Round 12 Lifts Off at a “Yamaha” Track
One of the themes of the 2012 MotoGP season has been the bifurcation (great word) of the calendar into Honda- and Yamaha-friendly circuits. (No circuits are very Ducati-friendly these days.) The Repsol Honda team of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa has recently made hay at the American circuits, both of which are inarguably Honda tracks. Such is not the case with Brno, in the Czech Republic, hosting Round 12 this weekend.
Prior to Casey Stoner’s win here last year, the most recent Honda victory at Brno occurred in 2004, when Sete Gibernau drove his 990cc Honda RC211V to the top of the podium. Ducati had two years in a row—2006 and 2007—when first Loris Capirossi, then Casey Stoner won here. Otherwise, since 2000, it’s been Yamahas 24/7/365. Max Biaggi, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have all stood atop the rostrum at Brno. With its flowing, fast turns, it may be Jorge Lorenzo’s time this week, for the first time since Mugello, another Yamaha track.
Our crack research department has been busily analyzing the remaining venues and their characteristics to determine, with seven rounds left, which of the Aliens has the advantage where. Of the seven, Yamaha dominates at three—Brno, Misano and Sepang. Honda has been awarded but one—Valencia. Two tracks—Aragon and Phillip Island—have been awarded exclusively to Casey Stoner, whose recent record at both has been unblemished, regardless of what he’s been riding. And Motegi, though it should belong to Honda, is a toss-up, with Honda, Yamaha and Ducati having enjoyed fairly even success there over the past decade.
Recent History at Brno
In August of 2009, Valentino Rossi was on his way to his last (thus far) world championship when the Czech Grand Prix rolled around. With an assist from Dani Pedrosa, Rossi outdueled teammate Jorge Lorenzo to win comfortably that day. Lorenzo was still in the reckless stage of his premier class career, crashing out or failing to finish eight races in 2008-09. That would change the following year.
The 2010 race was a parade led in orderly fashion by Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. Ben Spies had a nice day, finishing fourth, and Andrea Dovizioso survived untouched a crash in which he ended up standing on the track with bikes coming at him, playing a uniquely Italian form of Dodge-‘em. At the end of the day Lorenzo led Pedrosa by almost 80 points and the season was over except for the shouting.
Last year, Casey Stoner essentially clinched the 2011 title at Brno as teammate Dani Pedrosa crashed out of the lead on Lap 4, handing the race to the Australian. Lorenzo, who chose the wrong tires that day, finished fourth behind Stoner, Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli. With three Hondas on the podium, you’re perhaps wondering how I can call Brno a Yamaha track. I’ll just say that Honda’s dominance in the last year of the 800cc bikes was complete, and that 2012 is a different story.
The Big Picture
As the season begins its home stretch, Lorenzo leads Pedrosa by 18 points and Stoner by 39, with two friendly tracks coming up at Brno and Misano. Of the two Repsol Honda teammates, I figured Stoner to be more dangerous than Pedrosa until his crash at Indianapolis, the first real injury to an Alien this year. Over the next two rounds Jorge Lorenzo could and should put Casey Stoner out of title contention.
As for Pedrosa, he continues to hold up despite being the smallest driver on the grid. One thinks that this profession probably saps his strength over time and over the course of each season. Pedrosa can’t afford to give up any ground to Lorenzo at the next three nicely-spaced rounds. The problem for Pedrosa is the three-rounds-in-three-weeks Pacific swing in October. In a tight, stressful race, will he have the stamina to hang in those turns trading paint with Lorenzo and Stoner in the heat at Sepang?
Dovi Gets His Deal
Andrea Dovizioso finally becomes the #1 rider on a factory team as his deal with Ducati became public on Wednesday. Five podiums in 11 rounds on a satellite Yamaha and Italian to boot. Left out in the cold in all this is poor Cal Crutchlow, who is saying very negative things about the Ducati brass. Not a good response to adversity in a very small league. We hope Andrea knows what he’s doing. For Ducati, it’s a win for now. As to Cal, there is no telling from our vantage point.
For Valentino Rossi, energized at the prospect of being competitive again next year, the rest of the season likely resembles 40 miles of bad road, something one simply would prefer not to have to deal with. Teammate Nicky Hayden, the eternal optimist, is probably looking forward to the changes to come in 2013, as there’s not much else to do these days.
For the rest of the riders, both prototype and CRT, much remains at stake over the last seven rounds. Opportunities on satellite teams, CRT, WSB and Moto2 abound. Riders will be moving up, down and sideways. In the motorcycle racing food chain, moving up is good, moving sideways can be made to sound good, but moving down is just moving down. Once upon a time everyone wanted to be Toni Elias. Now no one wants to be Toni Elias, not even Toni.
Factory Ducati rider Nicky Hayden has been declared “doubtful” for the Czech Grand Prix. As of Tuesday, it appears Casey Stoner will compete, but at less than 100%. Ben Spies will tough out his injuries until the usual mechanical issue ruins his day on Sunday.
Scanning the wire, there is a report on RoadRacingWorld.com advising us Elias will be riding the Pramac Ducati again in Brno. Right next to it is a second story, this one on SuperSport.com, stating that Hector Barbera will be back this week to fight for 12th place at one of his favorite circuits, which he apparently enjoys with or without three broken vertebrae and a barely-healed double break of his leg. I’ll let the editors sort this out at presstime.
The Weekend Weather Forecast for Lower Slobbovia
The weather forecast for Brno is for hot and dry Friday, cool and wet Saturday and Sunday. Chance of rain on the weekend currently sits at 70%. As we’ve seen elsewhere, a dry track favors the Aliens. A wet one could favor some of the darker horses, especially the Italian ones, Dovizioso and Rossi.
And, finally, apropos of nothing, the Austin Business Journal reports that a third American round, at the Circuit of the Americas, will be announced soon. With Indianapolis under contract for 2013 and 2014, and Laguna Seca etched in stone, this will provide at least a two year bump in MotoGP Americano. Looks like an opportunity for a three-race American summer swing similar to the Pacific swing the league takes each fall. For the teams, the economics seem compelling. For most of the riders, it would mean another month away from home. Life in the fast lane.