MotoGP: 2009 Estoril Preview

It's now or never for Jorge Lorenzo

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Estoril round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Fresh off a month’s holiday, MotoGP blows into the Portuguese Riviera for Round 14 of the 2009 season, the launch of a four-races-in-five-weeks sprint to the championship. Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, unquestionably the greatest motorcycle rider of his generation, has a virtual stranglehold on the 2009 title, with only the faintest possibility of a challenge coming from teammate and archrival Jorge Lorenzo. The site is the Autódromo do Estoril, the Portuguese counterpart to the Circuit de Catalunya – a little more run down, occasionally windswept, plenty of changes in elevation, and generally kind to Rossi. Last year, rookie Lorenzo won at Estoril, his first premier class win. If Lorenzo is going to keep his 2009 title hopes alive, he must find a way to beat The Doctor on Sunday. His margin of error at this point in the season is zero.

The math is fairly simple. Rossi currently leads Lorenzo by 30 points with four races left. If his lead remains at or above 25 points after the next three races – Estoril, Phillip Island and Sepang – he’s a mortal lock. Barring an injury to Rossi, Lorenzo would have to be within eight points or so heading into Valencia to have a realistic shot at the title.

For a brief moment, Jorge Lorenzo almost convinced Valentino Rossi to settle the 2009 championship by arm wrestling.

Assume, for the sake of argument, Lorenzo has it in him to win the next four races, a heroic assumption. Rossi would need to cooperate in this scenario by finishing off the podium at least twice in the next three outings, another heroic, if not outlandish, assumption. Bottom line – Lorenzo needs to become Valentino Rossi for the next month while Rossi becomes “Pokey” Canepa. Reminds me of when I was a kid – I used to bet my third grade friend Don Kaiser that he couldn’t jump over the Empire State Building, to which he would always reply, “Nothing’s impossible.”

Impossible – no. Unlikely – very. Lorenzo needs someone to sugar Rossi’s gas tank.

The Return of Casey Stoner

A returning Casey Stoner may be the wild card in the championship battle between Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.The week’s tilt marks the return of Ducati Marlboro prodigal son Casey Stoner from the Land of the Upset Tummy. During Stoner’s three-event absence, the world caught a brief glimpse of Michel Fabrizio, and was wowed by the effervescent 20-year old Spaniard, Aleix Espargaro, who sent chills up and down the curvaceous backs of the paddock girls with his 13th and 11th place finishes at Indianapolis and Misano, respectively.

With Stoner sidelined, Gresini Honda teammates Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias took turns being respectable and grabbed a couple of podiums, relieving the Rossi/Lorenzo/Pedrosa monotony. If Stoner can return at or near the top of his formidable game, he could be a wild card in the Lorenzo-Rossi death match, throwing what the Brits call a spanner in the works.

The Silly Season Continues

James Toseland has lost his seat with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to American Ben Spies next season, with the Brit taking Spies’ World Superbike seat. Meanwhile, Colin Edwards signed a one-year extension to turn Tech 3 into a Texas Twosome for 2010. Spies is bringing his longtime crew chief with him so at least Edwards won’t have to worry about his teammate stealing his crew chief this time.

Ben Spies will be doing the Texas Two-Step with Colin Edwards for Tech 3 Yamaha next season.

Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen may be joining Toseland on the WSBK circuit, as reports out of Europe have him signing with the Paul Bird Kawasaki team.

The Pramac Ducati team confirmed Mika Kallio will remain with the team next year, but the news may not be so good for Niccolo “Pokey” Canepa, whose sole saving grace may be his Italian birth certificate.

LCR Honda signed Randy de Puniet over the break for another year. Of course, “Randy” is an apt name for a French rider sponsored by Playboy.

Also looking head to next season, and something of way more interest to gearheads, is the formation of a “privateer” team that plans to appear at Round 17 in Valencia this year and compete for the entire 2010 season. Seriously. Italy-based FB Corse team apparently intends to bolt together a prototype around a three-cylinder BMW engine.

Last Words

A quick perusal of several, ahem, online gaming sites finds Gabor Talmacsi offered at 1,000 to 1 to win on Sunday, while Aleix Espargaro is paying only 500 to 1. Experienced gamblers know, however, that a key factor here is the fact that Talmacsi is actually running the race, while Espargaro is not. Think about that – Talmacsi is less likely to win as a rider who’s not even IN the race.

The weather forecast for the weekend looks iffy – cloudy and warm on both Friday and Sunday, with rain expected on Saturday.

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