MotoGP 2011 Estoril Preview

Gentlemen, re-start your engines

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Estorilround of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Whatever momentum the 2011 MotoGP season was enjoying at Jerez has now thoroughly dissipated. Thanks to the tectonic crisis in Japan, it’s been most of a month since our last adrenaline boost. The feeling here is that the season is starting over, with the various riders having been spotted some random championship points. Thus, Round Three, the bwin Grand Premio de Portugal, finds Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner occupying the top three spots in the standings, seemingly in a carryover from 2010.

Due to the wet conditions at Jerez, which resulted in the early exit of five of the top eight qualifiers, the standings outside the top three are scrambled. Exhibit A is the fact that Hiro Aoyama, Cal Crutchlow and Karel Abraham today stand higher than do Marco Simoncelli, Ben Spies and Colin Edwards. Though this should change substantially in the next few days, it is a reminder that 1) the season is a pup, and 2) racing these machines in the wet is a crapshoot. With the forecast for the 14th Portuguese Grand Prix calling for rain, rain and more rain, more anomalies can be expected.

Not Business as Usual at Estoril This Year

Jorge Lorenzo Estoril 2010

Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has owned Estoril recently, winning from the pole the last three years. This week, however, he will find himself challenged not only by the weather, but by a gaggle of Honda pilots, including Stoner, Pedrosa and one Marco Simoncelli. Stoner won comfortably in March at Losail, and was fighting for the lead in Jerez when he was submarined by Doctor Ducati, Valentino Rossi, who was busy sliding out of contention in what I like to think of as a “Yamaha moment.”

Pedrosa, meanwhile, managed a third in Qatar and second place in Spain despite losing circulation in his left arm, a condition which has since been surgically repaired. And Simoncelli, a blur in off-season testing, ran a competitive fifth in Qatar and crashed out of the lead at Jerez. Despite his height and hair, young Marco is fast, aggressive and motivated, a factory rider in the making.

Casey Stoner Dani Pedrosa

Rossi, with five premier class wins at Estoril, appears to be getting the hang of his GP11 and is telling everyone his shoulder is almost 100%; he will likely be in the mix this weekend. Of the three Americans in the field, Nicky Hayden sits highest in the standings in fourth place, having podiumed in Spain. Factory Yamaha Texan Ben Spies is dawdling in 12th, courtesy of a late crash at Jerez, followed by aging vet Colin Edwards who, in a vain attempt to turn back the clock, crashed out in the final lap in Spain, a shameful rookie mistake. All other things being equal, which they rarely are, it’s likely Spies will be the top American finisher on Sunday.

On the Surgical Front …

Several riders took advantage of the break in the schedule to have medical issues tended to. Pedrosa had the titanium plate and screws removed from his shoulder, courtesy of his practice crash last season at Motegi. Not only will this improve his comfort on the bike, it will reduce the time it takes him to get through airport security. Cal Crutchlow, busy making a great first impression on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, had an operation to address the arm pump problem he had been experiencing, and looks to be close to 100%.

Alvaro Bautista

My boy Randy de Puniet, laboring for the woeful Pramac Racing team, had a screw removed from his left knee, a souvenir of his high-side crash last season at the Sachsenring. Hard luck Alvaro Bautista, carrying the hopes of the entire Suzuki nation on his back, looks to struggle back onboard his GSV-R after fracturing his femur barely six weeks ago.

Quick Hitters

Nicky Hayden Valentino Rossi Ducati Marlboro

Nicky Hayden’s third place finish at Jerez has the feel of a fluke, and could have easily been a seventh or eighth. He does get credit, however, for keeping his Ducati upright. He has become Mr. Consistency – consistently in the top ten, but no longer a real threat to win a race … Hiro Aoyama, the number two guy at Gresini San Carlo Honda, sits alone in sixth place this week, apparently a beneficiary of the rising tide of power at HRC. We never really saw what this guy could do last season as a rookie, when he broke his back early in the year … Andrea Dovisiozo, the Forgotten Man at Repsol Honda, enjoyed his most recent premier class podium at Estoril last year. A rostrum on Sunday would do much to restore his confidence, not to mention his relevance … Hector Barbera is enjoying a credible second season aboard his satellite Ducati, although I miss his schoolbus yellow paint job … Monster Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow has more points this season (13) than did his predecessor Spies at the same point last year (11).

A Shout Out to the IMS

Two announcements during this hiatus caught my attention. The first is that Dorna has inked a ten year agreement with the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas beginning in 2013. The news generated a wave of speculation that this meant the end of the Indianapolis GP, which has been dogged by unfortunate weather and complaints by the riders regarding the racing surface at the Motor Speedway since its inception in 2008. This past week, the IMS announced that it would be re-surfacing the infield portion of the circuit between turns five and 16, such that the entire course will consist of the same macadam.

These are not salad days at the Indianapolis facility, despite its ongoing celebration of 100 years of racing history. There have been numerous cutbacks, staff reductions, and a much lower community profile than in decades past. This being the case, I doubt the owners would commit a zillion dollars to this project in the absence of a strong sense that Dorna will renew their agreement, which expires this year.

Look for an announcement in August that the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix will be around for another five or ten years. Huzzah! Three American rounds! Take THAT, Italy!

Estoril circuit map

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