MotoGP: 2009 Brno Preview

The 2009 season comes to Amen Corner in Brno

Two months ago, in mid-June, Valentino Rossi had just won the Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya, throwing the MotoGP season series into a three-way tie. A number of journalists proclaimed it as the start of a second, shorter MotoGP season on the way to the 2009 championship.

It hasn't played out that way at all. Rossi has been on a tear and has all but lapped the field. Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo has fallen 25 points behind, which is still 12 points better than Ducati Marlboro's Casey Stoner.

Check out how this so-called second season has unfolded:

Points since Catalunya (four rounds):
Rider Points
Valentino Rossi 81
Jorge Lorenzo 56
Casey Stoner 44
Dani Pedrosa 48
Andrea Dovizioso 25
Colin Edwards 49

Bottom line — Rossi has RULED since Catalunya with two wins, a second and the fifth at Donington. Lorenzo, with two seconds and a third, is running a distant second.  Sneaking into the third position is American Colin Edwards, one point ahead of Dani Pedrosa. Stoner limps in at fifth position leading only Andrea Dovizioso, who accumulated 25 points the hard way—three DNFs and a win.

Will the next three races be a coronation for Fiat Yamaha?

Casey Stoner’s announcement of his upcoming three-round vacation has made it a three-round blitz for the rest of MotoGP’s Tranche One. Stoner has at once removed himself from title contention, and downgraded the remaining 2009 season. What had looked like a seven event scramble suddenly has the makings of a three race Fiat Yamaha coronation. With Stoner sidelined, the Brno-Indianapolis-Misano trio of races sets up well to decide the entire season – Amen Corner on two wheels – and may reduce the final four rounds of the championship to “garbage time” reminiscent of the NBA at its worst.

Here are some unscientific projections for points in the upcoming three rounds:
Rider Projected Points Results
Valentino Rossi 60 Three podiums
Jorge Lorenzo 66 Three better podiums
Casey Stoner 0 Gritting, gripping, grinning
Dani Pedrosa 54 Two podiums, one win
Andrea Dovizioso 37 0-1 podiums
Colin Edwards 38 0-1 podiums

Applying these guesstimates to the riders’ current standings:
Rider Projected Points
Valentino Rossi 187 + 60 = 247
Jorge Lorenzo 162 + 66 = 228
Dani Pedrosa 115 + 54 = 169
Casey Stoner 150 + 0 = 150
Colin Edwards 103 + 38 = 141
Andrea Dovizioso 94 + 37 = 131

At the conclusion of the Misano round on September 6th, conventional wisdom expects to find both Fiat Yamaha bikes well in front of the field with four tilts left. Not the setup organizers were hoping for when the season started; a recipe for dismal TV ratings in every sport on earth...except MotoGP. “Teammate” in MotoGP is often little more than a state of mind – an accident of economics. An enforced partnership which, like the command economies of the Soviet states formerly occupying venues like Brno and Sachsenring, disintegrates under the heat and pressure of intense competition. These intra-garage rivalries are among the most intense in sports. Colin Edwards and James Toseland; Dani Pedrosa and just about anyone; and the hottest build-a-wall-down-the-middle-of-the-garage rivalry of all – Fiat Yamaha.

Rossi and Lorenzo - Ready to Rumble

It must drive the suits affiliated with the factory Yamaha team positively nuts to watch these two “teammates” go after one another. The thing is you just can’t stop them. Certainly, each is aware that, were there not two ‘I’s in team, they could chaperone one another around the remaining circuits, take two spots on the podium pretty much every round, and handle it like the Ferrari drivers did eight years ago.

If Rossi can hold off Lorenzo the MotoGP title should be his...again.

That was F-1…this is MotoGP, where passing your teammate is often the sweetest moment of a race. This is especially true when it happens late in the day. Especially when you believe, as I do, that 200 mph on two wheels is the thrill equivalent of 400 mph on four wheels and which you just don’t get enough of in automobile racing. Even Indy cars never see 300 mph, although it would be cool if they did.

Are we perfectly clear about what happened this week with Casey Stoner? That he walked away from real contention for the 2009 championship? That he created a daisy chain of opportunity for riders like Mika Kallio and Michel Fabrizio, who are getting field promotions in the meat grinder that is the Desmosedici.

For the next three rounds, Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Edwards will be getting most of the points that Stoner would have gotten. De Puniet would have secured some, too, had he not done his ankle in a “training mishap” just when we were beginning to notice him. Tsk tsk. Lorenzo and Rossi figure to go 1-2 in most of these rounds. This mini-series will allow Pedro, Dovi or Edwards to emerge as the number 3 dude on the planet, behind Fiat Yamaha.

Looking at motivation, it seems that Dovizioso and Edwards will be geeked simply by the idea of winning races. Pedrosa and Dovizioso are motivated to beat one another, to be The Man at Repsol Honda, and to keep Lorenzo, and especially Rossi, out of the lead when possible. At Fiat Yamaha, however, the question of motivation is simple and crystal clear.

Lorenzo has to finish ahead of Rossi over the next three weeks if he wants a shot at the title.

For Valentino Rossi, all he needs to do to win the championship for the 2009 season is to beat Jorge Lorenzo in two of the next three races. Ignore the rest of the field – just beat Lorenzo.

For Jorge Lorenzo, the only way he will threaten for the title this season is to beat Rossi in each of the next three rounds. To be competitive going into the final four races of the season, Lorenzo needs to beat Rossi in each of the next three. It really makes very little difference whether they finish 1st and 2nd or 7th and 8th. For Lorenzo, it’s just beat Rossi. Ignore the rest of the field – just beat Rossi.

Brno, Indianapolis and Misano will be a battle of wills between Lorenzo and Rossi. Each feels the need to sweep the next three rounds, making Brno one of those “statement” races folks like to discuss every now and again. It’s hard to sweep a series unless you win the first one. In the sans-Stoner portion of the schedule, that’s Brno.

Anyone who watched Lorenzo take on Rossi while Pedrosa was busy winning at Laguna saw what these two are all about. Rather than teaming up to perhaps run down Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo engaged in a heated battle of their own, one that ended up costing Rossi a chance for the win. These guys clearly don’t care about that teammate stuff. They don’t care about helping the team win a title. They’re in this for themselves, and if they go for the win, well, the team is just going to have to live with that, or get a new rider.

These guys don’t back down – teammate or no teammate.

Disorder at Ducati

What's up with Casey Stoner?

Casey Stoner tells us he’ll be back in time for Portugal. Somehow I have the sense there’s stuff he’s NOT telling us. Which makes me concerned that he WON’T be back in time for Portugal, or perhaps for the remainder of the season.
First things first, Stoner needs to get his health issues sorted out before he gets his motorcycle issues sorted out. That being said, it may be suggested that the dominant vibe at Ducati Central these days is disorder. Stoner, the Fair Haired Boy, has given way to his health issues, leaving the disappointing Nicky Hayden and a suddenly promoted Mika Kallio flying the colors for the factory team. Pramac Racing counters with Canepa and one Michel Fabrizio. Not a lot of rider power out there in Ducatiland.

Head-to-Head Battles

The forecast for the weekend in beautiful greater Brno calls for rain showers on Friday, with clear skies for Saturday and Sunday. The key races-within-the-race will feature Lorenzo and Rossi, Pedrosa and Dovi, Edwards and Toseland, even de Angelis and Toni Elias. Capirossi and Vermeulen will be battling one another, if no one else. If Lorenzo can exert his will over Rossi at Brno, the second ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis in August becomes more meaningful. Beating Rossi twice heading into the little duchy-like thing that is Rimini, and the pressure shifts to Rossi not to blow his entire lead in only three events.

If Rossi and Lorenzo are within 10 points of one another heading into Estoril, it promises to be a thrilling end-of-season series. If, on the other hand, Rossi leads by more than 20 points with four races to go, then it’s pretty much garbage time. Rossi is your champion, and he will do well enough over the final four venues to take the title and repeat as champion of the premier class.  Unlike several of his challengers, he never loses sight of the forest for the trees.

Let’s get this show on the road…to Amen Corner.

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