MotoGP: 2009 Catalunya Preview

Is it Rossi's turn?

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Catalunya round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Catalan Grand Prix.

The daring young men of MotoGP, and the shapely babes that hold their umbrellas, roll into Spain for the second time this season for Stage 6, the Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya. Six weeks and 700 miles removed from their sun-splashed weekend in Jerez, it’s anyone’s championship to win, and Casey Stoner’s to lose. And when I say “anyone”, I naturally mean Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

Here’s the 2009 season to date, five rounds of incredible wheel-to-wheel action, reduced to 27 words:

  • Qatar – Stoner wins, Rossi places.
  • Motegi – Lorenzo wins, Rossi places.
  • Jerez – Rossi wins, Pedrosa places.
  • LeMans – Lorenzo wins, Melandri (!) places, Pedrosa shows.
  • Mugello – Stoner wins, Lorenzo places.

With Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa nursing injuries that would have you and me in traction, he doesn’t figure to see the podium this weekend. Neither does Hayate Kawasaki’s Marco Melandri, who seems to do his best work on a wet track. Stoner, Lorenzo and Rossi essentially have been taking turns winning, and so by my reckoning it figures to be Rossi’s turn this time out, followed most likely by Stoner.

Honda released several images of Dani Pedrosa in this pose. Is that a smart idea for a guy with a bad hip?

I know at least one thing – Casey Stoner is a freak of nature. Week in and week out, the Ducati Desmosedici pummels lesser riders, such that four of the bottom five in the championship standings today proudly represent Ducati. The most stunning example of this machine’s capacity to humble the best riders on earth is Nicky Hayden, who was competitive last season on the factory Honda and who has become a pitiable back bencher for Team Marlboro. And yet, there sits Stoner atop the standings, the baddest actor in the whole Sioux nation. Hats off to the Aussie.

Rizla Suzuki Going Out on a Limb

Suzuki's new engine has only been tested in laboratory conditions. Good luck with it, Vermeulen.In case you haven’t been paying attention thus far, the Suzuki GSV-R being ridden by Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi this season is underpowered, which is, in itself, an understatement. These are two talented riders who haven’t seriously threatened the leaders other than brief moments in uncertain flag-to-flag conditions. It is unsettling to learn that Suzuki has whipped up a new engine design for the team, and that the riders are seriously considering installing it, untested, in time for this weekend’s race.

(Ahem.) Picture Wile E. Coyote, eternally frustrated in his attempts to catch and eat the Roadrunner, prying open a huge box from Acme Ballistics Manufacturing Company and attaching a massive bottle rocket-type contraption to his back with several bungee cords, climbing onto his skateboard, and lighting the fuse as the Roadrunner goes beep-beeping by. Moments later, picture Mr. Coyote propelled into the void above an impossibly deep canyon, making the ill-advised decision to glance downward, and then plummeting to the desert floor, eventually reaching his destination accompanied by the sound of a faint, dry “poof”.

Don’t do it, fellas. Test the new engine next week and strap it on for Assen. There’s just no percentage in getting yourselves trashed out there. (It’s not like you’re in contention to win anything anyway.)

A Nice Award – A Little Late Arriving

The MotoGP website had this bit of news to report this week: “(Casey) Stoner and his Ducati teammate Nicky Hayden will be honored by the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday morning with the unveiling of their plaques on ‘Champions Avenue’ – adding their names to those of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Dani Pedrosa, amongst others – in celebration of their respective 2007 and 2006 MotoGP titles.”

Upon reading this, I had two immediate thoughts:

  1. What, they don’t present this award every year? What is it, some kind of biennial, or biannual, or bi-whatever honor? Are they trying to save a few bucks by holding the ceremony only in odd-numbered years?
  2. Giving Nicky Hayden his award this year is like waiting to give Elizabeth Taylor her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame until after her 1994 portrayal of Pearl Slaghoople in the movie version of The Flintstones.

Things looked positive for the Ducati duo at Friday’s free practice. Stoner was third behind Rossi and Lorenzo despite a minor crash while Hayden was sixth.

Enter Talmacsi – A Little Late Arriving Part Two

Gabor Talmacsi will make his MotoGP debut in Spain.Gabor Talmacsi, the 2007 125cc Grand Prix Champion, will make his MotoGP debut this weekend, racing for Scot Honda.

Talmacsi started the year in the 250cc class but only raced three rounds before leaving the Aspar Aprilia outfit over a contract dispute.

The Budapest native will join Yuki Takahashi in carrying the Team Scot banner, which is good news for Hungarian race fans who are already stinging from the cancellation of their Grand Prix round.

Bridgestone – Thinking All the Time

This weekend will mark the rollout of Bridgestone’s “asymmetric rears”, slicks built with different compounds – harder on the right, softer on the left – in the shoulders, where the loads, and temperatures, are the highest in the turns. These asymmetric rears are designed to deliver a consistent level of grip throughout each lap on the track. Yet another example of how no detail is too small, nor expense too great, in this wacky sport.

Because of the circuit's eight fast right turns and slower five left turns, Bridgestone is supplying rear tires that are harder on the right and softer on the left.

Having been around team sports all my life, I’ve been somewhat slow to understand how important the decisions regarding tires are in these races. In football or hockey, both teams use the same ball/puck, and there is no critical “choosing” of equipment to affect the outcome. In motorsports, and most especially MotoGP, tires choice is one of the vital decisions teams make. In MotoGP, where the riders test the absolute limits of adhesion, where the only thing between them and disaster is a couple of square inches of rubber, it is, indeed, all about the tires. Bridgestone gets that. And now I’m starting to get that, too.

And Now, Your Local Weather

The forecast for the weekend in the Barcelona area is perfect – sunny and warm. For a few of the second and third tier riders – Vermeulen, Capirossi, Melandri, even “Pokey” Canepa--this is bad news. During the last two races (“flag to flag” sounding much more impressive than “kind of like the Old West’s Pony Express”), the results, especially in mid-race, have been unexpectedly, well, unexpected. Look for the usual suspects – Stoner, Rossi and Lorenzo – to have things their way this weekend, with Dovizioso, Colin Edwards and the heroic Dani Pedrosa following. And look, too, for Nicky Hayden and James Toseland to engage in another epic battle for 12th place.

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