2012 MotoGP Qatar Preview
Concentration of Power, Dilution of Product
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the 2012 MotoGP season and the opening round at Qatar. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Grand Prix of Qatar.
If you enjoyed seeing a lot of The MotoGP Aliens in 2011, you’ll love the 2012 edition. 2011 Champion Casey Stoner looks ready to set track records that will last a decade. Yamaha Big Deal Jorge Lorenzo, on the lesser #99 factory bike, is desperate to stay in the conversation for the title, but running uphill, racing at the limit all the time. For the first time ever, the high fliers of MotoGP will be overtaking slower CRT bikes in the turns during the second half of races. Courting disaster, if you ask me.
Factory understudies Ben Spies (Yamaha) and Dani Pedrosa (Honda) will appear on a healthy number of podia. Beyond that, um, not so much. Andrea Dovizioso could podium maybe twice for Tech 3 Yamaha, and partner Cal Crutchlow perhaps once. Someone else may sneak their way onto the podium on a rainy day in Spain – Valentino Rossi? Alvaro Bautista? Riders from the Honda and Yamaha factory teams will occupy 85% of the total podium positions at year end, barring serious injury, which is kind of like barring oxidation. There will be few occasions where three of the top four guys don’t spray champagne all over each other.
A huddle of factory and satellite riders – Dovizioso and Crutchlow, fading Ducati chieftains Rossi and Nicky Hayden, and Gresini Honda’s Bautista (in the ever-present shadow of the late Marco Simoncelli) – will slug it out for spots four through eight each round. The rest of the usual top 11 finishers will consist of Junior Abraham on dad’s Ducati, the dashing, but thus far inconsequential, Hector Barbera on the Pramac Ducati, and German rookie Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda. One thing all these riders have in common is a deep-seated dread of getting beaten by one of the CRT machines they’ve let in this year.
Speaking of Which…
And so here come the CRT teams, just waiting for some clever pundit to come up with the hilarious alternate acronym (I’m working on it). Nine groups that will slug it out each week in the scuppers of MotoGP, grinding desperately for Top Ten finishes. I hope the inevitable celebrations (of finishing 10th out of 21 entries) will be subdued, as they will otherwise resemble those NFL wide-outs who viciously spike a touchdown pass while trailing by 27 points.
Sitting in somewhat comic splendor in this second group is former Yamaha stud Colin Edwards, with a practiced “I’ll Show ’Em” routine fronting for NGM Mobile Forward Racing (voted this year’s Team Least Likely to Recoup Their Sponsor’s Investment.) Joining Edwards at the top of the second group will be veteran Randy de Puniet on the Power Electronics Aspar. If, as they say, 80% of motorcycle racing is rider, and only 20% bike, these guys are still screwed. The differences between the two classes are just too great.
Beyond these two teams, the seven remaining entries are, for me, something of a blur. They are virtually guaranteed to occupy the bottom third of the grid at every outing. They are virtually guaranteed to finish at least a full lap down to the leaders, with a number not finishing at all. And they are virtually guaranteed to number less than seven by season’s end.
It’s these last seven bikes that will make life in the turns hazardous for the fast movers during the second half of races. Instead of overtaking perhaps two or three riders during the day, a Stoner or Lorenzo could find himself trying to overtake a dozen bikes that are dangerously slower in the turns. There are likely to be numerous situations in which a top rider is taken out by an inexperienced CRT rider. This, then, is the soft white underbelly of the expanded grid for 2012 and the so-called privateer bikes. Yes, there will be fuller grids, seven full rows. More color, more noise, more money. But a diluted product, and even more hazards for the top riders on earth. Great.
World Super Bikes, with a more rational concept of blueprinted production bikes, would appear to be gaining on MotoGP in claiming to be the premier racing league on the planet. The so-called “dumbing down” of MotoGP points to a world in which all the entries are CRT bikes, tire-to-tire competition goes up, lap times go up, as do the financials associated with the struggling sport. But the gluing together of bikes, with pieces and parts from here, there and everywhere, is no longer really premier class racing. The core of very fast factory prototypes is on its way out, at which point World Super Bikes may overtake MotoGP. The lap times we will see this year aren’t likely to be seen again for years. Such is life in the post-Great Recession world of the early 21st century.
So go to a race or two. Tell your grandkids you saw Dani Pedrosa doing 220 mph down the main straight at Indianapolis on a 1000cc Repsol Honda in 2012. It’s not likely to happen again anytime soon.
Recent History at Losail
The Losail Circuit in Doha, Qatar has pretty much been Casey Stoner’s personal playground since 2007. Other than 2010, when front fork problems with the GP10 troubled him all season long and he crashed out on Lap 5 of the opener, he’s been invincible in The Middle East. His average winning margin has been almost five seconds. Given the fact he’s been the fastest guy on the grid at virtually every 1000cc test since Valencia last November, there is no reason to expect him NOT to win Sunday night’s race.
He will likely be joined on the podium that evening by Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo, who has appeared on every Losail podium since 2008 without having ever won. The third guy will most likely be Dani Pedrosa, who, were it not for Stoner, would probably have the best shot of anyone at the 2012 championship. Sadly, the Repsol Mighty Mite endures one or two painful injuries every season, misses a few rounds, and finds himself settling for third or fourth position for the year. With his documented trouble staying aboard the 800cc bikes, it won’t get any easier for him this year.
Your Weekend Weather Forecast
The forecast for Sunday night’s race is increasing darkness … old jokes are good jokes. Conditions are expected to be dry, with temps falling from the mid-80’s to the upper 70’s. One factor the hosts are unable to control is windblown sand, a fact of life in these parts, and a factor in both preparing for and running the race. Another is the glare coming off the lights, more of a challenge for the photographers than the riders.
None of this matters. The interest will be in seeing who finishes where in the top ten, and beginning the process of sorting out the have-nots at the back of the field. The first day of the rest of MotoGP history has arrived.
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