2011 MotoGP Sepang Preview

The focus of Grand Prix racing now turns to 2012


Motorcycle.com joins the rest of the racing world in expressing our condolences to the family, friends and team of Dan Wheldon, who lost his life doing what he loved last Sunday in Las Vegas. The reminders we receive of the danger inherent in these sports are always heartbreaking. We try to bring a few smiles to our coverage of motorcycle racing, but it is never remotely funny when accidents like this occur. Godspeed to you, Dan.

Check back on Monday for the full report of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

For those of you honeymooning on Bora Bora this past week, Casey Stoner clinched the 2011 MotoGP title with yet another dominating performance at Phillip Island. While several of the riders still have irons in the fire for the last two rounds, attention is shifting to the changes in store for the grid in the 2012 season. And, by the way, the competition over at Moto2 continues white hot.

When 2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo lost control of his Yamaha YZR-M1 on the last turn of the final lap of the warm-up prior to last Sunday’s race at Phillip Island, competition for the 2011 title came to an abrupt, and painful, halt. In truth, Stoner was clearly the fastest guy out there this year, and dominated the season in precisely the same manner as did Lorenzo last year and Rossi in 2009. Each year in the premier class it seems one rider gets it dialed in early and goes virtually unchallenged all season. Rarely in the premier do we see competition at the front of the quality on display this year in Moto2.

Midway through the second Moto2 season, it appeared as if Kiefer Racing’s Stephan Bradl would waltz away with the title. With 2010 champion Toni Elias having graduated to MotoGP, Bradl could easily have been counting his chickens. And while things didn’t exactly work out for Elias, who is hoping to escape to World Superbike next year, a good number of Bradl’s chickens have failed to hatch. The German’s performance dropped off at mid-season simultaneous with the sudden – meteoric – arrival of CatalunyaCaixa Repsol phenom Marc Marquez. By the close of business at Motegi, Marquez led Bradl by a single point for the season.

Moto2: Phillip Island, Australia

The events surrounding the 2011 Moto2 race at Phillip Island merit a little attention. Friday morning, at the end of FP1, Marquez took the checkered flag behind Thailand’s Ratthapark Wilairot. While both riders were warming down, Wilairot apparently slowed dramatically, a fact which escaped Marquez’ attention. Marquez, meanwhile, maintained much of his speed and found himself in the same situation you and I face on those days when traffic suddenly and unaccountably stops directly in front of us. At 35 mph in rush hour traffic, in a car, coming to a sudden stop is relatively simple. At 100 mph on a motorcycle, not so much. Marquez barreled into the Thai rider, sending him flying, and thence to the hospital, although he was not badly injured. Race Direction, in its wisdom, penalized the 18 year-old Spaniard by adding one minute to his qualifying time.

Marquez, who later qualified with no motivation, in 13th position, was forced to start the race from the 38 spot thanks to the penalty, a less than optimal position for a rider chasing a world championship. During the race, ten riders retired or crashed out while Marquez ended up finishing third, meaning he went through on perhaps 30 riders over 25 laps, and trailed Bradl by a mere five seconds at the flag. Dropping four points to the German puts him three points back of the lead heading to Sepang.

Marquez is a baller. If he’s not the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, he is the second coming of Dani Pedrosa. His fans salivating at the thought of the 18-year-old moving up to the premiere class but Marquez announced today he will stay in Moto2 for at least one more season.

MotoGP: Looking Ahead to 2012

This season, there were exactly three riders competing in the premier class who weren’t there in 2010: Toni Elias, Cal Crutchlow and Karel Abraham. (Elias gets an asterisk, as he spent several years in the senior division prior to 2010.) The end of the 2011 season will see Loris Capirossi finally retiring, and Hiro Aoyama moving to World SuperBike. The immediate future is uncertain for Randy de Puniet. The rest of the grid figures to return, although the immediate prospects for Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera are, at this point, unclear, too.

The advent of the CRT era beginning next year will give the grid a far different look, without making any significant difference in the top ten finishers for the year. My friend David Emmett at MotoMatters.com has helped put together the following rundown of what we can expect the premier class grid to look like next year:

Repsol Honda – Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. One of these guys will win the title.

Factory Yamaha – Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies. Unless one of these guys does.

Factory Ducati – Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden (on a far more competitive GP12 than the GP11 they endured this year.)

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha – Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso.

San Carlo Gresini – Marco Simoncelli on a factory RCV213R and Yuki Takahashi on a Honda-powered CRT entry.

Mapfre Aspar – bailing on their leased Ducati in favor of one or two CRT bikes, perhaps without Hector Barbera, powered by either Aprilia or BMW.

LCR Honda – were hoping to land Marc Marquez, but they are receiving expressions of interest from de Puniet, who, regrettably, bolted the team after last season in favor of Pramac.

Cardion AB Motoracing – keeping the leased Ducati with Junior Abraham aboard.

Pramac Racing – has not yet committed to returning to MotoGP next year. If they do, it may be with Hector Barbera, a significant upgrade to this year’s pair.

Marc VDS Racing – said to be preparing to lease the former Aspar GP12 for Brit Scott Redding. Their BMW-powered CRT project is apparently DOA due to an OOA (Overabundance of Acronyms).

NGM Forward Racing – Colin Edwards aboard a CRT machine powered by a tuned BMW S1000R engine in frame built by Suter, not his former Tech 3 team as Edwards originally hoped.

BQR – plotting to bring at least one Kawasaki-powered CRT bike featuring Colombian Yonny Hernandez, with perhaps a second rider paying his own way.

Laglisse – discussing putting Spanish CEV Championship rider Carmelo Morales on a BMW-powered entry.

And, as a little teaser for the future – Monlau has reportedly signed Marc Marquez’s little brother Alex to ride for them in Moto3 next year. Coming along with the younger Marquez is another Spanish wunderkind named Alex Rins. What you need to know about these two is this: Alex Marquez is alleged to be faster than his older brother. And Señor Rins has been beating the younger Marquez all year in the Spanish CEV Championship. Lordy, these Spanish kids are fast, fast, fast.

Your Weekend Forecast for the Sepang “Metro” Area

This may be the round in which Repsol finally gets all three of their guys on the podium. Temps this weekend will be hot – upper 80’s – and muggy, with a chance of thunderstorms each day. Lorenzo’s season is probably over, as he has been declared out at Sepang and doubtful for Valencia. Dovizioso and Pedrosa will continue to spar for third place, while Ben Spies must now start worrying about keeping Marco Simoncelli out of his fifth place spot.

Rossi will be pushing hard out of pure pride and stubbornness. And the two rookies, Crutchlow and Abraham, separated by a single point, will do their best to keep their machines upright and in contention for a severely diluted Rookie of the Year award. Everything else has been settled. Personally, I’m going to hang out in Indiana and rake leaves.

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