2011 MotoGP Brno Preview

Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, etc. revisit Lower Slobovia


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Brno round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Czech Republic Grand Prix.

Those daring young men on their flying machines return to action this week in the Czech Republic, fresh off their annual summer holiday. Having given their various bones, ligaments and connecting tissues a few weeks to knit, the grid should be at full strength after a tumultuous first half of the season. Unfortunately, there is no immediately obvious reason why the ruling class of the big bikes – Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa – won’t continue to dominate the action down the stretch.

Ignoring 2008, recent history at the Czech Grand Prix would hardly suggest otherwise. In this sport, at 200 miles per hour, three years is a lifetime. Witness the fact that of the top five finishers in 2008 – Valentino Rossi, Toni Elias, Loris Capirossi, Shinya Nakano and Anthony West – Nakano is out of the game, and West is a backbencher in Moto2. Capirossi is besieged in what will likely be his last season in MotoGP. Toni Elias is working himself out of a job with the LCR Honda team, and appears headed back to Moto2 next season, if not sooner. And Rossi, the onetime king of the sport, is suffering through a disastrous first season on the factory Ducati.

Since 2008, the results have been much more predictable. Rossi repeated in 2009, pressuring teammate Jorge Lorenzo into crashing out of the lead late in the race, and was joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Elias. (Stoner missed the 2009 race learning to drink soymilk.) Last year it was Lorenzo’s turn, as he handily defeated Pedrosa and Stoner, with then-rookie Ben Spies grabbing fourth. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see last year’s podium repeated this year, with Lorenzo flanked by the two Repsol Honda pilots.

The Big Picture

After 10 rounds, we find Stoner leading Lorenzo 193 to 173. Both riders have finished nine of ten races, Stoner having been taken out in Jerez by an overly aggressive Rossi, and Lorenzo having crashed out unassisted at Silverstone. Pedrosa, whose season was essentially gutted by Marco Simoncelli in France, has averaged 18 points in the six races he’s finished. Pro-rate those numbers over nine races and he would be glued to Lorenzo’s rear tire with 162 points. Instead, he is grinding his teeth in fourth place, 33 points behind teammate Andrea Dovizioso, whose own season is headed downhill after a promising start.

Rossi sits in fifth position, having been usurped last week by Pedrosa, and appears virtually certain to be relegated to sixth place in the next few weeks by the resurgent Ben Spies on Rossi’s former factory M1. Still farther back is, well, everyone else, none of whom has a prayer of winning anything this season, all of whom will just have to make do with the money, women, fame and adulation of their fans.

What do Rossi, Capirossi and de Puniet Have in Common?

This is an easy one – each has had his 2011 season destroyed by the Ducati Desmosedici. Capirossi went from credible on his 2010 Suzuki GSV-R to comical on the 2011 Ducati. De Puniet was competitive last year on the LCR Honda, while his 2011 season to date includes nothing higher than a 10th place finish, five DNFs and a brutal crash in practice at Laguna that forced him to miss the race. Rossi’s travails have been documented elsewhere ad nauseum, to the point where rumors were circulating this past week that he had quietly approached Fausto Gresini about catching a ride next season on a San Carlo Honda. Unlikely, but indicative of the quality of life on the factory Ducati team.

My friend David Emmett has recently written an outstanding article detailing what’s wrong with the Ducati, and there appear to be no simple solutions. He suggests the possibility – perish the thought – that Ducati may abandon its MotoGP program in favor of World SuperBike, where its tricked-out production bikes rule the grid. Back in 2007 when Stoner was winning his championship on the GP7, such speculation would have been considered heresy. Today, with the Italian bike occupying six of the bottom 13 spots in the championship standings, it seems at least possible. And with Suzuki hanging onto their MotoGP program by their fingernails, the premier class could look radically different in a few years. See paragraph two above.

Hopper is Back. For Now.

The good news this week is the return of American John Hopkins to the Suzuki garage, joining Alvaro Bautista for the Rizla team’s first double entry this season. Hopkins could be a poster child for “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,” having had more than his share of bad luck, accompanied by some poor judgment along the way. (I’m told a Friday practice at Misano in 2008 was especially memorable.)

With a top ten finish in Jerez under his belt this year, and good history at Brno, a strong showing Sunday would help Hopper’s chances of securing a full time ride next year. A rumor circulated this week that Bautista may take the second Aspar Ducati next year, a murderously bad choice in my opinion, suggesting Hopkins could find himself once again on the 800cc Rizla GSV-R for 2012. Even with everyone else powering liter bikes, it still a big step up from British SuperBike.

FIM declares Motegi safe

It’s official – according to Dorna and the FIM (and the consultants they hand-picked to study conditions at Motegi), the Japanese Grand Prix will be as safe as mother’s milk. (I know this sounds like I’m skeptical, but I’m really not. If I were a rider, I’d just want to make sure the team brought enough food, water, beer and girls for four days.) Thus, the teams will be expected to live up to their contractual obligations for Round 15. What this means for the Repsol and factory Yamaha teams at this point isn’t exactly clear, given Stoner’s and Lorenzo’s announced determination NOT to visit Japan anytime soon.

I admit to having no knowledge whatsoever about how these contractual things work between the riders and their teams. My hunch is that everything depends on where Stoner and Lorenzo stand vis à vis the championship come early October. If they maintain their current attitudes, the teams could conceivably be forced to put test riders on their number one machines, a prospect toward which the factories would undoubtedly take a dim view. Perhaps Cal Crutchlow and Marco Simoncelli would enjoy a weekend running with the big dogs, with test riders filling in behind them. It’s all conjecture, and it will all get sorted out in the next few months. Or else.

In Old Czech, Brno Means “Muddy Swamp”

Which is not to say that the weather can’t be nice there this time of year. Although there’s a chance of rain on Friday, the weekend looks to be sunny and warm. Most of the smog from the Soviet era has dissipated by now, and there will be over 120,000 wild and crazy guys and gals on hand to root for Karel Abraham on Sunday. As the locals say, “Po závodě, pojďme se milovat pod tribuny!” (After the race, let’s make love under the bleachers!)

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