MotoGP: 2009 Le Mans Preview
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Le Mans round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Grand Prix de France.
Stage Four of the flying circus is upon us as we make our way from southern Spain to northern France. MotoGP refers to this as The Grand Prix de France, using the same naming convention Formula One uses for their senior events. Since F1 booted France off their 2009 schedule, we can think of this weekend as THE Grand Prix, rather than A Grand Prix, or One of Several Grand Prix de France. Grand Prixes? Whatever – it’s even more confusing in French.
Since Valentino Rossi’s solid win in Jerez two weeks ago, a number of newsworthy items have crossed the wire. This is in stark contrast to most between-race weeks, where the media desperately seek something worth reporting, and end up with interviews in which riders reveal bombshells such as, “We hope to do well”, “I like this track a lot”, and “The women here are very beautiful.” Stuff like this leaves me quivering.
MotoGP gets egg on their face and restores 60 minute practice sessions
As predicted here several weeks ago, The Powers That Be reversed the ill-considered cost-saving decision made just prior to the season. The 45-minute sessions in force since Stage One have hindered several teams, and have served as a convenient excuse for all of the poor performers. The Ducatis, especially, seem terribly difficult to dial in, especially on weekends where there has been a lot of variation in weather and temperature conditions, namely EVERY weekend.
Randy de Puniet heads home with Mo Mentum. Yeah, right
The good people of the LCR Honda team are doing their level best to jack up our expectations for monsieur de Puniet this week. I’m not buying. Randy was 42 seconds off the pace in Qatar, and 45 seconds off in Motegi, finishing in 10th and 11th places, respectively. He did out-duel Marco Melandri, Loris Capirossi, Colin Edwards and Andrea Dovizioso in the battle for fifth place in Jerez, and finished fourth when Lorenzo laid his bike down trying to catch Stoner. But de Puniet was not competitive with Rossi, Pedrosa, Stoner or Lorenzo in Spain. The idea that he will suddenly leap into the top tier of riders because the fans are yelling in his language doesn’t hold water.
At Le Mans in 2007 he completed eight laps. Last year he finished 9th, roughly 30 seconds off the pace set by Rossi. Ten bucks says he doesn’t finish in the top five on Sunday. As my old boss used to say, “Slow as a freshman – slow as a senior.”
Riders under pressure – Nicky Hayden, James Toseland and Dani PedrosaSeveral announcements this week have turned up the heat on a number of riders, as if testing the limits of adhesion at 200 mph isn’t pressure enough. Hayden’s team made some personnel changes and brought back Juan Martinez as his new crew chief, a move the rider applauded but one which again raises expectations. In that Stoner has 54 championship points thus far this season, and Hayden has five. Nicky has to wonder if and when the Italians might make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Repsol’s new corporate director of sponsorship, the ultra faboo Begona Elices, gave an interview this week in which she stressed her company’s commitment to winning a MotoGP championship like, now, and in which she fell short of giving Dani Pedrosa the kind of unconditional endorsement he deserves. She also refused to rule out taking a run at signing Jorge Lorenzo at season’s end, though she said that such was “not a scenario they were currently examining.” Ahem … Pedrosa, who is still healing from injuries suffered in March, seems to be getting everything there is out of his factory Honda, giving the Yamahas and Ducatis all they can handle in every race. He surely doesn’t need this kind of lukewarm support, at all of 23 years old.
The rain is likely to return
Finally, a little idle pre-race chatter
After the 2007 MotoGP season, six riders failed to return for 2008. They included Alex Hofmann, Makato Tamada, Fonsi Nieto, Alex Barros, Kenny Roberts, Jr., and Carlos Checa. Four riders from last season went the way of the dodo, including Shinya Nakano, Sylvain Guintoli, Anthony West and John Hopkins. As much as we might like to think otherwise, this works out to about five riders per season who fail to make the grade. At this point, if I was a betting man, and I am, I’d guess that five riders in jeopardy of not being invited to next year’s prom are Niccolo Canepa, Yuki Takahashi, James Toseland, Sete Gibernau and Toni Elias. If you disagree, let’s hear from you.
Enjoy the race.
|2009 MotoGP top five standings (after three rounds)|
|1st||Valentino Rossi||Fiat Yamaha||65|
|2nd||Casey Stoner||Ducati Marlboro||54|
|3rd||Jorge Lorenzo||Fiat Yamaha||41|
|4th||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||41|
|5th||Andrea Dovizioso||Repsol Honda||30|
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