Wednesday, 20 June 2012

MotoGP Musings...

How time flies! It’s been a while since I managed to sit down and tap away on a keyboard to create another edition of Straw Bales...but finally here we are!

It’s been an interesting few weeks in the motorcycle racing world since the last instalment and far too much to cover in one blog without sending both of my dear readers to sleep (hi mum!) so I’ve decided to keep this one MotoGP-based mainly due to BSB being somewhat quiet and the TV coverage of Misano WSB confirming my thoughts of previous blogs!

The world of MotoGP has been in rumour-mill overdrive since Repsol Honda’s reigning World Champion Casey Stoner announced his intention to retire at the end of the current campaign. The permutations of the 2012 ‘Silly Season’ are innumerable and enough to make your head hurt if you pay too much attention to them. Aside to all the why’s, wherefores and do you mind if I dont’s there are three confirmed contracts for the 2013 MotoGP season - those of Bradley Smith’s with Tech 3 Yamaha, Stefan Bradl is one year in to a two year deal at LCR and the news released at Silverstone that Jorge Lorenzo has signed for 2 more seasons at Yamaha. So that’s 2 seats taken for definite next season, but the question mark over Smiths must remain.

As was pointed out to me by MotoPod Cast’s Martin Darlington, and with some delving it appears Smith himself metioned it on Eurosport coverage, the contract between Smith and Herve Poncheral is target-driven –  and not a slightly blinkered error of judgement to give the still-to-prove-himself Smith a seat at the second tier of the MotoGP table. In my opinion, and that’s all it is, I don’t believe Bradley has earned his place in MotoGP just yet. Save for one good season in the 125cc Championship back in 2009, ‘Bradders’ has failed to capitalise on his chances and put together a title-challenging run and prove his doubters – yes, people like me - wrong. I would be more than happy for Bradley to prove me wrong come the latter part of the season but since he stepped up to Moto2 it’s not been a stellar step in his career and he really needs to be challenging at the front of every race to be even considered for the step up.

It is clear to even the most casual observer that Great Britains other Moto2 rider, Scott Redding, is coming of age better than his compatriot so far in 2012 with two podiums to his name already and therefore should be better placed to step up to the big class for 2013 and hopefully with a two year contract that will allow him to learn then deliver.  His physical size notwithstanding, his riding style could be well suited to the brutal 1000(ish)cc powerhouses and I truly believe we have another star to follow in the footsteps of Cal Crutchlow.

Cal himself has done his prospects for 2013 no harm at all with his consistent top five finishes this season. He and his current team mate Andrea Dovizioso have one eye firmly on the other factory Yamaha M1 that may be vacated by Ben Spies at the end of the season unless he can turn round his poor early season form. The sticking point for anyone coveting Ben’s ride is his connection to the American motorcycle market, and Yamaha are more than aware of this, as is the way of the world the ‘sales & marketing’ machine is king and it’s sometimes more about that than pure talent.

Something else that came out at Silverstone was Dorna’s indication that the ‘Rookie Rule’ is likely to be abolished for 2013, paving the way for Repsol protégé Marc Marquez to replace Casey Stoner at HRC. It is accepted that Marquez will join the ranks of the MotoGP elite next term and nobody is under any illusion that he wont be on anything but full factory machinery so it makes sense for him to drop straight in to the Repsol Honda squad rather than field him out to Gresini Honda for one year, delaying the inevitable – which would leave any other potential replacement of Stoner on just a one year deal.

It was not long after the rumours of Lorenzo to Honda started to appear that HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto announced that they would not run two Spaniards in the same squad ( here ). This was obviously before Dorna began the backtrack on the ‘Rookie Rule’ and was released to quash those Lorenzo rumours, but now the goalposts have been moved does this now pave the way for a two man Spanish Repsol Honda title assault in 2013? Personally, I would like to see another nationality on the other RC213V although that’s unlikely as Dani Pedrosa is held in high regard by Honda and can’t see him accepting a sideways move to Gresini Honda for instance.

Valentino Rossi said on stage on Saturday night at Silverstone that the team are expecting a whole host of changes (again!) for the Laguna Seca round at the end of July. He categorically stated that as it stands now he will stay with Ducati for 2013 but if these parts do not make the desired changes then he will begin to look at potential options for next season instead. These options are just as full of ‘if’s, but’s and maybe’s’ and where he will go only Valentino knows. I can’t see him in any full factory squad other than the one he is in, that is unless Suzuki make a shock return 12 months earlier than originally planned.

There are other hungrier and currently faster riders who are above VR in the pecking order for rides next season, and they’re a damn sight cheaper too and come without the travelling circus that is VR’s entourage but they don’t yet posess the marketing potential of the Italian. There is also the question of crew. Valentino will undoubtedly want to bring his crew with him should he move on, the biggest question over this is will they actually want to? These guys have been travelling the world, winning title after title, for almost 20 years and with Jerry Burgess having understandable concerns at home and other crew members with growing families it’s not a given that ‘my guys’ will move with him. Plus after chasing their backsides and not getting very far for the last 18 months, this Ducati ‘adventure’ must be taking its toll on MotoGP’s most successful crew.

The absolute bottom line is nobody can say for certain where people will be sitting when the music stops, every week there is another angle to consider and another permutation we hadn’t thought of. I mean, Cal to Ducati? Scott Redding to Ducati? I know both have been courted by the Italian giants and both would fare well on their bikes but it again depends on what happens above them. Nothing major will happen until Valentino and Dani Pedrosa decide what they’re going to do. Apart from the addition of Marquez, it is a realistic possibility that seven of the top eight seats could actually remain static for another season, has anybody actually considered that...?

One thing that was really noticeable at Silverstone was the glaring speed difference between CRT and prototype motorcycles, CRT positively sluggish in comparison. To make CRT a viable option for up and coming riders from Moto2 or World Superbikes something needs to be done to bring the lesser bikes closer in terms of lap times to the satellite teams rather than just hanging on to their coat-tails. If a successful Moto2 rider had the option of CRT or another season as a Moto2 front runner I have no doubt what they would choose. If CRT was closer time-wise we would see more big name riders partaking in that category rather than Edwards and de Puniet as the star attractions and replacing riders like Pasini, Hernandez etc to further enhance the profile of the series.

CRT will come good, it has too – it may not be in the same guise though as rules need to be amended to further improve the spec and competitiveness of the machines in order to attract the class of rider needed to push it forward to the next level.

The championship overall is looking at this early stage like Lorenzo’s second major crown could be in the making, his podium run so far has been reminiscent of the campaign Stoner put in last season and he looks completely at ease with his M1 and his style smoother and more accurate than ever. Ominous.

As much as I love BSB, as much as I love watching them do their thing – there really is nothing to beat MotoGP. The sight of the world’s elite riders mastering the bucking (not in Jorge Lorenzo’s case I must add...smooth like butter) sliding pinnacles of motorcycle engineering excellence is an experience every race fan should have. The TV does not do the colours of the machines and riders leathers justice; they are the most intense colours you can imagine but the biggest thing of the whole experience is the noise! It goes right through you, a true assault on the senses – not just the sheer noise of acceleration of the machines but the noise they make under braking and the split-second gear changes are just mind-blowing. If you have never seen a MotoGP bike in action, make that trip to Silverstone next year, even if it’s just for Practice or Qualifying. I promise you wont regret it.

Thanks for reading.

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