Qualifying for the Spanish GP got underway today under the sunny, but windy skies of Jerez, Spain. Unsurprising to just about anyone, the Repsol Hondas of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were on the top of the time sheets, with local Jorge Lorenzo completing the front row and only 0.16 seconds off the qualifying pace. While the rank and order surprises few, all eyes will be on the latter stages of tomorrow’s race to see how Dani Pedrosa can manage with his ailing shoulder, which the Spaniard will have operated on immediately after the GP
The qualifying session saw a total of six riders hitting the tarmac and gravel traps, with many blaming the wind as a contributing factor. The list of riders crashing includes Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, Randy de Puniet, Karel Abraham, and Hiroshi Aoyama. Thankfully no one was injured, but in the case of Rossi, it meant trashing his preferred bike for the session, causing him to qualify on his other machine, and landing 12th on the starting grid.
He’ll be joined on the fourth row by teammate Nicky Hayden, who has been having a miserable season thus far on the Desmosedici GP11, and once again Randy de Puniet proved himself to be the fastest Ducati, qualifying seventh. Honorable mentions go out to John Hopkins, who continued his progress filling in for the injured Alvaro Bautista this weekend with a fourteenth grid position for tomorrow’s race. With a good start we could see a mid-pack finish for Hopper, who has shown marked improvement with each session on the Suzuki GSV-R.
With the rain very likely to make an appearance for tomorrow’s race, all bets are off for how the Spanish GP will shape-up.
Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, the 2011 MotoGP Championship is about to kick off today. Asphalt & Rubber has made the trek out to the Middle East, coming to you straight from the Losail International Circuit located just outside of Doha, Qatar. The weather has been favorable here in Qatar, with the heat down during the day, the skies clear but at times hazy, and the humidity staying down during the evening sessions. Hosting a two-day testing session before the Qatar GP, the riders have been here in Doha for almost 10 days now.
While you enjoy the return of MotoGP racing action to your online feeds and television screens, we’ve put together a cheat sheet to the Qatar GP to fill you in with the off-season happenings, as well as what’s been going on in the paddock while we’ve been here at Losail. Hold on race fans, prototype motorcycle racing is coming at you very, very, very soon.
A&R Patron Saint, Randy de Puniet confirmed this weekend at Valencia that he has signed with the Pramac Ducati team for the 2011 season. Making his announcement at the conclusion of Saturday’s qualifying session, de Puniet is the second-to-last unconfirmed rider for next season, as now everyone waits to hear Gresini Honda’s confirmation of Hiroshi Aoyama to its quasi-satellite team.
The Gresini squad is likely waiting for the Repsol Honda team to confirm how it will handle having three marquis riders under one tent, as HRC has signed Dani Pedorsa, Casey Stoner, and Andrea Dovizioso. At one point there was talk of having Dovi take a seat in Gresini, with the promise of factory support from HRC.
Reigning Moto2 World Champion Toni Elias will return to the big show for the 2011 season, as the Spanish rider has secured a contract with the LCR Honda satellite team. Elias has been on fire this season in Moto2, easily establishing himself as the dominate rider in the class. Looking to secure Moto2 as the feeder series for MotoGP, Dorna is rumored to have helped secure Elias’s return to premiere racing, after he lost his ride in the San Carlo Gresini Honda squad in 2009.
It’s a bit of irony that Casey Stoner was the first MotoGP alien to to make his move in the 2010 silly season, yet is the last MotoGP alien whose fate we know completely. Signing with Honda it was assumed that Stoner would be a part of a three-man team within Repsol Honda, with HRC saying as much during its press announcement with the Australian rider. When the budget necessary to field a three-man team failed to materialize from Repsol, HRC began looking for other options, with the most prominent being a single-man team (likely with Casey Stoner), possibly sponsored by Red Bull. Unable to get the energy drink company to foot the bill, HRC then turned to satellite squad Gresini, where Marco Simoncelli, another HRC contracted rider, currently resides.
Andrea Dovizioso seemingly drew the short-straw in that arrangement, with HRC pressuring the Italian to move into Gresini with the promise of factory support being made for both riders. Dovizioso is reported as having a performance clause in his contract that guarantees him a seat in a factory team should he meet certain criteria. With Dovi honoring his end of the agreement, he looked to HRC to honor its side of the contract, and a Honda Gresini ride is not what the Italian had in mind. Making matters worse is HRC’s history of not honoring support agreements to riders once they leave the folds of the factory team. As such Dovizioso held his ground, and rightfully so.
With the 2011 season likely to see four factory-backed Honda riders, something had to give, and that something seems to be Repsol Honda. According to MotoWorld, Repsol Honda agreed at the Australian GP to up its MotoGP funding from €10 million to €15 million, and support a three-man Repsol Honda factory team. With Stoner, Pedrosa, and Dovizioso tucked away under one tent for the 2011 season, and Marco Simoncelli staying in Gresini Honda, that leaves a vacancy in the quasi-satellite team that will surely be filled by Hiroshi Aoyama.
Noticeably absent from the silly season slogging has been the factory Suzuki MotoGP team. Although we know that Suzuki intends to stay in MotoGP for at least one more season, despite a continued tradition of mediocrity, very little other information has come forward. Perhaps at the top of the rumor heap is the speculation that Rizla Suzuki will potentially field only one bike in the 2011 MotoGP season, electing not to replace Loris Capirossi who has been linked to the Pramac Ducati team.
God bless Randy de Puniet. For whatever reason, the French LCR Honda rider has wormed his way into our hearts here at Asphalt & Rubber. At first it was because de Puniet had a penchant for crashing, perpetually misplacing his shirt, and well…being French. As the leading satellite bike rider in the 2010 season though, Randy de Puniet has found a new consistency with the LCR Honda, and has even given the factory Repsol Honda boys a run for their money on more than one occasion. We have to admit, we’ve been impressed with de Randy 2.0 this season.
de Puniet has also stayed mostly out of the gravel traps for 2010, showing a new maturity. He’s still French, pompous, and generally comes across as a playboy, but we sort of like that in our French men. Afterall, if Parisians were courteous to American tourists, the city would feel a lot like Atlanta: hot, dirty, and full of people who talk funny.
So when Randy de Puniet broke his leg during the German GP, we were crushed to hear that our favorite rider in the paddock would be out until Brno, and miss the Laguna Seca round. Our concerns of course then immediately turned to Randy’s well-being as he was being carted off for examination at Clinica Mobile.
Was he ok? Did his broad shoulders fit through the clinic’s meager doorways? Who would hold his brave hand while Dr. Costa poked and proded him with his medical “science”? We now know those answers. Video after the jump.
If you haven’t watched the German GP at Sachsenring yet, stop reading now. After crashing during Sunday’s race and breaking his tibia and fibia, Randy de Puniet will be out for the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca next weekend. The horrific crash leaves de Puniet in a similar situation as to what Valentino Rossi found himself in 6 weeks ago, which gives us a glimpse as to when we can likely see the shirtless Frenchman back in MotoGP racing. Who is to replace de Puniet at Seca? Why none other than Roger Lee Hayden.