MotoGP 2010 Valencia Preview

Monday's testing may be more interesting than Sunday's race

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Valencia round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Valancian Grand Prix.

The 2010 MotoGP season comes to a grinding halt this weekend at the gorgeous Circuit Ricardo Tormo in eastern Spain. With perhaps one exception, all of our questions heading into the year have been answered. Can Fiat Yamaha legend Valentino Rossi overtake a gutsy Dani Pedrosa on the last day of the season and deprive him of his coveted second place finish? Probably not. However, as the season has shown us, few things are certain at 200 miles per hour on two wheels.

By finishing on the podium, Fiat Yamaha champion Jorge Lorenzo can establish a new record for the number of points earned in a season, gleefully eclipsing the current record set in 2008 by Rossi. Look for Lorenzo to play the “home race” card again this week and go balls to the wall in an effort to destroy Rossi’s mark and get a win in front of his homeys.

Jorge Lorenzo can set a new single-season points record at Valencia. Lorenzo currently has 358 points, while Valentino Rossi holds the record with 373 points scored in 2008.

Rossi, as everyone knows, desperately needs a win (and Pedrosa to finish out of the top nine) to garner second place for the year, having missed four rounds due to injury. Forget Motegi. Forget Estoril. This one has the potential to be the Mother of All Rossi-Lorenzo Duels, especially with Rossi departing for Ducati effective Monday.

Based upon recent history, the edge has to go to Rossi. He beat Lorenzo to the flag in 2009 just for the heck of it, having already clinched the title, while Pedrosa won by 2.6 seconds. In 2008, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner took the checkered flag, three seconds ahead of Pedrosa, with Rossi another nine seconds back, again having clinched the title weeks before. That year, Lorenzo finished a woeful eighth. Rossi is still struggling with his shoulder, and is scheduled for surgery after the Valencia testing. But the next time these two tangle, Rossi will be wearing red; Sunday’s race will mark the end of a sensational era in MotoGP racing.

The Valencian Grand Prix marks an end of an era as Valantino Rossi enters his final race with Yamaha.

Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and his titanium plate will fight hard on Sunday. Fortunately for him, Lorenzo dialed in his 2009 settings at Estoril last week and won easily, while Rossi, whose 2009 Estoril settings were unsatisfactory, basically had to guess, and didn’t quite get it right. Had Rossi won last week in Portugal, Pedrosa’s margin would be 14 points instead of 19, and he would need a fifth place finish to guarantee second place. He should have little trouble finishing in the top nine, and deserves the second spot.

Two other lesser battles will be waged on Sunday. Americans Ben Spies (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Nicky Hayden (factory Ducati) are tied for sixth place in the standings; each desperately wants to be the top Yank in the field. Spies, who crashed hard at Estoril, is hurt and may not be able to go, in which case his Tech 3 heir Cal Crutchlow, late of World Superbikes, is in town waiting for the call. This is a contest worth watching. Farther back in the pack, a single point separates 10th place Marco Melandri, on the Gresini San Carlo Honda, from Tech 3 Yamaha fogey veteran Colin Edwards. Edwards would dearly love one more top ten finish for the 2010 season, while Melandri, en route to WSBK next year, is praying for rain on Sunday as the only certified “mudder” on the grid. I like Edwards in this contest, as Melandri hasn’t shown much since becoming a lame duck.

The Valencia race will also mark the end of Casey Stoner's tenure with Ducati.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Who knows what to expect this week from Casey Stoner, for whom the last five rounds have included three wins and two DNFs? He’s a short-timer with Ducati, on his way to the factory Honda team next season, but probably wants to go out on a high note. I expect him to podium Sunday or crash out trying; no point in holding anything back at this stage of the game. His arrival at Repsol Honda on Monday reduces Andrea Dovizioso to the Rodney Dangerfield of the team. I expect Dovi to go like hell on Sunday and to tangle with Pedrosa and Stoner every chance he gets next year, after which he will likely seek a change of scenery for 2012.

Marco Simoncelli has clearly arrived as The Best Rookie Not Named Spies this year, narrowly missing his first podium last week in Portugal. The guy doesn’t look like your typical MotoGP midget, instead resembling a tall, thin Weird Al Yankovic, minus the glasses. But the guy can fly, and handles himself like a pro. I look for him on a factory bike sooner rather than later; he looks like a top five finisher next season.

Marco Simoncelli has had a promising start to his MotoGP career, barely missing out on a podium finish in Portugal.

Fellow rookies – Hiro Aoyama, Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera – should be happy simply to escape Valencia without any broken bones. Their seasons have gone about as expected. The good news is that they all have premier class rides for next year; the bad news is that they will probably have to fight to hold onto those rides every year, keeping one eye on the hot young studs ready to emerge annually from Moto2.

Randy de Puniet, whose team management obviously followed my season-long taunts of the Frenchman, elected to hook up with Pramac Racing next season, clearing the way for newly crowned Moto2 champion Toni Elias’ return to the premier class aboard the LCR Honda. This weekend, I look for de Puniet to qualify higher than he finishes. His teammate next year, Loris Capirossi, looks to conclude his tenure aboard the factory Suzuki on Sunday by giving Carlos Checa, subbing on the Pramac Ducati, a battle for 16th place. And poor Aleix Espargaro, whose late season promise in 2008 ended in ashes this season, has his ticket punched for Moto2 next year, and won’t try anything too aggressive on Sunday, probably hoping for mechanical problems early in the race. Adios, Aleix.

A Peek at Monday’s Test

Riders will be back on the track Monday for post-season testing.

Having become a confirmed MotoGP geek this season, I admit to looking forward with relish to Monday’s testing at Valencia, for the following reasons:

  • Valentino Rossi will be riding a red Ducati! Imagine!
  • Casey Stoner will be riding an orange Repsol Honda! and
  • Ben Spies will be riding a factory M-1 with teammate Jorge Lorenzo!

Monday’s workout marks the debut of a redefined grid, one desperately needed by the premier class. It figures to inject some suspense into what has become a sadly predictable sport. Hopefully, the massive changes envisioned for MotoGP in 2012 will work out, providing fans with fuller grids, more competitive racing, fewer processions, a growing fan base and the elevation of MotoGP into the upper echelons of motorsports here in the U.S., alongside F-1, IndyCar and – dare I say it? – NASCAR.

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