MotoGP 2012 Sepang Preview

The Hurrier Dani Pedrosa Goes, the Behinder he Gets

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sepang round of the 2012 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Even with Repsol Honda’s dogged Dani Pedrosa driving the RC213V like a world champion, trailing series leader Jorge Lorenzo by 28 points with three rounds to go, the 2012 championship race is not as close as it seems. A crash out of the points by either will decide the title in an instant or put it completely up for grabs. But if no one crashes, Lorenzo wins.

Those of us rooting for a gripping finale in Valenciana in November will continue to send bad karma toward Lorenzo. Those in the “Let the Best Man Win” school are hoping to see the two of them pull into the Ricardo Tormo Circuit within a half dozen points of each other, qualify on the front row, and let it rip all day, teeth bared, wheels touching, taking it down to the last turn of the last lap.

Dani Pedrosa

If Lorenzo can manage to appear on the podium each round for the rest of the season, he will clinch his second MotoGP title. The worst he could do each week, assuming Pedrosa wins, is to give up nine points by finishing third. Do that three times and you win the title by a one.

The point here, if there is one, is that Pedrosa can actually run the table and still lose the championship.

I measure the margin in terms of “points per round” that Pedrosa has to make up. Two rounds ago, he trailed by 38 points with five rounds left, a deficit of 7.6 points per round. Two wins later, he trails by 28 points with three races left, a deficit of 9.3 points per round. This is why the sub-headline at the top of the page is actually quite good: Trail by 7. Win twice. Trail by 9.

Jorge Lorenzo Dani Pedrosa

Recent History at Sepang

For Jorge Lorenzo, the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix was just one of those days. The Yamaha up-and-comer qualified second, missed his wake-up call, arrived at the track late, had to start from 18th place on the grid, and eventually finished fourth. All in a soaking rain. Meanwhile, Casey Stoner took his Ducati for a stroll in the park, hammering Dani Pedrosa by some 14 seconds, with Rossi third. Rossi’s podium finish clinched the 2009 title for the Italian.

In 2010, it was Rossi, on the Yamaha, fighting his way back from injuries earlier in the year, edging compatriot Andrea Dovizioso on his Repsol Honda for the win. Lorenzo closed out the podium, with Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Ben Spies finishing 4th. For the second consecutive year, the third place finisher at Sepang clinched the world championship.

Marco Simoncelli

2011 was, of course, the year the race was cancelled following the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli. Casey Stoner had clinched the title the previous time out at Phillip Island, so there was really nothing to race for. It is interesting to note that the track was in bad condition all through the weekend, with standing water in a number of corners. Marc Marquez had difficulty seeing one of those in practice on his Moto2 bike and endured a brutal high side that left him with blurred vision for six months. Yet Simoncelli’s crash appeared to have nothing at all to do with the conditions. Just one of those things.

In a perfect world Simoncelli would still be with us. And the sport, the entire premier class of MotoGP, is worse off for his loss.

The Big Picture

Pretty simple, really. Lorenzo keeps his bike upright, stays on the podium each round, can’t lose. Lorenzo crashes, all of a sudden it’s a dogfight between Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Sepang and Phillip Island are Yamaha-friendly, while Valencia is Honda-friendly.

Stoner and Dovizioso slug it out for third place, the second in a row for Dovi if he can manage it. Bautista appears safe in fifth place, while Rossi and Crutchlow will battle for sixth. Rookie Stefan Bradl will outpoint former world champion Nicky Hayden. Beyond that, no one really cares.

Valentino Rossi

Although there are few interesting mathematical possibilities for the end of the 2012 season, it’s much better than in previous years when the title was a foregone conclusion two-thirds of the way through. Lorenzo must do more than simply show up for the remaining three races of the year, which he will. Pedrosa must continue to work like a dog and hope for the best. God will sort out the rest.

Bautista Gets His Ride

It was finally announced at Motegi that Alvaro Bautista will hold on to his San Carlo Gresini prototype Honda for next season, signing a new one-year deal with Fausto Gresini. Once Dovizioso, Spies, Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone had committed for next year, there weren’t really many serious options left for Gresini. The guy and his sponsor still desperately want a dominant Italian rider, but these days they’re not easy to come by.

Alvaro Bautista

For Bautista, two podiums in three rounds suggest he is coming to terms with the Honda. Next year will be pivotal. Have a great year – a win or two, four or five podiums – and he becomes a contender for Alien status. Have a so-so year – one or two podiums, no wins – and he will be consigned to the second division of MotoGP for the duration. The competition at the top next year may be slightly softer than this year, with the incomparable Stoner departing in favor of Rossi, who returns to the Yamaha M-1 after two years away. It’s probably wiser to assume that Rossi will immediately return to winning form in early testing, in which case Bautista’s challenge won’t get any easier.

The Weekend Forecast for Greater Kuala Lampur

The forecast for the weekend is typical for this part of the world – hot and sticky with a good chance of storms each day. The air will be heavy with remembrance of the loss of the irrepressible Marco Simoncelli here last year. This is a track where the Yamahas should do well.

Jorge Lorenzo

If conditions don’t interfere, I see Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Crutchlow on the podium. Personally, I would enjoy seeing the controlled pandemonium of a flag-to-flag affair, in contrast to the instantly out-of-control pandemonium that was the 2011 race. A flag-to-flag race is the only thing likely to throw a spanner into the works of Jorge Lorenzo’s impending coronation.

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