The 2008 RC212V
At the onset of the 2007 season the powers that be at HRC realized that the concept for the RC212V had come up well short of the performance they would need to win the championship. So, over the course the season while the 2007 RC212V was being developed, a separate team as busy developing a nearly all-new 2008 RC212V.
The new bike features a return of some design concepts from the old 990 cc RC211V. The undertail exhaust has made a return and the bike is a little bit bigger overall with much less tight packaging of the engine and its accessories. It seems like the extremely tightly packed design of the 2007 machine caused the bike to have problems dissipating heat which ultimately sapped horsepower. The other benefit of the somewhat larger 2008 RC212V is that it will be a bit more accommodating for the 5'9" frame of Nicky Hayden (as opposed to the 5'1" Dani Pedrosa).
No redesigned motorcycle would be complete without a new engine. For 2007 the Moto GP regulations reduced the engine displacement from 990 cc to 800 cc. With the reduced engine capacity all of factories in the championship resorted to using more rpm's to make horsepower. With redlines approaching and exceeding 19000 rpm, coil spring-actuated valves approach their practical limits and pneumatic valve actuation (or in the case of Ducati, desmodromic valve actuation) becomes the preferred solution.
But for some reason Honda was the last to join the pneumatic valve club. Last year at Laguna Seca when TOV talked to Nicky Hayden's crew chief [Peter Benson] about the decision to use a coil-spring valved engine and whether there were tradeoffs he said:
"Yeah I'm sure there is. But that's probably more a political decision from Honda than anything at this point in time."
Honda had to work hard last season to make up the horsepower deficit without the benefit of pneumatic valves, only catching up in the second half of the season. The 2008 RC212V was originally designed to use a pneumatic valve engine but in preseason testing it has not shown itself to be superior to the old engine. So for the start of the season the new bike will be using the old spring-valved engine until HRC can get the new engine up to speed back in Japan.
Honda's Official Team: Repsol Honda
Honda's factory team in Moto GP is the only team on the grid to retain both riders from the previous season. They will also be the only Honda team running the 2008 RC212V as of right now.
In a preseason test at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia 2007 runner-up Dani Pedrosa crashed and broke his hand, causing him to miss the rest of the 2008 preseason test schedule. The start of the season is at hand but Dani has admitted that he's not quite at 100%. For 2008 Dani has changed from his usual number 26 to number 2, to send the message that he is intent on improving his championship position from second to first place this season.
2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden has taken on all of the development duties for the new machine in Dani's absence and has done reasonably well throughout preseason testing. After his nightmare title defense season in 2007 Nicky will need to bounce back in a large way in 2008. It is the last year of his contract and while his position at Repsol is not in serious danger he can ill afford another less than stellar season.
Honda's Satellite Teams
For 2008 all of Honda's satellite teams in Moto GP will be using the final version of the 2007 RC212V, as raced by Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa at Valencia. The customer Honda RC212V will not be using the pneumatic valve engine nor will it receive updates throughout the year. At first glance it seems almost cruel to deny the satellite teams any updates for the duration of the season but it is simply an indication of how serious HRC is about focusing on regaining the title on the backs of the Repsol Honda team. HRC made the mistake of underestimating the competition for 2007 and they will not make that mistake twice in a row. Oddly enough though, the satellite 2007 Hondas have actually outpaced the 2008 bike at a few of the tests. At this point the 2008 bike is far from a sure thing.
Three new riders are joining Honda's satellite teams for the 2008 campaign. Most heralded among them is 2-time 250GP runner-up and former 125GP World Champion Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi rode a Honda RSW250 in the 250GP class at a time when Honda was winding down its involvement in the 250GP. As a result, he did not have the benefit of a motorcycle as strong as that of the factory Aprilia riders in the class. Dovi had to ride extra hard to make up the difference and because of this he could be very strong in the Moto GP class now that he has a more competitive motorcycle.
The other two new Honda satellite riders are Alex DeAngelis, another 250GP graduate, and Randy DePuniet by way of Kawasaki's factory team. DeAngelis was a consistent front runner in 250GP but was only able to record 1 victory in his 4 years in the class. Alex has the speed to run up front, he just has needs to show more aggression to win races.
Randy DePuniet showed flashes of brilliance at Kawasaki but crashed more than anyone else in Moto GP and was not able to fully realize his potential. However, in preseason testing DePuniet has posted some surprisingly fast test times and has had relatively few crashes. He very well could be on the cusp of making a Casey Stoner-like transformation from a crasher into a contender.
Team KR Out
Unfortunately as of right now, Team KR will not be contesting the 2008 season of Moto GP due to lack of sponsorship and lack of an engine or bike supply deal with a manufacturer. Their problems arose at the end of last season. Team KR was seeking to run two bikes for 2008 so that they could secure sponsorship and so they would be able to test more effectively.
Their first option was to request an engine supply for one more bike from Honda. But, HRC was already stretched to the limit in order to supply 6 bikes and the supply of engines to Team KR, so they could not accommodate Team KR's request. After the rebuke from Honda Team KR was forced to search elsewhere for engines and had made a tentative deal with Ducati pending sponsorship. Sadly, their sponsorship deal did not come through in time for them to make the grid for 2008. It is still possible that Team KR will return later in 2008, or in the 2009. In the meantime they are still making parts for superbike teams.
The State of the Tire War
Michelin qualifying tires had a decisive advantage at the end of the 2007 season and had closed a lot of the gap on race tires. The Michelin-shod Repsol Hondas took the last 5 pole positions in a row in 2007, and the last win of the year.
In testing for this year the Michelins seem to have maintained their qualifying advantage. On race tires the picture is a bit murkier. The Michelin riders look somewhat stronger than last year but Casey Stoner on his Bridgestone-equipped Ducati still appears to be the class of the field. Last year's decisive defeat at the hands of Bridgestone was an embarrassment for Michelin and by all indications they are significantly stepping up their effort for 2008 to defend their honor.
Moto GP is Coming to Indianapolis
On September 7-9 the Moto GP championship will be coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 250cc and 125cc classes will also be racing that weekend for the first time in the United States since 1991. As an extra treat, the Indianapolis State Fair Grounds the AMA Flat Track championship will be racing the Indy Mile that weekend as well. AMA Flat Track is the series that several of America's GP champions got their start in, from Kenny Roberts Sr. to Nicky Hayden.
With rounds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Laguna Seca, the United States now joins Spain and Italy as the only countries with more than one grand prix.
Tickets for the Indianapolis Moto GP round are on sale now at: http://www.redbullindianapolisgp.com/
Tickets for the AMA Flat Track Indy Mile race are on sale from ticketmaster.
2008 Honda Moto GP Ride Line Up
Dani Pedrosa - Repsol Honda
2007 Championship Position: 2nd
2007 Wins: 2
2007 Podiums: 8
Strengths: Strong in qualifying, great outright speed
Weaknesses: Does not do well in traffic, prone to crash-injuries
Nicky Hayden - Repsol Honda
2007 Championship Position: 8th
2007 Podiums: 2
2007 Best Race Finish: 3rd
Strengths: Good racecraft, great on starts, excellent work ethic and attitude
Weaknesses: Riding style may not be best for the 800 cc bikes
Shinya Nakano - Gresini Honda
2007 Championship Position: 17th
2007 Best Race Finish: 10th
Weaknesses: Adaptability, outright speed is questionable
Alex DeAngelis - Gresini Honda
2007 Championship Position (250GP): 3rd
2007 Podiums (250GP): 8
2007 Best Race Finish: 2nd
Weaknesses: Lacks aggression
Andrea Dovizioso - JiR Team Scot Honda
2007 Championship Position (250GP): 2nd
2007 Wins (250GP): 2
2007 Podiums (250GP): 10
Strengths: Very good corner speed, strong racecraft
Randy DePuniet - LCR Honda
2007 Championship position: 11th
2007 Podiums: 1
2007 Best Race Finish: 2nd
Strengths: Strong in qualifying, raw speed
Weaknesses: Most prolific crasher in the paddock, needs better race pace