MotoGP: 2009 Jerez Preview

Andalusia's got nothing on Kentucky


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

This week the MotoGP rocket jockeys are off to Jerez, in Spain’s Andalusia region for the first European stop on the championship tour, just in time for some great weather (Ed: for once), the first big crowd of the year, and a little misplaced hometown machismo. This region in southern Spain claims to have essentially invented sherry, horses and flamenco dancing. While we’re happy to give them the flamenco crown, and aren’t too broken up over the sherry business, we wish to remind them that Kentucky invented horses, as any fool knows. The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby this weekend is undeniable proof, for any of those tight-pant wearing, flamenco-dancing, sherry-swilling Spaniards that need it.

The Jerez circuit is considered by Spaniards to be the best layout in the world. The rest of the world considers it really good, for Spain. Here in the United States it has about the same stature as, say, Dover or Phoenix. Very nice. Not Daytona, Talladega or Indianapolis by any means.

Spanish riders Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa may have a home advantage in Jerez. They both made the podium in the 2008 race.

In the words of the great Chico Escuela of Saturday Night Live fame, “Jerez been berra berra good to Dani.”  Spaniard Dani Pedrosa won here last year, after finishing second the previous two years. Last year, he was chased by eventual champion Valentino Rossi, countryman Jorge Lorenzo and the Kentucky Kid, Nicky Hayden. In 2007, Rossi won, while Colin Edwards took third, Toni Elias fourth and Stoner fifth. In 2006, Loris Capirossi beat Pedrosa by four seconds, followed by Hayden, Elias, Marco Melandri and Stoner.

(You can call up your friendly international bookmaker right now and get Pedrosa at 7 to 1, which strikes me as a prudent investment – one of many reasons I’m not a stockbroker any longer.)

Valentino Rossi waves to the crowd from last year's Jerez podium. Jorge Lorenzo prefers the old "point at random people in the audience" move.Last week’s thrilling race in Japan has invigorated MotoGP fans, as it appears we have us a horse race (pardon the expression) this year. While the two Yamaha teams enjoy a decided advantage in points thus far, Honda and Ducati are running shoulder to shoulder, and there are four or five riders who could end up winning it all in 2009. Let’s take a glance.

Ballers – Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner, and the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. One of these guys will win the title this year, though probably not Dovizioso. Rossi is off to a quick start in Spain leading the Friday practice session. Lorenzo has shown he is ready, willing and able to give his Fiat Yamaha teammate the business; he and Rossi really don’t get along. Stoner has the fastest machine in the world, but most of the rounds aren’t just about speed. Pedrosa is still healing from his March crash, but put on an amazing display at Motegi, coming from 11th place to second in the first half lap. These guys are definitely the top five.

Contenders – Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards, Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen and, remarkably, Hayate Kawasaki’s Marco Melandri. These three can expect to appear on a few podiums this year. They might not win a race, but they are clearly the second tier. Melandri may fade as the year wears on, since Kawasaki is giving him bupkis by way of support. He is, however, building a strong case for a new and improved ride next season.

Loris Capirossi is looking for answers in Jerez.Overrated – Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi, LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet, and the Gresini Honda pair of Alex de Angelis, and Toni Elias. Capirossi, it seems, is past his prime, while none of the other three have passed anyone lately. The PR hacks behind their teams desperately want us to care about how these guys do every time out. How they do is about 45 seconds behind the first and second groups. (I especially love the way Capirossi apologizes to his team after every race.)

Rookie of the Year, So Far – Pramac Ducati’s Mika Kallio. The guy minds his own business, and has gained ground on a lot of veterans in both races. He has a fast bike, doesn’t seem to scare easily, and appears to have a bright future. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him on a podium before the year’s out.

Huge Busts, So Far – Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden and Tech 3 Yamaha’s James Toseland. Hayden’s problems have largely been bad luck, while Toseland doesn’t get a fraction of what Colin Edwards gets from the same Yamaha bike. I predict Hayden will rise in the standings this season once he gets healthy, and expect the Brit will get tossed from his team immediately after season’s end. Look for Toseland to be riding Harleys in AMA races at state fairgrounds for five grand purses next year. Sorry, James –  no more Yamaha babes holding umbrellas over you to keep the sunburn away.

"I wonder if I can get a horse to lean into a corner..."Just Plain Dangerous – Francisco Hernando Ducati’s Sete Gibernau, Pramac Ducati’s Niccolo Canepa and Scot Honda’s Yuki Takahashi. These guys are a lengthy hospital confinement just waiting to happen. Gibernau and Takahashi are not only threats to themselves, but to other riders as well, as Nicky Hayden will attest. A former Ducati test-rider, Canepa doesn’t appear to ever get out of fifth gear and looks delighted simply to finish every week.

Back to Hayden, if he isn’t fully recovered from his chest and back injuries, maybe he should have blown off Jerez and head to Churchill Downs instead. He’s about the right size, it’s close to home, and he’s not going to have some Takahashi trying to knock him into the middle of next week. He’d probably make more money in Louisville than chasing Pedrosa and Lorenzo in Spain, and he’d definitely have a better time.

Serious race fans will nonetheless be happy that the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup gets started with a pair of races this week in Jerez. Watching these teenagers racing reminds me of watching 7-year old boys coming out of their drawers playing T-ball. They need notes from their moms so they can miss school to race these bikes! Awesome! 

I own socks older than most of these riders and the high achievers will be showing up in the MotoGP 125cc class very soon. Catch the video feed of the race on http://www.redbullrookiescup.com/, and American fans should keep their eyes on 15-year old Jake Gagne, 14-year old Benny Solis, and another Kentuckian, 14-year-old Hayden Gillim.

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