MotoGP: 2010 Le Mans Preview

Lorenzo and Rossi looking forward to a little French cooking

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Le Mans round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Grand Prix de France.

Last year, Le Mans hosted Round 4 of the MotoGP world championship chase, a damp, confusing event which Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo won, while Hayate Racing’s Marco Melandri took second and defending world champion Valentino Rossi finished an angry 16th. Such is not likely to be the case this year, as the Grand Prix de France has moved up into the Round 3 slot; the forecast for Sunday is sunny and mild, with a slight chance of volcanic ash. The question on the minds of most MotoGP fans: is there anyone out there capable of challenging Team Fiat Yamaha this week, or any week in which there isn’t a tropical storm?

With barely 10% of the 2010 season behind us, the lines of demarcation have been clearly drawn into MotoGP’s customary three divisions. Division 1 features Lorenzo and Rossi on top, factory Honda riders Pedrosa and Dovizioso trailing, and a resurgent Nicky Hayden fronting the Ducati factory team. The only news here is Hayden trumping teammate Stoner, another way of saying “it’s early in the season.”

Division 2 is topped by satellite Honda (and French homeboy) Randy de Puniet, who consistently qualifies higher than he finishes, while a mere two points separates the seventh through 11th spots: Yamaha’s struggling Colin Edwards, inconsistent Ducati Marlboro icon Casey Stoner, American rookie stud Ben Spies, and the dueling Marcos of San Carlo Honda Gresini, Melandri and Simoncelli. Did Fausto Gresini gain anything by jettisoning Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias in favor of the two Marcos? Early returns say no.

Jorge Lorenzo was victorious last year at Le Mans in a flag-to-flag wet race.

Bringing up the rear in Division 3 are the Early Have-Nots – Pramac Racing’s Mika Kallio, Honda rookie Hiroshi Aoyama, washed up Suzuki factory vet Loris Capirossi, Spanish heartthrob and rookie Ducati hope Hector Barbera, Suzuki rookie Alvaro Bautista (racing this weekend with a busted clavicle and massive cojones), and the disappointing Aleix Espargaro, with only one championship point to show for his two 2010 outings. It’s okay to be a rookie in Division 3, but it’s so NOT okay to be a former world champion riding for a factory team.

A Few Early Surprises

A rejuvenated Nicky Hayden is one of several surprises we've seen so far this season.At this point in the season, it’s sheer folly to try to predict anything. It’s not too early, however, to highlight several emerging developments on the grid thus far:

  • By far, the most pleasant surprise has been the re-birth of Nicky Hayden, a nice guy from a family of racing fools, who has delivered himself from the dead in 2009 back to where he was in 2008 – relevant, if not yet a consistent threat to podium.
  • The emergence of Jorge Lorenzo as the Top Gun in MotoGP. At 22 years of age, he’s nine years younger than teammate and rival Rossi, and the world is his oyster. The only thing standing between Lorenzo and a string of world championships is Lorenzo himself. Once he learns how to start races and maintain control of his emotions he will be unstoppable. For years.
  • The slow start to the season being endured by Casey Stoner, who already trails Rossi and Lorenzo by over 30 points each. His strong finish last year led many to believe he could win it all again in 2010. He’s already a longshot for this season, and rumors of an impending defection to Honda abound.
  • The changing of the guard in progress at Repsol Honda. At Losail, Andrea Dovizioso blew Nicky Hayden away in the final straight to capture a spot on the podium. At Jerez, Dani Pedrosa surrendered to Jorge Lorenzo on the race’s last lap to fall out of what looked like a sure win. If Stoner hooks up with Honda next season, it won’t be Dovi leaving.
  • The slow, agonizing death throes of Rizla Suzuki, whose days in the premier class appear to be numbered. Loris Capirossi is a mere shadow of his former self, while rookie stud Alvaro Bautista, fresh off an encouraging 10th place finish at Jerez, is now forced to compete with a surgically-repaired shoulder. If it wasn’t for bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all. Their paddock girls, however, sporting that naughty Guardia Civil look, turn my knees to jelly.

Time for Some Idle Speculation

Okay, so I don’t have a clue how this year’s game of musical chairs – someone referred to it last year as bums seeking seats, and seats seeking bums – will turn out. I do, however, have a clue as to how I’d LIKE to see it turn out, as follows:

When he lines up on the grid at Le Mans, Dani Pedrosa will be making his 150th career GP start.Jorge Lorenzo takes over the top spot at Fiat Yamaha, joined by Dani Pedrosa, who moves over from Repsol Honda to form a formidable all-Spanish entry. No real rivalry here, as Lorenzo is clearly dominant, with the irritable and irascible Pedrosa consistently submissive in the clinches. Spanish racing fans, with whom I spent a splendid Sunday at Jerez, would be delirious at this combination.

Valentino Rossi takes his act to Ducati, joining Nicky Hayden. Does Rossi have what it takes to tame the beast? Italian racing fans would go crazy to see him wearing red. And Rossi would likely be willing to help Hayden get to the next level in pursuit of a Manufacturer’s Trophy for the Bologna factory.

By deduction, we’re left with Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso at Repsol Honda. Two 24 year olds with a world of ability and all kinds of Honda connections. It’s no secret that Honda is tiring of Pedrosa’s act and covets Australian Stoner. This might become the top inter-team rivalry in the game, as both riders would want to be The Man. I’d be putting my money on Stoner, at least in the near term.

Notice anything missing? Ducati will be racing without the Marlboro barcode because tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise in France.

This Just In – Moto2 is Great Racing!

Thus far, most people would agree that the two Moto2 races this year have been more interesting than the two MotoGP races. The last 10 laps of the Jerez tilt earlier this month were sensational, as Toni Elias, Shoya Tomizawa and Thomas Luthi punched and counterpunched all the way to the thrilling finish, with Elias holding on for a gratifying win in front of his homeys. More amazing was Alex de Angelis’ crash in practice on Saturday, in which he cartwheeled through the gravel like a ragdoll that had been shot out of a cannon before walking away from it. And to think he wanted to compete on Sunday! Race officials intervened and talked him down. Apparently he’s good to go this week at Le Mans.

The 2.6 mile Le Mans circuit features several slow corners with one really fast curve after the start-finish straight.

Tomizawa and Elias currently reside at the top of the Moto2 standings, and both head to France with high expectations. Personally, I’m rooting for de Angelis, who has yet to score his first Moto2 points but has onions the size of manhole covers.

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