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This, race fans, is Danilo Petrucci, one of the brave souls trying his luck on the future of MotoGP hardware, in his case the doggedly underpowered Came IodaRacing Project machine. Not on a (relatively) zippy Aprilia ART, or a Honda-powered FTR, Petrucci qualifies on the same grid as Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, and brings to this gunfight a knife that packs a whopping 185 bhp, compared to the factory prototype engines that are rumored to be around 260 bhp. As I photograph a race, I see a much different version of the event than TV viewers. I watch the recorded TV broadcast later, and can tell you that there is a lot going on with the Claiming Rule Team bikes that doesn’t make in onto TV.

As I listened to Casey Stoner explain how he rode around the flu, a chattering bike, and his latest bout with arm pump to stay just far enough ahead of Jorge Lorenzo to win the final GP at Estoril, I couldn’t help but wonderi how Lorenzo sees his future. It can’t seem as bright as it did at the end of his nearly perfect 2010 season.

Lorenzo had succeeded in mounting so much pressure on his Fiat-Yamaha teammate that Rossi started crashing, and ultimately left Yamaha for Ducati, rather than remain on the same team as the Spaniard. But for Lorenzo, that only exchanged one demon for another, this one in the form on Stoner on a Honda — a combination that now appears pretty much unbeatable over the course of a season.

Ben Spies’s sophomore MotoGP season  of 2011 can only be described as a wild roller coaster ride. The former AMA and World Superbike champion finished on the podium four times in 2011 including a legitimate alien-slaying maiden victory at Assen, but was also tempered by an equal number of non-scores and several other generally forgettable weekends.

Indianapolis was the scene of a season highlight for the Texan. Running Yamaha’s red and white 50th anniversary GP colors for the final time, Ben sliced his way to a podium finish against track conditions that provided no real passing line to speak of and finishing behind only the lightning fast Hondas of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.

Having nearly won the last race of the 800cc era, Ben will no doubt be looking to challenge for the 2012 title. “There’s always a changing of the guard”, he has been quoted as saying on more than one occasion. Could he be referring to himself? Time will tell.

What a difference a tire makes. Last season in each of Cal Crutchlow’s rider debriefs that I attended, the topic at some point came around to the Bridgestone tire and how treacherous it was during warm-up. Once the tire reached operating temperature, it was fantastic if the rider could keep it hot enough. But until it gathered enough heat, it was flat out dangerous, as so many cold tire high-side crashes proved in 2011. Crutchlow was one of the most outspoken riders in asking Bridgestone to change the tire design, which they have done for 2012. This year’s control tire warms up much faster, allowing riders to get through the early laps of a session without a dramatic high side, of which we had none in Qatar.

There’s a lot to talk about after the 2012 MotoGP season opener, but one thing that struck me in particular was the situation Casey Stoner found himself in for Qualifying Practice. Given the combination of a new 1000cc-based formula and a new tire from Bridgestone, several riders complained of the old nemesis: chatter, which we heard quite a lot about when the 800s arrived, and was for the most part ironed out as development progressed on the former MotoGP spec. A sudden appearance of chatter ruined Ben Spies’ race, Dani Pedrosa qualified poorly because of it, and after QP (where he was bettered by rival Jorge Lorenzo) Casey Stoner a bit to say.

Ben Bostrom signed on to ride for a certain AMA Superbike team owner by the name of Michael Jordan in 2011, trading in his signature number 155 for his employer’s legendary 23. “I think having MJ as a boss is awesome!” he enthused, when speaking about his then-upcoming debut.

As with any new rider and team pairing, there were rough patches to work through, but it was clear early on that the combination had potential. By the second round of the season Ben had put the Jumpman bike on the front row of the starting grid, outpaced only by proven factory machines.

Rewind back to the 2008, where the MotoGP pit walk was under full swing at the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Even without the riders present, the machines themselves drew plenty of attention from the fans, many of whom were probably experiencing their first GP weekend. The Repsol Honda garage, then home to Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, inevitably had a particularly large crowd of observers. It turns out that Honda’s stunning RCV attracted more than just the fans. A couple of Yamaha employees had made their way over as well, spending quite a bit of time standing outside the enemy’s gates.

While a handful of MotoGP riders get the lion’s share of media attention, other riders can only wonder what might have been if they had landed in the premier class on more competitive machinery. Most folks in the MotoGP paddock acknowledge de Puniet’s abilities and raw speed, and he is also as tough as they come, riding around injuries with impressive courage and determination. De Puniet has reunited with the Aspar Team for 2012, and will explore the future of the CRT formula. If the first-year Aprilia-powered Aspar CRT bike is not competitive, it won’t be for de Puniet’s lack of trying.

About to be his third year as a factory Ducati rider, Nicky Hayden is one of the hardest working men in MotoGP, and is long-overdue for some good luck. But, 2012 is already off to a tough start as Nick was unable to make much out of the Sepang test due to an injured left scapula, and accordingly underwent surgery today to repair cartilage and muscle damage in his left shoulder. Will he be fit to ride the next test at the end of February? Or will he wait until the last pre-season test at Jerez a month later? Only time will tell. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery for the Kentucky Kid.

Few championships are won without at least a bit of good fortune, and with at least his fair share of that maxim, Stefan Bradl is the new Moto2 World Champion. After reversing Bradl’s fantastic beginning of the 2011 season, Marc Marquez had the momentum and the points lead, until his run inevitable collision with Ratthapark Wilairot at the Australian GP. The mistake cost Marquez, and forced the Spaniard to start from the back of the grid, which in turn lead to a third place behind Bradl’s second at Phillip Island.

With another crash leaving Marquez unfit to compete in the final two races, Bradl clinched the title at Valencia when Marquez did not participate in Saturday’s Qualifying session. The Sepang crash robbed Marquez of his opportunity to fight for the title, and robbed the fans of seeing the competitive Moto2 class come down to an on-track battle. In spite of the story behind the last two races, Bradl is a worthy champion for hanging in there and fighting back as Marquez attacked, even if he may not have been the best rider at the end of the season. His strong results early in 2011 made the difference at the end, and congratulations are in order to the new Moto2 Champion.