MotoGP 2011 Assen Preview
It's time for Lorenzo and Rossi to challenge Casey Stoner
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Assen round of the 2011 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Dutch TT.
In each of the last three seasons, one premier class rider has stepped up and ruled the MotoGP championship. In 2009, it was Valentino Rossi onboard the Fiat Yamaha, eclipsing teammate Jorge Lorenzo in what may have been the last of his seven premier class titles. Last year, Lorenzo imposed his will upon the entire field, scoring more championship points than anyone in history. 2011, in turn, appears to be Casey Stoner’s year, as he has been virtually unstoppable on the Repsol Honda.
In 2009 and 2010, the eventual champion for the year won the TT Assen. If someone is going to slow down the runaway train that is Stoner in 2011, it needs to start on Saturday.
Stoner has not enjoyed a great deal of success in Holland, having won only once in nine outings, back in 2008. Although he’s been a regular on the podium, it hasn’t been his favorite circuit. This compares to Rossi’s five premier class wins there, and Lorenzo’s four victories across three classes. With Stoner looking fully capable of running away with the 2011 championship, the pressure is mounting on the other contenders – Lorenzo, Rossi, and Dovizioso – to make a statement at the Cathedral. As an old boss of mine used to tell me, “Right now would be fine.”
Some of you will take exception to the inclusion of Rossi, and exclusion of Dani Pedrosa, among the 2011 contenders. Rossi, in the midst of his worst season since 1996, still sits in 4th place for the year, although he trails Stoner by 48 points. And Pedrosa, who early in the season looked very quick indeed, has again fallen victim to the injury bug which has plagued him over much of his career. Had he managed to avoid getting Simoncellied in France, Pedrosa likely would be at teammate Stoner’s throat right now. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
As for Rossi, the marketing team’s dream come true has been an operational nightmare. The Corse development guys in Bologna have been working overtime, and have produced, in time for Assen, a 2012 chassis and gearbox with a 2011 engine glued onto it, producing what is a GP11½, referring to it as the GP11.1. The new bike is unlikely to make Rossi the dominant force he was for years at Yamaha. It could, however, give him a few tenths here and there and an easier ride for the rest of the season. If something untoward were to happen to Stoner (paging Dani Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista, Hiro Aoyama, etc.), Rossi could still influence the championship in 2011. He’s certainly NOT lacking for factory support.
Ever notice how each time a rider gets bent, spindled and mutilated, he goes into surgery with his favorite bonecutter, and emerges to the pronouncement that the surgery was “successful?” Cal Crutchlow, being the latest example, will give his collarbone a test this week, although I doubt he will compete.
Shortly after the incident at Le Mans, Pedrosa underwent what was, typically, called a “successful” surgery on his own collarbone at the hands of his doctor in Spain. Turns out his “successful” procedure required another even more successful follow-up operation last week, making him doubtful for Assen and only probable for Mugello. Dani might want to look into hiring a less successful surgeon.
All of this is great news for Hiro Aoyama, as the Gresini San Carlo satellite rider gets a one week promotion to the factory Repsol team for Round 7. Aoyama’s brief promotion, in turn, spells joy for the Dutch fans, as local favorite Kousouke Akiyoshi makes an encore appearance at Assen. Recall last year, when Aoyama was laid up with a back injury. Enter Akiyoshi, the veteran Honda test rider, who rode brilliantly, finished 15th (out of 15), garnered a championship point, and managed to finish only a single lap down to eventual winner Lorenzo.
Who says there’s a dilution of talent in the premier class?
Nicky Hayden: How Do You Spell Over-Rated?
Another rider getting a lot of attention this week is Ducati pilot Nicky Hayden. The attention, most of it anyway, is due to Rossi receiving essentially a new bike while the Kentucky Kid gets bupkus. Management explains this by mumbling something about Hayden’s burn rate on engines, which has reached alarming proportions due, in part, to his having blown one in practice at Estoril. As a not-so-subtle reminder of the deference due Rossi, Hayden will not be given his own GP11.1 until Laguna Seca in late July. Scusa, Niccolo!
The funny thing about all this is that, over his eight year premier class tenure, fully one third of Hayden’s career wins have come at Assen. That’s pretty amazing, until you consider that Hayden has managed only three (3) wins in eight (8) years, including Assen in 2006. This record puts him in the same class with MotoGP notables Daryl Beattie and Alfredo Milani, and only slightly behind the likes of Libero Liberati and Reg Armstrong, each of whom had four career wins. Even in his championship season, which he has now milked for fully five years, he had only two wins.
Nicky Hayden is a nice guy. Over-rated, but a genuine nice guy.
A Little Idle Speculation About 2012
Speaking of a dilution of talent, the expansion of the premier class in 2012 is a done deal. With the Mapfre Aspar team having already announced their intent to add a second bike next season, and half a dozen teams getting serious about joining the field, the upcoming silly season promises to be even sillier than usual. Consider that only seven riders are currently signed to premier class contracts for 2012 – Rossi and Hayden, Lorenzo and Spies, Stoner and Pedrosa, and Cal Crutchlow.
It’s certain that a bunch of Moto2 riders will be getting promoted to the big leagues in 2012. The names being mentioned most frequently include series leader Stefan Bradl, along with Scott Redding, Thomas Luthi and Andrea Iannone. Apparently John Hopkins has secured a wild card for Brno this year, and so must be added to the list of suspects. It has been reported that Dorna’s contract with Bridgestone for 2012 obliges the Japanese manufacturer to supply tires (tyres, for you Brits) for only 22 riders next season, which will make for some interesting decisions. More on this as the season moves forward.
What to Look For This Weekend in Greater Assen
No, this segment is not about grid girls, it’s about the weather in Holland! Which is forecast to be cloudy and cool. Which means we must watch the early laps carefully, before the tires/tyres are fully warmed up. This, I believe, is the round in which Marco Simoncelli finally gains his first podium, joining Lorenzo and Stoner for a champagne shower. Assuming, of course, he can complete those first two laps without putting himself or someone else in traction.