Super Aguri F1 Scores their First Championship Point
How the time flies. Just a year ago Super Aguri F1 was running a revised 2002 Arrows chassis and lapping some 4 seconds behind the lead cars.
This season Super Aguri is campaigning an updated version of last year's RA106. At the Barcelona GP, Super Aguri scored their first championship point with Takuma Sato's drive to 8th place. Sato had to push hard in the closing stages of the race to narrowly beat Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella out of the pits (Renault had a miscue and ended up taking 3 pit stops). Check out a post race interview with Taku:
Interview with Takuma Sato
Also, here's a blurb featuring Super Aguri F1's managing director
Super Aguri was not able to back up their points finish with a strong performance at the Monaco GP but they will almost certainly challenge for points again before the end of the season.
Honda F1 Personnel Moves
Honda F1 has recently signed aerodynamicist Ben Agathangelou from Red Bull F1. Ironically, Agathangelou was the lead aerodynamicist at Red Bull before getting demoted by the arrival of Adrian Newey from McLaren. It is almost the exact same organizational reshuffle that prompted former Honda F1 technical director Geoff Willis to leave Honda F1, a move that some have pointed to as the cause of this year's struggles.
Ben was actually a Honda F1 employee in the past, when Honda was preparing for a return to F1 in the late 90's (this effort got derailed with the death of lead engineer Harvey Postlethwaite). Agathangelou will not officially be able to start work with Honda F1 until his contract with Red Bull expires.
Honda team principal Nick Fry has made it known that he has approached former Ferrari F1 technical director Ross Brawn about a position with Honda F1. Brawn is currently on a sabbatical from Ferrari F1 and has said that Ferrari would still be his number 1 choice if/when he comes back to the sport. Brawn was a key component of Ferrari's 5 championship run with Michael Schumacher. Without a doubt it would be a major coup if he was brought on board with Honda.
Aerodynamics and Testing
Honda has struggled mightily with aerodynamics and many in the F1 paddock and press believe that Honda may have rushed its new wind tunnel in Brackley into service too quickly and improperly calibrated it. The fact that wind tunnel data was not matching up to the on-track results is the proverbial smoking gun that backs that hypothesis.
However, at the Paul Ricard test Rubens Barrichello has stated that on track results are now correlating with the wind tunnel results. It's not clear what steps Honda F1 took to fix the disparity between the wind tunnel data and the on track data but if it is truly rectified it represents a significant step forward for the team. Rubens seemed buoyed by the development.
"The car had a half of a second improvement and it is more stable during the braking." Rubens said. "And do you know what the best thing is? We are going to use it in Monaco."
The Debut of the RA 107 'B-spec' is Upon Us
The Canadian GP is fast approaching (June 10) and it is allegedly where the "RA107B" will make its debut. From the start of the season Nick Fry has admitted that the RA107 will need a significant revamp since they[Honda F1] got some fundamental elements of the car wrong. Canada has been the goal for the new package for some time now and it seems like the team is finally getting good data from the wind tunnel
It would be ill-advised to expect the RA107B to instantly challenge for race wins, but hopefully it will be a big enough improvement that Honda can regularly get in the points again. Perhaps the RA107B will finally realize the potential the team believes is locked within the design of their 2007 challenger.
Last weekend's Monaco GP was another step in the right direction for Honda F1, although a points scoring finished eluded them yet again. In qualifying both cars made it into the third qualifying session(Q3) for the first time this season. Rubens Barrichello started the race from 9th and Jenson Button from 10th.
Early in the race Rubinho was able to make his way up to 7th place but lost a few positions during his second pit stop. Apparently Honda F1 gambled on the Bridgestone soft tires and they simply did not hold up well enough to complete a one-stop strategy. The team also did not get any breaks from full course cautions, which have occurred at 4 of the last 5 races at Monaco.
Still, the Monaco GP was an encouraging step back towards points finishes. In several F1 media quotes it seems that many of the Honda F1 personnel are excited about the forthcoming upgrade for the next round at the Canadian GP. Team engineering director Jacky Eeckelaert alluded to the forthcoming 'RA107B' in a few post race words with the press:
"We have clearly made a step in the right direction and we are now knocking on the door of the points placings. Despite no testing before the two North American races, we will have some improvements there with which to try to close the gap to the teams directly in front of us."
Monaco GP Results
1. Fernando Alonso Spain McLaren-Mercedes 78 laps 01:40:29.329
2. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +04.0secs
3. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +69.1secs
4. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Renault-Renault +1 lap
5. Robert Kubica Poland BMW Sauber +1 lap
6. Nick Heidfeld Germany BMW Sauber +1 lap
7. Alexander Wurz Austria Williams-Toyota +1 lap
8. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Ferrari-Ferrari +1 lap
9. Scott Speed USA Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
10. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Honda-Honda +1 lap
11. Jenson Button Britain Honda-Honda +1 lap
12. Nico Rosberg Germany Williams-Toyota +1 lap
13. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Renault-Renault +2 laps
14. David Coulthard Britain Red Bull-Renault +2 laps
15. Jarno Trulli Italy Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
16. Ralf Schumacher Germany Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
17. Takuma Sato Japan Super Aguri-Honda +2 laps
18. Anthony Davidson Britain Super Aguri-Honda +2 laps
19. Christijan Albers Holland Spyker-Ferrari +8 laps
World Challenge Touring
We're only two races deep into the 2007 Speed World Challenge season and defending champions Realtime Racing is not in bad shape. This year sequential gearboxes have been allowed for the TSX but with the caveat of having to run a smaller inlet restrictor. Pierre Kleinubing finished third at the season opener in Sebring and third again at Miller Motorsports Park. It stands to reason that sooner or later the SCCA will allow the intake restriction to be taken off the TSX since the Mazdas seem to have a decent advantage well in hand.
Le Mans Wrap Up
The first third of the Moto GP at Le Mans was an absolute firecracker as the changing conditions brought some new faces to the front of the pack. There were passes and crashes all over the place as well as a frantic pitlane scramble as riders switched to their rain tire-shod B-Bikes. When it was all said and done Marco Melandri was the highest finishing Honda in 2nd place, with Dani Pedrosa being the only other Honda to finish the race (everyone else crashed out).
You can catch the first 10 minutes of the race on Youtube (for the time being) here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=gxQKpgrjvME
Pedrosa's Strong Rain Ride
While 4th place is not exactly cause for celebration Dani Pedrosa's 4th place finish in the race is a significant milestone for the young rider since just one year ago rain riding was considered his greatest weakness (he got lapped in the wet at Philip Island). This time out Dani was able to settle into a rhythm and put in a charge late in the race. He was not quite in contention for third place but 4th place is still worth valuable points.
Le Mans GP Results
1. Chris Vermeulen AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 50min 58.713 secs
2. Marco Melandri ITA Gresini Honda (B) 51min 11.312 secs
3. Casey Stoner AUS Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 51min 26.060 secs
4. Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team (M) 51min 36.041 secs
5. Alex Hofmann GER Pramac d'Antin MotoGP (B) 51min 47.879 secs
6. Valentino Rossi ITA Fiat Yamaha Team (M) 51min 52.276 secs
7. John Hopkins USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 51min 59.786 secs
8. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 52min 19.954 secs
9. Makoto Tamada JPN Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha (D) 51min 34.842 secs
10. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha (D) 51min 40.165 secs
11. Fonsi Nieto SPA Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 51min 50.572 secs
12. Colin Edwards USA Fiat Yamaha Team (M) 51min 6.769 secs
Moto GP Championship Standings (1st place and Honda riders only)
1. Casey Stoner - Marlboro Ducati - 102
3. Dani Pedrosa - Repsol Honda - 62
4. Marco Melandri - Gresini Honda - 61
8. Toni Elias - Gresini Honda - 35
11. Nicky Hayden - Repsol Honda - 30
13. Carlos Checa - LCR Honda - 20
15. Shinya Nakano - Konica Minolta Honda - 15
20. Kenny Roberts Jr. - Team KR Honda - 4
After the Le Mans GP most of the teams stayed at the track to test. It is not clear what new parts the Repsol Hondas had to test.
Post Le Mans Test Results (Combined Day 1 & 2)
1. Valentino Rossi ITA Fiat Yamaha Team (M) 1min 34.61 secs
2. Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team (M) 1min 34.63 secs
3. Toni Elias SPA Gresini Honda (B) 1min 34.81 secs
4. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol Honda Team (M) 1min 34.86 secs
5. Casey Stoner AUS Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 1min 35.0 secs*
6. John Hopkins USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 1min 35.0 secs*
7. Marco Melandri ITA Gresini Honda (B) 1min 35.13 secs
8. Carlos Checa SPA Honda LCR (M) 1min 35.4 secs*
9. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 1min 35.4 secs*
10. Colin Edwards USA Fiat Yamaha Team (M) 1min 35.52 secs
11. Makoto Tamada JPN Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha (D) 1min 36.11 secs
Horiike-San Admits HRC is in Trouble
At this point all of the Honda riders have complained about the lack of front end feel in the RC212V. The RC212V is also clearly being outgunned on the straightaways by the prodigious speed of the Ducati GP7, although Dani Pedrosa has been able to post trap speeds that are fairly close.
It is rare that HRC [Honda Racing Corporation] admits that they have taken a wrong turn but managing director Satoru Horiike (the father of many of Honda's championship GP bikes and a few road bikes) has done just that in an article that appeared on the Spanish sports website, as.com:
Horiike Talks about HRC's Miscalculation (original Spanish article)
English version of the article from Autosport
HRC is at a critical point in the championship. Next weekend's race at Mugello will be the one-third mark in the championship and none of the Hondas have won a race yet. To secure the rider's title they will need to strike back in short order.
Per rumors from Italian publication Motosprint, HRC is consulting with Honda F1 to develop a pneumatic-valve version of the RC212V powerplant but this has not been confirmed elsewhere. Admittedly it seemed strange that Honda didn't start out the season with a pneumatic valvetrain given that this year's 800 cc engines are running 18,000 to over 19,000 rpm. However, if Honda can find extra power in the valvetrain they will also need to improve the fuel economy since this year's regulations have specified a reduction in fuel capacity.
Michelin v. Bridgestone
This year in Moto GP the balance of power in the tire war has shifted dramatically, with Bridgestone taking a decisive advantage over the first 5 grand prix. They've won 4 out of the 5 races and have swept the podium in two of them (finishing in the top 6 places at Turkey).
One would think that at Michelin's home track in Le Mans that they could have turned the tables. Especially considering that this year's tire limit (31 tires per rider per weekend) does not apply to rain tires. No such thing transpired as Bridgestones completed a podium sweep. It could have simply been the fact that the RC212V is not handling particularly well and Valentino Rossi chose the wrong rain tire but none of the Michelin riders were close to getting on podium at the end of the race.
Luckily the powers that be at HRC had the foresight to switch their top satellite team to Bridgestones for this season but just the same it could be a tough season for the factory Repsol squad
Here's a Michelin commercial aired in Europe with Nicky Hayden. Irony.
Team KR Honda brings in Kurtis Roberts
Team KR has struggled with the switch to 800 cc bikes after closing the 2006 season in 6th place with two podiums. This year the highest finish they've been able to manage is a distant 13th.
Team owner Kenny Roberts Sr. has blamed a lack of testing input since they are only a one rider team. To remedy this, he will be bringing in his younger son, Kurtis Roberts to contest the next two grand prix. Kurtis Roberts is a two-time AMA champion and has done wildcard rides for Team KR in the past. Somewhat of a mercurial, hot/cold rider, Kurtis has had flashes of brilliance here and there during his career. Kenny Roberts Sr. hopes that having the input of two riders will help them sort out the problems with their KR212V faster so they can get back on form. Roberts Sr. has also told the Moto GP press that for the Donington GP (which is effectively the home race for the Banburry England-based team) they will be fielding a British rider for the second bike.
Team KR to Build a Streetbike
In an interview with Bike(UK) magazine Kenny Roberts Sr. revealed that he plans to build a sport bike with a Team KR chassis and a Honda CBR1000RR powerplant. The impetus for this idea is to bring a more steady revenue stream to the cash strapped independent Moto GP team. The initial run will be limited to 50 machines that should be ready this year. 'King Kenny' on the idea:
"The motor is going to be the most standard thing and I'd imagine for safety reasons we'll have to put steel brake discs on it, but everything else will be pretty much what we make for the grand prix bike."
It seems a bit optimistic for Team KR to be able to have this bike ready for sale before the end of the year given that the final package hasn't been solidified yet. But its possible given that it will be a track-only bike and won't need to jump through all of the federalization hoops that a streetbike would. Roberts Sr. has not thrown any numbers out on price but said this:
"The price will be pretty high. We don't want something to go out of here tha's just a dog. The price of the forks alone is staggering, but there's somebody who wants to buy that."
Count us among those who want to buy that, but as for being able to buy that...
Silverstone Wrap Up
Last weekend the World Superbike championship visited the Silverstone race track in the United Kingdom for what was supposed to be 2 races in the 2007 championship. Unfortunately the heavens opened and let loose a torrential downpour that forced the organizers to cancel race 2.
Championship leader James Toseland highsided early in the race but dashed back to his fallen CBR1000RR, remounted and tenaciously clawed his way all the way back to 8th place, salvaging a precious 8 points. He still leads the championship chase by 23 points over Yamaha Italia's Noriyuki Haga. His teammate Roberto Rolfo was able to bring it home in 4th, thus continuing the form he found at the previous round at Monza. Rolfo had been putting in rather average results in the beginning of the season but it seems like he's adapting to the Ten Kate CBR1000RR and coming into his own.
Traction Control Making the Difference
In the last few years in superbike racing worldwide traction control has become an increasingly important factor in race performance. In World Superbike it was not officially made legal until last year. However, both Ducati and Suzuki had been utilizing traction control from before it was declared legal, the former using a system derived from their Moto GP bike's system.
Unfortunately in 2006 Ten Kate Honda did not have the benefit of starting the season with traction control on their bikes. Midway through the season Honda Europe came through and helped them get started with Pi Research's Pectel system.
Last month in the United Kingdom's Bike magazine, Toseland pointed to traction control as the difference that has propelled him to the championship lead after being the number 1 bridesmaid last season (2nd place).
"Coming second last year showed we had a really competitive package. Well, this year the team and bike are working so well together and Honda has given us factory traction control. Every other team had it - and we didn't. You'll be able to see the difference on corner exits. Last year I was spending more time going sideways than forwards, and it was so frustrating."
Best of the Rest and More Ado About Traction Control
As has been mentioned here before, the American Honda Superbike team has taken their racing effort completely in house, rather than leasing their CBR1000RR's from HRC. It has presented a rather steep learning curve to the team, which was not helped by the fact that Yoshimura Suzuki had been bending the rules with traction control for at least the prior 2 seasons.
This year AMA has officially made traction control legal and the team has been hard at work trying to get their system working well for Jake Zemke and Miguel Duhamel. At every track the Honda team has been significantly faster than last year but the Yoshimura Suzukis of reigning champion Ben Spies and 6-time champion Mat Mladin have upped the ante even further. The duo has won every race this season, sometimes by a rather large margin.
For their part the Hondas have been faster than the factory teams of Yamaha, Kawasaki, and MV Agusta but still have quite a bit of ground to make up to the two frontrunners. Miguel Duhamel and Jake Zemke lie 3rd and 4th in the championship respectively. Moto GP refugee James Ellison (UK) on the Corona Honda is in a respectable 10th place.
Good start in Supersport and FX for Hayes
Defending AMA Formula Xtreme champion Josh Hayes is competing in two classes this season with the all new CBR600RR. Hayes leads both championships with 3 out of 4 wins in FX and 2 out of 4 wins in the hotly contested Supersport class
Speaking of Supersport check out this spectacular crash in the Supersport race at Barber Motorsports Park a few weeks ago (both riders were ok):
AMA Supersport Crash (not the best quality)
Kiyonari back in the lead at Snetterton
Ryuichi Kiyonari's title defense began with a mild jog rather than a running start while Airwaves Ducati rider Gregorio Lavilla began with 5 wins out of 6 races. However 'Kiyo' struck back at Snetterton taking wins in both races while Lavilla faltered with mistakes in race 1 and a mechanical DNF in race 2. Kiyonari is now back in the championship lead. In race 2 he also led a Honda sweep of the podium with his teammate Johnny Rea and Stobart Honda's Shakey Byrne in tow.
8 Hours of Suzuka
The 2007 running of the 8 Hours of Suzuka motorcycle race will be the 30th anniversary of one of the most prestigious events in motorcycle endurance racing. Naturally this is a big race for Honda every year as they own the Suzuka racetrack that was commissioned by the late Soichiro Honda himself.
Typically for the 8 Hour Honda enlists the services of some of their top riders from the various motorcycle series around the world. Nicky Hayden, Ryuichi Kiyonari, the late Daijiro Katoh, Valentino Rossi, Colin Edwards, and Mick Doohan have all slung a leg over a Honda superbike to defend the big H's honor at Suzuka. HRC provides full factory prepared CBR1000RRW (the 'W' stands for Works) race bikes for all of their official riders.
For the 30th anniversary it seems that Honda is assembling an extra special all-star cast made up of a mix of their best superbike and Moto GP pilots. From Moto GP Nicky Hayden is almost a shoe-in, and Carlos Checa (LCR Honda) has already tested for the event. Marco Melandri has also been mentioned by MCN(motorcyclenews.com) as a possible team member.
From the superbike side of things James Toseland of WSBK is definitely in the picture. Ryuichi Kiyonari and Johnny Rea said in their Snetterton post race interviews that they are headed to Japan to test for the 8 Hour. Kiyonari is a virtual lock for a seat and if Rea shows well maybe he will join the party. BSB rookie sensation Leon Camier of Bike Animal Honda has competed in the race before for the Moriwaki Honda team and will probably do so again for this year.
For last year's 8 Hour Jake Zemke and Miguel Duhamel of the American Honda superbike team were supposed to contest the 8 hour but couldn't due to back injuries Jake had sustained in a previous race. As of right now they haven't come into the picture for the race but it stands to reason that maybe they will do it, given that at least 2 riders (and maybe 3) from the British championship will be in it.
Honda Racing on TV
NOTE: All listed times are EDT
Saturday, June 2
3:00 pm Speed Touring Car Championship Lime Rock Park (SPEED)
Sunday, June 3
3:00 am Speed Touring Car Championship Lime Rock Park (SPEED)
2:00 pm AMA Superbike Championship - Road America - Race 1 (SPEED)
3:00 pm AMA Supersport Road America (LIVE) (SPEED)
4:00 pm AMA Superbike Championship Road America - Race 2 (LIVE) (SPEED)
5:00 pm MotoGP 250 - Italian Grand Prix (Mugello) (SPEED)
6:00 pm MotoGP World Championship - Italian Grand Prix (Mugello) (SPEED)
Friday, June 9
2:00 pm Formula One Practice Canadian Grand Prix (LIVE) (SPEED)
Saturday, June 10
1:00 pm Formula One Qualifying Canada (SPEED)
Sunday, June 11
NOTE: Check local Fox network listings for broadcasts times for the Formula 1 Canadian GP and the Moto GP Catalunya GP
5:00 pm MotoGP 250 Catalunyan Grand Prix (SPEED)
Well we covered a lot of ground in the first installment, and we still left some notable efforts in Honda Racing out. As this feature becomes more established we will expand to cover some of the other championships.
In our next installment, look for an interview with a team member from one of the Honda teams in a American series as well as some American Le Mans coverage.