November 10, 2005 Elite motorcycle racing has many similarities to Formula 1 but it also has many differences, and perhaps the starkest contrast became evident on the Valencia racetrack in Spain yesterday just three days after the last race of the 2005 season. Formula 1 driver changes are major announcements in exotic locations. In MotoGP, all of the rider changes that had been rumoured and spoken of in hushed terms for the previous three months were suddenly on display as the first official test session for 2006 got underway. Honda’s big hope for 2005, Spaniard Sete Gibernau, was riding a Ducati. More significant though was the absence of many of the senior names which have monopolised the key factory rides for the last five years and in their place a half dozen or more new riders who have surfaced though 125, 250 and superbike – Pedrosa, Vermeulen, Stoner, Divizioso, Luthi, De Punier, Kiyonari and Neukirchner were among those who got their first chance on the ultimate racing machines yesterday as the Japanese factories (primarily Honda) made it clear they were seeking the next Valentino Rossi. Extensive image library

It may take a few years for the significance of the 2005 racing season to become fully recognised as another watershed for MotoGP, but posterity may look at it as the beginning of the end of an era in terms of the make-up of the grid. For almost a decade, the same basic backbone of riders has monopolised the top MotoGP berths, across the spectrum of participating teams and manufacturers. That generation is about to come to a natural end, and a new batch of riders is massing on the borders of MotoGP careers, just waiting for a signal to advance.

Gibernau to Ducati

Without doubt the most important change on display was aboard the black Ducati wearing black leathers – Sete Gibernau is clearly the second fastest rider in the class, and despite access to the fastest bikes of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer this year, he had an awful time and failed to win a race, despite leading more laps than anyone else (113), including the prodigy Rossi (109 laps in the lead for 11 wins). Others to have led a signficant number of races include Melandri (76 laps for two wins), Hayden (38 for one win), Capirossi (26 laps for two wins) and Barros (26 laps in lead for one win).

"I'm delighted to welcome Sete," said Ducati President Federico Minoli. "We think Sete is one of the strongest guys in MotoGP. He's a talented, gritty and courageous rider. Sete has had a difficult season this year but he has shown throughout that he never gives up, in the best Ducati spirit. For this reason we're very proud to have him in our 2006 line-up alongside Loris. They are both very strong riders and we'll do everything we can to give them what they need to obtain the best possible results."

Gibernau is optimistic about his future, trusting in the Ducati/Bridgestone partnership that has already given great joy to Ducati fans with some amazing results, including Capirossi's victories at the recent Japanese and Malaysian GPs.

"After achieving some great results and much satisfaction during the last few years, and after a season at the highest level but with some difficulties, I decided to make a change in my career," said Gibernau. "First of all I want to thank the people who helped me achieve so many good results. But now it's time to find some new motivation. The professionalism and enthusiasm I've found at Ducati are what made me decide to join forces with the factory. I face this new challenge with real determination, convinced that together we can achieve great success. In recent years Ducati has shown that it has big ambitions and huge potential. I trust that, with my experience, I can make a real contribution to turn our shared dreams into reality."

Biaggi on the outer

Max Biaggi, for much of the last five years the man most likely to defeat, perhaps even dethrone Rossi, led just 11 laps this year and did not win a race, and he looks like paying for it very dearly as there’s a strong likelihood he will not be offered a factory ride in 2006. After winning four consecutive 250 titles, Biaggi won his debut 500cc race in 1998 and has since amassed 13 ins, 58 podiums, 14 fastest race laps and 23 poles but has not won a title and it seems that the factories have now decided that Max has run his race. He sits alongside Randy Mammola as the winningest rider to fail to take a title. Eight riders who have won less races have a World 500cc championship on their mantlepeice and two of those have multiple championships to their name.

Gibernau’s move is a good one. It gives Ducati perhaps the strongest team for 2006 as both Gibernau (nine wins) and Capirossi (five wins) are capable of winning on the Ducati and if Bridgestone can continue to edge closer to Michelin in constructing tyres for these 225 bhp machines in all circumstances, the Italian factory seems likely to move further up the grid in 2006. For Gibernau, it’s probably his last chance to shine before the next wave of young riding talent headed by Melandri and Hayden but followed closely by Hopkins, Pedrosa, Vermeulen, Stoner and Divizioso matures.

Young Guns given a chance by Honda

Honda appears to have had a major change of mindset over the course of 2005 – recognising that it is unlikely to beat Rossi with the current crop of riders, it is now seeking to ensure it secures the next champion. Though it has lost the services of the talented Vermeulen to a Suzuki MotoGP ride, it has now sltted the two most promising 250 riders into its 2006 MotoGP line-up and yesterday Thomas Luthi (Elit Honda RS125R), Andrea Dovizioso (Kopron Team Scot RS250RW), Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda CBR1000R) and Max Neukirchner (Klaffi Honda CBR1000RR) were given the chance to experience the demanding charms of the RC211V at Valencia. This was partly as a reward for their great efforts in their own classes, and also as a reminder to them that there is a lot more to come in a few years time, if their careers keep heading in an upward spiral.

Luthi tests the RC211V

What’s better than winning the World 125cc Championship on a buzzing little two-stroke bee of a machine, with a single stinging cylinder? For new champion Luthi, probably nothing imaginable at present, only days after his triumph in the 2005 series, but he was nonetheless in line for a taste of the sweetest honey; the golden result of Honda’s industrious workers in the race department, the RC211V.

Five cylinder’s instead of one, whirring cams and baying exhaust notes, the RC211V so much horsepower no circuit can truly ever corral it entirely, and the latest in Honda’s astounding heritage of four-stroke racers must look like the steepest side of the Matterhorn to Luthi right now.

The young Swiss – without a full-sized racetrack in his country at all because of long-standing legislative intervention – has had an outstandingly unusual road to success. Still not even 20 years old, Luthi started out at the tender age of nine years, running in the Swiss Pocket bike Championship, usually held on makeshift tracks around large, out-of-town Supermarkets. His Mother Sylvia and ex-Honda Cup racer father Hansueli helped him along, with his mother cited as his biggest supporter in his young career, in which he was to win eventual Swiss titles on the baby bikes.

Having to travel to Germany to begin his ‘real’ racing career, he was one of many young German-speaking riders to compete in the ADAC series, but despite his clear talent, his career only really took off this year. His previous seasons were marked with good results, then misfortune, but in 2005, the combination of his Elit team, the RS125R Honda and Luthi cracked the code for first race, then Championship victory. His total of four race wins (all coming this year) was not added to at the final round in Valencia, but his name was added to the ultimate role of honour in the smallest modern day GP class.

The fact that he was due to ride the RC211V was kept from Thomas before Valencia, to allow him to concentrate on the vital job of securing his title, so his sense of excitement must be as keen any rider’s would be when given the chance to fire up the ultimate in MotoGP ordnance.

Andrea Dovizioso on the RC211V

The feat Luthi pulled off in 2005 was the same as that completed by Dovizioso in 2004 - winning the 125cc championship. For ‘Dovi’ a rider with a deceptively languid expression when off duty and a measured approach to the job when in charge of a set of handlebars, his success led to an immediate promotion for both rider and team into the upper echelons of the 250cc class.

His first season in 250cc racing delivered him four podium finishes, and an overall third in the championship, the most impressive class rookie by some distance, in a year when many riders were pushed upwards to the rejuvenated 250cc category. Now he gets the chance to hear a MotoGP exhaust note from nearer its point of origin, and will indeed be in control of the volume himself.

National minibike and Motocross Championships came early in the schoolboy career of Dovizioso, still only 19 now, but in winning the highly competitive Aprilia Challenge in his native land in 2000; he singled himself out as another of Italy’s endless stream of potential world championship runners. His title-winning 2004 season was a largely dominant one, as he took a start-to-finish lead in the series, often using his cool head to win races other riders looked more likely to secure at some stages.

His 250cc rookie season may not have delivered a win quite yet, but as prizes go, a chance to ride a MotoGP missile is not a bad reward for a season of impressive effort, and an overall season podium finish in third.

Max Neukirchner

Neukirchner had a second consecutive rookie season after a successful year in SuperSport in 2004, followed by another very promising year in SuperBikes in 2005. The two-stroke-background of 2003 European Champion Max Neukirchner may have made him an immediate prospect for a move to GPs sooner rather than later – until Austrian sidecar legend Klaus Klaffenbock booked him for an adventure in World Supersport in 2004.

He was an immediate smash hit, despite the fact that there were so many experienced riders in this class that it was impossible for him to win in his first year. Nonetheless, Neukirchner managed such a feat – not in a single race per se, but he was awarded the ‘Rookie of the Year’ trophy for his superb showings and consistent points scoring in a class littered with much more experienced hard nuts and former champions. Just to underline his adeptness and versatility, it was not just his rookie WSS season; it was his first ever four-stroke season.

Most riders would have stayed in the class another year to go for the win, but with loftier ambitions suddenly within his reach, Neukirchner and Klaffi Honda hopped up to the Superbike class the very next season. His rookie season in Superbike delivered him a podium in Australia – at a real rider’s circuit – and only a hand injury in the very next round compounded by an exponential increase in the numbers of riders capable of top fives by mid-season, prevented more measurable points progress. Such was the resurgence of the class this year, and his seven no scores, that Neukirchner did not quite get the top ten finish he desired. He did get something more valuable and long-lasting, however, immediate respect as a top Superbike rider, in a class with 30 regular participants, almost all of whom have much more experience than the 22-year-old German.

Kyonari on the RC211V

Kyonari was due to test alongside Luthi, Dovizioso and Neukirchner at Valencia but was given the opportunity to race the RC211V at the GP on the preceding Sunday. Racing for the Camel Honda team (substituting for the injured Tory Bayliss) his ride delivered him 12th place and immediately marked him as a sterling prospect.

For Kiyonari it was a return to an updated version of the machine that he rode in the 2003 MotoGP season, following the untimely death of the late lamented Daijiro Kato, but for Luthi and Neukirchner it was the first time they have ridden one of the most complete and accomplished race bikes ever built. Dovizioso, 125cc World Champion in 2004, tested the RCV for the second time.

Competing in the British championship for the last two years, Kiyonari (23) is the most experienced four-stroke rider of the new wild bunch testing at Valencia, having sailed close to the championship win in the UK this year.

Honda’s youngest ever line-up

While at Valencia the four trainee MotoGP Musketeers were able to watch their young Honda compatriots take their first steps to preparing for their 2006 MotoGP campaign.

Honda will go into the 2006 MotoGP series with their youngest line-up ever, no less than four riders in their early twenties have already signed to race RCVs next season. Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden, who raced RC211Vs to second and third places, respectively, in the 2005 series, will be joined by young Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Toni Elias in Honda teams.

Hayden, 24, from Kentucky enters his fourth season aboard the 990cc V-5 250 plus horsepower four-stroke. The former AMA Superbike Champion scored his maiden GP victory at his ‘Home’ race at Laguna Seca this year and ended the season with four successive podium finishes, statistics that bode well for 2006.

Marco Melandri - the heir apparent

Team Gresini Honda has retained the considerable talents of Italian Marco Melandri for 2006. Melandri, a former 250cc champion, finished the 2005 Honda debut season with a flourish winning the final two grands prix of the season to secure his impressive second place in the championship.

Melandri is in many ways the most likely heir to Rossi’s throne when Rossi decides to pursue interests and challenges beyond Motorcycle racing, most likely in Formula 1 in a Ferrari, though Red Bull are apparently very keen to secure the services of the charismatic and supremely talented Italian phenomenom and Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz is known for his persuasiveness.

Like the two most successful GP riders of all time (Rossi and Giacomo Agostini), Melandri is Italian, and won his first premier class race a few weeks ago at 23 years and 77 days, just ten days older than Agostini was when he won his first 500 race at Imatra in Finland in 1965. Melandri’s style suits that of a Grand Prix bike, he was now won titles in every class of competition and his two race wins have shown he can win against Rossi at his best.

In winning the Turkish Grand Prix, Melandri slipped into elite company, becoming the fifth youngest rider in history to win three Grand Prix classes – those ahead of him are Mike Hailwood (21 years 75 days), Rossi (21 years 144 days), Johnny Cecotto 21 years 187 days and John Surtees (22 years 148 days). Winning in three classes indicates far more than just speed on a motorcycle – it indicates an ability to change riding styles based on the requirements of winning regardless of the characteristics of the machinery – the ability to adapt God-given talent and superb motor responses in different ways to achieve the desired outcome.

Not surprisingly, Hailwood, Cecotto and Surtees all found themselves in Formula 1 driving cars before their careers were finished, (and Rossi is an odds-on chance to get there too), with Surtees the only human to have reached the pinnacle of both sports. Our bet is that Rossi will attempt to climb that mountain, but the point of this paragraph is that Melandri’s star is yet to fully rise.

Melandri will be joined at Gresini Honda by 22-year old Toni Elias racing in the colours of new team sponsor Fortuna. Elias, like Melandri, has worked his way through torrid arena’s of 125 and 250cc grand prix racing to arrive at MotoGP level. Elias moves to Fortuna Honda after finishing 12th in his MotoGP debut season where he raced for the Tech 3 squad.

Pedrosa – another champion in waiting

Triple world champion Dani Pedrosa completes the quartet of young chargers. Dani makes his long awaited MotoGP debut in 2006 moving up to the senior category after successfully defending his 250cc World Championship. The talented young Spaniard also took the 125cc crown in 2003, all three title wins aboard Honda machines and had it not been for Casey Stoner’s late season charge in the 250 class, Pedrosa’s credentials of “the man most likely” would probably be beyond those of Melandri.

Until Stoner showed that Pedrosa could be beaten with lesser machinery, that his ability optimise his finishing position in all circumstances could be broken down with pressure, Pedrosa was the heir apparent.

Question marks now hang over his mental fortitude, further tempered by his physical stature – while MotoGP machinery is now so small and light and precise, it still requires a degree of physical strength and Pedrosa’s detractors suggest he doesn’t have the physical strength to handle the machinery. No doubt the young and incredibly talented Spaniard will be observed closely in 2006 aboard the RCV.

The wildest card of all – Stoner

In addition to the abovementioned, 20-year old Australian Casey Stoner tested a Team Honda Pons RCV at Valencia in the hope of bringing his burgeoning talents to the MotoGP category. Stoner, who was runner up to Pedrosa in the 250 class this season, is a seven-time GP winner, twice at 125cc and five times at 250cc.

Despite turning 20 a fortnight ago, Stoner is already a veteran, having won numerous Australian dirt track and motocross titles before his family moved to the UK at 14 years of age to enable him to begin road racing and fulfil what they believe is his ultimate destiny of becoming World MotoGP Champion. Australian regulations would have prevented Stoner from beginning tarmac racing until he was 16 and by that stage he had already won the British 125 title and was racing regularly in Spain under the same tutelage that schooled Pedrosa.

Although labelled a crasher early in his World championship career, no-one has ever doubted his speed, and as maturity and intelligent racecraft have been added to his acknowledged list of talents, he has become faster and more consistently on the top step of the podium.

Stoner could yet step onto the Camel Honda MotoGP machine for 2006 and unlike many of those young guns mentioned above, he is likely to be competitive from the outset, being more than prepared to step over the limits in order to establish where they are.

Track temperatures were down yesterday but Stoner has already demonstrated his ability to ride a MotoGP bike at an acceptable pace – in his first try at the new bike, the first time he has ridden a race bike larger than 250cc, Stoner was a tenth of a second quicker than the man who he hopes to team with at Honda under Sito Pons next year – Carlos Checa. Consider the feat for a moment and you’ll get a glimpse of the potential of Stoner. Checa finished fourth at the same track three days ago aboard the Ducati and has already spent several seasons on an RC211V. Stoner had never ridden one before yesterday.

Team Kenny Roberts Junior and Senior

Honda provided Kenny Roberts Junior with the chance to ride an RC211V at the Valencia test, in readiness for his father to take delivery of the engines which will allow the Team Roberts squad to continue in MotoGP with competitive engines for the first time.

The concept is not new. Honda has already set a precedent in contemporary MotoGP competition in partnership with Moriwaki, having made engines available to them even this season. Unfortunately, Roberts’ injury will prevent him from sampling V-5 Honda power, but a new direction for Honda’s MotoGP journey looks to be set onto the ever-changing face of the MotoGP compass. It is to be hoped that Roberts Senior will at last be able to fulfil his promise as a constructor with the powerful RC211V motor. His machinery has been innovative and sweet-handling but underpowered until now. Kenny Junior is still capable of the form he showed in 1998-2000 when he was one of the fastest in the world, culminating in his World title win of 2000.

Vermeulen to Team Suzuki

After two years at the forefront of World Superbike racing since he won the world supersport title, Chris Vermeulen is hot property. As reward for an excellent year in Superbikes, Honda put Vermeulen on its RC211V machine for the first time at the Australian Grand Prix a month ago and he promptly shot to the top of everyone’s required rider list with a mature display and eleventh place the very first time he had ridden the bike. He backed it up with another eleventh place a fortnight later in Turkey and when Honda couldn’t guarantee him a ride in 2006, signed with Suzuki to replace 2000 World MotoGP Champion Kenny Roberts Junior.

The immensely talented 23-year-old Australian first took to the Valencia track on Monday afternoon to get himself acquainted with his new bike and crew. He immediately developed a rapport with his Crew Chief Tom O’Kane and the pair quickly made some adjustments to the bike to enable Vermeulen to clock some very impressive times during the 90 minute session.

The test was scheduled to continue for the whole of Wednesday but a lengthy break due to a rain shower and colder track temperatures brought the test to a premature end.

John Hopkins and Nobuatsu Aoki also stayed at Valencia to test the latest development parts for the Suzuki prototype MotoGP machine. Hopkins was impressed with the newest generation Ohlins forks and reported that they were a significant improvement on anything he had used before, as they gave him far more feel and controllability.

Team SUZUKI MotoGP has one more day at Valencia today where all three riders will continue to put themselves and the bikes through yet more laps of testing.

Vermeulen appeared set for a successful 2006 before his first day on the bike was over, commenting, “I really enjoyed my first go on the bike. It made a lot of difference getting on the bike on Monday - with the bad weather conditions as they are today.

“My first impressions are that the bike is very easy to ride and very comfortable. I really enjoyed working with the mechanics, they all have a lot of experience and they’re very methodical and really know what they are doing. We have a lot of work still to do but I am sure we can move in the right direction. I’m having fun, despite the weather!”

His new team-mate John Hopkins was equally bullish about having a hard charger in the camp. “It’s great to have Chris as a team-mate”, said Hopkins. “I’ve already been over on his side of the garage and he’s been over on mine talking and chatting. If he needs any help whatsoever over these next couple of tests to get up to speed I’m more than happy to help him. The sooner he can get up to speed and get to the full limit of the Suzuki GSV-R, the sooner we can start developing it together and get it to where it needs to be.”

Suzuki’s MotoGP Team Manager Paul Denning was all smiles too. “Chris has already shown what great potential he has over this week. From the first time that he climbed onboard the bike on Monday you could feel a mutual bond forming between Chris, Tom and all his team. This is something that is very important to a rider’s belief and confidence and I know that Chris will benefit greatly from the experienced crew he now has at his disposal.”

Randy De Puniet to Kawasaki

Randy de Puniet made his first appearance as a Kawasaki MotoGP rider at Valencia on Monday, taking advantage of a journalist test day to try for the first time the Ninja ZX-RR he'll race during the 2006 season.

The 24-year-old Frenchman took to the track late in the afternoon, in less than ideal conditions, to start what will be a steep learning curve as he works towards his race debut in the premier MotoGP class next season.

With time for only 12 laps before a drop in track temperature brought an end to today's test, de Puniet's first outing on a MotoGP bike was a short one, but it was enough for him to be impressed with the power of Kawasaki's 990cc, inline four-cylinder Ninja ZX-RR engine.

Kawasaki Team Manager Harald Eckl commented, “Today was simply an opportunity for Randy to get a feel for our Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine, and for his crew to sort out the simple things like footrest, lever and handlebar positions, ready for his first proper test on Wednesday and Thursday. Track conditions weren't ideal so late in the day, but even so, Randy posted a respectable time for a MotoGP first timer. What he needs now is more time on the bike, which will allow him to adapt his riding style to better suit the characteristics of a four-stroke MotoGP machine."

de Puniet said of his experiences, "I only had a short time on track today, I think 12 laps in total, but it was enough to get a good first impression of the Ninja ZX-RR. The MotoGP bike is very different to the 250cc machines I have been riding; it's heavier, of course, and it definitely has a lot more power. You notice the extra power most when exiting the turns, where good throttle control is important. I know that learning to get the most from a MotoGP bike is going to take many, many laps, but I'm looking forward to starting the process when we begin testing properly on Wednesday. Overall, my first impression is very positive, but now the hard work begins."

Day one of two-day test session.

The opening day of the two-day HRC MotoGP test at Valencia was held in less than ideal conditions with low track temperatures and gusting wind disrupting race team plans. Consequently the lap times set were well outside those set by the riders in the MotoGP race of Sunday last.

The experienced riders spent time confirming various chassis and suspension options while the new RC211V recruits spent their time acquainting them selves with the 990cc 5-cylinder four-stroke machines they will race in the 2006 world championship.

Repsol Honda rider Nicky Hayden, a three-year MotoGP veteran who finished second in Sunday’s GP, spent the day tested several options on the geometry and different suspension links. The young American and his crew were curious about the potential of other race options available to them but ended the day happy with the choices made for Sundays race.

Marco Melandri, Valencia GP race winner, completed only eight lap of his planned tyre testing session the track temperature of 16 degrees insufficient to deliver any worthwhile information.

Reigning double-250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa made his RCV debut and covered 62 laps of the tight and demanding 4.005 km Valencia circuit as he began the long hard task of finding the ideal machine set up to suit his riding style.

The diminutive Spaniard was impressed with the RCV but realises he has a long learning curve ahead of him before he fires up the 990cc four-stroke for the first race of the 2006 season at Jerez, Spain on March 24.

Toni Elias has one year of MotoGP experience having raced for the Tech 3 squad in 2005 but was making his Honda RC211V debut today. He has an almost complexly new pit crew for the coming season and establishing a working relationship was the priority. The team worked on adjusting the machine to suit both his size and style eventually putting in 34 laps in the cold blustery conditions. At the end Elias of the day Elias pronounced himself positively motivated by the potential for success with the RCV.

The Honda Pons team were present at the test and fielded two new riders, near veteran Carlos Checa and new to MotoGP Casey Stoner. Checa had the misfortune to crash in the morning session but returned to the track after lunch to set competitive lap times for the conditions.

Stoner took to the RCV in quick time and the initial impression suggest he will be more than competitive in the senior category of two-wheel GP racing. The Australian youngster set lap time of 1m 35.1s, one-tenth of a second faster than his team-mate.

Nicky Hayden: 1m 34.40s - 53 laps: “I’m still running the last two laps of Sunday’s race through my head, I’m still not over finishing second. Today was not the most productive day of my life either conditions were not ideal for testing it was too cold and windy. We don’t want to read too much into today. Basically we confirmed we were right with the set up on Sunday. Tomorrow, if it’s dry, we’ll get into some serious tyre testing.”

Peter Benson, crew chief Nicky Hayden: “Nicky tested several options on the geometry and different suspension links. The results confirmed that the basic set up he used for the race on Sunday was the best for the track and conditions. Tomorrow we test tyres, maybe rain tyres by the look of the weather forecast.”

Dani Pedrosa: 1m 35.50s – 62 laps. “It was a very important day for us today. My first impression of the RC211V is positive but it is bigger, faster and more difficult to control than the 250cc machine I have been riding for two years. Today was all about trying to understand the bike, how it behaves and what I have to do to understand the machine. The team make up is also different. I have some of my old mechanics who don’t have MotoGP experience and three very experienced guys from the Honda team but they are all serious and very calm. Tomorrow we will try many things again maybe even the feel of different tyres.”

Marco Melandri: 1m 34’8s – 8 laps. “We have an intense testing programme planned with Michelin but the weather conditions didn’t allow it. It is a real shame because I wanted to ride and also because it was important to get started on testing some evolution tyres. The weather doesn’t look good for tomorrow so we’ll have to wait until the Sepang test at the end of November to continue working with Michelin on the new rubber for next season.”

Toni Elias: 1m 35.7s – 34 laps. “I’m really happy with this first contact with my new bike. My first sensations of it are very positive. Considering the small amount of time available I can say that I have already worked out some characteristics of the RC211V, which seems to adapt well to my riding style and size. It is a very agile bike in the changes of direction and feels manageable. I’m still not completely comfortable, we have a lot of work to do but I feel calm and motivated. I also felt good with my new team, I have only been with them for two days but I feel at home. I have been very impressed with their professionalism and organisation. I am sure we will have a good season together.”

Sito Pons, Team Principle Honda Pons: “Today we have been working with Carlos Checa and Casey Stoner preparing for the new season in 2006. Both riders have shown great potential with the RCV and have adapted to the machine very quickly. Carlos had a crash this morning but returned to the track in the afternoon and set some good times, Casey was a about a tenth off a second quicker but he had more time on the bike. I’m quite happy with both riders and look forward to testing with them.”

How the youngsters went

HRC gave three of their young guns the chance to sample the awesome power of the RCV as a thank you for their race performances in 2005. Klaffi Honda World Superbike star Max Neukirchner, Scot Honda 250cc rider Andrea Dovizioso and newly crowned 125cc World Champion Thomas Luthi (Elit Honda RS125R) all put the RCV through its paces at Valencia yesterday and today.

Neukirchner had the best of the weather on Thursday afternoon and consequently set the fastest time of the three riders at 1m 37.49s. Dovizioso, third in the 250cc championship, and Luthi had to contend with a cold track and brief rain showers but both riders acquitted themselves well. All three enjoyed the experience and were eager to return for more track time on the machine.

Max Neukirchner: 1m 37.49s – 20 laps. “The RCV was easy to get used to - it’s more like a 250cc to handle than a Superbike. You sit in the RCV the Superbike you sit on, big difference. When I first took it out I expected the power to be extreme but it was easy to handle, the delivery was very smooth, linear. The carbon brakes are super, I was a little worried about them before I tried the bike but no problem. The bike steers very well, I was really impressed by the way it changes direction so quickly, the Superbike is much more physical, hard work compared to the RCV. I really enjoyed my laps on the bike the ride was fun. I hope I get another chance to ride it.”

Thomas Luthi: 1m 44.29s – 25 laps. “Good fun, really good fun to ride. Pity the conditions were not ideal and I didn’t push too hard because of that. The bike has a lot of power, quite amazing but so easy to use. The most impressive thing is the speed of the bike and how early you have to break for the corners. The carbon brakes are just fantastic to ride with but with the speed and weight of the bike you really need them. I need more laps on the bike to understand it better but I must say I felt comfortable on it at the lap time I was running. It’s a great bike, I really like riding it. I have a car that produces 246hp this bike has 250! You cant compare them because on the bike you only have two wheels and you’re sitting on the outside and you can really feel the speed!”

Andrea Dovizioso: 1m 39.50s – 27 laps. “In comparison with the RCV I tested at the end of last season the first thing you notice is the difference in power. This bike has more power but it’s also easier to use. The front end is better, it feels different going into the corners. The only thing about the bike that gave me a little problem was the rear end – under heavy braking the rear wheel hops a little but that might just be the set up.”

View gallery - 29 images