MotoGP Catalunya 2013 Preview

Cuatro Extranjeros Return to Spain for Round Six

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the fifth round of the 2013 season at the Catalunya Circuit in Italy. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya.

After Sunday’s MotoGP shindig in suburban Barcelona, Spain, the 2013 season will be one third done. Most of that time, we have focused our attention on the three so-called Aliens – Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo, and Repsol Honda pilots Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez. These three guys have dominated the conversation all season, and rightfully so.

But the guy who has gotten the most from the least so far in 2013, without question, has been Monster Tech 3 Yamaha tough guy Cal Crutchlow. Who, this weekend, we have promoted to Alien-in-Waiting.

Jorge Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow

True, Crutchlow trails series leader Dani Pedrosa by 32 points and third place rookie Marc Marquez by six. But there has been, and continues to be, a serious difference in the capability of Crutchlow’s satellite Yamaha versus those of the satellite Hondas, which are essentially factory spec bikes with different paint jobs and tighter budgets. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl and Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista are riding the same bikes as Pedrosa and Marquez. Crutchlow and teammate Bradley Smith, on the other hand, would have a hard time keeping up with the factory rides enjoyed by Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, as they are basically running a generation behind.

Cal Crutchlow

So what has Crutchlow done so far this season? A gritty 5th in Qatar. A solid weekend in Austin and 4th place. A brave 5th in Jerez after several hard crashes in practice. Podium at Le Mans. Podium at Mugello. If there were a Factory Seat Donor List in MotoGP, Cal Crutchlow would be at the very top. This is a man who has earned a factory ride. Of all the rumor and noise online about who may do what to whom next season, the most delicious piece I saw suggested that Rossi, struggling all season, would invite Yamaha to buy out his contract at the end of the year, leaving the seat for Crutchlow. And that such an announcement could come as early as Laguna Seca. Sounds unlikely, but it would be great for Yamaha, and England too.

Crutchlow, who turns 28 this year, is too old to become any kind of MotoGP legend; Marc Marquez is just 20. But Crutchlow has some very fast years ahead of him. If Rossi’s star is fading, Crutchlow’s is waxing. It would be a good idea for Yamaha to figure out a way to keep the outspoken and popular Cal Crutchlow in the tent pissing out, so to speak, rather than the other way around.

Who Wants This Thing?

Marc Marquez is probably the fastest guy on the 2013 grid. He will not win the title, however, for two reasons: 1) the learning curve is too steep, and 2) Marquez does not appear to regard life-threatening situations as anything more than temporary inconveniences. He set a new MotoGP record at Mugello: highest speed of a rider leaving his bike, somewhere around 200 mph. On race day, he crashed out of second place. Had he stayed upright, he would sit 2 points behind Pedrosa for the series lead and six points ahead of Lorenzo. But he’s not going to win.

Marc Marquez

Either Dani Pedrosa or Jorge Lorenzo will win the 2013 title. Neither, however, has been able to put their signature on the season. They’ve won where they’re supposed to win – Lorenzo at Losail and Mugello, Pedrosa at Jerez and Le Mans. They haven’t crashed out of a race, and neither is injured. Each has been dominant, and each has been dominated.

With Yamaha having taken three of the last four races here at Catalunya, this is a race Lorenzo should win. After this weekend, however, the schedule becomes very friendly for the Hondas. They have great history at Assen, Sachsenring, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. And, they have great history on the annual Pacific swing through Japan, Australia and Malaysia later in the summer.

Dani Pedrosa

As for Marquez, he has earned a podium at Catalunya in his last three outings, and this is, in fact, his premier class home debut. His fans will be there in the thousands, and his adrenaline will be surging. A home win for the young star would put him right back in the conversation for the 2013 title, and would shut me up. But, a third of the way through the season, it appears teammate Dani Pedrosa has the inside track to the title.

Recent History at Catalunya

The 2009 race was a classic. It featured Fiat Yamaha teammates Rossi and Lorenzo, during the period they kept a wall down the middle of the garage. Rossi was the reigning champion, Lorenzo the ballsy young challenger. The two ran away from the field early, and it was mano à mano from there on. Lorenzo led Rossi by a few yards heading into the last turn, but discovered it wasn’t enough, as Rossi exited the turn in the lead to win by less than a tenth of a second. Ducati chieftain Casey Stoner edged satellite Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso for third spot on the rostrum.

Valentino Rossi Jorge Lorenzo Casey Stoner

The 2010 race saw Repsol Honda teammates Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso leap out in front of pre-race favorites Stoner, on the Ducati, and Lorenzo (Rossi was out with shoulder and leg injuries suffered at Mugello). Pedrosa took himself out of contention in Turn 1 of Lap 1, running hot, wide and, shortly thereafter, ninth. Dovi went low-side on Lap 14, leaving Lorenzo comfortably in the lead. Pedrosa fought his way back to finish second, four seconds ahead of Stoner.

In 2011, flanked by Le Mans and Silverstone, Catalunya delivered the second of three consecutive early-season wins for Stoner and his Honda RC212V. The Factory Yamaha duo of Lorenzo and Ben Spies chased Stoner most of the day but settled for second and third, respectively, while pole-sitter Marco Simoncelli finished sixth. (This was only two years ago, when both Sic and Spies appeared to have radiant futures in MotoGP.) The race itself was something of a parade. Outside of Stoner and his fans, there was little to cheer about that year. Pedrosa sat out after getting tagged by Simoncelli in France the previous round.

Last year, Lorenzo snuck by Pedrosa late in the game to win by a whisker, with then Tech 3 Yamaha scorcher Andrea Dovizioso making it to the podium for the first time with his new team. With the teams having traded wins here for the last three years, it would appear to be Honda’s turn in 2013. But make no mistake about it – this is a race Yamaha and Lorenzo should win.

The Big Picture

The standings pretty much tell the story. Pedrosa has a lead to protect. Lorenzo has ground to make up. Marquez has a profession to learn. And Crutchlow needs what they call in the NBA a “contract year” in order to gain a factory ride with either Ducati or Yamaha next year. So far he’s having it. Another podium in Catalunya would ratchet up the pressure on the factory teams, aside from Honda, to figure out how to get this guy wearing their colors.

As for the weather in Barcelona this weekend, conditions look to be perfect, with clear skies and temps in the upper 70’s. A great weekend for Lorenzo or Pedrosa to put his stamp on the season. A great weekend for a dark horse to rise to the occasion. A great weekend for Spain, and a great weekend for you gearheads who read, watch and love this stuff.

Jorge Lorenzo

Catch the race live on SpeedTV starting at 7:30 Eastern time. We will have the results of the Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya right here on Sunday evening.

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