At the MotoGP test in Qatar, the week before the 2011 season opener, all eyes were on Rossi and the GP11. Naively we wondered if he would be able to recreate his magic at Welkom in 2004, and comparisons to Rossi’s move to Yamaha were inevitable. Some in the paddock thought he was in better shape going to Ducati than he had been when he left Honda, after all Casey Stoner had managed to win several times at the end of 2010 on the bike Rossi was taking over, while the pre-Rossi Yamaha was widely considered a mess on two wheels. Burgess’ remarks that he and Rossi would sort the Ducati straight away gave us the impression that the dream team could see what was wrong, and knew at least in theory what to do when they took over Stoner’s ride.
In spite of the problems that had been apparent since the first GP11 test in Valencia the previous November, our faith in the Rossi, Burgess, & Co.’s expertise still had many of us prepared for a strong finish at Losail — expecting Rossi to do at least as well on the GP11 as Stoner had managed on the GP10. “He’ll at least win a few races once he gets the Ducati sorted,” was a common attitude in Qatar.
It looks like 2011 will be Loris Capirossi’s final Grand Prix season, and the end of a remarkable career that has sadly fizzled in the past few years. Capirex’s last win was in 2007, his final season as a factory Ducati rider, and since switching to the Rizla Suzuki team in 2008 he has not had the equipment to show the kind of form that previously garnered both 125cc and 250cc world titles.
This season’s return to a Ducati seat with Pramac has not improved his competitiveness, and crashes have continued to add up to more aches and pains. Approaching 40, Capirossi carries many scars into each session, including hands so frail that he wears specially designed and heavily padded gloves to protect them from further impact.
In person he is friendly and polite, quick to return a smile, though lately he has seemed weary of the challenge of climbing on yet another uncompetitive bike and going out to fight for 10th place. He will always have a place in Ducati history, haven taken the team’s first win at Barcelona in 2003, and in GP history for his world titles.
It would be great to see him manage one more good result this year, but given the difficulties of the GP11, it seems more likely that he will have to be content ending his long GP career in one piece. Considering how many talented riders have come to the premier class for a season or two before disappearing for other grids, Capirossi’s decades-long GP career is quite an accomplishment.
Valentino Rossi managed a fifth place at Estoril this weekend, barely missing fourth as Andrea Dovizioso nipped him at the line after tailgating most of the race. The Doctor continues to have his hands full with the GP11, despite a nearly recovered shoulder and the ability to ride closer to his own personal potential. As graceful as Lorenzo looks on the Yamaha that Rossi and Jeremy Burgess developed, Rossi looks just as awkward at times on Casey Stoner’s old ride.
In response to Rossi’s complaints about all that is wrong with the Ducati, Stoner was quick to point out that the bike was good enough to win three of 2010’s final six races, suggesting that Rossi simply needed to adjust his riding style in order to go faster. The Doctor would rather heal the patient than himself however, and he and his team will continue to work on major changes to the GP11.
In the mean time, from images like the one above, we can see how Rossi struggles with his body position as he tries to get the Ducati to keep up with the Hondas and Yamahas. The switch to Ducati is looking like perhaps the greatest challenge of his career.
Part of the interest of the first race of the MotoGP season relates to the class photos, where the riders come out first for the 125cc group shot, then Moto2, and last the MotoGP riders appear. The 125 riders are mainly kids, so there is a lot of joking around in high voices that haven’t dropped yet. Moto2 is a mix of young and not as young, but it’s still a large field so the phrase “herding cats” is likely to be uttered a few times as the Dorna folks try to get everyone into position for the photograph.
The MotoGP riders are much fewer in number, but the group makes up for its smaller size with proportionally larger egos, and the premier class’ mind games are already well under way when it comes to which individuals will appear to sit down first, and wait for those who chose not to wait for anyone else.
If you follow my Facebook page, you may have seen a similar image a few weeks ago, and read the story about how many tries it took to get an instance of the blue fire. Here it is again for those who missed it.
On Saturday night of the 2011 season opener, I was working in the pit lane when I noticed something visually striking. When some bikes were revved up by the mechanics in front of the pit boxes, every now and then some blue flame would appear deep within the exhaust pipe. This blue fire was visible for a tiny fraction of a second, but I thought if I could capture one appearance it would be an interesting image. We often see unburned fuel escape from engines and flame out from exhaust pipes, but during the day this fire is orange. But there is something about the night lighting in Qatar that makes it this distinctive blue.
At the MotoGP season opener in Qatar, Dani Pedrosa was the only rider who had anything for Casey Stoner. Qualifying second, two tenths behind the Australian, Pedrosa was six tenths ahead of third place qualifier, Jorge Lorenzo. Those of us who expected Stoner to find the front within a couple of laps and disappear were surprised to see Pedrosa pass Stoner with 17 laps to go. It was then the Pedrosa-Stoner show until, with 11 laps to go, Dani’s stuck-throttle crash at Motegi last season came back to haunt him.
He dropped to second, then fell back into Lorenzo’s clutches as his left arm went numb. In Motegi Pedrosa had broken his collarbone, and the nerves beneath the clavicle continue to be problematic when subjected to the pressure or fighting Casey Stoner on a MotoGP bike. Dani said he was basically unable to use the clutch for the second half of the race, and the fact that he managed to bring it home in third place is a testament to how tough a rider he is.