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MotoGP 2011 Jerez Preview
Yamaha needs to make a statement, while Ducati needs a miracle
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Jerez round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Spanish Grand Prix.
If you’re looking for a single word to capture the essence of the young 2011 season, that word would not be “parity.” Last year at Qatar, the top six finishers included three Yamahas, two Hondas and a Ducati. This year, Yamaha still managed two of the top six spots, but Honda grabbed four of the top five. Alas, the top Ducati finisher, the illustrious Valentino Rossi, struggled to an exhausting seventh place finish, some 16 seconds off the pace. For each forward step Honda has taken this offseason, Team Ducati seems to have taken a step backward.
Recent History at Jerez
Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez was one of the great races of the year. Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa looked, early on, as if he was going to run away from the field, as he occasionally does. By mid-race, he had established a comfortable lead on Rossi, followed by Nicky Hayden and Lorenzo. It was at this point that Lorenzo found his fuel load and tires to his liking and began knocking off riders, first Hayden, then Rossi, and finally, very late in the day, Pedrosa himself. The win vaulted Lorenzo into first place, a spot he refused to relinquish all year.
The 2009 race went to Rossi, followed by Pedrosa and Stoner, as Lorenzo crashed late in the race trying to overtake Stoner for a podium. In 2008 it was Pedrosa’s turn, taking the flag in front of Rossi and Lorenzo for his fifth premier class win in MotoGP. (Rossi took the win in 2007 on his Yamaha, while in 2006 one Loris Capirossi won the Spanish Grand Prix on his factory Ducati. Five years is, indeed, a lifetime in MotoGP.)
2011 Jerez Expectations – Some Great, Others Not So Much
If I’m a top Honda rider (Team Repsol, plus Fausto Gresini’s San Carlo duo of Marco Simoncelli and Hiro Aoyama), there’s no place I’d rather be this weekend than the Spanish Riviera. Honda is the bike to beat this year, and Jerez is the kind of layout that favors those who can get out of turns quickly. Thus far this year, this seems to be the secret of Honda’s success, and it looks to continue in Round Two. Of the three Repsol riders, Dani Pedrosa has enjoyed the most success at Jerez. We learned in Qatar that his surgically-repaired shoulder is not yet fully healed, and are dialing down our early season expectations for him accordingly.
For Yamaha’s Lorenzo and Spies, there’s plenty of season left. It must come as a shock to Lorenzo NOT to have the best bike on the grid, as he’s enjoyed consistently since coming up to the big leagues in 2008. One gets the impression that Yamaha corporate is working feverishly on a new engine package for the factory bikes (and perhaps the Monster Tech 3 team as well), as the power advantage displayed by Honda at this early stage of the season is impressive. Lorenzo doesn’t need the fastest bike on the grid to podium, but he does need a faster bike if he wants to repeat as World Champion in 2011.
“Disarray” seems a good word to describe the state of the Ducati MotoGP program in early 2011. Rossi and Hayden are struggling on the factory team, Capirossi and de Puniet are a joke on the Pramac team, Hector Barbera is far from competitive on the Mapfre Aspar team, and young Karel Abraham appears to be in it for the money and the women, with the emphasis on the latter. While Rossi figures to improve as his shoulder heals and he becomes more familiar with the beastly Desmosedici, he is not, for the first time since 1996 (Aprilia 125), a threat to win a title. And Nicky Hayden, despite basking in the glow surrounding a former world champion, has won a total of three (3) premier class races – in his career – the most recent coming in 2006.
At the Bologna factory, The Powers that Be have at least one consolation – they’re not Suzuki! With #1 rider Alvaro Bautista resting uncomfortably in a Spanish hospital while his broken femur begins to heal, the Japanese team has tapped American John Hopkins to sport the teal blue leathers for the next few rounds. 2011 appears already to be a lost cause for the poor relations of MotoGP; perhaps their fortunes will improve in 2012 when the premier class returns to 1000cc engines. Probably not.
Elsewhere on the Grid – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Of the four premier class riders who were employed elsewhere in 2010, two (Cal Crutchlow on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, and Karel Abraham) are true rookies and two (Toni Elias on the LCR Honda and Hopkins on the Suzuki) are retreads. Crutchlow and Elias are the big surprises early in the season, the Brit owing to his plucky performance in Qatar with a badly injured finger, and Elias due to his utter lack of proficiency thus far on the heels of his glittering Moto2 title in 2010.
Little or nothing is expected from Abraham, who was a non-factor most of last season in Moto2, or Hopkins, who is a placeholder only until Bautista returns.
If Japan, Inc. is, Like, Radioactive …
… what does that mean for the availability of tires, replacement parts, etc., all of which come from Japan? Everyone understands the logic of moving the Motegi round to later in the year. Far fewer have stopped to consider the difficulties that will be faced by MotoGP teams unless the crews get on top of the runaway nuclear reactor at Fukushima Dai-ichi in short order.
Each year a river of parts and components flows from Japan to the teams all around the world, and this river of parts is under pressure, as the mainstream automobile manufacturers are discovering already. Today, coastal Japan is a disaster area. MotoGP fan needs to at least tip his hat to the possibility of serious disruptions later this year, even if Tokyo Power manages to avoid a full-scale, core-exposed-to-the-universe nuclear “accident.”
Your Andalucía Weekend Weather Forecast
Early spring in southern Spain can get noticeably warm – last year we sweated our berries off in the first week of May – but this year the heat won’t be a problem. Friday and Saturday should be pretty much perfect, with clear skies and highs in the mid-70’s. Sunday there’s a 40% chance of showers, with highs expected in the upper 60’s. In short, nice, rather typical conditions for this time of year.