MotoGP 2011 Catalunya Preview

For now, it's Lorenzo, Stoner and everyone else


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Catalunya round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Catalan Grand Prix.

Heading into the 2011 season, hopes were running high for a number of premier class riders. Jorge Lorenzo was coming off his first MotoGP world championship. Teammate Ben Spies, last year’s ROY, earned a promotion to the Yamaha factory team and the high expectations that came along with it. The factory Honda team of Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso spent the offseason blowing the competition away.

The iconic Valentino Rossi had the dreams of an entire nation riding with him, and newcomer Marco Simoncelli wasn’t backing down from anyone. Yet, barely two months and four rounds later, it’s shaping up as a two man race, as Lorenzo and Stoner have begun to elevate themselves above the fray, a trend that is likely to continue this weekend. The Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya, the second of four Spanish rounds, offers an opportunity for the two rivals to further distance themselves from the field.

Recent Catalan History

The 2009 edition of the Barcelona round was, for me, one of the great MotoGP duels of all time, as Rossi eventually snaked teammate Lorenzo in the last turn to win by 9/100ths of a second. In that race, Stoner finished a distant third, an eyelash ahead of future teammate Dovizioso. Last year it was Lorenzo’s turn, winning by almost five seconds, while Pedrosa and Stoner slugged it out for second place, Pedrosa eventually prevailing despite having gone walkabout on Lap 1. The 2010 race was noteworthy not so much because three aliens took the podium, but because a couple of notable non-aliens – Randy de Puniet and Alvaro Bautista – claimed the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.

Bad Timing For Dani Pedrosa

My mother always told me that in life, timing is everything. She should have saved that noise for Dani Pedrosa, whose timing this season could not be worse. Catalunya marks the beginning of a six-races-in-eight-weeks sprint, and Pedrosa enters it with a busted wing, courtesy of that brutal takedown by Marco Simoncelli in France. On Wednesday, Pedrosa revealed what pretty much everyone had suspected – he is sitting out Round Five. I make him unlikely for Silverstone next week, and he will likely be less than 100% until at least August in Brno.

Pedrosa entered the weekend solidly in third place for the season, having podiumed in Qatar and Jerez and won in Portugal before the French debacle. He will remain stuck at 61 points this week and probably next. Meanwhile, both Lorenzo and Stoner have had success in Barcelona, as has Dovizioso, who trails Pedrosa by only 11 points heading into the weekend. It is highly likely that Pedrosa will find himself sitting in fifth or sixth place when Round 7 rolls around in Italy a month from now.

For a guy who had a legitimate shot at the 2011 title, this all must come as a crushing disappointment. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it promises the beginning of a new blood feud in the premier class, and you just can’t have too many of them. Heck, even the suits are getting involved, as Alberto Puig and Fausto Gresini have been exchanging shots in the media, Gresini insisting Simoncelli is getting a raw deal, and Puig suggesting that Simoncelli ought to go to jail for his conduct in France! Simmer down, fellas.

The Carlo Pernat Interview

Carlo Pernat is one of the classic characters of MotoGP, a crusty old Italian dude with an opinion on everything. He currently manages Loris Capirossi, a thankless task, and is an apologist for Marco Simoncelli. In a recent interview on the GPOne website, Carlo offered up some typically candid observations on the 2011 season, including:

  • The season is over but for the shouting, as Stoner and Honda have a mortal lock on the title. Since last season, Honda has taken major strides forward, while Ducati has made virtually no progress and Yamaha has actually taken a step backward;
  • Dani Pedrosa is too small in stature to compete for the title;
  • His boy Simoncelli “lacks race vision,” which sounds much kinder than “is a threat to everyone on the grid, including the brolly girls”; and
  • Rossi’s podium in France was deceptive, in that both Pedrosa and Simoncelli were clearly faster than The Doctor until the incident on Lap 18.

Simoncelli to the Race Direction Woodshed

In an unusual announcement on Monday, The Powers That Be have invited Simoncelli to a meeting in Catalunya to “further discuss” the Le Mans fiasco. This sounds a bit ominous, kind of like being invited by the KGB to the basement of the Lubyanka Prison to discuss one’s reactionary political views.

The “invitation” appears to have had the intended effect. Prior to this week, Simoncelli has stridently defended himself, claiming his racing style to be no more or less aggressive than anyone else on the track, which is, of course, pure nonsense. Suddenly, today, he appears to have had a change of heart. Today, it seems, he has realized the error of his ways, and is now promising to be a little more cautious on the track. Today, he wants to turn the page. Yeah.

Racing fans have long memories. For example, every year at Indianapolis I see guys wearing “Pedrosa Sucks” t-shirts, with Pedrosa’s run-in with Nicky Hayden at Estoril in 2006 is still front of mind. It will be interesting to see how long Simoncelli’s new religion lasts; my guess is that it will be largely gone by the second lap on Sunday, especially if he finds himself in contention.

Weekend Weather Forecast

Unfortunately, the Spanish Riviera will not be at its meteorological best this week, as the forecast calls for cool, damp conditions for the next five days. The best chance for rain, at this point, is Friday, and temps are expected to be in the low 70’s. As we’ve seen many times over the years – most recently at Jerez – cool wet weather is often accompanied by surprising race results. If the sun is shining, expect to see Stoner, Lorenzo and Dovizioso on the podium Sunday. If not, your guess is at least as good as mine.

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