2009 MotoGP Season Preview

New season kicks off under the lights in Qatar


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen gives an up-close-and-personal (well, as up-close-and-personal as Bruce can get from his living room, a live MotoGP video feed and a tray of White Castle burgers. Mmm … little onions …) look at the most dangerous sport on earth with weekly pre-race analysis and post-race recaps. At last year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix, he promised a portfolio of action photographs, and all we got was about fifty pictures of the Kawasaki girls. We’re not really sure what to expect.

No stranger to controversy, he is rarely confused by the facts. He invites reader comments (as he is unable to escape them anyway, given that most of his observations are frivolous and half-baked).

Therefore, with more than a little concern about our reputation, we proudly are pleased to are sweating bullets present MotoGP 2009.

A Look Back at the 2008 Season

The 2008 MotoGP season was highly competitive, in the way the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 was highly competitive. Valentino Rossi, riding the #46 Fiat Yamaha, got off to a less-than-dominating start to the season, found his groove a third of the way through, and ruled the championship the rest of the way.

Valentino Rossi will begin his title defence under the lights at Qatar.

Casey Stoner, the 2007 world’s champion, chased Rossi most of the season, but was unable to catch The Doctor. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, the exciting young Spaniards, had a few too many crashes, fractures and abrasions to make a serious run at the title. But they did give the fans something to cheer about in every race they were medically cleared to run.

Casey Stoner has won the previous two MotoGP races at QatarAndrea Dovizioso, Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden each had a number of Top 5 finishes in 2008, putting them in the second tier by themselves. Nobody else was in serious contention, which points out one of the factors that keep MotoGP from being even more popular than it is – the concentration of power at the top, and the limited number of teams and riders capable of being seriously competitive. Kind of like F1 on two wheels.

The good news is that the few teams that are competitive are UNBELIEVABLE, and the speed, the noise and the overall atmosphere at these races is unlike anything else on earth. MotoGP makes NASCAR look like they’re running step vans.

During the Offseason …

The major change that took place over the winter was Michelin getting the boot by MotoGP in favor of Bridgestone tires, upon which all the teams will be riding this year. This is likely to improve the prospects of the Michelin riders from last year, including Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden, Dovizioso, Edwards and James Toseland, once they get the new rubber figured out. Circuit-wide, there were a number of arcane rule changes concerning practice days and times, electronic suspension defibrillators, and other stuff I don’t pay much attention to. (Ed: the FIM confirmed the new rules this week.)

A number of riders changed teams, and Kawasaki dumped their program altogether, another loathsome effect of the GEC (global economic crisis, about which we are SO tired of speaking and writing). The biggest news in this area, at least for American fans, was the defection of Kentucky native Nicky Hayden from Repsol Honda to the Ducati Marlboro team, joining Casey Stoner. Marco Melandri got summarily booted from the Ducati team to the factory Kawasaki team, which then folded, leaving him scrambling for a ride with Hayate Racing. He has, like, one bike for the season, which suggests he will be riding cautiously, if at all.

With Nicky Hayden on board, Ducati Marlboro has two of the last three MotoGP Champions on its roster.

In the ensuing game of musical chairs, Dovizioso got promoted to the factory Repsol Honda team from JIR Team Scot Honda. Tony Elias, who had two podiums last season, left Alice Ducati for Gresini Honda. And Suzuki couldn’t find Ben Spies a ride at all, which is a shame.

Prospects for the 2009 Season

Here are your major contending teams and riders heading into the 2009 season.

Team

Riders

Fiat Yamaha Valentino Rossi Jorge Lorenzo
Ducati Marlboro Casey Stoner Nicky Hayden
Repsol Honda Dani Pedrosa Andrea Dovizioso
Rizla Suzuki Chris Vermeulen Loris Capirossi
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Colin Edwards James Toseland

Stoner and Pedrosa are starting the season less than 100% healthy, with Stoner still recovering from offseason surgery on his wrist and Pedrosa having had surgery after a high side – go figure –while testing at Qatar on March 2. The Suzuki riders finished the pre-season testing session at Jerez in 3rd and 5th places, suggesting they may be more competitive at the start of this season. Dovizioso figures to benefit from the switch to the factory Honda team, and Nicky Hayden, at least in my opinion, will be running with the big dogs before the season is over on his shiny new Ducati.

"I know you don't like it, Jorge, but trust me, the wall is a good thing!"
Colin Edwards seemed to enjoy beating teammate James Toseland in the pre-season tests.

One of the amusing aspects to these big high-powered two-rider teams is the fact that the “teammates” don’t always get along so well. Apparently Rossi and Lorenzo don’t see eye to eye on everything. Such also seems to be the case with Edwards and Toseland. How, you’re wondering, do we know this? BECAUSE THE CREWS HAVE TO BUILD WALLS IN THE GARAGES TO KEEP THEM APART. Despite the fact that these riders have testicles the size of hubcaps, they’ve got “little man” complexes and the aggressiveness of rat terriers. Why don’t they just do what they do in sitcoms: draw a line down the middle of the room and let hilarity ensue?

Rossi is the odds-on favorite to repeat this season, edging out Stoner on the surprising number of online betting sites devoted to MotoGP. It’s difficult to bet against him, as he is smooth as silk and rarely makes even the smallest mistake. Stoner is going to have to have a perfect season to beat him out. We’ll see if it’ll be similar to last season, with the Stoner owning the straightaways, and Rossi ruling the corners.

Last year at Qatar, the top five finishers were Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa on the podium, followed by Dovizioso and Rossi. Look for Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo up there this year, with Vermeulen, Dovizioso and Edwards trailing. Pedrosa is apparently going to start, but whether he can finish remains to be seen.

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