MotoGP 2012 Valencia Preview
Stoner goes at Lorenzo and Pedrosa one last time
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the season-ending Valencia round of the 2012 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Valencian Community Grand Prix.
When factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo clinched the 2012 championship last time out in Australia, most of the air went out of the MotoGP balloon. Most, but not all. This weekend, Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo hosts the final round of a season marked by some stellar individual performances. MotoGP has entered a period of radical change.
In the second decade of the 21st century, MotoGP finds itself, like Tennyson’s Light Brigade, facing cannon to the left, cannon to the right, and, yes, cannon in front of them. The economics of the sport have become unsustainable, the result being two classes of competitors – The Haves, riding factory prototype bikes at about a million bucks a pop, and the Have Nots, the CRT teams, riding machines glued together from a variety of manufacturers’ components.
Critics abound. The racing elite, ranging from brass at Honda and Yamaha to the hired help – paging Valentino Rossi – object to the dilution of the product, the dumbing down of the sport, caused by allowing the CRTs on the grid. The pragmatists at the other end of the spectrum, cloaked in the vestments of reason and sound economics, believe the trend, ultimately, will produce a big old grid – 30 or 40 entries – all of which will be Frankenbikes, with more and better wheel-to-wheel competition. Somewhat surprisingly, Dorna boss of bosses Carmelo Ezpeleta sits in the latter camp, apparently more interested in holding on to his job than protecting the sanctity of “grand prix racing”, whatever that is anymore.
The controversy – quality versus quantity – is far from over. Rule changes being discussed for the next several seasons are being actively resisted by the big manufacturers, for whom MotoGP is largely a sexy, breathtakingly expensive series of tests meant to bolster product development. These changes, intended to level the playing field and reduce costs still further for the teams, would likely stifle such development, at which point Honda and Yamaha executives could find themselves in an existential crisis brought about by the expenditure of millions of euros in the pursuit of what? Fame and fortune for some Spanish riders? The prestige that accompanies beating the hell out bikes built two and three at a time in little garages around the world?
Whatever. The fact is that MotoGP and World SuperBike appear headed toward some kind of merger. Which is fine, I guess, since the historical difference between the two leagues is already blurred. The stature that MotoGP once enjoyed, when it was run exclusively by the purists, has given way to corporate finance, as is the fate of most good things. Those of us who thought grand prix motorcycle racing might avoid such a future were probably dreaming the whole time.
Stoner Waves Goodbye as Rossi Returns
Short of racing for a world championship, most of the riders still have some skin in the game come Sunday. Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner, in what is being billed as his final MotoGP appearance, obviously wants to go out on a high note. With 38 premier class wins, Stoner will leave in fourth place all time, at the ripe old age of 27. (I still maintain there is an even chance Stoner will return to MotoGP at some point, once his flirtation with V-8 auto racing wears off and the boredom sets in.) But as we’ve seen with Loris Capirossi and Colin Edwards, among others, there is much to be said for leaving a sport at the top of one’s game.
Newly-crowned 2012 world champion Jorge Lorenzo would like nothing more than to push his Yamaha M1 to a seventh 2012 victory in front of his partisans. With four straight second-place finishes, some are saying Lorenzo has been playing it safe since San Marino. If so, he has done so in a way that has him set up for a world record – 17 podium appearances in one season. Wanting to win on Sunday is way different than needing to win, and this difference may interfere with his plans. Win or lose on Sunday, Lorenzo’s season has been a rousing success, and we congratulate him.
For Dani Pedrosa, the number two guy at Repsol Honda who will take the top spot next season, his crash at Phillip Island snuffed whatever hopes remained for a world championship in 2012. Regardless, it has been his most successful premier class season ever, his six wins doubling his previous best. Pedrosa figures to hold onto his Alien status for a few more years, though he may never win a title. Next year, he will have to contend with new teammate Marc Marquez, Lorenzo, and – Lord have mercy – the return of Valentino Rossi to the factory Yamaha team. Vale’s last ride on the Ducati GP12 on Sunday will likely be far less interesting than his test times on the 2013 Yamaha next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Rest of the Best
As for the remainder of the grid, here’s our early take on 2013:
- Andrea Dovizioso takes his act from the Tech 3 Yamaha to the factory Ducati. Anyone want to bet he breaks 200 points next year?
- Alvaro Bautista returns on the San Carlo Honda with a one year deal, his last contract with Fausto Gresini unless he becomes a consistent top-five guy.
- Cal Crutchlow returns on his Tech 3 Yamaha, newly teamed up with Moto2 grad and fellow Brit Bradley Smith. Cal must have high hopes for 2013, while Smith still strikes us as a curious choice to move up to the premier class. Probably Herve Poncharal knows a little more about him than do we.
- Rookie of the Year Stefan Bradl returns to his LCR Honda after seriously overachieving in his first year. His mission: not to be the next Ben Spies.
- Nicky Hayden returns for another fruitless year on the factory Ducati, hoping for a third place finish somewhere to keep his string alive. He seems okay with being the number two guy there as his career winds down.
- Ben Spies, the biggest surprise of the 2012 season, moves from the factory Yamaha to a junior Ducati team. He will do well to tally 75 points next season. The rise and fall of Spies in the course of two seasons illustrates how quickly things can change in this sport. Spies will be joined by Andrea Iannone, moving up after several successful seasons at Moto2.
- Hector Barbera takes another step backward next season, moving from Pramac Ducati to the Avintia Blusens CRT team. He will join up with Hiro Aoyama, back from a disastrous year in World SuperBikes. This leaves both Yonny Hernandez and Ivan Silva scrambling for rides next season. We think Hernandez has the skills to remain in MotoGP; not so sure about Silva.
- Karel Abraham exits his satellite Ducati in favor of an Aprilia-powered CRT. His fortunes may actually improve in the process.
- Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet return for a second year on the Aprilia-powered CRT. Being the top two guys in the second division counts for something, doesn’t it?
- Michele Pirro is history on the Gresini CRT next season, perhaps to be replaced by Ryuichi Kiyonari (?), according to David Emmett.
- Colin Edwards appears set to return next season with NGM Forward Racing, although aboard what is unclear. He may, in fact, have a teammate next season, possibly Claudio Corti, coming off his third consecutive mediocre year in Moto2, and riding as a wildcard for Avintia Blusens this weekend.
- James Ellison appears to be OUT at Paul Byrd Motorsports, to be replaced, if you believe what you read, by Shane Byrne and possibly Yonny Hernandez.
- Finally, Danilo Petrucci is probable to return with IODA racing, perhaps with a teammate, identity unknown.
Let’s get this last party of the season started. 2013 beckons.
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