2012 MotoGP Estoril Preview

Pedrosa's turn to capture musical chair in Portugal? Perhaps.


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Estoril round of the 2012 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Estoril, the slightly faded jewel of the Portuguese Riviera, hosts Round 3 of the 2012 MotoGP season. It says something about a track that goes from hosting races late in the season (Round 14 in 2009, Round 17 in 2010) to hosting them early (Round 3 in 2011 and 2012.).

A late season race holds the promise of a finish that decisively changes the standings at the top. Early races, on the other hand, tell us little about the state of the chase, unless someone appears to be breaking away from the field, which is not happening so far this year.

With Portugal’s national debt approaching that of Greece and Spain, something’s gotta give, and so again we visit Estoril early in the year. Still a nice place to watch a race. With Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa all showing mid-season form, we will, a bit later, take a look at the second tier of riders to see who might be emerging as a threat to The Big Three.

Recent History

Estoril generally gives the riders what they need. In 2009, Rossi, finishing fourth behind Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa, got just enough out of Estoril to keep his title search on track. The 2009 season would effectively end at Round 15, Philip Island, the next time out when Lorenzo lost it on Lap 1, handing the title to his rival and teammate. In 2010, Lorenzo, leading the world by a mile, scrapped with his three main Italian rivals – Rossi, Dovizioso and Simoncelli – and beat all three in a meaningless race, just for the hell of it.

Dani Pedrosa

Last year, Pedrosa beat Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso to the flag, putting himself within four points of the 2011 lead heading into LeMans, where Marco Simoncelli would effectively end the minute Spaniard’s championship aspirations, causing Pedrosa to crash and brake his collarbone. So, it seems that while little usually actually happens at Estoril, interesting things seem to happen by the dozen in the weeks following. All the Portuguese track has to offer this weekend is a great venue, plenty of history, a duty-free airport and another round of gorgeous women.

The Two Spaniards Like it Here, Too

As much as Lorenzo and Pedrosa enjoy visiting Jerez, they look forward with equal gusto to Portugal. Lorenzo won here in 2009 and 2010, once when he had to, once when he didn’t. Pedrosa won here last year, putting himself right in the thick of the 2011 championship conversation until fracturing his collarbone the following round in France.

Stoner, for his part, has never won here, either, just as he was winless at Jerez until last weekend. Been on the podium a few times, but no premier class wins in six attempts. That didn’t seem to hurt Stoner’s performance in Jerez, probably won’t here either. But I figure it’s teammate Pedrosa’s turn to stand at the top of the podium this week.

Tier Two Riders: Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Bautista and Spies

I’ve put Spies in here despite the fact that he’s oh-for-2012. (If he doesn’t earn his way back into Tier Two over the next six rounds, he pretty much assured of losing his Yamaha factory ride in 2013.) Alvaro Bautista is piloting what is basically a factory Honda RC213V and should probably be threatening for podia already, but we’ll say he’s still making the adjustment from the far less competitive Suzuki GSV-R he’s been flogging the last couple of years.

Dovizioso, who I expected to be The Big Dog in the Tech3 Yamaha garage, has been out-raced by his teammate, Cal Crutchlow, the most recent Great British Hope. Crutchlow appears to have benefited the most from the move to 1000cc.

If/when Lorenzo, Pedrosa or Stoner crash out of a race, one of these guys is going to be on the podium. Last year at this point I would have put my money on Spies or Dovizioso. This year I’m thinking Crutchlow or Bautista. Although there are plenty of riders clamoring for admission to this second group, I’m sticking with the current four, and with Spies only if he gets his mojo back. Otherwise he’s off to Tier Three, and you don’t want to be there. And who, or whom, might take his place?

Not Missing the Big High-Sides

So far this season, we haven’t seen the rash of violent, early-season high side crashes that marred 2010 and 2011. Good news for the Bridgestone folks. The riders can say what they want about tire conservation dominating their race brain, but not flying over the handlebars has to be worth something. You get the impression that Bridgestone is now getting the hang of MotoGP, and appear to be coping simultaneously with the increased horsepower and the demand from the riders for faster sidewall warm-up.

Finally, Those Tier Three Guys

Five guys, a Honda and all four Ducatis. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, the man with the mortal lock on Rookie of the Year, may escape this group and graduate to Tier Two before season’s end. He’s had a great start. But seriously, the rest of the group is all Ducati, all the time. Rossi and Hayden on the factory entries. Hector Barbera on the Pramac, and poor Karel Abraham on the Cardion AB Desmosedici. Abraham has already suffered a loss at the hands of the CRT machines. Such a fate is likely to befall the other three Ducati riders before 2012 is over.

Every year this continues makes Casey Stoner’s 2007 title on the Ducati Desmosedici GP7 seem even more amazing. The project engineers since then have allowed their pursuit of perfection to overwhelm their competitive abilities. How else to explain a bike which has had hundreds of changes made to it since 2007, the sum total of which is that it’s become the worst prototype bike on the grid. Un-rideable. Capable of bringing the immortal Valentino Rossi to his knees. One wonders how long the new masters at Audi will be willing to pour money into this hole in the ocean that gets progressively worse each year.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

For your Mother’s Day weekend weather in greater Estoril, please see last week’s May Day weather in Jerez. Cool, cloudy and wet through Sunday.

Perfect conditions for an upset or two. Anyone want to bet against The Aliens?

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