2011 MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

Stoner returns home as champion-in-waiting

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

As the 2011 championship season winds to a close, the remaining question is not IF Casey Stoner will be crowned the new world champion, but WHEN. Leading defending champ Jorge Lorenzo by 40 points with three rounds left, Stoner could easily clinch at home this weekend on his 26th birthday. In order for this to occur, two things must happen: Stoner must win the race, and Lorenzo must fail to reach the podium. In this scenario, the Repsol Honda team has good reason to keep the champagne on ice.

Recent history at the Australian Grand Prix has become oh so predictable: Casey Stoner has won every time since he joined the factory Ducati team in 2007. That year, he beat then-teammate Loris Capirossi by a country mile, while Valentino Rossi edged then-sophomore sensation Dani Pedrosa for third. In 2008 Stoner stomped Rossi, with Nicky Hayden finishing third and Lorenzo a distant fourth.

2009 was a two man race in which Stoner eventually beat Rossi by two seconds, with Pedrosa in third. That was the year Lorenzo crashed in turn one of lap one, effectively handing the 2009 title to Yamaha teammate/rival Rossi. Last year was another procession, with Stoner breezing to the win trailed by Lorenzo, while Rossi eventually stole the final podium spot from a frustrated Hayden.

In a nutshell, then, Stoner has enjoyed four wins in a row at Phillip Island, while Lorenzo has one podium to show for three starts. Certainly, there is little reason to believe Stoner won’t win on Sunday. And the only motivation left for the 2010 champion Lorenzo is to deny Stoner the birthday present of the 2011 title in front of his home fans.

With Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli entering the fray with faster factory Honda bikes and more motivation, the curtain could easily come down on the 2011 season this weekend. (Not that Lorenzo wouldn’t LOVE to steal Stoner’s thunder, forcing the coronation to take place in Malaysia, as it did last year.)

Andrea Dovizioso on the Move

While Jorge Lorenzo has relatively little at stake this week, the same cannot be said for some of the other riders. First and foremost among them is Stoner, for obvious reasons. Directly behind Stoner stands Andrea Dovizioso, who is abandoning a proffered LCR factory Honda for 2012 in favor of a one year contract with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha (Ed.: bye bye Red Bull sponsorship, Dovi …). That the Italian would choose a satellite Yamaha over a factory Honda speaks to the disrespect he feels he has received from HRC.

Having spent the entire season solidly in third place, Dovi found himself summarily ejected from the Repsol factory team in August when Honda announced their belt-tightening moves for 2012. Then, adding insult to injury, HRC announced that his arch rival Marco Simoncelli would continue to enjoy factory support on the Gresini San Carlo Honda team. All of which was apparently too much for Dovizioso, who was so anxious to show Honda brass what a blunder they were making that he jumped the start at Motegi, an error which might have cost him his second career premier class win.

Apparently Dovizioso’s strategy is to do well with Yamaha in 2012, and earn a factory ride, with either Yamaha or, preferably, Honda, in 2013. Some people might think of this as Dovi leaving money on the table. I call it a hot-blooded racing pro with mad speed and wounded pride thinking with his head instead of his heart.  2012 is going to be a strange year, with the return of the liter bikes, and with several CRT teams likely to spend the year running a lap down. With the aliens’ contracts expiring at the end of next season, there should be plenty of opportunity for Dovizioso to regain his lost respect. But seriously, Andrea – lose the hat.

Shut Your Pasta Hole, Marco

The entire racing world is aware of the travails being suffered by Valentino Rossi and his factory Ducati team. Together, they have spent most of a full year tweaking, tuning and re-designing the Desmosedici on the fly, to no avail. Simultaneously, they have been working to fix the GP11 while developing the GP12, with the GP11.1 thrown into the mix as an unsuccessful interim solution. The work goes on.

Most of the top premier class riders have had little to say on the subject, probably feeling that but for God’s grace, it could be them struggling in the middle of the pack. The back benchers – Toni Elias, Loris Capirossi, etc. – would probably be delighted to occupy sixth position for the season. So why is it that Marco Simoncelli feels the need to go on record, in condescending tones, with Motorcyclenews.com about Ducati being in a state of confusion?

Never mind that Rossi sits two spots ahead of Simoncelli in the 2011 championship standings.  Never mind that Rossi has nine world championships while Simoncelli has 14 career wins across three classes. No, what really grinds me is that a guy with more premier class ride-through penalties (2) than premier class podiums (1) would even consider offering condolences to Valentino Rossi. Clearly, Rossi is having problems getting the Ducati to the point where he can win on it. But he has FORGOTTEN more about motorcycle racing than Simoncelli has ever known. Plus, Rossi knows when to speak up, and when to keep his mouth shut. Put them in a match race on the same bike and Rossi would take 49 of 50. Hai più palle che cervello, Marco.

Back by Popular Acclaim

With Hector Barbera being held out of this week’s tilt due to the broken collarbone he suffered on lap two at Motegi, Damian Cudlin has been tapped to take his place. Recall the likeable and self-effacing Cudlin was a surprise choice to sub for Loris Capirossi in Japan, and was actually leading the two Honda test riders when he crashed out of the race about halfway through. Now, he gets to enjoy a small step up by moving from Pramac to the Mapfre Aspar Ducati. And at home, no less. With 14 laps of grand prix experience under his belt, I make him even money to beat Loris Capirossi to the finish line on Sunday.

Another Sketchy Weekend Forecast

For the third consecutive round, the weather forecast for Phillip Island this weekend is iffy at best. Cool and windy, to be sure, with a chance of rain each day. If Stoner runs away from the field, keep a close eye on Jorge Lorenzo, to see if he brought enough machismo to capture a podium with him. Otherwise, the intriguing matchups this week again feature teammates Pedrosa versus Dovizioso, and Nicky Hayden trying to hold off Simoncelli for seventh place. I’m also wondering whether Colin Edwards has checked out, mentally, now that he’s a lame duck on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. Finally, it will be interesting to see whether Hiro Aoyama reacts positively or negatively to having been called out, again, by Big Boss Fausto Gresini.

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