MotoGP: 2009 Valencia Preview

This weekend they're racing mostly for the fun of it

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

If I’m one of the 18 or so racetracks on the planet that compete to host MotoGP races, I think I’d try NOT to get scheduled for the last week of the season. Nine years out of ten, it’s not going to be decisive, memorable or even competitive. Take this year, for example. The main event has been decided; we’re here for the undercards, the beer and the babes. And by “here”, I mean my kitchen table on the north side of Indianapolis.

As I try to get you geeked up for the last race of the season, I’m going to depart from my usual form (“what usual form?” you’re wondering) by looking at those riders that have something to gain this weekend, and those riders who have absolutely NOTHING to ride for.

Before doing so, however, I wish to point out to my editor that my prediction nailed the podium for Sepang, blueprinted Jorge Lorenzo’s race, and was early in predicting Pokey Canepa’s demise at Pramac Racing. Hold your applause, please. Here we go.

The Fab Five at Valencia.

Ben Spies, Sterilgarda Yamaha Team – Ben’s wildcard ride this week is looking very spiffy and the world is his oyster, at least until Sunday. He is expected to do well, for some reason, despite his rookie status. If he doesn’t make the top ten, people will be whispering “overrated”. If he makes the top five, people will be whispering “dark horse”. He certainly has the opportunity to increase MotoGP’s following among American fans. Spies will be running hard in Valencia.

Valentino Rossi, Fiat Yamaha – nothing whatsoever to race for this weekend, other than his built-in pride. Why? He’s WON everything already. He’s preparing for 2010.

Jorge Lorenzo, Fiat Yamaha – Jorge needs only to remain vertical this weekend, as he is one point away from clinching second place for the year. I suspect he’s up to the pressure of having to beat Gabor Talmacsi. Lorenzo could have won it all this year if it weren’t for all the DNFs.

Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro – PLENTY to race for this weekend. If Stoner can win here, especially if he does so in a convincing manner, he is likely to be proclaimed the favorite going into 2010. If, after dealing with his health issues, he comes back with a second and three wins in his last four outings, no one would blame him for thinking of himself as next year’s favorite.

2008 Valencia winner Casey Stoner maintains his torrid pace, leading all riders in the free practice.

Nicky Hayden, Ducati Marlboro – needs a top ten finish in this one to remain relevant. Next year he’ll have to find a way to finish in the top six for the year if he expects to keep his Ducati ride for 2011.

Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda – trails Casey Stoner by 11 points for third place for the season. Pedrosa won’t pass the Australian unless Stoner crashes or goes walkabout. Pedrosa has a great history at Valencia and probably WANTS the win more than anyone else. He’s got plenty to race for.

Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda – leads Colin Edwards by 4 points in the battle for fifth place overall. Needs to beat Edwards on Sunday, which means he needs to run a great race. Other than his win at Donington, Dovizioso seemed stronger in the first half of the season than he did in the second. He doesn’t want to be the Honda factory rider to get beat for the year by a satellite team rider.

Loris Capirossi, Rizla Suzuki – not too much to race for this weekend. He could go balls to the wall and try to finish sixth, but his motorcycle is simply not fast enough to get a podium. Next year he’ll be there to teach Alvaro Bautista how to cope with a seriously underpowered bike. Bautista is unlikely to have nearly as much fun in the premier class as he’s had with Aprilia over the past four seasons.

Chris Vermeulen, Rizla Suzuki – other than perhaps wishing to spit in the world’s eye, Chris has nothing to ride for this weekend. He’s getting the first consolation prize of the season, about which no one would be happy. He’s a class guy with a bad ride in a hypercompetitive league. He should do well in World Superbike regardless of what he does on Sunday.

"So." "Yeah." "Awkward."

Colin Edwards, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha – needs to beat Andrea Dovizioso like a rented mule. Trails the Repsol Honda rider by 4 points for fifth place overall. Also needs to avoid getting hosed by Ben Spies as his teammate-to-be debuts on his shiny new Yamaha in a preview of 2010. Colin, repeat after me, please: Beat Dovi. Beat Spies. Beat Dovi. Beat Spies.

James Toseland, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha – is heading to WSBK, swapping seats with Spies. That should make his goal this weekend pretty clear: beat his replacement. Toseland has the experience and is more familiar with the M1. With his replacement coming in for a wildcard ride, Toseland also has the motivation.

Marco Melandri, Hayate Racing – Marco is joining up with Marco Simoncelli at San Carlo Honda Gresini next season. Simoncelli is on his way to finishing second in the 250cc division this year after winning it last year. The Dueling Marcos will look like Mutt and Jeff in team pictures. Whether they end up with more points than de Angelis and Elias did this season remains to be seen.

Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias, San Carlo Honda Gresini – the two lame duck teammates are tied heading into the last round of their last year with the team. Reads like a cheap novel. Each is reduced to having to obey the very first rule of competitive motorcycle racing: Above all else, beat your teammate. A seat on the Scot Honda for 2010 may rest in the balance. Perhaps the most interesting race within the race.

Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda – unbelievably, still has a shot at finishing seventh for the year. Unlikely, but possible. His late season injury kept us from learning whether he had made major improvements this year, although it was looking that way. He’ll be back again next year, trying to crack the top ten for the season.

Ben Spies will be a true wildcard at Valencia. Top 10? Top six? Podium finisher? Winner? We'll find out Sunday.

Mika Kallio, Pramac Racing – 2009 Rookie of the Year has plenty to race for, with flavor du jour Aleix Espargaro joining him in Valencia in a dress rehearsal for teaming up with him full time next season. Unless Nicky Hayden shows dramatic improvement next year, expect one of these two guys to be joining Casey Stoner at Ducati Marlboro in 2011.

Aleix Espargaro, Pramac Racing – would like to be the number two Ducati finisher on Sunday behind Stoner. Thus far, Espargaro has adjusted to the Ducati as well as Kallio and better than Hayden. The youngest rider on the circuit will be racing hard on Sunday.

Gabor Talmacsi, Scot Honda – Gabe just keeps on pedaling, hoping for a revival of the formerly state-run economies of eastern Europe from whence his sponsorship dollars must continue to flow if he is to remain employed as a premier class rider next year. My, that was a whopper of a sentence. It wouldn’t hurt his chances for next year to have a respectable top 12 finish on Sunday.

Meanwhile Back in the Garage…

The big news off the track this week is the departure of Ducati Marlboro project and team manager Livio Suppo who will assume a senior marketing role with Honda Racing Corporation in 2010. Suppo was a key figure in making Ducati Marlboro the only factory team fully funded by sponsorships. He’ll be counted on to work that magic for Honda.

Suppo’s current duties will be split between two individuals. Test rider Vittoriano Guareschi will handle team management duties while Ducati marketing manager Alessandro Cicognani will take on the project manager role.

The Valencia circuit features a lot of tight corners with short straights. It will host the final 250cc GP race as the class gets replaced by the Moto2 in 2010.

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