MotoGP: 2009 Phillip Island Preview

Someone's likely to crack under pressure this weekend

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

At this point in the 2009 season, MotoGP is a delicately balanced mechanism, poised on the outer limits of Newtonian physics, held in a stationary, tourist-friendly earth orbit by the yin and yang of opposing forces. Centripetal vs. centrifugal force. The tendency of a Bridgestone slick to adhere to the track surface vs. the need of the desperate rider to push his machine right up to the very limit of that adhesion. The force generated by having a lead to protect vs. the urgency of having a lead to overcome. Understanding that a 135 mph curve gets its name from the fact that at 136 you crash and at 134 you lose the race.

The certainty of youth, the visceral, unyielding conviction common to 22 year-old men that obstacles can be overcome by the sheer force of one’s will. These are the competing sensations likely being experienced by Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo on the eve of Round 15 of the 2009 MotoGP championship season at Phillip Island, Australia this weekend.

Much like the race within the race peculiar to motorsports, where the battle for sixth place is often way more interesting than the non-battle for first, the season’s standings in the premier class of MotoGP offer diehard fans not one, not two, but THREE – count ’em – three races within the race at the top of the heap.

A resurgent Casey Stoner can still make a run for third while playing spoiler in the Valentino Rossi - Jorge Lorenzo championship battle.

We’ve been blathering on for weeks now about the battle for #1 between Rossi and Lorenzo, with a mere 18 points separating the two after Round 14. The battle for third and fourth got kicked up a notch last time out, too, when a refreshed Casey Stoner easily outdistanced Dani Pedrosa for second place, putting himself a mere three points behind the Spaniard for the year despite his recently-concluded three round furlough. And, in a season-long battle for fifth and sixth, American Colin Edwards on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha trails fifth place Repsol Honda heartthrob Andrea Dovizioso by only eight points, having gained ground on the young Italian in Portugal. (The battle for seventh and eighth is close, too. But that’s getting down toward the belly of the standings, and I am not one of those Euro-weenies who want to argue drunkenly and endlessly about an EPIC battle for 14th place between Pokey Canepa and some other footnote.)

Recent History

Even the hills in Australia are cheering for favorite son Casey Stoner.Stoner has owned Phillip Island since joining Ducati Marlboro, winning his home race in both 2007 and 2008, each time defeating Rossi comfortably. Curiously, it’s Chris Vermeulen’s home race, too, but he’s celebrated the last two years by finishing 15th in 2008 and eighth in 2007. (This, in turn, could be why Chris is on his way to WSBK, while Stoner remains a force to be reckoned with in the premier class of MotoGP.) It would surprise no one to see a resurgent Stoner win again this week, relegating Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa to fighting for clutches of points numbered in the teens rather than the twenties. In this regard, a healthy, fully functional Casey Stoner probably works more in Rossi’s interest than Lorenzo’s.

A Glance at Next Season’s Grid

Now that the game of musical chairs has largely been played out in the premier class of MotoGP, how about a quick glance at the top twelve teams expected to line up next April on the Losail circuit in beautiful Doho, Qatar under the lights:

  • Repsol Honda: Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso (unchanged)
  • Monster Yamaha Tech 3: Colin Edwards, Ben Spies
  • Rizla Suzuki MotoGP: Loris Capirossi, Alvaro Bautista
  • LCR Hondo MotoGP: Randy de Puniet (unchanged)
  • San Carlo Honda Gresini: Marco Simoncelli, Marco Melandri
  • Ducati Marlboro: Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden (unchanged)
  • Aspar Ducati MotoGP: Hector Barbera
  • Pramac Ducati Racing: Mika Kallio, Aleix Espargaro
  • Fiat Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo (unchanged)
  • Scot Racing Team MotoGP: Gabor Talmacsi
  • New Honda Satellite: Hiroshi Aoyama
  • New Privateer Team: Mad Max

Australian Chris Vermeulen may be heading to WSBK but he'll try to put up a good effort in his last home MotoGP race.

The team owners are clearly following their own noses when it comes to moving riders up to the premier class. It hasn’t escaped their attention that the riders consistently threatening for podiums in the premier class are these tiny guys who did well riding 250’s. So the top four 250 riders this year are getting promoted, and only Simoncelli is six feet tall. Team owners apparently don’t think farther than a year or two out. By 2011 MotoGP may be back riding the 990 cc bikes and hiring full-grown men to ride them.

Quick Hitters

The weekend weather in greater Melbourne calls for cloudy and cool conditions on Saturday and Sunday. Strong wind and heavy rain overnight create a cool track surface for practice on Friday … with sponsors dropping like flies in international motorsports, Bridgestone has come up smelling like a rose after their initial year as the exclusive tire of MotoGP … they always manage to get a few plugs in before each round, and none of the riders, in a post-race news conference, has come out and blamed a loss on Bridgestone. A few riders have chosen the wrong tire along the way – see Stoner and Hayden at Donington Park for more on this – but no one has found it necessary to go to war with Bridgestone. It will be interesting to see if Dunlop can do as well with their Moto2 tires next season.

The Phillip Island circuit is a fast course with several elevation changes. Nicky Hayden holds the track's official lap record.

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