Saturday, 11 August 2012

MotoGP...Never A Dull Moment!

Hello and welcome to my Straw Bales Blog, if you've read it before then welcome back, if you haven't then WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?! 

After the almost constant stream of racing over the past few weeks we are now currently two thirds of the way through the summer break for MotoGP, and what a few weeks of racing it was leading up to this break. The title battle pendulum has swung from Jorge Lorenzo to Casey Stoner and back again, we saw Casey finally get back to winning ways at Laguna Seca and Dani Pedrosa cement his top three place in the championship. The biggest news out of the US round, however, wasn't Casey's win or Valentino's off at the top of the Corkscrew. More on that in a little while.

The race at Laguna wasn't by any means a classic of epic proportions, one televised pass in the whole race doesn't do the show justice (what show? I hear you say!). As I've said previously, MotoGP racing of late hasn't been the stuff of legend, its more a game of chess than balls-out racing...but actually it is balls out racing. You just have to watch it with a different perspective on racing, for this season at least and admire the ability and control of the best riders in the world...yes you really have to watch what's happening. Concentrate, grasshopper. These boys are stunning to actually watch, not just look at.

Lorenzo is riding on a crest of confidence after putting together a sequence of second, first and second since his skittling at Assen. Pedrosa has posted a first, second and third over the same period with Casey fairing worst with a DNF, eighth and a win. Winning margins don't make for great reading either 5s,14s, 5s and 3.5s at Laguna Seca, however, there were three different winners in that sequence so it's not down to any one rider's domination and it show's how fine the line is between a perfect machine set-up and a not so perfect one - 0.3s a lap over 25+ laps makes a small gap look huge.

Anyway enough of my aimless ramblings, there is masses of proper news to get through!

So to British Superbikes...what?...there's something MORE important than my beloved BSB?! Oh yes, the British round of World Superbikes took place at the most spectator-unfriendly (great amenities though) circuit on the calendar, the barren flatland that is Silverstone. Well what a set of...oh ok...not that either...alright, here we go then...

Prioir to the Laguna Seca MotoGP round, Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies announced his departure from the team effective from the end of the current campaign. Ben has yet to announce his future plans but all signs point to a return to the World Superbike paddock with the BMW Italia team alongside Marco Melandri. BMW are known to have one eye on a berth in MotoGP in the near future so it may not be too long before we see him back in the premier class of racing.

We don't know the in's, out's and wherefore's of Spies' decision but I know things aren't all they seem in the gleaming garages, internal team politics are rife and Ben's results of late have been less than sparking. He has regularly been bested by both satellite Yamaha M1's, not what you would expect from a much-heralded rider such as he, also with the almost infinite adjustability of Yamaha's flagship motorcycle the American and his long-time crew chief Tom Houseman it also looks as if the team have lost there way a little with the M1, causing Ben to maybe lose some of his famed steely confidence. Either that or the Valentino Rossi deal was in the bag earlier than we expected and he jumped before he was pushed....

As for the artist formerly known as the Honey Badger (was it @GuyHAnderson pointing out it had an anal pouch that changed his mind?!), Cal Crutchlow has reigned in his chest-beating 'I deserve a factory ride' of a few weeks ago and all the Ducati speculation of pre-Mugello has died a death somewhat. Could be that Cal may well be falling victim to the wrong passport colour and the dreaded MotoGP politics that blight so many riders every year? I'm not sure this is such a bad thing to be honest. He still has an offer on the table for two more years at Tech3, on a bike he clearly gets on with and that - as ably demonstrated by his team-mate - is undeniably podiumable (it's my blog and I'll use what words I want). Cal needs to shake the monkey off his back of finishing fourth though - a couple of podiums before the end of the season will underline his potential in the class and his right to be there. It may well pan out that Yamaha, similar to HRC with Gresini, provide a full factory M1 to the team and Cal would be better served securing that seat than a potentially career-killing Ducati GP13.

His team-mate is a more difficult connundrum (can anyone hear the Countdown music?). Andrea Dovizioso, it seems, will definitely move on from Herve Poncheral's team after the Valencian GP in November but his intended destination is still up for debate. Is he going to Ducati? In MotoGP? In WSB? Or, no, not after he forced HRC's hand to keep him on last season no.He's on the same Blacklist as Valentino Rossi. Most recent murmurings have him on the Ducati GP13 for next season, a move that may well raise eyebrows after he said in one TV interview that Ducati, for him, wasn't an option. MotoGP smoke and mirors yet again...? If Dovi does well on the Desmo and turns it around, kudos falls with him in doing something that the greatest rider of the modern era couldn't do - tame the beast. However, I'm not sure that his 250cc-derived style will suit the Bologna Bullet, after all, it didn't work for Capirossi, Melandri or Gibernau did it?! If he can adapt his style to suit the bike, rather than the other way round of more recent high-profile attempts, then who knows what could happen.

And so to the return of the prodigal son to his spiritual home of Yamaha after what will be two seasons in the MotoGP wilderness, chasing what should have been a marriage made in motorcycle racing heaven but, from his first lap of the Valencia test in 2010, was destined to be a nightmare realtionship of epic proportions for two of Itay's biggest icons, Valentino Rossi and Ducati. 

The furore on social media networks as his return was announced to the waiting world was a sight to behold. People openly weeping, some offering their first-born children in gratitude to Yamaha for his safe return (ok, that was a lie!) and heralding the return of the king! Did everyone see it like that? No... reality check time. 

Many fans are split at the news of VR's return, some saying he's failed at Ducati, some saying Ducati have killed the reputation he once had. I'm not that severe in my thoughts but I do think he's left unfinished business there and this may well be more damaging for Ducati than Rossi in the long run. Ducati spent millions of euro's in developing the bike he wanted, every new update brought fresh anticipation that they had turned the metaphorical corner (by loading the front confidently, of course) only to be denied with yet another spectacularly average result. The gain for Ducati was if he could develop a bike for all, a Yamaha/Ducati hybrid, sadly we'll never know, I hope the next incumbent of that seat can push them forwards and get the results the little factory deserve, much of that rests with Nicky Hayden too,who's results have out-shone his more illustrious team-mate of late and who's style is vastly different...a lesson to be learned?

The first and biggest point to makeis that the M1 he will throw his leg over in November at Valencia is not the baby he said bye bye to so emotionally at the end of 2010, that was the 800cc variant in which he had a massive say in development with alongside the godfather of the project, Masao Furasawa. The M1 he will ride has Rossi/Furusawa DNA but has been driven forward by Jorge Lorenzo and Ramon Forcada - it's their bike now, it's the complete role-reversal of Lorenzo joining Yamaha in 2008 to ride Rossi's bike. This bike is brand new from the ground up and is tailor made for Lorenzo, that's not to say that Rossi wont ride it well - he will - and it will suit his style far more than the Ducati was ever going to do.

Don't be sucked in to thinking that Rossi will pick up his 10th world championship in 2013, step back, have a good long look. He will be more competitive no doubt about it, he will almost certainly add to his tally of 46 wins for Yamaha but the Championship is a different level now. The Jorge lorenzo he left behind has grown in to almost the complete racer. He isn't intimidated by anyone, has a better record than his new team-mate over the last what will be three seasons and will be the team's number one rider in 2013, potentially with his second premier class championship under his belt to boot. It was the threat of Lorenzo that pushed Rossi to train harder than ever in early 2010 and he is acutely well aware of the young Mallorcan's ability and prodigious talent and also, at 34 years of age when next season begins, time is running out for the mercurial Italian to re-assert his authority in what will be the most hotly anticipated championship of all.

What isn't confirmed as yet is whether or not his crew will move with him. it wasn't until a month or so after Vale announced that he was moving to Ducati that Burgess, Briggs and co (sounds like a firm of lawyers!) also announced there intention to move, with Alex briggs tweeting that they were there at the start of the journey so it's only right to be there at the end. This was all when it seemed that VR was destined to retire at the end of his two year deal with the Bologna factory, so maybe the Aussies all had designs on hanging the pass on the back of the door for the last time at the end of this season and spending some well earned time with their families, especially JB who's wife has been very ill in recent years. Not only do the crew require wages, they also require numerous business-class flights from Australia to where ever in the world they are required to be...and they aren't cheap! If Yamaha are requesting VR brings sponsorship with him and 'only' offering a reported wage of around 4-5 Million euros, a further multi-thousand Euro airfare bill on top may well be something Yamaha could do without. After all, there is already a full team of technicians left following Spies' departure, not to mention ex-Rossi crew members in Stoners garage.

I have a sporting wager of one pint of beer with a good friend on Twitter, @_paulthomas_ believes that Valentino will win a race before the circus reaches Barcelona next season, which this year was round five. I believe he'll podium in that time but a win is too big an ask for me, who knows what damage the Ducati saga has caused mentally and to his confidence. Factor in the rest of the competion - Pedrosa will be keen to make his point in what could be his last season with HRC (and have a potential World Championship under his belt if things go his way!), Marquez will be keen to assert himself on the championship from the off - if not keen to assert himself on other riders who dare to be on the line he wants... Bradl will be fresh from an excellent debut year, Crutchlow may well be on identical machinery to Rossi but if Mugello was anything to go by then he'll not manage to pass him, and then there's the rest...who wont challenge much beyond the top 5 sadly. So I think my bet is reasonably safe, although I won't be disappointed if I lose either!

The bottom line is the GOAT is still hungry, he's proved that in the wet on that nail of a bike that he still has the speed and commitment to make a difference. I would love to see him back on top of the podium, with his big smile and back to 'I'm veeery veeery 'appy, thanks to-a my guys they-a give-a me a great-a bike-a, we go veeery fast and I arrive-a in first-a place. Ciao'

Welcome back VR, you've been missed.

Thanks for reading.