing 250cc teams and a few new names that currently little is known about. The accepted teams now have until November 2nd to confirm the names of their riders and place a security deposit with IRTA. The option was there for teams to enter 250cc machines in the initial switch-over year, much like the first year of MotoGP, which saw 500cc two-strokes competing against 990 four-strokes, but no such will happen here and it will be an equal playing field of 100% Honda-supplied 600cc in-line four engines in all machines.
The main concern, even if you are a ‘cup half full’ sort of person, is where is the money going to come from if most of these MotoGP teams are already struggling with cash flow and effectively money will have to come from the same MotoGP pot to run the Moto2 squad? The 250cc Tooth Team that runs Italian GP winner Mattia Pasini, who has also been testing recently for the Ducati MotoGP team, has finally had its bikes taken back by Aprilia due to a back log of missed payments. Pasini has been thrown a lifeline by the Caffé Latte Team who run Swiss Thomas Luthi, and allowed Pasini to run from their pit box on a bike that ran in qualifying with a blank fairing. Stories circulating the paddock this weekend talk of prospective Moto2 riders being asked to bring from anything from $600,000-1.2 million Euro to a team for a competitive ride.
Rossi had a rough weekend in Portugal, managing only for fourth-place, with his championship points lead falling to 18 points.
Quarter-liter championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama will graduate to MotoGP with Honda in a new Caffé Latte-backed team next year. Lucio Cecchinello had also been trying to secure additional funding to run the Japanese star next to Frenchman Randy de Puniet, but it looks unlikely. Since fellow countryman Yuki Takahashi was replaced at Laguna Seca this year by Gabor Talmacsi, in ended a span of 271 races from Laguna back to Malaysia in 1991 in which a Japanese rider was on the grid in every premier class race. Hiroshi Aoyama will now continue that tradition run next year.
Ben Spies will be joining MotoGP early as announced here before this weekend. The youngster will be around for the final curtain call at Valencia and will be racing it. This will enable Ben valuable time to get accustomed to the M1 before the testing ban comes in over the winter period. Two bikes from Yamaha’s test team will enable the Texan to line up on the grid in Spain before replacing Toseland in the Tech 3 ‘Team Texas’ for the official test that is following the race on Tuesday and Wednesday. There is a rumor circulating here that Michael Jordan will back the team for the race!