MotoGP 2013 Qatar Preview

New season, new alien


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the 2013 season and the first round in Doha. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Grand Prix of Qatar.

When last we left our brave young men, Jorge Lorenzo captured his second MotoGP World Championship, the previous champion Casey Stoner retired, Dani Pedrosa his best ever season in the premiere class but still felt short to his fellow Spaniard, and Valentino Rossi sleepwalked his way through the end of his tenure with Ducati.

Fast forward several months to this weekend’s season opener under the lights of Doha, Qatar, and the MotoGP landscape has changed considerably.

Lorenzo remains the man to beat, and now he’s joined once again at Yamaha by Rossi. Stoner’s spot with Honda has been filled with hot-shot rookie Marc Marquez joining the returning Pedrosa. And Ducati? The Italian manufacturer has a ways to go, now with backing from its new German owners at Audi.

Judging from the changes that have occurred in the field since last November, as well as the results of the off-season testing runs, it appears that the 24 bike premier class breaks fairly cleanly into several distinct gaggles:

The Aliens – Honda and Yamaha Factory studs Pedrosa, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi. These four guys should account for 95% of the podium spots in 2013. Rossi has something to prove after two years lollygagging on the Ducati. Has he lost a step? Probably. Is he still good enough to compete for a podium every week on the factory Yamaha? You betcha.

Marquez appears to be the fastest thing since Lorenzo in 2008, impressing onlookers during pre-season testing. We’ll look at how these aliens started their careers in a moment, in order to gauge expectations for young Marquez.

The Lurkers – Cal Crutchlown on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda and Alvaro Bautista on the GO & FUN Gresini Honda. If one or two of the Aliens falter, one of these guys could snag a podium this season.

Crutchlow’s reluctant decision to stay on the satellite Yamaha will look much better when he finishes in the Top 6 and former teammate Andrea Dovizioso has to work to make the Top 10 with Ducati. Bradl will probably have to wait for Pedrosa to retire or move on before he gets his Repsol factory ride. And Bautista keeps on being the best rider available for Fausto Gresini, although the two don’t seem to get along all that well.

Good, but not Very Good – Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducatis and rookie Bradley Smith on the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha. These three will have to work like crazy or pray for rain to see many Top 6 finishes.

Hayden appears to be in his last contract with Ducati, while Dovizioso has rented, if not sold, his soul for two years of all-Italian inconsequentiality. Smith was, and remains, a rather curious choice for promotion from Moto2. Perhaps Tech 3 chief Hervé Poncharal sees something in the young Brit.

Pramacs and Aspars – The teams of rookie Andrea Iannone and veteran Ben Spies on the “junior” Pramac Ducati Desmosedicis, and top CRT teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet on the Aprilia-powered Aspar frankenbikes.

Ducati says they expect Spies and Iannone to be competitive this year. Hope they’re happy competing with the top CRT guys, and not the factory entries. It seems to me that the last few seasons, the only competition for the Ducati bikes was other Ducatis. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile the Aspar racers will try repeat as the top CRT team before making the squad rumored switch next season to returning manufacturer Suzuki (more on that below.)

CRT Contenders – Not sure what else to call Avintia Blusens teammates Hectic Hector Barbera and Hiro Aoyama on their Kawasaki-powered FTR machines. Danillo Petrucci, the second-year senior of the two BMW-powered IodaRacing CRT entries, and Karel Abraham, with his father’s Cardion Racing team downgrading from a satellite Ducati to a CRT entry. These four will just have to entertain each other most weeks, as they will seriously lag the Aspar CRT riders.

Backmarkers – Must have located sponsors needing huge tax losses, as there is not much here. Yonny Hernandez and Michael Laverty on the Paul Byrd Motorsports combo. Forward Racing teammates Colin Edwards and rookie Claudio Corti, moving up from Moto2, on their Kawasaki-FTR bikes. Finally, you have Lukas Pesek, the junior IodaRacing entry, and Bryan Staring, the junior Gresini (CRT) entry whose hopes are as faint as the dried wings of a dragonfly. Of these six riders, I expect four to still be turning laps when Valencia rolls around.

Alien Debut Seasons

The chart below shows the results of the rookie seasons for Rossi, Stoner, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, known as MotoGP’s "Aliens" for their dominance over the last several season. Only Stoner finished out of the top five as a rookie, but it’s worth noting his first season in the class was with a satellite team while the others were factory riders from the get-go.

How will Marquez fare in his rookie season? Already, he is being touted as the next Alien even before his first MotoGP race. He’ll need a year or two to learn how to stay aboard the RC213V, but once he does, he should be a consistent winner for as long as he wants.

 

Valentino
Rossi
2000

Casey
Stoner
2006

Dani
Pedrosa
2006

Jorge
Lorenzo
2008

Team

Factory
Honda

LCR
Honda

Factory
Honda

Factory
Yamaha

Podiums

10

1

8

6

Wins

2

0

2

1

Crashes

3

6+

1

4

DNS

O

1

0

1

DNF

3

6

2

4

Points

209

119

215

190

Position

2nd

8th

5th

4th

I expect the excitable boy Marquez will easily win Rookie of the Year while setting a few rookie records. My predictions: two race wins, eight total podiums, and a few DNFs for the rookie, finishing fourth overall. An aggressive rider, Marquez will likely crash often enough to stay out of serious contention for the title.

Let’s revisit the matter in November to compare these numbers to his actual finish. But, for the record, let me just state here and now that Marquez, no matter how brilliant his rookie season may turn out to be, will not finish at Laguna Seca.

Suzuki Returns?

The 2013 MotoGP season is just about to start but that does’t mean it’s too early to talk about 2014. That, apparently, is when Suzuki going to try to rejoin the MotoGP grid in a partnership with Aspar, with de Puniet rumored to be under contract to test for Suzuki several times this season. Aspar could easily mimic Fausto Gresini, with an “A” prototype bike under de Puniet and a “B” CRT entry.

Round One: The Losail Circuit, Doha, Qatar

Once upon a time, Losail was spoken of as being “Ducati-friendly.” Stoner won here in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and crashed out of the lead in 2010. He returned to win again in 2011, but on the Repsol Honda. Sadly, those were the days. Rossi won on the Yamaha back in 2010, and Lorenzo captured the flag in 2012. At this point, it’s safe to say only that one of the Aliens will win on Sunday.

Losail is long and wide and hot and gritty and dark, a layout that has favored the Yamaha in the recent past. So far this year, it seems that every circuit on the calendar may be Honda-friendly, with a smaller number favoring the Yamaha. 2013, it appears, is Dani Pedrosa’s last best chance to capture a title. Perhaps the Repsol team will haze the rookie, make him lie back and tangle with the Yamahas. Doubtful. But I expect Marquez to avoid contact with Pedrosa and invite it with Lorenzo and Rossi, which should make for exciting racing and some epic images of Marquez sailing over his handlebars.

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