MotoGP: 2010 Jerez Preview

Casey Stoner's crash in Qatar has left him squarely behind the eight ball

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Motegi Jerez round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Spanish Grand Prix.

With the Motegi round of the 2010 world championships postponed by, of all things, Icelandic volcano gods, MotoGP’s subsonic circus now takes its act to historic Jerez on the stunning Spanish Riviera. Back in March, nobody thought Casey Stoner would trail Fiat Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi by 25 points after Losail. Stoner’s dramatic late-season revival last year, after a prolonged illness, brought waves of optimism to the Ducati Marlboro garage heading into 2010, but his shocking unforced fall while leading in Qatar could be a game changer. Memo to Mr. Stoner: World championships aren’t won in May. They may, however, be lost.

One reliable technique for going from contender to pretender in MotoGP is to spot The Doctor 25 championship points in the first week.

Rossi’s consistency is a big part of the problem. In the last two years he’s had three bad races – an 11th place finish in Assen in 2008, last year’s comical 16th place finish in the wet at Le Mans, and his crash last year at Indianapolis. Of the 32 other races in which he’s competed over the past two seasons, he’s been on the podium 29 times. THAT’S consistency. And THAT’S why you don’t want to hand him a big lead at any point in any season. Ever.

Casey Stoner's third place result in 2009 is the only podium he has ever achieved in Jerez, in any GP class.

It’s safe to say that Stoner needs a podium in Jerez to remain in the 2010 championship conversation. With the odds of Rossi finishing in the top three hovering around 90%, anything less than third or fourth place will, for all practical purposes, end the Australian’s 2010 championship hopes before the season is fully underway. At best, Stoner will be racing uphill for the remainder of the season. He’ll be forced to press, take extra chances, and ride harder than he should. It’s reasonable to expect more crashes for Stoner this season if he has to play catch-up all year long. A recipe for disaster, if you ask me.

Stoner’s recent history at Jerez bodes poorly for him. In 2007 the podium included Rossi, Pedrosa and Colin Edwards; Stoner finished fifth, behind Toni Elias and in front of one Carlos Checa. In 2008 it was Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo, with Stoner buried in 11th place. Last year he made the podium behind Rossi and Pedrosa after Lorenzo crashed late while in the process of tracking him down. Jerez is simply not very Ducati-friendly, as the Italian machine has won the race only once in recent memory, in 2006 with Loris Capirossi aboard. It’s a Yamaha/Honda kinda place.

The extra week off gave Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo time to recover from their injuries.

It’s not just the Fiat Yamaha boys, Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, sharpening their teeth in anticipation of another year of crushing domination. Stoner’s problems include rejuvenated teammate Nicky Hayden and Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi announced last week that he wants to 1) expand The Big Four to The Big Five or, better yet, 2) depose teammate Dani Pedrosa. The Kentucky Kid, fresh off his 2009 debacle, looks to have tamed the Desmosedici and likely wants to join the club his own damned self. Even audacious rookie Ben Spies, who currently leads Stoner by 11 points, may have designs on Stoner’s Top Four membership card.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the upper echelon of MotoGP. Must have something to do with all the money and beautiful women.

In the MotoGP universe there is, in fact, life beyond the rare air of Fiat Yamaha and Ducati Marlboro. Here’s a glance at what’s in store for the other teams at the Gran Premio bwin de Espana:

Repsol Honda – Dovizioso has come to grips, as it were, with the RC212V’s new suspension well ahead of teammate Dani Pedrosa. At Qatar, Dovi outraced Nicky Hayden down the final straight to grab a podium. Meanwhile, Pedrosa started the race as he usually does, as if he had a missile from Acme Rocket Mfg. strapped on his back, and led briefly before falling back to seventh place at the finish. Pedrosa has been talking this week like he wants to mix it up with the big dogs at his home track, but that’s not been his history. Look for Dovizioso to challenge for the podium and for Dani to continue his ongoing impersonation of a rabid mongoose.

Ben Spies has never raced in Jerez before, but he has proven time after time he can win on unknown tracks.Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – The Twin Texas Tornados, Sr. and Jr., enjoyed a great start to the 2010 season in Qatar, with rookie Ben Spies capturing fifth place and Colin Edwards eighth. Spies may have supplanted Edwards as the #1 rider on the team roughly 17 (or 35) races ahead of schedule. Young Ben has never raced at Jerez, but seems capable of learning on the fly, so to speak. Expect Edwards to beat Spies this week with both riders basking in the glow of the top ten.

Pramac Racing Team – the young Ducati riders had a miserable time in Qatar, with Finn Mika Kallio crashing early and Aleix Espargaro retiring shortly thereafter with mechanical woes. Job #1 for these two at Jerez: finish the race. Job #2: resuscitate the promise of last season, when Kallio secured Rookie of the Year honors and Espargaro surprised everyone with his poise and aplomb.

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP – Sadly, Loris Capirossi appears to be playing out the string, soaking up loads of adoration in Qatar by starting his 300th MotoGP race, and then going out and finishing an uncompetitive ninth. Meanwhile, rookie Alvaro Batista made, well, a rookie mistake, crashing out on the last lap of the race. (In that he was running 12th at the time, it wasn’t that big a deal.) Batista has enjoyed great success in his recent 250cc history during even-numbered years. And while 2006 and 2008 may have been chicken, 2010 is shaping up as feathers. Is Suzuki ever going to come up with a viable power plant?

San Carlo Honda Gresini – At least The Dueling Marcos managed to finish the race at Losail. Barely. Simoncelli held off Hector Barbera for 11th place, while Melandri was the last rider to cross the finish line, some 40 seconds behind Rossi. No one expects too much from rookie Simoncelli, but I, for one, thought Melandri would improve on his results from 2009, when he spent the year pushing the Hayate Racing Bucket of Bolts around some of the world’s great racetracks. There appears to be less going on in Fausto’s premier class garage this season than there was last year, which wasn’t much anyway. Paging Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias.

Valentino Rossi won last year's Jerez round while Dani Pedrosa finished second for his home crowd.

The Single Rider Teams – LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet has quietly become semi-relevant, ranking near the top of my imaginary Second Division Riders. Out of disrespect for his heritage, I’m keeping track this year of how he qualifies compared to how he finishes, figuring ses testicules petits will produce race results inferior to his qualifying spots. So far this year he’s one for one … Interwetten Honda MotoGP’s Hiroshi Aoyama nailed a top ten finish in Losail and has the early lead in the race for the Top Rookie Not Named Spies Award … Paginas Amarillas Aspar’s Hector Barbera accomplished two things in Qatar – he finished the race and didn’t blow one of his six engines. I’m expecting about the same in Jerez, and not much more.

Good luck in Jerez, Bruce!

This past January I decided to travel to Jerez this month to cover the race live and in person. (Last year, Jerez was voted the top venue in the world, and it draws well over 100,000 fans every year.) Since purchasing my airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental car, etc., I’ve discovered that securing press credentials, at least in Jerez, from Dorna is a task comparable to trying to remove one’s own wisdom teeth – painful, frustrating and, ultimately, futile. So, my photographer Ryan Collins and I are heading over to the track on Sunday morning credential-less, ticket-less (it’s sold out) and prepared to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the scalpers outside the track, in a second language, no less. Should be a hoot. Watch this space for what promises to be epic race results coverage on Monday.

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